Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fun with Blue Planet Diving on Dibba Rock while conducting PADI re-activate diving for Alexandre Mevel

My logged dives #1332 - 1335

I was referred to a someone in Al Ain who wants to help his kids with their diving. A long-time diver himself, Jean-Yves has dived a lot with his son Alexandre, who certified when he was 12. Now he is 15 and Jean-Yves asked me to refresh his skills and help with securing his adult card. PADI has recently introduced a 're-activate' program which will soon replace the Scuba Review and refresher concepts, so I agreed to meet Alexandre at the pool and go through the 25 steps of confined-water scuba review with him using the re-activate protocol which will show the date of Alexandre's most recent work with a PADI instructor on his adult card replacement.

The process can include an optional dive, and this is what gave us the excuse to yesterday drive to Dibba and roll up at Blue Planet Diving at 11:30 in the morning (8 a.m. departure from Al Ain for us). BPD are quite flexible with their schedule and ideal for basing yourself on the beach and diving on short boat rides, in case you have a family along for a beach outing. That was the plan though in the end no one from our families joined us so it was just Jean-Yves and Alexandre and I.

I did three dives on Dibba Rock and the Mevels did two. Visibility is usually best earlier in the day and I was quite excited when on the first dive we found schools of colorful fish while exploring the aquarium at the 5 meter mooring line and then found barracudas schooling off the north face of the rock. I was following some large barracuda around at close quarters when I noticed my GoPro wasn't blinking in video mode. In fact it was reporting no SD card. I almost knocked my face mask loose slapping my forehead, thinking I'd left the SD card in my computer back home, but after the dive I found it was just improperly inserted. Still with no working camera I was not totally disappointed when we didn't find the 20 sharks Alla had seen in the shallows the day before, nor that I again was unable to find the rays in the sand where Slava and Emad know where to go but I don't. It was a little tedious working across the shallows to deep water near the east mooring, but we enjoyed the dive, we saw a flounder, cuttlefish, morays, lionfish, and more barracudas, and my buddies did very well on getting back in the water. 

When we walked out from the first dive, Alla told us the next one was in 15 minutes and said if we were going, get ready. I said let's go, but then I was the only one with a full 5 mm wetsuit. Jean Yves was cold from 23 degree water and needed a lunch break, and his son is a growing lad easily swayed by the prospect of something to eat. So I quickly changed my tank and joined the boat and was asked to show a nice Finnish couple around. They were no trouble, all they had to do was follow me, and me to check back on them now and then, and the barracudas were still there and the vis still reasonably clear, and most of the video is from this dive.

Again back on shore I quickly switched tanks for a third dive, which the Mevel boys were now ready for. But it was 4:15 when went in down the east mooring so we descended into water that was now in the shadow of the rock with light diffused from the angle of the sun. Jean-Yves had informed me that he and Alexandre were going to practice sharing air with the secondary 2nd stage on the low pressure inflater of his BCD, but just as they were starting a turtle came up at me and I operated my GoPro with one hand while digging my reef hook out of my bcd pocket so could make some noise, which you can hear in the video. The turtle led me to some barracuda and after that it was a barracuda dive again.

I had a lot of fun on these three dives. Congrats to Alexandre on his adult re-activated card, and thanks to him and Jean-Yves for getting me off my derrière, and Alla and Slava at BPD for the great day out as usual.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

PADI Open Water dive course for Joe and Zach Wolfer at Blue Planet Diving, Dibba

My logged dives #1328 and 1331

Bobbi and I returned from Koh Lanta, Thailand on a flight at 3 pm on Dec 16 and 9 hours later, at about that time in the morning local time Dec 17, we were grabbing our baggage off the carousel at Abu Dhabi airport. We got a cab into town where we had left our car in one of the new Mawaqaf garages and drove it home to Al Ain where we arrived at 6:30 a.m. and slept for a few hours. When we awoke we organized things there for arrival of Glenn and his wife Gulya and their daughter Gwenny (the 3 G's we call them) in Dubai late that night, where they caught a cab to our place. Bobbi had fixed Glenn's favorite burritos so we had an after-midnight dinner and all got to bed around 4 a.m. By morning Dec 18. I had developed a throbbing toothache and went to the dentist to have it sorted, but made it home in time with enough pain killers for us to get the family on the road by 2 pm for the drive to Dibba to meet Joe and Zach Wolfer at Blue Planet Diving. We had chosen to go there for the Wolfer's open water dive course because of the G's having day-long access to the beach and everyone being able to dive whenever they chose to. BPD were diving on Dibba Rock at 9:30 a.m. each morning, then sending the boat to Inchcape at 11:30, and doing an afternoon dive once the boat returned.

I sometimes meet my dive students for the first time when we arrive at the dive center and that was the case with the Wolfers when we met them at BPD Thursday evening. They turned out to be a fit and active father-son team, and I could tell as they engaged with equipment assembly and buddy check that they had prepared the academics well. The idea was to get them familiar enough with the gear that evening that they would be able to put it on quickly and get in the water first thing at 8:00 a.m. next day. We would attempt to get through module 1 confined water, which I briefed thoroughly in a dry-run dress rehearsal, so we could perhaps make the 9:30 dive on Dibba Rock. I find the old version of the PADI o/w course to be most convenient for training divers when timing is a factor. There is as yet no solid implementation date for the new course, but I try to integrate skills from the new course into the old one as much as I can, but keep to the old standards as we go.

Day 1, Dec 19, 2014

Our plan worked, we were in the "confined" shallow water off the beach by 8:30, out by 9:15, and we were on the boat at 9:30 for a first dive on Dibba Rock. We dropped into the Aquarium down the 5 meter mooring line on the west shoulder of the rock and found vis to be fair despite lots of particulate matter in the water. The Aquarium was aswirl with the usual fishes, including the school of banner fish that lead off my video, and a scorpion fish hanging out on a nearby rock, hoping to go un-noticed. Pushing down toward the back side we found hulking barracuda, and in the shallows I got to see the turtle I had missed earlier on the wall. On our first dive Zach was first to go low on air so we ascended and got him onto the boat ok, and Joe and I returned to see if we could find any sharks. We went as far as the 8 meter line on the east side of the rock and then turned back to the check out the wall. It was pleasant diving with lots of fish life to entertain us, but we didn't see any sharks.

Back ashore I worked with Joe and Zach on confined water #2. By the time we needed to do module #3 the tide had gone out and brown water was washing in from the sea, so we did that module in the pool, which was not too cold for me in a 5 mm wetsuit, and the Wolfers seemed fine in their 3-4-5's from BPD (5 mm at the core and 3 and 4 on the arms and legs).

Emad, leading another group on the morning dive, had told us he had found some huge sting rays in the sand beyond that 8 meter mooring line, so we decided to look there on our next dive, which was down the 8 meter line so we could go west with the current on the incoming tide. We looked in the sand where we did our o/w dive #2 skills and up the reef but found nothing big there, nothing noteworthy apart from some pipe fish. As my students consumed their air we rose on the reef and eventually tried to push into the shallows against some stiff back-surge. We paused there and came up on alternate air source (a required skill for the old version o/w dive #2).

Bobbi and Glenn on the Inchcape wreck

Meanwhile Bobbi and Glenn had gone out at 11:30 to the Inchcape.

Here's Glenn's video of the same dive

Day 2, Saturday Dec 20

Our second glorious weekend day started as had the day before, with the Wolfers and me at the dive center before the owners arrived to get into the water as quickly as possible and do confined water modules 4 and 5 in the calm clear waters off the BPD facility, protected by the jetty there. Emad was back on Saturday with his dual side-mounts (I never asked him why he packed those two six shooters on dives to just 15 meters, though I assume it was for balance or fine-tuning his kit). At the briefing I asked where the sting rays were exactly, and as Bobbi and Glenn were joining on this 9:30 a.m. dive, we all decided to follow Emad (who amiably agreed to lead us to the sand where the rays were). We started the dive in the Aquarium on the west mooring but quickly pushed on past the barracuda to the deep side of the rock. Emad was leading at a fast clip in order to reach the sand at the far east end of the dive site. At 12-13 meters we found the layer of murky brown water, and the sharks were right there today. I saw the first one pop out from underneath the haze but he popped back before I could get him on my GoPro. But Zach was alerted and he and I saw the next two who were darting along just beneath the brown haze layer. Again I couldn't capture them on video so we continued to follow Emad who was focused on showing his student critters on the reef and whom I don't believe saw the sharks (Zach and I were the only lucky ones on this trip out). Nearing the sand patch where we would look for rays Emad stopped to do some skills with his student and I had mine deflate their BCDs, do mask clears, and then orally inflate to re-establish neutral buoyancy. But we had been pushing hard to reach that point, we were at 13 meters depth, and my students' air was running low, so we left Emad there (who did not find rays this trip in any event) and followed the reef up. Air got critical and we had to ascended off the reef to 5 meters where we practiced hovering for 3 minutes in the green without visual reference, a tricky skill which the Wolfer's did well on, for beginners, until it was time to surface.

Final CERTIFICATION dive for Joe and Zach Wolfer, newly qualified PADI o/w divers

We got to relax while waiting for our final dive, and then it was just Joe, Zach, and me on the boat along with one Russian-speaking snorkeler. We started again, due to current, at the 8 meter line, though current was almost nil, not always the case on Dibba Rock. I took Joe down the line first and ascended on a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA). This is a difficult maneuver for students, many of whom need to do it twice to (slap forehead) get it right. Zach joined us at the surface and did his and then I aimed us into the sand over a pair of sideways-oriented batfish. Visibility was very poor, so we did mask removal/replacement and a compass heading out west and back to the east to regain our sand patch. Both divers had over 100 bar so I decided to take us into the sand at 13 meters to look for the rays, but it was a shot in the dark for us, vis was so poor, and we were on compass the whole way. Even back on the reef vis was not much better, though it improved the higher up we ascended. With my divers down to 50 bar I led us to the shallows where we encountered large schools of barracuda. These entertained us as we finished out our air, and they were a great way to polish off an open water dive course.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bobbi and I on holiday fun diving on Koh Lanta Thailand, Dec 10 through 14, 2014

My dives #1318-1327
Here's a map of the area thanks to Ocean Divers http://www.oceandivers.asia/koh-lanta-dive-sites showing the areas we were taken to during our stay on Koh Lanta

Our dive logs ...
  • Wed 10-Dec-14 - first 2 Ko Lanta dives with Dive and Relax on Koh Haa. My dives #1318-9
  • Thu 11-Dec-14 -two dives with Dive and Relax on Koh Bida Nok, my dives #1320-21
  • Fri 12-Dec-14 2 dives with Dive and Relax on long trip to Hin Muang and Hin Daeng, my dives #1322-23
  • Sat 13-Dec-14 2 dives with Dive and Relax on the new wreck the Klet Kaew and Koh Bida Noi, my dives #1324-25
  • Sun 14-Dec-14 we went with Palm Divers to Hin Daeng and Ko Haa, my dives #1326-27
Details and impressions ...

We start with our Sat 13-Dec-14 dive on the new wreck the Klet Kaew

(waiting for it to register on YouTube)

More videos will be posted as we edit them

Koh Lanta has been on our bucket list – from its own websites and reports of other divers it seems superb. Our FB friends even were posting videos from their recent encounters with mantas on Hin Muong. For us, as sometimes happens but sometimes not (we do get very, very lucky sometimes :-) we were not lucky this time.

Koh Lanta is in that circle of great diving starting from Havelock Island in the Andamans going southeast to the Similan Islands, further SE to Phuket, east to Kho Phi Phi and nearby Koh Lanta, south to Lankawi in Malaysia, and on around back west to Pulau Wei on the north coast of Aceh, Indonesia.

As in Pulau Wei earlier, I would rate KL diving very good but not excellent. For the price, I would say that PW was the better bargain (unless you see mantas on KL, and then it's worth whatever you pay). But if you don't see mantas, or in retrospect didn't see them, then KL is quite expensive by comparison for similar diving. A day of diving can cost 4000 bhat, or 5000 for the distant dive sites (with park fees and fuel surchages). In PW it's much less.

But after hours, those long overnight surface intervals, things are much more interesting in KL than in PW. KL is a laid back place, not crazy like KPP (though we've never been there, but Leonardo di Capio apparently oversold that one). There is plenty to do and eat and drink on Long Beach at KL, sunset happy hours being almost dangerous. We certainly enjoyed ourselves on KL, enjoyed the diving as well, relaxed very well in our beach bungalows (once we got ourselves in a room away from the reggae bar). There were no such activities on PW except at the dive center. It's very quiet, very peaceful on PW, with the option of excellent shore diving where you can just take a tank, wade into the water, and guide yourself.

From North Beach at KL you can see the Phi Phi islands, and the dive shops on KL go there, though our diving tended to focus on just three areas, the Bida Islands, the scenic rock pedestals of Kho Haa to the west, and the deep reefs of Hin Muong and Hin Daeng less than an hour past Kho Haa, assuming good weather.

We were not there in good weather. There was a storm (Ruby) hammering the Philippines when we were there and on our last day, our last boat ride from Hin Daeng to Ko Haa, just that stretch between the two dive sites, normally half an hour apart, took almost three hours beating slowly against the waves, Blue Planet catamaran unable to plane.

On our earlier days in the area, the beach weather was great, plenty of sunshine and balmy breezes, but these translated to winds and waves at sea that we were hardly aware of, but those who knew local conditions could somehow sense, so that the second promised dive sites almost never materialized, and we were forced to shelter in the same spots we had dived the first dive, but to avoid repetition we would go left instead of right this time. The diving was always good mind you, but other dive boats seemed under the same constraints, so the sites were crowded, and even first in from our boat usually dropped down on a reef spewing bubbles from divers passing underneath.

As we often do, we chose our dive center based on those who answered emails. For KL the best correspondent was far and away Cameron at http://diveandRelax.com. His outfit was professional and friendly and his dive guides very competent. Unfortunately, they only did Hin Muong trips twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. HM was where the mantas were, but they hadn't seen any there in a couple of weeks anyway, so for us it probably didn't matter that we could only go there with them on the Friday. Still, we would like to have dived there our first day, Tuesday. We landed in Krabi on a Monday afternoon and had read it was possible to reach KL that evening, and we saw kiosks at the airport offering to take us there, but Cameron required a significant deposit in order to book space on the dive next day. He said we would have to be at the dive center by 5 or latest 6 pm that evening to check in for the dive next morning, and tailbacks at the ferry landings made that an iffy proposition, which meant if we couldn't get to DiveandRelax within three hours of our plane landing at Krabi, we might lose our deposit, which made gambling on the Hin Muong trip on Tuesday a risk.  When we eventually met Cameron we had the impression he might be flexible on deposits in case you couldn't make your dive due to ferry hassles, but we had no way of telling by email.

So we opted to relax on arrival and overnight in Krabi instead of rushing to Koh Lanta that evening. Bobbi had booked a room on Ao Nang beach, one of the most popular in Krabi, but far from the airport. Once we reached there we were happy with the ambiance and sunset happy hour from the beach, but after dark and next morning we realized we could have been on Kuta Beach or Waikiki, so we were happier still to get away from there next morning and move on to Koh Lanta.

For those who need to know, which is anyone who lands in Krabi with little sense of how to get about, there are at this writing two ways to get to KL. You can take a large ferry which leaves Krabi somewhere and arrives at Sela Dan on KL. The only catch is it goes on a set schedule each day which you have to get up for. I don't know more about it than that because we opted for the mini-bus each way. These pick you up at your hotel, with pickups hourly or half-hourly, and they take you where you have booked. In our case some passengers were going to Phuket etc. We couldn't figure out how that was going to work until we saw they took us to a station where they had passengers transfer to other destinations. We were put on a KL van leaving right away that took us to another transfer point just by the harbor in the center of Krabi town. Again we changed vans but this one took us south a half hour or so to the first ferry landing. Here we waited until one of the two ferries plying back and forth here arrived at our pier and had space to take on our van. We didn't have to wait long.

On the other side we drove on a few km and repeated the process at another ferry landing taking us to Sela Dan, the port town on Ko Lanta. We noticed they were building a bridge here so one day soon this second ferry crossing will be eliminated, and eventually most likely the first one as well.

In Sela Dan just after the ferry landing the van stopped and we were again ordered out. We tried to claim that we had booked transport to our hotel but in fact we didn't know what we had booked, so the van driver prevailed. Fortunately there was a tuk tuk there whose driver offered to take us to Palm Beach Resort just a few km up the one main road on that part of the island, and then up a side street to Long Beach, where our hotel was.

Our first night there we were so sleepy that we had no trouble falling into a trance after discovering the happy hour sunset place (Sen's) and enjoying a few Changs over Thai food at a nearby street restaurant. But the following night we were more moderate in what we imbibed and not so sleepy, and we were kept awake by a steady base beat that went on and off till three a.m. We suspected a nearby rave party on the beach, but when the same repeated the following night, and us having to get up at 6 a.m. for our Hin Muong trip Friday morning, we investigated and discovered our local bar was to blame. We met another person diving with the same company who also stayed at our place and she told us she had be given the room behind the bar and had moved after one night. So the hotel owners, as sweet as they were, knew about the problem, and they found a place a few bungalows further away for us, and we slept like babies after that, ten hours a night some nights, but that's the business, where you move people into rooms others have not been able to sleep in, and see what happens. In the end we were very happy with the Palm Beach Resort bungalows, but not when waking up in the middle of our first nights there.

We were there to dive, and we were also happy with Dive-and-relax, but again the industry has come a far cry from what it used to be. Dive operators these days will get complaints from people like me who think they should have pushed a little closer to the edge to dive places that might have been more interesting or that I might have dived differently if left to my own devices, but then again we'll never know if that would have made any difference. And they also have to cater to those who might get seasick or whose skill levels might put them in difficulty if they encounter currents or anything verging on challenging conditions. The result is an experience that the majority of customers seem to embrace, since they may have been only a few days ago on a dive course, or haven't been diving for a couple of years, and I can understand that it's best to be conservative and cater to the majority and dive safely every dive day, minimizing risk of incident let alone accident. This also means being sure that every diver is closely monitored at all times and again, I can't blame operators for doing that.

Problems will inevitably arise when divers are left on their own. Bobbi and I were allowed to go free in the Maldives once, and we came to a current we couldn't go back on, so we decided to go with it, and it took us clear across a channel to another island. Fortunately, we were carrying an SMB, and the dive boat figured out what happened and came looking for us. Opportunities to deal with such situations make the most interesting  diving for advanced divers, but as more people get into the sport, I can understand that dive operators prefer that everything is controlled to plan. It's the way it has to be, and we are lucky that in UAE where we usually dive, that the community of divers is such that the regular divers normally dive freely and monitor conditions according to their skill level. Somehow this results in safe diving as well, and is the norm we are used to in the context of UAE diving.

Our first day in Koh Lanta, the Tuesday, we visited the dive shop after arrival that afternoon, and left our gear there. The next morning, Wednesday, we were picked up promptly at 8:10 and taken to Castaway resort for a routine which included a quick cup of coffee, a thorough and friendly briefing each morning (a good touch), a chance to use the bathroom, assembly on the beach, and then walk along the beach to the boat pickup point, where we got aboard and found our equipment assembled (beforehand by our dive guide) and in the place we had been told it would be, so we would sit opposite it.

Our first day the trip was to Koh Haa, a picturesque collection of islands about half hour or 45 min. boat ride from the beach where the dive center was. We were going to dive one of the islands at KH and do the second dive on another, but on arrival we found that sea conditions were such that the dive plan had to be changed from something other than we had been briefed, since the wind was stronger than expected and the ocean more wavy. As was often the case other boats diving there that day were reacting to the same conditions and so the boats clustered in the lee of the island and everyone in the area did both dives from the same spot, one to the right to visit the caves, and the other to the left to see the reef in that direction. No complaints really, both dives were superb, reasonably clear, lots of interesting things to see in the water, and Chris the dive guide was excellent and personable. There was only one problem, which was that we had been teamed with a diver whose air consumption was twice ours. In our videos we can see him kicking constantly to control his buoyancy, something we do with lung volume. At 45 min into the dive he was at 50 bar, we had to turn around, and all go shallow, while Bobbi and I were still over 100 bar. We felt this compromised our diving but now that we have been back there we realize it probably didn't make all that much difference. Still we mentioned it to Cameron who explained that of course they didn't know who would be compatible first day, fair enough.

Next day Cameron provided the two of us our own guide, named Kla, who was an experienced and beatifically polite local instructor. We went to Bida islands that second day, a pair of islands next over from Koh Haa. Another boat was going to Bida and another site just north of there in the Phi Phi chain. We had requested to be on that one but agreed in advance to accept wherever they decided we should go since they knew the sites, we didn't. The plan was to do the first dive on Bida Nok, or north, and the second on Bida Nai, or south. But again when we arrived we were told wind and waves would not allow us to execute that plan and so we would dive from a sheltered spot in the lee of Bida Nok, start with wall on our left, and turn to return to the boat. For our second dive we would move a little further north and dive wall on the left down to the initial drop in. The plan was not what we had hoped but again the dives did not disappoint. For our introduction to diving Koh Lanta we were having reasonable vis, mild to nil current, and turtles, scorpion fish, lion fish, nudibrachs, and schools of snappers, beautiful, relaxed diving.

The following day was Friday, time for the dive we were looking forward to. On this day Diveandrelax was going further afield to HM and HD.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fun diving with Scuba 2000 in Badiyah UAE - Inchcape 2 and Sharq Island

My logged dives #1316 and 1317

First, the dive logs

I'm writing this in the car on a long journey home from Khor Fakkan. We were there diving with Scuba 2000 run by old friend and sometimes border policeman Hassan, whom we know from long ago as owner of a dive shop we used to use repeatedly many years ago. We stopped only because our interests pointed north to Musandam, but difficulties crossing into Oman caught up with me the past 6 weeks so I've been prevented going there. Accordingly I discovered some very nice dive outfits south of the border, Blue Planet Divers where we were two weeks ago, and now a return to Scuba 2000, which is just as restful as it always was.

The five hour drive gave me plenty of time to log our dives. We were joined late yesterday evening by David Muirhead and Peter Trollope, both friends from Al Ain. We had nightcaps at Scuba 2000 and went to bed, to be joined next morning by two big-camera guys we knew from Nomad, Michel and Chris just driven down from Dubai.

We were told Michel and Chris were hoping to do a deep dive on the Inchcape 1, the one near Aqa'a beach, a 30 meter challenge for advanced open water student divers, but too redundant for their instructors. Fortunately there was an Inchcape 2 sunk to make a dive site at 22 meters near Martini Rock, off the newly expanded KF port. This dive is similar in scale and in sea critters to the almost identical wreck to the north, but not so deep, and so we had the possibility of combining it with a fin along the bottom to the shore. Michel and Chris were ok with that, and we let them choose the second dive site.

The dive on the wreck was quite nice. Sea life seems to be bouncing back all along the coast after the double whammy several years ago of cyclone Gonu and the 6 month red tide, plus as in the case of the sites of Khor Fakkan, the silting from all the harbor works, and over-diving by people who on YouTube can be seen cutting off coral souvenirs on Martini Rock and stuffing them in their BCD pockets. So we weren't sure what to expect, which is nice when what you find exceeds expectations.

On these wrecks I always like to drop to the sand and see what's under the nose, stern, and gunwales. The Inchcape 2 lies in a NW/SE direction with its nose in the NW position. It's tilting toward the SW so on the NE edge animals can get under the edge that's slightly off the bottom. Here we found interesting creatures, in one tableau a pair of small crocodile fish in the sand and a pair of green morays just behind them, lion fish decorating the way in, and scorpion fish sitting unobtrusively in the sand just outside the wreck. Rounding the bow at the NW we found more morays and scorpion fish, and so it went as we circled to the stern and came up to the deck, where there were nudibranchs, snails with glistening smooth mottled shells, fine glass shrimp in the tires, more morays, and huge puffer fish lurking in the companionways.

About 25 min into the dive with still 150 bar in our tanks, Dave, Peter, and Bobbi and I finned across the sand where I had told everyone to be on the lookout for jaw fish, what David calls whop-a-moles. We had failed to see them since Gonu and the red tide, so Bobbi and I didn't have great expectations, and when we came in site of the rock wall, and went back to look for them, we didn't go far enough back. But David and Peter had seen more than one, and we were glad to hear they were there since they were a plus feature of our Inchcape 2 dives.

We ended in the rocks on the wall, heading into the shallows after an hour diving. It was comfortable diving with more nudibranchs, scorpion fish and morays, including one balled up in the sand looking almost like a snake that poked out its head and almost hissed at us as slithered under a rock, and and we ended by coming on a flounder which only ruffled its fins when I scratched it no matter how close I got with my GoPro.

Back on the boat we noticed it was December by the chill wind while we searched for sunbeams to warm us up. We chilled for an hour and then went to Sharq island for a dive that, if you start on the south side, can be done either wall on your right or wall on your left. We planned wall-on-the-right but when we went down about 9 meters, we all headed out wall-on-our-left to get more depth than that. At some point passing 10 meters I noticed David and Peter heading up the reef to head back the planned way, but Bobbi and I were beckoned by the clarity of vis at depth and the shoals of snappers schooling there, not to mention the prospect of finding rays in the sand (no such luck). Heading north into the sand at the end of the reef we found more rocks appear in the gloom ahead, and perched at the top of one of those was a honeycomb moray who left his perch and rippled along the reef looking for shelter, putting on a great performance for our cameras in the process.

On the way back we crossed paths with Michel and Chris who had also opted to dive that way, but we never caught up with David and Peter who made it all the way to the staghorn coral and found turtles there. Bobbi and I almost made it that far but we ascended at the end of the hour after some entertainment by a family of clown fish rather than keep people waiting. All in all we had two enjoyable dives in compatible company.

Now, the drive logs

It takes us less than 3 hours to get from Al Ain to Dibba, but another half hour to go from there to Badiyah, known for the oldest mosque in the UAE and lit up in National Day splendor the night we arrived. Hassan's place is just off the roundabout just before there (it was a new roundabout, which was how we missed it and continued on to the mosque that night). Hassan's place is on the beach down a packed sand road at the far right of the beach from town. When we went there we found a film crew just wrapping up for the day. They had been to Sharq Island and were finishing the day with a feast catered by Hassan's restaurant. They had left a lot of food and we were invited to tuck in. That, free wifi, and a comfortable bed for the night made us happy campers when we finally got to sleep.

But as I'm writing this we've been 4 hours on the road coming back from there and we haven't even reached Madan yet. It's been maddening. We were leaving Scuba 2000 just after 3:00 after a couple of fine and hassle-free dives, and were heading the way home we know, the one that gets us there in 3.5 hours, a little more distant than the direct way, going 120 to 140 kph most of the way, when we noticed our GPS was telling us the best way home was the opposite way. It had been a long time since we'd been south from KF on the coast, so we decided to try it. Right away we hit small towns, a traffic jam just past KF where a national day parade passed with flag bedecked elders on foot and a platoon of highnesses on horseback, and the tedious stretch along the oil storage zone into Fujaira. There we found we were being routed via the Fujairah way back up to Masafi and into Dhaid, Madan, and Shuwaib, a way we normally do not like to go.

So I thought we should try the new road to Wadi al Helo with its tunnels which I recalled took us near to Al Ain. The only trouble was it was almost to the Oman border south of Fujairah, past Kalba on the coast, and inland from there, so it was almost 4:30 when we reached the start of the road, an hour south of where we'd turned around north of Badiyah. Then we found the speed limits to be unnecessarily low, no more than 60 km, and 40 km in the long uphill stretches (giving out to 80 km entering the tunnels, go figgah??). We followed our GPS up winding roads between mountains as the sun set, 60 km speed limits the norm, and lots of speed bumps in the tiny hamlets. It was dark when we emerged from there onto a 120 kph stretch that went through a chain of built up towns – why ridiculously slow speeds on the 4 lane mountain roads, and equally ridiculous fast speeds where no telling who might be crossing the road or pulling out into it and where? We whizzed along until well after 6 pm we came unexpectedly on a border checkpoint.

We would need at least an exit visa here. This was the small stretch of road crossing Oman territory from Hatta to Madan. Before, we used to drive it unhindered, but now there were checkpoints with tailbacks we were stuck in until just short of the border where we found a u-turn and managed to extract ourselves and head back the opposite direction. We drove all the way down to Hatta looking for a way home and asked at the guard at the gate at the Hatta Fort Hotel for advice. He said 6 km back there was a road for Sharjah-Kalba, we should take that.

This road was so new it didn't show on our GPS, and though it was new, 4 lanes, and empty, its speed limit was huh?? 60 km !!? We could see from our GPS that it was taking us north around where the Oman border bulged into UAE. I guess it was built to give people an alternative to having to drive the much shorter way through the two border posts.

We crawled, compared to going the 120 we were accustomed to, around the bulge and picked up other roads taking us to the Dhaid-Madan road. Once we reached that we at least knew where we were, and by 7:30, four hours after turning around at Aqa'a just north from Bidaya, we were in Madan and heading home the familiar way, at speeds of 60, 80, and finally 100 km per hour.

I finished writing this as we were pulling into our neighborhood in Al Ain at around 8:30, 5 long hours on the road driving home. :-(