Sunday, May 13, 2007

What did you do on your weekend?

Unless you won a Grand Prix, were the sole jackpot winner in the Lottery or had Claudia Schiffer declare her undying love for you, your weekend was nowhere near as good as mine!

Four of us made an early start on Friday leaving the clubhouse before 6am and heading for Ras Al Khaimah where we launched Diver 1. The sea was as flat as a millpond without a ripple in sight and we made excellent progress arriving at the Energy Determination in 45 minutes. My buddy and I were the first pair in the water and descended to 39 metres where the anchor had become entangled with ropes on the wreck. As we checked the security of the anchor a large ray glided overhead probably wondering who these noisy characters were invading it’s realm.

From there we descended to 55m and spent the next 18 minutes gradually ascending whilst swimming around the remains of this vast vessel. Energy Determination was an oil tanker being towed to port following an explosion on board. The stern section split away from the main body of the vessel and has been in this location since 1979. As an indication of her size; the starboard side lies in the sand at 80m whilst the port side rises up to 30m – that’s one big ship!

Swimming around Energy is like no other wreck – it’s like flying around a skyscraper with the vast bulk rising above you and the sandy bottom so far below. During our dive we were accompanied by the largest tuna I have ever seen and the variety of sea-life is unbelievable.

Returning to the anchor I had 20 minutes of decompression accrued on my dive computer and this rose to 22 minutes as we made two minute stops at 30 and 18 metres. Once above 12m I had programmed my computer to plan for a 50% Nitrox mix which I had taken with me in a 5 litre pony tank. I should mention that my buddy was diving on an Evolution rebreather and had less of a decompression penalty than I did but still carried a deco mix in case of emergency.

The second dive was more of a lighthearted affair as we only descended to 40m then swam to the top of the wreck and “played” in the current. As the water sweeps over the bulk of the ship there is a huge washing machine effect at the railings on the upper side and the fish swirling around in this maelstrom were an amazing sight to behold.

I think I wasted more air laughing then I did breathing and my buddy and I took plenty of photos and video which we’ll be boring other members of the club with in the near future.

An excellent day of diving and I would encourage all experienced members to have a go at this wreck – definitely one for the log-book.

Saturday saw us taking two boats out to Mariam Express and once again the sea conditions were perfect. A slight current was running at the wreck site but nowhere near as strong as we’ve seen in the past. I had two buddies on the first dive and we descended on one of the hawsers floating up from just in front of the bridge. The visibility was excellent at around 15m and after about three minutes swimming alongside the ship heading towards the stern we came across a large ray which we left undisturbed hiding in the sand.

A quick tour of the whole wreck gave my buddies the lie of the land and revealed a large number of Nudibranch, both the black “Spanish Dancer” and the white “Spectacled” varieties.

I think these are some of the most beautiful creatures but so often overlooked by divers more interested in the bigger marine life.

Swimming around the bridge we bumped into a shoal of Batfish watching the divers invading their domain so we spent a few minutes floating with them before ascending to do our safety stop and return to the boat.

The second dive I buddied up with two different divers and we again explored the complete wreck including a poke around in the upper hold looking at the strange assortment of bric-a-brac she was carrying when she went down.

The visibility was not as good this time and the ray had moved on since our encounter on the first dive but the shoals of fish around the wreck above 10m was fantastic. There were Barracuda and Jacks chasing all the other, smaller, fish and the water was crystal clear. With temperatures now up to 28 centigrade a leisurely safety stop was in order and we took full advantage to watch the marine circus spinning around us.

An excellent weekend of diving - did you win the Grand Prix or something more boring? Next weekend come diving with us – it certainly beats watching TV.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Musandam En Masse

The Grumpy Goat has already penned a brief entry on this trip but I thought I’d add my own (selfish) notes:

An early start again on Friday as we made our various ways to Dibba for another of our monthly dhow trips to the Musandam. Marion had done an excellent job of arranging two dhows to transport over 60 divers and non-divers for the day. Our usual double-decker dhow was out of service but the replacement boats were comfortable and spacious enough for our purposes.

We headed north at 7:45 and, once we reached Fish-Head Rock sent out a fast boat from the larger dhow to get the first wave of divers onto Lima Rock – luckily my buddy and I were in this group. We arrived at Lima to find there was no current running and that the visibility was excellent. The stingers that have plagued divers over the previous few weeks were much less in evidence and the water temperature was now up to 28 centigrade – luxury.

My buddy and I rolled into the water on the southern side of the rock close to the western edge. The tip of the rock is normally swept by very strong currents and can be dived with a reef hook and a lot of care. On this occasion we took a leisurely dive down to 40m then gradually ascended up the flanks of the rock then over the submerged ridge and onto the northern side. I have dived this only once before in slack current and on that occasion found a surge hole and vertical cave system running through the cliff. On Friday we found it again and made full use of our time to check out all of it’s nooks and crannies.

The cave starts at about 16m and looks like a shallow crevice in the cliff face. Closer inspection reveals wide cracks rising to right and left with sunlight visible through the former; so up we went. The crack opens up again at around 8m and leads further up and into the cliff. This leads into a surge hole and another crack leading down with the seabed visible far below (about 35m depth at this point). My buddy and I decided that this chimney-like hole was also worth investigating so down we went again ending up in the cave where we started at 16m. This may sound like a roller-coaster dive but both of us were using computers and had plenty of air and at no time were we compromising our dive profiles.

Swimming back up through the cave we decided to swim through the surge hole and complete our dive with a leisurely safety stop on the westerly tip of the island. The surge hole is over a metre wide and about two deep and was tricky to fin through at first until the surge changed direction and spat us out on the other side with huge grins on our faces.

On the rare occasion that Lima is current free I would strongly recommend diving this area and keep an eye out for this cave, provided you’re qualified and experienced enough to dive it.

After the exhilaration of our first dive we had the opportunity to relax on the dhow (which had now caught up with us) whilst the second & third waves enjoyed their go at Lima.

Once everyone was back on-board, enthusing about the 20m visibility and all the things they saw, we headed south with the intention of diving The Cave. Once again the fast boat headed off with the first wave and deposited us at Fish-Head Rock about 100m north of the cave itself. This area is strewn with giant boulders that have fallen from the cliff above and at 10 to 15m provides an easy second dive with the benefit of dozens of swim-throughs under the house-sized rocks. For those not wanting to swim in these rock caves there is excellent reef life and colourful corals to admire. My buddy and I spent fifty minutes swimming into holes in the rock, photographing fish and generally enjoying the dive – including spotting a turtle swimming above us.

A relaxing dhow trip back to Dibba passed in a very short time as we “power napped” in preparation for the drive back to Dubai.
An excellent day and two of the finest dives ever – we really are spoilt being able to dive as we do every weekend. Thanks to Marion for a grand day out.

Dhow trip 4th May

We're back from a dhow trip to Limah Rock on the Mussandam peninsula last Friday. The trip was exceptional. Two dhows meant that there was actually some space to move about on the deck, and the long slow trip was very comfortable because the sea was dead flat.

Visibility was an excellent 15m plus, and the sea temperature was between 25C and 27C. It's nearly time to eschew the wetsuit for another year. Or possibly not: the nasty brown stingy strings of jellyfish are still around. At least with no current and good viz, the jellyfish are easily visible and can largely be avoided.

Turtles and stingrays were available to be spotted at both Limah Rock and at Fish Head Rock, the site of the second dive.

The one-day dhow trip is always going to be a very long day, with a 90-minute drive from Dubai and a three-hour boat trip at each end of an all too brief dip in the sea.

Thanks to Marian for organising, and to the Glabrous Diver for assisting.