Saturday, May 4, 2013

Diving Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure: Fun diving with Daniel and Camille Sobrado


May 3-4, 2013
My logged dives #1192-1195


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On a typical Thursday I wake up at 4 a.m. and leave the house before 5 to arrive at my workplace in Al Ain before 6:30 and teach classes starting then or at 7:20.  This goes on for a few hours until by 1:00 I head home, arrive back in Abu Dhabi exhausted by 3:00 p.m. and often collapse in bed until prayer calls awaken me at 4:00.  However, if we're diving on the weekend, I'll pack when I get home and be loading the car with dive gear for when Bobbi pulls away from work and arrives by about 4:30.  We try to be away by 5:00 for the 3 hour drive to the UAE Dibba border.

Today we would be joined by Daniel and Camille Sobrado, ex-students of mine and great friends who enjoy diving with us.  Daniel had contacted me to ask when we would be leaving the house, and I txt'd him from the road to say we were passing Shahama, a half hour out of town.  He txt'd back to say he had thought they were riding with us, and when we reviewed our communications, everything we'd said to one another made sense in Daniel's assumption we'd be swinging by to get them and my erroneous assumption that they had by now purchased a car, since their family was growing.  But they were such good friends, we agreed to pull over at Ghantoot and wait for them to grab a cab and catch up to us.

We used to spend a lot of time at Al Jazeera Resort in Ghantoot, a fantastic place with a fanciful royal palace all built inland from the sea but with a channel snaking something like six km through the desert to allow the palace and the hotel to both have marinas.  Only now the Palace, always a quiet place, had been turned into a second 4 star hotel.  It was very pleasant in the evening before sundown, balmy weather, birds cawing in the orchards, sprinklers swishing over incongruously spacious green lawns.  We drove down to the beach to see if the dive center was still there on the road we used to run, a 16 km circuit, in annual races from the Al Jazeera Resort to the beach and back on the continuation of the loop, organized by the last truly social running event organizer in Abu Dhabi, Steve Reay, sorely missed.  Like Steve, the dive center was long gone and the army had taken over the bungalows. So we drove back to check out the hotels and ended up having $5 double espresso and capuchinos while using free and robust wifi in the hotel and waiting for Daniel and Camille and tiny Stephanie to appear in a cab.

Though our stop was pleasant, we had been delayed a bit, so we didn't reach the border in Dibba until 9:30 pm, and there we were delayed even further through the UAE border security taking on a life of its own and becoming an increasingly significant obstacle in tourist visits to Oman.  The Omanis have nothing to do with it, they have no presence at the border, but the UAE authorities are adding 30 min to an hour of border crossing time while they try to match permits to passports and sometimes search cars.  It's not as bad as it could be and hopefully they'll streamline the process, but in the meantime, tourists try to be patient, border guards try to do their work efficiently, but what used to be a drive over a speed bump in the road has become an elephant that's hard to get around.

But at last we arrived, and from then on the weekend was mellow.  Food was superb and waiting for us.  Sylvia has learned chicken redang from Fizzy's mom to further extend her eclectic repertoire, and we mellowed nicely that evening, and slept as long as we liked in the morning, dragging ourselves out of bed only to go diving!

We had two really nice dives.  The weather was pleasant, air temperatures not quite at 30 degrees, and water temps pleasant at 23-25, refreshing in 5 mm wetsuits. All divers in our boat were advanced or above so we headed for Octopus Rock, and like last time, found the current to be benign.  We put in on the north side of the rock and easily finned back to the part where the fish congregate and went down there amid schools of blue triggerfish.  I led us east into ridges that direction and followed the contour down to 25 meters or so, looking for sting rays in the sandy valleys, and sea horses in the green whip coral.  We found none of these but at a place where the ridge ended in white soft corals, interspersed with orange and violet, I led us back up the ridge at 16 meters or so, lots of fishes, but nothing exciting until Bobbi following behind deployed her clacker and showed me where I'd just passed over a scorpion fish hiding like Waldo next to a rock.

From there the diving was excellent.  We found numerous crayfish in various configurations in rocky crevaces on the west side of Octopus Rock, including one where I was calling Bobbi to come look but she was on the other side of the bommie calling me to come look at hers. We saw lots of moray eels here. Visibility was good, current was light, so it was easy to pop over to the next ridge west and follow it along. There were no exciting animals here but we did see that the rope reaching from an anchor dropped on Octopus Rock that was running in a green line beneath the surface was connected to a huge blue net with openings the size of fore and middle finger joined on either hand that blocked our way to go deep. There were no fish in the net, but it looked nasty if anything the size of a mackeral or a turtle came along, it would likely be ensnared. However, divers need to co-exist with the fishing industry here; it is not ours to adjudicate, and not a good idea to destroy things people use to feed their families, so we left it alone and rounded the point and headed back up the other side. Here we found a sting ray and more crayfish, and at one point Bobbi and I were each banging on our tanks with different intents. I had found a spritely squid, and she had spotted a honeycombed moray. So I watched my squid dart out of site and gave up looking for more and went back to look at Bobbi's moray.

There were other morays here, two free swimming. Daniel and Camille had surfaced by now, Camille had indicated 50 bar at around 45 minutes into the dive, so Bobbi and I continued over the rock and found Fizzy and her group from another boat coming up the other side. I mentioned to Bobbi later that it would have been easy to assume we were on Octopus Rock after encountering the other divers there, but I knew we weren't and led us east over sand till we came on the anchor with the green rope leading to the net. This time we ducked under it and continued around the rock. We circled twice, passing through clouds of blue trigger fish and snappers, and disturbing batfish in the act of getting cleaned, which they seem to resent as if you'd walked in while they were on the toilet. They usually let the wrasse get one more morsel, that's it, a little up and to the left now, ah, got it … then (these divers are so rude!) hasten to exit the cleaning station. After 60 minutes diving we surfaced just north of the rock, at the exact same point we'd put in.

That was such a nice dive, good vis, good fish, and so little current, so after lunch we decided for the next one to test ourselves on Lima Rock south. Our group was last to enter the water, and we'd seen the others being carried to the east in the direction of Iran, so once we'd all jumped, I gathered my group in a sheltered place and briefed them on staying together and staying close to the reef and out of open water as much as possible, and I said if we hit the current we'd go with it, just hang on to the rocks to keep control (Bobbi and I both had reef hooks) and we'd try to duck in the gap to the north and escape the current on the other side.

So we began our adventure. At first the current was pretty easy on us as we went deep and passed along the middle of the island. But we could soon feel ourselves being carried with it. Bobbi found at least one large honeycomb moray, and at one point I ducked down to find a black marble ray squirming in a cave, since we'd blocked his escape. Daniel and Camille had raced ahead of us and were peering back at us from where they'd grasped a rock, but they worked their way back to where the ray was. Then we rode the current along the rock face, slowing ourselves with our hooks, Daniel and Camille doing well until we got a little higher up the reef and eventually they got task loaded and surfaced. I think they had seen the swarms of jacks by then. There are big fish off the point that love to play by the hundreds in the current. There were barracuda among them, effortlessly holding their ground, and now a school of them right next to us. We hung on and enjoyed it while our air lasted and eventually worked our way into the gap and out the other side. Chris had asked us to surface after just 45 min. and there were 49 min on my computer when we hit the surface after a 3 min safety stop.

After a very relaxing evening at Nomad, with early bedtime and an early morning jog to the Golden Tulip for me, we got back aboard our boats for a return to Lima Rock. We started on the north side this time, near the slack low tide, so we planned to dive to the point we were at the day before and round it to the south this time, if the current would let us. The vis was a little milky and apart from the lovely coral encrusted swim-throughs there wasn't much out of the ordinary until I rounded a point in the sand and came on a brown cow-tail there. I backed off though the current was carrying me closer. Cow-tail rays will swim away if approached, and when Daniel came on the scene, this one did, but not too fast. We swam after it a bit and into the sand at 22 meters, but it's stamina allowed it to keep its pace; ours didn't.

Bobbi asked me if I'd got its picture. We had just that morning got our Go Pro camera working. Long story and I don't want to embarrass anyone, but I myself was embarrassed to realize that the thought hadn't occurred to me. I've been diving so long just enjoying nature au naturel that I'd forgot about the camera, an it's not that straightforward to operate because Bobbi got one without a display, but I'd been practicing. And the next thing I saw coming up to about 16 meters was another lone squid, but he would not have been that photogenic. However when Bobbi turned up yet another large honeycomb moray I passed in front of it and got my first underwater video shot.

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However, old mindsets are hard to break. The other events on that dive went unrecorded on digital film though things did start to get interesting. I was just passing below 100 bar as we neared the point. The fish here were bigger and more numerous, the water colder and clearer, and the current was taking us with it. Daniel and Camille were low on air and wisely surfaced but Bobbi and I continued around the point where we had a good look into the depths. No devil rays were there, but I did see a large blob on the bottom that looked too large for a patch of coral, but not quite like a ray. I descended on it. It was resting at 30 meters and it was indeed a huge black bull ray, deceptively round, with only a stub for a tail. Again, it didn't occur to me to pull out the camera, though he was sitting still in crystal clear water. I was nearing 50 bar now, so we started edging our way up hitting stiff head current as we rounded the point. We used our reef hooks to claw our way up it and were soon surrounded by hulking barracuda. Again the water was clear, Bobbi seemed comfortable and in control, but we had to stop at ten meters atop a wall that plunged downwards and had nothing further for us to ascend on. I had a look at Bobbi with the barracuda hulking nearby and preserve that memory only for me, as again, it didn't occur to me to take a picture. I wish I had rolled the video at that point though because it was clear we would need to let go our perch and ascend to 5 meters and then float with the current midwater while we did our 3 min. safety stop. This trajectory put us right into a school of a hundred barracuda … I'm guessing and extrapolating; we could see a couple dozen at a time come into view as we drifted along with them at 5 meters. We ended on the surface a hundred meters east of the island, but this was a really wow dive.

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Our next dive was at Ras Sanut, a disappointment after the 3 previous dives. Fizzy had selected Ras Sanut, and I got to choose north or south. Steve wanted to do south because he had seen mola molas there on three occasions, he said. I wanted to do North because I had had such a great dive my first time there with Amelio in excellent vis, but my last dive there with Bobbi had been disappointing, poor vis, and we couldn't see the distant rays. We should have gone with Steve's choice. When we motored to the north side we found an Al Boom boat there about to discharge divers. So we had some pressure on us to stay ahead of them. Bobbi and Daniel and Camille saw a turtle but I didn't see anything I wanted to take a picture of. Vis was cloudy, but it was diving, and come to think of it, that made it only a lesser degree of something already GREAT!



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