Sunday, December 29, 2013

Diving Seychelles Mahe and La Digue, Dec 2013

Dec 26-27 on Maha; 28-30 on La Digue, 2013

My logged dives #1264-1269

The Seychelles has long been on my bucket list, since it was one of my backtracker travel options in 1974. From Mombassa I could have hitch-hiked to South Africa or headed east 3rd class or worse on a boat to Bombay that called in to the Indian Ocean isles.  I ended up heading west as far as Ghana, but reflecting on this, I'm sitting on the Lanai at Belle Amie guest house in La Digue, a place I highly recommend if you are diving Seychelles (clean and comfortable, nice family running it, can arrange your meals but near a delicious take-away, 10 min walk into town, the cheapest place I managed to find in Seychelles at 40 euros a night, and right across from the dive center). I arrived here yesterday on the boat that costs nearly $100 from Mahe, at dusk, in the rain. I was expecting to find few cars but there were taxis at the jetty and I got one to Belle Amie. They lent me an umbrella at the guest house so I could go out and get something to eat. Traffic in the cobbled streets outside splashed through the puddles, most of it bicycles with riders carrying umbrellas, a happy improvement over Mahe, where you really have to watch out for incessant traffic when walking or running on the poorly lit country roads.

At my guest house, they recommended the Gala take-away with meals for $5 but, when I got there I found there were ten meals ahead of me (someone with a big order) it came in styrofoam and was not what I felt like having at the moment. I hadn't eaten all day because I never bothered to stock my self-catered apt on Mahe, I'd been diving all morning my last day on Mahe, run into town to get a boat ticket, returned to Beau Vallon and retrieved my gear from the dive shop, got a taxi to take me home to Belle Ombre and wait while I packed, got taken to the harbor, and ended up in La Digue with nothing in my stomach all day apart from coffee on the dive boat. So when the rain slackened a bit I walked toward town and ended up in a popular creole restaurant, great octopus salad, and decent fish curry, washed down with overpriced SeyBrew. Later I worked out that beer in supermarkets is half what you pay in restaurants, so a pleasant sundown routine was to get a couple of bottles, take them to a rock on a beach with a sunset view, open them the way the locals do, and, well, sundown, go figgah. And tasty creole-curry takeaway meals were half price as those in restaurants, as good or better, and just as filling, so rather than sit alone and wait for service and pretentious bills at the end, I preferred the option favored by many local people.

Beer at the restaurant was 50 rupees for small 33 cl bottles, a little less than $5. Here on the lanai I am drinking from the corner shop for half that. I'd been planning all day to go to the big hotel across the road and pay what ever it cost me for beer in order to use free wifi, but when I got there I found wifi no working, because of de wind! No telling what beer with wifi costs, but this morning I had a coffee there (next to the dive shop) and shelled out $6 for that. Somewhat outrageous. Where I'm staying after tomorrow, beer is $5 and wifi is $5 for an hour. If beer at the fancy hotel is less than $10 then it's the best bargain because it comes with unlimited wifi, in theory. In practice there is no wifi. This is Seychelles, mon.

La Digue, Ave Maria

The diving on La Digue was pretty good compared to Mahe. Here they have animals. The dive guide Michel led us to a place where there was an octopus only he could see. He started scratching in the sand in front of its lair and some tentacles emerged. Cool, and we saw another octopus later in the dive. But before that a shark meandered across our path, white tip. We saw a number of them. I followed one around with my GoPro for almost a minute. At one point I saw a turtle and went for it. The turtle was in no way fazed by divers poking GoPros at its beak. He was more interested in things that resembled food that came within reach. Divers seemed to be neither here nor there. I got good videos of this one.

I wrote this in an email to my wife: from Mahe

I think Seychelles is a bit over-rated from what I've seen here. It looks like a lot of places we've been and lived (like Hawaii). I did two dives today on Mahe. The first one was to a wreck. They forgot the GPS, but took us in the water anyway, couldn't find the wreck, put us back on the boat, went back to harbor, got the GPS, and then we did 12 min on the wreck before 2nd dive deco started to kick in, two dives to 35 meters just an hour or two apart. It was like a double size Inchcape (a deep wreck in UAE), nothing phenomenal. The afternoon dive on a coral reef was silty, nothing there to write home about.

One thing though, the people here are phenomenally friendly. The place I stay, La Cachette in Belle Ombre, the owners Paul and Agnela are being really good to me, gave me too much scotch last night (Christmas) and cooking birthday dinner for me tonight. The way I ended up here was also through making a booking on, for a place that was in fact full, but once you get in the network, kekua kicks in and they figure something out for you.

Diving Mahe

The dive the next day off Mahe was better, but not up to expectations, unless one's expectations had taken the weather into consideration. We were told of a destination the day before that sounded super! But when we got in the boat we were told we were going to a wreck. Waves were roller coaster right outside the harbor and the wreck turned out to be one not far from the one we had visited the day before. This one was a little shallower and had a mooring line on it, so they could find it without GPS. It was also near the reef so when the Canadian couple I was buddied with went low on air we headed there and ended up with a 40 min dive, me just south of 100 bar. It was pretty silty. We headed into port to change tanks in calmer waters and have our coffee and then headed out to our second dive called Grand Bazaar, just south of the place where were told we were going originally that day. Here the vis was better, and we had the fortune to see an eagle ray which I got some shots of. First time it went into flight and I followed fast and I think I was being blamed for chasing it, though these things always power on when they become aware of divers. But we saw it again, or at least I did, and this time I was very quiet and got some pictures of it as is rooted under a rock. I tapped my tank twice and when it finally decided to move, I don't think many others saw it, though the dive guide went into spear position when it finally made a run for blue ocean.

Another day dawns in La Digue, the rains from yesterday are supplanted by grey cloud cover, eventually by bright sun. Sleep was interrupted by a car stopping outside with loud bass boom box at 3 a.m but it moved on. I was getting up at 6 to try and be at the park entry at 7:00 where the big turtles were on La Digue, on L'Union Estate, which charged an entry of 100 rupees, or 10 euros (worth 150 rupees; or $15, i.e. three dollars more than 100 rupees). My preferred mode of transport at that hour was jogging. I had made a jog to the park entrance the day before, late afternoon, but was told I would be best off to come next day, because the entry was for a day pass and the turtles were more active in the morning. So I turned up right when they told me the day before they opened at 7:00 but found the gate closed but for a small pedestrian entry, and was told by the gate-man that the park didn't really open till 7:30. But he didn't prevent my entry, he told me I could go “there” and I could pay “there”. “There” however, was not straightforward. I jogged into the park and headed for the beaches but there was no one about and no turtles around. I started to take in the interesting rock formations in the park as I jogged and eventually up a sand track found a signpost for Anse Source d'Argent so I took that path, the only one signposted. Down a sandy footpath lined with vendor booths (no vendors at this hour) I finally came out on a postcard sized beach that I recognized from actual postcards as being a popular and ridiculously crowded one during the day. I had my GoPro so I could film the turtles I had come to see and I switched it on and took a panorama of this archetypal Seychelles beach, with no one on it.

Back up the footpath I found a vendor just setting up who told me the turtles were back the way I had come so I tried all the beaches I could find, but still no turtles. Eventually I arrived back at the gate where the man who had known little English had been replaced by a lady who knew more but still could hardly explain where 'there' was. I asked if she had a map. She said I was the first person ever to come here and not see the turtles. As we argued over my stupidity and their lack of signage, I came to realize that the turtles were in a pen near the big rock in the middle of the park. So they were zoo turtles, not at all on the beach, and I decided I didn't need to pay significant money to see them and ran back to get supermarket food before reporting for diving at 8:30.

La Digue, Marianne

That was the first thing to go wrong that morning. The second thing was on our first dive when we were put in a foursome where the guy with the camera and his girlfriend totally ignored the rest of us and refused to keep up or make any attempt to contact Lana, the divemaster, so a lot of our dive was spent twiddling our thumbs waiting for them, and Lana at times having to go back and see where they were. The next thing was, when sharks started to appear, and I thought I would like to video them, it occurred to me to wonder if I had shut the GoPro off after my beach shot. Of course I hadn't so I had no battery to speak of. This wasn't so bad on the first dive. I saw two sharks, one that came in front of me but turned tail quickly, and another in amongst the jacks in the grey blue yonder. Neither was easily video'd so I didn't feel the loss. At some point our dive guide Lana pointed up and my buddy saw the flight of eagle rays but I didn't, nada, niete, and again no lost video. We saw a giant tuna pass overhead, but again, not really ripe for a closeup.

It was on the second dive that I really missed the GoPro. This dive was super. Both dives were in the Marianne part of the park. The first thing we saw was a turtle, but I had turtle video from the day before, so ma'alesh. Then we came across a meter long hulking barracuda, ok, he was photogenic, but I didn't feel that concerned. Next we saw in a school of unicorn fish a humphead parrotfish, still a little murky. Then in the sand there appeared a guitar shark, or in fact, I think it was one of those odd creatures Bobbi and I saw in Mozambique in 2009. This time I settled alongside and pulled out my camera and got a few blinks out of it before it switched off, just as the animal was leaving. You'd think this was enough for one dive but then a shark appeared and I swam up to it just in time to catch it grazing the top of a reef. Andrea, the Azzurra dive center owner or manager, was leading a superb dive but he was about to show us more. He beckoned us upward and around a rock where we found a couple of sharks swimming to and fro. Then there were was a napoleon wrasse there as well. Then a turtle swam into view. Then sharks started swimming about as humphead parrotfish came into the fish soup. Again I managed to get a few beeps out of my GoPro but nothing that would capture that moment. Slap forehead (and enjoy)!

La Digue, Three Sisters

Next day we dived at Three Sisters in poor vis, and a poor way to end the holiday, as the following day would be spent on a boat to Mahe and a New Years Eve street party there, flying next day back home to UAE (flying on Christmas and New Year's days made the flights surprisingly affordable).  Here's the video from the last day:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FUN diving Daymaniyats with Extra Divers from Al Sawadi Beach Resort, Oman

East Jun (north side) and Sira Island (south and north) Bobbi and I with Anna and Steve Elwood

Dec 15, 2013

My logged dives #1262-1263

Seasons holidays are here and Bobbi and I stumbled home from work Thursday in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain (respectively) and slept soundly and late, then spent Friday getting our act together before going camping Friday night with good friends in the dunes near Al Khazna, Steve Elwood on guitar. When we awoke we drove home and then on to Oman Saturday and checked in at the Suwaiq Motel.  Then we drove Sunday morning to Al Sawadi beach on the new coastal road to Muscat from the Millennium Hotel.  At the moment, the road is only open in splotches, and most of the driving is along the coast line on roads replete with speed bumps and mobile phone numbers sprayed on beach huts that serve as shelters for fishing boats.  It's very earthy and reminiscent of old Oman, but the bridges are being built marking the promise of a new super highway.

The weather was sunny and cool.  Water temperatures were perfect for 5 mm wetsuits.  The vis was poor, a little brown in the water, but we could still see plenty of animals. Our first dive was the north side of little Jun to the east of big Jun. This was where we saw the leopard shark last time we were here, in the far east corner. Roshan, same dive guide as we had before, gives excellent briefings.  In this one he told us (among other things) if we saw snapper fish, there we should look for leopard sharks.

This prospect kept Bobbi and I down in the sand at 15 meters peering into the rubble for rays and sharks.  We found several honeycomb morays, including one out in the open who impressed us with his ripple-swimming skills as he looked about for shelter (from us, whom he regarded us as neither dangerous enemies nor food). We started coming on snappers about the time Steve ran low on air, so he and Anna went to more shallow diving while Bobbi and I stayed in the sand.  The snappers were running riot, till at one point, I remember orange from the swirling snappers and their color impinging on the sand, as suddenly the rocks had become sparse.  I had the impression of orange tornado to heighten expectations of the leopard shark that suddenly materialized before us.  Time for GoPro!

The second dive was on Sira Island, starting at the south slightly into the current, but in the aquarium area that is so beautiful in clear seas. Rounding to the north to head east with the current we saw a small ray, a crayfish, a cuttlefish, a turtle, pipefish, some yellow mouthed morays, and a nudibranch right at the end of the dive.  Nice diving.  Only 4 hours from Al Ain, we'll be back.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

FUN diving with Nomad Ocean Adventure Musandam, just Bobbi and I and Nomad's customers and dive team

Dec 6-7, 2013

My logged dives #1258-1261

We were out diving with Nomad Ocean Adventure this weekend.  They were doing a 3-dive trip north of Lima Rock on Friday, so we hopped aboard.  On that day trip we saw turtles, green morays and honeycomb morays, a cowtail ray, an eagle ray, lots of barracuda, great fun.

Here's an eagle ray we saw on Temple Rock on this day

Next day we went to Lima Rock and Ras Sanut (Wonder Wall).  We dropped in near the east corner of Lima Rock.  Current was slack for getting to the corner, but at the corner there was a stiff current that we had to clip into using the ghost fishnets there.  We found schools of barracuda there, hulking in the current.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fun Diving with Extra Divers: Daymaniyat Islands

Dec 1, 2013

My logged dives #1256-1257

Leopard shark

The Daymaniyat Islands have one of the most consistently good set of dive sites in the region.  We used to see leopard sharks there every weekend we dived there. Sometimes it would be on the last of 4 dives on the weekend, but it was almost guaranteed we'd see at least one, and this prospect has got us coming back for more.  Sea conditions are also often excellent with swimming pool visibility, but sometimes not so good, and our diving this past weekend was at the mediocre end for visibility.  The sites had a cloudy brown tinge to them.

But on our second and last dive there, as we approached the Doc's Wall corner of Walid Junn, we came on an area of wall that was scattered about the sand at 13-14 meters, and the rubble there looked like it might provide just the camouflage that leopard sharks would find appealing.  I felt so positive about this that I headed off the coral and into rock-strewn terrain thinking this might be it, and saw Bobbi doing the same, drawn to this otherwise, nondescript area, for the substrate it might provide rays or leopard sharks.

And there it was, replete with two remoras and a panoply of yellow fishies like butterflies on its nose.  Characteristically docile, it tolerated my swimming alongside but was less forgiving of my moving across its bow, at which point he lifted off and almost swam into Bobbi, who finned to avoid collision. What a great way to end a day of diving in Daymaniyats.

The diving

I got this map of Western Daymaniyats from (hope it's ok to upload it here; if anyone objects, will remove it and point to its direct link:

On this day we dived the Mousetrap our first dive, easterly from Sira Island, and easterly along the back of Walid Junn the second.  Vis was disappointing though the diving was not. The poor vis prevented us from spotting creatures out to sea, but we found sting rays and big honeycomb morays in alcoves along the wall, as well as a pair of Nudibranchs.  Here's a video compilation.

The back story

National Day in UAE is upon us again.  To celebrate we went down to Oman ostensibly to take advantage of the long weekend. In actual fact, it's not much longer for us in Al Ain to reach Extra Divers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort than it is to reach Dibba and then pop across the border from UAE.  Either can be done in a day trip, though report time at Sawadi is 8 a.m. as opposed to 9 a.m. at Nomad Ocean Adventure.  Because we'd need to be on our way 4 hours earlier to reach either destination on time, we headed down to Oman on a leisurely drive the evening before to Suwaiq, where we often stay at the Suwaiq Motel (tel: 26862240).

What we had found most appealing about the Suwaiq motel is its Feliniesque juxtaposition of excess in a part of the world known for high standards of morality, but it is operating now as a shadow of its formal self.  We arrived during a band break in a place that used to have two or three loud night clubs going all at once, and when we asked about the unaccustomed silence the Indian employee showing us our room said that things had fallen off due to community reaction to a business that was causing fathers to sleep away from home and spend scarce money on beer and give the rest to the girls there so the children at home were going hungry. There were still a few dozen customers but only one Arabic singer competently manipulating an electronic synthesizer where it was hard to tell what was him and what was memorex, impressive nonetheless. Due to the new economies of lighter scale, beer prices had increased 50% and rooms were now 20 riyals, about a 20% increase from last time. Neither the bargain nor the show it once was, Suwaiq motel is still a comfortable place to sleep, more economical than the competition, only 3 hours from Al Ain, and only an hour from Al Sawadi.

And to get to Al Sawadi from Sohar, either take a left at the Musannah roundabout, the one past the double boat roundabout at Wudum, and then turn sharp right and go up the slip road 10 km further on (to the Makkah Hypermarket) where they are building new bridges over the highway, perhaps to allow you to exit the main highway to reach Al Sawadi (after having blocked the left turn off the highway to reach there directly) OR just a couple roundabouts past Suwaiq find the signs pointing to the Millenium Hotel where the cupola roundabout is (you'll recognize it) and then use the highway near the coast marked Muscat to the right.  We've come the other way on the new highway marked Sohar from Al Sawadi and come out on the road connecting from the old highway to the new coastal one, but we'll try the one to Muscat next time we're there, and it must connect with Al Sawadi.

The alternative to following these seemingly complicated directions is to proceed down Highway 1 direction Muscat, and if there is no way over the highway to allow you to go north to Al Sawadi (bridges are under construction at this writing) then you must go a further 10 km to Barkah and u-turn there direction Sohar, and re-coup your 10 km so you can exit the highway north to Al Sawadi (but from the north side of the highway this time :-)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Certified Victor and Amber in PADI Open Water, Musandam

Friday and Saturday November 15-16, 2013
Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure
My logged dives #1252-1255

Bobbi and I had a great weekend out with Victor and Amber Guthrie, pictured here off Lima Rock, North, getting their bearings on their third ever PADI Open Water dive.

Amber and Victor were ideal students.  All went well as we started at 6 a.m. and knocked back three confined water sessions before diving on Friday.

The weather was not great this weekend, stormy on Friday. Seas were rough and we stopped short of Lima at Ras Sanut, and dived there and then way at the back of the bay.  The vis was poor, and apart from the coursework there wasn't much to write home about, let alone film.

But next day was much better.  The morning was fairly calm and cool, and we dived Lima Rock and Ras Lima.

We saw lion fish posing like holograms on both dives.

Here are Amber and Victor preparing for their final dive before fulfilling all open water requirements for the course.

near where we saw this humongous ray off near where they are about to go in.

We saw lots of other things as well, turtles, bat fish being cleaned by wrasse, schools of blue trigger fish, and gobies keeping watch for their cohabitating pistol shrimp partners.

Though it was calm Saturday morning, rain lashed us on the return ride. We observed interesting phenomena associated with the rain though, runoff in cascades from the mountains into the sea turning the water a murky brown, and rainbows bracketing the dhows scurrying back to harbor with their weekend tourists and fishing catches. But underwater had been fine.

Congratulations to the new divers.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

More FUN diving with son Glenn at Dibba Rock and next day whale shark in Musandam

Friday and Saturday October 17-18, 2013
Dibba Rock with Freestyle Divers, Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure
My logged dives #1249-1251

Vance taking the video below, photo by Dro Madery

Glenn was visiting from Doha with his wife Gulya and their daughter Gwenny.  They came for the Eid Al Adha break, all week long.  Toward the end of the week Glenn and I were wondering how we could work in diving.  Gwenny can't swim well enough to stay all day on a boat, and it wasn't working out how to include mommy and bibi considering the need for someone to remain on the boat with Gwenny or back on dry land, so in the end Glenn and I just went by ourselves.

Here's Glenn's video on YoutTube

We left around 11 a.m. from Al Ain, a very reasonable hour in the morning, and headed for UAE Dibba.  We could have left home at nooon as we were early for our dive with Freestyle, and about 3:30 we entered the water and had a nice swim around the rock, meeting many creatures such as flounders, moray eels, pipe fish, jaw fish, bat fish, a few small barracuda ... nice to see life returning to the rock.

Then we crossed the border about dusk, an easy crossing, no hassles, and arrived in time for dinner of chicken and shrimp at Nomad Ocean Adventure. We got a good night sleep (at least I did) and next day headed up north to dive Octopus Rock in almost no current, what a treat, and then Ras Hamra and around the corner to Ras Sanut, where we met up with this guy ...

Dro Madery in the thumbnail

Dibba Rock

Dibba Rock used to be one of my favorite dive sites.  When Royal Beach Motel was built there a dive site was established by Terry Moore who attracted a following among the sportif expats.  Royal Beach was at first trying to establish a clientele and offered accommodation at rates that have since doubled.  We early on found alternate accommodation but the diving was superb, with Terry running boats three times a day to the rock right offshore and divers happily frolicking among consistently frequent sightings of black tip reef sharks, turtles, migrating devil rays, cuttlefish, and resident barracuda, just to name a number of the many animals we took for granted there.

Now Terry's son Andy runs the business, and runs it well, despite a deterioration on the reef wrought by the unfortunate after effects of cyclone damage and prolonged red tide, which starved what was left of the reef after the cyclone.  Now the remarkable raspberry coral that was home to all the creatures has gone but the creatures are coming back to the substrates that remain.

Dibba Rock makes a relaxing destination if you want to get a late start on your way to Musandam or want to get back home in the afternoon and feel like a morning dive before making the cross-country trip. The coral rocks we call the aquarium remain, and jaw fish are returning to the back side.  Here is a compilation of GoPro shots that Glenn and I made on the rock on Oct 17, 2013

I will soon complile a similar video for Octopus Rock Oct 18 and post it here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

FUN! diving with Whale Shark (and Turtles) from Khasab in Straits of Hormuz

October 4-5, 2013, Extra Divers, Khasab, Musandam, Oman
My logged dives #1245-1248

What did we get ourselves in for this weekend? Someone had a birthday ending in zero so her mates booked her a birthday on a dhow exploring the fjords out of Khasab, in one of the most beautiful parts of Oman. Many of their friends were divers so they made it a dhow trip with option for diving in the Straits of Hormuz organized by Extra Divers, Khasab.

There were certain understandings of how all this was put together that were not made clear at the outset, but once you've done the trip you can see it clearly. The booking was made for the dhow trip for a group of people and one or two kids, only some of whom were divers. These people were looking forward to a catered overnight outing on a boat in placid fjords moving around amid the beautiful mountain scenery in the vicinity of the old British telegraph station still standing ruined on an island whose surrounding coral has unfortunately been demolished by the impact of two many dhows anchoring there. The diving was booked independently of all this with Extra Divers who agreed to pick the divers up and return them to the dhow, but apart from that Extra Divers knew nothing much about the dhow except that they and the dhow would all be in the harbor at Khasab at the same time on Friday morning. But Extra Divers was sending us credit card authorization forms, giving Bobbi and I the mistaken impression that they were somehow handling logistics (the forms didn't specify what we were authorizing). These were being handled by the expat organizers of the weekend, but due to the underlying culture you acquire by actually going on one of these trips, they were not much good at communicating to novitiates how the parts meshed in the process.

Bobbi and I were curious how it worked and we like diving in the Straits of Hormuz. We thought it would be fun to accompany a bunch of expats on a relaxing weekend break, but we had real-world concerns that we couldn't get answers to prior to the trip. These involved the hard fact that at the end and beginning of our work weeks, Bobbi and I would be in Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain respectively. It turned out that our friends would be getting a late start Thursday so Bobbi would simply drive from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain where I would be waiting with car packed and ready to move at sunset, and as it worked out, by 7 pm we were on our way to Ras Al Khaimah and the Oman border. We weren't familiar with the route or exactly how long it would take. RAK is not as well developed as the roads leading into it, and the distance to the border was considerable, considering the condition of the roads. We stopped for dinner in RAK as well, so it was about midnight before we managed to cross both borders and be on our way to the appointed camp site 18.6 km into Oman.

At the appointed spot, on a great road now running alongside the sea to the north and mountains plunging almost straight up just off the road to the south, we pulled off onto the sand, a little too near the noisy road, but we didn't want to drive onto loose sand so late at night. At the border the inspector had opened our cool box but of course we had stashed our contraband elsewhere so we were able to share a beer before trying to sleep in the car. Early into October in the Middle East it was still so hot and humid we were sweating and gasping for air in the enclosed vehicle, so we turned the engine on and let it idly power the a/c and slept in cool comfort the rest of the night. It was kind of like sleeping in an air conditioned hotel, except we only had to pay for petrol.

Bobbi hadn't switched off her workday morning alarm so we were up in plenty of time to complete the trip to Khasab on a beautiful roadway winding in and out of deep fjords, that you want to do in daylight when you can enjoy the view. But when we reached Khasab we found a much better option for camping, the beautifully maintained and uncrowded Bassa Beach spreading from the foot of the rocky promontory which the Golden Tulip now commands. We used to drive onto this promontory and camp when we came to Khasab decades ago, and it was great to see that the car tracks still led to the rocky overlooks unoccupied by campers on a Friday morning, within a short walk to the new Golden Tulip and to the back gate entrance to Extra Divers, easily reached by these rough tracks. Ideas for future winter dive trips, when it would be comfy to sleep in the car, were spinning.

So at the dive center we discovered our true options. We could indeed dive just that day if we wanted, return on the Extra Divers boat to Khasab, and be home that night in Al Ain where we could sleep in on Saturday so Bobbi could get up rested at 4 a.m on Sunday morning and drive 2 hours to work in Abu Dhabi. It didn't seem our not going on the dhow was going to cause any problems, since one tripper had got stuck in Doha and another had been turned back at the border due to a discrepancy in the stamps in and out of UAE in his passport. And as that side was being organized by the Omani agent, there was no comprehensive roster for it.

But we decided as long as we were there we'd just go with the flow and join the dhow trip and dive the second day with Extra Divers. This opened another pandora's box of logistical problems for us. The dhow would be getting back to port before the dive boat and our overnight stuff would be on the dhow. No telling when the dive boat would get back (on Friday the weather was rough and currents were unpredictable causing us to abort the start of one dive because the current was stiff the wrong way, so it didn't get back until 4 pm that day). Whenever we got back on Saturday and had paid at the dive shop, we'd just then be starting the long drive back home. Sunday morning was looking to hit us hard after just 4 hours sleep, and Bobbi having to stay awake on her commute to Abu Dhabi.

Anyway we put these inconveniences aside when we booked our Saturday dives on Friday morning and decided to throw in with the dhow. The first part of the adventure was to report to the port and see that our dive gear made it on the dive boat, and that our overnight gear went on the dhow. We went with the dive gear on the dive boat to Musandam Island where we dived Barracuda Corner and No Palm Beach. The weather was warm so there was no chill to the spray that hammered us on the ride out (I was sitting farthest back in the boat, where the hammer hit hardest and wettest). As we passed the islands I was disoriented approaching the Straits from a different way from when we normally come up from Dibba in the south. We arrived at the same island we usually do from that direction but with Extra Divers the sites have names (Nomad hasn't got round to naming them yet, I don't believe).

The diving wasn't particularly good. We were guaranteed currents wherever we put in I was told. The visibility was poor, though the coral was pretty. We saw a number of turtles but not much else apart from reef fish until at the end of the second dive we saw a feather ray being chased our way by one of the other divers (Hanno, nice of him :-). The second dive was aborted at first because where we put in with plan to end up in No Palm Beach the current turned out to be running strong the wrong way and was carrying us off the dive site. So we all had to get back in the boat, and our dive guide Vicki had to go chasing after those who had submerged and were valiantly attempting the dive. In any event, all were recovered and we motored back toward the beach to begin the dive there and end in a sand flat which would be good for rays, which is where we saw the feather guy. Vicki also saw an eagle ray at the start of that dive but neither Bobbi nor I saw it.

I carry a torch on day dives for looking into dark holes. The underwater terrain in Hormuz is riddled with limestone alchoves and tunnels. I sometime find rays in them but today I found something unusual. In one hole I peeked into there was a huge turtle at least a meter long. He was facing away from the entrance but oddly didn't move when I shined my light inside. I think it had gone there to die and had succeeded. It must have been recently since his flippers were tucked normally under his shell. He must have gained his size through too many years of living, and now he was resting motionless and imperturbable in a small alcove that could hardly contain him.

One nice thing, considering the currents, was that all the divers on the boat were compatible. All the dives were 60 minutes and divers went to various depths, Bobbi and I almost 30 meters each time. The current helped us on the first dive but on the second it seemed to be a little too powerful which meant we consumed air trying to slow down and maintain direction in it. The divers seemed to all have their own agendas, but we all met up at the safety stop, everyone with air left in the tank, and most of us surfaced together as our watches ticked past 60 minutes.

The ride back to the dhow was wet and uncomfortable. Again we got hammered by spray, slapping us in the face again and again. We were drenched, and I was wondering how we'd feel on the dhow, open deck, no chance for shower. But once we got there we found lunch waiting, and drinks in our cool box, and pleasant temperatures for drying off, and nothing to dress up for anyway. Some guests played in the water, the dhow moved to its mooring location, and we enjoyed sundown off the island with the old telegraph station. Dinner appeared, catered by boat from one of the villages on shore (Saeed's, our captain's village, not far from where he had anchored). The company was pleasant, someone produced a guitar and a small amp that bespoke professionalism in hittin' the licks. Bobbi and I were so tired that we stretched out on cushions and even with the amplified guitar drifted in and our of sleep. I heard the guitarist announce an end to his set, and then some loud music came on. I remember wondering if this would go on late but it didn't. I felt drugged and eventually awoke to everything dark and quiet. I was quite comfortable, no covers, no shirt, and a breeze just cool enough to keep the heat off. All was peaceful and quiet until dawn when some of the guests started talking to one another, a little inconsiderate of the people still pretending to sleep I thought, but it was time to get up anyway. I had to charge my GoPro on the USB of the netbook computer I'd brought aboard. You know your world has changed when you bring a laptop on a dive trip just to recharge your camera (well, while charging, I started writing up my dive logs :-).

People on the dhow were waking up and diving from the deck into the water. There was a discussion of etiquette in doing number 2 in the ship's head when there were swimmers in the water below. Breakfast was brought in by boat in plastic Lulu bags (there's a huge new Lulu Hypermarket near the harbor). Eventually the boat pulled anchor and went into a cove where there are dolphins. The crew of the dhow were graciously pleasant and delighted in steering the boat at a speed which would attract the dolphins to swim alongside, much to the appreciation of those of us with GoPros. We were winding down this activity when our dive boat appeared.

We transferred our gear aboard and waved goodbye to our other packs and coolbox which we would next see in Khasab harbor. We waved goodbye to our non-diving friends as well, as we would be back in port after they had all returned there and departed. We headed off across the archipelago on calmer seas than the day before, but there still remained some white caps and some parts where the spray stung our faces. We passed some Iranian smugglers heading home in a trio of Yamaha boats pitching heedless of the oncoming waves.  They waved as they headed out to sea.

Our destination was Abu Rashid Island, a small island with strong currents bathing walls and soft coral tableaux, with a sand bottom at about 30 meters. We did two dives here, both good. Bobbi and I kept company with Vicki most of the time though she seemed to be diving mostly to enjoy herself, exactly the kind of diver you want to follow. She was responsibly keeping tabs on the others but not getting in their way, and if Bobbi and I lagged back she would go on ahead and we'd catch up with her. She had some nice diving strategies, like finding a current and staying there using a reef hook. Bobbi and I both had reef hooks so we'd do the same. At one of these spots on the first dive, on an east wall called Abu Rashid Drift, we found a school of barracuda which I swam into with my GoPro blazing.

We saw more barracuda on the second dive, which we started at “Jackfish corner”, at one of the spots where Vicki was hooked in to the reef. I took videos of common things on this dive, a pair of nudibranchs appearing to consume one another, a school of triggerfish that was chasing after smaller fish, trying to corral them between the coral, but not able to catch any in the time I was filming. All throughout the dive batfish were darting up to us, and while we were hanging out clipped to the reef in the strong current, we could see them preening at cleaning stations, again subjects of my GoPro.

Vicki had a reason for clipping in, and that reason eventually appeared to us in the hulking form of a whale shark, keeping itself mouth into the current, sucking up the plankton. I swam up to it, but whereas the whale shark was stationary, I had to fin quite hard to keep along side it. Remora hanging to it like pennants also became detached in the current and had to scramble to regain position. The whale shark didn't seem to mind my swimming up to it, as long as I didn't touch it, and I kept myself near it till my breath gave out, so I descended to the reef where Bobbi and Vicki were clipped in watching the show from the multicolored reef.

I guess there's not more to say that will top that about the diving. Just about timing, the boat was back in harbor at 3:00, we had retrieved our packs from the dhow and cleaned our dive gear and paid at the dive shop by 4 pm, and we were crossing borders by 5:00. At 6:00 we were stuck in traffic in RAK, home to the most pathetic road snarls in the UAE, pathetic because in a land of new traffic infrastructure, not much changes in RAK though the number of cars increases constantly. We were soon on the 311 though and by 6:30 we were turning off at the Um Al Quwayn exit to connect with the 611. At 7:15 we had turned off 611 into 66 for Al Ain. It's one hour from there to our house, making a 4.5 hour trip in all. It could be an hour less with better road works in RAK and more efficiency at the borders, but it didn't take as long as we feared.

And it was very much worth doing!  These nudibranchs are for Jay :-)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Certified Michele Campbell PADI Open Water and completed 4 out of 5 Advanced Open Water divers for "Andy" Anand Mantri

September 20-21, 2013, Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam
My logged dives #1241-1244

This weekend was productive from a PADI instructor point of view.  I certified Michele Campbell PADI Open Water (all but the swim, to be done in a pool midweek) and completed 4 out of 5 Advanced Open Water dives for "Andy" Anand Mantri.

Transport is getting complicated with Bobbi and I working in different cities, but I get off early so I drove up to Abu Dhabi to get her and we drove across the UAE Thu night to Dibba. We hit traffic in two places on the way.  I had the idea to drop by Al Boom (a.k.a. Scuba Dubai) and pick up some bcds being serviced, but was disabused of that notion after getting stuck in a half hour tailback near Dubai World Central (the new airport under construction) on what used to be known as Emirates Road (the 611 has now been renamed Emirates Road), I said to heck with it and picked up the gear 2 days later on my way home from Dibba to Al Ain.  The second tailback was another half hour further up the 611 where traffic was trying to exit the Dhaid to Sharjah road. We've never seen traffic jams on the 611 before (maybe that's why they renamed it Emirates Road). Fortunately the border crossing in Dibba was painless, and having got up for work at 4 that morning, I was at our home away from home Nomad Ocean Adventure by around 9 that night, 17 long hours later.

Once we got settled in and helped ourselves to the buffet spread, the weekend got very relaxing. After a great lie-in, we got started on the diving courses at Ras Morovi on Friday.  Michele was doing PADI o/w dive #2, the one with the set of basic skills done at the bottom of the ocean, and she did those perfectly.  We were in the easy bay so we went over to the alcove where I almost always find crayfish but there were none there (eaten??).  We went over the saddle to the cabbage coral, but no turtles there.  We visited the two caves where rays sometimes hang out, again nothing. We did find pipe fish on the bottom, there were lots of tropical fish, and it was a relaxing, nice long dive, 51 minutes at about 15 meters maximum depth. Meanwhile Andy was doing his peak buoyancy dive while buddied with Bobbi.

Our next dive was at Lima Rock South.  It was murky here and we didn't see much apart from honeycomb and grey morays, but Michele got through dive #3, and Andy accomplished his advanced boat dive (and more buoyancy work).  Michele was back on the surface after 35 minutes (we had touched 18 meters on the dive) but the boat was nearby and I was able to see her aboard and then rejoin Bobbi and Andy at the bottom to finish out Andy's tank near the west end of Lima Rock.  Despite the full moon, current was slack, as it's sometimes raging at that end of the island, so our dive had a peaceful ending.

We were hoping for a night dive but Nomad require 4 paying customers and we were only Andy and two others, so I went for a jog instead, and then relaxed with my wife and students over another of Aneil's great dinners. Next morning, after another rare sleep, we were back on the boat for a first dive at Lima Rock, north side this time.  I assigned Andy an advanced underwater naturalist dive, and began my dive with Michele in a controlled emergency swimming ascent (aka CESA) on a weighted line attached to the bow of the boat. On surfacing, we did the full range of surface skills, which Michele had been concerned about, but they turned out to be a piece of cake for her.

Our first turtle on Lima Rock, North, Sept 21, 2013

This dive that followed was relaxing as well.  The north side of Lima Rock has a shallower sandy bottom than that on the south side, and the terrain there makes for interesting swim-throughs and set tableaux of coral encrusted boulders teeming with fish.  And we found a turtle resting in a bed of green whip coral (but then everything looks green at depth under water).  At the end of the dive we caught up with Andy and Bobbi surrounded by a cloud of frolicking squids, in the video below.  At the surface, Michele removed and replaced weights and bcd, and in so doing completed all the scuba requirements for the PADI open water course, so congratulations to her!

Squiddlywinks on Lima Rock, North, Sept 21, 2013

Michele decided to sit the next dive out so Andy and I did the deep dive for the advanced o/w course off Ras Sanut.  We planned a profile of 24 meters for 20 minutes, 16 meters for 10, and at 12 meters till our tanks were exhausted, which would be about ten or 15 minutes for Andy, since it was his first deep dive (well, first officially, certainly his first with me :-).  The dive went well.  We had put in near the boulder with the cleaved flat face, near the point from where we often put in deeper in the bay, so we found 24 meters in sand quite easily and did our exercises there (compared depth gauges, calculated a minimum surface interval).  We then went up to the coral at about 17 meters but meandered back in the sand again looking for the rocks I knew were in deeper water somewhere but couldn't see due to algae clouded vis.  Finally I found one, and in its shadow one of the largest turtles I have seen in these waters, this one with a good size remora hitching a ride on its shell.

The huge turtle with the remora on his shell

We continued diving to the point, progressing up through our levels and enjoying slack current as the day before.  Sometimes the current can be pumping out to sea here, but today it was almost calm, and because of that there were no interesting fish around that we could see (current brings them to the point).  When Andy ran low on air we did our safety stop and Bobbi and I saw him to the surface, but we returned to 15 meters to carry on around the point and dive the Lima Rock side. Again there was not much of note but we continued our dive to over an hour, and found it refreshing with bracing thermoclines pleasant to the skin beneath our 3 mm wetsuits, 28 degrees at its most frigid, nice easy diving.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Whale sharks and other sea creatures enjoyed on a day trip to Daymaniyat Islands in Oman

September 14, 2013, Extra Divers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort
My logged dives #1239-1240

Bobbi and I just moved to Al Ain so I can live closer to my job. One bonus is that Al Ain is 2 hours closer to Oman than was Abu Dhabi so it's just 3.5 hours to drive to Al Sawadi Beach Resort, where we can access one of our favorite dive areas, the Daymaniyat Islands. That makes it possible to dive the Daymaniyats on a day trip from Al Ain (first time it's been that close since we lived in Oman back last century, and used to go there often). We could have driven down the night before and stayed at our favorite in-spot on the Batinah Coast, Suwaiq Motel, but since Bobbi still works in Abu Dhabi and has to get up at 4 anyway to get to work on time when she stays in Al Ain, we figured we might as well keep our routine and wake up at 4 for the drive to Al Sawadi from Al Ain on Saturday morning, the easier the transition from weekend Saturday to workaday Sunday.

So we did that, arriving at the dive center half an hour late due to our miscalculation of the time it would take us to get there (they pointed out it was actually 35 minutes; we thought it would take just 3 hours). But since we had our dive bags ready to throw on the boat, we didn't hold them up, but boarded the boat along with everyone else. Though the trip with its border crossing at dawn was wearing (we even had a petrol crisis since both Oman stations were closed in the 20 km between border posts; and we were on empty), we were hoping to see something in the ocean that would make it worth the trip down.

That's Bobbi in the thumbnail, the small creature at the top of the screen, not the big one :-)

We got off to an excellent start. They had been seeing whale sharks on the 45 min. trip out to the islands lately so our crew were expecting them, and when they were spotted, the crew cut the engines and let everyone off to snorkel with the sharks. This happened more than once on the trip out, so we got to snorkel with a couple of whale sharks very close up. The last one we saw came up to the boat, but it was by then time for diving, so the divers simply observed it from the gunwales, no one jumped off to play with it.  I've never seen a boat load of diver before decline en mass an opportunity to swim with a whale shark (in the GoPro compilation above I put that encounter first, makes a more logical storyboard :-).

We proceeded to make two dives, one on lesser Jun and the other on Sirah Island. Both were superb. The first dive on Jun had swimming pool visibility with a layer of algae at the bottom that we could easily see through if we finned overhead, and was only slightly brown if we were in it. A sharp thermocline trapped the cool water in the lower layer, so it was nice with a 5 mm suit to swim into it. But the cloud tended to remain over the sand, at 16 meters, and the water on the reef was as clear as a glass of water.

The reef was beautiful and teeming with frolicking fish meandering about the staghorn corals. There were large black, white and yellow grunts, and a Moorish idol nibbling at a jellyfish.

I found one turtle with his head stuck into the cabbage coral intently trying to get at whatever it was that so appealed to it there.

In the clear water, trigger fish, parrot fish, puffer and porcupine fish swam about the cleaning stations where wrasse serviced batfish and other customers, and scorpion fish could be found dogfaced hiding in the coral, motionless even when approached quite closely.

I kept checking out in the sand looking for sting rays and leopard sharks. I didn't see any of the latter, but we found where huge cow tail rays loitered about, only to take freight and scamper when divers approached.

I'd almost forgot how meager the between-dive snack is with Extra Divers. We hadn't had any breakfast to speak of so the biscuits and pineapple and watermellon were refreshing but hardly fortifying. But at least they had enough, didn't run out when Sultan the friendly boatman passed the platter repeatedly. Fortunately the second dive would take our mind off the gaps in our stomachs.

We motored over to the site, the small island nearest to our mainland port, and put in with a mild but steady current nudging us west, reef on our left. We soon came on a turtle. I was following it with my GoPro but Hany was clacking his tank and agitatedly making shark signals, since a whale shark was cruising just off the reef at that moment. 

The shark posed for cameras for a minute or two before going his way, but he came back a few minutes later, but this time below the brown layered thermocline, so he was not so clearly visible, but everyone in our group was crowding around him. I wasn't that enthused to chase him, but I noticed that near the reef, virtually ignored by the other divers, a mottled ray lay unobtrusively in the sand. So I went down to it and filmed him instead.

Hany had promised to take us to a place where a large seahorse often hung out, but the sea horse wasn't home. A torpedo ray was there instead.

Several divers surfaced on coming up from the 20 meter search for the seahorse, low on air after 45 minutes. But Bobbi and I continued for another 15, finding a huge moray hiding with gaping mouth in the coral,

more turtles, blue triggers decorating one part of the reef, more scorpion fishes,

and a lone cuttlefish resting on the bottom (odd, they usually travel in pairs, and usually move away when approached).

Back on shore we drove back to UAE happy indeed that we had made the drive south over the border.