Bobbi and I returned from Koh Lanta, Thailand on a flight at 3 pm on Dec 16 and 9 hours later, at about that time in the morning local time Dec 17, we were grabbing our baggage off the carousel at Abu Dhabi airport. We got a cab into town where we had left our car in one of the new Mawaqaf garages and drove it home to Al Ain where we arrived at 6:30 a.m. and slept for a few hours. When we awoke we organized things there for arrival of Glenn and his wife Gulya and their daughter Gwenny (the 3 G's we call them) in Dubai late that night, where they caught a cab to our place. Bobbi had fixed Glenn's favorite burritos so we had an after-midnight dinner and all got to bed around 4 a.m. By morning Dec 18. I had developed a throbbing toothache and went to the dentist to have it sorted, but made it home in time with enough pain killers for us to get the family on the road by 2 pm for the drive to Dibba to meet Joe and Zach Wolfer at Blue Planet Diving. We had chosen to go there for the Wolfer's open water dive course because of the G's having day-long access to the beach and everyone being able to dive whenever they chose to. BPD were diving on Dibba Rock at 9:30 a.m. each morning, then sending the boat to Inchcape at 11:30, and doing an afternoon dive once the boat returned.
I sometimes meet my dive students for the first time when we arrive at the dive center and that was the case with the Wolfers when we met them at BPD Thursday evening. They turned out to be a fit and active father-son team, and I could tell as they engaged with equipment assembly and buddy check that they had prepared the academics well. The idea was to get them familiar enough with the gear that evening that they would be able to put it on quickly and get in the water first thing at 8:00 a.m. next day. We would attempt to get through module 1 confined water, which I briefed thoroughly in a dry-run dress rehearsal, so we could perhaps make the 9:30 dive on Dibba Rock. I find the old version of the PADI o/w course to be most convenient for training divers when timing is a factor. There is as yet no solid implementation date for the new course, but I try to integrate skills from the new course into the old one as much as I can, but keep to the old standards as we go.
Day 1, Dec 19, 2014
Our plan worked, we were in the "confined" shallow water off the beach by 8:30, out by 9:15, and we were on the boat at 9:30 for a first dive on Dibba Rock. We dropped into the Aquarium down the 5 meter mooring line on the west shoulder of the rock and found vis to be fair despite lots of particulate matter in the water. The Aquarium was aswirl with the usual fishes, including the school of banner fish that lead off my video, and a scorpion fish hanging out on a nearby rock, hoping to go un-noticed. Pushing down toward the back side we found hulking barracuda, and in the shallows I got to see the turtle I had missed earlier on the wall. On our first dive Zach was first to go low on air so we ascended and got him onto the boat ok, and Joe and I returned to see if we could find any sharks. We went as far as the 8 meter line on the east side of the rock and then turned back to the check out the wall. It was pleasant diving with lots of fish life to entertain us, but we didn't see any sharks.
Back ashore I worked with Joe and Zach on confined water #2. By the time we needed to do module #3 the tide had gone out and brown water was washing in from the sea, so we did that module in the pool, which was not too cold for me in a 5 mm wetsuit, and the Wolfers seemed fine in their 3-4-5's from BPD (5 mm at the core and 3 and 4 on the arms and legs).
Emad, leading another group on the morning dive, had told us he had found some huge sting rays in the sand beyond that 8 meter mooring line, so we decided to look there on our next dive, which was down the 8 meter line so we could go west with the current on the incoming tide. We looked in the sand where we did our o/w dive #2 skills and up the reef but found nothing big there, nothing noteworthy apart from some pipe fish. As my students consumed their air we rose on the reef and eventually tried to push into the shallows against some stiff back-surge. We paused there and came up on alternate air source (a required skill for the old version o/w dive #2).
Bobbi and Glenn on the Inchcape wreck
Meanwhile Bobbi and Glenn had gone out at 11:30 to the Inchcape.
Here's Glenn's video of the same dive
Day 2, Saturday Dec 20
Our second glorious weekend day started as had the day before, with the Wolfers and me at the dive center before the owners arrived to get into the water as quickly as possible and do confined water modules 4 and 5 in the calm clear waters off the BPD facility, protected by the jetty there. Emad was back on Saturday with his dual side-mounts (I never asked him why he packed those two six shooters on dives to just 15 meters, though I assume it was for balance or fine-tuning his kit). At the briefing I asked where the sting rays were exactly, and as Bobbi and Glenn were joining on this 9:30 a.m. dive, we all decided to follow Emad (who amiably agreed to lead us to the sand where the rays were). We started the dive in the Aquarium on the west mooring but quickly pushed on past the barracuda to the deep side of the rock. Emad was leading at a fast clip in order to reach the sand at the far east end of the dive site. At 12-13 meters we found the layer of murky brown water, and the sharks were right there today. I saw the first one pop out from underneath the haze but he popped back before I could get him on my GoPro. But Zach was alerted and he and I saw the next two who were darting along just beneath the brown haze layer. Again I couldn't capture them on video so we continued to follow Emad who was focused on showing his student critters on the reef and whom I don't believe saw the sharks (Zach and I were the only lucky ones on this trip out). Nearing the sand patch where we would look for rays Emad stopped to do some skills with his student and I had mine deflate their BCDs, do mask clears, and then orally inflate to re-establish neutral buoyancy. But we had been pushing hard to reach that point, we were at 13 meters depth, and my students' air was running low, so we left Emad there (who did not find rays this trip in any event) and followed the reef up. Air got critical and we had to ascended off the reef to 5 meters where we practiced hovering for 3 minutes in the green without visual reference, a tricky skill which the Wolfer's did well on, for beginners, until it was time to surface.
Final CERTIFICATION dive for Joe and Zach Wolfer, newly qualified PADI o/w divers
We got to relax while waiting for our final dive, and then it was just Joe, Zach, and me on the boat along with one Russian-speaking snorkeler. We started again, due to current, at the 8 meter line, though current was almost nil, not always the case on Dibba Rock. I took Joe down the line first and ascended on a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA). This is a difficult maneuver for students, many of whom need to do it twice to (slap forehead) get it right. Zach joined us at the surface and did his and then I aimed us into the sand over a pair of sideways-oriented batfish. Visibility was very poor, so we did mask removal/replacement and a compass heading out west and back to the east to regain our sand patch. Both divers had over 100 bar so I decided to take us into the sand at 13 meters to look for the rays, but it was a shot in the dark for us, vis was so poor, and we were on compass the whole way. Even back on the reef vis was not much better, though it improved the higher up we ascended. With my divers down to 50 bar I led us to the shallows where we encountered large schools of barracuda. These entertained us as we finished out our air, and they were a great way to polish off an open water dive course.