Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Damaniyites Diving with Global Divers, Al Ansaab, Oman, Oct 26 and 27, 2012

My logged dives #1168-1171

My good friend and dive student (and world-class lawyer) Jay Fortin was flying into Muscat with his wife Robin for the weekend and wanted to dive the Damaniyites, so he made a booking with Global Divers, in Al Ansaab, in the Muscat, capital area , Oman, for Oct 26 and 27, 2012. They asked if Bobbi and I would join them and help with a refresher for Robin.  Of course we agreed.

Global Divers <> operates from the Aviation Beach Club in Muscat, where I was a member and kept a sailboat from about 1990 to 1995.  It was a great little beach club, pleasantly rustic, and accessible via a straight road from one side of the main highway between the Airport and the Ghala / Alansaab roundabouts.  We used to drive from Sultan Qaboos University where we lived for ten years and make a u-turn at the Ghala roundabout and then drive back to the turn where the straight sandy road traversed a vast tract of scrub lands where we used to sometimes hold running events.  What a great playground.

It's much different now.  First off, there is no airport roundabout.  There's a flyover now, and past the airport where we started looking out for that straight dirt road, there are massive roadworks where a superhighway soon to connect Muscat to Seeb has churned up our playground and thrown up buttresses for flyovers, and we couldn't even see the coast from there. Even the town of Al-Ansaab had been overhauled with shops and banks, but we found the coast road and drove it past a new Spinney's Al Fair to work our way back up the coast behind the airport.  We passed an elaborate gate and hit the brakes.  We backed up and sure enough, there it was written Aviation Beach Club.  What a makeover.  Just inside the gate we could see signs pointing the way to Global Divers, though there was no signposting from the road.

For those of us coming from UAE, it's an hour further to reach the Seeb area, so I don't know how often we'll use Global Divers in future as opposed to Al Sawadi, especially as we can find comfortable accommodation for 15 riyals a night and intriguing local nightlife in Suweiq, but if you're living in Muscat or landing there, then you save that hour driving outside Muscat to Al Sawadi.

Damaniyites is an island chain that stretches offshore between Suweiq / Barka and Seeb in such a way that there is some point in the chain that it is about equidistant between the two, so that the boat ride to that point is about the same for either area.

Global Divers favors the island with the ranger post, which it can access in no less time than it takes to get there from Al Sawadi, though to dive the Jun island part of the chain, this would be a long trip from Global Divers in Seeb. However, Global has decent access to the Aquarium, which is closer to Seeb than Al Sawadi, and very popular with divers.

We had great vis there and warm temperatures. The thermocline didn't kick in till around 18 meters, three millimeter wetsuits were quite comfortable,  and some divers wore shorties.  On Friday October 26th  we went to the bay just north of the ranger station and dived Three Sisters to the west and a site they called Noodle to the east.  On that first dive we found large honeycomb rays, at least one turtle, smaller morays, and a sting ray under a rock at the 18 meter point where we decided to stop punching current and turn around, ascend gradually, and fin comfortably with it.  Bobbi and I had been joined at that point by a third diver who ran low on air and ascended just as a mackeral or some large fish cruised by just off the sand. Further on we found a pair of crayfish brazenly exposed on a ledge outside their lair.  If I'd have had a net or a pair of thick gloves I could have easily snagged one of them.  They were both waving their feelers at us, and relying on that moreso than eyesight.  It was only when I stuck a finger in the way of one waving feeler that the animal backed in high alarm back into his hole, and the other followed suit.

On our second dive on Noodle across the bay, we met with a current on descent but once to the seaward side of the island, we had a good long dive.  All our dives were an hour on this trip (because they asked us to come up by then). On this dive I recall more of the same, especially a turtle or two and the large honeycomb morays.  We ended up being swept over an area that was not reef, and came up midway between the island with the ranger post and the next one over to the east.

Next day, the 27th  we continued our exploration of that area by diving the back of the island to the east of 3 sisters, so we'd dived the whole face comprising two islands by the time we were through.  We again had nice vis. We found an easy ledge for Robin to descend on, but Jay and Robin got ahead of us and kept going when we clacked to call attention to a large honeycomb moray and we saw no more of them till back on the boat. So we joined where Global instructor Ali was leading some other divers at 18 meters in the sand and we positioned ourselves midway between them and the boulders on the wall. We figured if they saw anything  in the sand they'd call us over.  From our vantage on the wall I saw a turtle fin vertically up the wall and called Ali's attention to it. At one point a ray swam past Ali and we tried to give chase. I noticed another hiding in a crevice and again I called attn to it. Later we came on a number of honeycomb morays including one just lying on the bottom.  Again we had a nice long dive and we thought an interesting one, until we got back on the boat and found everyone including Jay raving about the leopard sharks.  Since Jay had gone ahead of us and saw it after that, I don't know how we missed it, but we've seen so many of them, we were not all that crushed.

Our second dive was planned for the Aquarium, arguably the best site in that area.  At times there we have seen sea horses, free swimming morays, scorpion fish, and rays.  Our anticipation was excited by reports from the boat that had done its first dive there that they had seen leopard sharks too.  However, for our afternoon dive, the wind was picking up as was the current, and conditions were less favorable than they had been in the morning.  Still we moved through clouds of snappers and saw a sting ray at 20 meters in the sand.  Bobbi found a scorpion fish and we came on a number of honeycomb morays, including one whose head was poked outside some sponge coral, being cleaned by blue wrasse, looking satisfied indeed.  At the end of the dive we came on a school of darting squid, all in all not bad for a day out.

Due to the changing sea conditions, the boat ride back was fairly miserable, spine-jarring bouncy and wet.  Everything got soaked, and it reminded me of the best sailing days off Aviation Beach back in the '90's.

Meanwhile, we bid adieu to Jay and Robin, until next time ...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Certified Peter Eberle and Simon Fryd in o/w at Nomad Ocean Adventure

My logged dives #1164-1167
October 11-13, 2012

Thanks Tim and Laura Charge for arranging a fun week for their visitors. They had their guests enjoy a number of water sports ending with just the thing for a visit to the UAE, a scuba diving course in Musandam, Oman, and who better to conduct such a course than their own o/w instructor, me :-)

Taking a break from diving last weekend we enjoyed a “Bistro Brunch” at the British Club in Abu Dhabi last Friday with Nicki who invited others, including a helicopter pilot named John, and his wife Thelma. John was a diver and at some point during the brunch, Bobbi was telling them that last weekend we'd had a minor problem with timing on the dive boat we were on, with some customers complaining that my students and I had taken too long at the surface interval and delayed the boat's return to port which had caused some difficulties that Lisa and Theo at Nomad had had to deal with and therefore we had been asked to not do training during surface intervals. However, Bobbi said, this used to be not a problem when sometimes we would have enough people to get our own boat. So John said he had friends that would come with us and with the Charges and their visitors, maybe we could get enough divers to put together a boat load and do our own thing and not be constrained by these other “customers” whoever they were. It seemed like a great idea, but then again, it was “Bistro Brunch” at the British Club, where many a scheme is hatched, only to come to naught in the clearer light of morning.

However, somehow this worked out. John and Nicki came through with three other divers, Terry and his young 12 year old jr. advanced diver, Nick, and Jorge, another pilot (I think) who was exploring tech diving with John. So with the Charges and their three guests in combination with these other folk, plus Bobbi and I, we had a dozen people diving two days with Nomad Ocean Adventure, who graciously organized a boat to be made ready for whatever peccadilloes we could envisage on it for Friday and Saturday.

I'm working in Al Ain now and am forced out of my workplace at 1:30 on Thursdays so I drove from there straight to Dibba where I arrived at 4, just beating the Charges and their guests to the dive center. When they arrived, we did the paperwork, including the exam to ascertain that everyone had done the eLearning, and then we got our equipment together and entered the pool. Due to the inertia that must be overcome getting 3 people who have never been around scuba gear before, and one who had not even snorkeled, into the pool and moving around it on snorkels, then donning scuba gear and snorkeling with that, imagine all the things that can go wrong, we were just about to go below the surface at 7:30 when someone from the kitchen came to tell us that dinner was being served. We were on a roll though, so we went ahead with our Module 1 training and finally made it to dinner at around 9:00.

We still had two modules to do in the morning. PADI standards allow dive 1 to be conducted after module 1 but to do dive 2 you have to have completed module 3 in the pool. Since we had our own boat we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn for it. All the divers were staying overnight for diving the following day so no one had to be driving Friday night back to Abu Dhabi, the main reason for an early departure and early return. So we decided we'd meet for breakfast at 6:30 and pool at 7:00, and shoot for a 10:30 boat departure. The only problem was that Bobbi was getting up at 5:00 in Abu Dhabi and she and Nicki were taking a taxi over to John's, where he was planning to leave at 6:00 to arrive at NOA at 9:00 for an expected 9:30 departure. People hate to get up at 5 when they could sleep until 6 if it's only to be kept waiting for a boat whose departure is delayed, but as it happened, their paperwork somehow didn't reach the border post so when they arrived there they were delayed 45 minutes while that was sorted, so they turned up at the dive center at 10:00, not 9:00, just as my students and I were exiting the pool, perfect! (for us :-)))

It turned out to be an amicable lot. They didn't mind that our first dive site would be Ras Morovi, where there is very easy entry for students. John and his friends hadn't dived it much before if at all, and John the pilot was attuned to my directions (head south, then east, then north, etc), since he would be leading all the others apart from the Charges and their guests, my students. So beautiful day, a little warm for 5 mm wetsuits, calm seas boating out, coral blotches clearly visible through lagoon green waters, and not only that but a sting ray visible in the sand just under the boat, my students dipped beneath the salty waves for the very first time in their lives.

Thankfully there were no ear problems. Buoyancy was an issue as it often is with students in shallow water in 5 mm wetsuits. Weighting was about right though. When we all got down we went over to visit the sting ray, who thought us rude, and showed his disdain by wandering off in such a way that we could follow him just at the edge of vis, which was not bad. We took the hint and went along the coral where a grey moray was seen swimming away from its cover. Acting like we'd caught him naked he scurried under a rock and poked his head out abashedly.

We continued along the coral to where the saddle is and just to our left was a cave where two weeks before I'd found a couple of large crayfish inside. At that time my two students might have missed the crayfish due to ear problems, not being able to get down to see in the cave, and this time they missed it due to buoyancy problems starting to take their toll where at that moment one of the students, riding a bit high in the water, touched the surface, his buddy rose to assist and ended there himself, and as he was regaining control and coming down the 3rd got himself in difficulty and a yo-yo scenario was unfolding.

I managed to get the two students to get down and stay there with Tim and Laura and as the 3rd wasn't descending, I went up to see what the problem was. He was uncomfortable and anxious, and though it doesn't happen often, hardly at all, he thought he'd better get back on the boat and try again next dive. As this was the first dive, and he'd made it 18 minutes, and the boat was right there, I saw him aboard and went back to rejoin the others, who were still right below. There was a mild current though, so as the student wasn't coming down right away, I needed to get back down before I lost contact with the others.

The rest of the dive went well. One of the students was inside of 100 bar already, so I led us up along the cabbage coral to 5 meters. We were fighting the current slightly so when he went down to 50 bar I turned and let us ride the current. The decreased depth and effortless motion stopped the air hemorrhage and the student became comfortable enough that he was signalling me OK at 50 bar even though he was easing down to 40. The cabbage coral is a good place for turtles to hang out and we saw one there. Floating effortlessly now we drifted back on to the cave with the crayfish, and this time they both saw them. A lone barracuda was hunkering about there as well. At that point my student admitted to 30 bar in his tank and we made an easy ascent to the surface, 37 minutes after having commenced our dive.

We went back across the bay to Ras Lima for our lunch break. The mystery meat sandwich wraps seemed much like chicken until someone remarked that one of the cats that Aliona had left us seemed to be missing. Naw, really the food was great, and plentiful, potato salad, fruit, cakes. Nomad takes care of its divers stomachs. They're French :=)

Ras Lima would have been a good place for a second dive except that there was algae there. If we hadn't had our own boat, that's probably where we'd have dived, as we have done before, nevermind the vis. But as we had our own boat and could negotiate amongst ourselves, we decided that Lima Rock north side would be a better spot. I had the boatman take us to the middle, which is where I dived with my divers. I warned the others about the currents at the ends and I hear that some divers got caught in them, but they can write their own blogs, or leave comments in this one.

My students and I along with Tim and Laura took our time kitting up and descended tentatively, no ear problems particularly, but buoyancy being still a threat. I had warned everyone to stay close to the reef, to use it as a reference to enable them to keep their depth, and avoid currents that might appear in the open waters off the reef. Everyone was fine as we descended to a sand patch at about 12 meters and did our exercises. The stressed student had accompanied us but declined to participate in the skills. The other two got through the reg clears and recoveries, the alternate air source breathing, and the mask clears ok. One diver's air was beginning to get low so we headed back up the reef, coming on yet another turtle.

Two divers were playing it high on the reef. I managed to get one back down but the other, the anxious one, surfaced, so I had the other two do an alternate air source ascent the short distance up to where he was. The boat came over. The anxious diver wanted to leave the water. He'd improved, made it to 25 minutes this time. The low on air student was down to 60 and we had accomplished our objectives so I thought it was time for him to exit as well. The other diver, whom we called Fred, still had 90 bar so I suggested we continue with perhaps a compass heading, get that out of the way. We agreed and descended into a cluster of dancing squids. We saw Tim and Laura to our left and I tapped my tank to attract them. They looked around but didn't see us, so Fred and I continued our descent. Near a rock with blue soft corals we headed out over the sand, reaching almost 18 meters, and back again to the same blue rock. Fred was now pushing 50 so we headed up found Tim and Laura at the surface.

It was a great day's diving. On the trip home, I had a chat with the student who had discovered that diving was not for him. The discovery had surprised him but I encouraged him to continue with the pool work which we had almost finished and join us in fun diving the next day. He took me up on it as far as pool after dusk but ended up on the ladder while the other two worked on their hovering and no-mask swims. As we exited the pool he accepted that he was having a visceral response to perceived danger and the training wasn't overcoming it. He decided not to join us next day, visited the beach instead.

Meanwhile Fred and Peter finished their pool work and we went to dinner and good company with knowledge that we could sleep late next day. The boat wasn't leaving now till when we wanted to go, but we made an effort to depart at the same time as Lisa and Theo in their two boats with Nomad's other customers. Destination, Lima Rock south. I told the boatman to head right for the middle and announced to all aboard that we were going to check current using the human dummy method. That would be Fred, who did a ten minute float for us as one of the requirements of his o/w course.

This 3rd o/w course dive has a two skills, mask flood and clear, and fin pivot with oral inflation. We dropped down on a sand ledge at about 10 meters for that, and under the nearest rock was a small sting ray. After admiring that we did our skills and then finned into the slight current, dropping to about 16 meters in the process. There was excellent vis and water temperatures very pleasant for diving, even in the cold thermocline. There were a lot of bat fish about and blue triggers, but one of my students was low on air early in the dive so I led us up to 12 meters and eventually to 5, letting us go with the current to conserve air, and keeping us at safety stop level. When that diver went down to 30 bar, we surfaced and did some surface skills while waiting for the boat. Peter hopped aboard and Fred and I went back down to burn off his 80 bar. On that part of the dive we saw a turtle swimming near the surface. We had agreed that when he went low I'd rig an SMB and he'd surface on CESA, controlled emergency swimming ascent. Fred did that just fine and of course we had to re-descend to get my reel tied off on a rock at 7 meters. Coming up from that I decided we'd better do a 3-min safety stop in the coral gardens there. So we had a nice long dive, something like 47 minutes.

I had the boatman take us to Ras Lima for lunch. While there, Fred had to complete his swim which put everyone including me in the water to check out the vis. There was definitely algae there so we negotiated a second dive at Lulu Island, between Ras Lima and Ras Morovi. It turned out to be a good call. It seems Ras Lima was collecting all the algae which was sweeping past Morovi and Lulu, and not impacting Lima Rock at all. I think the group enjoyed their dive on Lulu Island though I spent it with my o/w students. We stayed in the inside channel, doing the module 4 mask removal / replacement (and clear) and hovering, and I rigged an SMB for Peter and had him do a compass out and back to it, then a CESA from there. When we surfaced on that we completed the flexible skills with weight and bcd removal replacement, the two students putting on stellar performances after exacting pool training. The boat came and we put Peter aboard and Fred and I slipped below the surface to retrieve my SMB and burn off his remaining air. We heading north, turned east, but on the south leg hit current which swept us back the way we had come and caught the line to my SMB in coral knobs. We were ready to come up anyway, and everyone else was putting their gear away on the boat. Two divers successfully certified, great weekend.