Saturday, October 29, 2011

Certified Ed Lewsey in PADI O/W diving at Freestyle in Dibba, October 21-22, 2011

My logged dives #1084-1087

This weekend I had the pleasure of certifying someone who not only already knew how to dive, but was fit enough to keep up with me :-)  Ed had done a discover scuba diving course three years ago on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and went on to do five dives with an instructor there.  He called me up early in the week and was so keen to start the course that he did the elearning in the week before the weekend and caught a cab to the airport in time for Bobbi and I to pick him up at 7 a.m. there and take him over to Dibba.  Bobbi and I met him there because we were living near the airport in temporary accommodation in the new city rising from the sand there called Khalifa A.

It's always nice to see our old friends at Freestyle Divers.  Andy and his team are accommodating of my small groups.  This weekend it was me diving with Ed on the course, and Bobbi diving with Vaughn, an assistant instructor who is new in town and got in touch with us through Froglegs Scuba Club, and was tagging on for a weekend of diving.  Coincidentally Vaughn was getting a visa put in his passport, as were Bobbi and I for my new job with HCT / CERT / Naval College, so none of us had passports that would give us the option to cross a border to dive anywhere in Oman, Damaniyites or Musandam, that weekend.

Ed didn't seem to mind.  We were at Freestyle and kitting up before 10 a.m. since from the airport it takes less than 3 hours to reach Dibba.  There was a brisk breeze blowing from the mountains, causing mild chop between the shore and Dibba Rock, but the water was relatively clear.  I reminded Ed how to assemble his gear and don it and we traipsed down to the seashore for a quick run through the module 1 skills, which had to be completed before we could go for a dive at noon.

The vis wasn't bad, and water temperatures were ideal, probably about 29 degrees C, refreshingly cooling for me in my .5 mm lycra.  The outside temperatures were balmy, the only discomfort was the wind chill when exiting the water or walking around wet.  Other than that the sun brushed us mildly, but was not intense.  It's that time of year in the UAE when it's great to be outdoors and diving, a short-lived period before winter sets in and diving gets chlly again.

We were dropped at the acquarium mooring, a lovely place to begin a dive, teeming with snappers and golden treveli and puffers and parrots and rainbow wrasse. I led us the usual route along the acquarium and then to the west where the clacking of the animals living in the coral could be heard loudly.  Bobbi and Vaughn saw a shark there but Ed and I were ahead and missed it.  Bobbi said later she saw cuttlefish and flounder later in the dive, but meanwhile we as a group went to the southern point of the L shaped reef but I couldn't find the way to the east out the L. It petered out on me and I reversed but again couldn't really identify the reef, so I turned north and ended up on compass over sand bottom. I was lost and decided if I headed north I would cross the reef, but that didn't happen, we started getting to around 10 meters, which was too deep, and I noticed Ed and I had lost Bobbi and Vaughn.  So the two of us continued and when we got to 11 meters I realized I was on the west side of the reef and I should go east to find it.  East didn't help much, it seemed to be getting deeper, could I have gone past the island on the seaward back side?  By now the sand seemed to be sloping slightly to the south so I headed that way and happily ended up back in the acquarium and familiar territory, where we found a big crayfish hiding under a rock.

Ed and I had been diving for 45 minutes now but Ed's air supply was holding out so I led back past the beautiful fishes and back to the reef as at the start of the dive.  We passed over the reef and sort of hung out there.  I led to the shoulder, what I now call Shark Shoulder, because that's where this weekend we would go to see sharks. We hadn't seen all that much this dive, I had got us lost, it was Ed's first dive in a while and he didn't seem to mind, but we were coming up on 58  min of dive time with not much to show for our house reef.  At 59 minutes, we needed to go up.  And that's when the shark appeared, coming in over the reef pretty much at our fin tips where we hovered, and flashing off to the right just as the 60 ticked over on my computer, and I signalled up.  Ed was chuffed.

Between dives, Ed and I did the next two pool modules.  They went smoothly with him.  We went in off the beach where he took his mask off and breathed for a minute in no time, and we decided to go up to the pool for module 3 for fresh water and a look at the young buff Russian girls in their thong bikinies. The only problem was it was almost 3 pm.and we'd have to hurry so as not to hold up the last dive of the day.  I've had a lot of experience with Freestyle and it almost never happens that a 3 pm dive leaves any earlier than 3:30, and Ed was speeding through the pool work. All went according to plan.  Ed completed the pool training in 15 minutes, and with over 170 bar in our tanks we were back at the Freestyle beach.  The time was precisely 3:19.  I know because that was the time on my watch as I looked over the top of it at the Freestyle boat which was at that moment pulling away from its mooring right off the beach with a boat-load of divers on board.

They could have cut the engines and taken us aboard.  We were fully kitted, buddy checked, and still wet from the pool, ready to hop aboard. Later I heard from those on board that the boat was full (uh, we'd booked the dive), and from another perspective, there was an instructor on board who thought a dive scheduled for 3 pm should depart at 3 pm and according to that reasoning, we'd missed it.  Whatever, the boat left without us.  So we decided to just swim out to the rock.

The wind was the main problem, blasting in from the west, so we had to angle slightly on our northerly heading so as to keep moving toward the left shoulder of the island. Other than that, there was not much current, and Ed managed to get in a 300 meter plus plus (about half a km actually) surface swim with mask and fins, and also a surface compass heading, albeit somewhat more extreme than we usually have beginning divers do.

The dive itself was not all that great.  The wind had churned the waters and a silt had moved in, clouding vis a bit.  We managed to find one of the raspberry coral reefs to drop in on but there were no big animals there.  We worked our way east and then north along the reef where the only large animal mid-water was a lone cuttlefish on a mission (to find another, perhaps) beelining over the reef.  Still the schools of snappers and treveli in the acquarium were captivating, and there we reversed to head south and west back over the L shaped reef.  We made our way west until we found the spot of raspberry renewing itself and hovered there observing the small fishes and hoping for something larger.  When our air dipped below 100 bar, and 50 min into the dive, I signalled a southern heading back over the sand.  This should have got us home but the current was pushiing to west and we angled past Freestyle so that after a long underwater swim we ended up in the bay of the palace overlooking the sea.  We surfaced on alternate air source as called for in PADI o/w dive #2, and the hardest part of the dive was finning against the current to get us back to Freestyle divers.  People there had been watching for us.  They had seen us miss the boat, all kitted and ready to go, and I had mentioned to Bobbi that if that happened we would shore dive.  They hadn't expected us to swim all the way out to the island though.  Ed was pleased not only with the accomplishment but that he had saved 100 dirhams on the shore dive.  The price of that trip has doubled in the ten years we've been dving this spot.

Ed and I weren't finished yet though.  We went in the pool for his last two pool modules and then we cleaned out kit and stocked up on beverages from the off license. We returned to Dibba and foraged for food at Lulu's, and then settled into our accommodation at the Seaside for the night.  Despite a morning prayer call and sermon from the mosque outside our window, Bobbi and I got some blessed sleep, a break in our routine of up by 5 each weekday morning on account of my new job.  In the morning we were back at Freestyle to knock off the rest of Ed's dive course.

Conditions in the morning were lovely.  The wind had died down a little and water visibility was restored.  Ed and I were looking forward to a great day diving.  We had decided to start off with a controlled emergency swimming ascent, which takes a little time, so Bobbi and Vaughn decided to go off on their own.  Andy moored the boat on the buoy nearest and to the east of Dibba Rock, so our CESA was performed in the aquarium.  Ed wanted to try diving the back side of the island but first we wanted to check out the raspberry reef at the north shoulder of the L.  I'm starting to call this "Shark Shoulder" because this is where we've been seeing those creatures most consistently.  We were not disappointed on this dive.  We were practicing hovering in the spot where they usually appear when two appeared, swam off, and then reappeared.  It's nice to see two sharks together.  We waited neutrally buoyant for them to return but when they didn't we headed back toward the aquarium.  Here a third shark came into view, swimming right across our bow as they often do.

We spent the rest of the dive on the back side of the island without seeing much of anything.  Ed was now just one dive short of certification.  On this last dive the boat discharged its divers just west of the reef on one of the moorings midway down the L. The four of us, Bobbi her buddy Vaughn diving with Ed and I moved in over the ruins of the once thriving reef.  I was ahead and saw a large, at least two meter long, Spanish mackeral cruising over the reef.  I think the others missed it.  That's pretty much all I remember about that dive, except that we went to the back side of the island, and all divers performed well. Ed was enjoying himself at the end of the dive, which we called to a halt as our computers ticked into 60 minutes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Diving in Damaniyite Islands with ExtraDivers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort, Oct 8, 2011

My logged dives #1082-1083

Tourist visas in UAE are granted for one month at a time (with a ten-day grace period) and while we are between jobs as it were, Bobbi and I have to exit the country and re-enter every calendar month.  We are in the habit of making this our excuse to regularly dive the Damaniyite Islands in Oman. Someone has to do it!

We decided  to spend most of Friday in the UAE.  Bobbi and I needed to sleep just a little later than usual due to the hectic lives we’ve led since having to vacate our home the past 13 years in All Prints.  In the morning we unpacked a few boxes in our new but temporary 1-br apt in Khaliyfa A, the new township near Abu Dhabi airport while watching BBC news and draining a pot of coffee, and then we loaded the 4 dive bags we keep in our apt, each containing a full kit of Scuba gear, and drove into town to where I’ve been teaching part time and both of us got on the Internet from there. Then Dusty called from the Thai embassy where he and his lady friend Michele were enjoying a Thai food festival, and some of our old Thai friends and their spouses were there, and it was on our way to the highway to Oman, so we dropped by there on our way out of town to have a delicious meal of homemade Thai.

We had pre-arranged to pick up Dusty there, the 3rd of the 4 dive bags were for him (and the other was our spare gear). We were on the road by 3:30 and to make a long drive and border crossing short, we arrived at the Suwaiq motel at the edge of the mountains right off  the Batinah coast about 4 and a half hours later.

The Suwaiq motel used to be a dubious place to stay.  When we slept there once before we didn’t know it had two night clubs, one for Indian and the other for Arabic clients. If you arrive at night they will both be pumping loud music at once, and the only way we could tolerate the rooms into the wee hours was that in addition to the a/c, we also had a fan we could run all night by the head of the bed.   It was tawdry accommodations and the only advantages were it was much cheaper than other hotels, and the loud bars sold beer for just a riyal for a tall can, less than $3.  Another advantage is it’s only about 40 min from Al Sawadi Beach resort, which charges more than 4 times the price of the Suwaiq motel. That includes dinner, but you can get a great meal of dhal, freshly bbq chicken tikka, biriani, masala, purata, and fresh mango juice for just the price of a beer at the Suwaiq Hotel.

Imagine our surprise when we checked in at the Suwaiq hotel, had a look at our room, and found it had been remodeled.  It was tastefully decorated with comfortable new double beds.  The baths had been remodeled. The old mouldy rugs were gone and in their place shiny tiles.  Best of all, the lanais had been enclosed into small TV rooms, with new flat screen TVs with cable vision, and this extra room between the bedroom and the music had been especially designed there to create a buffer between sleep and the music.  And it worked, when we turned on the a/c we could sleep soundly, couldn’t hear the music.  Best of all, there was a new bar there with tasteful decoration and no music.  Smoking had been banned from the public rooms for a long time, but here was a place to enjoy a nightcap without even the annoyance of loud music.  If you’re reading this don’t tell anyone else about this place.  We don’t want it filling up, which at only 200 dirhams a room, it should do.  We’ll definitely stay there again next time we dive the Damaniyites.

Speaking of which we had two dives on Saturday morning.  One was Tina’s Run (not quite its name) on the north side of police island, starting from the east and moving west and the other was the mousetrap, the wall running underwater from Sirah Island to Big Jun.  T-Run was especially good.  I was pushing the edge of the reef, looking over the side down onto the sand, and into caves, looking there for leopard sharks and rays.  These were all at the top of the reef.  Fortunately Bobbi and Dusty found them and got me back up there. The ray was a black bull ray in a cave.  The leopard shark was a small one at rest in a patch of cabbage coral.  He posed there for the dozen divers that came to visit and never moved.  Leopard sharks have not rounded but sculpted bodies, moulded for grace, in my opinion among the most beautiful gentle creatures in the ocean, and when not bothered, among the most imperturbable.

We didn’t see a leopard shark on the second dive. On both of them, some divers saw turtles, there were big sting rays, honeycomb morays and all kinds of other eels, lion fish … Dusty swam into a cave with huge bat fish, creating an interesting tableau.  There were endearingly ugly cuttlefish, wary of intruders, going iridescent and rippling off if we got too close. I shined a light into one hole and found a large purple crab staring back at me. Vis was great, water temperatures were warm above the thermocline at 15 meters, 26 down there.  Not a bad way to turn around a visa if you are in that position in the UAE.