Monday, April 30, 2007


How about "Helen look what I bought, Oops, I mean borrowed from Bill who borrowed from Phi."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Caption Competition

Sorry Richard/Steve I couldn't resist:

There must be some good captions out there for these:

"and if I just plug this into here you can also reuse the other gases you produce"

"Steve, does my bum look big in this", "Don't know mate, lets 'ave a look"

"Monkeys look on unaware as ape walks past"

"Ape lets off two farts"

"So Steve, where are these famous Gib Apes?"

"'Ere Snowy, I can see the pub from here!!"

"Still can't see any of those Apes"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Spain, Planes and Autoair Seals

Following on From Richards report on our Trip to Gib I thought I add a few fond goes a potted travel-log of what I think I remember, although as anybody who has suffered my wittering will know, there could be some poetic lisence (and PADI 'lisences') used to help the story along.

Day 1 - Getting there
Its late at night, Richard and I drive down to Abu Dhabi Airport to catch the just after midnight flight to London and then on to Malaga. A clothes bag each and a our lovely shiney new Units safely tucked away in their travel cases, zip locked closed and secured. However, no sooner had we entered the airport and not eevn got as far as the check in and we have to go through a security check. Units go through the scanner and the man doesn't like/understand what he sees. I can't really understand why, it is only a plastic canaster with wires and a ticking clock coming out of it, jsut because it looks like a Hollywood bomb.

"OK, but they are locked, do you have anything we can use to cut the cable ties?"
"Cable ties, need to cut, don't have pen knife with me cos you don't allow them"

and our helpful (and I will admit he was more helpful than expected) customs guy produces a lighter and stars trying to burn through the box!! After much protestation he disappears off and comes back with a pair of tie wire snips and I have images of a very confused steel fixer somewhere who has been forced stop work while his snips are taken away for a matter of national security.

Anyway, boxes open and then the dreaded task of trying to explain to a land lubber customs guy what a rebreather is; him being of limited English and me being of limit patience. He then proceeds to rummage through the box and the unit while I attempt to prevent him reducing my new toy/investment (Helen and I will eventually agree on which of these it is) to an expensive lego set. I continuously explain it is for scuba diving, you know, diving under the sea. He doesn't look convinced........then, joy of joys, he spots something familiar and plunges his hand in, holds up with some pride a snorkle and says

"Ahhhh I know this!! Ok, you divers, you go"
Hurray, bags half re-packed and then the dreaded "But wait"
I roll my eyes and ask "what now". He looks inquisitorially at me again
"You have license for this? Let me see License".
"License? There is no such thing"
"There must be, you must have License, License, license license"
"What sort of License, what do you expect it to look like"
"Like License, you must have License"
"Believe me there is no such thing....."
but patience kicks in and an idea forms "Oh you mean this"
And throwing all sense to the wind I reach in to my wallet and pull out the trusty Padi Open Water Card
"Here you go, look, it says diver right here"
"Ahhh, yes, see you did have a license, I knew you did"
"Yes of course you are......erm....right".
On the plane and off we go, Malaga here we come.

After a 9 hour transit in Heathrow, during which the only highlight was buying a camera and then deciding to leave my boarding pass in Dixons safe hands followed by a PA system announcement request for me to come back and collect it as they are sure I will need it far more than they will, we have an uneventful journey on to Malaga - unless you find listening to Richard snore eventful.

Upon arrival at Malaga we waited for all the baggage to come off the plane and only actually received our two clothes bags. Then with horror we see the rebreathers circulating on their very own exclusive carousel three belts down.....behind a glass screen with some words eteched into the glass which I can only assume translated as "Stuff which looks expensivo which we will claim looks suspcisousio and keep it io"

We dash over and, after the now familiar ritual of opening the boxes up, explaining that they were dive equipment, having them prodded and poked I stepped forward and produced the Ace Card - THE SNORKEL!!
The smile of comprehension appears on the officials his face and he makes a call to his superiors.
"Ahhh, Eth ethth theth theth Scorchio theth theth Divingio."
Phone gos down "
Eba Eba underlay underlay".
"What, you want to see my License?"
I reach for the PADI card but wait, he is waving us on:
"No, No, Eba Eba underlay underlay".
And its out of the airport, meet Steve and Lou, dodge the Spanish Taxis hell bent on running us down and off to Chez Gould for a shower, tea and a good nights sleep.

Day 2 - Strip it down, build it up and hide the three spare screws left over.
As Richard rightly says, the Rebreathers are considerably more complicated bits of kit and have decidedly more "stuff" to look after, so the course starts with us getting up close and intimate with our units. And so starts a very pleasant day sat in the Spanish open air, taking stuff apart, putting it back together, taking it apart again because you found that hose that should have gone in first, reassembling and finally turning it all on and finding it still works much to our relief. - appart from those cursed autoairs, which I have yet to see why people like. Great idea in principle but I couldn't get the cursed thing to stop leaking.

The day then ended with a jug of sangria, watching the sun go down over the mountains and a discussion of the rest of the course itinerary - and I have to mention that Steve was so well organized and methodical on that the intinary even had slot in it for what Lou had to do each day. Good to see all that military training has taught Steve excellent organization skills, and a total disregard for danger that allows him to feel brave enough to give instructions to the wife!!

Day Three - Bubbles and Beached Wales

Our third day saw the bit we had been eagerly waiting for - Dive 1!! As we were staying with Steve and Lou in Malaga, but the best diving was in Gib, each days diving started with a hearty breakfast from Lou then an hour and a bits car journey down to Gibraltar, although as the days progressed this became an extra hours snooze on route.

We arrived at Rosia bay at about 9am and parked up on the quay side and step outside.......and it COLD!! Now OK it may only be March, and therefore balmy by UK diver standards, but to this tropical diver who did all his previous training in the UAE, starting a dive with a cold wind wiping around is an alien concept. But what can you do except tog up, kit up and shut up. Well, you can bitch and complain continuously of I ably demonstrated.

First dive (of the two planned for that day) was a sheltered water dive in the bay, max depth 6m for an hour. But what is it they say about mice and men (never feed them cheese before bedtime, it gives them nightmares). All kitted up we headed down to the little shingle beach and, buddy checks done, waded in. Bu&%er me, it was cold!! My good friend Mr Fikree had been very kind and lent me his spare dry suit for the trip, but even with this it still felt cold on the face and head....and through the hole I then found I torn in the ar&e of the dry suit (no holes really, but that should test if Mr Fikree is reading this).

And so began the dive - of sorts. We swam out to a suitable depth, gathered together and the OK and DOWN signals are exchanged by all. Then Steve goes down and Richard and I stay exactly where we are. No, we hadn't frozen with fear or the cold of the water, it would simply appear that gravity has taken the day off and we are not sinking. Now come on, think back to your dive training - to sink you let all the air out of your jacket and breath out. So why is it not working in Gib? Think, think think......Steve has resurfaced and gives some well thought advice to the newbies - "breath out over the mouth piece you numpties!!"

There then proceeds a 15 minute period of Richard and I blowing rasberries to Rosia Bay (which seems very disrespectful given her heritage), getting our heads below water and immediately popping back up to the surface. Squashing the lungs are tried, finning down is tried, duck dives are tried and after 15-20 minutes of this the waves have washed two tired and frustrated divers up on the shore, rolling about in the surf and trying to win back a bit of dignity, like a pair of beached wales. Steve (who I am sure is laughing is head off but hiding it by keeping his mask on and mouth piece in) helps us to our feet and up the beach.

Now a word of explanation here for the reader: With the rebreather, when you breath out the air passes in to a counterlung on your right had side, goes through the system and comes back to the left hand counterlung. As such the air never leaves the system. Therefore the trained scuba diver action of controlling bouyancy by breathing in and out is lost because your bouyancy doesn't change. Even when you breath over the mouth piece you need to then remember to get a few meters below the surface before then breathing in again, otherwise the unit simply detects that the volume has dropped and reinflates the lungs from the diluent cylinder and you are back to square one. Richard and I spent a lot of time in square one, and it ain't nearly as interesting as we would have hoped.

So, we return to our intrepid heroes to see they have slat their fins, marched up the beach and decided they are never going to use those f@#$ing yellow boxes again. Steve takes the hint, stops laughing, and agrees that the intended lesson has been learn't and we can head back to the car. Lou serves up hot coffee while we strip down and pack up with that wind still wipping around. Explain to me again why people dive in cold places?

Day 4 - Divers Down!!
The second days diving was much more of a success as we returned to Rosia and, following a long debreif and general chat about things the night before, had a much better appreciation of what is going on. We were then able to get straight down this time. A fantastic day of two dives in the bay with the heightlight being getting VERY up close and personally with a few octopus who, with the lack of bubbles, where happy coming right up to us, and in my case putting a tentacle on my mask. Sweet.

Over the two dives we ran through all the drills required, clocked up 120minutes bottom time and made a max depth of a lofty 9.6m!! We are hardcore. Although with everything being alien all over again I now have the utmost sympathy for the trainee divers trying to master buoyancy control for the first time. I take back all the unsympathetic expletives I have muttered into my regulator as I have watched a student crash into the seabed or had to grab an ankle as they float off to the surface.

Day 5, 6 and 7 - The wrecks of Gib
I won't bore you with all the details of the next three days training suffice to say there were lots of drills, tests and good diving. We progressively built up depth as we dived the detached mole, the Arc Wreck and the Roslyn Wreck. If you want good vis, great quality wrecks and short boat journeys you should seriously think about a trip to Gib.

The only noteworthy (i.e. amusing part) was the surfacing after the Roslyn dive. And I'll admit it I was the source of the amusement. One of the drills is the deployment of an SMB which, even if I say so myself, I did expertly bring us all to the surface safely etc. However, as Steve may have mentioned earlier in the training (I'm not quite sure) he hates the Halcyon style spools as the line can have a habit of coming off the spool after it has been wound away.......and low and behold mine did just that. It proceeded to wrap itself around my legs and ankles to the extent that by the time the boat picked us up Richard and Steve had to unceremoniously cut my legs free so I could climb the ladder.

Now Mr Claridge and Mr Jenkins may recall this same thing happening to me about two years ago in Oman, except Mr Claridge was not so sympathetic/helpful and did insist I wait hanging on to teh side of the boat while he finished his sausages before he freed me. So lesson learnt and the spools have been retired in favor of a nice Custom Divers hand the hand combat reel.

Day 8 - Bottom Time!!
Day 8 showed us just why rebreathers are fantastic. We dived the wreck of the excellence which lies a very short boat journey off Gib harbor. The dive was fantastic with the highlight of a PAIR of sun fish passing through. This dive took place at the weekend and so we were joined on the boat by six local open circuit divers. Richard, Steve and I were first in the water on the dive site and were joined about 5 minutes later by the submersible soda streams. After about 25minutes bottom time we then bid them farewell and carried on to complete our planned 60 minute dive (with no deco and only using 80bar of gas - god I love these units).

After a few laps of the wreck, our sun fish encounter and a few more "extra" drills, which I won't details in case yo plan to do Steve's course, we surfaced on a run time of 59miniutes. We swam over to the boat with quite a chill wind blowing and lots of spray around. As we boarded the ladder the boat hand asked how the diving went "Brillant, and we saw sun fish" I proclaimed at top of my voice "I love this rebreather diving lark". Funnily enough none of the miserable open circuit divers were around to help us up the ladder or take our fins to we strugged aboard to find them all huddled in a corner in cold wet suits trying to stay warm and keep out of the wind and they had been for the last 30minutes while they waited for us!! I kept quite about how great my rebreather is for the journey back to harbor.

Day 9 & 10 - Going through the drills
The rest of the diving was great with a return to Roslyn ( a fantastic wreck), plenty of octopus encounters and eventually the best hand signal Steve has at his disposal - miming a pair of scissors on the prompt slates to indicate no more tests, no more drills you are done!!

All in all the trip to Gib was a long journey to get there and colder than this fair weather diver was used to, but it was all well worth it. The diving is first rate, the training was of course excellent and the discussions/explanations both interesting and informative. The accommodation and catering was the best around and Gib is full of history and interest for post dive wanders. Thanks go to Steve and Lou for their time, patence and tour guide skills

The units are the mutts nuts to dive and if anybody is even contemplating going down the rebreather route I would urge you to throw caution to the wind and do it. Sell your car, your wife/husband and even your house if necessary because you won't look back.

But most importantly of all, forget the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy's insistence that the well seasoned traveler always knows were his towel is. The seasoned rebreather traveller is well advised to always have a trusty snorkel at hand as well as the universally recognized "PADI everything license".

Yellow Box Of Delights - Rebreather Training

After years of lustfully looking at the lovely yellow boxes Steven Beckett and I have finally taken the plunge and got rebreathers.
As well as saving up the pennies and the long delivery times the training is the big issue.
The units have massive benefits, much longer duration , no bubble’s much greater no decompression times but the down side of this is that the control systems are more complicated so training is much more detailed.

For training we traveled to Gibraltar for training with Steve Gould. The entire bay is littered with wreck in all depths, just minutes from the harbor by boat.
The training started off in the historic Rosia Bay, where the Victory first brought Admiral Nelson’s Body after the Battle of Trafalgar.
The site was great, shame I can’t say the same about our skills. The first dive was like being a novice again, which we are again now. Spent all the time trying to get used to buoyancy, as the breathing loop is closed you can’t use your lungs to control buoyancy.

There was also lots to learn about the gear with dis-assembly and re-assembly every day to change tanks, fill Sofnolime.
However under the superb instruction of Mr. Gould it started to come together and got the hang. Now the diving starts for real :-)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

East Coat on Saturday 21st April

Most peoples' weekend in the UAE falls on Friday and Saturday. I was busy with other DSDC business on Friday, so at some uncivilised hour of Saturday morning I set off from Dubai across to Fujairah, there to meet with the other club divers, launch the boat and have a couple of dives.

Desert Sports Diving Club keeps one of its boats dry-moored on a trailer at Fujairah Marine Club. The boat is under a sunshade during the week, and it's a lot more convenient to hitch up the trailer here and to use FIMC's slipway than to drag the boat (shiny new trailer notwithstanding) from the Dubai clubhouse over the mountains and back.

There wasn't a breath of wind first thing in the morning and the sea was like glass. The five divers loaded the boat and set off up the coast to Martini Rock. It was very pleasing to note that the mooring buoy has been replaced; there is no need to damage the sea life with an anchor.

The first group of three divers kitted up and lobbed into the oggin. Although the water looked very clear from the surface, there turned out to be a thermocline at around five metres, below which the water was chillier and also rather murky. There were also numerous long brown strands of some unidentified coelenterate wafting around in the gloom. As I approached the sea bed, I discovered that these brown strands were all of angry and extremely painful jellyfish. Headbutting these, I discovered, was a very bad plan. So, it turned out, was diving in a shorty wetsuit, and I'm not referring to the 24 degrees water temperature.

Soldiering on, Martini Rock offered its usual delightful array of marine life, including the usual plethora of lionfish, morays, goatfish, filefish and a couple of large broomtail wrasse. Unfortunately one of my buddies got stung by the nasty strands of jellyfish right through a lycra skinsuit, so after half an hour we decided to escape to the surface.

The other buddy pair had a rather better time. They were both completely covered in neoprene and therefore hardly got stung. They returned with photos of a large stingray and some cuttlefish, among other things. And as we sat on the boat we were taunted by a turtle that must have been hanging around underwater just out of sight.

As we slipped off our mooring the wind had started to pick up, although the sea failed to produce any large waves. We made good speed in comfort to Inchcape 10, which is an old support vessel sunk just off Fujairah as an artificial reef. She lies upright in around 24m and is conveniently buoyed and thus very easy to locate.

We dived in the same buddy pairings as before. To my delight I observed that there were almost none of the brown string horrors here. Those that did exist were easy to spot and to avoid. Inchcape 10 is teeming with shoaling fish, and by looking carefully you can find lots of nudibranchs. There's also a family of large puffer fish all of which seem oblivious to divers. Last time I was here I found a decorator crab, but there was no such luck this time.

It's a very short ride from Inchcape 10 back to Fujairah Marine Club, where we recovered the boat, packed up our kit and headed off back to our respective homes. All in all, a very pleasant day out. A shame about the stinging things, but I hope this is a very temporary situation. (Note to self regarding a sting suit.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mariam sends her regards

We were supposed to be diving Mariam on Friday but the weather and high seas conspired to stop us and we had to call off the dive about 2Km out of Umm Suqeim harbour.
Fortunately the weather on Saturday was much better so we launched Diver 1 and Diver 4 from EPPCO Harbour and made the marker buoy for the Mariam Express in less than fifty minutes. We anchored Diver 1 on the wreck and tied Diver 4 astern ready to give chase if a diver drifted away from the wreck.
As it happened the currents were light and divers surfacing on the high points of the superstructure were easily able to swim back to the boats.
Mariam herself is now well covered in marine growth and is an absolute delight to explore. She was a Ro-Ro (roll-on roll-off) vessel and her large holds are both open and easily accessible. The lower hold was full of a cargo of large tyres and is a dark and tangled void requiring care, a good torch and a line to find the way back out. The upper hold situated below the accommodation and bridge is home to a large collection of very disparate items. A pallet of rather garish crockery sets is accompanied by stacks of bedding, old computer game consoles and LNBs (the bit on the arm of a satellite dish). All of these are jumbled around and are now starting to decompose in the salt water. Swimming to the end of the hold reveals a grilled opening onto the uppermost side of the hull. Once again caution is required, as is always the case when diving with overhead obstructions.
The crew accommodation and bridge decks are directly above the smaller upper hold and are very congested with the remains of internal partitions, bed frames and sundry rotting junk. It is however possible to swim through a window above the hold, right the way through and up to the bridge passing the galley and laundry facilities on the way. This area could do with being cleared to make it safer and more accessible.
Behind the rear hold is a large expanse of flat deck to which several scooters and wheel-loader Caterpillars were secured. These are now scattered on the sand or suspended from the deck and becoming quite overgrown with shells and barnacles. One of the Caterpillars has the remains of a car pinned under it’s front bucket – I hope the owner’s insurance covered this sort of eventuality.
Adjacent to this wrecked car and digger tryst are the rear funnels of the vessel with louvered ventilation panels giving access down the funnel into the engine room. Sadly we didn’t have long to check out this area but will try to return for a longer investigation.
All in all a very enjoyable day of diving and we hope to make a return visit in the near future.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I’ve got a date with Mariam. She’s a lovely lass, a bit shallow and starting to look a little tired in places but she has hidden charms that I’d really like to explore. I’ll let you all know how the date went after the weekend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mine's a Martini

Martini Rock is always an entertaining dive. The site is easily accessible by boat from Khor Fakkan on the UAE east coast. Although only a few metres from the mainland, it's impossible to get there by land as there are steeply-sided mountains dipping right to the water's edge. The rock is immensely popular with all of the commercial dive outfits as well as local clubs. This can be a disadvantage. With four or five dive boats clustered around the site there can be dozens of divers in the water at the same time.

The Emirates Diving Association (EDA) established a mooring buoy next to the site a little while back. This has unfortunately disappeared. Perhaps some felonious ne'er-do-well decided that a free buoy was too good an opportunity to miss, or perhaps he believed that by removing the buoy no-one would be able to find the site. Either way, someone hacksawed through the padlocked mooring chain and made off with the float.

As Martini Rock rises from the sandy sea bed from between 13m and 20m to within a couple of metres of the surface, the top is usually visible from the boat, so anchoring in more or less the right place is generally pretty easy. We usually try to hit the sand to one side of the rock rather than dropping a load of ironmongery on to the soft coral.

Incidentally, the shallowness of the top of the rock makes snorkelling viable, but beware of currents. I regard continuous boat cover as a must.

The rock is covered with teddy bear coral and there are generally large shoals of sergeant majors, blue-stripe snappers and fusiliers streaming over and around the rock. A couple of large puffer fish are resident, and definitely look out for the lionfish, stonefish and moray eels that abound. Recently a lot of feather stars have appeared. In the sand there are shrimp gobies and goatfish. Turtles often appear too, which is always a treat.

Underwater visibility unfortunately has a habit of being only a few metres. But there's plenty of small stuff to check out if you're willing to get up close and personal.

With the Inchcape 2 wreck a mere stone's throw away (hand me my ballista) there are two easily acessible dive sites close to Khor Fakkan slipway. But the Inchcape wrecks are a different subject.

Dive Report - Dara – 16th March 2007

The weather forecast was borderline and we weren’t sure if the sea was going to be calm enough but we set off from Hamriya regardless, we’re hardy souls and the lure of diving outweighs a bit of discomfort due to chop. A lightly loaded boat of six divers made for a comfortable and spacious run out to the wreck of Dara and the waves and offshore wind were not as bad as expected.

We had both a shot line and anchor on board to cover all eventualities but decided on the latter when we reached the wreck site. My buddy and I were the second pair down the anchor line and as we descended we could make out the shape of the hull and an alarming veil of fishing nets draped over the superstructure and held taut by the reasonable current. The anchor had fallen on the hull side of the wreck and we lodged it into a small depression to prevent the current dragging it away. The visibility was reasonable for Dara at around 7m and we decided to head towards the bow, clockwise around the wreck, to see if there were any changes from our last visit nearly four months before. Around three metres from the broken up centre section there is a large split in the hull which is gradually getting bigger. This appears to have been caused by the hull compressing like a concertina when she sank and it will soon be large enough for more generously proportioned divers such as myself to fit through.

As we swam round to the bows it became apparent that the nets on the stern section were not the only ones. The bows and front mast were covered with fine mesh and, in poor visibility, this could present a real danger, particularly in a high current or for novice divers. This being Sharjah BSAC’s “home” wreck we’re going to discuss clearing the nets with them. As it happened we did manage to free a large crab which was very entangled with the nets. Sadly a large blue fish (not sure of the species) had already died and we came across it’s remains.

From the bow section we carried on back to the stern and swam into the wreck through a hole adjacent to the rudder. There are always large barracuda in this area and, once again, they didn’t disappoint.

The inside of the wreck at the stern resembles the carcass of a giant animal. The steel ribs of the ship are visible where the wooden planking has decayed and the large open holds allow a simple and current-free swim-through. For the more adventurous there are companionways between the decks to investigate and lots of different areas to poke around in. Once again though the nets over some of the openings in the hull needed to be avoided.

We enjoyed a leisurely 45 minutes on the wreck before making our way back to the anchor line for a gentle ascent and safety stop.
The second dive was a similar affair with the added excitement of a lucky find – but that’s a whole different story.

An introduction

This blog is written by members of the Desert Sports Diving Club, DSDC in Dubai in the sunny United Arab Emirates, and their various friends and associates.

The DSDC is branch 1339 of the British Sub-Aqua Club, BSAC.