Bobbi would have joined us but she is in Houston with her mom. Dusty went to see his grandmother, and they'll both be back in Abu Dhabi in early January. Glenn and his wife and daughter Gulya and Gwen were with us a week ago, and we all celebrated our family gathering together then. So this Christmas I was home alone and spent the day diving with friends.
Friday, December 24, 2010
The night before the chef at Nomad Ocean Adventure had prepared the most succulent turkey I have ever tasted. Normally we bake ours and it comes out dry. This one was cooked like a chicken, and the result was mouth watering. But the real treat was that we had the dive center all to ourselves. We were the only ones to feast there, sleep there, and we commandeered the boat for the following day and dived where we felt like it.
We had planned a group of 5 for Friday, but Hasan didn't make the trip across, and Ian's daughter Eva rolled up sick with a fever and a cough and didn't start her advanced course as planned, so it was just us in our group, Ian, Nicki, and I (pictured). On Friday we were joined by Delia and Ahmed who were being escorted by the dive pro Hussain. We started with the obvious dive for that region, Lima Rock. It was unusual for me to diving strictly for pleasure and with people who were serious enough about their diving to be able to go where I did. So after picking a spot mid-island to avoid the current we headed down the wall and out over the sand to some further coral strewn rocks I rarely visit 30 meters down. We spent about 15 minutes there before heading back to the wall and then heading up it looking for animals in the rocks. We found a honeycomb moray, several gray and green morays, and a torpedo ray. It was a very relaxed dive. Ian left us at 43 minutes but Nicki and I stayed down more than an hour before ending on a zen note.
There was green algae in the water around Ras Morovi so for the next dive Hussain decided to try and escape it by moving further north to Octopus Rock. This dive is known for its current and today was one of the most extreme ones I have experienced there. We went down on the southwest corner. On a mild day we can usually proceed southeast to look for seahorses in the green whip corals and wheel around to the various submerged outcrops at 20-28 meters, but today that would have exposed us to a freight train current, so we hugged the rock and finned into it. It was challenging for my buddies but when we came over a ledge about 20 meters distant we found some shelter and rested to catch our breath. The current made the vis really good and also attracted animals. We found a school of barracuda just off that point, and a big king fish was cruising back and forth (not sure, long, silver, solitary, single fins top and bottom, Ian thought at first it was a shark). Being very careful not to get swept away I led us into the current and finned to the east of the island where we had some outcroppings. I started moving east west there, always returning to the rock to keep oriented, and also to see that Hussain had taken his group into the lee on the south side and was conducting his whole dive there. There are huge batfish on this rock, always a pleasure to see, getting cleaned by wrasse at the numerous stations there. But we were low on air at just 38 minutes and ascended up the lee side of the rock to 5 meters, eventually to pop to the surface. Hussain was soon to follow.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Next day, Eva came on the boat but was still not well enough to dive. Hussain had developed a tooth problem and decided to oversee from the boat. So it was just us, an opportunity to push further north than our usual spots, so we set out for Mother of Mouse. However, in a phone call to the coast guard we were denied permission to go further than Octopus Rock, so I said fine, why not go there. I was expecting milder currents from the day before, and it had been a great dive. But skies above were overcast and as we approached Lima sea conditions were becoming rough. As we motored toward Octopus they became ominous and brooding, we decided to head for the shelter of Ras Morovi instead.
But there was a place just north of where I usually dive that Hussain said was nice so we decided to try that. That's where Nicki produced the surprises she had been concealing in the bag she had brought on her sleigh, so we had our fancy dress dive :-)
It was a picturesque spot with the reef ending in sand at 17 meters. We continued down to almost 30 just to see if there were any rays but found none. So we headed back up the reef and meandered, finding at one point a rare kind of eel that Nicki likes to photograph. There were many eels and the usual fishes but nothing I recall saliently on that dive. It was just another pleasant underwater experience in an environment that is unfortunately vanishing worldwide and that too few people get to see and appreciate. We prolonged our experience to over an hour again.
We motored into the middle of a deep bay south of Ras Morovi where the water was calm and had our sandwiches. We had decided to do our second dive on Pearl Island just to the south across the bay but we ended up doing it there instead. Nicki's dive computer decided to go for a dive without its owner and she watched it disappear with shall we say, misgivings (understatement). However she was determined to retrieve and punish the recalcitrant computer so we decided to suit up and search for it. We had to act quickly. We were not at anchor. Hussain noticed the direction of drift and I took a bearing on it, 120 degrees. We had no idea how deep the water was there. The three of us plunged over the side, Ian perhaps unwisely since he would be heading down without reference to an indeterminate depth. In any event, his ears prevented him from completing the journey so it was just Nicki and I to keep together and pass through meter after meter with no idea where it would end until we finally saw the silt bottom at 30 meters.
I had brought a weight from the boat intending to tie off my marker buoy on it but I knew if I tied it off there at 30 meters it would be hard to come back for later, so I dropped the weight in the sand and did squares around it. We stirred a sand cloud in the silt and Nicki and I lost contact but rejoined and I decided we should head on that 120 degree course. I counted out about 20 kick cycles in that direction, but still no computer and the time at 30 meters was ticking down. I thought Nicki and I should spread out and try the reciprocal heading so I indicated she should move in the opposite direction from me and she headed that way but at the edge of vis kept going. I moved after her and in so doing lost the line I could follow back to the weight. She had disappeared and I didn't want to go too far or risk complete disorientation, so after a minute I decided to return on my reciprocal 300, look in the sand on the way back, and surface there. I was just starting on this maneuver when Nicki reappeared. She had decided to go at the right angle 30 degrees from where we were 20 kicks and had just returned on 210 to where she had left me. And amazingly she was holding her computer.
The only disappointment was that in getting off the original line we lost the weight I had placed in the sand below the boat. Returning to the surface with both weight AND computer, we would have been hailed as heroes. At least Nicki retrieved her computer and I guess it could be said that despite loss of our original reference point, we were either incredibly competent or incredibly lucky divers, or both.
We started off the bottom at 10 minutes, came up entirely on instruments on my computer, because Nicki's was still narced from the 31 minutes it had spent at 20 meters, and did a safety stop at 5 meters 12 min into the dive, surfacing with 15 min on my computer. Since we had conducted a serious dive I decided to stay out of the water at least another hour, so it was 2 pm before just Nicki and I descended on Pearl Island. Ian had nackered his ears on the previous attempt and decided to sit the last one out. Vis at this spot was awful actually. We hoped the algae would not be deep but it dogged us the entire dive and spoiled my ability to spot the usual references. This was to round the point and keep to the sand at 16 meters, then follow the fishing pots out taking a bearing just left of them to the first of the submerged islands. Problem was I couldn't remember if that bearing was north or east. In previous visits it was obviously one or the other because the fish pots were lined up just to the right of where we needed to go. This time we were in green haze as I followed one pot, came on another, kept heading that way (east) but found no more pots and no island in the amount of time I though it should have taken. The dark shadows ahead seemed to be just open water. I found a line that connected pots and followed that back in an attempt to retrace to our starting point. In my second attempt we fared no better really. The only boon was that we came on a large cow tail ray in the sand and watched him move to escape us. I was chasing shadows now. At one point we came across a large barracuda, only one, but usually they hung out around the islands. When I saw a school of fish I headed that way, thinking they might be hanging off the coral. This turned out to be a good guess and 20 min into the dive we bumped almost blindly into a submerged reef. By now I was pretty much out of breath so I tried to lead at a depth where we could see the bottom but still stay high on the reef. This was between 2 and 3 atmospheres and my air was going embarrassingly fast. We were fighting current too but we managed to criss cross the rocks and find lots more eels end enjoy the last of the dive. Somehow we stretched it into 45 minutes though I had to drop down to 7 meters at the end of it because Nicki had found two of her rare rays in the same hole and was busy photographing them, oblivious to my vanishing air supply. No matter, we were near the surface, and reached it safely, and there was still enough air left in my tank to dry my dust cap