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.



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.

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.




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.




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. 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 was very appreciative afterwards 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 after that. We descended fine and at the bottom I monitored while she got her buoyancy right. Then I signaled her to keep her hands off her inflator and use her longs 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 assist.




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.



This is what you are looking for


Monday, September 5, 2016

Long weekend diving Dibba and Musandam with Kelly Harris and Karen Drest at Nomad Ocean Adventure and Dibba Fujairah

My logged dives 1482-1486

Big surprise at work Wednesday Aug 31. Two significant events, the new brigadier commander of our college undertook an inspection, and it was the last day of the month, also known as salary day in UAE. The result, everyone was granted the next day off Thursday, happy surprise long weekend, and thanks commander.

Bobbi and I were already planning to drive up to Dibba after work on Thursday and stay at Alia Suites on the coast, the better to be at the border at 8 a.m. to cross into Dibba Musandam and dive with Nomad Ocean Adventure there. But we decided to bring our departure forward a few hours and get in a late afternoon dive Thursday with Nomad Fujairah before checking in at Alia Suites.



It was a great day for a dive. The heat knife is coming off the edge of summer, weather is pleasant, water temperatures still warm, 27 degrees at the worst (centigrade) often warmer. We were the only customers that afternoon, so Kyle and Jess just arranged the boat and Bobbi and I were the only ones on Dibba Rock that afternoon. Diving was very relaxed and lasted over an hour at shallow depths.

Kelly Harris drove up from Abu Dhabi and met us at the border at 8 a.m. Friday morning and we crossed over to dive at Nomad Ocean Adventure Musandam that day. Brendan was our boat guide and he left it to me to choose the sites. There were a group of Japanese doing a deep dive specialty. They were looking for 40 meters so we did our first dive on Lima Rock. There was no current  to speak of and we had no trouble getting out to the point and crawling all over it. No current meant that no big creatures were lurking there, but it was still a nice dive, water fairly clear and nice and warm.



The sea was slightly rough with swells rolling from the east. They had forced our diving on the north side of Lima Rock, and they precluded our diving Octopus Rock, which we were thinking to do. They made the north side of Ras Morovi rough as well so we went to the south side to the cove that is protected from the direction of the waves. Here we had a lovely dive. There were crayfish at home in the ledge at 9 meters, and I found us a nice leopard ray in the saddle. From there I turned south to find the hidden reef, which we rounded and returned up the top to avoid deco. It was covered with black coral and teeming with fish. On our way to the grotto we encountered a turtle, and other game you can see in the video.



Kelly and Bobbi and I crossed the border that evening for a second night at Alia Suites, all set to dive next morning at Nomad Fujairah. Kelly had never been on the Inchcape before so we all went there. She and Bobbi and I were the only divers on the boat, apart from Kyle Schoonraad, who came along to point out the seahorse he had seen the day before. We also were first on the wreck so had it to ourselves the first few minutes, though we were joined by a dozen divers and surfaced to find boats daisy chained back from the mooring line. It was a lovely dive, good vis, not cold, with free swimming honeycomb morays nestled in with the teddy soft coral, picturesque lion fish, a pair of puffers, a scorpion fish, and of course the sea horse which we saw just after descent, pointed out by Kyle practicing trim with his perfectly balanced twin sidemounts. The video is here
https://youtu.be/P9FuxTa_Hs0


Karen Drest had found out about our trip via our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/froglegs/ and drove down from Al Ain to join us on our second dive of the day on Dibba Rock. Vis was good. We found some flounders and lots of morays. We cut up the gap to the west of the rock and worked up current across the shallows coming out right on the old mooring line and from there easily found the sand flats where there were several active rays, which we captured at the end of our video.




Please view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Diving Musandam, Certified Greg Raglow as PADI Advanced Open Water

My logged dives 1478-1481

Friday August 12, 2016

Octopus Rock

We had great visibility while conducting a PADI Advanced Open Water course with Nomad Ocean Adventure for Greg Raglow, accompanied by Greg's friend Mike Kelley and by my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens.  




Greg had earlier done his deep and night dives for his course, see
http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.ae/2016/06/devilish-diving-in-musandam-greg-raglow.html


For his peak performance buoyancy dive we returned to Octopus Rock, which can have difficult currents but on this day they were fairly mild. With Chris out of commission due to an infection on his arm, I was in charge of the advanced boat, with three groups of three divers. I checked the current with mask, fins, and snorkel and judged it doable before pitching us all in the water, with my group of Bobbi, Greg, and I last in. By then the other two groups had left the current shadow and were drifting at the surface halfway and almost beyond the rock being carried in a mild but significant surface current. Benefiting from observing their plight, my group focused on doing better and we descended on the south point where there is often relief from current. As we were organizing ourselves on the bottom, getting buoyancy just right, the other two groups managed to join us. Current at depth was much less significant than at the surface, and I was able to lead us to the north along the ridge to the west of the rock. Here we saw masses of trigger fish and green and large honeycomb morays. Coming up the far side of the ridge and popping over the saddle to line up on the sprint to the east across the sand channel to regain the rock, we saw a turtle hiding from us. I waited till the others had caught up before edging closer, at which point the turtle rose from its hiding place and became very photogenic as s/he passed us overhead.

Lima Rock



Our second dive would be an Underwater Naturalist one, and what better place to see the wonders of nature than at Lima Rock. After lunch we motored over and found the south side rough with chop, so we headed to the north side. We put in at about the middle of the rock and moseyed along till we reached the point covered in ghost fish nets. These are convenient when there is current but there was no current on this day and we pretty much had the run of the rock. Unfortunately when there is no current there are not that many fish either, relatively speaking, when we are hanging on to the nets like pennants, surrounded by barracuda, and hoping for a whale shark to come along. Still the wildlife was interesting. We had seen lion fish, rainbow wrasse, and a slipper lobster, some eels, a large puffer, and angel fish and jacks at the point. Rounding to the south side we found the current coming up that side so we turned around and headed back the way we came, all and all a safe, well executed, and pleasant dive.


Saturday August 13, 2016


Ras Morovi 




We set out on Saturday to complete the PADI Advanced Open Water course with an Underwater Navigation dive with Greg, joined this time by Bobbi as usual, and Greg's friend Mike Kelley. After Greg had succeeded in completing his square, we continued on along the reef and came upon the aftermath of dubious fishing practices where fish had been stunned with explosives or electricity or poison. I posted what we saw on Facebook:





Lu'lu Island

On this day, the dozen or so divers at Nomad had taken a single boat out for the day, and we could have taken it anywhere for the second dive. Brandon, the newest staff member at Nomad Fujairah, had been sent up to Musandam to guide boats that weekend and wanted to learn about new dive sites, so I agreed to show him Lu'lu, just south from Ras Morovi. Lu'lu can be a so-so dive when the water is green, cold and currenty, but today vis was excellent, current only mildly to the north, and the fish were colorfully abundant.




It's a site that can be dived in various ways. The boat shelters in the shallow bay just west and behind the main island and from there you can start north and follow the rock around to the east and then do one of two things. You can keep the rock on your right and follow it east and curve back south, east, and north in a crescent along the inside of a dragon's back of islands, or you can simply head east across the sand and pick up the northern-most of that dragon's back, round that underwater, and start heading back south on the outside of the crescent.


Brandon wanted to try the latter, the more challenging route, so we headed due east over sand at 14-16 meters to pick up the pleasant surprise, after 7-10 minutes, of encountering the submerged reef just as you've given up hope of doing anything more than a sand dive. That route has the added pleasure of finding clown fish stuck in pairs on lonely anemone outcrops in the sand, so bored that they rush up to see what is passing overhead and spewing bubbles, darting curiously to discern what's behind anything glass, such as a face mask or camera housing. On our trip we also came across a large cow-tail ray that decided to depart despite my hanging well back from it to let the others catch up, so not everyone in our group saw it.


We continued our dive against the current around the back of the dragon's back, coming across a turtle so still I thought it might be dead. To escape the current I crossed to the inside of the crescent and followed it up the rubble, reef to the left, until we were again heading north, and came out on the fish traps where we had started our dive. From there I led back into the bay where the boat was, where we lingered over a scorpion fish in the sand.


Another nice way to dive this site might be the way we did it, but maybe head slightly south-east to try and hit the northmost island more to the south than where we hit it heading due east. This would allow us to dive from there to the north point, and then round that island and come back up the south. If the current was strong we could cross to the inside of the crescent but at a point which I can recognize from blue water where rock had previously been, cross over to outside of the crescent, and keep reef to the right to reach shallow coral gardens, the perfect place to end the dive, or simply carry on until you turn north and arrive back in the channel where we started.


Or if the current so dictated you could also head reef on left to see what's on the outside of the dragon's back. I've seen eagle rays on that side on a couple of occasions.

Congratulations to Greg on his accomplishment, and looking forward to many more dives together in future.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Diving Lighthouse Lagoon and Ambergris Caye in Belize

My logged dives 1462-1477

Bobbi and I needed a break - from work the month of July to visit family in Katy, Texas - and from family to pop down to Belize for a week of diving on the Barrier Reef there, something you do because you can :-) 

We arrived in Belize July 15, 2016 and dived the next 6 days. Our last dive was on July 20.


Bobbi had found a dive shop there using Trip Advisor that had no derogatory reviews. It was called Belize Pro Dive Center http://www.belizeprodivecenter.com/ and the manager Emeliano promptly replied to every email we sent and answered all our questions scattered throughout each mail, and often that's the shop that gets our business, because when you're planning a trip on short notice, timely information is critical. Emeliano even replied the evening when we booked a Blue Hole trip our second day there and canceled diving with Belize Pro Dive Center that day. He said no problem, and assured us we'd get a pick up at our hotel the following morning.

Belize is known for its nurse sharks, which are everywhere on the parts of the barrier reef where we were taken. Belize is starting to be infested by lion fish, which dive centers in the Caribbean are trying to control by culling them. Consequently, divemasters sometimes carry spears and when they spear a lion fish, they feed it to the nurse sharks, which delights tourists almost as much as it does the nurse sharks. It also encourages the nurse sharks to associate people with food so they follow divers around, and come quite close to them. The dive guides model how to pet them, and many divers find them cute and irresistible. Indeed they seem to enjoy contact with humans, as you can see in the video of our dive at Esmeralda Canyons. One of the nurse sharks cuddles up with dive guide Bernie's fins, and you can see Bernie instructing me to pet only the top side, not the bottom, because they might bite if they think you are feeding them.

Here is a list of dives we did. I'll upload the videos as I get around to them

Friday July 15

Borderline, my 1462nd logged dive

So named because it was the last dive site on the border of the Hol Chan game park, this is where we got introduced to and first petted nurse sharks, diving with Giovanni, whose moniker Gio was etched in ersatz diamonds on his dive suit.

B and D, my 1463rd logged dive

We saw dolphins here, making this the most phenomenal dive of the week, and my camera was out of charge, diving with Gio. However, we managed to make contact with another diver in an adjacent group who sent us this video. You can hear the dolphins clearly and see how they were chasing the hapless sharks around. They paused to check out the divers, then went on their way. The video is courtesy of Eric Teplitz, a young veterinary student at Cornell who was diving from the same boat we were with his brother. You can see them in some of the other videos we have posted on this page.



Saturday July 16, Lighthouse Lagoon with Aqua Scuba, diving with Juan

Blue Hole, my 1464th logged dive

We didn't know how else to get there, so we booked a dive to Lighthouse Reef Atoll with Aqua Scuba Center, on the beach in San Pedro. It was about a 3 hour boat ride with Aqua Scuba to Caulker Caye to pick up more divers and then travel on twin inboard engines to the atoll.

This would be a rite of passage for many of the open water and newly advanced divers among the two dozen entering the water on each of our dives. At the end of this dive my computer showed 41.2 meters, but vis was poor and there wasn't much to see until the safety stop.  Apart from that, the hole was just that, green water down to some over-rated stalactites and stalagmites, nothing special,
On YouTube, https://youtu.be/2sPF4Qlpmgs


Bobbi and I are in our late 60s, but we dive and jog regularly and keep ourselves fit and tuned for scuba. My air consumption is not bad and Bobbi's is negligible. There were a pair of older couples on board, the ladies quite obese and clearly not fit, and I'm always concerned the dive crew will try to logically group us together. However, they weren't so organized. They made an attempt to say this divemaster would go in first with these people (point, point, point) and that one would take the ones over there (I think it was 3 groups of 7) but in the end it got kind of mixed around. There was one divemaster named Juan who said he'd take whoever would swim over to him, and there were 5 or 6 young people in his group, so we stuck by him and all descended together. For the second dive we made sure we kept that grouping, which was quite compatible for all concerned, and by the third dive, the groups were set.

There's not much concern with air in Belize. We were almost shocked our first day when our dives with Belize Pro Dive Center were called at 40 minutes, each of us with half tanks remaining. Apart from the Blue Hole, the dives were usually to about 25 meters, whatever that is in feet, around 80 I think. Even the heaviest breathers could usually make it 40 minutes with 50 bar left in the tank, so 40 min was the standard dive time there, 45 minutes once the divemasters got to know us, or even 50 with a safety stop, but never more than that. We got used to it, but we would have preferred longer dives.

We are fortunate where we dive regularly in UAE and Oman that we can dive unguided as long as we like as long as we're back on the surface in an hour or so before they think to declare an emergency and come searching for us. The problem with resort diving is that the best dive centers are extremely safety conscious, they can't possibly know their customers, and most of the divers they get need to be monitored, and expect to be. We understand how in the interest of safety for all they have to cater to unskilled divers. That's good if you dive infrequently on holiday and not confident of your skills. If that's you, you're in excellent hands with Belize Pro Dive Center.

Half Moon Wall, my 1465th logged dive


The video shows our best dive of the day at Half Moon Wall, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize. It features a reef shark and eagle ray in one memorable tableau. I got close to a lone black barracuda, and got close to a feather-tail ray in a field of garden eels. We were stalked by a friendly, or perhaps opportunistic, grouper throughout the dive. On YouTube at
https://youtu.be/iDxWibmOw78

Aquarium, my 1466th logged dive



This video shows our last dive on a long day out at the Aquarium, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize, It wasn't a particularly exciting dive, but we saw a turtle, a moray, and lots of fish at the mooring at the end of the dive (presumably, the aquarium). On YouTube, https://youtu.be/vMJz0y-t-wA

Sunday July 17, back on Ambergris Caye

Ramon's Canyon, my 1467th logged dive

led by Dimas, whom I liked to call DiMonster, lots of nurse sharks, https://youtu.be/FXbX8ugbDGw


Paradise Canyons, my 1468th logged dive

diving with Gio, link on YouTube,
https://youtu.be/jgyNobKfWmY


This dive seems to have had a preponderance of nurse sharks, yielding interesting videography, like watching carp in a Japanese garden pool. We ended with a remora joining us on our safety stop.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve, my 1469th logged dive
and Zone D shark feeding (snorkeling) with Santiago

One of the set 'tours' on Ambergris Caye is the 'combo' dive in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which is mainly a snorkel trip for non-scuba day trippers, combined with a shark feed experience. As a dive Hol Chan is restrictive and subdued compared to deeper dives on the barrier reef, but it still presents some mellow fish tableaux and the occasional turtle (here a loggerhead and a hawksbill). I tried to capture the flavor in these videos, including the snorkelers hovering overhead, on YouTube
https://youtu.be/snQ2LL036X8


Chumming produces a shark and ray feeding frenzy in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Zone D, Belize, Sunday July 17, 2016. We snorkel in amidst the scrum in the chum,
https://youtu.be/lDJoqObiDoc

Our guide Santiago explained that the shark feeding spot was a traditional one, where fishermen often went to clean their catch, attracting dense balls of thrashing nurse sharks. Now the tourist industry was emulating the process by chumming the water while tourists don snorkels and join the fray. The result is photogenic.


One of the delights of the trip was the constant banter kept up by Santiago, our dive guide. Pulling up to Hol Chan and parking near a dozen other boats, he told us this was his secret site (it was funny at the time). He told the ladies not to worry (these were MAN eating sharks). He liked to tell people to roll over backwards on the count of three, and then he'd say THREE, and topple them in the water. He had us thinking that Victoria Canyons was called Victoria's Secret until we went there a second time and learned better.

Monday July 18

Tackle Box Canyons, my 1470th logged dive




This dive began with Luiz leading into the canyons but Bobbi and I went up to the reef top to see what the nurse sharks were up to. It appeared someone was feeding them because they were running riot up there. Gio said they chum there to attract Caribbean reef sharks. We saw one of those on our dive but too distant to get on video. Apart from that, we saw more nurse sharks, and were dogged by a disoriented ramora on our ascent, diving with Luiz,
https://youtu.be/SmV8WXJ7tzw

Victoria Canyons, my 1471st logged dive


On this day we were diving with a new family, with Luiz, who took some time to help the ladies with their buoyancy. While he was distracted and I was bored, I noticed an eagle ray skimming a nearby reef top. My air went down from just below 3000 to 2000 by the time I'd recovered my breathing, but I did get the video when the ray slowed down so I could catch up, video above and on YouTube at:
https://youtu.be/OlznByMgfpY

Tuesday July 19

Tackle Box again, my 1472nd logged dive





Touching encounters with nurse sharks on our second visit to Tackle Box, Ambergris Caye, Belize, Tuesday July 19, 2016, https://youtu.be/vIZQ64VD8Mw

Tuffy Canyon, my 1473rd logged dive

Also called Toffee Canyons on this map http://ambergriscaye.com/maps/art/Ambergris_Caye_Dive_Mapsm.jpg,
We saw an eagle ray close up, with Orlando, posted here and on YouTube:
https://youtu.be/NP4tUKdXlq4


Esmeralda Canyon, my 1474th logged dive

diving with Bernie, video link
https://youtu.be/mR1oanGuvUA


Bobbi and I did this as an afternoon 3rd dive of the day and were accompanied by among others a father and his young son. You can see that it's an entertainment dive, with divemaster Bernie finding a mantis shrimp and enlarging its hole so we can see it better, and uncovering a sea biscuit for us. One interesting insight into the culture here is evident in the small nurse shark that followed us around and lay in the sand at our fins when the focus of the divers was on other things, such as the damsel fish in one segment. A highlight of this dive was an eagle ray that reared up off the reef and made a graceful exit with me chasing after it.

Wednesday July 20

Cypress Tunnel, my 1475th logged dive

The tunnel was a long swim through about 20 meters, diving with Gio. There are just a few shots here from Cypress Canyons, where a cowboy diver who can be seen in the video grabbing the nurse sharks, dove too deep, and ruined everyone's dive by letting his young son go into deco (I don't know how old the kid was, but depth limit for junior advanced divers is 21 meters, and they were down at 30, where his kid was actively chasing after the sharks as they passed by). The two of them can be seen in the videos of our dive to Esmeralda the day before.

Video segments after that are from D and B Canyons.


D and B, my 1476th logged dive

at Bobbi's request, tiny turtle, again with Gio
Both these dives are in one video, https://youtu.be/VeOvP_CS9Mk

Victoria Canyons again, my 1477th logged dive




This was our 3rd trip to Victoria Canyons - where again DiMonster led deep. Bobbi and I skimmed the reef tops, and we saw the eagle ray there up close. Then I chased a lone barracuda through an amusement park ride swim-thru, and experienced a touching nurse shark farewell (bye nurse sharks, sniff sniff - see you next time) led by Luiz, https://youtu.be/IGiqkLSpLh8

Thursday July 21

boat back to Belize City and American Airlines on up to Houston

Getting there and hanging out

Briefly, about logistics, we landed in Belize on an American Airlines flight, less that $700 round trip the two of us (but we had to fly to Dallas from Houston and on to Belize from there, a hassle, but $300 off the direct flights from Houston). In Belize Emeliano had assured us we could hop a plane to San Pedro, lots going, or if we were lucky, we might make the 5:30 pm express boat. We got our bags through customs fairly quickly and were on the curbside at the airport just after 4:30, but big surprise, no taxis.  The friendly Belize guy who organized cabs (they call everyone 'guys' in Belize) assured us one would come soon and we were next in line for a cab, after one lady waiting, so we gave him $25 and waited our turn. A big crowd rushed the first cab which came at a quarter till 5, the friendly cab 'guy' had a good heart but little control, so the next in line and Bobbi and I managed to board the 3rd cab though we'd paid collectively $50 for it. To boot, a young lady joined us without paying anyone. The driver shrugged and off we went for the harbor, arriving just in time for the boat. Normally they go to Caye Caulker and then to San Pedro but this one went directly to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and arrived around sunset. A friendly cab guy approached us there and offered to take us to our hotel south of town for $10, but that was Belize dollars, so it was $5 US, and that turns out to be the standard price so no rip offs, a pretty straightforward transfer to airport to hotel a boat ride away.

About the hotel, it was called Caribbean Villas and the office closed at 7 pm which was before we arrived, but the security guard was found. He had been informed we were coming and took us to the second room back from the beach on the ground floor. The room was nice and cool, had a safe and fridge, cable TV and wifi barely working on the lanai. We had a beer at the bar, got walking directions to a good restaurant up the beach (lobster salad, yum) and walked home only to notice that the hotel was a 4 story wooden structure and people on the upper floors clomped about at all hours. So next day we scored an upper floor room, 4A, the first room nearest the beach on the topmost floor. Now WE made all the noise clomping about to use the toilet in the middle of the night. The view was lovely, it was much quieter (for us), and the wifi worked fine in our room up there. Not only that but the staff went out of their way to replace the false king with a crack in the middle with a real king bed from elsewhere in the hotel. We had booked three nights there in advance but this won us over and we ended up staying there the whole time. The only thing I noticed was this was an obviously flammable wooden structure yet there were no fire escapes. I didn't mention this to Bobbi. Anyway, a hurricane was more likely than a fire.

The best restaurant in San Pedro to our tastes was Waraguma on Middle Street downtown. Emiliano recommended it as a great place to get lobster burrito, which was $27 belize (US $13.50) and had a whole lobster tail lying upside a burrito itself stuffed with lobster chunks. It was too filling though so the next time we went there (yep, a return trip) we had the two lobster tails grilled for $45 Belizian, which Bobbi and I shared. Ladies working there had grills going and were making papusas stuffed with chicken, pork, or almost any kind of seafood, or combinations ($10 belizian for the latter, the most expensive). We also tried Hidden Treasure, Rain over the bridge in the north caye, El Fogon and Elvi's kitchen. All were good but twice the price of the exquisite simplicity and wholesome goodness of Waraguma.

According to Trip Advisor the best place to eat on the caye is Robin's Kitchen just across the street from Rico's and our dive center. This is a good place to go if you are out biking and want to stop and eat at tables on the sand, no frills whatsoever (and byob). The lady in the shack there produced good down home Jamaica Jack Chicken which was tasty and cheap, but when I went to pay I noticed a big cockroach on the wall over the preparation area, so I'm not sure if I would rate it best on the peninsula. Worth a try, but not the best.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Devilish Diving in Musandam - Greg Raglow begins AOW course on Octopus Rock, devil rays at Ras Morovi and Lima Headland

My logged dives #1456-1461

Friday, June 17 & Sat Jun 18, 2016


The first video shows a compilation of 3 dives done on June 17, 2016 on a liveaboard dhow arranged by Emirates Dive center. Bobbi and I were diving with Greg Raglow, who was starting his PADI advanced open water course with his deep dive on Octopus Rock. That's where I took the cameo of a batfish being cleaned and where we found our first school of jacks, which I placed at the end of the video, which actually ends with my shots of surfacing from our 2nd dive on Ras Morovi.

That next dive was on the channel side of the island just east of Ras Morovi. Here we saw the free-swimming moray, the big marble ray, and the devil rays covorting in the channel. I video'd the fish life on the south point as we were ascending and used it at the end of the video here, where it appears we were ending one long dive.

Our third dive was on Lima headland. I had requested Lima Rock but didn't mind once I was in the water since the headland was hopping. I put the videos for this dive at the start of the compilation because they show us descending in swim-throughs, followed just 10 minutes into the dive by at least 20 devil rays swooping onto the reef from deeper water. I chased them, caught up with them at 20 meters, and got them to pose for me for a few seconds until they worked out the guy in the back with the camera wasn't one of them :-) We saw the slipper lobster (cigale, or scyllarides latus) near the point at Lima headland.


The fourth dive of the day was a night dive. On the dive, I noticed that a lion fish was using my spot light to help him find his prey so I helped him find another morsel. The first was by chance, the second was on me :-)

Then next morning we made an early morning dive on the north side of Lima Rock. Bobbi and I were first in the water on the first speedboat to reach Lima Rock on Saturday, June 18, 2016, and we found the rays undisturbed and squids playing in the water.


The video below shows our 6th and last dive on Saturday, June 18, 2016. We put in around the Fishhead Rock caves area , and found the rays undisturbed even there (and left them that way). We also came on a small turtle.



In all these dives, I'm diving with favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens, on a trip arranged by former students Joe Broeker, Keith Kennetz, and Jon Nichols, pictured at the end of the Lima Rock dive, and on the boat at the end of the caves one.



Monday, June 13, 2016

PADI Open Water Dive Course for Delphino and Christina on Artificial Reef, Sharm, and Dibba Rock

My logged dives #1452-1455

Friday, June 10 and Sat Jun 11, 2016

Certified divers #234-235

One of my colleagues at work, Delphino Ulysses Williams, asked if I could train him and his friend Christina Schweitzer in Open Water diving this hot Ramadhan weekend, and of course I agreed. How can I resist another opportunity to train new divers?

We had many complications arranging the weekend involving others with different agendas and Nomad Ocean Adventure's new Ramadhan schedule of sending out early morning and night boats only, which makes it almost impossible to bring divers up in time Thursday to get them through 3 pool modules and ready for an early morning dive. However they promised a 9:30 a.m. boat on Saturday (and the others with different agendas postponed to the following weekend) so it would be just the 4 of us, Delphino, Christina, and Bobbi and I. The student divers had booked their eLearning through Nomad, so we decided to start at Nomad Fujairah on Friday and arranged to cross the border and finish the course in Musandam the following day.



All went well the first day. It's hard to pace these courses. You never know how the students will respond to familiarization process in training. But Delphino and Christina had no problems snorkeling and they adapted well to SCUBA, and we had confined modules 1 and 2 out of the way well before the 2 pm dive to Artificial Reef. Module 3 still remained to be done and the rental boat (the Nomad boat was under engine repair) had to be returned before we would be ready, so we rounded out the somewhat exhausting day with a shore dive off Royal Beach, focusing on compass work in addition to the usual skills for that dive.

We crossed the border into Oman after dusk and ended up at Nomad Ocean Adventure there in time for dinner. The students requested an early start next morning in lieu of more pool work that night, so we met at 6 a.m. for briefing. We were at the pool at 6:30 but had to get gear together, so it was another hour before we hit the pool. Minor glitches prolonged things, and the time of the ocean dive was brought forward to 9:00 because there was not an early boat that day, and all divers were anxious to get away before we would be ready. We were done module 4 at 8:30 but were in the position of having to finish module 5 at the beach at Ras Morovi and then somehow getting in two more dives plus flexible skills including CESA, or, Bobbi's brilliant idea, return to Fujairah and finish off at Nomad there. The students elected to take things easy and not be rushed by more advanced divers. 

We stayed behind to finish the module 5 pool work in NoA's pool, the marvelous cook at Nomad insisted on making lunch for us (ours had gone on the boat he said) and it was only this that delayed Bobbi and my arrival at Nomad FUJ to 11 a.m. where we saw the boat just then leaving. But the kind people there, Kyle and Jess, assured us there would be another at noon, so we got on that one to Dibba Rock, where I managed to find us a sting ray, and Bobbi and I saw several sharks in the shallows, but in mediocre vis, not long enough in any one sighting to GoPro them.



Our last dive was to Sharm, what we most recently used to call Three Rocks, and before that (last century) Pinnacles. It was the location where I had certified Mohammed Chowdhury as a PADI Scuba Diver just a few weeks back (so you can see the video we made there for comparison). This day was a little more murky than that dive, but still Sharm has its charm.  The video of Delphino and Christina's dive for certification there, and the subsequent selfie, round out the story.



Friday, June 3, 2016

Far north with Nomad Ocean Adventure - Diving currents in Strait of Hormuz

My logged dives #1449-1451

Friday, June 3, 2016

For some reason, a lot of people have wanted to learn how to dive lately and Bobbi and I have been having a great time showing them how or upgrading their credentials from Open Water to Advanced. It seems like every weekend in May we had another group wanting to take dive courses, and it was great fun, but Bobbi and I needed a break. We were planning one the weekend of June 3-4 when we caught wind of a far north trip to Fanaku, and possibly Kachelu, the current-ridden gem rising above the waters at the edge of the Straits of Hormuz. The trip was with Nomad Ocean Adventure, and Chris Chellapermal himself would lead the dives. Brian was the only one other booked on the trip when we added our names, so we put a note out on our Froglegs Facebook group. Jean Michel "Dro" Madery answered the call and booked, plus his friend Jean Marc. Cecil drew the lucky card from the Nomad staff to join the boatload, and by 8:15 we were headed out the harbor and on our way on the scenic trip past the entire mountainous coastline of Musandam all the way through the archipelago of islands off Kassab, all the way to the Strait of Hormuz to the island of Fanaku, beyond which there were no other islands to be seen further north.



Click here for more on the incident referred to by Kevin

Our first dive was on Fanaku, north to south on the west face. We'd been there before. It drops over a coral lip to a deep wall, down to sand where Chris likes to lead. Bobbi and I hung at an intermediate depth because we saw a leopard shark once in the more shallow coral beds there.




From there we moved to Kachelu to check it out, but the current seemed like madness both ends of the island, so we had lunch in Sphinx bay on Musandam Island, named after a rock Chris orients on, and dived from there into what turned out to be an air crunching current dive - for me, at any rate. I signaled Chris I was at 50 when I was actually at more like 30 (ok, 500 psi). Bobbi still had 100 (bar).


video


Time to head home with a stop at Temple  Rock, in the vicinity of Mother of Mouse to east, which for me  was the best dive of the day. We started with a ray right after descent and ended with a moray that entertained everyone with rippling gyrations. The videos tell the story.



Here's Dro Madery's take on my filming the honeycomb moray in the video above