Sunday, April 21, 2013

Diving Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure: Got started on a Scuba Review for Robin Fortin

April 19-20, 2013
My logged dives #1188-1191

Bobbi and I met at home on Thursday after work, me having just driven an hour and a half from Al Ain, but arriving home in time to get packed before Bobbi got there, and we were on the road by 5 pm. Traffic was worse than usual, half a dozen smashups causing delays, till finally we turned up at the border where Chris met us at 8:00 pm with our passes, and by 9 we were relaxing over a delicious meal and pleasant company, Fizzy's parents were there from Malaysia, and heading for bed as early as possible so as to be up at 6 when Robin and Jay were due to arrive for Robin's refresher course.

When Robin appeared next morning we discussed how to approach the full refresher. There are 20 skills to be done in the pool, and we figured we could get in ten of them before reporting to the port for diving that morning. All the refresher skills are to be done in confined water; o/w is optional in the PADI “Scuba Tuneup.” So we went over the quiz which was an appropriate way to check knowledge of concepts and start discussions over any points not quite clear, and then we went in the pool to play with weighting, reg recovery, mask removal and replacement, and alternate air source breathing. Robin got through all of this bravely and seemed much more confident than previously on doing her first dive of the day.

Checking and double-checking the weather caused us to not head for port until 10 pm. Skies were overcast, the wind had been knocking chairs over all night, and it was trying to rain. But eventually we set out. On the trip, the wind was blowing hot and dry and we caught a little spray as we rounded Lima headland. We had chosen the south bay at Ras Morovi for the easiest possible protected entry. While we were kitting up some fishermen came along and yelled at us to stay out of the bay as they were setting up nets across it. We complied and started our dive right at the batfish cave with its two crayfish reliably in the crevices in the back of the cave. We continued along the reef as it went south out to sea but I had us cross at the saddle to come up in the cabbage coral heading north into the channel on the other side. Vis was disappointing but I made out an unmistakable cowtail poking above the sand and managed to arrive on the spot just as the ray that owned it decided to make a fast getaway. I saw him ripple and depart, but the others in our group saw only his dusty smokescreen. We found a number of moray eels, and as we often do in the cabbage coral area, a turtle high on the reef. Current was benign so we were able to turn west into the north bay. I looked for nudibranchs in the notch that's fallen out of the wall as if it had been quarried. In the coral shallows Bobbi found a large honeycomb moray and nearby two little grey eels poking their heads out, making a pleasant end to an hour-long dive.

After an hour lunch break at the surface, we swung by Lima Rock, but it was pretty churned up on the south side, so we motored over to Ras Sanut, north side of the point. There were some unusual organisms in the water floating in batches we thought were brown algae, but turned out in fact to be little straw-shaped creatures clustered like upright toothpicks with something protoplasmic on one end. They looked like needles trying to form haystacks.

Vis was poor and Bobbi and I can't recall seeing much of note on the first part of that dive. There were a lot of big fish getting cleaned by wrasse and I made a mental note to point these out to Jay and Robin for the next day. At the end of the reef we encountered strong backwash as we entered a bay so we had to fin against it to get around a point in the reef and rise to a higher level but now in the direction of the current. I found a narrow but appealing valley with clear vis and headed down it, coming at the bottom to an alcove with a crayfish inside, illuminated in my torch. I turned to show the others but only Bobbi was with me. Above, near the surface, I saw Robin heading away and up the reef. I figured if she was there then Jay must be with her, and later we found that Jay had spotted a turtle and called Robin up to see it. By going shallow, I knew they would end up on the surface, in a safe spot, so Bobbi and I continued our dive at 10-12 meters, coming up with about an hour on our dive computers.

Robin was feeling good enough about her diving that she decided she didn't need to continue the refresher skills, so we sat by the pool and enjoyed the sundown till Robin and Jay went back to their hotel in UAE. That evening, Fizzy's parents made Malaysian food, chicken rendang, delicious, and Bobbi and I got a solid sleep till 8 a.m. When Robin and Jay came along, we headed to the port.

Our first dive was Octopus Rock, which was blessed on this day with benign current. I was quite happy with my navigation. It's an easy place to get confused with all the undersea ridge lines, and I often get lost there, but current being almost nil helped with keeping track of where we were. We started by circumnavigating the rock, heading through shoals of blue trigger fish and silver jacks and trevally swarming over blue and white, sometimes orange, soft corals, beautiful swirling panoplies of fishes. We came upon several batfish, many enjoying the clearning stations. When we completed the circle I suggested we head north along the ridge. Here we found photographers Steve and Nicolas poking along following close to the sand but I turned us around when they were heading past 18 meters. They kept going deeper and found a half dozen playful squids. We came up along the ridge, but I popped down to 19 to look under an arch I thought could shelter interesting animals. There was nothing there and I hadn't intended for others to follow, but Jay came down and spotted a moray. We showed Robin and then moved up the west side of the ridge trying to reduce depth because Robin was lightest on air with less than 100 bar. This is where it gets tricky. I knew that ridge would not reach the surface and might not even get up to 5 meters, so would not be a good place for a safety stop; in fact the only rock that pops above water there is Octopus Rock, but it's tricky to find. Since the current was not a confounding variable I could easily guestimate that Octopus Rock should be east of where we were so I guided Robin that way hi off the sand keeping us at 10 meters or so and was rewarded by looming shapes that could have been Octopus Rock or possibly the next ridge over, always hard to tell here. But my guestimate was right (so rare to be here without current) and we ended up right on the rock. I headed around a bare wall part of it and rounded the corner to the south into a current which I picked my way into by using my reef hook. Here the water was clear and the fish life delightful. Robin and Jay followed but continued a little past where Bobbi and I stopped at 7 meters, the better to view the fishlife. Jay was timing a safety stop. He had indicated a half tank some time before and Robin was on 50 so Bobbi and I let them find their way to the surface at 45 min dive time, not counting their safety stop. They were right on the rock, at the same place we had entered, and the boat would fetch them safely. Bobbi and I each had over 100 bar and we decided to continue diving.

We glided down into the area of green whip coral, resisting the urge to plunge to depth, following sand and ridge line, in a circle off the rock and back again. When we came near the rock, I had put up my SMB and was about to follow it up when Bobbi pointed out that right before our noses were a trio of nudibranchs slithering over one another, having a right randy time, waving their processes about, and never mind who was looking. We watched for a moment and then headed up the line, arriving at the surface with 60 min showing on my computer. The others had already started lunch so we were eating mystery meat sandwiches and lentil pasta and kima samosas in no time, and changing our tanks for our last dive of the weekend.

Our last dive would be at Lima Rock. We had an easy entry at 1:30 pm. Vis was decent near the surface though it got cloudy as we descended. We met up with Fizzy and her photographers and went to 20 meters to look at a torpedo ray they had found. This was a little deep for us so I led up the coralscape and found a cave at 16 meters in which there was hiding a flat black ray. He was facing toward the wall and couldn't elude the divers who were soon gathered round him. As I headed away from the cave I found Steve and Nicholas coming towards us, which was odd because they were supposed to be diving the other direction, but it was clear in moments as the current that had been only slightly against our progress was now more strongly preventing our heading east, so we wheeled to the west as well, and finished out the dive at leisure in that direction.

Robin seemed quite comfortable as we pointed out the animals we passed. There were two giant honeycombed morays, a turtle, and dozens of batfish at cleaning stations letting the wrasse do whatever they wanted to them, and obviously enjoying it, letting them disappear into their mouths, holding themselves with faces pointed up, opening and closing mouths in pleasure, a sight to behold. This area is peppered with fish swim-throughs that look like caves but show light at another entrance, all crenelated with mollusks and batfish and parrot fish and blue angel fish lurking within, and in one: a crayfish living frankly, a boring life. I don't envy the crayfish, having evolved all that body armour and feelers to protect what is to everyone but them a tasty tail.

Jay and Robin surfaced before we did and we came up with almost an hour on our computers including the safety stop. My computer registered deco time remaining in more than three digits, so all safe and sound, pack our bags, and motor back to Dibba port.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Certified Anand PADI Open Water - Sting rays, a leopard shark etc.

March 29-30, 2013 
My logged dives #1184-1187

The weather and much else was perfect for diving this weekend.  Some delay crossing the border, but once resolved, I met my two students in the pool.  They seemed keen to move through the course and dinner was still on the buffet when we exited from pool module 2.  Next morning we were told the boat would be late departing, perfect for us.  We got through modules 3, 4, and 5 while Yaz and his students were completing their modules 1-3, and we were looking forward to the diving and relaxing afterwards, and sleeping late on Saturday morning.

We had an open water boat, so we chose our spots for easy diving.  The first entry was a bit back from Lima headland.  I had my students enter the water and fin back to the ladder, and I noticed some stiff current they had to swim against to do that, so with us all clinging to the ladder I had the boatman take us WAY into the nearest bay where a dhow was moored.  We started there in much calmer water.  We could see a pair of sting rays as the boat towed us to our entry, and they were still there when we eased into the bay and got down to where they were.

We completed our dive easily and motored homeward to Ras Sanut for the second one.  Amelio our dive guide had been exploring.  He said the north side of Ras Sanut was "amazing" - normally we dive the south side, which we used to call Wonder Wall.  But I agree with Amelio.  The north side was the true wonder wall, lots of stuff to see there.

Michele developed a problem early in her dive that caused her to abort, and also her course for this weekend. We conveyed her safely to the surface and Anand and I continued with some pretty nice diving in good vis. Here I saw another cow tail ray head for deep water and finned over to where he had turned and parked on the sand in 16 plus meters. Near there, I agitated some pipe fish and showed them to Andy.  We saw lion fish, moray, batfish with wrasse, a big crawfish displaying fiercely under a rock, plus lots of lovely white, orange, and blue soft corals. As we were coming up on alternate air source, as required in dive #2, a couple of remora buzzed us on ascent. Andy and I both agreed this was a really nice dive.

I went for a jog when we got back but after that there was not much to do but relax until morning, and make it down to the harbor for a 9:30 launch.  On our first dive, we went to Ras Morovi, where Amelio again chose the north side.  Anand and I managed to get our gear on quickly and were ready to go when he jumped, so we followed his group to where they were all surrounding a resting leopard shark at 18 meters in the sand, just the right depth for beginning o/w divers.  The shark tolerated us for a few minutes but eventually tired of the intrusion and launched himself to find more privacy.  Anand and I followed but didn't see him again, and finished our dive in the shallows near where Nicki and Ian and I had started our dive one recent Christmas day.

We did our last dive at Lulu Island, following the usual profile of rounding the island nearest shore and then finning eastward under water till we came to the outermost.  There wasn't much to see out there and we encountered oncoming current as we pulled our way back south.  Consequently we were first back on the boat, but at least Anand emerged as a well qualified diver.  And we'll get Michele back in the water at some point soon.