Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mola mola! Diving Musandam Feb 9 and March 8 and 9 with Paola and Arvid

A few months later Nicki saw what appears to be a very similar mola mola to the two we saw

February 9, 2013 
My logged dives #1182-1183

I haven't logged dives lately but it's not that we haven't been diving. Bobbi and I drove up to Dibba and slept at Nomad Ocean Adventure Feb 7 one weekend and then the next morning got up to run the Wadi Bih race. Nomad was crowded with other runners with the same idea, sleep comfortably and relatively cheaply, and have a good down-home buffet to boot.

On the morning of Feb 8, people got up and drove up the beach to the Golden Tulip resort where hundreds of cars were parked for camping. Our mobile phones don't work in Oman so we had to stand by the start and wait for our team members to come looking for us: Ali Bushnaq whose company, Wadi Rum Decor, was sponsoring us; plus Sami and Roger Norkie.

The Wadi Bih race is run each year, originally from RAK to Dibba beach, but now with the border hassles it's run from Dibba up the mountain and back down again. It's 72, km, shared by 5 runners, so each runner does around 15 km. It's a lot of fun, with no pressure from our team to compete. At the end of the run there is a buffet lunch, pretty poor quality food, does not make one want to dine at the Golden Tulip Resort. We saw a lot of our friends there, caught up with some, and ate abstemiously since we'd be getting a great meal at NOA that evening.

Obviously we were staying a second night for diving the next day, Saturday. On Saturday, Christophe was managing the shop all by himself and had a boat full of mostly advanced divers, whom Steve, filling in as boat guide for the weekend, managed to coral into a speedboat and conduct up to Octopus Rock. There didn't seem to be much current when we dropped the divers in. No one was drifting badly off the rock, but there was current. When we dropped to the bottom and tried to go left past the blue soft corals with batfish cleaning stations, we were beat back, so we reversed to the lee of the rock and dove in the gullies to the east where there's shelter from the current.

I don't recall much of what we saw there, or on the next dive at Lima Rock south. We figured the way the current was running we would be sheltered there, and we were. I recall seeing a turtle at some point during the day, but don't remember which dive. Bobbi and I dove peacefully along until toward the end of the dive we came to the boring rock face and I decided to fin it to reach the point at the end, and maybe we'd shoot the gap to the other side. There were the usual larger fish there but we hit stiff current coming through the gap and so used my new grapple hook to hang on. Bobbi didn't have hers so she hung on to me. This made it difficult to hold the position for both of us, the hook slipped, and as I was trying to re-anchor it, Bobbi let go and got shot sideways into ocean south from the rock. I had no choice but to follow. I would like to have stayed there 5 min to see what might wander along in that kind of current, but it was about time to end the dive anyway.

March 8-9, 2013 
My logged dives #1184-1187

I was quite busy with work and deadlines for the rest of the month, but I got the last major paper done, an article in a proceedings, just before Paula Lunden came to visit with her boyfriend Arvid. Arvid was a diver so we had agreed to take them over to, where else, Nomad Ocean Adventure, for the weekend. They had come to visit the Sunday before, arriving from the airport at 4:30 a.m which was just perfect, as I was just getting up to drive to work in Al Ain then. The next day Monday they got up with me and came with me to Al Ain, where I dropped them at the airport, near where I work, and left them to cab into Al Ain and get the bus to Dubai, where they had booked a hostel or cheap hotel for a few days.

On Thursday the got a bus to Abu Dhabi and arrived a little before Bobbi came home from work. We piled the car with gear and went to pick up Nicki from work, and by about 9:30 that night we had left the grueling workaday world behind and were chilling on kabobs and favorite beverages in the slightly francophone ambiance of NOA. Arvid had only done 4 dives before for certification, so Christophe organized some tanks to be left by the pool for us in the morning. It wasn't an awfully early start, 7:30 for coffee and 8:00 in the pool.

Arvid was an athletic looking chap and appeared to have been trained well, so his refresher went without incident, and we were soon on a boat bound for Ras Morovi. Chris was leading and in his briefing said he would be going deep, so I said I would follow and try to stay above them as long as we could. We started in the bay just back from the north entrance to the channel between the headland and the island offshore, usually the exit in the way we normally do that dive. Vis was poor with a bit of algae around, so doing the island in reverse, and with Chris leading deep, I didn't recognize where I was.

At some point Christophe veered deep and out over the sand in a way that Arvid and I couldn't follow and still keep above 18 meters without entering mid-water, so I motioned him to follow me over the reef. We crossed to a next reef over and there I saw what I thought looked like a big fish carcass, a vertical shot of silver grey dangling on the reef. When I move closer though I found it was a mola mola, a sunfish. These fish are large, several meters from fin tip to fin tip protruding ventral and dorsal from a massive round body. The fish swam right in front of me, followed by … another! They were maybe as surprised to see me as I was them, so they hastened to move away. Still something that large doesn't exactly disappear in a flash, so we got a really good sighting, though Arvid, a bit behind me, didn't see the second one.

We dove casually in the area, me looking for sand that appeared to be sloping upwards into reef, trying to find high points that would conserve Arvid's air. Eventually I came on Chris and his group who had rounded the saddle and were heading north up the other side. He was by now at 16 meters so I wrote “2 mola molas” on my slate and went down to show him. We then had a conversation in gesture and dive signal language. He signed, HUH!!? where? I indicated “over there” and tried to indicate “earlier”. Chris then said “why didn't you call me”. I said I was banging on my tank but he was too deep. Chris grasped either side of his head and went “arrrrghhhh” into his regulator, but then he thought hey, good on yer, mate, and gave me a high five.

Chris paused to wait for his divers to catch up and pulled out a kind of torpedo dart he started throwing to them. Arvid was by now pushing 50 bar, so I decided we should move on. I found a shark egg and wrote that on my slate and showed him. Then we came on the cave with bat fish around and crustaceans with long feelers living inside, which I illuminated for him with my torch. I now knew where we were, coming into the calm bay where we usually begin our Ras Morovi dives. Here we saw a large, lone, 1 meter long barracuda with pronounced dark stripes sidle past us. We finished the dive along the shallow reef but had enough air to head over the sand looking for rays. We found none, but what a dive!

We were the only ones who had seen the mola molas, but Nicki and Bobbi wanted me to write that they had seen a torpedo ray and a large nudibranch about the size of protrusion on a man, not his finger. We settled in for lunch, Arvid and I trying hard not to mention the mola molas. Paola had told the cook she was vegetarian so all the sandwiches on the boat were cheese. We joked that we usually got mystery meat sandwiches but now they were fromage mysterieux. Lunch on Chris's boats is always good though, today it was also pasta salad, watermellon, some kind of sausage surrounded by baked bread, followed by cakes and coffee.

Our second dive was at Lima Rock. Arvid was doing well on air and buoyancy, especially for someone doing just his 5th and 6th o/w dives. Current was benign, so we started at the east end of the rock and moved along the south side all the way to the west end. First we had to fin along the boring rock wall, but this soon gave way to coral gardens where we eventually found a huge honeycomb moray, neck the size of a sumo wrestler's, and some other yellow mouth morays besides. We ended the dive on a sting ray whose cow tail was protruding from the rock under which he had stuck his nose.

We'd had such great dives that day, how could the next be better. Unfortunately our first dive, a return to Ras Morovi, diving from the inside bay to the outer one where we'd seen the mola molas the day before, was not all that exciting. Vis was poor, but was peaceful, slightly chilly, as we drifted along the colorful reef teeming with fish on our way to the batfish cave with the crawfish inside, posing for us in the beam of my torch. Then we sauntered along and crossed the saddle with boulders full of soft corals, but didn't encounter much of note until Nicki came on a fish pot with a moray inside and tried to free it. Arvid and I moved on to the alcove where we sometimes see rays, but there was no one home today except clouds of juvenile fish hoping the shelter would give them a good start in life. Nicki and Bobbi caught up with us as we were heading to where we'd seen the mola molas, but all we found on this dive were some moray eels and a cuttlefish.

The day before, divers had also seen a mola mola at Ras Sanut, sometimes called Wonder Wall. It was interesting that they had been sighted in two different places at about the same time, but they had since disappeared. In any event we decided to do our second dive there. It was a good choice because vis was much better, fairly clear water, not so much algaie. Nicki started us out on some tiny harlequin shrimps she said were almost always in a kind of brown sea grass. She also had a glass shrimp climbing over the tank banger we had brought her from Malapascua. Then I found a turtle under a rock. It lifted off into the blue water where we saw it later overhead. It was one of three turtles we saw that dive, one more under a rock, which we managed not to disturb, and another sitting amidst some staghorn coral on a rock shelf at shallow depth. We also found a large sting ray under a rock with a tail that was bent at an angle, like a cat's tail. It was a very pretty dive, with huge puffer fish and schools of fish to swim through, and underwater rock islands to explore. At one point schools of fusiliers came hurtling at us with their mouths open. I had warned Arvid to be aware that the dives at Ras Sanut often ended in current moving swiftly out to sea, and told him if that happened, we'd just enjoy the ride. It happened, and we did.