Saturday, October 24, 2015

Diving with Jay and Robin Fortin in Daymaniyat islands with Oman Sail, The Wave, Seeb, Oman

My logged dives #1390-93

Oct 23-24 Diving with Jay and Robin Fortin in Daymaniyat islands with Oman Sail, The Wave, Seeb, Oman

Jay had a conference in Dubai at the start of the coming week but flew into Muscat with his wife Robin. Bobbi and I drove down from Al Ain and stayed at an apartment in Al Khod, a bustling and traffic-laden suburb of Seeb that was all desert scrub when we were living there last century and used to make long runs around the camel farms in the area. We all met up at Oman Sail on Friday morning and went diving.

Oman Sail had very personable dive guides so diving with them was a gas but their boats left too late for us to get the sites we wanted to dive since the early birds already had boat-loads of divers on the best sites by the time we arrived. Still diving in Daymaniyats tends to be good no matter where you put in. We saw leopard sharks on both days, plenty of turtles, and  generally had some nice dive with good friends, all of whom have been my students at one time or another.

Friday Oct 23, 2015

Our first morning we set sail from the Wave hoping to get a morning dive in at the Aquarium, but on arrival at the site, we found it crowded with dive boats and our crew decided to take us to the bay at Police Island instead. I'd dived this place with Jay and Robin before; in fact I think they managed to see a leopard shark on one of our dives on the string of sites there that Bobbi and I somehow missed, see

In any event we saw a leopard shark on this dive.

Before setting out that day I had noticed a hiss from one of the second stages on my main regulator so I had gone to a spare reg on my dives that day. This turned out to have consequences for our second dive, which this time was on the Aquarium (the Aquarium tends to be best in the morning light, and after boat loads of divers have been there, the more interesting animals will have gone elsewhere for a while).

The dive guide had briefed me on what to do, descend to the top of the reef, head west, find the trench to the north, and follow it to the wall. We were starting on that plan, under water with me leading, when I realized that my compass was on my main regulator back on the boat. Damn, I had no idea where west was but I'd dived the site before, so I headed down to gradually increasing depths and followed the top of the reef in about 20 meters of water. I wasn't sure where to turn north (or in this case, approximately right) from there but eventually I did that and found the wall. We were drifting happily along that when one diver signaled low on air, so I found a gap to get us back onto the reef top. The trouble was there was not much to see there that we hadn't seen already. I think we were finning a little against the current, a prolonged slog with me hoping to find our way back to the high point of the reef that reaches just a few meters short of the surface. We couldn't see it so I was leading on dead reckoning, trying to head for wherever it seemed to be shallower, not sure of the direction exactly.

In the end we found the Aquarium submerged reef head just after Jay and Robin thought it wise to ascend, and this is where we found most of the honeycomb moray eels that appear in the video.

Saturday Oct 24, 2015

For our first dive on the second day we headed out for Garden of Eden but found it crowded so we took a drop-off on a site I didn't know though the boatmen described it to me quite well. But it was only Bobbi and I and Jay and Robin diving it in two buddy pairs. We were to drop on a wall that we could clearly see under the boat and follow it north and around the corner to the west.  When I got in the water I found the current pushing me west off the wall so I finned to stay in place and when the other divers got in I called for an immediate descent. On my descent I kicked hard to get on the east side of the wall where I reckoned there would be relief from the current. I arrived there to relative tranquility but I was alone. Bobbi appeared some seconds later, having managed to keep up by pulling herself along the top of the reef into the very strong current in order to drop down where I was. We waited there for Jay and Robin but the current had caught them unawares and they did a separate dive heading west from where Bobbi and I were.

I'm not sure what this site was but it should be easily identifiable from my videos. I call it the ghost reef because it had a white apparition of a sting ray living there, without his cow tail, which had been chewed off by some predator. The reef was full of staghorn table coral but a lot of this was covered by a massive ghost net (a ghost net is one that has been left in place by fishermen unable to retrieve it). The Daymaniyats are a marine reserve and fishing is prohibited here, or was, as far as I know. My video documents the damage to the reef this net is doing,

The second dive of the day was much easier. Jay and Robin started with Bobbi and I in calm water and we soon came out on a leopard shark. We saw much more throughout the dive, which ended with Bobbi and I following a large turtle around for several minutes. The video has lengthy perspectives from both Bobbi's camera and mine, but we never get tired of watching these things.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A day in the life of a diver in Musandam: Octopus Rock and Lima Rock South

My logged dives #1388-89

After an exhausting work week I was happy to get home at 1:30 on Thursday, get packed, and get rolling on the highway through Shwaib to Madam, Dhaid, Masafi, and Dibba where we pitched up at the border and waited for Sampat to come along with our permits. It was hardly busy when we crossed just at dusk. Alcohol? the guard asked. "No," I replied. "I will check," his compatriot asserted. "Tfudel" I said, indicating the car. Be my guest. The guard handed back my papers through the window. His compatriot made no move to leave his kiosk and carry out inspection, so we drove on through the border and arrived at Nomad Ocean Adventure 5 minutes later.

We were looking forward to a chill weekend, starting right after a quick 5 km jog down to the Golden Tulip at the end of the beach and back again. Sweaty from our jog we relaxed in the pool. Buffet dinner was served by the time we exited and showered. There weren't many people around. Those who were went to bed early. Bobbi and I stayed online for a while in the commons room and then went to bed and right to sleep.

Next day the weather was ideal for diving, still balmy out, no need for warm clothes on the boat the hour out and back to and from the dive sites. Our first dive was at Octopus Rock, what we used to call The Stack. Most people like the dive and it's a treat to go there because it attracts currents, so we usually don't go when there are any students on the boat. 

Even today Hassan, the dive guide for the day, almost didn't take us there because there were two open water divers on board. But one had had over 300 dives, his friend just 35, but in the end Hassan took us there, for a very pleasant dive.

Because I was diving with two ladies who hardly breathe air, Kelly Harris had joined Bobbi and I that morning, I got to play with the site and vary from my usual route. When the current is lax I like to keep the rock on the right and lead north into the descending ridges to the north of the rock, then move to the north-heading ridge and follow that, reef on the left. We get down to around 20 meters as we round it and come back up its other side heading south. The trick then is to know where to pop over the ridge so as to swim across sand back to Octopus Rock just to the east. This is sometimes where we end our dive when some in our group run low on air, so we circle the rock at decreasing depth letting those who need to go to the surface.

Today it was a little different. There was current present so I led the the east, Octopus Rock on our left. If the current had been strong we could have escaped to the ridges running to depth in that direction and hidden from it that way. But today it let us work our way to the north past schools of trigger fish and fusiliers. We kept a reasonable depth 15-18 meters as we crossed the north of the rock and kept heading west to the next ridge over, where i found an intimidating chameleon scorpion fish. Then we swam slowly to where that ridge lets us round it and came up its back side. There were more triggers here, and jacks, and as we popped over the ridge I came down on a batfish being cleaned by wrasse. Visibility was good and we could see Octopus Rock just over the sand. That's not always the case, sometimes I just go blind to the east. 

But this brought us to the rock where again there is abundant fish-life, especially the blue triggers, and some morays, including  a large honeycomb eel.

My group were just coming down to 100 bar here so I felt we could explore a little to the east of the rock. I led us that way to the nearest finger of ridge that plunged invitingly to depth. It was too late in the dive to go to the sand and easy to get disoriented without paying close attention to a compass. But our way back was west so I led in that direction and came out just south of the rock. Now we could expend time and gas spiraling up and around the rock, where batfish moved in close to check us out.

I've been to the dentist a couple of times in the last year over a decayed molar. The first time was last Christmas, an emergency with pain that the dentist resolved by cutting away the rotted parts, leaving a hole in my tooth. It never really gave problems after that and the college I work for does not provide dental insurance, so I never went in for the root canal work the doctor had intended to do. But ten months later, it started to become annoying, I was constantly having to remove food bits from the hole, so I went in to have that cemented over just last week. Now on this dive, I came up with pain in my tooth but thought it was from the way I was biting on the regulator. In any event, the pain went away over lunch on the boat, and on the next dive I was careful to bite on the regulator mouthpiece in my good jaw, and even held the hose in such as way that would position the reg in my mouth so I could better do this.

The second dive was on Lima Rock South. We started from the west end of the rock intending to dive to the east point with the reef on our left. Hassan thought the current would be less than at Octopus Rock and when he entered the water he said it was pushing to the east, the way we wanted to go. Other divers entering the water said the visibility beneath us was excellent.

We found that to be the case when we finally went in. I was last in and was swimming to join Kelly and Bobbi when some snorkelers by the boat told me I had dropped my tank banger and they could see it on a rock ten meters below. At about that moment the two open water divers surfaced and shouted to us that they wanted to join us. I wanted to retrieve my rod while I could see it, so I dropped down to get it. I saw Bobbi and Kelly above and saw that they had thought through the fact that they should join me rather than expect me to surface. I also saw the open water divers following behind them.

Actually it was only one o/w diver. His buddy had had ear problems and had aborted the dive (he was all the time on the boat puffing on a e-cigarette device, likely the cause of his sinus issues). The one with the 300 dives had no buddy and was joining us. This was inappropriate because we were not diving his profile. O/w divers are limited to 18 meters. Everyone else on the boat could exceed that.

I was told later that this diver joined yet another group, and signaled to Bobbi what he was doing. In any event he wasn't with us when we pushed down to 26 meters. We gradually ascended along the boring wall and soon came up on the gap before the point. 

The current had been pushing us to and fro, an exhausting sort of dive, but we all had over 100 bar when we found ourselves being swept off the point at around 16 meters, except for an old fishnet I knew was there and directed everyone down to so we could hold on in the current. The fish life is often exciting here, but today not so. We were joined by some very curious bat fish, you'll meet them in the video, and a school of jacks was congregated just off the point. I didn't dare swim over to them. It looked like that would be a one-way trip.

It was all we could do to pull on rocks and fin back against the current and find 10 and then 5 meters in lighter current back from the point to do a safety stop in. Here again we were annoyed by batfish :-) just kidding. Marvelous creatures!  We surfaced at 51 minutes, the ladies both at 50 bar, me a bit less. The ladies didn't seem to enjoy the dive all that much, too stressful, unpredictable.

I had a problem again with tooth pain. It was very uncomfortable on the boat ride back and I didn't feel like talking. But it had subsided a bit by the time we reached harbor, and that evening, I felt up for another jog to the Golden Tulip and back. It was clearly caused by an air bubble in the space beneath the cap on my tooth expanding on the ascent from 26 meters to the surface, an almost four-fold expansion. We were all contemplating aborting diving the next day but I decided I'd give it the night and maybe it would go anyway.

However the night was not all that comfortable. I had arrived on Thursday with a tooth in stable condition and after the air bubble expansion, my tooth was throbbing in the night. I had no way of knowing what depth was causing the problem, if a two-fold expansion from 10 meters to the surface was dangerous, or if 15 meters was too much. I decided during wakeful moments that night that I would not dive the next day, and Bobbi and I departed that morning.

If we had made that decision the evening before, Kelly was talking like she would leave as well. The dives had not been that great on the Friday. However, next morning as long as she was there, she decided to stay. So we didn't dive Saturday and she did. While posting this blog, we read this on Facebook, from Kelly's dive on Saturday.: