Wednesday, July 10, 2013

John Henzell's Advanced Open Water Course

July 5 and 6, Nomad Ocean Adventure speedboat trips to Musandam
My logged dives #1206-1210

John has been talking for some time about doing a course with me.  He has a dive certificate from a long defunct Australian agency from 1978, and since he has some logged dives, I offered to give him an advanced course under the PADI experienced diver program. He works for the National newspaper and travels a lot, but some time ago he had asked me to set aside this weekend for a course.  But then I didn't hear from him for a long time so I was surprised when he wrote to ask "if we were still on".  Bobbi had just gone to the states, so I was available, and I took him up on it, especially as he was kind enough to do the driving across the country. We picked up Nicki somewhere along the way, and pitched up at Nomad for dinner, some good company, and a good night's sleep, not something I normally get on weekdays.  The border crossing, sometimes an issue, had gone smoothly, the agent on duty checking our papers through the window of his air-conditioned kiosk.

Friday July 5, 2013

Friday July 5 we found ourselves on Fizzy's boat, destination Octopus Rock; we being Nicki and John and some other military types and Chris from UK and the German Marcus diving with Bob from Scotland. Paul was aboard training Vince Cording, an ex advanced student of mine, in deep specialty.  Most of our boat were diving nitrox so sorting the tanks with each diver's name on it was a challenge at the start of the dive, passing tanks around a small boat, and John and I using generic air.

Can you spot the torpedo ray :-)

John and I decided to do the first dive as a deep dive and since Paul was taking Vince to the north east for depth, and since I have almost never dived in that direction, I decided to go there. There was only a slight current pulling us west, a fairly benign condition for Octopus Rock.  It was a beautiful dive as Octopus Rock usually is, with good vis and the usual suspects, a topedo ray in the sand, swarms of trigger fish, batfish at the cleaning stations, and clown fish in the anemones. We saw some large honeycomb morays and at 5 meters on our safety stop on the shoulder of the rock, there were the resident jacks.

We had planned a multilevel dive of 24 meters for 20 minutes, 16 for 10, and the rest of the dive for however much time we needed at 12 meters, based on my experience using the wheel.  In the event, we didn't need all that time. We were doing our safety stop after 22 minutes, so for calculating a pressure group for the next dive, we used the 29 minute NDL on the tables for 25 meters. 

One reason the dive had been so short was that John was having buoyancy issues as divers with limited experience do, so during lunch in the surface interval I explained how to control it, and we did the next dive as a peak buoyancy dive, on Lima Rock South. We started near the west end and went along the wall to the east.  Vis seemed a little more cloudy here, and I kept the dive to 18 meters to give us a 45 minute bottom time in our pressure group after our surface interval, and conserve John's air, though this put us on a wall where I would normally have gone lower to the sand, not much on the wall. So I decided to rise, a challenge to someone working through buoyancy, but John vented in time to keep to the new level of 12 meters.  Later in the dive, he had to work out buoyancy to follow me down to see a crayfish I'd lit up in a cave, and further on he decided to take a picture of a yellow-mouthed moray, and again had to breathe himself down to it to stay in position (though he was pinching the rocks as well to keep level, he confessed later, and as can be seen, left hand, in the photo below).

The high point of the dive was right at the end, with John coming on to 50 bar.  I saw a flash of silver, in the shape of a fleeting sail, further down the reef.  I spurted down to have a look and found a huge eagle ray hanging on the reef nose first, about 4 meters in wingspan.  They spook easily so I eased in as best I could without startling it.  After a few long seconds, he became aware and fled to mid-water, but I was still able to follow his shadow a few seconds more as he turned and circled almost out of sight.  Only later did I realize I hadn't thought to use my GoPro :-( one of three missed photo ops on this weekend ).  But the buoyancy work was paying off, John lasted 41 minutes on this dive, plus another 3 min on the safety stop.

The second missed photo op came on our night dive at the Caves at Fishhead Rock.  We managed to recruit enough paying customers to make it worth Nomad's while so Fizzy got back in gear and conducted us northward.  I had thought we were going to the near cave but it seems they had discovered the one I had found some years ago. After going over the procedures with John we entered the water and as luck would have it, luck because on a night dive you never really know where you are, John and I stumbled on the cave first.  

I happen to know it has an exit to the surface, so it's a more or less legal night dive, not a real cave in other words, but it's still dark when you wander it with a torch and penetrate. John stayed close behind ... also on night dives it's not perfectly clear who is close behind you, but I recognized his fins and his dangling alternate light.

So we were slowly moving into the cave, deliberately, keeping off sides, top, and bottom, when I thought I saw light ahead.  The top of the cave so soon?  Not at all, the white was the rippling underside of a large two meter wide marble ray disturbed in his night rest and now looking for a way out around the blinding bathyscapes that were moving in on him.  He wasn't frantic, just probing, seeing where he could slip his biomass through where we weren't.  I moved to the side as he rippled by and then to my surprise he was followed by second one.  And then they both slipped by us and were no longer there. Fizzy said later she had spotted one near the entrance to the cave. 

I had deliberately left my GoPro behind thinking there wouldn't be enough light in a night dive, but I think there was, the marble rays were impressive in the torchlight, so I was kicking myself a second time that day, another memorable moment unrecorded, like countless such moments in the 40 years I've been diving without a camera (and 30 without a computer). One of these days I'll tell my grandchildren about them.  

For this dive, we saw also some gaily dancing squids (also illuminated well in torchlight) and some perky grasshopper shrimp, spotted  from glowing red eyes in the torchlight, move closer, and they move away like a flea.  The most interesting thing besides the rays was how we surfaced inside another cave. I had noticed we had been covering bare rock the last of the dive, unusual since there is usually coral here.  But when we came up and saw we were inside an air pocket in a cave we realized that the reason there was no coral was that we had ended in a place that doesn't get sunlight. Another buddy team came up in a similar place and one of the guys got quite anxious because there was no obvious way out short of going back under, and he was low on air.  But in our case, I detected a place where the surge seemed to be coming from and found there an opening that led to night sky.  I guess the other buddies did about the same because they emerged a few minutes later. Our dive had lasted 30 min plus the safety stop, and we had got to 15 meters during John's successful round trip compass exercise over the sand.

Saturday July 6, 2013

So three dives through the advanced course and two to go.  After dinner back at Nomad and another good sleep, we were back up and on the dive boats, this time to Lima Rock North for a dive we would conduct as an advanced boat dive.  We started at about the middle of the north side and headed east, taking advantage of the numerous swim throughs there to work on John's buoyancy as we went.  We picked up a little current as well and half an hour into the dive we had arrived at the gap and were shooting through in almost still water to the other side.  Here we found schools of jacks off the point and a slight current that we had to pull into.  I don't think John used the rocks, so his air depleted rapidly in the current.  As he neared 50 bar, I kept our depth  to ten meters or less, then decided we should let ourselves drift back to the point and use as little air possible to let stuff come to us rather than us work to get to it.  Unfortunately there wasn't much there apart from the schools of fusiliers, so with John nearing time he would need to come up I decided to have us drift a little further over the deeper rock off the point, and there we found the school of barracuda I'd been looking for.  We dropped into it to let the barracuda swirl around us before deciding to ascend as John was low on air.  On ascent I realized that concern about depth and John's air had caused me to space on the third great video of the trip, as I had forgot again to fire up my GoPro.  But John did well.  After going a bit deep on one of the exercises early in the dive, reaching 24 meters before we'd realized it, our dive had lasted 45 min plus the safety stop.

For our last dive, we stopped at Ras Sanut (Wonder Wall) on the way home for the last required dive of the AOW course, Navigation.  We didn't see much in the process, but we set up the compass courses very well.  We started on a south heading for 30 meters, at the end of which I left my hat weighted down with nearby rock rubble. Then we returned north to the start, where I'd put up my reel.  Finally we went east 30 meters and then south the same distance, where we got down to 18 meters. Now when we turned west, we should find my hat at the end of 30 meters, which we did.  I collected that, and from there it was an easy 30 meters back to the reel.  I recoverd that and we exausted our air in the rest of a 41 minute dive much higher up on the reef.

And at the end of that, John Henzell, having fulfilled all the other requirements for AOW (eLearning, filled in logbooks signed) earned his Advanced Open Water certificate.  Congratulations, John (you been grandfathered :-)

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