Last weekend was the long awaited trip to Al Sawadi in Oman to dive the Damaniyat Islands, just north of Muscat. This is usually a good trip and this one certainly lived up to expectations. There was a party of 17 in total including a couple of non-divers so we were quite a crowd and it was good to welcome Graham Wilson, a former Diving Officer back in the dim and distant past and his son, Samuel. Also along were Bryan and Helen for the first time since the “old lags dive” on the Dara in October 2011.
We drove down on Thursday evening and on arrival convened in Mike and Peter’s room. The journey was largely uneventful which was a relief after the hassles of getting to Khasab a couple of months ago. Being Ramadan of course the bars were all shut but room service was open for business. After a long journey and with some diving to do in the morning, we didn’t push the party into the early hours but it was a good start all the same.
We were diving with Extra Divers, based at Al Sawadi, who run a very good and efficient operation. And before we set off another blast from the past – Alison Mackenzie once of this parish but now resident in Oman for ten (!) years was at the centre for her weekly diving fix. She was surprised to see us from which I conclude that she doesn’t always read her emails! Derek acted as our point man, co-ordinating with Matteo who was our Dive Master for the day. The only thing he didn’t manage to co-ordinate was his own gear as he arrived on the boat without his regulator. A swift sprint back to shore sorted out the problem.
There was another diversion before we set off. I’ve seen some strange equipment brought on a dive trip but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone turn up with a helicopter. Not a full size one but the small remotely operated variety used for taking aerial photographs. Oliver Jackson, son of our treasurer, is a professional photographer and had brought it along to get some shots of the resort and the dive boats from the air. It caused a bit of a stir, not just with the divers and dive centre staff but also some crows who were clearly puzzled at this interloper in their airspace.
Once on the water, it took about 40 minutes to reach the first target, Junn West Wall. The water was rather cooler than expected – about 21°C at depth so wet suits were highly recommended. It was a bit of a shock after the bath water that is the Arabian Gulf at the moment. The viz apparently hasn’t been too good recently but on this first dive it was very respectable if not quite crystal clear. A full list of all the fish down there would be very long but there were a lot of clown fish – some seemed to be without a parent anemone, a large shoal of blue trigger fish, barracuda, lion fish, snappers, angel fish of various sorts and a stone fish that gave Peter a shock when he nearly put his hand on it, so well was it camouflaged. The maximum depth was around 18m but the best stuff seemed be in the 10 – 15m range so the dives could be quite long before the air ran down (or when you turned blue whichever came first). We were able to shallow finish the dive among some attractive table corals in 6m or so.
The best was saved for the surface interval. With the boat parked at Sira Island, we were discussing whale sharks when one suddenly appeared. The next sound was a large splash as everyone jumped in with masks and snorkels to try and get up close. The shark was a juvenile – maybe 4m or so which is not large by whale shark standards – but it was large enough and it hung around for about ten minutes allowing us a good look although some frantic finning was needed to keep up. It was Mike Anthony’s first whale shark sighting in his 2000+ dives and afterwards he was heard muttering: “Now I can give up diving!” Somehow I can’t see that happening.
After that almost anything might have been anti-climatic and indeed for much of the second dive at Sira Island, the viz was as poor as we’d been told to expect, despite a good start in clear water. A few of the divers turned back when the underwater fog was encountered but the rest of us soldiered on. Peter and Mike A were rewarded with a very friendly turtle which spent several minutes performing for the camera right at the end of the dive. Earlier on, Sami also got some footage of the same animal.
The trip back started off a bit slow since one engine had packed up but half way back another Extra Divers boat caught us up. We trans-shipped and were soon back on shore where Mike Dalton had most of the resort staff searching for his brown flip-flops which had mysteriously gone missing. There was one other slightly jarring note – during the whale shark encounter one of our number caught hold of the shark’s dorsal fin. Back on land the lady at the dive centre let him know this was Not A Good Thing, a point she felt compelled to make several times. In all fairness you could hardly argue – guilty as charged m’lud – but you wondered whether the full hairdryer treatment was really appropriate.
But let that not spoil a good day! After an extensive search, Mike’s brown flip-flops were found (naturally) in his dive bag – no sniggering at the back please! (well you can a bit) and in good humour we all convened in Sami’s room to give the room service another workout.
On Saturday morning some of us went out for some more diving, others favoured the swimming pool and jacuzzi.
The party was Derek, Geoff, Sami, Brian, Mike D, Zulfa, Daniel, Graham, Samuel, Bryan, Helen, Ian, Cathy, Mike A, Peter, Oliver and Jacqui.
Thanks to Geoff for details of Day 2:
We were faced with a dilemma at the weekend – 12 divers wanting to go out (good) but only one boat available to take them (not so good). It’s in these circumstances that our old friend the Dara comes into its own since it’s only 10 or 15 minutes out of Hamriyah on a reasonably flat sea. We could leave half the party on the beach while the other half dived and repeat as often as necessary – we optimistically planned to do two dives each.
With the party were Sami on one of his periodic visits from Beirut, Rob who we haven’t seen in a while and Trevor who was on a busman’s holiday from Freestyle Divers in Fujeirah.
The Dara is usually an enjoyable dive and this time was no exception although the viz wasn’t as good as it can be. All the same, the current was minimal and there were a couple of leopard rays prowling around the wreck although neither hung around long once spotted (no pun intended).
It was when we headed back to change divers that thing went slightly astray. We left the anchor line attached to a buoy to avoid having to secure the boat again on our return. As we were leaving however, we saw the buoy floating away into the distance. Clearly a slipknot had been used rather than a bowline! This was not a huge problem in itself but as Trevor was retrieving the buoy his computer slipped off his wrist and sank to the bottom. It took a while to realise what had happened and mark the spot on the GPS and a few more minutes to get a shot-line prepared by which time we’d drifted about 200m. I would not have given much for our chances of recovery at this point but we hopefully dropped the shot near where we thought the computer had gone. Rather to our surprise, Trevor and Geoff surfaced a few minutes later having found the computer after a short circular search only a few metres from the shot. Just goes to show – don’t give up!
By this stage the shore team were wondering what had become of us but we soon got back, loaded up the second wave and headed back out. Nice though the Dara is, by the time we got back to shore for the second time it was nearly 2pm and we all agreed that enough was enough. A couple of refreshments back at the club was the favoured option at this point.
A couple of thanks are in order: to John who provided some rope and other gear to fix the winch plus a couple of buoys and to Mike and Brian who got extremely hot fixing it all together. By the time we next use the boat, it will also have a new GPS as the old one is now almost unreadable.
With the weather looking reasonable, dive marshall Mike Dalton decided to have a crack at Wreck X last Friday. Not a bad wreck this although we don’t go as often as we might because of the distance (45km) and depth (35m). We’ve had previous trips where we’ve decided half way out that we wouldn’t reach inside two hours and we’d be better off going somewhere close. This time though the weather co-operated – it was almost flat calm and we got there quickly. Getting there we found we weren’t alone – there was a boat called Sanaf already on station with some divers from another club not too far away – the name escapes me.
This made it easy to anchor – Mike A simply carried the anchor down the shot-line and parked it in the wreck. I’ve never yet managed to get a decent dive on Wreck X. This time true to form my mask starting leaking as soon as I was underwater and no amount of fiddling would make it stay dry. After about 10 minutes groping around I gave up and aborted. We did get to see some barracuda circling around the anchor line and those who did manage a respectable dive enjoyed themselves. The wreck itself is a fishing trawler, the like of which are theoretically banned in the Gulf. How this one got where it is one can only speculate.
En route to the second dive we saw some more dolphins – it must be the right season. This time it was only a brief sighting but it was still good to see. I’m not sure what the plan was for the second dive but heading back into the Neptune / Jumbo area we spotted a group of fishing buoys on the surface and investigated, getting quite excited when a big lump showed up on the echo-sounder. So had we found a new wreck? Sadly no – further investigation revealed that we’d just arrived at Mike’s Tug but we decided that having anchored it we might as well dive it.
The wreck was one of those that turned up on the Palm Island survey. It’s not large but it has a very big prop – as you’d expect from a tug – and it’s covered in attractive soft corals. There was a big grouper swimming in one of the compartments but he couldn’t be tempted out. Excursions inside the wreck are possible but the first person inside tends to destroy the viz for anyone following. After this it was back to the club. Ramadan restrictions preclude the use of the dive table for the moment but in July the a/c in the sports bar has a lot to be said for it.
So after lashings of lemonade our intrepid three musketeers headed for
It took a bit of perseverance to get out to a wreck site at all at the weekend. The Jumbo had been pencilled in but the sea was very lumpy on the way out giving an uncomfortable ride. In these circumstances we often abort to Karen’s Dhow which is in the same direction but closer. This time though we pressed on having dived the dhow twice last weekend. We had a good turnout – 11 divers in two boats so it seemed worth making the effort.
Rough it might have been but the current wasn’t huge and the viz was good. The variety of fish seems a bit smaller at this time of year – perhaps they head off for cooler water but there were a lot of snappers and an dishevelled batfish that looked as it had just been beaten up by a gang of barracuda. The Jumbo itself is a cargo vessel about which we know very little but it’s a good dive with a couple of swim-throughs and a large prop.
During the surface interval we had a unexpected treat – a pod of dolphins that circled the boats for five or ten minutes.
For the second dive we went a couple of kilometres to the Neptune. This upturned barge is starting to collapse particularly at the front end and a nice swim-through that we used to do no longer exists but there are still ways of getting inside the wreck. After that it was back to the club for a poolside glass or two. The sea had calmed down considerably by this time and the journey home was much smoother.
Ian Hussey and guest writers.