Saturday, September 29, 2012

Certified Tracy Lavin and Lucy Cowan PADI o/w via Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam

My logged dives #1160-1163
September 28 and 29, 2012

Divers pictured: Graeme, Jonny, Vance, Tracy, Bobbi, Lucy, Faye

We spent another great weekend, Bobbi and I, in the company of good friends in our running group who came over to Musandam, Dibba to do some diving with us. There are changes afoot at the border. The border was wide open the first decade we lived in UAE. People just drove back and forth to and from either side of the wadi marking the boundary, and apart from the dip in the dirt road, you wouldn't know you had left one country and entered another. The impression that it was all UAE was maintained by the fact that you could drive through Oman from UAE Dibba to Ras Al Khaima. You passed an Oman border post on the way blocking the dirt track up the mountain that came down the other side on Kassab, but even the RAK hash house harriers held an event every year where teams would run from RAK to Oman Dibba and end with a party on the beach there.

They still do the Wadi Bih run each year, but now it runs from Oman Dibba to the top of the mountain and back down to end with, thankfully, a party on the beach, but it's not possible to pass the Oman checkpoint to continue into RAK. The Omanis still have no border control in Dibba but a few years back UAE put one at each of the two road borders and has been waving across people with valid UAE entry documents. This caused very little impedance, until now they have started requiring tour operators drawing clients from UAE to submit a copy of each customer's passport and UAE visa. This has caused no end of frantic emails and disruption to business folk on the Oman side, as we scan documents and they scramble to comply with the new regulations. According to the newspapers they have even closed their inland border post, the one on the main road, leaving only the one on the corniche open, This was ostensibly so that they could better match permits with passports by funneling traffic through just the one border, and according to those same news reports, this has caused demonstrations to occur on the Oman side which blocked the border for a time so that no one could pass <

So it was that we anticipated some delay crossing into Oman via the only UAE border point that was open after work on Thursday night. However, when we arrived at the border checkpoint at around 9 pm there was no traffic apart from us, and they waved us across after the usual cursory glance at our passports and visas. My students Tracy and Lucy were following in a car driven by a driver borrowed from where one of them works, and they were concered because they'd made no provisions for the driver to cross the border, but they tuned up at the Nomad hostel in Oman at about 11, with the driver, who had made no prior arrangements to cross he border. Graham and Jonny however, with Faye in the car, were delayed when they crossed the next afternoon. They were made to sit 20 minutes in a waiting room before being allowed to pass. Go figgah, as we used to say in Hawaii.

Meanwhile Tracy and Lucy had arrived too late Thu night to get anything done on their PADI open water course apart from fill in the paperwork and take the quick review test. They even missed dinner, which was waiting for them under plastic in the oven. We went to bed about midnight and agreed to meet by the pool at 6 in the morning.

I had wanted to meet IN the pool at 6, but there was no one around to issue them equipment when they'd got there so late, nor was there anyone up at 6 am, through we discovered they'd left the equipment and tank fill rooms open for us, so we were at least in the pool after briefing and showing how the gear worked by around 7. But it's difficult to get through the first module in less than an hour, and PADI standards are to exit, de-kit, and re-kit for a second session, which we didn't start until after 8. We finished it comfortably by 9 but Nomad's new system is to get the boats to sea by 9:30 a.m., and whereas that is welcome if you're hoping to get back to port by 4 and back to Abu Dhabi by 8, if you're trying to teach a course starting on Friday morning, it makes it hard to get the required 3 modules in before the second dive of the first day.

Lisa was in charge of our boat and she chose sites that would provide my students an easy first dive at Ras Morovi, with a second dive at Lima headland, where we could do the third confined water module during the surface interval in order for the students to qualify for doing the second dive of the day as part of their PADI course. We had a nice ride out and chugged into the familiar shallow bay at Ras Morovi where I've started many a PADI o/w dive course, and were descending under the waves by 11:30.

It's a nice dive. There's a pretty reef with hard and soft corals and plenty of fish. From time to time we've seen sting rays and eagle rays here, barracudas out in the channel, and at times of the year playful squid spawning. Today the ladies began their dive careers a little tentatively, as students often do, nursing ear problems, having trouble coming to depth, but controlling buoyancy well. I finally got Tracy to come down to a cave and see a ledge full of crayfish, their feelers spread wide almost two meters apart. Right outside that ledge Bobbi found a crayfish carapace discarded by some predator, possibly human. As we passed around the corner you can hardly detect unless you have a compass, and glided over the cabbage coral there, Lucy pulled my fin because I was passing by a turtle I hadn't noticed. We followed him as he swam casually away and then rounded the coral to the north coming in over sand and boulders that aren't all that interesting unless you see turtles there, as we sometimes do, or enjoy the clownfish in the anemones, as we saw on this dive. But I know that just ahead lies a coral garden decorated with blue soft corals, and with a ledge and a cave that have been productive in our experience for interesting ray encounters. No rays today, but continuing on there are coral coves that ride above the sand at depth. We were staying at around 10 meters, and I led us up to 5 where we did our safety stop from 50 to 53 minutes in our dive. With students, Bobbi and I are pretty good about adhering to dive times.

Back aboard we crossed the wide bay to Ras Lima on the other side. Most of the divers tucked into lunch but Tracy and Lucy and I took small tanks over the side to try and get through module 3. We had some problems. My 5 mm wetsuit required me to go deeper than 1 or 2 meters in order to compress it so I could stay down comfortably, and the ladies were having ear problems preventing quick descent to 4 meters. There was a little surge in the shallows where we ended up, but we managed to get through it before we exhausted the patience of the divers back on the boat, and made it back aboard for the 2nd dive on Ras Lima.

We were the last in the water since we had to change our tanks, and the ladies were becoming a little waterlogged. But we eventually made it beneath the waves where we were a little disappointed by the poorest vis of the weekend. We started down gradually along the coral, enjoying the fish, especially the big sweet lipped puffer fish. Eventually we found a sand patch suitable for the dive #2 skill set. Happily neither Tracy nor Lucy had any problem with mask clearing or any of the tasks they were asked to do in the water, except maybe hovering, which I recall was a challenge even for the instructor candidates at my IDC in 1993. Once we were at depth our dives went well. This one was kept to 10-12 meters again, moving up to 5 meters at 47 minutes and surfacing at 50 after a safety stop. Toward the end of that dive I found a turtle in a cave looking like it was thinking to bed down for the night, but we disturbed it and it meandered off, possibly mildly annoyed with us. There were plenty of covered ledges in the area, and we were the last divers it would see that day, so I'm sure it survived the night.

We had stopped our dive a little short of the point but one diver who went there reported better vis and devil rays and eagle rays off the point. I do like the point myself, the water seems to go riot with bigger fish as you near it, though the bottom gets deep there. But we were happy to have got through the day with 3 pool modules and two dives completed, and now we were heading home to do the last two pool modules for the course, which we completed just before dinner at 9. We were so tired, me in particular now that my work requires me to drive to Al Ain every day. I was falling asleep at the dinner table, so Bobbi and I excused ourselves and we went back to our room. So glad we didn't need to get up for any pool modules next morning. We were exhausted from a long work-week and a longer first day of the weekend, 6 to 9, 15 hours (of pleasure, it's a great privilege to be in a position to teach diving as a professional hobby.) We slept soundly, me from the time my head touched the pillow, till after 8 next morning. I guess we needed it.

Rested for the following day I had only to plan a program that would get us through our last two dives of the course and include all the so called flexible skills as well. Because of recurrent ear issues I decided to plan the controlled emergency swimming ascent as the last item of business for the first dive (dive #3 in the course) and do all the other flexible skills during the surface interval. That would leave the u/w compass heading, which we'd leave for the last dive.

It was a calm day's boating and currents on Lima Rock were pretty benign, so we pulled in there for a first dive on the south side. Vis was not bad on the rock. I had a slate with me and I wrote a note on it for the ladies to keep an eye out for the little blue cleaner wrasse that the batfish so love when they park themselves at the cleaning stations and let themselves be administered to. The schools of batfish, and the seedy side, those somewhat obvious but tolerated cleaning brothels where the big batfish like to hang out, are one of the attractions of Lima rock. So are the huge honeycomb moray eels, though we didn't see any today, but we saw another turtle, and at one point, once the ladies had cleared their ears and we had got almost to 18 meters, we came into a huge school of barracudas, hundreds of them. We swam through them and enjoyed them until they managed to distance themselves from us, and we headed back to the rock and ascended slowly until we found a place where, 45 min into the dive, I thought we might tie off my smb, or submersible marker buoy, or what we more commonly call a sausage. By tying it off on a rock and fixing it to its tie, I was able to partially inflate it before releasing the reel without having it drag me up in the process. This allowed me to jam a lot of air in it before I released it which made the line quite taught. Of course this wouldn't work if you were planning to move with it attached to yourself, but it was a well deployed line if I say so myself. The ladies were able to CESA up it to end their dive on a high note.

For the second day in a row we missed our lunch break to work on our dive course. It's a little hectic to do it in just two days, but we managed. We got all the surface work done and then dropped in near the headland end of Lima Rock North side, near the submerged tunnel that goes clear through the rock at that end. As usual we worked our way slowly downwards as ears permitted but not far into the dive we encountered a current sweeping us eastward. At one point it was even a down current so I was constantly checking how the clearing was coming and struggling a bit myself to keep us together and at a comfortable depth. Our ladies did very well in such adverse conditions. Eventually we were able to work down to the sand where the currents are lighter. We also had some coves to sneak into for relief from the current. Here I decided to have their ladyships do their compass work, which they pulled off quite well given that 12-15 fin kicks north took them far whereas turning and trying to do the same thing back took them almost nowhere. But their direction was true so we completed the compass heading on target and regained our point. After that, we played in some swim-throughs, and Tracy and I both got some sea urchins in our knees, something which concerned Tracy a lot more than it did me. By now the current seemed to have shifted and we rode it comfortably back the way we had come. As I was taking us up to our safety stop we hit the point where the current was again blocking us so I eased us into a ledge with neutral current and again 47 to 50 min of our dive we spent in safety stop. We'd got down to about 16 meters on this one, nice dive, certified two new divers, very happy day.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Will the following entities please stop spamming my blog

Whereas I have been experimenting with Google Ads on my blog, just to see what would happen (nothing much has :-( but I don't care :-)) this blog is essentially non-commercial.  I therefore would respectfully request that the following providers of services in the UAE please desist making vacuous comments on my blog (such as those shown below).

Comments are welcome if they contribute to the conversation around diving in the UAE or anywhere, but the incessant comments generated no-telling-how show no understanding of what is in my posts apart from the fact that they are targeting a blog whose content is often about sea sports in Musandam.

If you would like to comment with any kind of substance regarding the content of the posts, welcome, but the comments of which the following are but a small sampling are becoming annoying, and I've been moderating them as spam (but they keep coming, so Google/Blogger needs to improve its spam filter).

The above were published apparently, but I removed them as spam using the tool shown.  Interesting there has been no spam as yet on THIS particular post :-). I added some appropriate tags to see if I could attract some ... 

Meanwhile, my Google ad earnings have been hardly stellar. I'll leave it on a while longer and maybe switch it off :-)

As a footnote here: I have renewed my request that the spammers please desist from spamming my blog here:

Amazingly, they have left spam comments at almost every post apart from this one, suggesting that they ARE reading the blog.  In that case, thanks :-)

I take that back, checking below I see that they did get one post through in Dec 2012.  Ok, the brute force attack does let some get through, and now you see what I mean.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure: Fun diving with Bobbi and Nicki

Logged dives #1158-1159

Bobbi and I hadn’t dived the entire month of August.  I was away on holiday the whole month in Georgia and Armenia <>, hiking for exercise, no diving, and Bobbi was there with me for two weeks of that. I returned home a week ago but we spent my first weekend home resting and reuniting.  Then I had my first week of classes which is always stressful, and after 5 days of that, we decided to get some sleep Thursday after work and not drive over to Dibba to dive on Friday so as to take it easy that morning and not have to drive across the UAE until late afternoon.  For comic relief, we took Nicki with us and we arrived at Nomad Ocean Adventure in Oman Dibba right about dinner time.  It was perfect to arrive there after a relaxing day, fall into eating good grub and enjoying old friends and dive buddies, and eventually fall into bed and sleep comfortably all night, and not have to get up next morning until 8.

One of our acquaintances there was Khaled Al Sultani, a serious sea-life photographer younger than Dusty but larger than Glenn, and even more talented with a camera, whom we’d met on a recent trip to the Damaniyites. Here’s a link to his videos from that day <>.  On this day in Dibba, just one boat was going and we were all in the one, so we met again underwater where Khaled was photographing a pair of huge orange nudibranchs lying one atop the other under a panoply of purple processes.

We were at Octopus Rock. Current was right for it, just gentle to the north but not throwing us off the rock, vis was excellent, maybe 15-20 meters, and we’d descended in clouds of blue triggerfish. There were morays everywhere it seemed, large crayfish under ledges, caught in my torch beam, and then Khaled waved us over to see these phenomenal nudibranchs which he illuminated in his video lamps.

We rounded the rock in the blue coral patches and found some barracuda hulking in the far valley, lots of them. We found a ledge heading north-south, perhaps the wall Theo had told us about, and followed it south away from where we’d seen the barracuda, with every intent to retrace our fin kicks and recover the rock where we started. There were lovely things to see there and back, little blue crayfish with white feelers jutting out the rocks, morays, lion fish, Nicki found a black nudibranch but couldn’t find it to show it to me.  But she found a remarkable slipper lobster <>.  She also found a small scorpion fish in the sand just before we met divers coming the other way presumably from Octopus Rock.

But we weren’t at Octopus Rock.  We were at the submerged rock just north west of it.  It’s a complicated site.  I guess the north south wall we had found might lead us back to Octopus rock at its southern end, but that had not been obvious from there, it just seemed to fall away to depth.  But we rounded the little rock we’d arrived at instead and in fact it’s a great place to do a safety stop, about 5 meters deep, and swirling with jacks and smaller schools of fish weaving in and out of one another in shades of silver.

Back aboard our boat we broke out lunch, good fare on Nomad boats, sandwich wraps of mystery substance, but tasty rice or pasta, fruits, soft drinks.  After eating and changing tanks, we headed south along the coast past Ras Morovi  to Lulu Island.

At Lulu Island we kitted up and descended on our usual dive where we drop on the west of the island, then round it to the north, and proceed underwater on an easterly heading to reach the other islands just further that way, finning at 16 meters along the bottom.  As we started heading east Nicki managed to rile some aggressive clown fish in the anemones on the way over.  We arrived finally in the usual spot amidships on the far island north and we headed clockwise around the island.  As we were turning the north corner we came on a black marble cowtail ray nudged up against a rock, trying to pretend we couldn’t see him but getting agitated over the fact we wouldn’t go away.  Eventually we left him alone and completed our circle of the island to come into the gap between that one and the next further south.  There in the sand beyond we saw a ray flying past, possibly the same one we had seen earlier.  We tried to chase it but he was just too far away and faster than we were.  So we continued south along the wall, finding morays and lion fish, until toward the end of that island again we came on yet another cowtail ray nestled into the wall like the first one, and rippling his skirts in the same way.  This could have been three ray sightings, or two, or the same ray encountered three times on one dive. Whatever, he was interesting to observe at close quarters with his nose pointed up against a rock wall, and no means of escape short of panic.  We were careful to give him space so as not to trigger that.

We were in a bay of islands which we followed south and then predictably west, heading for the seaward side of the island where we’d put in on the landward side. Visibility wasn’t as good as on the first dive, lots of particles in the water, though still good visibility.  We were looking for turtles reputed to be here, and we were gliding over coral patches sloping down into sand that looked inviting to turtles and divers as well.  But eventually this petered out into sand sloping deeper to the north (funny, we were diving with a 4th guy named Peter J), and I thought if we headed west over that we’d arrive back at our island.  We were at about 17 meters, it was deeper to the north, so I tried to angle slightly to the south.  Ahead of us was a dark spot that seemed it could be land, but turned out to be mirage, just receding dark water.  We went over this until my air was approaching 50 bar, 45 minutes into the dive.  The only good thing was we had a 4th ray encounter, another cow tail, but not the same one, this one was bigger and took off in a cloud of bottom silt.
The group seemed content with this, but I was concerned and decided to surface and see where we were.  When I did so I discovered the current must have nudged us north because we were past the island we were shooting for and almost to the wall of the mainland. So I went down and led the rest of the way west over the sand to where the coral resumed with beautiful fish and we were able to conduct our safety stops with something to see.  

Because we were in a place we weren’t supposed to be I got out my SMB, or submersible marker buoy, otherwise known as a sausage.  They are tricky to deploy.  First timers are liable to get dragged up with them as they fill with air if they’re not quick enough to release the trigger letting the reel spool out the line as the sausage shoots upward. I got mine up fine and Nicki decided to deploy hers because there’s this thing among divers to see whose sausage is bigger and can be deployed fastest.  Mine was first, but Nicki wanted me to mention that hers was new. She had also come across a reel in the sand and plopped it in her BCD pocket.  These things can cost $70-$100 so it’s great if you find one.  

When we surfaced, again at 57 minutes, Peter told us we had missed seeing a trio of seahorses that Nicki was showing him, about the time I’d decided to surface to see where we were.  I thought "darn!" at the time, but we’ve seen lots of seahorses lately.  But when we were talking to Nicki about it in the car on the way home she said she didn’t see any seahorses.  Turned out they were pipefish, sort of a straight line version of a seahorse with a seahorse head and beak.  Nicki hadn’t mentioned them earlier because every time she was going to, Bobbi had said again how happy she was with her new mask which she bought in Texas after having problems with ill-fitting masks earlier in the summer in Philippines and Perhentien in Malaysia.  Her mask had developed a leak in the skirt just as we were leaving on that trip and the one she took with her hurt her nose with its plastic.  She bought a new one in Malapascua but that one was just as bad.  So when she was in Texas she bought one from a company that accommodated special faces.  Anyway that’s about all she talked about on the way home, and she wanted me to mention  it in my blog.