Nice diving this weekend at Nomad Ocean Adventure, even mellower for me as the trip was arranged by Greg Golden and David Weiler (not me for a change) and I had no students around apart from past ones. Besides Greg, Jay Fortin was down from Doha and became my dive buddy, and Bobbi and Nicki drove up with me in the car. Tom Longo was in our group with a couple of advanced students of his own, and Greg Perry was there as well, whom we'd been with on a liveaboard dhow once up a time. Also present: Kristyn Ulrich, Lindsay Guthrie, and David, Gail, and Heather Muirhead. It was a large and gregarious group, and les après plongés continued well into the evening.
For me, it was total relaxation. I didn't have to do anything apart from get myself and my gear aboard the dive boat until, once we were under way, Theo turned around and asked me where I wanted to go for the first dive, the first I'd been asked suddenly to think about something. It was a lovely day, clear blue skies, so clear we could see fish-head rock way up the coast. Seas were blue and placid, reflecting the jagged mountain coastline that separated the two natural blues, and the air rushing through the boat had an almost pleasant chill to it. I allowed as how it seemed like a nice day to do Octopus Rock.
It was a great weekend for diving, almost no current on all but our last of four dives. That's unusual for Octopus Rock (what we used to call the Stack back in my ADSAC days). We dropped in on the south point of the rock, where we can often hide from strong current, but there was none today. It was actually possible to follow Theo's dive plan, which was to head north with the rock on the right, and then veer left at the Big Boulder and find the next ridge over and follow the wall on our left to the north, and THEN of all things round the far end of the wall and follow it back to the south. One of those directions is usually impossible against the strong currents that plague Octopus Rock, but not today :-)
Octopus Rock is always full of fish. Today there were schools of bright blue trigger fish seemingly everywhere, some hiding in rocks with their tails sticking out, curious fish. I don't recall seeing bat fish but the little blue wrasse were following puffers around as they wandered into the bat fish cleaning stations. Once we'd rounded to the south we came on a rock over which hovered a school of barracuda. On the ridge itself we found a couple of crayfish not particularly well hidden.
When we reached a place I thought was about the right distance back, I went over the ridge and swam to the next one over thinking that might be Octopus Rock. It looked about right under water but as we rounded it and came shallower, we realized there was nothing there that went to the surface. This is a tough place to navigate, all the ridges confuse me. As we were coming up to shallower depth, we passed through schools of jacks and trevally that reminded me of similar schools in the AndamanIslands. We did a safety stop over the coral atop the rock and surfaced to find we were about even with Octopus Rock, but still short of it to the west, maybe one or two, or three, ridges over.
Once we were all collected we motored over to Ras Morovi for a tasty lunch on board the boat and from there we headed to Lima Rock for our afternoon dive. We dropped in the south side and meandered casually to the west. Again there was almost no current and when our meander turned to the east we realized we had rounded the west tip of the island. Sometimes there are fierce currents there, but today it was like a swim in the pool.
Where we dropped in, there was a honeycomb moray halfway down the rock wall, nice to see something that large before we even reached the bottom. Swimming along at about 20 meters, I saw a cow-tail ray in mid water rippling speedily along in the opposite direction to us. The ray was about a meter and a half across and was missing his tail. I'm pretty sure we saw the same sting ray a second time at the end of the dive on almost the 180 degree opposite side of the island. I was looking into an alcove when the ray decided to leave his hiding place and swam right below me (I almost missed it but Nicki used the tank-banger Bobbi and I had given her to call our attention to it - it's not a bad idea to make sure your best dive buddy has a tank-banger). There was some contention about whether this was the same ray we had seen earlier or not; Jay swore the second ray was a lot smaller, so we asked another diver what he thought, and he said they were different, the second was much larger – so go figgah (I'm telling you, they were the same :-)
We reached port not too late in the afternoon. Thousands of fish we would never see underwater were lying on the boat ramp at the colorful fish market, which we could see across the bows of the dhows. Back at Nomad Bobbi and I cleaned our gear and left it out to dry in the rain that would appear later that night. Then I went for a 5 km jog to Golden Tulip and back in the dusk while Bobbi and Jay went for a walk into the beachside fishing village. Nicki got out her cheese for an early happy hour which we joined after showers. Dinner buffet was served superb, as usual, Chris's mom being back in personal hands-on charge of the Mauritius cuisine.
Next day, we got an early departure. Someone banged on our door at 7:45 and we were away from the dive center by 8:30. The boat got off around nine, with pleasant Hassan at the helm. Our first stop was Ras Sarkan, on a day so clear that the island of Mother of Mouse could be seen popping out of the ocean to the northeast.
The water was again a 25 degree centigrade chill, somewhat warded off by our 5 mm wetsuits. Visibility was good and while waiting for the others I watched fish swirl around a large rock below me, 5 or 7 meters across, and just covered in fish. We dropped down on top of a torpedo ray hiding under a blanket of sand, which we swished off so we could see him better.
The dive plan at Ras Sarkan is to keep an eye on your compass and hang out at the point, which you've reached once your compass tells you you're heading north. On a currenty day, there should be plenty to see there. Today the current was slack, so as we turned to the north at the point and then started heading back west we realized we had reached the tip and passed it without much incident. Ras Sarkan is deep. We got down to almost 26 meters with a high view of the sand below but depending on how much air we thought we would need to complete 50 bar or 50 min 'whichever comes first', we varied our depth to conserve air molecules in our tank. Jay stayed above us, Bobbi was usually above me, and I was playing it at about 16 to 20 meters most of the dive. Nicki on nitrox and small lung size was least concerned about air consumption or deco and and was usually well below me. Nicki goes slow and is very observant. She told us later she had seen scorpion fish and even a scorpion-like walkman (I saw one in Malaysia last summer). She called me down on a couple of occasions to see the nudibranchs she was discovering. Coming up from the last of those calls to come look, I shined a light in a hole and found the tail of a honeycomb moray. I followed that around a bend and came on a huge head poking out the ledge, odd that I hadn't seen that first. Following the ledge along, there was a second honeycomb smaller than the first, probably an offspring. After 50 minutes of that, perhaps a bit longer, we surfaced a little back from the point at Ras Sarkan.
Our last dive of the weekend would be Lima Rock, and Theo had an interesting plan for it. After a great lunch (there was a delicious pasta salad, and Jay had bought nuts and fruits, including watermellon, on his walk the night before) we motored over to Lima Rock where Theo said we would drop on the north side, round the east point, and then come back to the west on the south side. Hassan motored us off the point for a shoof and Theo said it looked as though there would be current there. He warned us against getting caught in it and riding the freight train to Iran. More than once we have been caught in that current and sometimes driven down to over 30 minutes so that you can't just come up. You have to ride it east and do your safety stops. The one upside to that one-way trip is that there is almost always a huge school of huge barracuda lurking off the point and this inadvertent drift dive takes you right through them.
Current also attracts large fish, so it's worth risking if your diving skills are up to it. There wasn't much current at the start of the dive and I saw the green whip coral bending into the current before I actually felt it, but soon we found ourselves being sucked along toward the point. I signaled everyone to stay together and close to the rock, though I wandered off it as far as I dared hoping to spot devil rays which are sometimes seen there if conditions are such that you can get to where they are (and if they are there of course, on this day, we'll never know). We did see a flight of large bat fish as we approached the point and when we stared to get carried inexorably into it we found fishnets and ropes we could hold on to and keep our position.
It was a position worth keeping. The schools of barracuda were all around us. We enjoyed them for a couple of minutes but then had to work our way into the current up a flat rock that was rushing over the gap we had opted not to pass through. I was pulling myself with handholds in the rock, and the barracuda, big ones, were right in front of our noses. This was interesting and we got a rest in the gap, but had to continue along a featureless rock face. This is where the whale sharks like to hangout, where the plankton can be driven through their filters, but like the devil rays, they were taking the day off, and we had to fin our way stiffly into that current.
Normally when we pass this way we are coming from the middle of Lima Rock. When diving in the coral gardens there, there is a large rock that juts out seaward and I know that if I go around that, the current is likely to carry me out to the point (we got caught in that once with the DeJong kids when they swam out past the rock to get closer to the whale shark they spotted in midwater there). Often when going in this direction you are on a one-way ride and it barrels you along this blank wall until you reach the gap and can duck in out of it. Then you either end your dive hanging out off the point and let it spit you toward Iran or you go through the gap to the other side, and if lucky see the devil rays.
Today we were having to do the trip in reverse. We were having to fight our way up-current along that blank wall, and the vis was poor to boot, a bit silty. It was not as bad as it could have been; it was doable, but not pleasant. And when we came to the point where the wall juts into the sea we had to fight our way along it into what appears blue nothing which only I (possibly) knew ended in a coral garden where there would be no current. I got there first and turned to look for the others. Bobbi soon appeared, and I spotted Jay overhead. Jay and I were both at 50 bar from the exertion. Nicki meanwhile had found a turtle and surfaced with it. We surfaced to find her, saw she was just behind us, so we all regrouped at 5 meters in the coral garden.
Here the diving was again pleasant. We had only ten minutes before we needed to surface but in that time we visited the bat fish cave and found a couple of elegant lion fish hovering beautifully. Keeping to 5 meters we came atop a rock and found a turtle there. The turtle's shell was encrusted in barnacles, and a blue tang was trying to eat some morsels there. The turtle saw us and slowly moved away. Turtles are not very good at expressing alarm (or maybe they just don't get alarmed, they just leave the area, they think, as unobtrusively as possible).
The last dive was challenging, different from the others, but I thought it was a great dive, nice to be with advanced buddies and to be able to probe the corner where the currents are. Another great weekend in UAE thus comes to a delightful end, and thanks Chris for hosting us :-))
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