Last weekend was the long awaited Khasab trip which proved a memorable experience in more ways than one and provided some useful lessons, not least in negotiating border crossings. Some of you may remember the days when going to Dibba involved merely crossing a wadi and even the main Emirati border posts were empty patches of gravel. Those days are gone; getting through the Hatta/Wajaja border from Dubai for example, now requires crossing seven checkpoints, two before you even reach Hatta. This costs time of course but also means that all papers and cards must be in order with no unexpected complications. Several of us fell foul of the system in various ways although in the end we all made it to the destination.
Having said all that, the first problem was mainly my fault. Through sloth and inattention I had allowed the car registration to lapse which wouldn’t have been a problem since they don’t check the registration cards at the border crossings. Except now they do and needless to say an out-of–date card caused some consternation and nearly prevented us from leaving the Emirates, never mind reaching Oman. Fortunately after some fervent pleading and promising we were allowed to continue having lost only five minutes or so but it was a close run thing.
Geoff, Peter and Andy weren’t so lucky. Arriving at the border the following morning, Geoff was denied entry to Oman because of his tank of nitrox in the back which was clearly a dangerous chemical and possibly explosive. Having failed to convince the border police otherwise, Geoff rang Sami who has got us out of trouble before with his native Arabic and tongue as silver as his hair. True to form Sami was able to convince the police that Geoff was a diver and was not intent on wreaking havoc in the Sultanate or terrorising its citizens. Just the same they were not sufficiently convinced to allow the offending tank into the country.
Meanwhile Peter and Andy, travelling separately but arriving only five minutes behind became caught up in the same situation. Seeing the dive gear the police concluded correctly that they were in the same party as Geoff but incorrectly that Peter’s car would also be carrying dangerous tanks. They weren’t backing down and Peter’s car had to stay at the border despite the complete absence of diving tanks of any kind. They did allow Peter and Andy to continue having first transferred all their gear into Geoff’s car. The logic of this defeats me completely but at least everyone was into Oman albeit minus one car and some tanks and half an hour behind schedule.
Had we but known it, Sami had needed to use his persuasive skills on his own behalf the previous day. He’d flown in from Beirut on Wednesday evening and arriving at the border on Thursday afternoon, he was told the system had not registered his entry to the UAE and that therefore he didn’t exist. One would have thought that a living, breathing human being clutching a passport would be strong de facto evidence of a person’s existence in the UAE. As ever, officialdom works otherwise and Sami was unable to prove his point with an entry stamp since he’d come in through the e-gate. Instead he managed to orchestrate a phone conversation between the border police and some person at the e-gate office at Dubai airport who was able to say that Sami had indeed entered the country the previous day. His existence confirmed, Sami was able to proceed.
The serious message here is that the e-gate system seems to take 24 hours to recognise anybody as having entered the UAE and anyone wanting to cross a border less time than that after arrival would be well advised to get a stamp in their passport, even if means a long queue.
After all this the diving might seem anti-climatic but such was not the case. We were with Extra Divers which is next to the Golden Tulip hotel just outside of Khasab. Since there were eleven of us, we had a boat to ourselves along with Dive Master Kurt and two boat drivers. The first destination was “No-palm Beach” on Musandam Island which was about an hour out of Khasab. Despite the name this was not a beach dive – we dived the reef around the island which starts shallow before sloping down to 40m or deeper. The viz was not spectacular but the large table corals were very attractive. There were plenty of soft corals as well and the usual reef fishes found in the Musandam. There was also a turtle swimming around and seen by some of us. The current was gentle which was good as it can vary unpredictably in this area as we were shortly to find out.
The second dive was on Abu Rashid Island and the dive site was called Abu Rashid Drift. This really was no joke. The current varied with position and depth during the dive but in general it was one-way traffic only. Unlike the first dive the sea bed went down steeply in what was virtually a wall so care was needed not to go too deep. There were fields of very nice purple coloured soft corals which could be appreciated during those moments when not trying hard to stay on the reef. In the event Peter got blown off and had to surface after only twelve minutes or so but most of the rest of us made it round the corner into calmer conditions in shallower depths. After that we had a relaxing boat ride back to shore. Peter described the day as “one dive and a washing machine”.
The party split in two at this point. Peter, Geoff, Derek, Chris and Andy went off to do a night dive whilst the rest of cracked a couple of cans in the bar. The latter activity needs little elaboration but let Peter describe the night dive:
“There was limited enthusiasm for the last dive of the day, a shallow night dive to 10m on a deliberately sunk transport landing craft, laden with aircraft wings on the deck. After the disappointment of the afternoon dive, five of us decided to go for it. The Extra boat was much less pressured with fewer divers, and we changed into our gear while still in Khasab harbour as last light faded. The dive site was only ten minutes away, in the entrance to the first fjord. Close to the cliffs, there was no current, and the shallow water was comfortably warm - lucky for Derek who forgot to bring his wet-suit!
The night diving party returned to the hotel to join the rest of us for an excelent buffet meal accompanied with generous amounts of liquid refreshment. All in all it was a very good day and many thanks are due to Kurt and Sandra of Extra Divers.
In the morning we all went our separate ways, some of us to the nearest sun-loungers but others were more adventurous. Geoff picks up the story:
“After collecting their kit from Extra Divers and saying farewell to the others in the group who were heading straight back to Sharjah, Derek, Andy and Geoff set off to explore more of Musandam. The first port of call was Khor Najd, where spectacular views are obtained at the top of the approach climb and a steep winding gravel track leads down to a remote beach used by local fishermen. Derek and Andy decided to sample the warm waters and check for marine life with mask and snorkel but with little success. The next stop was the acacia forest at the end of Wadi Sall Ala, barely 10 km further east from Khor Najd where a shady spot was found for lunch beneath some of the numerous trees.
Many thanks to Geoff for organising the weekend. The divers were: Geoff, Derek, Ian, Cathy, Mike A, Andy, Peter, Chris, Sami, Richard and snorkeler Sharon. Some pictures are attached – many thanks to those who sent them to me.
For those interested, the club is featured in the next edition of “Time Out Sharjah” – available next week at a newsagent near you.
We are planning another Eid-al-Adha trip to Beirut to dive the Souffleur, the Vichy French submarine that went down in June 1941 as well as one or two other wrecks such as the “Alice B”. Eid this year is due around 15 October but the exact dates and duration is not known yet. More details will follow and the trip is highly recommended.
The club is open as usual tomorrow night which is a good opportunity to meet the usual crowd of terrorists, international arms dealers, traffic offenders and mugging victims. Divers are welcome provided they exist. Purchase of food and beverages will be accepted as proof of existence and the more proof the greater the certainty. In the words of the great philosopher: “I drink therefore I am”.
On a more serious and sadder note and for the benefit of those former Wanderers of recent years who remember him, I regret to report the death of Stephen Thompson (Tonk) in a car accident in Saudi Arabia. We never did manage to persuade him to come diving with us but he was a visible and charismatic presence at SWSC and will be missed very much around here.
This week's contribution comes from Peter:
With high waves forecast for Friday, and demand for two boats, Derek rightly cancelled the planned dives to Mariam Express and Jumbo. Half the team however decided to drive across to Freestyle near Dibba, where a smooth sea was anticipated. As it turned out, strong early morning wind raised a choppy sea on the East Coast, but not sufficient to interfere with diving. In fact Freestyle was proving very popular; other divers having had the same idea as us. But we were all made welcome, though some of us hadn’t pre-booked. And the breeze made for a comfortable day.
One of the advantages of Club diving became clear when we had to wait well over an hour for the boats to arrive from the harbour. Derek, Geoff and Brian Larkin opted for dives on the two” Inchcapes”, while Peter introduced Andy Balthrop to the marine life of Dibba Rock.
For our first dive on the rock, we took advantage of high tide, to explore the shallows for possible shark sightings, but without success. Peter’s mask leaked badly, interfering with both his dive and video! Eventually he surfaced, and loosened it, which sorted the problem for the remainder of the dive. The water temperature was very comfortable at 27 degrees. A young colourful lion fish, a pipefish, a shy Moses sole (we would see a larger one on our next dive), and shoals of parrotfish provided the best entertainment. The surface of the reef was rich with newly born fish and eggs.
We returned to the beach to find Richard waiting to join us for the next dive. In the meantime one of the instructors was assisting his young teenage daughter, Cora, dress for her 100th dive – as a fairy, complete with tutu, vivid pink wig, wings and magic wand! A group of first time divers would also be joining her.
So for the second dive, we were three, and descending to the back of the rock were soon finding large puffer fish, trunk fish, larger parrot fish and wrasse, and two well concealed undulated moray eels, the largest one spotted by Andy. Clown fish, a variegated lizard fish, shoals of snappers, fusiliers and sergeant majors all contributed to a colourful dive. More colour arrived with the fleet of students, followed by our day-glow pink-haired fairy, complete with trappings. She won’t forget her 100th dive! Alone again in the colourful corals in the shallows, we spotted a shoal of fornicating cephalopods, dancing in pairs and totally pre-occupied with the meaning of life. Amazing to watch, and all caught on video; one of those dives, we won’t forget!
Geoff now describes the deep dives:
Having loaded up the Freestyle dive boat for a two tank trip, we had a fairly smooth trip out to Inchcape 1. The Al Boom dive boat was already on site but in the process of retrieving its’ final divers and moved off as we approached leaving the site to ourselves. However, Al Boom’s farewell comment of “the viz is …..very poor*” proved to be an accurate assessment. Derek and I were first in, diving on 36% nitrox with 50% nitrox stage bottles, along with Brian on 32% nitrox. On descending the line through the gloom, the wreck finally came into view with viz 2m at best. We searched the wreck from bow to stern looking for the transitory sea horse but to no avail. However, Brian did spot a huge Lionfish, and a solitary Moray was also seen. At one point we drifted about 5m away from the wreck where visibility was curiously somewhat better and we could see two good sized porcupine fish circling above us, however visibility over the wreck remained limited. The highlight were large schools of catfish and monocled bream, so dense at times if felt like being inside a wreck. With the benefit of nitrox we spent about 25 minutes on the wreck at 29m before starting our ascent, swapping onto the 50% nitrox at 21m and conducting a good practice ‘deep stop’ at 15m for 1 minute to assist our decompression profile. During the obligatory three minute safety stop at 5m we were entertained by a file fish seeking shelter beneath the barrel connected to the line before finishing the dive.
*Translated from the Anglo-Saxon terminology actually used.
Our second dive was on Inchcape 2 near Khor Fakkan harbour where we arrived just as the Al Boom boat was moving off – perfect timing! Visibility here was significantly better than the first dive and was ~8-10m at a depth of 20m. This obviously helped with orientation on the wreck and searching for marine life. The wreck was alive with morays with at least 8 separate eels sighted, moorish idols, blue-tailed trunkfish (box fish) and a variety of reef fish were also seen. On entering the wreck from the open hatches towards the stern, another moray was sighted along with what looked like a number of lizardfish. Moving forward through the wreck we were treated to several large harlequin shrimps scuttling around and some damselfish seemingly floating in mid-air . Swimming 10m off the wreck to what looked like some piping on the seabed, a well camouflaged scorpion fish was seen next to a grouper. The bottom temperature was 24 C, justifying the choice of 3mm wetsuit for the dives. On surfacing, Andy of Freestyle steered us steadily through increasingly choppy waters back to base, the journey passing quickly with the on-board banter. Sharing stories and some decompression fluid with the other 406 members back on dry land was a pleasant end to a good day out on the east coast.”
Back to Peter:
The day ended with a BSAC 406 group photo, but including of course some fairy dust!
Thanks to Freestyle, in particular Andy, Trevor and Max, for accommodating us all with virtually no notice, and to Cora for her unusual entertainment.
Look out for this week’s movie, “Last Tango in Dibba”, coming soon to a dive bar near you!
With me taking time off for good behavior last Friday, this week’s words come from our long-time boats officer, Mike Anthony:
“Six of us set sail in glassy seas from Hamriyah to the Ajman Glory. With Brian Larkin piloting for the first time we successfully snagged the wreck at the second attempt. Wendy kindly agreed to sit this one out so the five of us went over the side to see maybe 5m viz. Mike D and Robin dived as one pair and Chris and Brian as the other with Mike doing his own thing. After 32mins on the wreck - being part of the second wave down - Mike returned to the anchor to find no one. Reasoning that Chris would have eaten his air by then he assumed that Chris and Brian had already ascended, so the anchor was removed from the hatch cover and was deposited down current off the wreck. Upon surfacing Mike discovered that the others were still down! Arrh! We then watched anxiously for signs of a marker buoy as a reasonably strong current was running. A buoy duly surfaced but it shortly became apparent that the divers were on the anchor line so all ended well. Chris's air consumption is clearly improving although both divers discovered that diving for that long on air on what is quite a deep wreck you get hammered for deco.
Mike D then drove us swiftly to the Dara and was entirely in charge of the process of anchoring. We were definitely stationary but some 40m from the wreck. He was happy with that so off they went. Shortly however a marker buoy surfaced and drifted past us in the current. So we dropped in the anchor buoy and set off after the marker buoy waiting for the divers to surface. After some time we realised that we could not see any bubbles anywhere near the marker buoy and by this time we were several hundred metres towards RAK from the Dara. We pulled it and its reel back on board and then went back to the wreck and picked up the anchor line again. This time we dragged the anchor into the wreck stopping only when the echo sounder screen had the wreck written all over it. Mike and Robin were pleasantly surprised that they did not have a 40m swim without a guiding line to find the anchor again. Wendy and Mike A had a pleasant swim round the stern area examining the fish in 10m of viz whilst Chris and Brian reported sightings of cuttlefish and a ray.
The Land Rover passenger door now can be opened from the inside and a new set of front brake pads has been installed. We hope to be able to finally register the truck in the name of the Club during next week.”
I think it’s fair to say that last weekend wasn’t our most successful ever. A pity as we had two boats for the first time in a while although therein lay part of the problem. Leaving the harbour we soon realised the sea was heavier than advertised and gave up on the Ajman Glory and headed straight to the Dara. Even this was not comfortable in SP125 but we made it anyway. The anchor went over the side and some divers followed but unfortunately the anchor had pulled out of the wreck and attached itself to a fishing pot. Ordinarily we would have simply had another go but when Mike tried to start 125 he found precisely nothing. A battery had gone down and taken the other with meaning that the boat had no power whatsoever. With the sea state picking up we elected to head back at this point with 125 under tow. Back at the club the drinks didn’t taste the same somehow.
The boat picked up an extra passenger while we were kitting up but unfortunately didn’t stick around.
Photographs by Cathy Terry
We had a full boat out at the weekend which was good to see with Mr Jackson volunteering his services as marshall. Before we even got to the slip we ran into Geoff and Dee Patch at the petrol station. Geoff is well known for his outdoor activities of which diving is only one. So where this week? Hiking in the Hajar mountains? White water rafting? Diving the east coast?
“Nah – Food shopping at Spinneys”
Such is the adventurous lifestyle of the modern expat.
The first objective this week was to check out some co-ordinates that Brian Lugg had come across. Less than 100m away was another target from the dredging survey that we got hold of a few years ago and it seemed worth checking both out. Both locations gave a positive signal on the echo-sounder so it looked like we might be in business. Unfortunately there was nothing much at the first site other a field of debris and the second was the remains of a dhow with a few tyres scattered around. Nothing that you’d want to go back to although the signal did look a bit stronger than that – maybe worth another look if we find ourselves in the same vicinity again.
Target 2 was the Jumbo which has been good recently and to save a bit of time we set off slowly whilst the first wave of divers de-kitted and sorted themselves out. The only flaw in this cunning plan was that the boat driver (whose name somehow escapes me) had overlooked the fact that the anchor was still under water attached to a buoy and now receding into the distance. Once this was spotted we did a swift U-turn to eventually reclaim our property before heading for the Jumbo at the second time of asking. The Jumbo was again very good with excellent viz and some nice fishes – batfish, barracuda, jacks and snappers. After which back to the club for some refreshments.
Ian Hussey and Dive Club writers.