Photo credit - Daniel Sobrado - Link here to more photos from this weekend by Daniel
I had been teaching a course for two of Bobbi's colleagues at work for the past couple of weeks. The ladies had borrowed the DVDs and watched them, and they'd taken the tests up to module 3 so they could go in the pool for modules 2 and 3 on Thursday night so they could do dives 1 and 2 in the ocean on Dibba Rock with Freestyle Divers on Friday.
It had been hectic and not entirely smooth going but two very keen ladies had persevered and turned up outside our flat at 7:30 Friday for the 3.5 hour drive across the UAE to Dibba. We arrived at the east coast at 11 and had plenty of time to get the newbies kitted and sorted for their very first ocean dive at noon-ish, as it said on the schedule of who's on what boat at Freestyle, which in the event turned out to be about 12:30 departure, which fazed not one of the laid-back customers enjoying their day at the beach with the relaxed boys at Freestyle Divers (Hayley wasn't there, so it was just the boys).
Although the shore-facing side of Dibba Rock is a forgiving 8 meters maximum, and therefore suitable for beginners, there are sometimes currents, and today it was a stiff one pumping to the east. Fortunately this carried us on to the reef from the western mooring, but of course i had to be careful that the ladies turned with me to zig zag on the reef. They were controlling buoyancy well and accomplished this manoeuver well enough, and we were rewarded with a turtle resting on the reef. We didn't see much beyond the schools of tropical reef fish after that. I recall a pleasant dive, some parts of the reef thick with snappers, 26 degree termperatures, mediocre visibility (better than 'bad'), and the first diver low on air at 31 minutes, not unusual for first-time divers adjusting to the changing buoyancies and current pressure in an unfamiliar underwater environment, so we surfaced.
We signalled the boat to pick us up and while waiting we drifted off the reef. When our low-on-air diver got picked up, three of us still had 100 bar so we decided to descend and go on compass to the Rock where Bobbi had seen sharks playing last time she was there with Daniel Sobrado. We were fighting the current to do this but Channin managed it well for a first time diver. We arrived in the shallows and found improved visibility but no sharks cavorting, so we moved into an area of red corals teeming again with fish, even some small bat fish, and got some relief from the current there. It was pretty here but we'd been down an hour by my wrist watch (my computer had restarted timing while we waited at the surface), so at 13:55 I signalled up.
My divers had to complete a couple of module 3 confined water skills we hadn't quite got to the evening before when they ran us out of the pool at nine, so as soon as the boat tied up to discharge the other divers my students and I re-entered the water to get through our confined water oral inflation of BCD underwater, emergency swimming ascent siimulations, and breathing from a free flowing regulator. This non-stop activity was a bit demanding on a hot day on first time divers, who had to then exit onto the shore and immediately replace their tanks with full ones and get out to where a boat load of divers and snorkelers were patiently waiting for us. Therefore it was understandable when Ala opted not to do the skill set for dive number 2: mask clear, regulator recovery, and alternate air source breathing, but rather to make it a fun dive for experience instead.
A fun dive it was. We saw some of the best Dibba Rock has recently had to offer after the subsequent eco-disasters of Cyclone Gonu and the prolonged Red Tide. We found a couple of turtles and a school of barracuda that we could swim among (and one of the turtles was swimming alongside the barracuda, serene). We found some cuttlefish and squid, and at the end of the dive, a big blacktip shark that prowled in close across our path. Ala, right at my shoulder, pointed excitedly and flashed the very OK sign. Channin didn't see the shark but she had passed her first two dives plus all the diving skills for modules 1-3, and Ala had done the same, up through the first o/w dive.
The evening had only begun. We washed and packed our gear and headed over the border into Oman to be welcomed by Chris and his family and staff at the Discover Nomad hostel, bed and breakfast plus the best meal deal in Dibba. Ala and Channin busied themselves with the academic portions of the final two modules and after dinner I helped them understand the tables and then waited while they took their final exam. It was after midnight by the time we had gone over the 50 question final exam and signed off on their papers. Bobbi was already asleep, and I was too as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I was disoriented in the morning when the knock came on the door that it was time to get up and prepare to go in the pool at 7:00. It didn't seem enough sleep, but the girls were getting ready and Daniel's friend Borja joined us as well. The boys had driven down the evening before. Borja's PADI certification was back home in Spain and we couldn't find in PADI's online database what combination of Francisco de Borja etc could possibly constitute a first name, middle initial, last name, and birthday that PADI requires be entered exactly as it is in the dbase before the system will return you a hit. So I checked him out in the pool and he was fine in the water, had obviously done the course and was well trained, The ladies too soldiered through the last two pool modules of the course, and we were out of the pool and into the croissants and coffee by around 9 a.m.
Chris's staff were sending everyone to the dive boats. I was designated 'guide' on one and I was assigned in addition to Channin and Ala and Daniel and Borja (and Bobbi and I) Robert from Munich and his team of divers Karsten and another Daniel, with Robert's Phillipina 'buddy' Ashley along as a snorkeler.
My job now was to ensure that all of these folks got their equipment and weights etc on board, and that I didn't forget the food, and that we had enough tanks. These small tasks having been handled mainly by others, and the personable Captain Mohamed having appeared to conduct us north, our boat left Dibba by 11 a.m. and we set out upon choppy seas, with some overcast misting the mountains of Musandam.
Despite the rough ride I managed to squirm into my wetsuit so that on arrival at Lima Rock I could jump over the side and test the current, which I find is the only sure way of knowing what it's doing. Today I detected a strong current driving toward the Lima headland and I suggested to Robert and his group that we not dive there just then, too challenging for beginners, who could be swept from one end of the rock to the other if they had any delay in descent, or ear problems keeping them near the surface. Robert's team agreed to my call, and I suggested Ras Morovi instead. Again general agreement, and Capt Mhmd willingly motored us over. I had him pull into the calm bay one back from the channel between the headland and the island. Here my divers could kit up comfortably, and the water was smooth and clear and beckoning.
This turned out to be an excellent dive, mainly due to the clear visibility. The rocks were alive with fishes and morays, including a honeycomb (always impressive) that was curled up and hidden entirely in a hole. We found cuttlefish and squid, or perhaps young cuttlefish, not sure, but they were darting about in large numbers, and in one place they played right in front of our face masks and tried to hide in the rocks, nice try, but only inches away from us, within grabbing reach (but I'm sure they were faster than we in the water, and would have elluded our grasp; in any event we observe, do not disturb). We again found turtles swimming, and in the tall alcove just after where we had turned north into the channel and passed over the cabbage coral, we found a cloud of fish fry almost stationary in the water in the back of the cave, and beneath them an electric ray resting. Nearby under another ledge there was a large brown sting ray resting in the sand, blinking at us to please go away.
No rest for the weary, after an hour down for Bobbi, Channin, Daniel and Borja, we collected all divers and motored back across the chop to Lima headline where we could eat lunch out of the weather, again in calm waters. After a short break to do that, it was back in the water for Ala and Channin and I for dive flexible skills for both ladies. We worked on compass and on breathing through snorkels, and tired diver tows, and cramp removal, and then I Ala exited the water and I took Channin down for her controlled emergency swimming ascent, the rehearsal and then the real thing. While we were waiting for the boat, Channin removed and replaced weights and BCD, completing all but the final dive to complete her course.
And what a dive that was. Our German friends were amenable to whatever I decided for our group but Robert asked if we could try the calmer lee or north side of Lima Rock, and that was fine with me, as long as the current was ok for my students, but in negotiating this we decided I should check out the current again on the weather south side, and I felt there was no harm in that. On the way over I asked Mhmd what he thought the current might be doing on Lima Rock and he said in fact he wasn't familiiar with the currents here, but he was happy to take me to check it out.
The seas were choppy still but I found no current so we decided to go in at the middle of Lima Rock. In retrospect we should have gone to the lee side to kit up. It wasn't long before someone started getting ill. Another lost his mask over the side and jumped in the water to rescue it, to no avail, it was adding to the confusion, and I suggested he reboard, kit up, and try and find it on scuba. The Germans kitted themselves in good order and rolled over backwards. Our team was more affected by the unsteady conditions and taking more time. Then the German Daniel shouted from the surface that a whale shark was directly below. Channin was already in the water, where she had gone for some relief from boat sickness. Some of the others decided the best bet was to go in the water on snorkel. I was among those but I couldn't find my mask. I soon spotted it on one of my divers in the water who had grabbed it in his haste to jump in to try and see the whale shark. By the time I managed to find a mask one of the snorkelers wasn't using and get in the water myself the whale shark had passed and all we could see of the Germans was their bubbles. Knowing that whale sharks like to hang around divers I tried to reassure my divers they might see it later and get them back in the boat and get them kitting systematically and taking their time and not hurrying and missing out essential steps of the buddy check system. This plus the pitching of the boat plus divers wanting to get off the boat and into the relatively calmer water made this something less than a military operation but my divers had at least all been well trained :-) and they were waiting for me in a group and resisting the dispersal tendencies of the slight current when I finally managed to enter the water myself.
The visibility on the rock was quite nice and I found that if I kept at about ten meters I could see the surface and also the sand below at 25 meters, so I led us on a comfortable up-current fin where we admired the fishes, finding some moray eels and lots of huge batfish enjoying the wrasse at their cleaning stations. Hoping to allow everyone the best air time I kept the group shallow and didn't even drop in the sand for exercises. Eventually I found a rock we could rest on and had my divers do their mask exercises and hovering on it. Channin had the technique down by then and Ala was making consistent progress. When the current became more noticeable near the point I wheeled us around and revisited the way we had come. 35 minutes into the dive Ala needed to surface so I brought her up and got Bobbi and Channin to stay just below where I could keep an eye on them. When the boat came for Ala I descended and continued the dive. Daniel was next up (he'd gone deep in search of the missing mask), and I let his buddy Borja accompany us until he too got too low on air, so I kept my eye on him as he surfaced proficiently.
Bobbi said later that she knew what I was doing. I was keeping us underwater and at just the right depth for as long as possible in hopes that maybe, just maybe, the whale shark would return. Channin's air was holding out as well as Bobbi's and mine. We all had 100 bar when Borja went up, and no one had told us 50 minutes or 50 bar. So we continued around the rock to the north side, and found some blue crayfish in their lairs in the rock wall. We were comfortably maintaining ten meters depth, just cruising slowly and methodically, when Bobbi noticed we had been joined by a 4th buddy, a whale shark that came right along beside her. So she got the best view and I saw it as it turned in front of us, showing off its remorahs. It was small for a whale shark, maybe 3 or 4 meters, but an impressive fish, docile, and just the thing you want to show your open water student who has just completed her final dive for certification. Bobbi, who had been down the whole time of that dive, had 64 minutes on her computer, and I had 59 (5 min on the surface waiting for a boat). So my strategy paid off with yet another whale shark experience on Lima Rock. The boat ride home was a joyous one for the three of us and the Germans, who had seen it first, and everyone had a great weekend out of the capital, so there were no complaints as we motored back to Dibba Oman harbor, home port :-))
Reactions from my two students this weekend: http://screencast.com/t/NWY1MjhiZ (Thanks!)