It was another calm day on the water on Friday which was handy as we had some wreck hunting to do. A cargo vessel / dhow had gone down in flames a week earlier and we’d acquired some (we hoped) reliable co-ordinates from contacts within Sharjah Port. That is something we won’t ignore as it’s always good to have new targets. In this case though, we spent over an hour doing search patterns without seeing anything other than flat seabed. At this point we decided to abandon the search for now and see if we could get better information.
Since we were only 2km from the Nasteran at this point we decided to dive that instead. The Nasteran is an upturned landing craft that never used to be very exciting. As time goes by and more openings appear in the hull there will be more places to explore inside the wreck.
We had a guest diver in the shape of Chris Head, my opposite number at DSDC. Chris had brought his re-breather along – possibly the first time we’ve had one on board a 406 boat. Chris explained a bit about the equipment including the importance of making sure all the hoses are properly connected. Get this wrong and the lung fills with water meaning that the hapless diver has no alternative but to climb back on board, drain the water out, mutter about being an idiot and a dickhead before rolling back in. We’re grateful to Chris for sharing his experience with us and we particularly enjoyed his practical demonstration.
Maybe we weren’t expecting much but the Nasteran was an excellent dive. There were five or six marble rays swimming around the vessel and a large shoal of barracuda that swept over the upturned hull. The viz was above average – say 6 or 7m – and we had a few excursions inside the wreck. PJ was out with us for the first time in a while so we’re looking forward to his new video (a small extract above).
For dive two we went to the Sha (aka Barracuda Barge) mainly because it was close and we haven’t dived it for a while. So long in fact that no-one could remember what it looked like. It’s actually a small barge split into two parts a short distance apart. It’s an attractive dive with well established fish life but not one that you’d travel a long way to visit. Still it made a change even if the water was beginning to feel a bit cold by the finish.
Last weekend for a change the weather seemed to be promising so we decided to have a go for the Ajman Glory which we haven’t been to for a while. It’s a nice wreck but 30km away so we tend to go elsewhere in rough seas. No such problems on Friday – the sea was like glass so we were able to open up the throttles and get there in quick time. We had company when we first arrived – a guy and his small son were fishing and kept drifting in close, requiring us to fend off at one point. They left in the end.
The Ajman Glory is in some ways the Victoria Star writ small. The shape and layout are virtually the same although it’s a bit deeper making the dives a bit shorter. Having been down a lot longer the fish life is a lot more established and varied with snappers, jacks, angelfish and others. There’s also a shoal of batfish who live in the rigging next to the bridge and we spent a few minutes among them. The idea that you can virtually shake hands with batfish is mostly untrue but as long as you stay about half a metre away, most don’t seem bothered by divers.
Multiple fines may be levied on our Chairman for variously: failing to find the anchor at the end of his dive, fraudulently claiming said anchor had been moved, surfacing with less than 50 bar, congratulating himself for surfacing so close to the boat when in fact we’d travelled 150m to pick him out of the water. In fairness these weren’t the only misdemeanours on the day. Someone I know very well nearly went over the side minus a weight belt but hey...no-one’s perfect.
We might have a bit of wreck searching to do – a few ships seem to have been colliding, catching fire and generally coming to grief over the last little while. As we’ve learnt before, newspaper reports don’t necessarily translate into new dive sites but it’s interesting all the same.
The Facebook page continues to gather friends. For the benefit of the FB unbelievers I attach the Phil Ritson cartoon which he posted. But who are these people? Anyone remember?
With the weather looking none too promising on Friday, we decided to plan a Saturday dive instead. This turned out to be a good move as the sea was relatively calm despite the thunderstorms the previous evening. This is not to say it was mirror smooth but we’ve been out in worse and it got better as the day wore on. Not that we were out there that long – Mike Dalton’s friend Robin, late of Kuwait Mantas, came out with us and although he wasn’t diving, he was happy to handle the boat. This gave us the luxury of going in all at once without needing two waves.
The target was the Victoria Star – being close to shore this seemed sensible in view of the uncertain weather. The viz wasn’t too bad considering the recent wind and rain but the sea isn’t showing much sign of warming up just yet. On descending there were some barracuda cruising around just off the wreck and a group of seven or eight batfish just behind the bridge where they seem to have found a home. There were also a couple of leopard rays, one near the bow being an impressive size. Some of the internal partitioning is now collapsing giving some larger spaces inside to explore. Caution is advised of course.
After a smooth ride home, we were sipping refreshments by the pool shortly after 2.45.
After an AGM commitment to get a Facebook page running, Cathy has done the needful and we are there under “Sharjah Wanderers Dive Club”. Not being a regular user of FB I’m not sure exactly how it works but expect friend requests if you haven’t already had one. Phil Ritson has already posted one of his excellent cartoons from a few years back as well as a clip of video footage from the club’s 25th anniversary which would have been around 1996. Lots more to come we hope.
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.
Ian Hussey and guest writers.