Sunday, May 25, 2014

Certified Sérgio Simões PADI Advanced Open Water at Freestyle Divers, Dibba, UAE

Sunday May 25, 2014 

Vance conducting the last 3 dives in a PADI Advanced Open Water course

for Sérgio Simões,with Bobbi Stevens riding shotgun
My logged dives #1289-1291

Sunday was declared as an Islamic holiday in UAE and this gave us an opportunity to complete the Advanced O/W course I'd started with Sérgio Simões on July 13, 2013. Since he needed three dives to complete the course, we decided to do them in one day. Sérgio lives in Al Ain so we met at my house at 6 a.m. and all rode up together. We were at Lulu's in Dibba by 8:30 so we had time to stop off for breakfast prior  to rolling up at Freestyle Divers at 9 in the morning.

Our first dive of the day was the deep one, on the Inchcape 2, a wreck that Bobbi and I have dived dozens of times, but is always appealing, and the ideal challenge for an advanced deep or wreck dive. It's a set piece 20 minute 30 meter dive. It has a mooring buoy so is easy to find and descend on. Back in the day there were two resident honeycombed morays living there we used to call Fred and Frederika, so accustomed to divers that we used to stroke them. They disappeared after Gonu struck and were replaced by two small offspring who unfortunately succumbed to the months long red tide, and since then honeycomb sightings have not been common. Sometimes there are rays there, but none today, probably chased off by the crowds of divers on the small wreck. Still, it's a great experience for someone doing his 7th dive ever, and first time to 30 meters. 

Next on our list was the underwater navigation dive, and next on Freestyle's schedule was Dibba Rock. This shallow site can be ideal for navigation unless there is current tugging at the shallows, as there happened to be on this day. We were dropped in at the aquarium and started our navigation at the marker buoy tied off on one of the rocks there. I led from the aquarium 30 meters to the southwest with the reef on our left, except it wasn't a good 30 meters because we were swimming against the westerly current and when Sérgio turned around to lead us back he went past the marker because it was by then only 15 meters away.  We then tried a compass heading to the west and return to the east but again the return leg was much shorter than the way out (that is, 20+ kicks out and only 10 kicks return). Realizing we'd have to factor in a significant current Sérgio and I worked out on the slate that we should try the square 10 kicks to the north and 21 to the west, and so on. This worked except that on the third leg the current pushed us back onto the buoy line, so we ended up doing a triangle, not a square. It wasn't Sérgio's fault, his navigation was good and up to the challenge, so I congratulated him and we went off on a fun dive.

We went looking for sharks, like this one Dro Madery found recently and posted to Facebook. As can be seen in the photos, the sharks like the very shallow water close in to the rock, so we let the current nudge us to the east as we looked into the likely places. We turned up a few barracuda but nothing much else by the time we were in what appeared to me to be the shadow of the rock to our west. On this assumption I went looking for the gap leading to the back side of the rock but kept coming into shallow wall. We were in the shadow of the current as well so now we could push to the west but when we got more resistance in only two meters of water I decided to surface and see where we were. Surprise, we were to the west of the rock, not the east, as I had thought. so we had made a big circle around the front side.

The thing to do now was to head north, which was seriously difficult into the current, but eventually we found the aquarium and with deeper water got some relief from the current. We continued to the back side where we found a few morays at 12 meters depth. The current was pushing us along now so we went with it drift diving until Sérgio got low on air, so we went higher on the reef and burned off our three minute safety stop, with coronet fish serving as entertainment.

For our last dive we had requested the artificial reef that Andy had laid down some years before and which had been attracting animals ever since. For Sérgio it seemed an appropriate place for his underwater naturalist dive and his final dive for certification as a PADI advanced open water diver. Sami Al Haj gave us a briefing that described perfectly how we would follow the artifacts from a set of balls and geodesic structures to a line leading to a submerged boat and a pile of triangles with lots of places for fish to hide. At that place we found a delta ray, the kind that remains immobile even if you wave your hand over them to blow off the sand. There was no current here so I found a corner of the reef where we could do a square pattern. On the second leg Sérgio suddenly stopped and I thought he had become confused but we later found it was because he had seen a huge ray swim by just beyond our field of view. I was focused on the square because we were in sand now, no idea how to get back to where we had started apart from a perfectly executed square. It was a great feeling of accomplishment when we ended the exercise in exactly the place we had intended!

Congratulations to Sérgio Simões on completion of his PADI Advanced Open Water Dive course, Certification Date May 25, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fun diving around Jun Island, Damaniyats, with Extra Divers, Al Sawadi, Oman

Saturday May 17, 2014 

Our team: Just Bobbi and I on a day out south of the border

My logged dives #1287-1288

We invited others to join us but in the end it was just me and Bobbi, my favorite dive buddy.

The Daymaniyat Islands are only slightly distant to us,a mere pop over the border and just three hours driving from Al Ain UAE, so it's fun to slip down there for a day trip, except we leave the day before, after a nice lie in on Friday, catch up on things we need to do at home, and cross the border after dusk. We continue on as far as a town half an hour past Sohar which we only recognize when we reach there where there is a roadside restaurant that serves a tasty and hot! (I burned my fingers on the wok, blisters!) chicken karai. Then we drive another 45 minutes to Suwaiq and the local color motel there, where beer is just a riyal a tall can, and the rooms are quiet and pleasant at 200 dirhams. We leave there at 7 a.m. which gets us to Al Sawadi by 8 a.m. having stopped for samosas and nescafe along the way.

Lately every time we arrive at Al Sawadi we've found ourselves on a boat going to Jun Island, not that there is anything wrong with that, but there are so many places to dive in the island chain. Next time we'll be more particular about our destination and which boat we are on -- we've noticed if you stay at the resort you can sign up for dives and get on the boat you want as the weekend trips are posted in advance, so we'll negotiate beforehand next time we go.

This time the boat went to Doc's Wall first dive and to "Coral Garden" the second. Doc's Wall is the extension from Jun, on the map above, that continues from the larger Jun island to its smaller neighbor to the east, where we end by rounding the smaller island to the south. It can be nice dive. Leopard sharks like to rest beneath the schools of yellow snappers and we often see rays here. Today we didn't see anything that special, but it was still a nice dive. On the second dive we dropped on the north of big Jun and rounded the channel between the two islands. This ends up in a shallow coral garden where the boats moor for the surface interval, so we had just snorkeled the area between dives and observed a turtle several meters down on the reef.

Between the two of us, Bobbi and I made a video compilation of the two dives. We saw a number of honeycomb morays with cleaner wrasse and other fish swimming safely near their articulated jaws. Behind one, Bobbi can be seen leading me to where there is a scorpion fish, and on one of the dives we found a pair of scorpion fish in the sand. We took pictures of some of the schools of fish, the yellow snappers, Bobbi in amongst the blue fusiliers, and a picturesque school of butterfly fish. I followed a coronet fish close over the raspberry reef and Bobbi got some more distant shots, including one of a pair of coronet fish kissing. At one point, I captured a free swimming green moray between lairs. Our footage includes a couple of cuttlefish, always in retreat from divers, and the artificial reef extension to the Coral Gardens where you can see the objects sunk there covered in impressive staghorn corals.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Diving Dibba and Musandam Apr 25-26 to Certify Anand Mantri PADI Advanced Open Water

April 25, 2014 on Dibba Rock, with Freestyle Divers

Our team: Vance, Bobbi, Anand Mantri

My logged dives #1284-1286

One of our gestures toward PADI Shark Fin Awareness

Anand Mantri asked if we could finish his PADI advanced o/w course this weekend and allowed as how he would go with our plan, so I suggested a lie-in Friday and a leisurely drive up to Dibba for a 3 pm dive on Dibba Rock with our old friends at Freestyle Divers.(well, long-time friends, they're not nearly as old as we are:-). After hearing about all the sharks and even Manta Rays (yes, mantas, confirmed by Andy Moore, who'd seen them personally) that had been sighted there lately we dipped in for a pleasant but not so eventful dive on the rock. We like to go there to see how it's doing, and always happy to see that it's gradually bouncing back from its pre-double whammy heyday.

Next time we go though we'll ask for a drop on the artificial reef Andy planted east of the rock some years ago. The stories about big sharks and rays on that spot were even more enthusiastically related to us than the tall tales of Dibba Rock adventures.  It will make a good excuse to revisit on another afternoon where we drive over on Friday, late afternoon dive with Freestyle, and spend the night at Nomad Ocean Adventure in prep for a day's diving further north Musandam.

April 26 in Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure

Which is what we had planned for this weekend. Andy had completed most of his PADI Advance o/w course already and we were piecemealing the remaining dives over our three dive weekend. We did some natural terrain navigation off Dibba Rock and then headed over the border for a boat dive and to complete the navigation on Saturday.

Octopus Rock

There was a group with us that specifically requested Octopus Rock this weekend and as we were flexible with Andy's course we were only too happy to oblige. Octopus, formerly known to BSAC divers as the Stack, is one of my favorite dives hereabouts, but it can also be challenging in a current. Plan A is to start at the south of the rock and fin around it to the north, then head west across the area replete with blue trigger-fish (red tooth, as Shannon calls them) and find the north-south ridge and follow that north and then back around to the south. It's good compass practice to keep track of where you are on that dive. The ridge tops out at about ten meters so if air is good I lead the dive east back to Octopus Rock to finish out on a 5 meter safety stop on the only place in the vicinity where you don't have to do that mid-water.

The current was a little stiff but allowed us to at least follow plan A. Plan B is to hide in the ridges to the east of the rock. They are deep but also interesting, and run generally east to west, so provide some shelter from a powerful current. If current allows, I like to do plan A as it's possible only under certain conditions, so I usually do plan B when I have to.

As can be seen from the video above, on our Plan A dive, we found crayfish, a pair of amorous nudibraches, and panoplies of fishlife including morays, triggerfish, and the ubiquitous batfish.

Ras Sanut (Wonder Wall)

Our last dive was planned as a PADI Underwater Navigation Adventure Dive. We were dropped in the back of the bay at Ras Sanut (south side) to give us shallow water while Shannon took the rest of the divers up to the point to work from deep back to shallow where we were, theoretically to cross in the middle. The depth was just right for navigation, but we were dropped onto a family of cow tail stingrays which seriously distracted our compass work. I managed to follow one who had lost his barb in an encounter with a bigger fish (hence it was safe to swim over the top of him) but I missed one buried in the sand, only cowtail protruding. I saw the tail, but it could have been a palm frond, and went over to investigate. I should have got my camera ready beforehand, because when I determined it was a ray and went for my camera, it took me for one of those bigger fish and in the blink of an eye emerged from the sand and disappeared in a burst of muscle flap, leaving me with only a cloud of sand, which I didn't bother to film.

After completing the navigation we worked our way out toward the point, finding a turtle and morays, but no more rays. We complied with requests to keep our dive time to 50 min though our tanks ranged from 70 to over 100 bar. On our way to the surface we made shark fin and hammerhead signs for the camera, as requested by our dive leader, for PADI Shark Fin Awareness week (find ours in the snaps top and bottom of this page and at the end our our video). On surfacing we discovered we were almost at the point, so it would have been ideal to have had permission to do a 60 min dive ;-)

Congratulations to Anand Mantri on completing his PADI Advanced Open Water certification in the course of a fun weekend.

PADI Aware Shark Fin snaps courtesy of Andy Mantri