This weeks’ reports by Peter Jackson: Dibba Rock and Diving Inchcape 1,
When your friends all disappear to the Red Sea, a chap still has to dive! So with son Oliver we drove to the East coast & Dibba Rock. Putting on all the gear, noticed Sarah and Simon, snorkelling by the beach, boasting video of 8 turtles, 3 blacktips, while we in mediocre vis, were pleased by numerous parrotfish & dominos to bring in numerous clowns among the anenomes.
A few days later, back to Freestyle & dived with a visiting Pole & a Czech to drop in on Inchcape 1. Current at the surface was fast, vis on the way down miserable, but at 30m Inchcape was then below us, visible from end to end and swarming with seriously large shoals of big eye snappers (& Al Boom PADI groupas). Identified blackspot rubberlips, regal damselfish, finishing with a broad barred firefish on the deck. The sheer quantity of fish was stunning, compensation for an excessive number of Al Boom regimented divers! Great dive - see the video!
Diving Karen’s Dhow & Big Propless Dhow, 26 November
The batteries not having been switched off after the last dive a fortnight previously, both flat, Mike tried to borrow from SP125, but discovered we only had one good battery out of four! Derek and myself went on a battery shopping mission, not so easy on a Friday morning. Thanks to Mike we reached Al Khan by 10am. But from then the six of us (Mike, Wendy, Derek, Sarah, Simon and myself) enjoyed a grand day out – the weather and the Coastguards couldn’t have been nicer.
For Sarah’s first deep open water dive we chose the picturesque and glass treasure laden Karen’s Dhow. A good choice. The anchor snagged a little way from the wreck, but catching in a rope that led directly to it. With no current and 5-6m vis, an easy pleasant dive, prolific with fish. Barracuda near the anchor, and on the wreck shoals of big-eye snappers and monocle bream. First excitement was a fully grown reef sea-snake, very close, but not as close as the next fatter specimen, neither seemingly perturbed by our presence, while exploring the bottom with their small heads for food. A large grumpy hamour watched us miserably, and variety was provided by a pair of immature batfish, yellow barred angelfish and the ballet of long-fin bannerfish. A column of immature barracuda joined the fray, as did a small flock of jacks. Derek pointed out a Moses sole floundering in the sand, when I felt something on my leg. I turned to find a 60cm marbled electric ray swimming over me, literally a stunning sight! On the second wave Mike and Wendi also found the sea-snakes, as well as a large cow-tail ray, which reared its tail at Mike when he swam over it. For myself 46 minutes bottom time incurred a 4-minute deco stop on top of my safety stop – worth every minute. One of the snakes surfaced for air close to our boat, which they need to do every couple of hours. Not to be messed with, their venom breaks down tissue and is extremely toxic.
We then thought to explore a proximity waypoint close by – Dhow A on the GPS. Dropped a buoy on the spot, but finding nothing on the fish-finder, headed instead to the Big Propless Dhow. Here the vis seemed marginally improved over Karen’s, but a stronger current and silty bottom could change this in seconds! Again a large shoal of big-eyed snappers, concealing a few pretty Bengal snappers swarmed the wreck, with a solitary very large barracuda. Simon & Sarah spotted a small immature sea-snake, so it seems this is their breeding season.
The action was still all not over. Sarah, no doubt tired from her first Club dives, reached the top of the ladder, and fell off! Without her fins she then struggled back against a light current, and removed her BCD as taught. Back in the boat there was nearly a domestic when Simon then accidentally clipped her hard in the eye. Shouldn’t there be Club rules about married couples diving together? Wendy drove us home, and despite our late start we were out of the water by 4.30. As a result it is suggested that in future we start at 8.30 from the Club in future, at least in winter! Meeting back at Wanderers with Ian, Cathy & Geoff an excellent day was rounded off with appropriate refreshments.
Sharm Al Sheikh Trip over Eid Al Adha
There follows an account of 406 on tour – Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.The trip didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. No complaints about Royal Jordanian Airlines or the stopover in Amman but Sharm Airport must be a leading contender for the world’s most shambolic immigration procedures and the surliest, rudest and least helpful officials. After jostling to the front of what passed for a queue, witnessing several near fights as people’s patience wore out, taking abuse from the guy behind the desk for not sticking the visas in for him, having had the passports stamped with serious venom and almost thrown back at us with a snarl, we were literally shoved through the last barrier. Welcome to Egypt.There followed a protracted discussion with a taxi driver as to the relative likelihood of our cases reaching the resort fixed to the roof rack with either a) some rope threaded through the handles and tied down securely or b) nothing just hope for the best. It then took an hour to check in to the resort and a further hour to find a key that… OK enough.
The whole idea of the trip was the diving and at this point things began looking up. We’d booked with Emperor Divers based in Na’ama Bay about 15 minutes from our resort and who I would be happy to recommend to anyone planning a similar trip. The organization was exemplary. After getting the paperwork and equipment sorted out, we headed to the quayside and the “Orchid” which was to be our dive boat for the next couple of days. Naturally as dedicated club divers we were desperate to help carry tanks, load equipment etc but after a few nanoseconds of thought we decided it would be best to let the crew do it.
The first dive we did was largely a check-out dive to let Sarah, our guide, make sure we weren’t too incompetent. As a technical diving instructor with over 20 years experience, she was well qualified to judge. The dive site was the “Fiddle Garden” reef in Na’ama Bay (half way between Far Garden and Middle Garden hence the name). You know the viz is going to be good – that’s why you’re there – but it was still amazing to me to be floating around in the blue able to see clearly at least 30 metres into the distance. The site was a series of shelves with a final precipitous drop down to enormous depths. We started around 18m and worked our way up to shallower depths to maximize the dive time. Despite the viz, the fish life was not startling or massively abundant and most of it was quite small but we did see some nice groupers and a shoal of transparent fish that I’ve not seen in the Gulf.
The second dive on “Middle Garden” was similar in length and profile to the first and with rather more fish to look at. We did this one as a drift dive although there was little current. The highlight was a blue-spotted ray seen towards the end of the dive.
That evening we met up with Sergey Yurchenko who was coincidentally in Sharm at the same time. Efforts to get him on a dive with us eventually came to nothing but it was good to see him and have a glass or two.
Presumably Sarah must have concluded we weren’t a danger to ourselves or anyone else so Day 2 saw us travelling about 1½ hours in Orchid to Ras Mohammed on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. This is where the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba meet the Red Sea and the area is now a national park. We did two dive sites, Ras Ghazlani and Shark and Jolanda Reefs. Ras Ghazlani was closed to divers for a long while due to its proximity to a turtle beach. It was re-opened when the authorities realized that diving the reef posed no threat to the beach.
The second dive was on Shark Reef and Jolanda Reef, a pair of reefs that protrude from the sea bed. A couple of very large trevallies were spotted early on. Mainly a wall dive there is also a plateau on which sits what’s left of the Jolanda, a cargo vessel carrying bathroom furniture to Aqaba. It cut one corner too many and finished up wrecked on the reef – on the plateau but close to the wall which descends into the abyss. One day after a large storm the wreck had vanished – picked up and tipped over the edge. It was relocated eventually at 150m. What’s left now is part of the cargo – a field of toilets. I’m sure I’m neither the first nor the last diver to be photographed sitting on one.
For Day 3, we abandoned Orchid and travelled by minibus to Dahab, 100km to the north. The journey was not without incident. First there was the mutinous bus driver intent on taking us the longest way round if at all possible, second was the fact that thanks to the bus company our papers were not in order at the checkpoint leaving Sharm. Sami had a few words and we were allowed through. The journey took us through country that would look familiar to anyone who has travelled across the Hajar mountains from the UAE to Oman. The mountain pass was also the site of a big battle in the 6-day war and was once strewn with burnt-out tanks.
Dahab is apparently what Sharm was like 20 years ago and if that’s the case I can only hope it remains so. The world can surely do without another Arabian Benidorm which is what Sharm has become (sun, sea, sex and shisha). Dahab does retain a slightly hippy-ish aura with travelers who arrived 20 years ago and never left. I was tempted to ask where I could find some good dope but decided this might not be a good plan.
The first dive site was the famous Blue Hole. Only a few metres offshore the hole descends 150m or so. There is an arch at 52m connecting the Blue Hole with the open sea beyond. On the short walk from the kit-up point to the entry point we saw a number of memorials to divers who tried to dive the arch but over-estimated their ability. Quite sobering really. The entry was superb – a chimney called the Bells which is only wide enough for one diver at a time at its narrowest. We emerged at 30m to see the most spectacular wall to date – absolutely vertical descending beyond the range of visibility. We swam along the wall, pausing to allow Mike to have his ears cleaned by a pair of small cleaner wrasse, eventually coming to the saddle. This is the point where you swim over into the Blue Hole itself. We could not descend very deep into it but it lives up to its name. Unfortunately the state of the tide meant that the viz wasn’t as clear as it sometimes is.
The second dive was the Canyon, a scar on the seabed apparently volcanic in origin which starts at around 20m and descends on down. The limits of it are still being explored by technical divers, two of whom we saw decompressing at the start (and end) of the dive. (Well there was a mass of tanks – I assume there was a diver inside them somewhere.) Coral has grown over the top of the Canyon making it a tunnel with entry and exit points. We explored the section between 20m and 30m before slowly ascending.
We finished the whole thing off with a few glasses of Sakara (the local brew) and a delicious (if unorthodox) paella at a restaurant called “Al Capone”, a few km up the coast. A bus ride back over the mountains and that was that for this Eid. Apart from a final night out in the resort of course!
Mercifully, the departure through Sharm airport was smoother than the arrival although the staff had not completely lost their touch. Having persuaded a barman after several minutes of discussion that it was OK for him to sell us a bottle of wine, his efforts to open it would not have looked out of place at Fawlty Towers.
The trip was organized by Sami (thanks!) and the intrepid divers were Mike, Ian, Cathy, Sami and Sami’s family: John, Peter, Tamara, Armand and non-divers Jenny and Vivian.
The Dive Club would like to wish its members and friends “Eid Mubarak!”
As promised Friday was a training day with trainees and instructors heading for Hamriyah beach with SP 125 and the big boat going to the Dara. After a number of controlled buoyant lifts, rescue breaths and simulated CPR had been successfully completed we would be happy to see Sami, Cathy and Derek roaming the beach saving lives on “Baywatch”. There’s a chance we might be able to tell Sami apart from Pamela Anderson. Congratulations to all three new Sports Divers.
Meeting up with the other boat on the Dara we did one dive in viz not perfect but much improved from last week.
On Saturday some 406 divers participated in the Petrofac beach clean. Derek was good enough to write some words:
It was to be a dive that would test your navigational ability with less than half a metre viz. It was so bad that one of our team didn’t even make it to the start and he only lived across the road. So with the team whittled down to three we entered Al Khan to a rapturous applause, courtesy of the Petrofac land lubber beach cleaners. We set out our dive plan and route, deploy an SMB, use a buddy line, drop down to 6 metres (yes it was that deep) and head north. Within the first few minutes we lost our next diver who emerged some time later at 20m south. Finally we set up a three man sweep and found out why the viz was so bad. If you touch the bottom or pick something up a cloud of talcum powder like material would fog the water. We found a few bits and pieces including a water pistol trophy. Once we had returned South back to our start we emerged from the water to another rapturous applause, sadly something we could get use to but not very likely. All the divers that made it through the high endurance navigation in pea soup- Sami, Geoff and Derek were rewarded with DVD box sets of Blue Planet or Divers oceans so we have some more media for Tuesdays. Finally we helped ourselves to a substantial feed on the beach – all confirmed it was a success and useful publicity event. We even picked up the names of a few new divers as well. Can’t say it would be top of the list for one of our regular dives but we did our bit for the environment.
Some general information
At about the same time as we were sipping beer post-dive at the poolside, Dan was marrying Orla in Belfast. Congratulations to them both.
I would also like thank Dan and Simon for sterling work in the equipment room and on the boats. There are few pleasures to compare with coming to fill your tanks and finding someone’s done it for you (well perhaps there are several but you know what I mean).
Thanks are also due to Bala and the Wanderers maintenance men who cleaned and weeded the dive club yard last week. It really does look smart now for the first time in a while.
Finally a couple of pieces of housekeeping. With increasing costs we are reluctantly having to charge more for diving. Prices are now Dhs 100 for a two-tank dive for members and Dhs 180 for non-members. Half that for single tank dives. Equipment remains Dhs 15 for each item. This is still substantially cheaper than “resort style” diving.
Also the nitrox honesty box is no more. Nitrox charges will now be collected on the day of the dive. This is not due to anyone’s dishonesty (honest) but to Simon’s efficiency at getting all the tanks filled.
Last Friday we had a return trip to “Tanja’s plates” mainly because I wanted to have a look and the Dive Marshall usually gets what he wants. I think the conditions were less favourable than the first visit – there was a current running through and the viz was not great. Reels were mandatory if you wanted to have any chance of finding the anchor on the way back. The aesthetic pleasure of seeing piles of steel plate on the seabed can be a little overstated but the area has become an artificial reef with plenty of fish life including some hammour and at least one monster barracuda. I’d like to see it again in better conditions.
Second dive of the day was the Dara which is only 5km away. Again the viz was very poor.
Anyone thinking of launching from Hamriyah be warned – the coastguard is very keen. After the hassle two weeks ago both boats are equipped with letters from the Wanderers authorizing us to use the boats and the phone number of a senior coastguard who can confirm that the UHF locator is not required. On the plus side he accepted inflated BCD’s as life jackets.
Overheard on the boat after the first dive:
“Did you see that white fish I took a photo of?”
“Yes I saw it”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know”
“It wasn’t moving much”
“It was dead”
Ian Hussey and guest writers.