Friday, October 9, 2015

A day in the life of a diver in Musandam: Octopus Rock and Lima Rock South

My logged dives #1388-89

After an exhausting work week I was happy to get home at 1:30 on Thursday, get packed, and get rolling on the highway through Shwaib to Madam, Dhaid, Masafi, and Dibba where we pitched up at the border and waited for Sampat to come along with our permits. It was hardly busy when we crossed just at dusk. Alcohol? the guard asked. "No," I replied. "I will check," his compatriot asserted. "Tfudel" I said, indicating the car. Be my guest. The guard handed back my papers through the window. His compatriot made no move to leave his kiosk and carry out inspection, so we drove on through the border and arrived at Nomad Ocean Adventure 5 minutes later.

We were looking forward to a chill weekend, starting right after a quick 5 km jog down to the Golden Tulip at the end of the beach and back again. Sweaty from our jog we relaxed in the pool. Buffet dinner was served by the time we exited and showered. There weren't many people around. Those who were went to bed early. Bobbi and I stayed online for a while in the commons room and then went to bed and right to sleep.

Next day the weather was ideal for diving, still balmy out, no need for warm clothes on the boat the hour out and back to and from the dive sites. Our first dive was at Octopus Rock, what we used to call The Stack. Most people like the dive and it's a treat to go there because it attracts currents, so we usually don't go when there are any students on the boat. 

Even today Hassan, the dive guide for the day, almost didn't take us there because there were two open water divers on board. But one had had over 300 dives, his friend just 35, but in the end Hassan took us there, for a very pleasant dive.

Because I was diving with two ladies who hardly breathe air, Kelly Harris had joined Bobbi and I that morning, I got to play with the site and vary from my usual route. When the current is lax I like to keep the rock on the right and lead north into the descending ridges to the north of the rock, then move to the north-heading ridge and follow that, reef on the left. We get down to around 20 meters as we round it and come back up its other side heading south. The trick then is to know where to pop over the ridge so as to swim across sand back to Octopus Rock just to the east. This is sometimes where we end our dive when some in our group run low on air, so we circle the rock at decreasing depth letting those who need to go to the surface.

Today it was a little different. There was current present so I led the the east, Octopus Rock on our left. If the current had been strong we could have escaped to the ridges running to depth in that direction and hidden from it that way. But today it let us work our way to the north past schools of trigger fish and fusiliers. We kept a reasonable depth 15-18 meters as we crossed the north of the rock and kept heading west to the next ridge over, where i found an intimidating chameleon scorpion fish. Then we swam slowly to where that ridge lets us round it and came up its back side. There were more triggers here, and jacks, and as we popped over the ridge I came down on a batfish being cleaned by wrasse. Visibility was good and we could see Octopus Rock just over the sand. That's not always the case, sometimes I just go blind to the east. 

But this brought us to the rock where again there is abundant fish-life, especially the blue triggers, and some morays, including  a large honeycomb eel.

My group were just coming down to 100 bar here so I felt we could explore a little to the east of the rock. I led us that way to the nearest finger of ridge that plunged invitingly to depth. It was too late in the dive to go to the sand and easy to get disoriented without paying close attention to a compass. But our way back was west so I led in that direction and came out just south of the rock. Now we could expend time and gas spiraling up and around the rock, where batfish moved in close to check us out.

I've been to the dentist a couple of times in the last year over a decayed molar. The first time was last Christmas, an emergency with pain that the dentist resolved by cutting away the rotted parts, leaving a hole in my tooth. It never really gave problems after that and the college I work for does not provide dental insurance, so I never went in for the root canal work the doctor had intended to do. But ten months later, it started to become annoying, I was constantly having to remove food bits from the hole, so I went in to have that cemented over just last week. Now on this dive, I came up with pain in my tooth but thought it was from the way I was biting on the regulator. In any event, the pain went away over lunch on the boat, and on the next dive I was careful to bite on the regulator mouthpiece in my good jaw, and even held the hose in such as way that would position the reg in my mouth so I could better do this.

The second dive was on Lima Rock South. We started from the west end of the rock intending to dive to the east point with the reef on our left. Hassan thought the current would be less than at Octopus Rock and when he entered the water he said it was pushing to the east, the way we wanted to go. Other divers entering the water said the visibility beneath us was excellent.

We found that to be the case when we finally went in. I was last in and was swimming to join Kelly and Bobbi when some snorkelers by the boat told me I had dropped my tank banger and they could see it on a rock ten meters below. At about that moment the two open water divers surfaced and shouted to us that they wanted to join us. I wanted to retrieve my rod while I could see it, so I dropped down to get it. I saw Bobbi and Kelly above and saw that they had thought through the fact that they should join me rather than expect me to surface. I also saw the open water divers following behind them.

Actually it was only one o/w diver. His buddy had had ear problems and had aborted the dive (he was all the time on the boat puffing on a e-cigarette device, likely the cause of his sinus issues). The one with the 300 dives had no buddy and was joining us. This was inappropriate because we were not diving his profile. O/w divers are limited to 18 meters. Everyone else on the boat could exceed that.

I was told later that this diver joined yet another group, and signaled to Bobbi what he was doing. In any event he wasn't with us when we pushed down to 26 meters. We gradually ascended along the boring wall and soon came up on the gap before the point. 

The current had been pushing us to and fro, an exhausting sort of dive, but we all had over 100 bar when we found ourselves being swept off the point at around 16 meters, except for an old fishnet I knew was there and directed everyone down to so we could hold on in the current. The fish life is often exciting here, but today not so. We were joined by some very curious bat fish, you'll meet them in the video, and a school of jacks was congregated just off the point. I didn't dare swim over to them. It looked like that would be a one-way trip.

It was all we could do to pull on rocks and fin back against the current and find 10 and then 5 meters in lighter current back from the point to do a safety stop in. Here again we were annoyed by batfish :-) just kidding. Marvelous creatures!  We surfaced at 51 minutes, the ladies both at 50 bar, me a bit less. The ladies didn't seem to enjoy the dive all that much, too stressful, unpredictable.

I had a problem again with tooth pain. It was very uncomfortable on the boat ride back and I didn't feel like talking. But it had subsided a bit by the time we reached harbor, and that evening, I felt up for another jog to the Golden Tulip and back. It was clearly caused by an air bubble in the space beneath the cap on my tooth expanding on the ascent from 26 meters to the surface, an almost four-fold expansion. We were all contemplating aborting diving the next day but I decided I'd give it the night and maybe it would go anyway.

However the night was not all that comfortable. I had arrived on Thursday with a tooth in stable condition and after the air bubble expansion, my tooth was throbbing in the night. I had no way of knowing what depth was causing the problem, if a two-fold expansion from 10 meters to the surface was dangerous, or if 15 meters was too much. I decided during wakeful moments that night that I would not dive the next day, and Bobbi and I departed that morning.

If we had made that decision the evening before, Kelly was talking like she would leave as well. The dives had not been that great on the Friday. However, next morning as long as she was there, she decided to stay. So we didn't dive Saturday and she did. While posting this blog, we read this on Facebook, from Kelly's dive on Saturday.:

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