After a couple of weeks of washout conditions, it was good to get back in the water last weekend, even if Dive Marshall, PJ, had to cry off with a heavy cold. That still left a team of six on the boat. The first target was the Jumbo which we found easily enough but which resisted our attempts to get hooked on. After three failed attempts, a buoy was put in the water so that Mike and Martin could follow the line down and fix the anchor on the wreck.
After the bad weather, I wasn’t expecting that much but the viz turned out to be very reasonable. There were large shoals of snappers, some batfish at the stern end near the prop and a large shoal of barracuda. While we sat on top of the wreck they circled round us for a good 5-10 minutes getting ever closer until eventually we left them to it. The wreck has a number of unthreatening swim-throughs which are good fun to do and the fish life is usually plentiful, as was the case on Friday.
Arriving at the Neptune after a short journey, we found another boat at the site with divers just entering the water. We put our anchor down what appeared to be some distance away. It turned out to have gone a bit closer to one of them than was strictly sensible. Apologies to him – a lesson to be learnt I think.
The Neptune turned out to be another good dive with reasonably good viz and plenty of fish. There were no barracuda this time but there was a lot else. The water temperature is slowly sinking and it won’t be long before the wet-suits have to come out again. It was very noticeably chilly when climbing out of the water back into the boat.
Back at the club, we briefly met Janette and Ken. Janette was off to read the lesson at her church for which she’d prepared with a few glasses of decompression fluid. As the Good Book tells us: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake” – 1 Timothy 5:23. We spent the next couple of hours getting religious.
Meanwhile, Geoff and Brian Lugg had deserted the path of righteousness. Geoff describes a day out with DSDC:
DSDC were a man light to run a boat out to Wreck X on Friday, so Geoff volunteered to go across to the dark side and spend the day as a guest diver on the Sanaf with Brian (Lugg), Danny (Couzens) and dive leader Chris (Head). A 06.30 meet at DSDC required an early dart from Sharjah but with calm seas and neap tides the Sanaf managed to depart Jumeirah Fishermans’ Harbour #1 at 08.00 and was on site by 09.00.
Brian and Chris entered the water first and spent a good part of their dive re-buoying the buoy that Brian had installed last year. Danny and Geoff then entered the water and spent almost an hour exploring the bridge and engine room of the vessel. Sitting on its’ port side in ~37m of water this can be dived on air but to maximize bottom time each diver was on nitrox with a 50% stage to reduce decompression times (with the exception of Chris who went full ‘run silent, run deep’ on his rebreather).
The second round of dives followed a similar pattern with ~35 minutes bottom time giving ample opportunity to explore the workings and admire the remaining artifacts of the vessel before a 30 minute ascent to allow sufficient time for decompression. After cleaning down the Sanaf and a light refreshment back at DSDC, Geoff headed back to base camp at Wanderers where a ‘deserter fine’ was promptly levied and paid, which added to the general joviality of the 406 post-dive wind-down (or should that be wind-up?!).
At the weekend we took a trip out the the Nasteran and Dara. The weather had been a bit breezy for a few days previously and although it had calmed down by Friday, the effect on visibility was severely detrimental. It was like pea soup down there and we soon gave up on the Nasteran and headed for the Dara. This wasn’t much better but we managed to get a dive in nonetheless. Mike Anthony and Geoff did a bit of net cutting before a bit of underwater miscommunication resulted in them coming up separately and giving us a fright. No harm done in the end but food for thought.
On Saturday we organised a working party as a result of which the equipment room is now tidied up, the small boat trailer mudguards are re-attached, the equipment racks are fixed back to the wall and the place has had a bit of a general spruce up. The labourers were me, Geoff, Mike Anthony and Mike Dalton.
Finally, after Trafalgar Day, came Napoleon’s revenge. The colour scheme wasn’t planned I swear.
A couple of weeks ago, the first weekend after the Eid, we headed out to the Neptune and Jumbo. The sea was a bit lively on the way out, though nothing too serious, but we persevered and got there without too much trouble. Having wrapped the anchor around one of the fenders we set off on a round tour. The Neptune is an upturned barge that got into trouble after a collision. Part of the hull is now collapsing but there are still routes inside and through the wreck. Taking the anti-clockwise direction, the first part of the dive was mainly upturned hull and little else but the other side was a little aquarium, with the fish dense enough in places to obscure the wreck. The viz was also much better than we’ve come to expect it over this summer.
For dive 2, we made the short journey to the Jumbo, a cargo ship that went down in unknown circumstances. Again the viz was good (although it deteriorated a bit later on as the current picked up) and the fish were plentiful. There are a couple of unthreatening swim-throughs towards the bow end and the stern section is still upright with a nice prop to look at. The central cargo section is mainly collapsed.
The sea was pretty calm on the way back so we made good time back to the club. We welcomed back Dearbhla who brought her friend Fiochra for his first dive with us which he enjoyed. (Spellings from memory – apologies for mistakes). It was not such a good day for PJ who in turn lost his weightbelt, parted company with his breakfast and carried out an unscheduled disassembly of his regulator. Some fines duly followed.
Last weekend we went first to Karen’s Dhow, then on to Victoria Star. The viz on both was good, if perhaps a bit down on the previous weekend, and the dives were enjoyable. Naturally, we came up from Karen’s Dhow with a bit of glassware to take home. On The Vic Star, there was a dive boat already there – an operation from Dubai Marina who had heard of us via our Facebook pages. Thanks to Cathy and Richard who maintain them. PJ reports on his weekend diving:
While BSAC 406 was out foraging, Connie and I had taken friends from Lübeck to Khasab to enjoy the fjords and see dolphins. This gave me an opportunity for a day’s diving with Extra Divers. Kurt and Sandra was as welcoming as they were last year when we went up as a club, and I gave them a copy of the club video of that weekend. Our two dive sites were Musandam Island and Abu Rashid. Both were hour long drift dives, max depth about 20m. Very relaxing, good viz, great corals on the first dive and attractive soft corals at the beginning of the second, which otherwise was rather more rocky. All the usual reef fish, but not in profusion and nothing very special, which made me realise how spoilt we had been at the Damaniyat Islands. I did find a couple of species I had not recognised before. Two long relaxing dives with Egyptian buddy Ahmed Salem. In the meantime Connie and friends saw dolphins, and snorkeled among shoals of angel fish, fusiliers and sergeant majors, so a very good day was had by all.
And so to Tuesday night – two days ago as I write. We’ve been talking for some time about try-dives and social events and Richard decided to combine the two, taking as his theme Trafalgar Day, as Tuesday October 21st was the 209th anniversary of the battle. Richard, it should be noted, is a former Royal Navy submariner so these events have more than average significance to him. Richard turned up dressed as Admiral Nelson (some imagination required) and there were a few nautical caps and hats for the rest of us to pose around the club in.
The event was carefully planned, first up being the try-dive. We had seven or eight takers for this and while it’s impossible to say how many will move on and become divers, it was good fun for all concerned. Janette did the lion’s share of the instructing but Geoff and I pitched in as well. Peter took Connie on her first underwater trip – presumably he didn’t trust anyone else with his new wife!
After the barbecue laid on by Sharjah Wanderers, came an activity in which our club specialises namely “unter Wasser trinken”. This a skill first taught to us by Uwe Oldenburg but which is rarely taught by the mainstream training agencies. It involves taking a bottle of beer (plastic of course) to the deep end and drinking it without consuming too much pool water at the same time. This can be a bit tricky particularly if like Mike Dalton, you don’t realise that one end of the bottle has a hole in it. This tends to dilute the beer a bit. Peter bought some whisky for those qualified for advanced drink diving. All good fun for divers and spectators alike.
At the end of all this came the presentations. Firstly, Richard gave us some interesting background on the battle of Trafalgar and what led up to it. If he ever gets fed up running Mina Khalid, he could make a living on the lecture circuit! After this Peter and Geoff combined to give a humorous sketch on what Nelson would have made of a Navy encumbered by H&S regulations and political correctness. One wonders how close to the mark it was.
At this point Richard made a presentation to the club – a framed picture of the Souffleur. This is a Vichy French submarine torpedoed by the British in 1941 and went down with the loss of 53 lives just offshore from Beirut. Disowned by the French, the British and the Germans alike, there has never been any real memorial to her. For Richard’s moving account of his dive on the wreck see our website “Dive Log” for October 2012. For my own dive on the wreck a year later go to October 2013.
Further presentations followed to Katharina and Davidson for both Open Water Diver and Unter Wasser Trinken. Mike Dalton also received his UWT certificate, his intake of pool water overlooked in the spirit of the occasion. Congratulations to everyone.
To finish the toasts, raised in the Royal Navy tradition, for which SWSC had generously donated a couple of bottles of port. The loyal toast (to the Queen) was omitted on the grounds that we’re not all British and haven’t been for some time. The second toast was originally “wives and sweethearts”. This has now extended to “families” and seems to cover absent friends of significance.
At which point I must introduce a note of sadness. Some of you will remember Forrester who dived with us regularly until two years ago when he moved to Australia. On Monday I received this email from his partner, Valerie:
Hi Ian..thanks for replying.
I am emailing re fForrester, who could forget Forrester!
Well Forrester is in a bad way. He has terminal brain cancer and only a short time to live. Im not sure if u remember but he came to oz, but it didn't work out. In march he returned to England and soon after was diagnosed with brain tumours..im just passing this on. He has fond memories of Sharjah Wanderers and talked about it a lot. He still gets your emails about diving trips.so when u guys meet up in the dive bar have a drink for forrester. He doesn't have long....his memory is going, cant walk and he is in respite care in Hull. God bless him.
Cheers Ian and say hello to the gang for me."
Glasses were raised then to Forrester, himself an ex-Navy man. I hope he gets to read this. Valerie is right that no-one could forget him!
The final toast was to the “immortal memory” of Admiral Nelson and by tradition it is drunk in silence.
It was an excellent evening and many thanks to Richard who did the organisation, to the Wanderers for their support, to the try-dive instructors and to all those who came along. In amongst all of this we did manage to get a dive posted for Friday but we don’t yet know where we’re going!
The is the story of the Eid trip with a difference. To begin with the journey: we set off early hoping to miss the crush at the border but we were only partially successful. It took three hours to get through which was more than I’d hoped for but at least it was better than the six hours it took the last time we went to Sur.
The destination was the Beach Hotel in Muscat which turned out to be a remarkable place. The first thing you notice is that is has no beach. It also has no bar, no lifts and when we first arrived no running water. The taps started working after a while, though I couldn’t call reception to report the problem as the phone didn’t work. My attempts to explain the concept of room service to the guy at the desk produced only a menu for the local kebab house. The rooms were reasonably sized and clean but air conditioned down to arctic temperatures. I would have turned the AC down but the thermostat didn’t work. To be fair most of us had working televisions and only a few of the door frames were infested with termites. To those who like their hotel accommodation unspoilt by frills, trimmings or basic amenities, the Beach Hotel in Muscat comes highly recommended. Others might want to think twice.
The whole point was the diving and this proved to be very good indeed. After what passed for breakfast we headed down the road to Global Scuba who were to be our hosts for the next two days. This is a reasonably slick operation run by a French lady, Monique, and based in the Civil Aviation Club, just south of Seeb Airport. The day nearly got off to an inauspicious start. The boat was only just launched when Jassim and Salim, dive master and boat driver, realised the port engine was refusing to lower into position. But cometh the hour, cometh the man! Step forward our very own Mr Mike Anthony, boats officer extraordinaire, who quickly spotted the botched wiring and sorted the problem out. We were soon on our way. There were eight divers on the boat – the six of us plus Sandy and Jaime, two young ladies from Abu Dhabi who were to prove very helpful later on.
Target number one was the Aquarium, which we have on good authority to be one of the best of the dive sites in the Damaniyats (bearing in mind that this was the same authority who recommended the Beach Hotel). We dropped down the anchor line on to the top of the corals at around 8m and set off anti-clockwise around the reef. A short while after starting we came across one of the biggest cow-tailed rays I have ever seen. It must have been 1.5 – 2m across and wasn’t even slightly flustered by the divers – it simply sat there peacefully until we finally moved on. A full list of the different fishes down there is beyond me (but not beyond PJ – see below) but there were several types of triggerfish, angelfish, batfish seen changing colour as they got excited, parrot fish and some very large morays. Peter claimed to have seen a small one but all the morays I saw were the size of giraffe necks. After a while, the plateau gave way to a wall where the depth dropped away to around 20m. The fish life was sparser down below but there were some attractive purple soft corals. Finally we came round to a field of table corals at around 6m where we could shallow finish the dive in amazing scenery.
Dive two was on Hyat, which I presume is the name of the island. The scenery was less spectacular than the Aquarium but no less attractive with plenty of table corals and mostly smaller fishes, excepting of course the monster morays of which there were several more spotted on the way round. The aquarium has a bit of current on the way round but there was none at all on Hyat making for a very relaxing (and long) dive.
Normal practice after a dive like this is a couple of cool beverages but in Eid in Muscat with all the bars closed, this could have been a problem. Disaster was averted by Sandy and Jaime who’d had the good sense to book into the Radisson Blu and thus had access to room service. A couple of beers back in their hotel room might not have the wildest party ever but was no less welcome for all that. I wouldn’t have swapped them for rubies. Many thanks!
Day 2 should have started with a return to the Aquarium but with two boats there and more arriving, Jassim and Yousuf sensibly decided to go somewhere else first. This turned out to be Jonah’s Strait but before we arrived there was a diversion. A couple of fins in the water, too large to be dolphins, turned out to be a pair of whale sharks that circled the boat for several minutes, coming to the surface several times. This was an awesome sight and which proved to be the first of several memorable encounters as the day wore on.
Jonah’s Strait was not dissimilar to Hyat with more morays, some lionfish and a couple of scorpion fish effectively camouflaged to catch the unwary including diver’s fingers if you weren’t careful. Half way round I noticed Wendy tugging at my regulator hose, an effective if unorthodox way of gaining my attention. The reason was a large hawksbill turtle that I was about to swim past. Once spotted, the turtle gazed at the intruders for a while before swimming slowly away. A short way further on was another ray, not quite the size of yesterday but impressive nonetheless.
The second dive, by popular demand was a return to the Aquarium. For the sake of variety we swam the reef clockwise this time, descending to 20m. There wasn’t a lot down there to be honest and the water temperature was less than comfortable for those of us in overalls. We soon went back to shallower depths where the action was. Peter ran into a large shoal of barracuda and the rest of us saw some mating cuttlefish, all flashing lights. There was also a pair of mating squid doing their bit for the underwater orgy. The highlight was to come shortly – a leopard shark resting peacefully on the seabed as we watched. All in all an excellent day.
Not only that but the bars were back open! The Al Ghazeel bar over the road at the Intercon was having an “Oktoberfest” – quite appropriate given Peter’s wedding in Lubeck a couple of months ago. After doing some damage to a few German beers, we adjourned to Trader Vics to round off the weekend with a meal. Very good it was too.
The Beach Hotel had one last unpleasant surprise – the room rate had mysteriously increased by 50% from the rate quoted and naturally the manager wasn’t around for discussions on the subject. A pox on the place. The ride home was uneventful and the border was mercifully quiet – by about 3.30pm we were back at base.
The divers were: Mike Anthony, Wendy, Ian, Cathy, Peter and Andy and Connie was the non-diver. Many thanks to Global Scuba for their well organised operation and especially to Jaime and Sandy who saved our lives on Saturday night by giving us access to room service. Hopefully they’ll find their way to Sharjah for a dive sometime soon.
Peter made some notes and came up an exhaustive list of the underwater life and other bits and pieces which I copy below:
Aquarium rich with fish life
large laced and starry morays (latter very close to PJ)
large cow tailed ray
large spot-fin puffer fish
small colourful model tobys
many Picasso triggerfish
group of large bat fish
small shoals of snappers, goatfish and Arabian bannerfish
several pairs of large cuttlefish
large clownfish with young
parrotfish a plenty
yellow fin hind
Hyat Island, not so many fish but memorable for its corals at end of island and during slow ascent
strong thermoclines between 29 and 24 degrees
many Picasso & red-tooth triggerfish
large broom tail wrasse
shoals of fusiliers & black spot snappers
Large solitary picnic sea bream & a pair of two-bar sea bream
domino fish & clown fish plentiful
epaulet groupers & yellow fin hind
Beers afterwards with Sandy & Jaime
Jonahs Straits one of our visually most memorable dives for 3d rocky landscape & profusion of soft & hard corals, especially table-top and spiral vase corals
2x close whale shark sightings, 4m & 3m, and after we lefft them, another of similar size on our left.
swim-throughs at base of rock just above the sandy bottom
really beautiful coral garden landscape rich with snappers, trigger fish & parrots.
large resting hawksbill turtle disturbed, and swam slowly away and up towards andy who had missed it at first.
blotched fan-tail ray resting on a patch of sand in the coral - disturbed when PJ swam around in front of it, and undulating swam up and away, PJ finning to keep enough water between it and him.
one small moray, and towards the end of the dive small shoals of collared butterflyfish
batfish changing colour in apparent ecstasy during grooming by cleaner wrasse
a few spotted a lone cornet fish
Aquarium proved a slow start to what became an action packed dive - with smaller reef fish,butterflyfish,a few banner fish
many cardinals & chromes, large clownfish in the anenomes
then three cuttlefish
above which a large shoal of juvenile pick-handle barracuda that circled Andy & Peter, with a few jacks among them, then behind was a smaller shoal of Jacks.
many species of triggerfish spotted - picasso, red-tooth, the black and white Indian triggerfish, large scale triggerfish bridled and flag-tail.
shoals of snappers & fusiliers,
hamour, epaulet groupers, and hind, many varieties of parrotfishes & wrasse
groups of batfish with cleaner wrasse,
a smaller cow-tail ray swam past PJ & Andy
& a cornet fish on the safety stop