Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fun diving with whale sharks and other impressive creatures in Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventures

I've been doing a lot of diving lately but I've been working on an article for TESL-EJ which I just finished and this has put me behind  in my dive blogging. Meanwhile I've got videos still backlogged from the previous week's dive trip in May. Oon Friday / Saturday May 15 / 16 I conducted an advanced course on Dibba Rock at Blue Planet Diving.  I'm hoping to get these posts and videos up shortly, but for the record, these would be:

My logged dives #1365-1368

But this past weekend the diving was quite special, and with that article out of the way, I'm posting

May 15-16, 2015, my logged dives #1364-1367

This weekend I had long planned to conduct an open water course but one of the students had an ear problem that the doctor would not sign him off on, so both students postponed their course to June.

I went ahead to Dibba and crossed the border to the humble yet dynamic compound of Nomad Ocean Adventure. Happily and coincidentally, I chanced to meet some good friends there from Al Ain, divemaster David Muirhead, and experienced instructors Bruce Ora and Gerry McGuire, and I was invited onto their boat. We departed next day for Lima Rock, which we dived on both Friday and Saturday. There had been whale sharks spotted in the vicinity the past few weeks and when the whale sharks are around, there's always the chance we will see one. The visibility was as good as I've seen it for a long time. Check out this video:

This video is a compilation of a stunning dive conducted on Friday, when we swam with a whale shark, and one on Saturday where we saw an eagle ray but no whale sharks (though there was one seen that day nearer shore on the headland opposite Lima Rock, off Ras Hamra).  

Our first dive on Friday May 14 was on Ras Sanut, what we also call Wonderwall. On this day the visibility was remarkably good. The video starts with Gerry McGuire easing through the water with no wetsuit, and me in my 5 mm !!!, followed by his buddy Bruce Ora and then by my buddy, David Muirhead, who joined me in a selfie at the start of the dive. From there the diving was full of marine life, as can be seen from the video:

Below is the video from our dive on Octopus Rock May 15. Visibility was excellent and current benign. David Muirhead and I followed Bruce Ora and Gerry McGuire to the east of the rock down to where the seahorses were (or as we observed, the seahorse was). David and I worked our way back up to where Abdullah was taking photos of flatworms and nudibranchs (he'd found several in a 10 meter square area). We found lots of moray eels, and batfish being cleaned by their blue wrasse friends. The dominant fish here are the blue "red-tooth" triggers, but there are jacks schooling in shallow water near the top of the rock, and I ended my dive amidst a large school of beguiling batfish. See for yourself:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

PADI Open Water Advanced Dive Course for Jo Meads at Blue Planet Diving, DIbba

My logged dives #1359-1364

On Friday May 8 I met Jo Meads and Roger Norkie at Blue Planet Diving, Dibba, for two days of PADI Advanced Open Water dive training for Jo. Blue Planet Diving is a friendly and easy place to run courses from. It's right on a beach protected by a seawall so for open water courses we can usually use the relatively confined water for pool skills there. The owners run three dives a day and are well equipped for accessing equipment and walking it down to boats that pull up close to the beach. Most dive trips are to Dibba Rock just a 5 min boat ride, and the equipment cleaning tanks are clean and at the end of the boat ramp. Prices are reasonable and the owners are flexible with instructors running courses.

Having the option of doing three dives a day is good for an advanced open water course, since the course comprises 5 dives. On our first day we did all our diving on Dibba Rock, which also has varied options for dive planning. The island is just a couple hundred meters in length, lying roughly west to east as you look out to sea toward the north, which we call the "back side" as viewed from the beach. Dive boats can tie up to buoys moored at either end, west and east. The west end is my favorite as it drops to just 6 meters of water and puts you at a part of the reef I call the aquarium, which is shallow with coral bommies swarming with schools of fish usually seen in good light. On the east side, the mooring there drops to 8 meters, and if you start there you can go further to the east and look for rays. You never know what you will see here; we dropped in on sharks here and found more along the wall toward the back side on a recent PADI Open Water course for Molly Alice,

On our first dive, on the 8 meter mooring, we found one of the rays had come to us, and stayed put as we explored the vicinity of the mooring line anchor. On this dive, which I conducted as a PADI advanced boat dive, we looked around for more rays but then did the dive around the back side of the rock to find pipefish, moray eels, schools of fish to stick our Go Pros into, playful cuttlefish, and even a turtle toward the end of the dive. 

Back on shore snorkelers and divers were reporting that black tip reef sharks were active in the very shallow water on the "front" or south face of the rock. We dropped again at the 8 meter spot. Imad had given us a good description of where the rays like to hang out so I led us east over sand but had to push into the current to get back to the rock. On this leg I lost Roger and Jo so I looked around for a minute and surfaced to find they had done the same. We regrouped and Roger reported that they had seen a huge ray ripple past them in the water (the reason they had lingered and lost me) but at that point Roger found also there was no SD card in his GoPro. Since we were doing a third dive that day, I was using the same GoPro I had had on the first dive, which can be a stretch on its battery.  So we re-descended and moved to the south side of the rock and conducted  our navigation exercises there. When done we pushed to the north east to get as close to the rock as possible and indeed we saw several sharks quite clearly in great overhead sunlight in water only a meter or two deep. However, my GoPro chose that moment to lose its charge, and with Roger's having no SD card, these sightings are recorded only in text here.

We tried again to find sharks on our last dive of the day, but this one was at 3 or 4 in the afternoon when the light coming in at that angle reflects more off particulate matter in the water, so conditions were not as good for spotting them, and I don't remember so much from that dive apart from a large barracuda lurking off the south face of the rock. We also got a unique shot of a nudibrach edging determinedly toward a pipefish, who moved out of the way just in time to avoid the coup de grace. Check it out in the video.

Next morning we joined Blue Planet Diving for their morning dive on the 30 meter wreck Inchcape 1, Jo's PADI advanced deep dive (more information on this wreck here:

The wreck was interesting as always, swarming with fish, a honeycomb moray hiding in the tires at the bottom, lion fish performing in interesting tableax on deck, and a scorpion fish lurking nearby, trying to blend into the encrustation. It's a short dive, just 20 minutes, and one that is choreographed as a set piece for PADI advanced open water and deep or wreck specialty divers.

For our last dive of the weekend we returned to shark hunting at Dibba Rock. We put in at the deep mooring and I spent most of the dive trying to find the shallows where the sharks were. A combination of currents and having to approach it from a spot other than the aquarium confounded my navigation, but when we were shallow I could pop my head above water and reconnoiter. In any event I got a shot of a gopie protecting a hole which his partner pistol shrimp was excavating (it's quick in the video, look closely). We found a flounder, or moses sole scooting along the bottom, a puffer in the shallows, and a turtle emerging just around the corner from a school of silvery jacks. And at the very end, I spotted a shark and you can just make it out as it moves off camera if you replay that part of the video several times (at the end of the Dibba Rock sequence, before the Inchcape shots).

It was a very enjoyable weekend. Nice to see that Dibba Rock continues to bounce back from the ravages of cyclone Gonu and red tide 8 years ago, and congratulations to Joanne Meads on certifying as a PADI Advanced Open Water diver.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fun diving Dibba Rock and Inchcape 2 with friends Jay and Robin Fortin

My logged dives #1357-1358

On May 2, 2015, I joined my friends Jay and Robin Fortin for a day of diving with Divers Down. Jay and Robin were staying at the Miramar Hotel on Al Aqah Beach, UAE, and that's where the dive shop was. We did two dives, one on Dibba Rock, and the other on Inchcape 2. These are my GoPro videos of the two  dives.

I went down on Friday and met Jay and Robin for dinner at the Miramar and then drove over to a nearby beach where I had scoped out the parking / sleeping possibilities on the way down. Nights were reasonably cool and I had the back of my 4x4 made into a bed so I could just park and crawl in it. But I had to move from my first spot because people were driving up and down there all night, even though I was parked a few hundred meters off the beach. So I moved to the beach right next to the Miramar, parked down a track leading to the beach, and slept fine there until in the morning I was awakened by the sound of car engines. This turned out to be fishermen who were using wenches on the front of those cars to haul in their nets. The net they were hauling in surrounded me on both sides of my car, I guess I was parked in their favorite fishing spot. In any event when I made ready to move they let one rope slack so I could drive over it.

I was the first customer at the Miramar for their buffet breakfast where I was joined eventually by Jay and Robin. We passed time at breakfast till time to go diving. Divers Down were making trips out and back at 9:00, noon, and 3:00, and we went on the first two trips. Visibility had been good at Dibba Rock the day before so this was their first destination. It's a place I have dived often over the years, in good times and bad, but life is bouncing back there now and it's one of the best sites again on that coastline (which really speaks to the deterioration of the other sites in the area, compared to what they used to be). Still the dive shops are packed with people wanting to go diving.

Here is my video from the Dibba Rock dive -

We returned to Divers Down base at the Miramar Hotel and switched tanks for our second dive, this one planned for the Inchcape 2. I had explained to Robin and Jay that I planned to dive this one in an unorthodox manner. We would spend about 20 minutes on the wreck, which would give us time to peruse the deck for whatever critters might be hiding there. The encrustations are home to scorpion fish, nudibranchs, seahorses, and lots of small things good at camouflage.  But after 20 minutes you'll find most of the crocodile fish and rays in the sand that are lurking there, and you'll have covered the deck from bow to stern, time to head for the coastline.

Before we went in the dive guide conducted the boat briefing which was to spend the entire time on the wreck. As people were kitting up I told him we would finish up in the bay. What I really like about diving in UAE is that you are not guided if you don't want to be. The dive guide said fine, thanks for telling him.

The wreck is slightly deeper than Robin's open water depth max so we spent little time at the bottom, but to head for shore on a s/w heading we had to stay a bit off the sand until the bottom came up to meet us. After 5 min on compass I looked around for jawfish and caught a glimpse of one just popping back in his hole because one of the other divers didn't see him in time and they are quite shy of people overhead. They are incredible creatures, live in holes, have long eel-like bodies, but the most most people see of them is their heads, which are like, as David Muirhead says, whack-a-moles. They will turn side to side checking out divers surrounding their holes. They have great mouths swarming with cleaner shrimp. When divers get to close, they go way down in their holes.

We continued into the bay finding the ubiquitous moray eels. At the back of the bay, in shallow water brilliant with light, there are some lovely table corals. It's a pretty dive, here's the video: