Sunday, May 31, 2009

Freestyle Diving in Dibba May 29-30, 2009

3 divers certified this weekend: Congratulations to Jay and Sophiane and Laura, all Advanced PADI o/w divers.

Diving May 29, 2009

Dibba Rock, Freestyle

I had a few folks this weekend who wanted to spend it doing their advanced PADI dive courses. One couple were Laura and Sophiane, a couple I’d met through some hash runners I’d trained, and Jay wanted to continue his training from his open water course he’d completed two weeks before. Jay was pretty pleased at the personal attention since we were mostly one on one. Also another student of mine Rebecca had not dived in some time and wanted to dive with us as a refresher. So Bobbi and I had 4 trainees to look after, plus Nicky rode down with us to Dibba and Freestyle divers, which we reached shortly after 11 on Friday May 29.

I had dived with Laura once before and recalled that she was rusty but proficient. That had been when training Graeme and Rachael, they were all friends, but it had been some time previously. I had given them the scuba tuneup to do in the car on the way down, where they also filled out the other required forms. Our first dive would be a PADI advanced o/w “boat” dive, an easy way to start an advanced course, getting familiar with all the divers and getting them familiar with the water again.

Vance’s logged dive #879 May 29, 2009

The old moorings had disappeared in the storms and red tides and I was never sure with the new ones in what part of the reef I would end up in. Devan the new dive guide, personable young newcomer on the Freestyle staff, decided not to moor but at my request ran an anchor over the side. Though the anchor ended in mid water it would at least serve as a reference line for my divers, and in case of ear problems, something to hold on to. No one needed it, a good sign. It turned out we were pretty much right on the reef we wanted to be on, so after a little fiddling with buoyancy in rocky sand just off the reef, people got comfortable and we headed in over the raspberry patch. It wasn’t long before I saw a black tip reef shark. Vis wasn’t good but this one passed right in front of me and was in no great hurry so I was able to follow him where I could barely see him ahead for another 20 seconds or so, though I knew that people behind me wouldn’t have seen it - but Bobbi, not that far behind did, and like me, she knew what she was looking for.

We didn’t see any more sharks that day though there were a lot of cuttlefish on the reef and barracuda overhead. Following along the coral patch very relaxedly we started encountering turtles. Eventually we ended in a large swath of sea grass and here we found a dozen or more turtles grazing. We floated among them disturbing their lunch I’m afraid, but nice for the newbie divers to see. Everyone’s air was holding well as we turned to return to the reef. I think we surfaced after maybe 55 minutes, having reached just 6 or 7 meters.

Vance’s logged dive #880 May 29, 2009

The next dive would be a navigation exercise, ideally done in the shallows. But Terry took us to the mooring at the east of the island where we’d have to go west some distance to hit the raspberry coral. In his boat briefing he mentioned that there had been rays seen last dive on the back side of dibba rock, and I thought the sandy area there would make a nice ray spotting exercise while the students swam through their compass work. The trouble was it was a bit deep, the sand being from 12 to 16 meters. My divers all wanted to go there though, so I decided to have them conduct the exercises as a team. Once we reached the sand, we came upon a mooring line with a new white rope attached and this would make a great base. It was also a stroke of luck because Rebecca was having mask problems and Bobbi was near having to abort her own dive by taking Rebecca to the surface, but with the line there and the certainty that we’d be operating in its vicinity, Bobbi understood that she could take Rebecca up the line and leave her at the top and rejoin us if need be. In the event we carried on with our work, and Bobbi and Rebecca reappeared ten minutes later, Bobbi having successfully helped Rebecca resolve a minor mask strap problem that has been flooding Rebecca’s mask.

By then we had traveled out and back to measure fin kicks, and out and back again on a compass heading, and we were about to start our square. We were seeing no rays on these legs and nothing much more that drab sand in cloudy vis, but the work of navigation is its own reward. Poor vis gives the impression of flying on instruments. We traveled in parallel, each counting a certain number of kicks one direction, then turning 90 degrees and going the same number of kicks on the new heading, getting down to 16-17 meters depth. After the third turn like that we arrived spot on at the mooring line, a feeling of accomplishment shared by all.

Sophiane showed me 70 bar now and I decided to take us back up the way we had come rather than proceed around the island as I sometimes do. This took us into an area of boulders with pretty fish on the east side of the island. I rarely see much here apart from picturesque coral tableaux, though Bobbi and I saw a pair of sharks here once during more exciting times at Dibba, chasing each other around a coral encrusted rock. I led us in the direction I thought the reef should be, but it was taking some time, and on the way we had to send up Jay and Sophiane to the surface, low on air at 45 minutes, a respectable time considering the earlier depth. Bobbi and Rebecca and Laura and I continued for another 15 min. over the raspberry coral which we had by then found. I think we found at least one more turtle there, and some cuttlefish, some morays concealed in the crags, and after surfacing after an hour of diving, we went back down to see a female cuttlefish displaying her tentacles between a pair of smaller mails who were moving in and occasionally snapping at her. As this is a family diveBlog I shall describe no further.

Vance’s logged dive #881 May 29, 2009

Our last dive on May 29 was a night dive, conducted on the inside of Dibba Rock. We were dropped at the usual mooring but as often happens at night, without my usual visual references it is easy to go off the reef, and I spent the dive moving on headings I thought would put us back on it. We found lots of morays and dozens of small red chunky crabs. There was a lobster half out of his hole, and a few turtles hiding in theirs. At junctures we conducted compass headings out and back from predetermined locations, and toward the end of the dive I had everyone switch off their torches and stir up phosphorescence. I had declared a 40 min dive but we surfaced after 53 including the safety stop. In fact much of the dive was a safety stop, as we were often in just 3 meters of water. I think we got down to 5 or 6 at the most.

Terry came back late that evening from a Musandam trip and was in no mood to repeat the same on Saturday. The bad news was that there had been oil that day at the Inchcape and it was looking like we might have no options for a deep dive to complete our dive courses if Inchcape and Musandam were both off the table. We visited the hole in the wall off license and retired to our quarters to think about it, passing first by the Lebanese restaurant to order food. Nicky had brought wine and it was after midnight by the time we were able to get through the two bottles. Jay stayed for a last beer and sleep came easily, though birds making a raucus outside our window at 5 a.m. were most unwelcome.

May 30, 2009

Vance’s logged dive #882

We made it to the dive center to find that the Inchcape trip was on, so while Terry took the boat to be filled I briefed my students on cognitive exercises they could do at depth. I usuallyhave them work out a minimum surface interval problem, but Jay couldn’t see the tables that well, so I had him tie a bowline and convert centigrade to Fahrenheit by doubling it, subtracting 10%, and adding 32. Both sets of tasks took my students 45 seconds at the surface.

The inchcape dive is a set piece affair. It’s just over 30 meters, and my students were careful to avoid going all the way to the sand, so as to dive it for 20 min on tables. It’s reached by going down a mooring line, all the way from surface to depth. The first time someone makes this deep journey, it can leave an impression of leaving comfort and certainty for a world intuitively life threatening, where every meter deeper puts that much more water between the diver and safety. From an instructor’s point of view, it’s a set piece. It’s deep but there’s not much that can go wrong. It’s 30 meters, 20 minutes, in ok vis easy to keep people together. Easy to brief. Dives there rarely depart from plan.

What makes the wreck interesting is how things do depart from plan. First off, Bobbi’s dive computer had packed in the day before and I had forgot mine. I didn’t mention it to anyone, except to Bobbi in the car on the way home. Anyone else who finds out will read it here. It didn’t concern me. I dived 30 years without one. I had a watch and a depth gauge, it was a straightforward dive, just go down, spend 20 min, come back up, and stay below the slowest bubbles. I knew the pace quite well. In the event, Laura and Sophiane both had computers and they kept me well informed when it was time to go up.

Descent went well. Sophiane had a regulator problem on the way down but Laura assisted competently and they resolved it. Someone’s tank came loose and had to be clamped in, minor problem. On the minimum surface interval problem I wrote 26 meters at 18 min for the first dive and one of them changed that to 25, so they both calculated correctly a first dive at 25 meters. But I had meant for them to use 26, which meant they’d have to consider it a 30 meter dive. Having selected the option of changing the problem rather than considering the more difficult but correct answer might have been indicative of a narcotic effect of increased nitrogen consumption. I know I’m forever noticing small impairments in myself at depth, and the purpose of the exercise is to create a situation where these are more noticeable.

The dive was nice. A new honeycomb moray Fred Jr. now inhabits the spot where Fred and Frieda succumbed to the red tide. Fred Jr. is not as used to stroking as Fred was. Still, glad the Honeycomb family carries on and condolences to Fred Jr’s parents.

As one of the practice problems in recalling how to do a minimum surface interval I had had the students work out the minimum surface interval for a 30 meter dive at 20 minutes followed by a 16 meter dive at 50 min, and this was about what we eventually decided to do. We had descended on the Inchcape at about 10:46 and were ascending less than 20 min later (Bobbi made it 17 min), so our surface interval started at around 11:05. I don’t remember when we started our last dive exactly but it was after 1:30 before the divers were on the boat and probably 2:00 by the time we were all in the water, so our SI was a good three hours.

Vance’s logged dive #883 May 30, 2009

The last dive would be for Peak Performance Buoyancy, so we did buoyancy checks in stiff current at the surface, not easy, but all divers managed themselves well, and descended into 7 meters of water for fin pivots. Once all had achieved a modicum of neutral buoyancy and could maintain it, we swam toward the back side of the island. We headed out into the sand on an easterly heading looking for rays but saw none and returned to the reef in a westerly direction looking for jawfish, but again saw none, but got down again to 16-17 meters.

The current was pumping and we were being carried along with it. My main concern was navigation, but others in our group were pointing out the cuttlefish and morays. I was leading more westerly than I thought I should and trying to find that gap to the south, not the one that would take me to the wrong side of the island as I did last time I was here. We twice encountered divers coming the other way and I figured they would have been dropped to the west of the island so if I went where they had come from I would find the gap to the west and south I was looking for.

We finned mainly against the current now and Sophiane went low on air at 43 minutes so I conducted him to the surface near where Divers Down had moored their big boat. I spotted ours and called it over and made sure they saw Sophiane before descending to rejoin the others who had understood to wait for me. We were now in the ‘aquarium’ on the west side of the island just in the shallows atop the wall, a place rich in fish life, not a bad place to hang out. I knew that the raspberry coral was just a bit to the south and I managed to lead us there. We looked about for sharks but saw none and about 48 minutes into the dive Laura signaled that she was tired, and Jay, getting low on air himself, offered to buddy her to the surface, so it was just Bobbi and I. We crisscrossed the coral looking for our favorite animals but found nothing worth writing home about except that we ended in the patch of sea grass where the turtles were and again disturbed quite a lot of them as we ascended having exceeded one hour of dive time. Still we had a ten minute wait at the surface while Terry collected other divers and we were looking for the last pair when Terry noticed a dark patch in the water. It looked huge as he pulled alongside and uttered the words to all prepared, “get in there”. Nicky and Christian and I all still had our gear on and all went in the water but all three found ourselves without fins, good for a laugh. Bobbi took her time and managed to get down with her fins and find that it was a fish ball of sardines. I was passed by a huge black tip in search of food but surfaced without seeing more. Bobbi described being in the midst of the ball and observing what she called a feeding frenzy. Good on her!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nomad Diving in Musandam, May 16, 2009

Chris was quite cooperative in trying to get us under way Saturday morning so we could do our diving and be on our way at a reasonable hour back to Abu Dhabi that evening. Due to our numbers he arranged a boat only for us: Bobbi and I, Godelieve and her two daughters Ianthe and Rossane, Khalil and Oz, and Philip deJong and he and Godelieve's other two sons joining us for snorkeling. Still, our fault entirely, it was 10:30 before we left the harbor and long after noon before we rolled overboard for our first dive in Musandam, at Ras Morovi.

Vance's logged Dive #877

There was red tide in the water but I had snorkeled to check it out and found clear water just a few meters beneath. Chris had drawn me a diagram of the area and from that I could clearly see where to begin the dive and where to end it. The boatman Mohamed was friendly and I was able to get my instructions across in Arabic, but he actually didn't know the area that well from a diver's perspective, putting us at the disadvantage of not knowing it intimately ourselves and thus being constained to the obvious places where Mohamed, a non-diver, had seen others dive.

Still the first dive on Ras Morovi was really nice. I don't recall specifically all details except it was very relaxing, zero gravity with neutral buoyancy, quite beautiful with soft red corals, schools of the typical fish, some eels, big lion fish, perfect temperatures, didn't want to leave it. But we had to after 50 minutes or so, when first diver went low on air.

We motored across the khor to Ras Lima, and stopped in the boat to have lunch, leftoevers from the previous night's meal wrapped in arabic bread (unleavened, similar to pita). We were drifting now out to sea and Mhmd kept powering up the boat and steering inland, so obviously there was a current here, or wind pushing the boat.

Vance's logged Dive #878

I went in to check conditions. There was more red tide than before but clear water a duck dive down. I didn't notice a much of a current, but when divers complained of feeling sick and wanted to enter ahead of others, I made sure they had a landmark and would stay there so they wouldn't drift all over the place. Eventually we all joined up, near the pre-determined landmark. I went diving in this spot to discover that the red tide went to 4 meters and we couldn't see our fins in it at the surface. With one of the girls experiencing ear problems staying together in limited vis was going to be a challenge. As we descended I tried staying with the slow diver and keeping track of the rest descending out of site below. Amazingly a line appeared out of nowwhere, connected to a long-lost fishing net. I put my diver on the line and went down to get the others to stay on that line. In this way we managed to keep together and all join up at the bottom, 10 or 12 meters.

Again there was not much to see on this dive. The cold thermocline had the clear water so we stayed in the chill and came up where the temperatures warmed only as far as the vis allowed. Bobbi remembers three lion fish from this dive. I remember getting through it and bringing the last of my students up on CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent), and certifying both.

Congratulations to Ianthe and Rosanne on their accomplishments at such a young age!

Freestyle Diving in Dibba May 15, 2009

This was the weekend I had long set aside as an opportunity to complete the training of two young Dutch girls, Ianthe and Rosanna. Bobbi and I met them at Freestyle Divers in Dibba for a planned day of easy diving along with their mother Godelieve. Also on our dive team were Oguz, a long-time 'listener' on our Froglegs Scuba Club list who lives in Turkey but travels to UAE occasionally and finally managed to get in on one of our dive trips, and Khalil, an advanced-certified PADI diver who had not dived for ten years and wanted to ease into a refresher with an instructor he'd located on the Internet (moi!).

We planned the first day at Freestyle because we could sleep till 6 and leave Abu Dhabi at 7 and arrive at Freestyle at 11 with plenty of time to get everyone ready for a dive at noon. We would do two dives there, get the girls certified, and then move that evening to Oman Dibba to Nomad where Christophe's family would have rooms ready for us and a delicious meal redolent in Mauritius flavors and hospitality, accompanied by our favorite beverages, and generally provide the welcome ambiance that is unique to their guest house. Next morning we would be up as early as possible and spend that day in Musandam on a speedboat that Chris would arrange for us. The weather was great for this, warm enough on the boats that we didn't think about chill but not so hot as to be uncomfortable, and sea conditions also were conducive to diving and distance travel with temperatures ranging from 29 near the surface to a chilling 26 in the thermoclines.

Terry had more divers than he could take in his one boat operating so he decided to take one wave out at noon(ish) and another later on. He offered my group and I the early departure but since I didn't want to rush the novices I opted for the late shift. This gave us time to kit up at leisure and walk all our divers out to the salt water for weight check, and as we had time to kill we decided to go for a little depth and do the 3rd dive underwater skills, ascend, and then get rid of a lot of the surface work while waiting for Terry to return with the boat, and when he docked it, Ianthe and Rosanne and I simply snorkeled over to it to climb aboard and be taken on a continuation of our dive. The others waded their equipment out in the shallow water while we waited.

Vance's logged Dive #875

It was a good thing we had done our skill set early. We had picked Dibba for the easiest diving but that turned out to be not necessarily the case. The only mooring still at Dibba is the one just inside the eastern shoulder of the rock, and there was a current ripping through there that carried the first divers in quickly astern. Terry had fortunately put a line out with a life-ring attached to it so no one got swept away. He was also able to haul divers via this line upcurrent to the mooring line which divers managed to ease down as they managed to reach it one by one, each diver hanging off the line like a pennant in a wind. The depth there was only 5 meters there so there was little relief from the surface current at the bottom.

So conditions were not ideal to start our dive, but all did quite well in the circumstances. The group stayed together and we managed to reverse into the current so we could fin against it get some control over lateral movement. The current was due west, exactly the direction I wanted to go, what a happy coincidence! I just had to keep easing us a little south of west so as to not get swept past the reef, but I listened for the loud clacking, so I knew when to turn south over the coral patch.

Vis was hazy, but the patch looked exciting and I kept envisaging sharks and turtles there, but we saw none at all. These poor girls are so unlucky in their experiences with me. Still I think everyone enjoyed the dive. Vis was better than at any other time in the course, there were plenty of fish about, especially barracuda, and at one point we found a friendly remora looking, as were we, for sharks (not finding any either :-( ... I take that back, I thought I might have seen a shark but wasn't sure (so it doesn't count) and Oz said he saw one at about that time, so were not entirely without shark sightings at Dibba Rock, which before the many months of red tide I would have thought quite unusual.

At the point where the reef turns north Godelieve and her daughters were carried a little to the west and off the interesting parts, so at that point we had to hold hands so the stronger swimmers could help the weaker ones back on to the reef. But as we traveled north into the lee of the island the current diminished and by the time we reached the aquarium we were swimming comfortably. We ended our dive in that area, lots of colorful fishes around, with about 58 minutes of diving in 6 to 7 meters of water.

Vance's logged Dive #876

Terry got us back to shore at about the time his 3 pm dive would normally leave but he took another wave out at 4. This time we asked to be put in at the aquarium rather than have to fight the current and Andrew (relieving Terry on the boat handling) complied. But there wasn't a mooring there and by the time we all got in the water we found we'd drifted well to the west of the aquarium. And the reef in general. I suggested we snorkel to the rock but the littlest girls who are hardest to fit in fins and bcds and were struggling upcurrent at the surface with oversized equipment, so we decided to descend and travel in 8 meters at the bottom. We reached the aquarium about ten minutes into our dive.

Here I had the girls remove and replace their masks and then hover and check out the fish life, schooling snappers mainly, triveli or jacks, fusiliers, bannerfish, angel fish, bream, and even a couple of bat fish, and both did marvelously on these exercises. My idea was to head south and then east over the raspberry coral but before we could even reach the coral patch we encountered current and I decided not to go there. So we returned to the aquarium and were languishing there when I decided to take us toward the back side of the island. I kept our depth to 6 or 7 meters to avoid the chilling thermocline and to sustain everyone's air. The kids found morays on the back side, and Rosanne was especially excited over a small honeycomb moray which she spotted before anyone else (yes, that was a SMALL one). We finally surfaced after about 55 minutes, getting down to maybe 8 meters on that dive.

We hadn't actually completed the course that day. Due to currents and missing moorings we were not able to get in the controlled emergency swimming ascents, no fixed lines for me to conduct the exercise within standards, but we would be together next day, and it's nice to overlap a couple of dives in order to complete a course at a pleasant pace for all concerned :-)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Diving May 8 and 9th 2009 - Return to Dibba Rock after Red Tide, with Freestyle Divers

Diving May 8, 2009
Dibba Rock, Freestyle

Bobbi and Glenn and I drove over to Dibba for the day but ended up spending two. Jay Fortin followed us in his car. Jay was about to do his first open water dives after two weeks of steady progress with DVD, knowledge reviews, two academic sessions at my house, and two pool sessions at Al Jazira Pool in Abu Dhabi. He had been having slight ear problems in a three meter pool and wasn't sure what to expect in the ocean. We offered Dibba Rock the first day and a trip to Musandam the second with Discover Nomad. Jay didn't want to commit to a second day diving. He wanted to see how it went the first, so we planned actually to just drive over for the day and return that night.

In brief, things went rather well. We left at 7 a.m. Friday and arrived before 11:00, plenty of time to kit up leisurely for a noon dive that actually didn't depart until 12:30. It was a lovely day, not too hot, sea conditions calm, and viz was back to normal on the Rock though we were told there had been red tide algae the past couple of days.

Vance's logged Dive #871

In such ideal conditions it felt great to be back on the water. Terry moored a bit east of the reef, the most convenient mooring just off the raspberry to the west having disappeared. This new spot leaves an option of dropping over the wall to the back side of the island, or swimming west over to the coral. When currents are present, this westerly swim is not ideal for beginning divers, and can consume 50 bar upcurrent.

Jay's first dive was a no-skills fun dive. Still it's awkward at first for beginning divers. After a short course in entering the water with a backward roll, we weight-checked and then descended holding on to the stable mooring line. Jay worked his way down the line into 4 meters of coral and sand at the bottom and once he was there and neutrally buoyant I headed out west by northwest past a few coral boulders to try and find my favorite reef from this new mooring position.

Finning over the sand and spots of coral we saw a few fish but not yet the schools that used to be here. The reef clacked audibly as we approached it. Skimming over its edge it sloped downward to 6 or 7 meters in a carpet of what we used to call raspberry coral, now brown, but still teeming with invertebrate organisms and tropical fish. We meandered over its surface looking for larger game and it wasn't long before I saw a first shark moving past in the gloom. Later in the dive I saw a second and followed him more closely, though only for a few seconds. Typically for beginners, not knowing what to look for, slightly too far behind to see what the dive leader sees, Jay didn't see any sharks, but Bobbi and Glenn saw the last one. These sharks are on the move, not resting, you have to be looking for them, and know what you’re looking for.

We also saw a number of cuttlefish and lots of barracudas. The reef was rebounding with many more fishes and in sum it was a satisfying dive. There were some patches of red tide around, clouds of red looking like a tornado storm caught in an event horizon. These were isolated and we just swam around them.

Vance's logged Dive #872

We returned to shore feeling pretty good about the dive. Jay did well and it was obviously going to get easier for him as we went. During the surface interval we did the module 4 confined water duck diving exercise in the clear water near the boat harbor moorings, followed by the no-mask swim and hovering for module 4. Then on the second boat dive Jay had some exercises to get though at the bottom of the mooring line we had gone down earlier, on the first dive. After that we finned over to the reef, keeping more westerly this time, and arriving on the reef earlier than in the previous dive. This dive was similar to the first except we saw no sharks, but we saw a dozen turtles.

Back at Freestyle with sun setting over the mountains we decided to finish off the last of the confined water dives, module 5 in the shallow water off the Royal Beach shore line. This was the weight and BCD removal at the surface and again under water. It was late in the day and not all went smoothly, in part because my near-empty tank was floating light and I had trouble reaching it as it was behind me and perpendicular to my body, so my demos were flawed, but illustrative of weight difference in a full and near-empty tank. But we got through it somehow, and with completion of academic and confined water components of the course, Jay was thinking it would be nice if he could just stay overnight in Dibba and complete the course next day. The problem was we hadn't properly planned to do that.

We had been in touch with Discover Nomad about going on their boat to Musandam next day, on the package that includes dinner and breakfast and accommodation at the hostel, but we had never locked it in. I had called in the morning on my way to Dibba and found that the speedboat to Musandam was full for Saturday, though not all the 30 beds at the hostel were taken, so there was space there. I knew from Freestyle that they had space for us diving next day on Dibba Rock (if we got stuck, they said), so we were thinking to go to Nomad just to spend the night but it turned out that because Jay's car wasn't insured for Oman, he had not brought his passport, and it was unlikely that he'd be let across the border to sleep in the hostel.

In the end we decided if Seaview had any rooms we would take one and spend the night in Dibba proper in order to finish Jay's last two dives the next day. This was not optimally convenient for any of the Stevens brood since Glenn had told his wife he was coming back Friday, and since I was due to attend the conference in Second Life on Saturday (I had already informed the organizers I would miss Friday but had said I would be there Saturday). I thought it was a safe bet I'd be home Friday night since accommodation on the East Coast on weekends, especially in these Indian summer days of May, was normally in short supply. However, Seaside had not just one room but at least two available, so they gave us a choice of prices and amenities. Clearly it was a case of First Life interfering with Second LIfe, but sometimes that happens. The choice between the two was a hard call, but we opted to continue our relaxing weekend for a second day and set the virtual world aside for a while. Jay made the choice easier by agreeing to pay for half the room and treat us to dinner at the Lebanese Restaurant in town. Plus he contributed generously to the supply of beer we would put in the fridge at the Seaside, from the hole in the wall off-license a short walk from Freestyle Divers (one of the charms of that dive center).

Another consideration was that Freestyle had recently had a bureacratic conundrum when their boats were deemed improperly licensed by the UAE authorities and ordered to stay in harbor. They'd sorted out the boat licenses by then but only Terry, the Freestyle owner, was properly licensed to drive the boats. Hence only one boat could travel at a time, and the 9 a.m. Saturday dive was going to the Inchcape at 30 meters. Therefore the only way we could accommodate Jay on his 3rd o/w dive at 9 a.m. was to shoredive Dibba Rock. Fortunately, Jay runs every day and is fit, so it seemed doable. Glenn decided to join us as well. Bobbi opted to sit it out and use the wireless at Freestyle, then join us for our noon dive.

Diving May 9, 2009
Dibba Rock, Freestyle

Vance's logged Dive #873

We calculated that we needed to reach Freestyle at 8 a.m. in order to get our gear together and be finning for the rock at 9 and dive it from 10 to 11, in order to get back to Freestyle for the noon (ish) dive, Jay's last of the course. Since the swim to Dibba Rock is actually about half an hour this schedule had some flexibility, but since Jay was doing only his third dive in his life, I thought flexibility would be appropriate. Plus if there are currents there can be complications on the swim out, including exhaustion, separation and someone having to abort. As it turned out, the sea was like a lake that day. We were in the water heading north by nine, and though we had a few hiccups on the trip out, sea conditions were forgiving, and we still reached the coral patch by about 9:30.

Finning on snorkel with head down is not without its rewards. I caught a glimpse of a lovely eagle ray, 2.5 meters across, being trailed by a remorah. Since I was snorkeling he didn't bolt but swooped in a couple of loops, coming right beneath me a couple of times. Glenn and Jay were just far enough behind me to miss the show, or even when right next to me had heads down and couldn't see me motioning. Then when we reached the reef, Glenn saw a shark that none of us saw, in my case because I was following a turtle. Spotting animals like this is usually how I know we have reached the reef.

So we descended there. Jay had just a couple of exercises to get out of the way. He orally inflated his BCD and then cleared a flooded mask, all in short order. From then on we had only to enjoy the reef.

We saw no more sharks, though a dive on that section of reef is always full of anticipation of them. We passed over a number of turtles and swam close to iridescent cuttlefish. There were hulking barracudas, and at one point a big Spanish mackerel swam by. Mainly it was just a relaxing dive, finning slowly among the schooling fishes, and coming out on the end of the reef at the aquarium to the northwest of the island, where the jacks and most colorful fishies flit among the large coral boulders of orange and red hue. Here we reversed direction and headed south until both my buddies showed me 50 bar at about the same time, and we began swimming high off the reef, finally surfacing after 54 minutes.

I saw a sting ray on the way back, but apart from that things were uneventful around Freestyle Divers for the next hour or so while Terry got the boat ready for the noon(ish) dive. I had time to drink two cups of coffee and eventually we kitted and waded to the boat. Glenn had decided not to dive anymore, so it was just Bobbi, Jay, and I.

Vance's logged Dive #874

Terry took us to the mid-island mooring just south from the island, and we all descended 4 meters on the mooring line, Bobbi to wait below while Jay and I bounced the controlled emergency swimming ascent. Then back down under Jay removed and replaced his mask and we were good to go to the back side of the island on an 80 degree heading to find the gap in the wall and pop over. On the way there, I was startled by a scimitar-tailed ray who appeared on a collision course but swerved 90 degrees at the last minute and scuttled away across the top of the reef.

We descended to the depths, thermoclining from 29 degree water at the surface to 26 below, chilly enough to notice. As we descended to the sand we came onto an old collapsed fish pot and I had Jay lead us east over the sand and return on a westerly heading. He did this fine but we didn't go far enough to see rays so I led a little ways along the wall and then set us on an adventure on a northeast heading. This time we saw grey rays scurrying out of the way including one I was able to follow which reverted to plan B and tried to hide by pretending to be one with the sand. This allowed us to pass over him close enough to see his eye stalks. Having seen the rays and mindful of Jay's air at 16 meters I led back to the wall. Bobbi and I looked for jawfish in the sand before we reached there but found none. Then we went along the wall where I saw a crab trying to hide but not much else. There was a lot of rubble as if a lot of what was living there had been choked off from its light and left a lava-like residue, and there were no morays. There were some big fish still poking around, schools of those, and I followed the wall around and came up in the shallows as Jay was approaching 50 bar.

I tried to find the strawberry coral where it usually was, suspecting I needed to push to the south and west since it's possible to come up inside the coral plateau once you round the island. The fish life around the coral boulders was a panoply in the clear water, and though I heard the reef clacking I could never find the raspberry patch in the directions I was expecting to find it. Eventually Jay showed me a needle below 50 and we had been diving 55 minutes, so we ascended. I was surprised to discover then that we had NOT rounded the island as I thought. We had apparently gone over the reef to the sand at 16 meters further west than we usually do and then found our way east and up the gap we normally come through at the end of our dives from the other direction. So we were still on the opposite side of the island to where I thought we were and had spent our entire dive there.

It was confusing, but still, a pretty dive. Jay was feeling pretty well trained by then, I think, and on removing and replacing weights and BCD at the surface while waiting on Terry to collect his other divers and bring the boat, he completed all training components for confined and open water. Well done Jay!