Friday, December 4, 2009

December 1, 2009 – Vance, Bobbi, and Glenn off Flic en Flac, Mauritius, my dives #937-938

After driving down from Trou aux Biches and Grand Baie, we ended up in Flic en Flac, a town off the west coast with tacky beach scene appeal. All the coastal areas had public beaches with dirt roads and parking lots and ubiquitous Italian ice cream trucks playing snippets of familiar tunes over and over again that must have driven the drivers bonkers. My memories of Mauritius are permeated by the jingling tunes from these trucks, plus the sounds of birds sweetly singing. The beaches had sparse lawn patches above the sand and a variety of trees, including baobabs and cedar pines.

We parked at one of the beaches and went on foot in search of accommodation. One hotel apartment complex recommended in LPG was full but the landlady suggested we try in the recently built villas in the grid of streets just back of her hotel. We found plenty of choices there but declined the first ones because there were still clients in some of them or the owners had brought their kids down for the day to let them splash in the pool and the villa was over-run by kids who had to be removed so it could be cleaned. Eventually we got a villa just a block off the beach and liked it so much we stayed three days.

The villa cost 2500 rupees a night, about $75, and had 4 bedrooms on two upstairs floors. It was quiet and spacious, fully equipped kitchen, two baths, and had a nice pool outside. Other guests seemed to spend all of their time eating and drinking at tables on the lanais off their apartments. Where Glenn slept the first night the sun woke him up at 5 a.m. so he simply moved upstairs and had the whole floor to himself, with a big double bed in the bed room facing west over the courtyard. So he had one floor with two bedrooms and Bobbi and I had the other, nice.

We used this abode as a base for hiking one day in the Black River park, and the next day we dived two dives with the nearby Ti-Cabo divers. The instructor there, Fadi, had lived in Oman and took a liking to us, and showed us the best diving possible there. Our morning dive was at Serpent Reef. Unfortunately vis was not great, and the underwater scenery was essentially boulders, but the life in the rocks made for interesting diving. There were leaf fish for example, sea snakes, many kinds of eels, several really large scorpion fish, a small torpedo ray, sea slugs, and other things we would not have spotted had we gone there unguided, but Fadi seemed to know where each animal lived. The second dive at Aquarium was more of the same, and the two dives we did there we simply let our eyes follow where Fadi pointed.

Impressions of Mauritius

We were not so enthused to want to spend a second day diving there, so we moved over to the east coast, Trou d’Eau Douce, and then down to Mahebourg for our flight home. Overall we were quite pleased with our Mauritius holiday. It was easy to go without bookings, except we had arranged for a car and a first night in Mahebourg (to facilitate hook up with Glenn, but we could have done without that and just selected what appealed to us when we arrived in town). Accommodation was plentiful in all price ranges and excellent value, food was delicious with creole accent, beer was cheap, the islanders were relaxed and unhurried, it seemed to be a safe place, small enough to get around the island on a single tank of gas ($40, but we only needed the one fill). The weather was great, mostly sunny, sometimes windy, and the misty rains that came occasionally were short and welcome. The scenery was strikingly reminiscent of Hawaii, we enjoyed all the diving we did, and we’d like to go again to Rodrigues next time, and after that to Reunion.

Like a certain Captain Flinders who sailed his British ship to Mauritius at a time, unbeknownst to him, England and France had gone to war, so he was detained on arrival and spent six years in a French gaol, we were captivated by the charm of the island (though put off where traffic was too much for its narrow roads, which compromised the ambience of many small villages). Driving there was like playing a computer game, anything could be walking, pedaling, stopping, or crossing in the narrow roads, where lanes often dropped without shoulder into the sea, and cars coming at you were swerving into your lane to avoid their own obstacles, plus driving on the left, all combine to keep drivers on their toes there. But I was talking about diving, how did driving come up?

November 28-29, 2009 – Vance, Bobbi, and Glenn off Trou aux Biches, Mauritius, my dives #934-936

We weren’t sure what to expect about diving in Mauritius. We had the impression from reading up that the best diving would be off the islands in the far north and we could have gone there if we had left Mahebourg early after sleeping over there our first night on the island, where our son Glenn flew in from Qatar and joined us at Le Bambou Guest House. It’s a small island, and if you rent a car you can reach almost anywhere in an hour, unless you get behind a cane truck, in which case allow an hour and a half (you’ll likely encounter several cane trucks, so better allow two hours).

But we lingered the following morning in Mahebourg and had crossed the island on the trunk road to Port Louis but had only reached Grand Baie by 11:00 next day. That was a tourist town in the north with lots of dive centers. Our Lonely Planet said the dive centers had moved a few kilometers away to Trou aux Biches at the northwest corner of the island so we gravitated there. Somehow we ended at Pro Dive where the aging owner Kevin, with luxury boat and frizzy blond hairdo, convinced us there hadn’t been sharks on the north islands since the last tsunami and the best diving was right there off Trou aux Biches. To top it off he got us a remarkable deal at the Casuarina resort where he was based. He quoted us a price so low we had to argue it with the manager, since Kevin had mentioned a very special group rate, but eventually the hotel honored the quoted price, which included breakfast and dinner plus free use of kayaks, paddleboats, windsurfers, and laser sailboats at times we weren’t diving. So we got to stay a couple of days at a luxury resort at a price so low I had to promise the manager I would not divulge it, and because we were guests at the resort we got discounted diving as well, $400 for the nine dives Bobbi, Glenn, and I ended up doing, fully equipped (with new 5 mm wetsuits, much appreciated, since the water temperature was 24 degrees at depth).

The diving was decent. We really liked the viz off Trou aux Biches. Our first dive was a little odd simply because we had been briefed for a wreck dive between 21 and 25 meters but ended up with a divemaster and a beginner and told to follow them, so we dived a shallow reef called Japanese Gardens, in the vicinity of the wreck that everyone else was diving. It wasn’t a bad site. We saw a cowtail ray in the sand and garden eels, and lots of the usual reef fishes. The beginner had trouble descending (ear problems) and the divemaster, Vivian, was testing a mask with a camera mounted on it, and both of these caused some delays as we meandered on the same part of the reef waiting for the student to join us, and for Vivian to take test photos.

Twenty minutes into the dive we had only reached 11 or 12 meters, far short of the 25 meter depth we were expecting, so we were a little confused. No telling what was happening exactly, but I had mentioned the day before when we were discussing possible dive sites that I was not impressed by wrecks per se, and I guess they wanted to check us out and needed someone who wasn’t that keen on wrecks to dive with the beginner. In any event, because of the odd outcome of our morning dive, for the afternoon, they reversed their groupings and took Bobbi and Glenn and I to the wreck while the others did their second dive of the day on the shallower Japanese Gardens where we had dived in the morning.

The wreck 'Japanese Trawler' was a nice one. Due to the great vis the wreck loomed at us as we approached, about 8 meters tall at the bow. At the stern we found another cow-tail ray, and in one of the funnels there was a green moray we were all encouraged to pet. The cargo holds were open, I dropped in to one (being sure to keep overhead clear so as not to technically penetrate) and the engine room was similarly exposed. Again it was full of fish and made a very pleasant dive. Glenn was somehow unable to switch his underwater camera from video to still photo mode and so videoed the entire dive, which we he's finally put up at YouTube.

The following day was a Sunday but because there were others who wanted to dive Kevin opened his shop for a morning trip to Coral Gardens, a site with gorgon fan corals off Club Med. The dive here was interesting at first, there was a big green momma moray we could stroke, being careful not to disturb her baby in the process, just as toothy as her momma. There were lots of scorpion fish and other small things hidden in the boulders, but eventually it became cold and redundant, and I was glad to surface and be on our way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

October 30-31, 2009 - Vance, Bobbi, and Nicki at Ras Morovi, Lima Rock, and next day Dibba, my logged dives #930-933

Diving Oct 30, 2009, Discover Nomad

Christophe set the depart time a bit early at the last minute so we had to wake up at 5 in Abu Dhabi and be out the door with our tanks weighting down a shopping cart at 6, and we managed to get Nicki from curbside (kerbside to her) at 6:10. Plus I had to stop off at my office to get a memory stick I'd left there so that when we arrived at discover nomad about 20 after ten I had got most of my grade reports done. Chris was still kitting up his divers at the dive hostel so our late arrival wasn't hanging up the show. Still Belinda, diving with us in our group, pointed out to us that she had got up at 5 in Dubai and had been waiting for us for some time. She had kids to organize as well, but 2 hours less driving. Anyway, somehow it all seemed perfectly timed (apart from the early wakeups) and we were on the speedboat and on our way toward Lima Rock at 11, feeling great, weather not too hot, and mountains rising up from the blue sea as we motored past the familiar fijords.

There were just 7 divers on our boat plus the local driver and Christophe: Bobbi and I, Belinda, a Canadian named Ryan, and a couple of French guys, Christophe's open water students, who took a lot of photos and conversed among themselves and with Christophe in French, and who seemed like decent blokes but didn't cross over their language barrier. I spoke to them in French a couple of times but anyone whose native language is French quickly detects that mine isn't ;-)

Anyway we were there to dive. Christophe took us first past Lima Rock to to Octopus Rock, what we used to call the Stack, but the vis looked bad there so Chris recommended we move a little few hundred meters south to Ras Morovi. The ras (headland) is a dragon's back of a mountain ridge that dips under water and comes up in a dragon's head across a narrow channel so it forms a narrow peninsula with an island at its point. There are many dives possible here, starting inside the channel or depending on current, at the ocean side of the island, but today we took a third way, one I hadn't done since diving here with Godelieve and her kids, and that is starting inside the first bay back from the dragon's back and following the wall around in a big U to end up in the channel.

My logged dive #930 - Only today we made a circle at the bottom end of the U. Starting on a south heading at the left point of the U inside the bay we went increasingly deep to about 25 meters or so keeping an eye out for seahorses in the green whip coral or seagrass or whatever that stuff is. It looks like a forest of green underwater swarming with fishes as far as the eye can see which on this day was about 7 to 10 meters I guess, not bad vis, not great. We found no seahorses nor anything much of interest really apart from some hovering lion fish, fierce-looking morays, and scrappy crawfish looking delicious in their lairs.

As we rounded the underwater mountain at the bottom of the U, I carried on along the wall and unbeknownst to me at the time completed a circle without checking my compass, thinking I was heading north the whole time. No wonder that part of the dive seemed repetitive (except that to compensate for depth, everyone was diving higher now ;-) But I realized it when I was heading north again back at the bottom of the U, 50 min into the dive, and Bobbi and I with about 80 bar still to go. I recognized it because there was an alternate route to the north which I hadn't taken my last time here, but which I took now. This one progressed up the channel and led us into a area of cabbage coral interspersed with pretty blue tufts of soft coral, and this area was full of turtles. We found a half dozen of those before we had to surface, Ryan hovering just overhead, air holding out well in a 65 minute dive.

All back aboard the boat and we motored over to Ras Lima, the east-west wall extending well off the small village on the beach, and scarfed down a few of Sylvienne's (Chris's mom's) sandwich wraps, interesting combinations of chicken and wieners, eliciting even more 'sausage' jokes from Nicki. Chris was planning to have us dive that wall but I made some murmurings of preferring to dive Lima Rock, a popular choice, and Chris said sure, why not.

My logged dive #931 - Chris put us in at the eastern point on the north side of the island and the plan was to dive the north side heading west. By the time all the divers were in the water, we were getting swept at an accelerating pace to the east, caught in a current we couldn't fight. Chris saw what was happening and hand signalled me to round the rock at its eastern point and dive the south side, so I had everyone descend, and from then on it was a drift dive. We went down to what I thought was the gap leading to the other side, but it kept descending and we were at 35 meters before I decided to level off, Bobbi clinging to me less in anxiety than for safety. We were getting swept in a direction I thought was west trying to stay on the wall, and coming alongside some very large meter-long barracuda, wow. Here I realized we were heading east, we'd somehow disoriented 180 degrees. By now we were midwater, no point in diving here, so I signaled up. Everyone stayed together. We came up to 5 meters and I signaled a safety stop. Everyone hung together, but in exactly three minutes I signaled up because I wanted to get picked up and taken back to the rock. At the surface I saw we'd been swept well off the wall, halfway to Iran :-) Ryan and Bobbi and I met at the surface where the boatman eventually saw us and came out to pick us up. Nicki and Belinda remained down till we revved our engines to call them up. They’d had had some sort of miscommunication, each thinking the other needed to remain under, but as a reward they had ended up in the middle of a circling funnel of barracuda.

We all had over 100 bar, but we’d had enough excitement for one dive, so we got the boatman to take us to the middle of the north wall, the sheltered side, where some live-aboard dhows were anchored. Here we finished off our air in the shallows, basically trying to avoid any further trouble. It was nice diving. Bobbi and I separated from the group and found half a dozen blue spotted rays under as many different rocks. We saw at least that many morays, including one large honeycomb, and some nice tableaux of lion fish. It was a relaxing end to an unusual dive.

We spent the night at Discover Nomad chez Christophe, but because beverage supply there cannot be counted on we slipped over the border to the hole in the wall at Royal Beach and dropped in on Terry and the other Freestyle divers to enjoy a cool one before driving back to Oman. Terry was overseeing the barbeque of a huge yellowfin tuna and he offered us a taste. We only tasted because we were heading back to Christophe’s for un repas a la Mauritius coutesy of Sylvienne’s kitchen, which deserved more than one etoille Michelin. There we were soon tucking into exquisite quiche, tender steak, succulent kabobs, and deliciously grilled shrimp, plus a fresh green salad, great complements to our two bottles of red wine, which we shared of course.

Somehow we got sleepy and found ourselves waking up a few hours later to another great day on the UAE seacoast. We moved off to return to Freestyle at 9 where we found we could get on a dive to the Inchcape.

My logged dive #932 - Nicki wasn’t in the mood but Bobbi and I joined a boatload and we were soon heading down the mooring line in a stiff current to the wreck at 30 meters. We had wisely worn lycra underneath our 3 mm wetsuits because it was cold down there, perhaps 24 degrees. Due to the depth it’s only a 20 min dive anyway, but the temperature was a shock after the warm summer. The wreck was beautiful as usual, swarming with schools of snappers and bigger fish. There were no rays there at the time but the two honeycombs to replace the ones who succumbed to the red tide were in their predictable places, easily spotted by all the divers. For Bobbi and I who have been here many times, it’s a treat to be diving it just the two of us, without having to monitor students, so we let ourselves slip into a minute of deco and we were last up the rope. We made an unhurried descent, our deco cleared at 9 meters, and we spent 3 full minutes at 5 meters even though we had been just below the other divers waiting for them to complete their safety stops. The current had disappeared at the bottom, but now we were being pulled to the side like pennants. We could see the other divers at the ladder climbing up onto the boat and when the last bum disappeared from the water we let go the mooring line and caught the ladder as we were swept beneath it.

My logged dive #933 - We did one more dive, at noon on Dibba Rock. Nicki had finally got her hair just right so she joined us. The sea and sky were bright and the water looked clear and promising, but it was a promise not kept. The viz was silty. We were dropped on the mooring at the north corner of the rock. We made our way back through the aquarium and onto the reef. I hadn't brought a compass because mine was on a console whose pressure guage had malfunctioned, but I could tell we had hit it right when I heard the clacking and saw a school of young barracuda overhead. Then a large black tipped shark appeared swimming nonchalantly across our bow. Bobbi and I watched it go by, but Nicki was lagging a bit and missed it. Too bad as it was our only shark sighting that dive. Due to the milky conditions I missed a turn in the reef and had trouble getting out to the end of it. I had to retrace my steps on the reef and didn’t know where I was exactly until we came on an anchor that’s been in the reef for some time. Orienting on that I managed to find the right way, and brought us onto a number of turtles in the process. There were frequent sightings of barracuda overhead, shoals of snapper, puffer fish meandering across our paths, and some cuttlefish occasionally, but all in all it was a slightly disappointing dive (what am I saying?! I must be getting jaded ;-)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nicki's photos up at Facebook from Dibba and Musandam September 2009

Nicki has put up her photos from two weekends diving in Musandam and Dibba during September 2009: the 2-night dhow trip up the Musandam 3-5 September and Dibba weekend 11-12 September.

I think this link will work, but you'll need to log on to Facebook to see them ...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

October 2-3, 2009 - Bobbi and Vance at Dibba Rock and Lima and Ras Morovi, Musandam, my logged dives #926-929

Last time Bobbi had joined us on a dive trip she’d ended up baby-sitting and didn’t dive at all in two days, and the following weekend the weather was rough and diving was canceled. Then the following weekend she decided to baby-sit again and flew to Qatar where grand-daughter Gwen had moved. So she really wanted to dive this weekend. However none of the people we invited to join us could make it, even Nicki had a prior commitment at the Party Hall in Dhaid and couldn’t accompany us. When we woke up at 6:00 and checked email, we found our only 'taker' for Friday had to cancel (car rental fell through and he needed to get back for Saturday), so it was just Bobbi and I for that day.

Had we not agreed to meet that other diver at noon, we might have slept in and gone up for just the 3 pm dive, but noon this day on Dibba Rock was a rare occasion indeed. The water was clear for a change, we could easily see the sharks prowling in the periphery. With the sun directly overhead, the light was not refracted by what suspended matter there was. It was just Bobbi and I and it took us an hour to breathe our tanks down to 100 bar. We surfaced after 63 minutes, having reached about 14 meters on the back side of the rock, but we could easily have dived an extra half hour (Garith had missed out of the briefing the part about 50 bar, 50 minutes, whichever comes first, we didn’t remind him).

The dive was among our best on Dibba Rock. We planned the full circuit. We were dropped in to the west of the V shaped reef and finned to the east in 31 degree water, a temperature ideal for diving. The current was a little to the east but not significant and it helped us over the reef to where it peters out near the rock and where we fin over the sand to the boulders with rust-colored coral.

On a clear day this is an especially pretty spot, with schools of snappers and bigger diamond-shaped fish, not sure what they are, but plentiful. There happened to be a pair of sharks here playing around a couple of the boulders, looking like they did in pictures which I’ll link to here, darting about behind and around the boulders, coming quite near us. We sometimes double back from here but today we continued along the boulders to the back side of the island. Bobbi saw a big shark there down in the sand and we watched it cruise up the rock wall.

We headed out over the sand looking for rays. Bobbi might have seen one but by the time she got my attention it had vanished. But scouring that vicinity I found a jaw fish. These little animals live in holes and peer like frogs over the top. They have miniscule glass shrimp living on them cleaning their faces. They had disappeared in the red tide disaster and it was nice to see that this one made it back ok. Hope he tells his friends it’s safe to return.

We finned up through the gap to take us back to the near side of the rock and held a westerly course at just 2-3 meters, into the current, a little work, but we reached the reef about 45 minutes into the dive. Here we found a lot of turtles but no more sharks. 63 minutes into the dive we figured we’d better surface, but we were really enjoying it and would like to have continued.

The 3 pm dive was delayed due to dive training (other instructors in the pool etc) so it was 3:40 when we finally descended, same mooring as at noon. But by now the sun was slanting on the suspended particles in the water and visibility was more hazy. We didn’t see any sharks this time though most other groups did. We did hang out in a school of barracuda for a while looking for them, they are usually there, and we came upon turtle after turtle, but we surfaced at 52 minutes without seeing any sharks, and again with 100 bar in our tanks.

We cleaned our kit and hung it to dry, had a malt beverage, and enjoyed the sunset from the Freestyle veranda. Then packed and paid and cruised through Dibba to the UAE border and were waved through easily. Five minutes into Oman we were at the Discover Nomad hostel and settling in for a shower, a few more drinks before dinner, and a bottle of vinicultured fruit juice as Chris’s mom set out a lavish spread of her Mauritian cuisine. Somehow we made it to bed and slept till dawn. But unsure of when to get up, we went back to sleep and slept again till 8, and then again until 9, and then we found that someone who had planned to drive down from Abu Dhabi wasn’t coming so we could go then to the Dibba Oman harbor and head up to Musandam.

We were on our way by boat by 10:30 and at 11:47 I was calling out the time for our descent for our first dive. It was Bobbi and I and Leslie Gardner who was the only one in Froglegs to have actually made it down to Dibba, so we welcomed her on our dive so she wouldn’t have to dive with the others in an advanced course. All the other divers with us were competent, but they were from Mozambique, spoke Portuguese together, and one was doing her divemaster course, so there were multiple factors associated with their diving. In any event, Leslie was fine to surface on her own when she ran low on air before Bobbi and I, and Chris, the jovial dive shop owner, was fine with it as well.

There wasn’t that much to see on our dives. On the first one we found a couple of honeycomb morays and a few torpedo rays at depth, 32 meters in my case. Apart from that it was simply a relaxing dive in the company of so many different kinds of fish, wearing our lycra wetsuits, comfortable, perfectly buoyant, responsible for no one but ourselves. At the end of the dive, after Leslie had surfaced, Bobbi and I got caught in a downcurrent at the western edge of the island, nearest the mountains. This happened when I saw a batfish undergoing near-orgasmic paroxysms at the administrations of a tiny blue-striped wrasse who was giving it a good over-all cleaning, apparently long overdue. This was going on at 20 meters, and right behind the batfish there was a honeycomb moray poking his head out voyeuristically, possibly trying to decide whether to eat the wrasse or get in line. Because of the sudden down-current we couldn’t retreat the way we had just come and it was difficult to fin up against it. I chased my computer against a last minute of no-deco time but slipped into deco trying to maintain my depth level. Eventually we found a bit of rope and hung on at 5 meters, did a safety stop, and the deco burned off. Interesting dive, and these kind of antics don’t faze Bobbi in the least.

On the second dive we went over to Ras Morovi, across the bay from Lima Rock, between there and Octopus Rock just visible to the north (what the BSAC divers used to call “The Stack”). There are at least three dives you can do there, and Chris proposed the "island". On one of my last two times here I’d started first in the bay, where you exit onto purple teddybear corals and round a point with ‘salad’ corals (or cabbage). The next to last time we’d jumped in the channel between the headland and the island and had a cracking dive rounding the south point. This time we’d dive the “island” as Chris called it and by that he meant diving the wall on the outside of the island extension of Ras Morovi. It’s supposed to be 37 meters at the jump-in point at the north tip.

But as we were anchoring off that north tip some other divers surfaced appearing to be swept by a surface current to the north, so we decided to move around to the south end and start the dive there. Then as we entered the water, we noticed divers being carried to the south. Chris decided it was a surface current, they are possible here, and we went down where we were. There was negligible current at first but at the deepest point about a half hour into the dive we encountered a strong head current and couldn’t get through it without breathing hard at 25 meters, so we had to turn back.

On this dive we saw a few interesting things. There was another big honeycomb somewhere along there and in one long vertical crack in the rock I counted at least ten crayfish ranging up and down the rock seam. But the most interesting thing on this dive I found in a cave I saw from below and swam up to so as I came over its edge I saw in the sand a large eagle ray parked with its head against the rock wall. Eagle rays are skittish, beautiful in flight, but usually you see them only a few seconds as they power to get away as fast as they can. This one was going nowhere. A beautiful animal, he let us come close as we tried to judge the minimal distance that would not disturb him. We didn’t and what a rare treat to be allowed almost right on top of him for as long as we liked.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 11 and 12, 2009 - Certified 3 divers: Greg Golden (advanced), Bill Nash and Gulya Oblokulova (open water)

My logged dives 920-925
Vance helps daughter-in-law Gulya with her compass heading - Photo by Nicki Blower

I had a rather ambitious weekend planned for myself in Dibba, diving with the ever-amenable Freestyle Divers, with Greg Golden slated to do an advanced course and his friend Bill Nash wanting to join him for all 4 of his beginning open water dives. Gulya was preparing to move to Qatar and she wanted to finish off her last two open water dives as well. Bobbi too wanted to dive but unfortunately she took on all the babysitting for granddaughter Gwen so Gulya could do her diving, and she didn't get wet once all weekend. Nicki joined us as well to take pictures of all the fun.

Both Gulya and Bill had done all their academics (just barely, in Bill's case in the car on the way down). Gulya had finished all her pool work but Bill had done just the first three modules in the pool which qualified him to do the first two open water dives in the course, so he'd have to do the last two pool modules before I could take him back in the ocean for his last two o/w dives on Saturday. Greg had joined Bill on one of his pool modules for a bit of confined water refresher, so I had some idea beforehand of his skill level (confident, partly as a result of the refresher). He needed to do two dives that the open water students couldn't do, night and deep, so that was one more ball in the air I'd be juggling that weekend. Therefore I'd need to do six dives: the four o/w dives plus the two advanced-only ones, plus conduct all needed confined water sessions between the dives.

I mapped out a plan for us that would keep me busy hopping for the weekend. It looked like this:

7:30 Friday – Leave Abu Dbabi for 11:00 arrival at Freestyle in Dibba

12:00 – Greg would do an advanced boat dive, no skills required on the dive. Gulya would do her o/w dive 3, and Bill could do his o/w dive #1. Gulya would be the only student with skills for that dive. She had to flood and clear her mask and orally inflate a BCD to achieve neutral buoyancy.

For this dive we dropped in west of the reef and had to fight an oncoming current to reach it. I remember there wasn't much to see on the dive apart from barracudas and reef fishes, and a few turtles. The students were dealing with weighting and buoyancy issues, and the red tide seemed to be lingering in the water, not that bad, but hazy with suspended matter, reducing vis. The students managed to settle themselves as we went along. I recall the dive was short, about 45 minutes or less. Nicki got some great turtle shots with her new fish-eye lense.

Between dives I took Gulya and Bill in the open water off the beach for flexible skills: compass heading at the surface and snorkel, regulator exchange.

3:00 – Greg would do his advanced navigation dive. Gulya had to take care of Gwen and had stopped for the day, so I decided to have Bill do a compass heading out and back in conjunction with Greg's square pattern, in addition to his normal o/w dive #2 skills.

Since Gulya had dropped out I had Bill do his CESA at the beginning of the dive. Once he recalled what he was supposed to do, he did fine, coming up from only 3 meters of water. I then led us west to find the raspberry coral to do our navigation there but I came upon set of coral bommies that was so salient it was just crying to be used as a base for navigation work. Our first heading was to the west. My students were a little confused over the role each was to play in this endeavor, but I managed to get all of us following our own headings west, and each returning on his idea of east, we all arrived back at the bommies, so apart from some buddy separation issues, which I addressed via hand signals, the out and back exercise was deemed to be a success. Then we repeated it to the south using the same number of kick cycles we'd traveled to the west. At the end of that leg we came to a coral head on which I placed a bit of bleached coral found on the bottom as a marker. We returned to our bommie base and then the fun began as Greg began his square pattern. We headed back to the west where I found the rock I'd reached before (I'd left a sea urchin on mine). Bill was with me and Greg a little further away but set to turn 90 meters for the second leg. At the end of that one we turned more or less the same position and headed east and found the coral head with the bleached coral on top. Perfect. It was an easy fin back to the bommies from there.

Bill was getting low on air but I led to the west still trying to find the reef until he had to surface, so we all went up and called a boat over. I had 39 minutes on my computer at that point, so Greg and I resumed our diving. By then we had drifted over the coral, so we descended and found some turtles. I'm trying to recall exactly, but did we find a shark as well? I'm sure we saw at least one that day, either first dive or second. Maybe Greg can remember and comment.

After this dive, sun dipping just over the hills ringing Dibba bay, I took bill for his module 4 confined water dive, entailing removing a mask and swimming 15 meters underwater, and hovering practice. There was also a duck diving component to this training dive which we completed at dusk. We were planning to get module 5 done as well but darkness was descending fast and we decided to postpone that for the following day. Besides, it was almost time for ...

6:30 – Greg's night dive was not too exciting for me. We saw some morays, clams, lots of crabs walking about, and the reef was teemng with brine shrimp with glowing eyes revealing presence of delicate animals attached. The weather was perfect for night diving, water tepid, wish it could be like this all year long!

9:00 a.m. Saturday September 12 – Deep dive with Greg Golden, Nicki along for the thrills, Gulya and Bobbi both administering to granddaughter Gwenny. This was a pretty hopping dive. We tied up to Al Boom's boat and delayed our entry purposely waiting for the other divers to wrap up their twenty minutes below. Our timing was impeccable. We reached the anchor line just as the first of the Al Boomers was coming up from her safety stop. “How was it?” we asked. “Terrible,” she said. “Can't see a thing, dark, cold.” She said she had come up after only nine minutes on the wreck. Oh, well, we shrugged, we're here, down we go. We descended into Al Boom bubbles, and watched all those divers leave deck and inch up the rope while we were doing our skills. Vis there looked normal to us. The wreck was covered with fish as usual. We toured where the hull rested in the sand at 30 meters and found three electric rays, what Nicki calls torpedo rays. Two were resting one atop the other. We moved to the deck where Nicki found a small moray in a pipe. I had just swum back to tell her about a huge honeycomb moray I had found amid-decks but she was summoning me to show me her find. Then we meandered up the deck to find a second big honeycomb. Exactly 20 min. into the dive we were heading back up the anchor line. Up top we all waxed effusive over a great Inchcape dive.

We got back from this one before 11. Bill was waiting on shore and joined me as I was exiting the boat. We had just enough time to return to confined water and finish off training dive #5, in time for ...

noon – Gulya had arrived by now so we would finish off her last o/w ocean dive, and Bill would be doing his 3rd. Greg was now on his last dive for the advanced course, an elective, and he chose underwater naturalist. I started this dive taking Gulya for her CESA. She had become nauseous on the boat and was not comfortable at the bottom of the anchor line, but after a moment's recovery she performed a flawless 7 meter ascent on one exhalation. Back down vis was brown and murky. While my divers established buoyancy and did their skills, Greg and Nicki wandered off, not to be seen again till they reboarded the boat.

We had decided to do the back side of Dibba Rock on this dive. We moved at first over the boulders in brown water, looking not particularly attractive or appealing. But as we sloped deeper toward the sand at 10 meters, the water turned bluer and became clearer, also noticeably colder. Still there was not much here, so we went to the sand where Gulya led us on a compass heading 15 kick cycles north and back to the south to the rock we'd marked as our starting point. Her next skill was hovering so I was checking in the boulders for something to see there. I found two turtles to hold our attention while we breathed in lotus position. Further ahead I spotted a fish with a saddle back where a larger fish had taken a bite out of it. The wound looked mortal, but the fish was swimming along with only a slight wobble from its missing dorsal fin. Then I found a hermit crab with a shell of soft anemone on its shell and handed it around (and replaced it; I think I'd seen that very crab before on the west side of the rock). Next there appeared a good sized black tip swimming down over the boulders. He circled us so it was possible to swim a little ahead of where he would be and keep him in view. Bill and Gulya both saw him well.

We also did a compass heading NE into the sand, then SE parallel to the wall, and SW back to the wall, but we saw no rays and nothing much more on the dive. Coming over the lip into the shallows to round the rock we encountered stiff current. This and the rapid change of depth as we pushed up the gap into the shallows caused my students to become buoyant and rise to the surface. Bill was already into the red at 500 psi, so 40 min into the dive we ascended. Small problem, we were still on the backside of the rock, no boats in sight, so I finned against the current to catch sight of Garith on the near side. He spotted me and came round the rock to the back. He said he wouldn't have looked for us there anytime soon if I hadn't finned up current to get his attention.

After the dive I took Bill out behind the anchored boats to finish his flexible dive skills, surface tank and weight removal. Gulya had not been able to complete her skills on her last dive but she had recovered from her seasickness by the time I had finished with Bill so I went back in the water with her to do the skills I'd just completed with Bill and also to descend and have her remove and replace a mask for completion of all skills for her final dive of the course.

3 p.m. - Time for my last dive of the weekend, just to complete the course for Bill. He had only two skills left to do, remove and replace a mask, never a problem for him, and hover. We found some barracuda on the reef and accomplished that skill there.

It was only Bill and I on this dive, and I thought it was a pretty good one. Greg would have joined us but at the last minute on the boat, Angelika from Germany / Qatar requested a buddy and Greg volunteered. As he had done with Nicki the dive before, he opted to take his lady off on his own, later we found he had circumnavigated the rock and come up in the raspberry coral near where Bill and I surfaced.

Vis was poor but not impossible, and we scoured the reef for anything interesting. Bill and I went its entire length and apart from a turtle and the schools of barracuda, we saw nothing of great interest at all. Retracing our fin kicks it was a different story. On a slightly different tangent we found turtle after turtle, a dozen or more, resting in crevices in the coral. At one point a shark cut across my bow and kept in view for several seconds as I pointed and tried to indicate it to Bill, right behind me. But Bill was looking down at that moment and missed it, too bad. Whenever we lacked for something to see, it seemed a school of barracuda would appear. Nice way to end a long and hectic but thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sept 4 and 5 2009, logged dives 913-919 from Al Marsa LIVEABOARD dhow in Musandam

Photo credit: John Brodie

Sept 4, 2009 began the night before on the 3rd. We fought Ramadhan pre-iftar traffic getting out of Abu Dbabi just in time to make it to Dibba harbor after dark and slightly after 8. There, several hands helped us get our dive gear from the car to the Al Marsa dhow we would be living aboard the next few days We set sail not long after that and were soon enjoying a buffet dinner al fresco on the upper deck. Being Ramadhan we were not sure what beverages they would be serving aboard the dhow but we had brought a coolbox replete with our own. The 3.5 hour drive through Suweihan, plus the day’s work before that had exhausted us, so we were in bed early in our cabin, Bobbi and I squeezed onto a single bunk, lulled to sleep by the roll of the boat and the steady drone and vibration of the engines as we completed the 5 hour journey north. At 3 a.m. I awoke to notice that the roll and drone had stopped, but the hum of the a/c remained, and I easily feel back asleep.

We were up at 6:30 for coffee :-(instant) with the other dozen divers aboard, and at 7:00 we assembled for our briefing. We had sailed overnight to Sheesah Bay. A check on my gps showed we were just around the corner from White Rocks, out of sight past the headland we were about to dive. See:

This became our routine for Friday and Saturday, coffee at 6:30, briefing at 7:00, diving via short speedboat ride to the nearby first dive site, return to the dhow for breakfast on the top deck, relax until time for a noon dive, followed by lunch, more leisure and a 3:00 p.m. dive. On the Friday we also had a rest for an hour before the night dive, pre-dinner drinks, and dinner.

If you have to have a routine this will do! We paid for it of course, about $1000 for the two of us, Bobbi and I, two nights, 7 dives, 6 meals on a luxurious (remodeled in fiberglass but otherwise had the shape of an) Arabian dhow. Musandam is an incredibly scenic place with fijords lined with rock walls where you can see the exposed strata sheered into cliffs and turned at right angles on itself in upheavals over the millennia. The water there can be clear blue or, when the plague of red tide is present, murky and brown till the depth at which the tide stops.

The dives themselves were competently managed with regard to the dive leader Jay keeping people together and knowing the sites well enough to lead on them. He was also very good at spotting the small animals in sand and sea grasses, the scorpion fish and seahorses. But dive companies and dive leaders who work at them come and go frequently in the UAE, and Jay and his assistant, Phillipe (free lancing, working occasionally with Al Marsa and Divers Down) had perhaps not been in the area long enough to know that many sites, or they were being conservative with currents and avoided the more difficult sites. For example, at Sheesah Bay, they led two dives on the north and south headlands but didn’t take us on White Rocks offshore, though that rock stood mid-ocean just a few hundred meters off the headland and would likely attract interesting animals (and currents, but liveaboards tend to be patronized by experienced divers - see my logs from the only time I'd dived it before:

They bypassed some other good dive sites, like Mother of Mouse for example (Jay told me later it had been trashed by smugglers, who were using it as a base). The smugglers had weapons and sometimes harassed the dive boats, so Al Marsa went no further than Sheesah, and that’s a real shame, because the further north you go toward the Straits of Hormuz, the wilder the diving gets.

So we did two dives on headlands at Sheesah Bay and then headed for Ras Sirkan, but when we encountered red tide there, we continued south to Octopus Rock, which can easily be reached by speed boat on a day trip from Dibba. This is to say that whereas the liveaboard experience was thoroughly enjoyable, the ability to get into the north of Musandam to some very different and infrequently dived sites was capitalized on less than we'd hoped, so the diving was about the same as would have been possible on a speedboat day-trip from Dibba.

But still the diving was quite nice. And we did lots of it, 4 dives the first day including a night dive, and three dives the next. We were of course in great anticipation of our first dive of the series, up at 6:30 for coffee, finding ourselves at anchor in Sheesah Bay, and speedboat ready to take us around the southern point to Ras Khaysa, what a way to spend the morning!

Sept 4, Dive 913 - Ras Khaysa

The dive wasn’t all that interesting though, vis ok but not excellent, and not a lot there apart from some large honeycomb morays and the usual reef fishes. We hit a current that swept us pell mell across the rock face (perhaps one reason Jay wanted to avoid White Rocks later that day). One diver got forced by it into a corner with sharp rocks that bloodied his legs. The part of the dive where we were being barreled along was fun for Bobbi and I but things went by faster than we could absorb our surroundings. The turmoil of the current was perhaps why most divers ran out of air early and had to surface before the 50 min. dive time limit, and Nicki came up with cramping stomache, but Bobbi and I and a Malaysian lady who later told us to be sure and go to Perhentian Island and stay at Flora Bay, stayed down with Jay the full 50 minutes.

Sept 4, Dive 914 - Ras Ahrous

Back on board breakfast was served under the sun shade on the top deck, second dive scheduled for 11:00. That’s when I noticed from my GPS that White Rock was just around the corner, a km away, and I mentioned it to Jay, but he had already prepared a diagram for Ras Ahrous, the north headland of the bay, and besides he thought the currents would be strong at White Rock. So our second dive of the day was pretty much the same as the first. We saw an electric ray in the sand, and a couple of turtles. The reefs were pretty with soft blue corals and teeming with fishes, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Sept 4, Dive 915 - Octopus Rock

Lunch was served on the top deck while the boat steamed south to Ras Sarkan, midway between Shisha and Lima Rock. When we arrived at Ras Sirkan just in time for a 3 pm dive, it turned out to be covered with red tide, putting our leaders in a quandary, since that late in the day, options were limited. I suggested a site nearby I had dived with BSAC called Brenda’s Nipple (sorry, don’t know the story, but see the night dive at ;-),

There was red tide present there as well and by now we were heading for Octopus Rock. We arrived there before 4, found red tide there too, but with the sun nearing the ridge line of the mountains to the west, there was no choice but to dive it anyway. There was current here as well, Jay put us in the water in its lee and told us to hug the rock to “hide from the current.” All divers followed instructions and descended together and fortunately visibility turned out to be fairly clear just a few meters down.

Octopus Rock is usually a good dive (BSAC Divers used to call it ‘the Stack’). There are some resident sea horses, our goal for this dive, and Jay took us right to them, showing us two at 25 meters. We then negotiated the caverns playing carefully with the currents which are notorious around Octopus Rock. We had many photographers in our group, and divers with cameras were lagging behind Jay’s lead. Bobbi and I hesitated at one gulley and then another waiting for them to catch up, and the second time was awkward since there was stiff current there. Jay motioned us to head upcurrent to the left so we went on and left the group behind. Sometimes pulling ourselves along on the bottom, we found schools of fishes, blue triggers, big batfish, jacks, snappers, all milling about thick everywhere we looked as we finned hard into current and then headed parallel to it hoping to round the rock and be carried down the other side. It was here that in a place swarming with fish midwater we saw among them a free-swimming electric ray, looking a little out of place among the fishes, but no bigger or smaller than the others, and he was unconcerned when we chose him to follow.

We then rotated more with the current being careful not to be swept off the rock, which I turned toward to round it counter clockwise. We weren’t actually on Octopus Rock however, so as we came up the wall 50 minutes into our dive we ran out of rock at the top. It was at the right depth for a safety stop, so we clung there 3 minutes for our safety stop. I got out my submersible marker buoy but needed an extra hand, one to hold the bottom open, one to interject air by purge from my alternate air source (never again with the main one!) and a third hand to release the reel once the buoy became inflated enough to head smartly to the top. I needed a fourth hand to hold on to the rock in the meantime but Bobbi was helping with that by holding me in place. When our three minutes was up we had to let go and get carried with the current to ascend mid-water. At the surface we saw other divers nearby getting picked up in the speedboat, and Jay was already aboard with those who had run out of air first. They came over as soon as they could, all divers recovered.

Sept 4, Dive 916 - Ras Limah

Our three dives so far that day had all been to 27, 25 meters, but we had our night dive still to go, and back once more on the dhow had to wait an hour for the briefing. It was dusk when we all re-boarded the speedboat to be carried just a hundred meters away on Ras Limah to the drop in point for our night dive, the idea being to end up somewhere near the dhow. We descended in twilight and descended on top of a large honeycomb moray eel, then were soon scouring the bottom for whatever else might be living there. We saw a few more morays and again an electric ray, some parrot fish sleeping concealed in the rocks, but nothing really amazing (some people would find ANY of this amazing, I realize). There is one thing I always like to do on night dives -- Bobbi and I moved off from the others, and then we cut our lights and waved our arms and kicked our fins in the dark water, just to light up our limbs with sparkler phosphorescence.

To commemorate a great day. Bobbi and I showered and fixed ‘moonlighters’. We had missed our traditional ‘sundowners’ in order to be compos mentis for the night dive, but gin and whatever hit the spot with the full mid-Ramadhan moon rising over the cliff we were moored next to, the full moon just visible to us from the railing on which we leaned while sipping. Our dinner buffet was just a few steps away on the top deck. We had wine with that, and went early to bed. Others were feeling as comfortably tired as we were. This was not a late night party boat.

Sept 5, Dive 917 - Lima Rock South Side

The day dawned as the one previous, but the excitement today was in anticipation of seeing whale sharks. We had seen them on our past several dives on Lima Rock:

But we would be disappointed on this day. We blamed Nicki, who had chosen Bobbi and I as her preferred dive buddy for the day, and Nicki blamed Phillipe (got to blame SOMEone! :-)). Seriously, there simply weren’t any whale sharks around, because if they are there, being curious creatures, they come to the divers, and they often arrive at the start of the dive.

We were a bit deep for them, 25 meters or so, for much of the dive. I got to 30 at some point, thinking I had plenty of air, but breathed much of that when we mounted the wall and had to fight current to cut through to the north side of the rock. There were eagle rays there, some mid water, and two down in the sand at 20 meters. I went down to 15 meters to have a closer look despite being right at 50 bar at that point (and this is how I knew they were eagle rays, Jay insisted they were devil rays, I’m pretty sure I was right about these though, I clearly saw their pointed heads and the mottled coloring on their backs – something about the coloring of their heads can appear to be the silver processes of devil rays from a distance, as I had thought at first myself). After watching the rays swim around just off the sand bottom, I angled up and stayed high the rest of the dive, which we ended with a 3 meter safety stop starting 50 minutes into the dive, my needle hovering just off the red at 500 psi.

Bobbi wanted me to mention an interesting crustacean that Nicki found for us on this dive, a lobster out on walkabouts with no claws, a flat carapace at its head. It looked delicious but we all left it alone.

We returned to the dhow for breakfast, and the next dive was brought forward to 10 a.m. since most of us needed to get back to Abu Dhabi that evening (didn’t want to think of it!). At the briefing of our second dive, Jay brought out a diagram of Ras Limah, where we had done our night dive the evening before, but that wasn’t a popular choice, and I suggested Ras Morovi just to the north. On a clear day you can see it from Lima, but it was a destination that some weeks previously the boatman had refused to go to when we had been at Lima with Discover Nomad (too far, not included in the price, he had said, leaving us only Lima dive spots as options:

Today it was no problem, Jay agreed, and we headed there, ten minutes in the speedboat. Ras Morovi has an island to the east off the point with a channel between it and the mainland. Last time I dived there I went to the bay just inside the south headland and we worked our way out around the rocks to the west of the channel and found wonderful teddy bear coral and lots of fish on it. We had turned back from the channel due to currents and returned to the bay.

Sept 5, Dive 918 - Ras Morovi

Today Jay took us to the north side of the island and we started our dive in the channel heading south, diving its east side. The surface current was sweeping north but Jay expected it would diminish at depth and it did. It turned out to be our best dive of the weekend. There were schools of barracuda in the channel (see John's photo at the top of this post). We came on lion fish and scorpion fish and many morays, honeycomb, green, and grey. At one point Jay rounded a rock and startled 4 eagle rays who zoomed from their resting place in the reef out to sea. Jay had barely time to bang on his tank to attract my attention when zap, zap, zap, a delay, and then zap, one more, the big rays passed right in front of us and were gone in a matter of seconds. I was at Jay’s shoulder and Bobbi was right behind me, and of all the divers with us I think we were the only ones who saw them. Nicki, behind Bobbi and fulfilling photographer duties for us, didn’t see them and the rest of the group were behind her, too far back to see.

But Nicki’s powers of observation of smaller things enabled her to find a seahorse in the green whip coral just a little further ahead. Jay had gone left but I had continued straight to peer over a rock wall that plunged ten meters to the sand, hoping to see something big and interesting over the side, and so only those who followed us saw Nicki’s seahorse. No telling what we missed by not following Jay, he was also good at spotting things, but angling up the wall to begin our safety top at 5 meters we found morays and crayfish lobsters there. Nicki photographed one green moray in a broken bit of coral forming a shell, and she asked later if I’d seen the shrimp on it. I hadn’t so I hope she sends us a photo, and we thought this was a pretty good dive.

Picture credit: Nicki Blower

Sept 5, Dive 919- Lima Rock North Side

There was time for lunch, and an hour’s rest before our last dive at 2 pm. This time we would be diving the north side of Lima Rock. I always find this side a bit of a letdown. It’s shallower that the south side, where the boulders are more dramatic. I rarely see much of interest here, though I’ve seen rays this side and once or twice a whale shark (but half a dozen sightings on the south side). There’s always a chance of seeing a whale shark anywhere on Lima, but today it was not going to happen, and we had to be content our last dive with crayfish, lion fish, scorpion fish, and the usual schools of tropical reef fish. Except at the first of the dive Jay managed to find three or four seahorses. He knew where to look (in the sparce green whip corals in the sand at the north west corner at the start of our dive east). Apart from the two we’d seen on Octopus Rock the day before, I’d never before seen more than one on any single dive.

If you like diving and good company this is possibly the most enjoyable weekend available in the UAE. I suppose if I were leading the dives, I’d try and be more adventurous, like Mike Ralph used to be when he was leading dives in the area, but then again how Mike favored divers was not always in the best interests of his employers, except where they benefited from repeat satisfied customers (f there were spare tanks, he let us use them, no charge; he did the dives he himself liked to do, risky sometimes but everyone survived!).

Speaking of repeat, Bobbi and I will surely repeat this trip again, one of these days, when we feel we’ve earned a good pampering, in celebration of something, or when Nicki goads us into it again.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The SHARKS are back, fine diving returns to Dibba with logged dives 909 to 912, August 28-29, 2009 - Freestyle

Bobbi and I took Nini diving for her first dive of my course and our first dive off Dibba Rock in some time. Dibba Rock used to be our favorite dive site but then it was hit by cyclone Gonu, where a lot of the coral was churned up and deposited on the beach, and then by the red tide earlier this year, which choked a lot of the life out of the ocean there. So we didn’t know what to expect and were very pleasantly surprised!

Dive 909 - The sharks are back. We saw lots of sharks our first dive this day, running rampant on the reef. We just hung out under a school of barracuda and enjoyed their comings and goings. There were lots of turtles too, some with remora fish on their shells (what the remora were getting out of it, no telling). There were cuttlefish in many places on the reef, and big jacks passing through. Everyone coming up to the surface was going on about what a great dive it was. Someone with a huge camera was showing his pictures. I asked him how many sharks he saw. Sharks? He didn’t see any, he said (a down side to underwater photography). Nini was quite lucky to have such a great first dive on Dibba. Her air lasted 42 minutes, which was fine since we’d seen plenty, 7 meters depth.

Dive 910
- That was the noon dive. On the 3 pm dive we approached the reef from the western mooring, stopping beforehand to get Nini’s dive #2 skills out of the way. Once on the reef it was a little harder to see the animals because of the angle of the sun on the suspended matter, it seemed cloudy compared to the relative clarity of the noon dive. Still we saw a few of the same animals as before. Air was better this time. Nini and I registered 53 minutes, though Bobbi had 58 because she had waited on the bottom when Nini and I had gone to the surface at the start of the dive.

Back in shore, Nini and I worked a little on her module 4 confined water skills, but she was getting tired and flustered and we decided to continue in the morning with a fresh start.

At the Seaside we discovered a nice Pilipino restaurant right near the residence. We had to go there to order but they brought the food up and we got to bed early after a few refreshing beverages.

29 Aug 2009

We told Nini she could wake us up if she was serious about wanting to do her skills before a nine o’clock dive the next morning, and at 6:15 she was knocking on our door. By 7 we had had our coffee and by 7:30 we were kitting for confined water just offshore. Nini is persistent and always progressing in overcoming phobias in diving but there is one she continues to have trouble with, taking a mask off, swimming without it, and replacing it. It’s one that Bobbi stopped on as well. I often say that I have a lot of respect for people for whom diving is not easy who overcome their hardships, and I’m sure that Nini is one of those (and a few hundred dives later, Bobbi is diving with the best of them now).

But this day, though we even moved to the swimming pool, we could not get through that one skill. Options were to persist and skip the nine a.m. dive, or treat the 9 a.m. dive as a fun dive and worry about the hard part later. I recommended the latter. I think it’s important that diving be fun. I think hard skills will become easier once the student has more experience and is task loading less, and it’s best to associate the sport with fun and leave the hard parts for when the student is ready.

Nini liked that idea and without having to worry about stressing over skills, she became a perfect diver, comfortable in the water, with Bobbi and I the whole way.

Dive 911 - Our first dive of the day was off the western mooring, so we came quickly on the reef, but this morning didn’t see all the animals we had seen the day before. We saw the barracuda but no sharks until we were down at the part of the reef where the turtles hang out. We were slightly naughty, diving for more than an hour.

Dive 912 - The second dive we went to the eastern mooring and decided to head for the back side, but first Nini and did an CESA, which went well. Back down we finned to the north east through the boulder area and then in the shallows where we go over the reef and then descend in layers to the sand at 15 meters. Nini came down each level with no problem at all, and in the sand some distance off the reef we found a brown mottled sting raw resting, but as we descended on it, it gathered up its skirts and ruffled off from us, dancing as it went. We headed back to the wall , looking for jawfish in the sand, found none, and ascended up the wall, finding different kinds of fish than we see on the coral.

I thought we had rounded the rock and I was taking us into the aquarium area at the northwest corner of the rock. As we ascended and headed as we thought to round the rock, Nini started to rise and we ended up at the surface, which was a good thing because we saw that we were in fact still on the eastern side of the rock. We would still head shallow now, but with the rock on our right, not on our left. It was a different dive plan.

Essentially we were going back the way we had come at the start of the dive. I was having a bit of trouble locating the good reef from that direction. We were always shallow so It was easy to surface and check from time to time. Eventually I came to a point where I wasn’t sure of the direction but I heard the clacking, so I chose west, and this took us onto the raspberry coral with its turtles and sharks. Actually we didn’t see that many sharks so I kept us down for over an hour again until I saw one at the very end of the dive.

We lasted 63 minutes this time, same depth, stretching slightly Garith’s request that we keep it to 50 min 50 bar. I like it that Freestyle are not adamant about that, though Garith does specify in his briefings now that an hour and a half is too long, so we try to come up before then.

Some lovely diving this weekend, nice to see the animals back at Dibba Rock.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

More WHALE SHARKS at Lima Rock in Musandam, Logged dives #907 and 908, August 8, 2009

Bobbi returned to Abu Dhabi on Thursday from Houston this week and she wanted first thing to go to Musandam to see the whale sharks. Glenn had just arrived from his travels as well and wanted to join us. Friday was a bit soon for Bobbi but Saturday we got up early and drove the 4 hours to Dibba. Nomad Ocean Adventures suits our schedule with 11 a.m. departures from Dibba Oman harbor for Lima Rock in Musandam.

Glenn's footage of divers with the whale shark; that's me (Vance) in the blue/yellow wetsuit below the shark and at the end of the film clip

The whale sharks don't care when we turn up. One was waiting for us when the boat pulled up to Lima Rock shortly after noon. Elli, the Mauritian dive leader, had a good idea where he might be and dropped us in near the southeast corner of the rock. The idea was to round the seaward corner where the whale sharks like to hang out and encounter him that way. It worked like a charm. The whale shark was right there. Glenn got some excellent video footage and uploaded it to YouTube.

The 6-meter whale shark was one of the most playful yet. He or she swam in amongst us and sort of joined our group, perhaps curious what we were looking at. We all swam around it and touched it at will, this lovely creature was in arm's distance for most of its stay with us. When he wandered off, an eagle ray appeared swimming solo at 30 meters. Then, also at that depth, the whale shark reappeared. This all happened in the first 13 minutes of the dive, a powerful, action packed dive segment. At 15 minutes Glenn was having air problems and had to surface, and Bobbi, concerned, accompanied him. One of the others in the group of three that I remained with had trouble with a weight belt and then got low on air herself, and at 25 minutes Elli signalled up. In any event, it had already been a great dive, as the video shows.

Our second dive was more a going-through-the-motions dive. I was asked where I'd like to do the second dive, and I said Ras Morovi or Octopus Rock. But Elli said the rented boat we were assigned to that day would not go so far as those places, although they were both within eyesight of Lima Rock. It seemed that the choice narrowed down to Ras Lima or the back side of Lima Rock. We decided on the back side, but I've rarely seen much here in my experience (apart from one great dive there with devil rays and a whale shark just last week ;-). This time though was like most of the other times I've been here. It was pleasant hovering weightless in water of comfortable temperature, and always interesting to see the fish life, and there was a dead ray on the bottom to attract our attention at one point. In future I will try to ensure that I am booked on the boats that will go to the other sites slightly beyond Lima Rock. Last week diving both days with Nomad Ocean Adventures, this was not a problem.

See more of Glenn's videos here:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Back to Musandam to see WHALE SHARKS and SeaHorses - Dive logs for July 31 and August 1, 2009

Diving with Nomad Ocean Adventures in Dibba, Oman.

Bobbi was still away in the states, so I dived this weekend with Mike Parry and Nicki Blower. Mike kindly drove us all up to Dibba in his Jeep. Nomad likes to get late morning starts (at least they’re up front about it; some shops will insist you get there at 9:00 but the boat doesn’t actually leave the harbor till after 10:00). So we were able to leave Abu Dhabi at the not horribly early hour of 7:00 and make it to Nomad’s headquarters before 11:00 and we were on the boat and away before noon and at Lima Rock well before 1:00 in the afternoon.

Vance’s logged dive #903 July 31, 2009

We were beginning our dive at 1:09. I know because in the water with divers about to descend I noticed that I had come in without my computer and I had to decide whether to stop everyone and get the boat driver to get it out of my bag or base my profile on my experience with tables and wheel gained in the decades I dived before I decided to buy a computer, so since I had watch and depth guage on me, and tables and wheel in my BCD pocket, I let the divemaster trainee Santiago (Romir’s student) lead us down.

The divers leveled off at 20 meters and I remained above Mike and Nicki and consulted the tables in my pocket to see that the NDL at 25 meters was 29 minutes. I figured I could stay almost that long at that depth and then multilevel up to 16 meters and dive for a few minutes and finish the dive at 12 meters or less.

The dive was excellent. The south side of Lima rock is pretty at that depth, nice temperature in the thermoclines (cool, I was glad I wore my 3 mm suit) with decent vis and many fishes around, a lot of crawfish under the rocks. As we moseyed along we came into a school of jacks at 22-24 meters. Now jacks are a meaty fish and a school of them is substantial biomass moving to and fro, and there is a suggestion when you see them that you are entering a part of the reef that might be interesting in case there might be anything there that eats jacks. It got interesting fast as a huge whaleshark suddenly streamed in over the jacks and casually swam off into the gloom of the open ocean. He was small for a whaleshark, just 5 meters or so, but he was soon back, giving all divers opportunities to swim close to him. These whale sharks have been hanging out at Lima Rock all summer. As I rose to keep my profile, Nicki and Mike and I stayed together, and we surfaced at about 55 min after letting ourselves go with an increasing current at the SE end of Lima Rock that was sweeping us off into the ocean.

Vance’s logged dive #904 July 31, 2009
Saw devil rays and another WHALE SHARK

Back on the surface I calculated my dive on the wheel. I wore my computer on my second dive just to have an accurate instrument for depth and time, but I worked out my actual profile on the wheel, 22 meters for 20 minutes, 12 minutes at 16, and another half hour or more at 12. We went down at the east end of the north side to about 22 meters and almost immediately encountered a school of a dozen or more devil rays. We followed them, observing them swim in formation, until they got shy and moved off. After that we rose up toward the boulders and swam in and out of the crannies (so I was never really at the edge of the profile I’d worked out, as I was on the first dive). We had misjudged the current and were swimming a little into it, and my tank had been short of 200 bar to begin with, and I started running low on air half an hour into the dive.

At about 40 minutes I signaled Mike and Nicki to continue together and I rose above them to do a safety stop starting at 41 minutes, with me getting down around 30 bar. I was keeping my eye on Mike and Nicki below, except when they became suddenly hard to see because a whale shark got in the way swimming above them and just below me at 6 meters. I set out after him, and finished out my safety stop keeping up with a whale shark. Nice safety stop to be chasing after a whale shark at 5 meters. I followed him till I thought I’d better come up due to my air situation and found myself right at the boat. Another great dive off Lima Rock!

Next morning, Mike and Nicki and I were all sleeping at the Nomad guest house. I was first up, followed by Mike, and at about ten o’clock (good moooorninngggg! Sunshine) by Nicki. We all sat outside in the heat of the outdoor dining area and had coffee and croissants while discussing our plan for the day. Options were to return to Lima with Nomad, chance of seeing whale sharks again, but late return that evening to Abu Dhabi. We had brought tanks in Mike’s car so we could also shore dive for free off the Pinnacles on the UAE side of the border, or a third option was to drive to Freestyle and get in on their noon dive to Dibba Rock and maybe see a shark or two. The decision was made in just two words, “whale shark”. It seemed that everyone was keen to take advantage of the presence of these animals just a 45 min boat ride away. They had been in residence at Lima Rock all summer. Ironically Bobbi and I had vacationed in Mozambique at Tofo, reknowned for its mantas and whale sharks. There were no mantas at Lima Rock, but this summer we didn’t need to go all the way to Mozambique to see whale sharks. They’d been spotted almost every weekend at Lima Rock, and though they are often seen there in the summer, this year they seemed to be sticking around unusually long.

But we as we had done two dives the day before, both on Lima Rock, and seen whale sharks both dives, we opted for a little variety our first dive of the morning so after motoring up the rocky Musandam coast as far as Ras Lima and Lima Rock, we continued a little ways past Ras Morovi to Octopus Rock, which BSAC used to call the Stack. Our game this dive was not mega-sized but micro. We were going to look for seahorses in the green whip corals at 20-30 meters on the south side of the rock.

Vance’s logged dive #905 August 1, 2009

Photo credit: Romir Aglugub

The diving was beautiful. Vis was clear as we dropped down on the rocks with tufty blue corals and blue trigger fish skirting along the bottom. We dropped into a sandy valley between Octopus rock and the next submerged outcropping over and very slowly since we were going deep and needed to conserve air, we descended at an angle, keeping an eye out in the coral foliage for seahorses. When Nicki found one we were just on our way up from 30 meters. She was behind us but I looked around for her and saw her motioning so we all joined her. The photographers took lots of pictures. This was a good sized seahorse, Nicki called it a sea stallion, maybe 4 cm tall, camouflaged to look like other organic matter that collects in the branches of whip coral, quite difficult to spot, good on Nicki. Ken, a diver from Finland also in our group, found a scorpion fish in the same area, also devilishly concealed.

The dive was a really good one, clear vis, cool temperatures, and very easy going as we all sought to keep metabolic rates low to conserve air. There was abundant fish life with a variety of blue, white, and green soft corals as back drop. There were many morays, including a good sized honeycomb one.

One of the most interesting fishes on the reef were batfish. We came upon a few of their cleaning stations. The batfish would hover on their tails, mouths pointing up, while the little blue wrasses wriggled in and out of their mouths and gill slits. The batfish looked to be enjoying this immensely and were loathe to break off as we got too near.

Nicki Blower's video of a batfish undergoing extreme makeover

As we rounded the rock in an upward spiral one batfish followed us the whole way so he became a memorable feature of the dive. He even followed us to the ladder of the boat as we exited the water after 55 minutes of diving. On our next dive at Lima rock Nicki said she dropped in right on a batfish and she joked it was the same one, though that seemed unlikely since the two locations were several kilometers apart.

Having motored over to Lima Rock we hung out in the wind shelter of the north side during the surface interval and I went snorkeling to look for whale sharks. The people in another boat were motioning that one had been spotted on the south side of the rock earlier that day. I had a 15 minute snorkel and didn’t see one on the north side, and at the end of our surface interval the boat picked me up and took us to the south side, which to me has the most interesting diving on that rock, at least my dives there have usually been deeper and generally better than on the north side.

Vance’s logged dive #906 August 1, 2009
Saw a nothing much

We decided to enter the water at the southwest end and proceed east as far as the other end if possible. If there was still a whale shark there we would probably pass it. But the dive didn’t go as planned. There was a stiff current against us running to the west. We descended down to 22 meters hoping to get below it, but even there we were just holding ourselves in place finning into it. Divers were signaling that they preferred to just go with the current so we all turned and let the current take us. There was not so much life at this end of the rock so it wasn’t the great dive we had all anticipated. Nicki and Mike saw a torpedo ray at depth in the sand and told me about it later; apparently I had been looking up in case a whale shark passed overhead and so I missed it.

I was keeping a little high because I had exerted myself at the first of the dive and gone deep and just 15 minutes into it was down to almost half a tank. By then we had fought a slight head current rounding the point before the current slacked and let us climb up the sand slope to the rocks to 15 meters on the north side of the island. We dived that side heading east but saw no whale shark there. We stayed in the water over 50 min, Mike and I, us guys, quite low on air but swimming at 3-7 meters under the surface trying to maximize time in the water in case one of the big whalesharks should happen along, as they could do at any moment. At 53 minutes I was forced to declare my extended safety stop at an end and join Mike at the surface, and Nicki (who probably still had half a tank) followed just moments later.

The last dive wasn’t up to our overinflated expectations but we had had three really good dives over the weekend at Lima and Octopus Rocks. Whale sharks are always a gas to see, and this was only the third seahorse I had ever seen in my 40 years of diving, so we drove home happy that night (well, Mike drove actually, while I logged our dives in the car, and Nicki showed us pictures from her camera of seahorses and whale sharks and videos of titillated batfish to entertain us with on the way home).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Diving off Pemba, Mozambique, July 6th and 7th, 2009

Here's what I wrote about our diving in our travelogue. If you want more information about Wimbi Beach in Pemba, like where we stayed and how to get there and away, you can find the paragraphs below embedded in what is written here:

Vance’s logged dive #900 July 6, 2009 - Saw a SUNFISH

Pemba Dive opened at 7 a.m. and was write across the road from the Complexo Touristico Caracol, where we stayed. When Calvin, the young instructor from South Africa, came down and told us there was no diving that day, only training, but next day we could dive. So we agreed to go back there at 7 next day.

The other shop, CI Divers, was just down the beach. They opened at 8, so we had breakfast on the hotel veranda while waiting. Eventually we saw the door being unlocked so I went to ask about the diving. Here I met Pieter, the owner, who told me very well, we could go diving at 9. So we finished our breakfast and returned at the appointed time.

The local staff readied the engine and kitted our tanks for us. There were some equipment problems, like an alternate air source without a mouthpiece, quickly sorted. The gear was carried onto the boat, a wooden skiff, fine for diving in calm seas at a not-far-off location. Pieter directed us via GPS to the ‘tunnel’ a 35 meter hole in the reef about a quarter hour from Wimbi. We had with us a recently trained open water diver Pieter would be going with so they would not be going that deep. Pieter didn't seem to mind if Bobbi and I did our thing as long as we got back to the surface within an hour or so.

First impressions of Pemba were, decent vis, perhaps 20 meters, descent onto coral rubble (I was surprised to see that, hoping for coral gardens), and it was several minutes before we saw any fish at all. To make a long story short, it was a decent dive, pleasant temperature of perhaps 26 degrees, I got to 35.5 meters, the entire dive lasted 47 minutes plus the safety stop, Pieter pointed out an interesting leaf fish we would never have seen and …

At 20 meters depth almost at the top of the wall Bobbi and I encountered a sunfish, a mola mola, a huge fish about 3 meters across with no tail, but fins pointing up and down dorsal and abdominal. This thing was hulking in the water just off the reef and made little effort to evade us. In fact when it did move away it was only to circle back and return. I was able to touch it right underneath its blinking eye bulb. It felt like sandpaper (whale sharks, in contrast, are billowy smooth). In 40 years diving it was my first time to see one (also first time to see a leaf fish). The sunfish was on my list of things I really wanted to see before my time is done, and I finally saw one on July 6, 2009.

Vance’s logged dives #901 and #902 July 7, 2009

We dived the next day as well, this time with Calvin at Pemba Dive. Calvin was a bit more controlling than Pieter and although he was perfectly safe, he had a student with him and kept our dives shallow and rigorously monitored to 40 minutes, though he was flexible if anyone still had half a tank at that point and 15 min no deco time left. Our first dive was at Monty’s Fingers, a shallow reef dive. I used a 15 liter steel tank with only 3 kilos weight and I was still a touch heavy but comfortably buoyant most of the time and my air lasted for 61 minutes including the safety stop. We began the dive in at 20 meteres in an open water aquarium with lion fish and later saw two kinds of leaf fish and some nudibranchs. It was a pleasant and pretty dive for me but nothing to write home about.

The next dive was to what Calvin called the Garden of Eden, which was the top of the wall where we’d seen the sunfish the day before. This time we descended through a school of brown jellyfish which Bobbi found interesting. She was more comfortable on the second dive and enjoyed it best, but I was sorry we didn’t go looking for the sunfish, but stayed in the bommies back of the wall. The scenery was again pleasant with lots of small fish life, more nudibranchs, but again it was mainly more of an excuse to be at Wimbi beach in Pemba on a holiday rather than a thrilling great dive.

June 29, 2009 - Diving off Bazaruto Island, Vilankulo, Mozambique

Here's what I wrote about our diving in our travelogue. If you want more information about Vilankulo, like where we stayed and how to get there and away, you can find the paragraphs below embedded in what is written here:

Vance’s logged dives #898 and #899 June 29, 2009

Diving off the Bazaruto Islands in winter blustery conditions was not great but turned out to be a wild African adventure, the kind that makes travel on the continent unique. We wandered down to the dive shop at 8 where 6 tanks were kitted and put on one of the South African style inflatables with the tanks lashed in the center, and we set off with two strong engines to the Bazaruto Islands to the north with the wind at our backs, so we didn’t really notice the high seas and strong wind till we reached our destination and needed to shelter inside a bit of exposed reef. We dropped one passenger there who had just wanted to visit the island park, and set off again into the chill wind and against the seas which by this time were now wild with white horses and throwing cold spray onto the boat. We cut through the waves between Bazaruto and the next island over and then headed for the reef still some distance off but marked by a distinct surf zone. We found waves several meters high when we reached the reef but got through them to the relative calm at the other side. Relative means just that and we were still dodging waves as we kitted up, but we soon had our gear on and dropped over the side of the rubber boat. Once down it was calm apart from a bit of surge.

Meanwhile up top the boat hands were having a rough time of it following Denis’s buoy and they complained of fearing to repeat the experience for us to do a second dive. Denis was talking to them about the prospects in the small cove where we had again sheltered to eat our sandwiches and get out of the cold wind as best we could. There was a huge dune there at this place called Ponta Dando which Bobbi and I climbed, sand peeling off to an improbable drop at the mounting edge. The view from the top was sauvage, rough seas all around between castaway island vistas, il n y a que du vent et de l’eau as the French had said on the last ride out.

Denis managed to calm the fears of his boatmen and conditions had at least not worsened by the time we set out for our second dive, though two divers declined the return trip and opted to wait on the island. The second was similar to the first. On these dives we dropped over coral down to sand at 20 meters. There were turtles in the rock outcrops and morays here and there, in particular some free swimming honeycomb ones, graceful. There was also a bull ray or what they call here a marble ray, also graceful as it swam away. We also found a blue spotted ray buried in the sand. Bobbi remembers the trigger fish of all kinds, blue ones, mean looking tritons and white speckled picasos. Surgeon fish looked tranquil in schools. Denis pointed out crabs in the anemones. These were not spectacular dives, just decent ones, requiring some competence in breathing to stay at depth for 45 minutes. These conditions did not warrant our diving another day but back on dry land we felt we had earned our beer and meal for the coming evening.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Diving in Tofo Mozambique, 10 dives, June 22-27

Vance's logged dives #888-897

Diving in Tofo was quite good. Our first days there we saw huge mantas, whale sharks, a bowmouth guitar shark, leopard sharks, white tips, turtles, barracudas, devil and other kinds of rays, lots of moray eels, and some fishes unique to the waters off Mozambique.

Then the weather blew in and our last dives there were compromised by surge and poor vis, and the big animals seemed to be taking a break from the reefs in those conditions.

Bobbi and I are keeping a wiki about our trip to Mozambique. Not wishing to maintain two sites, when our diving is included in our travel, I've logged our dives in our travelogue here:

Diving at Freestyle Divers, Dibba, June 12-13, 2009

We dived at the usual place, Dibba Rock, Bobbi and I, with Freestyle on both days, staying at the Seaside in town. Glenn and Gulya and Bobbi and I shared a flat and Graham and Rachel came up on Friday night and shared another with Bunker, who had driven up with us Friday a.m. from Abu Dhabi in his own car. The plan was to let Gulya repeat her first dive on Friday (they would be arriving that afternoon). Bobbi and I would have a pleasant noon dive with Bunker, Jay’s friend.

Vance’s logged dives #884 and #885 June 12, 2009

Bunker hadn’t dived for a while so we did a ‘refresher’ for him. It’s been a while since we actually did that dive, but I recall that we did a back side dive with him except that we got separated in a surge and came back up to the surface after a minute but saw Bunker some distance away heading back down. He found other divers down below and joined them and Bobbi and I went our way. Then Gulya came and we did a front side dive with her. I think we saw sharks and turtles, and cuttlefish of course, don’t remember the rest. It was the usual 8 meter dive for 45 minutes or so.

Vance’s logged dives #886 and #887 June 13, 2009

Next day Graham and Rachael came out and we worked on rescue with them. We did the first couple of scenarios, panic diver at the surface, alternate air source ascent review in conjunction with Gulya’s ascent on her second PADI o/w dive, assists from a boat, and the like. So there were two dives with Graham and Rachel and one with Gulya, and Bobbi and I looking after them and Bunker, who was just enjoying the diving. He’d done a bit of diving already, was doing fine, fun weekend for all of us.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Freestyle Diving in Dibba May 29-30, 2009

3 divers certified this weekend: Congratulations to Jay and Sophiane and Laura, all Advanced PADI o/w divers.

Diving May 29, 2009

Dibba Rock, Freestyle

I had a few folks this weekend who wanted to spend it doing their advanced PADI dive courses. One couple were Laura and Sophiane, a couple I’d met through some hash runners I’d trained, and Jay wanted to continue his training from his open water course he’d completed two weeks before. Jay was pretty pleased at the personal attention since we were mostly one on one. Also another student of mine Rebecca had not dived in some time and wanted to dive with us as a refresher. So Bobbi and I had 4 trainees to look after, plus Nicky rode down with us to Dibba and Freestyle divers, which we reached shortly after 11 on Friday May 29.

I had dived with Laura once before and recalled that she was rusty but proficient. That had been when training Graeme and Rachael, they were all friends, but it had been some time previously. I had given them the scuba tuneup to do in the car on the way down, where they also filled out the other required forms. Our first dive would be a PADI advanced o/w “boat” dive, an easy way to start an advanced course, getting familiar with all the divers and getting them familiar with the water again.

Vance’s logged dive #879 May 29, 2009

The old moorings had disappeared in the storms and red tides and I was never sure with the new ones in what part of the reef I would end up in. Devan the new dive guide, personable young newcomer on the Freestyle staff, decided not to moor but at my request ran an anchor over the side. Though the anchor ended in mid water it would at least serve as a reference line for my divers, and in case of ear problems, something to hold on to. No one needed it, a good sign. It turned out we were pretty much right on the reef we wanted to be on, so after a little fiddling with buoyancy in rocky sand just off the reef, people got comfortable and we headed in over the raspberry patch. It wasn’t long before I saw a black tip reef shark. Vis wasn’t good but this one passed right in front of me and was in no great hurry so I was able to follow him where I could barely see him ahead for another 20 seconds or so, though I knew that people behind me wouldn’t have seen it - but Bobbi, not that far behind did, and like me, she knew what she was looking for.

We didn’t see any more sharks that day though there were a lot of cuttlefish on the reef and barracuda overhead. Following along the coral patch very relaxedly we started encountering turtles. Eventually we ended in a large swath of sea grass and here we found a dozen or more turtles grazing. We floated among them disturbing their lunch I’m afraid, but nice for the newbie divers to see. Everyone’s air was holding well as we turned to return to the reef. I think we surfaced after maybe 55 minutes, having reached just 6 or 7 meters.

Vance’s logged dive #880 May 29, 2009

The next dive would be a navigation exercise, ideally done in the shallows. But Terry took us to the mooring at the east of the island where we’d have to go west some distance to hit the raspberry coral. In his boat briefing he mentioned that there had been rays seen last dive on the back side of dibba rock, and I thought the sandy area there would make a nice ray spotting exercise while the students swam through their compass work. The trouble was it was a bit deep, the sand being from 12 to 16 meters. My divers all wanted to go there though, so I decided to have them conduct the exercises as a team. Once we reached the sand, we came upon a mooring line with a new white rope attached and this would make a great base. It was also a stroke of luck because Rebecca was having mask problems and Bobbi was near having to abort her own dive by taking Rebecca to the surface, but with the line there and the certainty that we’d be operating in its vicinity, Bobbi understood that she could take Rebecca up the line and leave her at the top and rejoin us if need be. In the event we carried on with our work, and Bobbi and Rebecca reappeared ten minutes later, Bobbi having successfully helped Rebecca resolve a minor mask strap problem that has been flooding Rebecca’s mask.

By then we had traveled out and back to measure fin kicks, and out and back again on a compass heading, and we were about to start our square. We were seeing no rays on these legs and nothing much more that drab sand in cloudy vis, but the work of navigation is its own reward. Poor vis gives the impression of flying on instruments. We traveled in parallel, each counting a certain number of kicks one direction, then turning 90 degrees and going the same number of kicks on the new heading, getting down to 16-17 meters depth. After the third turn like that we arrived spot on at the mooring line, a feeling of accomplishment shared by all.

Sophiane showed me 70 bar now and I decided to take us back up the way we had come rather than proceed around the island as I sometimes do. This took us into an area of boulders with pretty fish on the east side of the island. I rarely see much here apart from picturesque coral tableaux, though Bobbi and I saw a pair of sharks here once during more exciting times at Dibba, chasing each other around a coral encrusted rock. I led us in the direction I thought the reef should be, but it was taking some time, and on the way we had to send up Jay and Sophiane to the surface, low on air at 45 minutes, a respectable time considering the earlier depth. Bobbi and Rebecca and Laura and I continued for another 15 min. over the raspberry coral which we had by then found. I think we found at least one more turtle there, and some cuttlefish, some morays concealed in the crags, and after surfacing after an hour of diving, we went back down to see a female cuttlefish displaying her tentacles between a pair of smaller mails who were moving in and occasionally snapping at her. As this is a family diveBlog I shall describe no further.

Vance’s logged dive #881 May 29, 2009

Our last dive on May 29 was a night dive, conducted on the inside of Dibba Rock. We were dropped at the usual mooring but as often happens at night, without my usual visual references it is easy to go off the reef, and I spent the dive moving on headings I thought would put us back on it. We found lots of morays and dozens of small red chunky crabs. There was a lobster half out of his hole, and a few turtles hiding in theirs. At junctures we conducted compass headings out and back from predetermined locations, and toward the end of the dive I had everyone switch off their torches and stir up phosphorescence. I had declared a 40 min dive but we surfaced after 53 including the safety stop. In fact much of the dive was a safety stop, as we were often in just 3 meters of water. I think we got down to 5 or 6 at the most.

Terry came back late that evening from a Musandam trip and was in no mood to repeat the same on Saturday. The bad news was that there had been oil that day at the Inchcape and it was looking like we might have no options for a deep dive to complete our dive courses if Inchcape and Musandam were both off the table. We visited the hole in the wall off license and retired to our quarters to think about it, passing first by the Lebanese restaurant to order food. Nicky had brought wine and it was after midnight by the time we were able to get through the two bottles. Jay stayed for a last beer and sleep came easily, though birds making a raucus outside our window at 5 a.m. were most unwelcome.

May 30, 2009

Vance’s logged dive #882

We made it to the dive center to find that the Inchcape trip was on, so while Terry took the boat to be filled I briefed my students on cognitive exercises they could do at depth. I usuallyhave them work out a minimum surface interval problem, but Jay couldn’t see the tables that well, so I had him tie a bowline and convert centigrade to Fahrenheit by doubling it, subtracting 10%, and adding 32. Both sets of tasks took my students 45 seconds at the surface.

The inchcape dive is a set piece affair. It’s just over 30 meters, and my students were careful to avoid going all the way to the sand, so as to dive it for 20 min on tables. It’s reached by going down a mooring line, all the way from surface to depth. The first time someone makes this deep journey, it can leave an impression of leaving comfort and certainty for a world intuitively life threatening, where every meter deeper puts that much more water between the diver and safety. From an instructor’s point of view, it’s a set piece. It’s deep but there’s not much that can go wrong. It’s 30 meters, 20 minutes, in ok vis easy to keep people together. Easy to brief. Dives there rarely depart from plan.

What makes the wreck interesting is how things do depart from plan. First off, Bobbi’s dive computer had packed in the day before and I had forgot mine. I didn’t mention it to anyone, except to Bobbi in the car on the way home. Anyone else who finds out will read it here. It didn’t concern me. I dived 30 years without one. I had a watch and a depth gauge, it was a straightforward dive, just go down, spend 20 min, come back up, and stay below the slowest bubbles. I knew the pace quite well. In the event, Laura and Sophiane both had computers and they kept me well informed when it was time to go up.

Descent went well. Sophiane had a regulator problem on the way down but Laura assisted competently and they resolved it. Someone’s tank came loose and had to be clamped in, minor problem. On the minimum surface interval problem I wrote 26 meters at 18 min for the first dive and one of them changed that to 25, so they both calculated correctly a first dive at 25 meters. But I had meant for them to use 26, which meant they’d have to consider it a 30 meter dive. Having selected the option of changing the problem rather than considering the more difficult but correct answer might have been indicative of a narcotic effect of increased nitrogen consumption. I know I’m forever noticing small impairments in myself at depth, and the purpose of the exercise is to create a situation where these are more noticeable.

The dive was nice. A new honeycomb moray Fred Jr. now inhabits the spot where Fred and Frieda succumbed to the red tide. Fred Jr. is not as used to stroking as Fred was. Still, glad the Honeycomb family carries on and condolences to Fred Jr’s parents.

As one of the practice problems in recalling how to do a minimum surface interval I had had the students work out the minimum surface interval for a 30 meter dive at 20 minutes followed by a 16 meter dive at 50 min, and this was about what we eventually decided to do. We had descended on the Inchcape at about 10:46 and were ascending less than 20 min later (Bobbi made it 17 min), so our surface interval started at around 11:05. I don’t remember when we started our last dive exactly but it was after 1:30 before the divers were on the boat and probably 2:00 by the time we were all in the water, so our SI was a good three hours.

Vance’s logged dive #883 May 30, 2009

The last dive would be for Peak Performance Buoyancy, so we did buoyancy checks in stiff current at the surface, not easy, but all divers managed themselves well, and descended into 7 meters of water for fin pivots. Once all had achieved a modicum of neutral buoyancy and could maintain it, we swam toward the back side of the island. We headed out into the sand on an easterly heading looking for rays but saw none and returned to the reef in a westerly direction looking for jawfish, but again saw none, but got down again to 16-17 meters.

The current was pumping and we were being carried along with it. My main concern was navigation, but others in our group were pointing out the cuttlefish and morays. I was leading more westerly than I thought I should and trying to find that gap to the south, not the one that would take me to the wrong side of the island as I did last time I was here. We twice encountered divers coming the other way and I figured they would have been dropped to the west of the island so if I went where they had come from I would find the gap to the west and south I was looking for.

We finned mainly against the current now and Sophiane went low on air at 43 minutes so I conducted him to the surface near where Divers Down had moored their big boat. I spotted ours and called it over and made sure they saw Sophiane before descending to rejoin the others who had understood to wait for me. We were now in the ‘aquarium’ on the west side of the island just in the shallows atop the wall, a place rich in fish life, not a bad place to hang out. I knew that the raspberry coral was just a bit to the south and I managed to lead us there. We looked about for sharks but saw none and about 48 minutes into the dive Laura signaled that she was tired, and Jay, getting low on air himself, offered to buddy her to the surface, so it was just Bobbi and I. We crisscrossed the coral looking for our favorite animals but found nothing worth writing home about except that we ended in the patch of sea grass where the turtles were and again disturbed quite a lot of them as we ascended having exceeded one hour of dive time. Still we had a ten minute wait at the surface while Terry collected other divers and we were looking for the last pair when Terry noticed a dark patch in the water. It looked huge as he pulled alongside and uttered the words to all prepared, “get in there”. Nicky and Christian and I all still had our gear on and all went in the water but all three found ourselves without fins, good for a laugh. Bobbi took her time and managed to get down with her fins and find that it was a fish ball of sardines. I was passed by a huge black tip in search of food but surfaced without seeing more. Bobbi described being in the midst of the ball and observing what she called a feeding frenzy. Good on her!