Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bobbi and Vance fun diving Nomad Ocean Adventure and Fujairah, UAE National Day Weekend

My logged dives #1507-1511


Wednesday, November 30 was my last day of work before National and Martyr’s Day holidays and an entire month of December off work. Characteristically or not, Bobbi and I had made no plan for how to spend our holidays even as I got off work that last working day, except that we had decided to go to Nomad Ocean Adventure for diving on Thursday, driving up right after work on Wednesday. Nomad have been experimenting with pricing of diving and accommodation, the new prices going into effect that very weekend, 400 dirhams for two in a double bed room plus meals extra. Bobbi got online, just looking, and found that we could get a room at the Golden Tulip Hotel for Wednesday, a weekday night, for 370 UAE dirhams plus tax, including breakfast buffet, coming out to a 43 Omani riyal charge on our credit card. We had never before stayed at the Golden Tulip and didn’t know whether to recommend it to families when the kids needed a beach to play on while some in the family went diving at Nomad. So we decided to see for ourselves and give it a try.

It was nice to luxuriate at the hotel, just 2.5 km from the dive center, driving or walking or jogging on the white sand beach, on the rare chance when we could get an advanced booking and would be there on a weekday. Bobbi checked the rates on the day and found the price had gone up to over 600. Thursday was even higher, while on the UAE side of the border hoteliers were doubling or tripling their room rates. Alia Suites, where we usually stay for 350 dirhams for a 2 br flat with kitchen and living room (just under $100), was charging around 1000 for the same accommodation in anticipation of the great demand for UAE National Day, and prices at the resort hotels, well, let’s just say various multiples of 4 digits, and if you have to ask, you can’t afford it anyway.
So a room anywhere on that coast for around 400 aed was a bargain at National Day weekend. Bobbi and I had thought we’d go over there Wednesday, spend the night, dive next day, see how the diving was, and play it by ear from there. There’s wifi at Nomad, so theoretically possible to make travel plans there, though we became otherwise preoccupied. Basically we just wanted to chill out and have no concerns for a while, which is what we ended up doing.


To make a long story short, we went diving in the Lima area from a Nomad speedboat on Thursday. Our first dive on Octopus Rock was one of the best of the weekend, good visibility and negligible current. Robyn asked us to take a third diver along with us, Piotr, a scientist from Poland, Sweden, Spain, who had been studying great white shark nurseries in Turkey (DNA matching suggests they originate there and make their way south). He was using 15 liter tanks to our 12’s, which made him compatible with us on air, and hence in tune with us as a dive buddy.


Our second dive that day was at the caves, where we had poor visibility and found no sting rays, unusual for that dive site. Still the diving was pleasant enough, and we had already invested in the drive, so back at Nomad when we found they had one last double bed room available, I blurted “I guess we better grab it.” Unfortunately the Lima boat for next day was full with 13 clients, but they did have a north trip going, plenty of space on that one. This was getting to be a no-brainer.

North trips, to Fanaku Island just across the straights from Hormuz, Iran, happen rarely at Nomad. The last one the week before was cancelled due to rough seas and bad weather. They try to leave early in the morning because the boat ride can be two hours.

Fanaku Island - Far North Musandam - Soft corals, fusiliers, and a shark
Not much happens during this dive. The videos show a variety of soft corals, marginal visibility. But then at the end, we spot several sharks, one of which I barely manage to capture on film
When we arrived there next day we dropped at the north tip of the island and followed a drift to the corner before turning south, where we had to fin hard against a stiff north current. We stayed shallow to enjoy the soft lavender and orange corals, and take advantage of the better light nearer the surface, so we didn’t consume so much air despite the constant up current exertion. We were diving with Piotr again, and he seemed happy with these logistics. I was thinking to put up with this until we reached 100 bar and then turn around and drift back even shallower, but at about that time in the dive the current lessened, my compass handle swung gradually north, and it seemed we were being carried with the current now. Here the dive was beautiful, not great viz, but lovely topography and soft and hard corals, and plenty of fish to video when they caught our fancy. As we came to 50 bar and surfaced to 5 meters, the viz cleared, the light was excellent, and we noticed a bulky black-tipped reef shark swim down a ravine, see us, and bullet away. Looking more closely in the area, we found another shark, a slimmer one, who blundered into view, saw us, and it too shot away, but took a longer route up along the reef this time. The nonchalance of these creatures and then sudden sprint was remarkable. A third shark appeared, but as I brought my hand to my forehead in the universal vertical shark salute to signal the others, this sudden movement on my part caused it too to bolt. Piotr said he saw four sharks in all.


The appearance of the sharks made the dive, and our day. This was just as well, as the next dive was not so good. We motored south past white rock and at the headland just past temple rock, we turned into the first bay on our right. The water looked green and clear in the bay, but underwater it was murky. We found a feather-tail ray almost immediately, and over the reef Piotr uplifted a flatworm which wriggled gracefully for us. Apart from these things it wasn’t our best dive, and it ended in shadow as it was late in the day. It was almost dusk when we made it back to the harbor.

Bobbi and I decided since it was so late, and would be around 11 when we got home that night, to just stay another night at Nomad, where our room was still available at only 400 dirhams. Our plan was to cross back over the border next morning and drop by Dibba Rock the next day, diving from the Fujairah branch of Nomad. A phone call was made and we were booked on the 10 a.m. dive the next morning. We settled in for an evening at Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam side of Dibba, winding up as ever, at the addictive ice slush machine, something Chris picked up at Dragon Mart in Dubai to make evenings pass more pleasantly at NoA.

Next day we crossed the border quickly, no traffic backup, no close scrutiny of a certain date discrepancy in our permits, and we were at Nomad Fujairah shortly after 9:00, where we met up with tech diver Imad Khashfeh, https://www.facebook.com/imad.khashfeh, who was diving with a friend of his, for a nice dive on Dibba Rock. The vis was not the best, and a strong current prevented us from going south, so we were prevented from visiting the sting rays on this trip, but we found nudibranchs and a big mackeral in the green deep water, and a feisty orange banded shrimp poking pugilistically at a fish that had taken shelter in its crevice, and other small things besides, as life goes on above and below water at Nomad Fujairah and Musandam.



Back home now, reflecting that this was one nice way to start a month-long holiday.


 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fun Diving Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure

My logged dives #1503-1506

We were supposed to teach a dive course this weekend but the students didn't manage their elearning in time (they were in the Seychelles, where there is poor connectivity, as I remember well) so Bobbi and I decided to go over to Nomad Musandam and see how Chris has been fixing up his dive center, and reacquaint ourselves with the animals living near there.

We didn't see our very best fish friends in 4 dives there this weekend, but the first dive was the best. Here we sped over glassy seas on Friday morning, only 8 of us on the boat, to the destination of our choice, which we selected as Octopus Rock. We were the only boat on the site, and Bobbi and I were first in the water. Current was minimal and as it was just the two of us we headed out the rock ridges to the east hoping to find a seahorse in the whip coral there. 

We had only been in the water 5 minutes when we came on something unusual, an eagle ray grazing in the sand as we were coming in from above him. So he didn't see us as we passed overhead and I descended with my camera pointing and got a flash of LED, no more, and the second time I did that realized the camera had defaulted to single shot mode and I hadn't had a chance to put it on video. Eagle rays don't cut much slack. He would have made an excellent video as he was stationary a few seconds before realizing we were there, but once he became aware of us he flexed muscle and was off in a bolt. Eagle rays are the cheetahs of the ocean. I managed to get just three stills, the last one a blur.





The rest of the dive was better recorded. We didn't find any seahorses at 30 meters depth and climbed back up between the crests to the near tentacles of Octopus Rock which we circled counter clockwise. Crossing the north flat and coming to the ridges to the west of the rock I went a direction I don't normally go. Normally I go north to the end of the ridge and turn around it to head south up the other side, then find a low point and cross to the east across a deep channel I have to do on compass to get back to Octopus Rock because the rock isn't visible from the far side there. This time I headed south on the inside of the wall, found a pretty, narrow crevice lined with blue and yellow soft coral, crossed to the inside, and emerged from the inside where we normally pop back over the top and then head east to the south end of the rock. Now I know I can make a pretty dive by going back north along the inside of that wall and cross to the east to Octopus Rock at a much narrower point.

Octopus Rock was beautiful today ... lion fish, schools of red-tooth blue triggerfish, different kinds of moray eels, tiny nudibranchs, batfish at their blue wrasse cleaning stations, and closer to the rock, as we corkscrewed around it, surfacing at a pace designed to burn off nitrogen and riding with the ebb and flow of current, mesmerizing schools of jacks and snappers in a never-ending flow of fish biomass.




The remaining three dives this weekend were not as good as the one at Octopus Rock, so what videos I took on these dives I combined into one ten minute compilation (below). 




From Octopus rock we went that day to Lima Rock South where we struggled against current to round the western point, but made it through the current, and were picked up over there.

The next day, Saturday Nov 5 we started at Ras Morovi, where Bobbi and I were asked to escort an un-buddied diver who turned out to be a beginner we needed to care for, so we didn't get to dive the site the way we would have if it was just the two of us. Still, it was the better dive that day, and in the videos we see an underwater arch swarming with blue triggerfish, a crayfish cave encrusted in blue and yellow coral, the missing rock piece which we reached but we turned back due to current, and a scorpion fish in the sand at Ras Morovi. 

We finished our weekend diving at Lima Rock North and encountered current at the east point that caused Bobbi to turn the dive there. Our videos in two dives on Lima Rock that day and the day before include nudibranchs, crayfish, eels, lion fish, and pretty swim-throughs on the north side.



Saturday, October 8, 2016

Diving and Snorkeling with Whalesharks in the Daymaniyat Islands, Oman

My logged dives #1499-1502


Last weekend we were planning to go to Oman to dive the Daymaniyat islands. We were hearing all about the whale sharks frolicking there. We had made arrangements to dive and stay there, but then Chris at Nomad told me he was short of staff for Musandam and needed someone to guide a couple of divers who had requested a private guide. It was a long weekend and some of our friends were going as well, but I decided the most correct thing to do would be to repay kindness by responding positively to the request for help, which also came with free diving and accommodation, and postpone the Daymaniyats trip for a week.
http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.com/2016/10/guiding-hannah-and-sandy-in-4-musandam_1.html

So last weekend we ended up in Musandam with decent diving, Bobbi and I limited to 18 meters depth, and every day reading Dro Madery’s descriptions of whaleshark and leopard shark ballets we were missing by not being further south in Oman. To make matters worse, the count of whalesharks sited on Friday was 8, on Saturday, only two, and on Sunday, none - so there were diminishing numbers. Also we met people living in Oman who went there on Monday, which was their National Day holiday, and saw no whalesharks. So there was no guarantee when our weekend finally came around that we would see anything of phenomenal interest, and we tried not to get our hopes up. We decided just to stick to plan and let whatever happened happen.



The weather, fine the weekend before all over Oman and UAE, seemed to be deteriorating. On Tuesday it poured down rain in Al Ain, flooding parking lots. It was still cloudy on Wednesday and on our way into Oman and down past Sohar on the way to Muscat, our windshield wipers were warding off occasional rain squalls. We almost didn't stop off at our favorite Kashmiri roadside restaurant along the way for our favoritely delicious chicken karai and dhal, since it was raining as we approached, but the rain let up just as we arrived at the spot so we stopped after all and ate outside, moving under the awning to avoid the slight sprinkle.

We were heading for Seeb,about a 4 hour drive from our house in Al Ain (plus time for border crossing). It was no longer raining  when we reached there and pulled into the Eastin Residences, which turned out to be a reasonably nice hotel for half the price of where we’d be staying the next night at Civil Aviation Club on the beach at Seeb behind the airport. The CAC had the advantage though of being where the dive center was, making driving unnecessary après-plongée with 1-riyal beers ($3) and meals al fresco at the beachfront clubhouse (no more rain that weekend :-).


Our late arrival meant we didn’t get as much sleep at the Eastin as we needed after a hard week at work, but we slept well. We had to get up at 6:30 though to leave by 7, only to discover that it was only half an hour to civil aviation beach, so we were there half an hour early for the 8 a.m. meetup with Global Scuba.

It didn’t take them long to get the handful of divers who turned up for diving onto a boat and on our way to the islands, just half an hour away. We hoped we’d see whale sharks at the surface en route, but we saw none on the way out, that first day, which wasn’t a good sign. As I said, we were bracing ourselves for disappointment. And when we pulled up at the Aquarium, a shallow reef head starting at 5 meters and going down to 30 or deeper off colorful walls, there were several other boats there already. But then our mood soared when we saw a whaleshark surface right near our boat, its fins breaking the surface near some snorkelers. We started to get excited about maybe seeing one while diving after all.

As it turned out, we saw more than one (https://youtu.be/MUFhEo9SHRU)  -


We entered the water and found it as clear as a swimming pool. We descended right on top of a turtle. Just beyond that, I found a pair of honeycomb morays,  I lifted the camera off them to see divers ahead finning fast and pointing up and out to blue water, and there was our first whale shark. We followed it for a bit and then I panned down to a pair of scorpion fish, and close by a pair of nudibranchs. From there I filmed a placid ball of yellow fish, above which a pair of whalesharks appeared. Everything was coming up pairs on this dive. I videoed the two whalesharks for nearly three minutes before turning back to the reef where Andrew from Poland was photographing a turtle, and dive guide Arif wanted to know how much air we all had.

Next up, more scorpion fish and a rarely encountered banded moray eel. Then we lingered over a wriggling ball of whiskered fish, passed through cuttlefish territory, found another turtle, another fishball, another turtle, a pair of bannerfish, and beyond the fishball another whaleshark. The whaleshark stayed with us for at least 5 minutes (got that much video at any rate).

It was getting time to end the dive, so we made our way up the reef toward the 5 meter shallows, and got close up with a flounder (a.k.a. moses sole). Nearer the top there was another honeycomb moray poking out of a cabbage coral, and more cuttlefish. On our safety stop, 3 minutes at 5 meters on the top of the reef, we found one last turtle, and nearby one last honeycomb moray in a small bommie, with batfish attracted to the same bommie because blue wrasse had set up a cleaning station there. I was about to go up the mooring line but decided to accompany the turtle instead on its way to catch a breath of air. At the surface I looked down to check on my real buddy, and found Bobbi coming to join me not far below.

This was a phenomenal dive. It lasted for an hour on our computers, and the video footage of interesting things to see went on for half that long. The fact that diving of this calibre is so close to home for us is one big reason we have remained in this region for almost 30 years now.

This dive was so great that we decided to do the next one on the Aquarium as well. This time we headed to the south parts of the Aquarium looking for leopard sharks and rays, but saw neither. It was still a good dive. We descended on batfish hanging around the anchor line, found scorpion fish and nudibranchs, lingered over a rock with both scorpions and nudibranchs, came upon a turtle placidly grazing despite photographers, found a lionfish cradled in cabbage coral, explored a fishball, encountered more honeycomb morays and scorpion fish, clouds of fish, and so on.




Saturday, October 8, back to the Aquarium for a whaleshark, then elsewhere for leopard shark

The second day, we returned again to the aquarium. On the way we came across the pod of whalesharks recorded earlier in this post.



Once on the site, descending as before on the 5 meter reef top, we soon came upon one of the turtles grazing there. Just after that we found a sand patch with a couple of large nudibranchs, plus a crocodile fish I wouldn't have spotted except that someone must have disturbed him, since it reflexively moved across the sand and stopped in view of my camera. Passing along a wall, I spotted a pair of scorpion fish that can be hard to see except that these moved further down the wall. Next we saw another big nudibranch on our way to cuttlefish territory. Here my GoPro caught a turtle ascending but changing his mind and leading us on a trip over its cabbage coral patch instead. Maybe he just wanted to show us a honeycomb moray at the edge of the cabbage patch. We soon found more cuttlefish, another moray peeping out of the cabbage, a filefish scurrying across our view, a couple of honeycombs sheltering in small bommies, some darting squids, a cowrie shell with a starfish moving slowly nearby, and a couple of batfish.

Ten minutes into this video I shot a remarkable segment of over 5 minutes of continuous filming. For the first 3 minutes, I start with another pair of cuttlefish. I pan from them to catch a free swimming honeycomb moray writhing gracefully on its search for a hiding place. My camera turns back to the cuttlefish. It seems we've stumbled on their mating grounds, as we see several presenting with their tentacles raised, turning white with excitement. I dwell on one pair who have locked tentacles and are turning into cuddlefish. Next in the same long segment, we see our dive leader Arif give the shark sign, and point just beyond a fishball, which we swim quickly past to spend a splendid two and a half minutes following a cooperative whaleshark. We end the dive with batfish at the safety stop, and a free swimming honeycomb moray sprinting across the top of the reef.

On the last dive of the trip we changed locations to the island just east of three sisters, one whose name Arif said translated to 'big fish'. It started as a fairly normal dive but soon a whaleshark appeared. We found a ray and ended the dive in a resting leopard shark with a honeycomb ray poking out of a nearby rock.


The location of this dive site was I believe the far eastern island on the map below though it could be the one just east of Three Sisters. The far east site is called Hayut, which means 'whale' in Arabic, i.e. a big fish, but this is not what Arif called the site. The map also shows the location of the Aquarium, which is a reef, not an island. I got this map here:
http://www.scubatravel.co.uk/arabian-sea/oman-diving.html






Saturday, October 1, 2016

Guiding Hannah and Sandy in 4 Musandam dives, with Nomad Ocean Adventure

My logged dives #1495-1498

Our plans changed with the wind this weekend. I had been planning to conduct a dive course for a mother / son pair but found out the weekend beforehand that their eLearning was out of date, so that got postponed. Meanwhile I had offered to help Chris out at Nomad if he needed me this weekend, but when the course got postponed, Bobbi and I started making plans to go to Oman and dive Daymaniyats. Our holiday had not yet been officially confirmed by my employers for Sunday but it seemed it would be a three-day weekend, a good time to go to Oman and deal with delays at the border coming back across, not having to work on Sunday.

By Sunday the week before I hadn't heard back from Chris so I confirmed the Daymaniyats trip, and then finally heard from Nomad staff that they were counting on me to guide some customers who had requested that service. Chris, the owner of Nomad, has been so good to us, I felt I should honor my offer to help, never mind the timing on the uptake, especially as Chris would have had only one day to find someone else and get that person a permit to cross the border, and Chris smoothed the decision with free diving, room, and board, so I postponed our Oman plans to the following weekend.

Chris was having staff changes and there were only two dive pros to manage two boats going to Musandam Friday and Saturday that weekend. The customer who had requested a private guide was doing an advanced course, but I was to look after his wife Hannah, and their friend Sandy, for the days he would be on the course, Friday and Saturday. So while the Nomad staff managed the other divers, I got to conduct some very nice dives, as you can see in the videos that follow ...


In the first video from Friday September 30, Vance and Bobbi are guiding Hannah and Sandy over colorful coral reefs teeming with jacks, fusiliers, and triggerfish, hiding morays and crayfish, home to turtles, picturesque bannerfish, and a motionless scorpionfish. A rainbow broomtail wrasse is seen with an anxious jack trying to blend in with big brother for protection.

Next day, we're on Octopus Rock in the first segments, with morays and crayfish around the rock, jacks and fusiliers on the rock itself, and a batfish obviously enjoying being administered to by wrasse. Then at Ras Sanut Bobbi finds a big crayfish with a story. It's crawling on the roof of its lair and has dislodged the top of an oyster shell. A fish is quick to exploit the exposed oyster and the crayfish is in an unfamiliar attitude, backing away with difficulty from the intruding divers. Soon after we come across a rare mottled eel. We've seen them in this area before. And on the same rock just behind we notice a cuttlefish, well camouflaged there against the brittle stars. At one point in my video, he seems to disappear. Finally I spot a feathertailed ray out on the sand. This is right off the field of raspberry coral where we've seen these rays before, so dive off that coral and there's a good chance you'll see one.


Meanwhile, Dro Madery was taunting us with posts about Daymaniyats diving





Guiding Hannah and Sandy in 4 Musandam dives, with Nomad Ocean Adventure

My logged dives #1495-1498

Our plans changed with the wind this weekend. I had been planning to conduct a dive course for a mother / son pair but found out the weekend beforehand that their eLearning was out of date, so that got postponed. Meanwhile I had offered to help Chris out at Nomad if he needed me this weekend, but when the course got postponed, Bobbi and I started making plans to go to Oman and dive Daymaniyats. Our holiday had not yet been officially confirmed by my employers for Sunday but it seemed it would be a three-day weekend, a good time to go to Oman and deal with delays at the border coming back across, not having to work on Sunday.

By Sunday the week before I hadn't heard back from Chris so I confirmed the Daymaniyats trip, and then finally heard from Nomad staff that they were counting on me to guide some customers who had requested that service. Chris, the owner of Nomad, has been so good to us, I felt I should honor my offer to help, never mind the timing on the uptake, especially as Chris would have had only one day to find someone else and get that person a permit to cross the border, and Chris smoothed the decision with free diving, room, and board, so I postponed our Oman plans to the following weekend.

Chris was having staff changes and there were only two dive pros to manage two boats going to Musandam Friday and Saturday that weekend. The customer who had requested a private guide was doing an advanced course, but I was to look after his wife Hannah, and their friend Sandy, for the days he would be on the course, Friday and Saturday. So while the Nomad staff managed the other divers, I got to conduct some very nice dives, as you can see in the videos that follow ...


In the first video from Friday September 30, Vance and Bobbi are guiding Hannah and Sandy over colorful coral reefs teeming with jacks, fusiliers, and triggerfish, hiding morays and crayfish, home to turtles, picturesque bannerfish, and a motionless scorpionfish. A rainbow broomtail wrasse is seen with an anxious jack trying to blend in with big brother for protection.

Next day, we're on Octopus Rock in the first segments, with morays and crayfish around the rock, jacks and fusiliers on the rock itself, and a batfish obviously enjoying being administered to by wrasse. Then at Ras Sanut Bobbi finds a big crayfish with a story. It's crawling on the roof of its lair and has dislodged the top of an oyster shell. A fish is quick to exploit the exposed oyster and the crayfish is in an unfamiliar attitude, backing away with difficulty from the intruding divers. Soon after we come across a rare mottled eel. We've seen them in this area before. And on the same rock just behind we notice a cuttlefish, well camouflaged there against the brittle stars. At one point in my video, he seems to disappear. Finally I spot a feathertailed ray out on the sand. This is right off the field of raspberry coral where we've seen these rays before, so dive off that coral and there's a good chance you'll see one.




Sunday, September 18, 2016

Diving off Nungwi, Zanzibar, September 2016

My logged dives 1487-1494

Friday, September 9, 2016, time for another holiday break from UAE, this time for Haj season, a good reason to have a week off. We woke up around 6, an hour lie-in for us as opposed to the normal work-week waking hours, and packed our bags. At 9 a.m. we called for a taxi and a couple of hours later, we were at Dubai terminal 2, not our favorite but improved since our flights to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Soon after that we were on a Fly Dubai plane to Dar es Salaam, an hour wait there to take on more passengers, and by early evening, we had arrived at Zanzibar Airport. Somewhat uncharacteristically for us we had booked only our first two nights on the island, in Stonetown, at the Beyt Al Salaam Hotel off Shanghani square there. The cab ride was a straightforward $15 for the 30 min. transfer, the hotel room was cramped but comfortable enough, and the restaurant, the only obvious place to eat on our quiet garden square, served lobster and prawns with avacado for a very reasonable price. We tried out the beers, Kilimanjaro and Tusker at 4.5%, Safari our flavorite at 5.5%, $3 each half liter bottle (later we'd find them in bottle shops for half that).

Stonetown turned out to be a charming corner of Zanzibar Town, the main city on the island of Unguju, in the archipelago known as Zanzibar, which includes Pemba Island to the north of Unguju. It was fun walking around there, visiting the bazaars, and seeing the sites, avoiding touts who were not that troublesome as long as they were shown some respect. There were pleasant restaurants on piers with panoramas of lateen rigged boats at anchorage and rooftop bars and restaurants to have snacks and refreshment, and we had dinner that night at a restaurant with local musicians playing. 

Meanwhile we worked out that the best place to go for diving would be from Nungwi beach at the north tip of Unguju. We got in touch with dive shops and two of the dive centers that got back to us were East Africa Divers, who had a trip going Monday to Levan Bank, a place they went only when they had enough divers who were experienced, and Divine Diving, whose manager Raphael offered me an instructor courtesy discount on diving for Bobbi and I plus free equipment for simply booking in advance. That was the no-brainer center for us to use as base to dive the same sites as everyone else, but I booked East Africa our first day there for the chance to visit Levan Bank on Monday, and we pitched up at Divine Diving on Tuesday, Wed, and Thu. 

We also booked a room at Smiles Beach Hotel, a bit expensive but many of the hotels on Expedia and Booking.com were filling due to Eid, and it the word on Trip Advisor was that it was at the "quiet end" of Nungwi. It was not a bad choice apart from the restaurant that churned out egg-based breakfast fare too greasy for our tastes. We booked it for three nights but ended up staying five. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves diving by day, eating lobster for dinner every night (about $15 grilled on the beach to half that at the 'bakery' doubling as a restaurant in the dusty town back of the dive centers  on the beach). Our meals were accompanied by decent South African and Spanish red wine purchased from the bottle shops for $10 a bottle and taken to our table which was most often on the beach. Between the diving and the dining, we hated to leave there.



 
LEVAN BANK

But this is a blog about diving, so let's talk about that. Our first experience with diving in Zanzibar was with East Africa Divers, a German run shop managed competently by Michael and Deline. They used inflatable zodiacs which were the norm for much of the diving in Mozambique and South Africa. All the dive shops there used steel cylinders which had to be taken into account for weighting. We had brought 3 mm wetsuits which we knew to take 6 kg with aluminum tanks, but with the steel I got that down to 2 kg on my belt. Deciding to decline the offer of 5 mm wetsuits and getting our weighting calibrated is a ritual when going diving in a new location, but we got through that and onto the zodiac for the 20 min ride to Levan Bank. We were briefed for a 35 meter dive but ten minutes into it we were still searching for the reef which eventually appeared as a dark cloud in water that was about 15-20 meters visibility. Bobbi and I had leveled off at 20+ meters by then and when we descended on the reef it was about to 28 meters. We had current and surge ascending gradually up the banks and there wasn't much to see there, just nudibranchs and such.

HONGA

Our second dive that day was on Honga reef just west of Nungwi. This was a macro dive where we saw flatworms, nudibranchs, and slugs, on a reef with schools of fish. Bobbi saw her first crocodile fish here. There is also a large scorpion fish in the video that is blending perfectly with a rock, and another small one that jumps away when I try to move some coral that's blocking my camera view.



We had no complaints about East Africa Diving, apart from paying $280 rack rate for the two of us for the 4 dives (two dives each). We would be diving at Divine for substantially less than that and they were going to Big Wall on Tuesday, which was off Mnemba Island around the tip to the east of Unguju. They did their diving from dhows which were more spacious than the zodiacs, but much slower and made for full days out. Since they were full days they provided fruit and donuts after the first dive and chapatis with 'saladi' and cheese for lunch on the boat ride back. Divine diving had a nice social feel to it starting with more time spent with your dive buddies on the long boat rides, to the shots they provided when the boat returned, to the parties they hosted after hours, so we sometimes went back there in the evenings. We enjoyed diving with them.




MNEMBA - BIG WALL

Our first dive with them on Mnemba was on Big Wall. We found good visibility, not a lot of excitement, but there was a distant shark nonchalant at below 30 meters and a crocodile fish on the reef; plus interesting puffs of sand clouds in surge in shallows.

On our second dive elsewhere around Mnemba, we saw a pair of leaf fish (see if you can spot them in the video), slugs, flatworms, nudibranchs, scorpion fish, a nice clam, and the usual reef fish, a pretty dive with small curiosities.




TUMBATU ISLAND

The following day Devine took us to Tumbatu Island where we did two dives, again combined into one video. This was an interesting day out as usual but for an unusual reason. Tumbatu has dive sites suitable to beginning divers and unlike the two days before, when we had been in small groups of advanced divers going to more challenging sites, our boat was crowded. Bobbi and I are elderly and when boat loads divide into groups, we often get grouped with the weaker divers. We were put with two young ladies who were beginning divers and a couple who were large but it turned out were from Texas (like us) and were alright divers. But I was sitting next to a young lady who did not know the parts of her equipment and when I asked her, nicely, if she was certified, she said she was but she had only done the 4 dives for the course. I didn't like what I saw so I asked if Bobbi and I could join the other group of seven. That would make a group of 9 and reduce the other group to 4, which might be a good thing for the dive guide, to be able to manage a small group that included two such inexperienced divers, but I was asked to sit back down.

So I sat back down next to the lady next to me, whose name was Raquel. She was from Spain and was clearly anxious about the upcoming dive, so I told her not to worry, Bobbi and I would take care of her. When we descended we found she had little control over buoyancy, and was inflating her BCD to rise and deflating to descend. When she would ascend too rapidly she would try to kick head down and I would have to go get her. At one point she disappeared. I looked up and saw her at the surface so I went to get her there, dive computer beeping away, while I watched that it didn't show oversaturation. While there I explained that she had to use her lungs for buoyancy and to descend always do it fins down, deflater overhead. She got the message, came back down properly, I set her buoyancy for her, and she was better the rest of the dive. 

She expressed great appreciation during the surface interval so I explained that for the next dive we would start with a fin pivot, establish neutral buoyancy, and then not use the inflate mechanism at all after that. We descended fine and at the bottom I monitored her while she got her buoyancy right. Then I signaled her to keep her hands off her inflator and use just her lungs from then on. She not only understood but did as instructed, and she was a great buddy for the rest of the dive. She thanked us profusely and I found it highly gratifying to be able to assist in a way that I had been trained to do.




MNEMBA again

And the last day we went back to Mnemba for two distinctly different dives. Essentially we put in on a reef and followed it along for a dive where we went deep looking for sharks (to about 25 meters, but the sharks would have been deeper than 35). We didn't see sharks but we saw an amazing octopus on this one and lots of other things. It requires its own video.




We enjoyed a surface interval on the boat and then set out without moving the boat at a right angle to the reef along the sand with coral bommies which had a completely different ecosystem starting with garden eels and scorpion fish, macro attractions, and ending in a remarkable frogfish.

See if you can spot it at the end of this video.



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