Sunday, September 22, 2013

Certified Michele Campbell PADI Open Water and completed 4 out of 5 Advanced Open Water divers for "Andy" Anand Mantri

September 20-21, 2013, Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam
My logged dives #1241-1244

This weekend was productive from a PADI instructor point of view.  I certified Michele Campbell PADI Open Water (all but the swim, to be done in a pool midweek) and completed 4 out of 5 Advanced Open Water dives for "Andy" Anand Mantri.

Transport is getting complicated with Bobbi and I working in different cities, but I get off early so I drove up to Abu Dhabi to get her and we drove across the UAE Thu night to Dibba. We hit traffic in two places on the way.  I had the idea to drop by Al Boom (a.k.a. Scuba Dubai) and pick up some bcds being serviced, but was disabused of that notion after getting stuck in a half hour tailback near Dubai World Central (the new airport under construction) on what used to be known as Emirates Road (the 611 has now been renamed Emirates Road), I said to heck with it and picked up the gear 2 days later on my way home from Dibba to Al Ain.  The second tailback was another half hour further up the 611 where traffic was trying to exit the Dhaid to Sharjah road. We've never seen traffic jams on the 611 before (maybe that's why they renamed it Emirates Road). Fortunately the border crossing in Dibba was painless, and having got up for work at 4 that morning, I was at our home away from home Nomad Ocean Adventure by around 9 that night, 17 long hours later.

Once we got settled in and helped ourselves to the buffet spread, the weekend got very relaxing. After a great lie-in, we got started on the diving courses at Ras Morovi on Friday.  Michele was doing PADI o/w dive #2, the one with the set of basic skills done at the bottom of the ocean, and she did those perfectly.  We were in the easy bay so we went over to the alcove where I almost always find crayfish but there were none there (eaten??).  We went over the saddle to the cabbage coral, but no turtles there.  We visited the two caves where rays sometimes hang out, again nothing. We did find pipe fish on the bottom, there were lots of tropical fish, and it was a relaxing, nice long dive, 51 minutes at about 15 meters maximum depth. Meanwhile Andy was doing his peak buoyancy dive while buddied with Bobbi.

Our next dive was at Lima Rock South.  It was murky here and we didn't see much apart from honeycomb and grey morays, but Michele got through dive #3, and Andy accomplished his advanced boat dive (and more buoyancy work).  Michele was back on the surface after 35 minutes (we had touched 18 meters on the dive) but the boat was nearby and I was able to see her aboard and then rejoin Bobbi and Andy at the bottom to finish out Andy's tank near the west end of Lima Rock.  Despite the full moon, current was slack, as it's sometimes raging at that end of the island, so our dive had a peaceful ending.

We were hoping for a night dive but Nomad require 4 paying customers and we were only Andy and two others, so I went for a jog instead, and then relaxed with my wife and students over another of Aneil's great dinners. Next morning, after another rare sleep, we were back on the boat for a first dive at Lima Rock, north side this time.  I assigned Andy an advanced underwater naturalist dive, and began my dive with Michele in a controlled emergency swimming ascent (aka CESA) on a weighted line attached to the bow of the boat. On surfacing, we did the full range of surface skills, which Michele had been concerned about, but they turned out to be a piece of cake for her.

Our first turtle on Lima Rock, North, Sept 21, 2013

This dive that followed was relaxing as well.  The north side of Lima Rock has a shallower sandy bottom than that on the south side, and the terrain there makes for interesting swim-throughs and set tableaux of coral encrusted boulders teeming with fish.  And we found a turtle resting in a bed of green whip coral (but then everything looks green at depth under water).  At the end of the dive we caught up with Andy and Bobbi surrounded by a cloud of frolicking squids, in the video below.  At the surface, Michele removed and replaced weights and bcd, and in so doing completed all the scuba requirements for the PADI open water course, so congratulations to her!

Squiddlywinks on Lima Rock, North, Sept 21, 2013

Michele decided to sit the next dive out so Andy and I did the deep dive for the advanced o/w course off Ras Sanut.  We planned a profile of 24 meters for 20 minutes, 16 meters for 10, and at 12 meters till our tanks were exhausted, which would be about ten or 15 minutes for Andy, since it was his first deep dive (well, first officially, certainly his first with me :-).  The dive went well.  We had put in near the boulder with the cleaved flat face, near the point from where we often put in deeper in the bay, so we found 24 meters in sand quite easily and did our exercises there (compared depth gauges, calculated a minimum surface interval).  We then went up to the coral at about 17 meters but meandered back in the sand again looking for the rocks I knew were in deeper water somewhere but couldn't see due to algae clouded vis.  Finally I found one, and in its shadow one of the largest turtles I have seen in these waters, this one with a good size remora hitching a ride on its shell.

The huge turtle with the remora on his shell

We continued diving to the point, progressing up through our levels and enjoying slack current as the day before.  Sometimes the current can be pumping out to sea here, but today it was almost calm, and because of that there were no interesting fish around that we could see (current brings them to the point).  When Andy ran low on air we did our safety stop and Bobbi and I saw him to the surface, but we returned to 15 meters to carry on around the point and dive the Lima Rock side. Again there was not much of note but we continued our dive to over an hour, and found it refreshing with bracing thermoclines pleasant to the skin beneath our 3 mm wetsuits, 28 degrees at its most frigid, nice easy diving.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Whale sharks and other sea creatures enjoyed on a day trip to Daymaniyat Islands in Oman

September 14, 2013, Extra Divers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort
My logged dives #1239-1240

Bobbi and I just moved to Al Ain so I can live closer to my job. One bonus is that Al Ain is 2 hours closer to Oman than was Abu Dhabi so it's just 3.5 hours to drive to Al Sawadi Beach Resort, where we can access one of our favorite dive areas, the Daymaniyat Islands. That makes it possible to dive the Daymaniyats on a day trip from Al Ain (first time it's been that close since we lived in Oman back last century, and used to go there often). We could have driven down the night before and stayed at our favorite in-spot on the Batinah Coast, Suwaiq Motel, but since Bobbi still works in Abu Dhabi and has to get up at 4 anyway to get to work on time when she stays in Al Ain, we figured we might as well keep our routine and wake up at 4 for the drive to Al Sawadi from Al Ain on Saturday morning, the easier the transition from weekend Saturday to workaday Sunday.

So we did that, arriving at the dive center half an hour late due to our miscalculation of the time it would take us to get there (they pointed out it was actually 35 minutes; we thought it would take just 3 hours). But since we had our dive bags ready to throw on the boat, we didn't hold them up, but boarded the boat along with everyone else. Though the trip with its border crossing at dawn was wearing (we even had a petrol crisis since both Oman stations were closed in the 20 km between border posts; and we were on empty), we were hoping to see something in the ocean that would make it worth the trip down.

That's Bobbi in the thumbnail, the small creature at the top of the screen, not the big one :-)

We got off to an excellent start. They had been seeing whale sharks on the 45 min. trip out to the islands lately so our crew were expecting them, and when they were spotted, the crew cut the engines and let everyone off to snorkel with the sharks. This happened more than once on the trip out, so we got to snorkel with a couple of whale sharks very close up. The last one we saw came up to the boat, but it was by then time for diving, so the divers simply observed it from the gunwales, no one jumped off to play with it.  I've never seen a boat load of diver before decline en mass an opportunity to swim with a whale shark (in the GoPro compilation above I put that encounter first, makes a more logical storyboard :-).

We proceeded to make two dives, one on lesser Jun and the other on Sirah Island. Both were superb. The first dive on Jun had swimming pool visibility with a layer of algae at the bottom that we could easily see through if we finned overhead, and was only slightly brown if we were in it. A sharp thermocline trapped the cool water in the lower layer, so it was nice with a 5 mm suit to swim into it. But the cloud tended to remain over the sand, at 16 meters, and the water on the reef was as clear as a glass of water.

The reef was beautiful and teeming with frolicking fish meandering about the staghorn corals. There were large black, white and yellow grunts, and a Moorish idol nibbling at a jellyfish.

I found one turtle with his head stuck into the cabbage coral intently trying to get at whatever it was that so appealed to it there.

In the clear water, trigger fish, parrot fish, puffer and porcupine fish swam about the cleaning stations where wrasse serviced batfish and other customers, and scorpion fish could be found dogfaced hiding in the coral, motionless even when approached quite closely.

I kept checking out in the sand looking for sting rays and leopard sharks. I didn't see any of the latter, but we found where huge cow tail rays loitered about, only to take freight and scamper when divers approached.

I'd almost forgot how meager the between-dive snack is with Extra Divers. We hadn't had any breakfast to speak of so the biscuits and pineapple and watermellon were refreshing but hardly fortifying. But at least they had enough, didn't run out when Sultan the friendly boatman passed the platter repeatedly. Fortunately the second dive would take our mind off the gaps in our stomachs.

We motored over to the site, the small island nearest to our mainland port, and put in with a mild but steady current nudging us west, reef on our left. We soon came on a turtle. I was following it with my GoPro but Hany was clacking his tank and agitatedly making shark signals, since a whale shark was cruising just off the reef at that moment. 

The shark posed for cameras for a minute or two before going his way, but he came back a few minutes later, but this time below the brown layered thermocline, so he was not so clearly visible, but everyone in our group was crowding around him. I wasn't that enthused to chase him, but I noticed that near the reef, virtually ignored by the other divers, a mottled ray lay unobtrusively in the sand. So I went down to it and filmed him instead.

Hany had promised to take us to a place where a large seahorse often hung out, but the sea horse wasn't home. A torpedo ray was there instead.

Several divers surfaced on coming up from the 20 meter search for the seahorse, low on air after 45 minutes. But Bobbi and I continued for another 15, finding a huge moray hiding with gaping mouth in the coral,

more turtles, blue triggers decorating one part of the reef, more scorpion fishes,

and a lone cuttlefish resting on the bottom (odd, they usually travel in pairs, and usually move away when approached).

Back on shore we drove back to UAE happy indeed that we had made the drive south over the border.