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.

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