Last Friday we headed for the Zainab for the first time in a while. This meant launching from Dubai which caused a bit of confusion since the usual slip, Umm Suqeim 2, is currently closed for refurbishment of the harbour. “Launch from DOSC” was the word and taking this at face value PJ and I headed there with the boat, discovering too late that “DOSC” is actually code for Umm Suqeim 1. At least Peter got some practice manoeuvring the trailer! Meanwhile Janette and Ken had gone to Umm Seq 2 thinking it was Umm Seq 1 (or maybe DOSC) and reported that this slip was closed too. Funny that.
Anyway we all got to the right place in the end and headed out on a sea that was pretty well flat calm. There’s currently a line fixed to the wreck which saves any problem of anchoring so we were pretty swiftly in the water. The Zainab went down in April 2001 whilst smuggling Iraqi oil into the UAE. We were among the first people to dive the wreck after it sank and although there was a lot of brass on the ship there was also a lot of oil floating around making it a messy dive in those days. The vessel currently lies on its port side in around 28m of water. The bridge section is easily accessible although the panelling has long since collapsed and the engine room is also worth a look although care is needed to avoid stirring up the silt. At the bow end, one of the compartments can now be entered although there’s not much inside to look at.
The fish life seemed a bit sparse possibly due to the water temperature although there were some batfish swimming around the buoy line and there were some bannerfish swimming around. The viz was reasonable rather than spectacular but it still good diving. We decided to do a second dive on the Zainab rather than move off elsewhere after which the journey back was a bit slow due to the sea state having picked up a bit. It was a good day’s diving all round and very nice to have a full boat again – 9 divers total.
There was a strange episode as we approached the harbour. A speed boat with 5 or 6 people on board came belting up to us asking us if we had an 11-year old girl on board – apparently they’d mislaid one. Their attitude seemed a bit odd not least their reluctance to notify the coastguard – we did this for them on the way in and we soon saw some police rescue boats revving up and heading out to sea. How this story finished up we’ve no idea – one can only hope it ended happily.
The trip back to Sharjah was not without incident. Only a couple of km down the road the Discovery’s engine started making funny noises and the oil light came on. The upshot was that I had to go back to the club, pick up my own car and drive back to Umm Seq to pick up the boat. The post dive refreshments were thus a bit delayed but very welcome indeed when we finally got them.
Congratulations to Derek Brown who completed his first post-training dives with us and did very well.
There were a couple of debutants last Friday: Rob on dive marshal duty and Derek towing the boat. As with PJ last weekend the boat got to the slip without trouble but Derek found, like PJ before him, that reversing a trailer can be a bit problematic until you’ve had some practice.
This week’s target was the Mullah 2, a recently discovered wreck off Umm al Quwain and about 32km north from Hamriyah. Geoff, although not diving after his recent hiking exertions, had generously agreed to drive the boat and we made reasonable time out to the wreck. Mike and Heike were first over the side and they secured the anchor on to the bow of the wreck. The rest of us followed down the line. The wreck is a cargo ship about which we know virtually nothing. Even the name was possibly invented by whoever found it. It lies upright in about 27m of water and doesn’t appear to be a deliberate sinking. There are a few artefacts still on the ship (although thickly encrusted with marine growth) that would have probably have been removed had the ship been sunk as an artificial reef. Also the upper sections seem to have been involved in a collision with something large at some time since the vessel went down.
The wreck is populated by a lot of snappers and some barracudas that were circling around. There are ways inside what may have been the crew quarters and there was what appeared to be an entrance to the engine room although the access was very tight making it an extremely hazardous penetration.
We elected to do another dive on the Mullah rather than go to the Tek (much smaller) or the Dara (dived many times). Second time around the current had picked up on the wreck (no surprise really – it was the spring tide) although not so much on the surface for some reason. This week’s award for observation goes to Rob and Derek who came up on a DSMB claiming that the anchor had moved. After a quick bounce dive to free it, Heike was able to confirm that it was still hooked in the same place. Prescription lenses next time guys?
Thanks to Mike’s toil and (a lot of) sweat, the engines of 125 are almost back together and the boat ready to roll once again. All we need are some divers to put in it...
There was quite a lot of action last week and I’ll depart from strict chronology to start with the diving. Peter was having his first go at towing the boat (in fact his first go at towing anything) but we got to Al Khan and launched the boat without any undue alarm. The destinations were the Neptune and Jumbo which are about 35km offshore and we’ve had to abort on account of the sea-state the last couple of times that we tried to get there (most recently last weekend). Jumbo was also the occasion of "The Perfect Storm" (see Archive for 28 January 2011)!! No such problems on Friday – the sea was calm – but arriving at the Neptune we found a police boat anchored over the wreck all flashing lights and waving arms; clearly we weren’t welcome. Reversing our plan we went to the Jumbo (only 2km away) and dived this first. PJ takes up the story:
With Ian marshalling and not diving, Sergey and Phil buddied up, as did Mike and Robin, while I followed Derek and Rob down with a camera. We were on the neaps with no current, no waves, a surface temperature of 35 degrees, and good viz. It was also good to be out with a full boat of divers again.
The anchor fell first time securely into the wreck. MV Jumbo is a small freighter, which as it breaks-up, provides ever more dramatic swim-throughs, as well as interesting external exploration of its open holds. The contrast between the calm blue waters outside and its very black interiors was impressive, with jagged voids letting in dramatic (and welcome) shafts of light, The warm summer sea is having its usual effect on the variety of fish life present, but the wreck still attracts large yellow shoals of big-eye and dory snappers. Ubiquitous monocle bream, goatfish, a few small angelfish and an immature batfish made up the balance. Clams, barnacles and soft corals now cover the fragmenting steelwork. With a maximum depth of 23m, bottom time was limited to around 40 minutes, but in these conditions it provided an excellent dive that we all enjoyed. Being last up, Rob and I first relocated the anchor clear of the wreck.
We returned to short distance to the Neptune, by now clear of other activity, and dropped anchor. While gassing off, a few of us fell into the sea to try to escape the heat but at 35 degrees this proved completely ineffective!
The Neptune is a large 79m long drill rig tender barge that collided with an oil platform during a storm in 1973, and subsequently capsized under tow back to Sharjah. Lying upside down in some 24m of water, again it is slowly breaking up, to offer some interesting penetrations. Again following Derek and Rob with my camera, we reached the anchor in sand, to follow the line Mike Dalton had laid for some 20m to the wreck. Viz at first was not as good as at the Jumbo, but once we were down it improved. The massive pipe outriggers around the bow are quite sculptural in good visibility, and although we didn’t attempt a full swim-through, we penetrated the sides for great views through parallel rows of porthole openings. Much less fish-life than on the Jumbo, but again the steel is well over-grown with soft coral and clams.
We returned over the top of the up-turned hull, where I was filming a very pretty nudibranch, until rudely interrupted by Rob, whose computer was indicating he was getting into deco time- always frustrating to come up with plenty of air, but it was our second dive well over 20m. Every bit as good as the first, Derek and I surfaced, leaving Rob on the line for another 8 minutes of deco to run and his computer settings to be checked before next dive!
While packing up our gear, our return was delayed by someone shouting “Shark”. This was not quite accurate, but we did find ourselves the close attention of a pod of 4-5 bottlenose dolphins, that stayed around us until we started the engines. This has been a summer for regular dolphin sightings.
Robin drove us at a good pace back to Al Khan, with those of us on the port side experiencing considerably more humidity than those returning starboard. That just left me with the task of learning to tow the boat back and to reverse it into the yard for the first time. Thankfully this was achieved without too much embarrassment under Ian’s cool guidance. High temperature and humidity then required the imbibing of cold decompression fluid around Uwe’s table by the pool, in time-accustomed manner.
Back to Ian:
Saturday saw us up early and traveling to Jazirat Al Hamra. The purpose was to dive the Energy Determination which is a regular (if infrequent) dive site for us. This particular trip was organised by DSDC which meant that they had the responsibility for fixing the anchor line in the wreck. While we waited (and waited) for them to achieve this, a devil ray came close to the boat and flipped on its back before disappearing back into the depths.
The Energy was a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) which caught fire after an explosion in 1979 and broke in two, the stern section sinking in about 80m of water. This makes it a challenging dive, not for the faint-hearted or the inexperienced. Brendan, Heike and Hani went down in full technical diving regalia (ie more tanks than the Eighth Army) enabling them to descend to the bottom and have a look at the propeller which is naturally of very impressive dimensions. Mike and I diving air, were limited to around 50m (which is still deep) and we spent around 20 minutes swimming along the deck section, the break and the soft corals on the upper hull. There were some large barracudas but we both missed the big marble ray that was swimming along the deck rail.
The sea was almost flat and the current very small on the surface. The visibility was a bit disappointing below 20m (it was better at 80m according to the techies) but the Energy is always good to dive. It is on a much larger scale to anything else we dive and this combined with the depth creates an eerie atmosphere quite unlike anything else around here. Thanks to Steve Manthorpe and DSDC for running the dive.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING:
To wind the clock back a few days, last Tuesday we had the AGM (we sometimes have one each year). Brendan will be writing the full minutes but the highlights (as I remember them) are as follows:
· We are active, managing to get a boat out on 85% of available weekends over the last two years. Dives are sometimes cancelled due to weather but rarely due to lack of interest. Highlights were the two trips to Sharm El Sheikh and Muscat and the Dara 50th anniversary last April with its ensuing page 1 publicity in the local rags.
· Numbers on the boat have reduced over the last six months due to people leaving. We could do with some more members.
· Dive fees will be increased to cover increasing costs. Price will now be Dhs 70 per dive for members and Dhs 100 per dive for non-members. Kit and nitrox charges to remain the same. We had a couple of one-off costs recently offset by a couple of one-off donations.
· Generally boat maintenance costs are down, however the engines on 125 need reassembling. The new parts have been delivered.
· Mike’s old Land Rover Discovery will remain at the club to be the boat towing vehicle. Petrol, maintenance and registration costs to be borne by the club. There will be an effort to train more divers in boat towing, thus relieving the pressure on Ian and Mike.
· The web site is good and continues to improve. Thanks are due to Simon who set up the site and Jutta who continues to maintain it.
Your new committee is:
Chairman – Mike Dalton
Diving Officer – Ian Hussey
Treasurer – Peter Jackson
Memberships – Cathy Terry
Training – Janette Elphinstone
Boats – Mike Anthony
Equipment – Derek Roberts
Compressors – Brendan D’Souza
Having cast off from Al Khan (at probably the lowest the tide can get) Derek, who was collecting Emirates IDs, realized that instead he’d brought his Vehicle Registration. Being that the Coastguards have been stricter in recent months about having Photo ID we returned to the quay briefly, although having taken another look at the crest on my Vehicle Registration and Derek side-on, I reckon he might have got away with it.
The original plan was Neptune/Jumbo but it became rapidly apparent that the swell was as we had anticipated and the decision was made to divert to the Taha. We weren’t the first to get there as it became clear when we arrived to find Brian Lugg of DSDC. Shouting over to us, Brian had reported a very strong current, which we were soon to find out first hand.
The first couple of attempts to secure ourselves on the wreck were unsuccessful. On the first try Mike went down the anchor line, but by the time I was clinging on to the buoy for dear life the effect of my drag was too much and we had to abort.
With the first wave of divers exhausted, the second attempt was to lay the anchor ahead of the wreck and drag it back. Brendan was next down, but evidently from the GPS we weren’t attached. So with Plans A & B unsuccessful, and by this time aware that DSDC had lost their anchor, we had a bit of a discussion and decided on one last attempt before calling it a day.
The plan was to position ourselves directly over the wreck with Brendan and Qaesar following the anchor down and tying off the line. The SMB was deployed to indicate a successful attempt and Mike, Derek and I followed down 15 mins later. On the wreck, there was no discernible current, but I wasn’t taking any chance and kept myself close in to the hull.
The visibility, once again, was considerably better and allowed (certainly for me anyway) to get a good perspective of the wreck. The MV Taha, a small cargo vessel lying in about 20m of water, still has a couple of tyres left onboard although probably not recommended for use on the road having been down there about 18 months now and probably pretty cheap in the first place. It is also, of course, the source of the refurbished radar that now adorns the Dive Club entrance. There were a good selection of specimens to see, such as the resident Barracuda, some yellow-tailed damselfish, butterfly fish and a few other smaller species all of which might make good candidates for Peter and Jutta’s new Marine Tank.
Unfortunately, there was no sign of DSDC’s anchor when we reached the reported location of the mid section on the keel side, but with the strong current there was no way of knowing its exact position when it parted with the line. Also worthy of further investigation on the next Taha dive is a sounding about 400m south of the main wreck (the coordinates have been entered under the designation ‘Lump’) however, it is possible that this reading was caused by the transducer being uncovered in the sea state.
Having already released the anchor, we decided to try a second dive on Karen’s Dhow on the way back to Sharjah. By this time the tidal stream had abated and unlike the Taha we managed to hook it first time.
During this dive, Derek pointed out some type of anemone that I had never seen before. Growing from the seabed, it is probably best described as a small white translucent coral similar to a dandelion seed head on a stalk with black spots on the extremities. The entire organism retracts underneath the sand if anything gets near it, as was demonstrated to me. Perhaps someone will be able to proffer a formal classification for us on Tuesday?
A bit later on, and unbeknownst to me, Derek had spotted a Turtle and managed to get Mike’s attention - I obviously must have been too concentrated on raking around the glassware for a new fruit bowl at the time. The knives, forks and other kitchen utensils have pretty much had it, but there were a few salvageable trophies for those inclined.
After two excellent dives (surely a reward for our initial perseverance) the journey back was particularly exacting and it was evident that the day had taken its toll on all involved a bit more than usual, although this was nothing that a few beers round the Dive Table and an early night didn’t sort out.
Divers were Brendan, Qaesar, Mike, Derek and Richard with Ian as Dive Marshall & Boatman.
Some of you will be aware of the dive planned on the Energy Determination on Saturday 14th July that we’re doing with DSDC. Open to those qualified (Dive Leader or PADI equivalent). We’ll still do a dive Friday – destination to be decided on Tuesday.
The AGM will be tomorrow night – 8pm or as soon as we’ve enough people. Anyone who can’t make it but wants to raise an issue, please drop me a line.
A big thank you goes to Derek and Brendan who organised the re-test of the air bank on Saturday. It’s now good for another 5 years.
Ian Hussey and guest writers.