Saturday, September 17, 2011

Froglegs Scuba Club participates in EDA - ADGAS’ Abu Dhabi Islands Clean Up Saturday September 17

Vance's logged dive #1081

Froglegs participated in ADGAS’ Abu Dhabi Islands Clean Up Campaign on Saturday 17th September 2011. We joined EDA and Al Mahara Dive Center in their dive against debris in the waters around Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club marina area and Lulu Island.

Top cover: Anna Elwood
Divemaster: Nicki Blower
Buddy teams:
  1. Instructor: Vance Stevens
    1. Rescue: Bobbi Stevens
  2. Advanced: Roger Norkie
    1. Open/water: Stephen Elwood

Bobbi and I dived together in fairly murky water underneath the boats and against the jetty forming the marina.  Depth was about 3 meters and time 30-40 min, including surfacing often to resolve buddy separations.  There were a few small fish there that liked to nip the top of my head when I blew bubbles.  We also found a pair of miniature cuttlefish each the size of a child's fist.  Like cuttlefish everywhere, they ranged cute to iridescent. We surfaced three bags full of discarded garbage.  Actually for a harbor, it wasn't that filthy.  Under the boats we found broken carapaces of dozens of crabs, the remnants of someone's meal(s).

Here is the map to parking and registration information:

For more information:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bobbi and Vance fun diving in Musandam, Oman: Fanaku, Musandam Island, Ras Sarkan, Ras Morovi, Lima Rock, Sept 9-10, 2011

My logged dives #1077-1080

We had a great weekend diving with our good friends at Nomad Ocean Adventure. We had been planning a trip to the far north of Musandam for weeks beforehand, to have three dives, starting Friday at Fanaku or Kachelu, and then doing two more dives as we worked our way back down the coast toward home port. This was set to start at around 8 a.m. Friday so we'd be driving down on Thursday. As soon as people could get home from work Thursday evening, Bobbi and I started collecting them. Nicki rode with us in our car and we met Gillian at the Club entrance for the 3-hour drive across the UAE to Dibba on the east coast, arriving over the Oman border just in time for a dinner of baked chicken served at Nomad. After a bit of conviviality with our friends we went to bed and slept very soundly till time to grab coffee and a croissant and meet at the harbor for our three-dive day.

We set off with 12 divers and 36 tanks. Divers included Bobbi, and I, Nicki, Ian Wing, Daniel and Randa, Gillian Hendrie, Jonathan Seda, Bob, April, and Lucy and Sara just there for the day. Sea conditions were a little bumpy on our bums as we endured the hour and a half up the pristine coast of Musandam till we finally shot the gap between the mainland and Musandam Island and steamed ahead to Fanaku sitting all on its own just to the west of smaller Kachelu. We pulled alongside the east side and while Ivor was giving the briefing the boat was swept the length of the island, so we decided that divng there was maybe not that good an idea. So we swung around to the calmer west side and selected a likely spot at the northwest point for an entry. Here the current was mild and we had no problem entering the water and forming into buddy teams before descending in our groups.

Diving conditions were excellent all weekend. First of all, it was a relatively warm 27 degrees in the water with cooler temperatures in thermoclines at depth. I was wearing my thin lycra under my three mm overalls, plus long-sleeve top to complete the combo, for a total of 6.5 mm on my torso, but it was warm, so for the next dive I replaced the 3 mm top for a half mm rash vest, and the following day I skipped the lycra and just wore the combo. I was warm at the surface but glad I had it at depth. Bobbi started off wearing her 5 mm wetsuit but had changed that for 3 mm the following day. And secondly, the visibility was excellent, 15, maybe 20 meters in some places, and no less than 10 meters in case silt was at all present.

Depths in these islands are as you like them. Bobbi and I were diving in a group with Nicki keeping an eye on Gillian. Bobbi and I went ahead and down and stopped short at 30 meters with no end to the wall in sight. Not much to see there so we angled up to pick up Nicki and her group, who had made it to 27 meters as Bobbi and I angled up to conserve air and no deco minutes. It was everyone's first time at this site and no one knew what to expect, so we were all probing, wary of current (in the briefing Ivor warned us about our bubbles going down, indicating a down current, and meanwhile back at the hostel, Chris told us a story about how he got caught in one with two advanced students, managed to catch them at 35 meters and shepherd them to the surface, had them both breathe from his only two oxygen cylinders, and the following day himself developed symptoms of decompression sickness and he had to go into a recompression chamber).

It was a lovely dive, lots of bright red rust coloring the reef, masses of reef fishes, and pretty easy despite a current which at its worst Bobbi and I pulled ourselves through with the help of a long rope someone had lost on the bottom. This caught us up with Sara Gough and Lucy, the only others from our group that we saw from that point on in this dive. We outpaced them, hit a still stronger facing current and rode back on it till we reached the end of the island in a colorful coral patch, and had to come up, near the end of our hour. All our dives on this trip were an hour or more with safety stop.

We retreated to Musandam Island for our lunch break, to a place that Chris and Ivor have christened Sphinx Bay due to the profile of a guano-covered rock in the vicinity. After sandwiches and pasta salad consumed in the 1 hour surface interval, we dropped in for our second dive over a bottom pockmarked from thousands of hollow footprints left by coral since disappeared, and strewn with nudibranchs. We saw a few dozen of the thousands that must have been there. Again Bobbi and I pushed to 30 meters depth, found it just kept going, and turned around to angle back up the reef and meet up with April who had joined the other two girls Lucy and Sara. A remarkable feature of this dive was a fault seam at 8 meters that we followed for some distance, where we found caves, not just alcoves, but actual tunnels you could swim into. One of them had a huge batfish inside sharing space with an oversized puffer. Another ledge had two very large crayfish inside, unreachable, yet fully visible in their lair.

It was 3:30 by the time we came up and joined everyone back on board and motored south. It took us an hour almost to reach Ras Sarkhan on our way home. Ivor suggested we dive the point and work our way back toward the mountains. Meanwhile the boat drifted back from the point and people started entering the water. We were no longer at the point but they were stuck with it but Bobbi and I and the three ladies were still on board, so we had ourselves taken back to the point as planned. The point is where the action is most likely to be, but it is risky because there can be currents here (that's what brings the fish) and you never know if the current will be coming in or going out, though Ivor thought it would be a return current. So I briefed our divers to be prepared for anything and we all went over and down.

We were lucky. The current was slack, and we had no trouble finding our way to the point, with its constant swirl of fish in the blue soft coral. We found a huge turtle sitting on the bottom at 30 meters, his back covered with white barnacles. We angled up and out the point and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of treveli swirling past. At the point itself a stiff resistant current told us it was time to go back. We stayed high on the reef and came across another turtle. Toward the end of the dive we found a large cow-tail or feather-tail ray in the sand. He let us settle in next to and in front of him before he started to ripple, taking his time to eventually rise out of the sand, turn, and head out to sea. We followed close behind and he turned and headed back to the reef, then headed up it, silhouetted nicely against the bright surface, putting us on a nice show in graceful motion for 30 memorable seconds.

That was it for diving for the day. Unfortunately the gear box on our boat malfunctioned and we limped back to Lima over the next hour, but Ivor got on the satellite phone and the boat owners sent another boat out to get us, intercepting us just off the town of Lima. We transferred our gear to the new boat and it was 45 minutes before we finally made it home in the darkness. Back at NOA there was still time to chill out in the pool before dinner, which occupied us until time for bed.

Next morning we had arranged an earlier than usual boat departure so we might get back to port earlier that evening for driving back to Abu Dhabi, but we were still able to sleep in past 8 in the morning. Bobbi and I rolled up in the dining area to check email and have our coffee and meager breakfast. We were joined this morning by Nicki, Ian, Daniel and Randa, Jonathan, Bob, and April and Gavin, her chef boyfriend. Lucy and Sara had returned to Dubai the night before, and Gillian had developed sinus problems and couldn't join us diving. The boat was supposed to leave the harbor at 10 and it was only a quarter hour late when it finally did pull away, not bad. An hour later we were passing Lima Rock on our way to Octopus Rock, but we found the current there a little strong, so we retreated to Ras Morovi to start our first dive in the bay where I often take my beginning divers. There was almost no current there, and the visibility was again excellent. Had there been rays in the sand we would have seen them. We went south along the reef without seeing much of anything, but at the point where you can opt for the saddle to the left to take you into the channel or keep going south to round the submerged island, we came onto a large school of barracuda.

We rounded the submerged hilltop keeping at about 25 meters, a bit high off the sand at 30 meters. It was beautiful, but again nothing striking until Bobbi found a crayfish in a rock, and then spotted a turtle ahead. Later she found another big crayfish under a rock, I spotted the second turtle, and we found several morays and lion fish. We came all the way up the channel to the north but as we rounded the corner we hit a stiff current. Although 40 minutes into our dive we both had plenty of air left so we dropped to almost 18 meters in the sand and just powered through it. Eventually it slackened and we ended our dive in a bay full of coral and fish life, especially swarms of blue triggers. When the boat finally came for us over there we got some oblique compliments from the younger divers regarding our stamina in finning through that current, as they had all turned back at that point.

We had our sandwiches and a tasty potato salad listening to Ivor's jokes (and Gavin's, and a few of mine), bobbing gently in the water, in the bright sunlight surrounded by mountains rising out of clear blue seas. Then we headed over to Lulu Island just across the bay toward the fishing village of Lima but there was a boat there already picking up divers way north of the rock, suggesting they were having trouble with currents, so we decided to go to Lima Rock.

Here on the sheltered north side we had the best dive of the weekend, thanks to Bobbi's sharp-eyed fish spotting. The first thing we saw was a turtle and we were following that when Bobbi pointed into the void. That's how she and I were the only ones to see at least two devil rays passing. As on all our dives we saw coronet fish, and batfish and puffer fish being cleaned by cleaner wrasse. The most fun part of the dive was when we encountered a school of squids. They entertained us in midwater and later we found them gathering around a rock. They seemed to want to get under the rock, Nicki thinks to lay eggs there. Due to their focus on whatever they were doing there, they didn't seem to mind us coming close and hovering. They were captivating. We spent 5 or ten minutes watching their antics, motionless, breathing little air. At the end of the dive we found a large honeycomb moray and did our safety stop above its lair. He was being cleaned inside his gaping mouth by a tiny blue wrasse, which escaped unharmed.

Our Roster

  1. Vance Stevens (PADI instructor)
  2. Nicki Blower (PADI divemaster)
  3. Sarah Gough - (PADI divemaster)
  4. Bobbi Stevens (PADI rescue)
  5. Ian Wing (SSI Master Diver, including SSI Deep Diver, with PADI Nitrox)
  6. Bob McGraw (PADI advanced o/w)
  7. Gillian Hendrie (PADI advanced o/w)
  8. April McMahan (PADI advanced o/w)
  9. Jonathan Seda (PADI advanced o/w) - driving up Friday morning
  10. Daniel Jewers (PADI advanced o/w)
  11. Lucy Hives (BSAC sports)
  12. Randa (o/w)

Well, ten days of the month our gone, and we have to be out of our apartment by the end of it, so apart from helping Kathleen with an EDA beach cleanup next weekend, Bobbi and I won't be doing much more diving until we emerge into October.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bobbi and Vance fun diving at Damaniyite Islands, Oman, Sept 2-3, 2011

My logged dives #1073-1076

Bobbi and I had a week off for Eid Al Fitr so we crossed the border into Oman to dive at one our favorite spots in this part of the world, the Damaniyite Islands, just off Al Sawadi, about an hour's drive north of Muscat.  The islands are a protected marine reserve 40 minutes by boat off the coast, known for great visibility and rich marine life.  We used to see leopard sharks here on almost every dive.  Now it's rare to see a leopard shark, and fishermen are encroaching on the reserve despite the police post on one of the islands, visited by police for only a part of each day.  The worst problem on our most recent visit though was the visibility.  A green algae had bloomed in depths down to 17-18 meters, stopped by the thermocline there which plunged us into temperatures in the low 20s when we went that deep.  Vis was at least good at the bottom, though the light was clouded by the algae.  We had not anticipated the cold.  Bobbi had left her 5 mm wetsuit at home.  She at least had a shorty she could wear over her 3 mm.  I had a half mm lycra and a half mm rash vest over which I could put on a 3 mm overall, and over that a 3 mm longsleeve top, so I had 7 mm on my core, but still got chilled in the limbs and head, so second dives each day were hypothermic for both of us. 

We got up before 6 a.m. to leave Abu Dhabi before 8 in order to arrive as requested by 2 pm on Friday, only to be told that we didn't really need to be there until 2:30, but they always told people coming from UAE to arrive a half hour before they wanted them there.  In fact, that was to meet a boat departing at 3:00, so we could have slept an hour longer that morning.  

While waiting we encountered good friends Robin and Ann, whom we knew from BSAC days in Abu Dhabi. They had dived there several days already but were giving Friday a miss due to the cold and disappointing vis.  They painted us a pretty poor picture of what to expect, but we soldiered on.  Robin and Ann were still around on Saturday but didn't dive that day either.

I can't say I blamed them.  We were thinking to give Saturday a miss as well, but we were there, and you never know what you'll see.  Actually our first dive was the best of the 4 we did, because the family spending the week there at Al Sawadi and getting their kids certified wanted to go to the Aquarium. This was a long trip for an afternoon dive.  It meant that we weren't diving until after 4:00, so our second dive didn't start until almost 6, and was essentially a night dive.  To Extra Divers's credit, they did have torches for everyone, fully charged, and I had brought my two from home.

The Aquarium is a submerged reef lying just outside the protected area so it's getting covered in nets and fish pots, and whereas it still has a lot of honeycomb moray eels and smaller fish, we didn't see any turtles, and the bigger fish are sure to be caught or driven away between the divers and fishermen.  Still there were interesting things to see there. Bobbi found a large seahorse as big as her forearm.  We saw some large cuttlefish as well, in groups of two and finally four just at the top of the reef.  We saw a lot of honeycomb morays, one free swimming, and a large pair wavering like flags, right at the end of the dive.  We found plenty of green and grey morays as well. We found hard-to-spot flounder and scorpion fish, hard to see camouflaged in cabbage coral. It was a great dive despite the poor vis, and Bobbi and I came up only when our time expired at 1 hour, everyone else already on the boat.

Our night dive was at Little Jun, far right corner, south I think, east (far wall) back toward Big Jun, direction of Sira.  We felt freezing cold on this dive, but didn't see much ourselves.  Bobbi found a pair of hermit crabs in fluted cone shells, with small shrimp living on the shell. Said the dive guide reported a massive sting ray that went right over his head, corroborated by Marian and her daughter who were with him at the time, but none of the rest of us saw it. Bobbi and I were chilled and came up after 45 minutes.

Saturday, we dived with a group of video photographers, one of them named Khalid Al Sultani and his wife, Sara from Germany, who were lingering over small animals in the dive and got some stupendous video, check it out

an Ode to the little things from Khaled Sultani on Vimeo.

Our first dive was at Police Island, same corner as Little Jun day before.  Bobbi and I dropped through the algae murk and onto a big honeycomb at 21 meters.

Our favorite fish on this dive was one we've seen before in Thailand, which the dive guide said at the time was "look like shark, not shark".  I thought it was a cobia, such as this one, It was 1.5 to 2 meters, circled us high up on the reef, around 7 meters depth, but had a small mouth like a nurse shark (not a jutting jaw as in this picture), and a dorsal fin a little far back from that of a shark (not fanned as in this picture, that I noticed), and also it was not skittish as sharks tend to be.  I'll try harder to track this one down.  Also, the lady who was diving with Bobbi and I and our guide Roshan while her husband watched the 2 year old back on shore at the resort, found a lobster (crayfish).  They went up early while Bobbi and I finished out the hour underwater.

Our last dive was at three sisters on Police Island, encroaching on another site there. The first thing we saw was a torpedo ray being videoed by Khalid, one of the video divers. Roshan was snapping pictures of nudibranchs which was essentially how we spotted them.  As on the other dives there were numerous lion fish, morays, often two together, trigger fish everywhere, napoleon wrasse, and lots of scorpion fish.  Poking my light into caves we found a big puffer fish in one, and a huge grouper hiding in another.  We saw flounders on all the dives, on this one three together in the sand.  The guide was teasing some clownfish and oddly, one of them bit his finger (amusing, surprised Roshan). There were nice swim-throughs on this last dive, but we were COLD on this one, and glad when our hour was up.

We got back to port right at 3pm, hauled our gear up the road (no car waiting), didn't wash it, and headed back to the Millenium hotel, where we showered and just barely made our late checkout time of 4:00 pm.

The Millenium Hotel was very nice, just half an hour's drive north from Al Sawadi on the Sohar road. We used to like Al Sawadi Beach Hotel a lot, spent many nights there with our young children in Oman, and had some great feasts back in the all-you-can-eat lobster days, gone now. The Al Sawadi as it gets older diminishes in value as it also gets more expensive, now 95 Omani riyals a night for two, half board (US$250). Last time Jay treated us to accommodation there, so nice of him. This time we checked around online and found the Millenium for 65 Omani riyals ($170) for the two of us with dinner and breakfast buffets much better than at AlSawadi, great rooms with seaview upgrade free, quite luxurious, similar to Meridien Aqaa but smaller scale. We had a view of the boat harbor out the window. The bar and restaurant were pleasant with outdoor decks, but furniture spartan, and drinks expensive. We splurged 14 Oman riyals ($40) for a bottle of Argento house wine. They had our room number but we didn't sign the chit before leaving the restaurant so they sent 'room service' up with the bill and doorbelled us out of bed at 10:45 that night to come to the door and sign the check, jeez. 

If you stay at the Millenium be aware there are no top sheets on the beds or inside the closet (where they provide a spare blanket), and the duvet is too hot for summer, but the AC is too cold without it. Next time we'll request a sheet before sleeping (and ask there be no room service we haven't requested ourselves).

Travel logistics: The borders were quiet on Friday morning when we made the trip. We left the house at 7:45 and were over the border just after 10:00. it took us half an hour to drive from the Oman border down wadi Jizzi to the Sohar Road, a trip that used to take 45 min on a winding road. At the Buraimi turnoff it takes almost half an hour to reach the triumphal portal on the far side of Sohar and another hour from there to reach Al Sawadi Beach turnoff.

Just beyond the Sohar gate there's a bull fighting grounds just off the road on the beach side that was active at 5:30 on Saturday evening as we were coming back, but I think it might have still been Eid celebration in Oman, probably not a regular occurrence, but something to watch for if in the area on Fridays.  Bullfights tend to happen every other week on a Friday.

Heading south from Sohar you eventually come to the Suwaiq roundabout. There is a turning to the right signposted for Rustaq there. It's a back road to Rustaq, not the best way to get there, but a little way up that turning, past where the boulevard ends and where the road curves, the part that goes straight takes you to the Suwaiq motel, a colorful place to stay but potentially noisy.  If planning to sleep there, take a fan for white noise to drown out the incessant bass beat (the AC on its own doesn't quite get it), and if diving next day, give yourself an hour for the trip to Al Sawadi Beach Resort.

The next roundabout toward Muscat is Wudum al Sahel, with a gazebo arch in the roundabout. A sign here tells you to go straight for the Millenium Hotel, 16 km. But it's only 10 km or so to the next roundabout where the sign says to turn left for the Millenium Hotel (and it's 5 or 6 km from there). This roundabout is also the northern entrance to the proper loop road that takes you if you turn right there to Rustaq and then eventually brings you back to the highway at Barka past Wadi Bani Khurus, Wadi Bani Awf, Wadi Mistal (Ghubra Bowl and Wakan) and Nakhal, all fascinating places to visit. This roundabout has two boats in it.

If you're staying at the Millenium allow at least half an hour to reach Al Sawadi Beach from the hotel.

Now comes the tricky part getting to the Al Sawadi Beach Resort from the direction of Sohar. The next proper roundabout in the direction of Muscat from the north is Musaneh. There are no signs here but the turning to Al Sawadi beach that used to be halfway down the highway to Barka is no more, and so if you continue south on the main highway you'll pass the spot where the formidable steel guardrail now blocks what used to be your turn, and you must continue another 10 km before you can U-turn at the roundabout at Barka and drive 10 km back on yourself to the turn for Al Sawadi which you still might miss, since it's no longer signposted. If forced to do that look for a Shell station on your right (heading north) and an Arab World Restaurant just after that, and take the next turn which should put you on a street lined with hedgerows that takes you between the Makkah Hypermarket on your right and a Turkish restaurant on your left. That's the road to Al Sawadi.

But to avoid going 20 km out of your way, when you reach the Musaneh Roundabout heading toward Muscat, turn left and then immediately right to get on the slip road going against traffic heading north on the Sohar road. Go slow enough to slow down for unpainted and unmarked speed bumps. You cross a couple of places where there is a turning off the highway and you have to cross those roads, but eventually you'll notice the Makkah Hypermarket ahead of you and you turn left there to get on the road with hedgerows and the Turkish Restaurant on your left.

If you miss that turn you'll come to the Arab World Restaurant and the Shell station just a block later. If you notice them in time, turn left at the street just before the Arab World Restaurant and where it dead-ends turn left again to take you back to the road with hedgerows. I did this myself a couple of times or I wouldn't mention it.

Hope this information is useful to someone (if it is, click on an ad, thanks :-)