Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 21-22, 2010 - certified 4 advanced open water divers: Ianthe, Rosanna, Johan, and Daniel and 1 open water diver Camille

My logged dives number 973-975 Friday and 976-978 Saturday

See more pictures from Dibba reef and Musandam (whale shark), thanks to Advanced Diver Daniel Sobrado! And thanks to Daniel for permission to post these:

On Friday, we all met at Freestyle Divers at Dibba Rock and did three dives from the same location, the mooring on the west side of the island, with the current sweeping to the east. We did the noon, 3 pm and night dives. Divers with us besides Bobbi and I were Godelieve, her kids Ianthe and Rosanna, and their friend Johan; plus Daniel and Camille.

The first dive was Camille's first and for the others a refresher and advanced boat dive conducted with some difficulty due to the current. Since the mooring at Freestyle was new to me I had trouble finding the reef but eventually found it for the last third of our dive, and with it calm water, and I managed to get Camille pretty much right next to a prowling black tip. The second dive was centered around an advanced navigation dive, where square patterns were difficult in the current. Johan and Daniel managed one, disappearing and reappearing near a large coral bommie while I took Camille through the PADI o/w dive #2 skill set. Ianthe had to surface accompanied by her mom, due to stomache problems after stress descending in the current at the mooring, but Rosanna managed her square once we got her into calmer water in the reef at the western edge of the rock, where we swam with turtles. The final dive of the day was the night dive for all the advanced candidates. I followed bright eyes to find the glass shrimp behind them and we found interesting crustacians in the sea bed, and hopped over the border afterwards for a warm reception and good food and beverage at Discover Nomad.

Saturday we got a late start, quarter past 11 departure. Things had gone well up to the point where we were told our boat was waiting for us. I'd got up at 7:30 and met Camille and Daniel at breakfast, and Camille and I got in the pool and got our confined water dives out of the way, and 8 divers and six snorkelers were told they could go down to the harbor any time after ten. But our food with our name on it was missing, and that gave us one more thing to disorganize on top of getting our gear ready etc. It turned out Michael had taken the food down to the harbor where he was waiting with our 20 tanks. That was the good news, the bad was that the boats had buggered off. The boatmen had said 20 minutes. My divers were at least given shaded seating on a nearby dhow and I took the opportunity to brief them on multilevel and deep diving. We worked out profiles for Rosanne, my 12 year old jr advanced o/w water candidate who was going just to 21 meters. For the others, I recommended no more that 24 meters, and we worked out a 26 meter profile that in the end gave everyone 21 meters at depth, ascent to 16 meters for another 20 minutes, and both profiles allowed 45 minutes to an hour and ten at 12 meters, in case anyone had that much air left, not likely on a deep dive.

So despite the late start we were at least at the rock an hour later where we joined several other dive boats following bubbles. We were told a whale shark had been spotted, and my divers excitedly kitted up. We were planning the advanced deep dive and everyone had been briefed. I tested current, found it slightly to the west toward the mountains, but it was essentially slack. Still the boats were all drifting west, perhaps wind blown, as the divers entered the water, instructed to remain near a large rock. They held position well, Cami was disappointed she wouldn't be able to join us as she was only two dives into her o/w training and couldn't go to our depth, even though it was only 3 meters below her limit. We have to keep to the standards, which require me to directly supervise o/w students as well as deep divers in training.

Eventually we got the divers in the water and heading down. Rosanne was having slight ear problems so I moved her over to the rock wall where she could come down with visual reference (this is probably how I missed the big honeycomb moray Daniel was snapping pictures of :-), and soon I had 7 divers with me on the sand bottom in 21 meters of water. We ran through our exercises smoothly, we had enough tables to go around for calculation of minimum surface interval (at depth), we found some discrepancies in gauges reporting how deep we were, and then we were on our way to enjoy the dive.

We had excellent vis, the fish life was abundant, fish pouring over the rocks and coral, moray eels, and big batfish enjoying their full wrasse makeovers at the numerous cleaning stations, and I was taking it all in while keeping a half dozen advanced divers on task, when my buddy Ianthe reached over and grabbed my slate. “Aren't we supposed to go to 16 meters?” she wrote. I checked my computer, 19 minutes. Yep, good thing she was watching the time. I started to lead us up to the next level. Plan your dive, dive your plan.

Unless of course you happen to see a sting ray in the sand at 20 meters, a big one, and you think there's flexibility in this profile, we didn't go to the calculated depth of 26 meters, none of us, my computer is showing double digit no deco time, and after we dropped down to check the big guy out, I took us up to 16 meters, where for the next several minutes we saw shoals of barracuda sweeping in from the deep water off the wall.

What could top that? The next thing to appear out of the blue was a growing baby 5 meter whale-shark. These things are massive compared to anything else on the reef and they are curious about the next massive thing, us.

When whalesharks appear to a group of trainee divers, diver decorum sort of goes out the window. I was of course out there with it swimming around me but I was also looking out for my buddy and keeping track of how far off the wall I was. I watched my divers chase after it (except for Johan, playing it cool like me, hanging back, staying aware of all his surroundings). Actually I lost sight of my divers momentarily until I could get around an outcrop they'd all gone behind, and then I was pleased so see the whale shark coming back towards me surrounded by a cloud of divers and bubbles, so it was nice of him to bring them back to me.

But the cloud of bubbles and whaleshark headed back into the blue, and my divers with it. I tried to get Bobbi's attention to bring them back into the reef, currents can be bad here, but there was nothing she could do. And then we were at the flat featureless wall leading out to the point. I felt the current pick up. This would have been my turn-around point, but my divers were now caught in it. I watched them disappear around the next outcrop like cards being spewed from a squeezed deck.

I finned fast ahead of them. They now realized they should check for instructions and I motioned them to get near the wall and stay low in the water as we were swept along involuntarily. They all did very well staying together and managing the situation. It wasn't dangerous, but we were clearly coming to the end of the dive, whereas had we gone the other way at the turning point we might have had longer. On the new course, I would have directed them around the gap to the other side but we hit a bit of back wash and were able to stay in one place for a moment, so we paused to collect ourselves.

The whale shark reappeared at that moment. I noticed him just off the rock pointed into the current, scarfing up plankton, facing us, as if he planned to watch us and see what we would do. I thought we might have held that standoff and happily watched one another for a few minutes, but some of our divers swam over to him, this seemed to surprise him, and so he flicked his tail and took off upcurrent and that was the last we saw of him, until next time of course, but we had to do our safety stop without him :-).  Daniel got some great pics:

I decided I'd take Camille on a shallow dive to see if we could see the whale shark again. I had 100 bar and I didn't change my tank, I expected conditions to be much the same as the dive before, and I'd keep the diver short but conditions had changed. We put in at the same rock we had started at an hour before, and at first we just slowly settled to the bottom as before, except I noticed that the vis had gone cloudy. It was feeling strange, the current even started to grab us and carry us along so this would be a one-way dive, not like the one before. I kept to 10 meters. We passed the big batfish and schools of jacks, but apart from the phenomenal schools of fish, nothing really big in evidence. We were really trucking along with the current and I was down to 70 bar when I noticed Daniel overhead snorkeling. I decided it wasn't wise to continue diving there with a beginner so we ascended to meet him. He reported that the boat was just downcurrent, out of sight around the corner. I could see the water rippling at the surface at that corner where the current was in turbo mode. I wouldn't have gone for it had Daniel not said the boat was just on the other side, so with a grip on Camille's bcd we went into it like long swimmers in a rapids. It was like river current, fun, and took us right to the boat, where we were rescued aboard.

That was the last of the great diving we would have that day, though in the calm bay at Ras Morovi, there was a devil ray that entertained us with arial acrobatics, doing several somersaults out of the water, and then entertained our snorkelers. Cami and I saw it as we finished off our surface skills for her o/w course (and I bounced down briefly to see the mottled brown markings on its back).

Ianthe had asked to complete her navigation work in the calm shallow waters of Ras Morovi and I could take Camille there and have her do the skills for her o/w dive #3 at the same time. In order that she could do her o/w compass work there I devised a cunning plan. For this I would need two plastic drinks cups from the boat trash. Starting at the alcove in the corner of the bay, Ianthe would lead us west her calibrated 30 meters, where I left the 1st cup wedged in the coral, hopefully not in such as way as to damage it. She then led us back to our starting point, a rock on which I'd placed a sea cucumber. Now it was Cami's turn. I instructed her to lead us south 30 meters, but the metric I used was the number of kick cycles I'd counted for Iante's leg, so the distance would be the same, see? Cami then led us back to the north to the rock where the sea cucumber still held vigil. Ianthe then led us west again where we recovered the first cup from the coral. But now she headed south the requisite number of kicks, stopping exactly where I thought she should. She was actually doing an excellent job. I was following, letting her lead, but double checking her direction, which was spot on. She also looked back now and then to be sure her buddies were with her, helping her avoid rising up in the water by checking she was still at the level of her buddies, another excellent habit I may have taught her :-). In any event, the test was on the next leg, where we expected to find Cami's cup. Ianthe stopped at the right distance as did I but we didn't see the cup right away. But the terrain looked right so we scoured that area and found it. From there it was a simple matter to return to the rock where I in turn returned the sea cucumber to his proper bed of sand.

There's something very satisfying about navigation. It's reassuring when theory is corroborated by reality. It's nice to see students appreciate their accomplishments in navigating a course successfully, doing something that's challenging, and that they could not have done when I started training them as open water divers when they were even younger kids a couple years back.

We finished the day with everyone diving the tongue extending from the protected cove at Ras Morovi. It was the most convenient spot and is usually a lovely dive, but on this day it was brown and murky with cold thermoclines that kept us above 10 meters most of the dive.  Still the squid were there and the lovely fish, nice way to end a great weekend.

Coda: Some of my advanced diver candidates have vowed to never again touch whale sharks, and I have made it a part of my dive briefing since then.  It disturbs them and makes them want to leave the area. When you touch them, they visibly recoil.  Let's not do that anymore :-)

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