There was no club boat out this weekend owing to most people having other plans and / or commitments. This doesn’t mean there’s no diving to report however. If you read last week’s email you’ll know I was in Saudi Arabia, the idea being to witness a survey of a project that has gone banana shaped. A combination of Saudi bureaucracy and fully booked Emirates planes left me with a couple of days to kill and the prospect of getting very bored in a hotel room.
But always improve the shining hour! A quick browse of the internet found Desert Sea Divers who didn’t seem bothered that I had no gear whatsoever and were happy to send a car to the hotel to pick me up. Not free of charge of course but a big help nevertheless. Which is how I found myself sailing out of a harbour up the coast in “FALL 5”, a very nice dive boat, chatting to a couple of Americans (Matt and Robert) and looking forward to some very unexpected Red Sea diving.
The first dive was on the “Anan Wreck”, about two hours sailing out of harbour. There are apparently a lot of wrecks around here and it’s not hard to see why. Several times on the way out we saw waves breaking over reefs that were just below the surface and it wouldn’t take much of a navigational error or on-board mishap to end up on one. The “Anan” was one such – a vessel that seems to have hit a reef head on and come off very much second best. There is a permanent line attached near the stern which we descended and set off towards what’s left of the bow. The ship was once a cargo vessel but it seems to have hit the reef with some force – parts of the hull have unpeeled like a sardine tin – and it’s been down a good while although exactly how long seems uncertain. The ship has a huge propeller – I’d estimate about 5m diameter with a rudder of similarly impressive dimensions.
A wreck acting “like an artificial reef” is a phrase I’ve used before in relation to the Arabian Gulf but this wreck seems likely to become a real one with hard and soft corals growing all over it. The fish life was not exactly abundant but the viz was excellent as you’d expect from the Red Sea and is one of the reasons people dive there. The other surprise was the water temperature. The guy in the shop told me I wouldn’t need a wet-suit. I took one anyway and was glad I did but it was only a shorty and there were a couple of people on the boat who didn’t bother. The temperature was around 26 C or about five degrees warmer than the Gulf at the moment.
On the way to the second dive site, the boat came upon a large pod of dolphins that spent about twenty minutes playing with the boat while it circled around. They would have played longer and we would have stayed longer but in the end we had to leave. It was a memorable encounter.
The second dive site was called “Table Mountain” – so-called because it is a flat-topped reef, almost circular in shape that almost reaches the surface. Once in the water, we headed off anti-clockwise on twenty minutes out-twenty minutes back principle. The viz and the scenery were again excellent but again the fish-life was rather less abundant than I’d hoped for. Robert (who dives regularly around here) told me later that we were unlucky and it’s usually much better. We did see a huge moray and a small ray which in size and shape resembled the electric rays you find in the Gulf except that it had blue spots.
After a very decent biryani, we headed off for dive number three at a site called “Abu Reef”. To my eyes the site looked identical to “Table Mountain” but I wasn’t about to refuse a dive on that account and we took the plunge. This time we took the clockwise tour and this time did the full 360 degrees. There was another ray similar to the last one sitting on the seabed waiting for a meal and at mid-distance a very nice orange and white nudibranch. We also saw an anemone with a couple of clownfish repelling invaders (us). In total a fifty minute dive to finish and I was quite tired by the time we saw the boat and climbed back on board.
So a very good day all round – many thanks to Ziyad of Desert Sea Divers and the crew of “FAL 5”, not forgetting my good buddies, Matt and Robert. As I have said, the fish life was a bit sparser than expected but you can’t legislate for these things and I wonder if with the Musandam on our doorsteps, do we expect too much sometimes? You can hardly just book a flight out there but I’d recommend anyone going to Jeddah for some other reason to pack a mask and dive computer and contrive a day out if possible – it’s definitely worth it. Desert Sea Divers have a web site with all the contact details. They have local backing and are unlikely to disappear but are subject to ever-changing Saudi rules and regulations.