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 :-)