We tried to get a dive away yesterday (Friday) but the weather wasn’t co-operating. Strong winds and heavy seas were the order of the day so we got to have a lie-in instead. In truth the demand wasn’t great in any case – this sometimes happens over the holiday period.
With the New Year approaching, it’s perhaps worth reflecting on the year just gone. The club remains active, diving on 43 of the available weekends since 1st January. After a slow start due to bad weather during January and February this is a very respectable record for a club of our size. There was a dhow trip up the Musandam organised by Janette, a mountain camp-out followed by a dive on Dibba Rock and a couple of trips over to the east coast to dive the Inchcape wrecks.
All of these trips were very enjoyable but the core of our diving remains the wrecks of the Arabian Gulf and which accounts for most of the Friday expeditions. The most popular dive site over the year was the Ajman Glory – of which more below – but the Taha (another relatively recent discovery), the Dara (old favourite) and Karen’s Dhow also had regular visits. As well as exploring the wrecks themselves, the fish life can be varied, numerous and fascinating on a good day and you might come back with a nice piece of brass or a copper nail. And not just below water – one of the year’s more memorable moments was on the Taha in May when a lonely cormorant, for reasons only it could explain, took a fancy to Mike Anthony who was just emerging from the water. The resulting video is much in demand on Tuesday nights.
Over the year, we’ve lost some members (Simon, Sarah, Forrester) and gained some (Chris, Polly, Derek Brown) - overall the membership numbers are steady (ish) but we’d like to grow a bit over the next year if we can. This is certainly the view of our new Chairman, Mike Dalton who took over from Brendan at the AGM in July. Mike came to Sharjah via the Kuwait Mantas club and we’re very happy to have him on board.
This year we also said goodbye to Harry and Karen Adamson who finally left the UAE after a number of false starts. Harry and Geoff Taylor built the current dive club at the Wanderers after the demise of the old one in Mahattah and although Harry didn’t dive much over the last few years (he preferred jumping out of aeroplanes), he and Karen were very much part of the club and will be missed.
Highlights of the year? Two spring to mind. Firstly there was the Beirut trip. An Eid al Adha trip has become a regular event since the trip to Sur in 2008 and this one was memorable – not least because if you believe the newspapers a civil war was about to break out five days before we were due to arrive. Happily this proved to be exaggerated but a genuine civil war going on 100km down the road does give pause for thought and Beirut itself bears the scars of its less than harmonious recent history. The point of the trip was to dive the Vichy French wartime submarine, the Souffleur. Richard, a former submariner himself, wrote a very moving account of this dive which went out with the weekly email and is now on the web site (Dive Log - October 2012). Meanwhile some of us were enjoying the generous hospitality of former member Sami who appears at the club from time to time but now is semi-retired to the Lebanon. A very good trip and I would certainly like to go back.
The second highlight to me was the saga of the Ajman Glory. We weren’t expecting that much when we were given the co-ordinates by a dive boat anchored on the Dara but it turned into a story that just ran and ran. We found a 50m long vessel on the site which could have been anything. Brian Lugg contacted the UK Hydrographic Office who suggested a possible identification, Marc De Ruyter and David De Marneffe independently found some photos of the ship on the internet and the whole club who scoured the wreck taking measurements, photos and videos leading eventually to a positive ID.
There were two interesting sequels to this story. Firstly there were a couple of press articles in The National and Outdoor UAE which was all good publicity for the club and for divers generally. (The Outdoor UAE was much the best although since it was written by me and Brian the possibility of bias can’t be completely discounted). Secondly, Marc managed to get in contact with a former crewman (though not at the time of the sinking), Mr Cor Dijk, who was obviously moved to see photos and videos of his old ship.
Sadly, the year also saw the passing of Jutta Jackson and Tony Nicklinson. Jutta was not a diver but nevertheless put in a lot of work on the web site and was a regular at dive club nights and dhow trips. More often than not she’d meet Peter and the rest of us at the dive table on Friday afternoons and listen patiently to our tall stories. Originally given 3-6 months, she rang the bell and bought a round on the first anniversary of her diagnosis. Sipping our drinks we all wondered if it were possible . . . but sadly it wasn’t.
Tony was also a non-diver but was very supportive of the Dive Club during his tenure as SWSC Chairman. It was Tony who devised the “Associate Member” formula which helped enormously at a time when the Wanderers (as opposed to Dive Club) fee was seen by some as an unnecessary cost. He also engineered a sponsorship for us in return for us putting the Wanderers name on the sides of the boats which was a very welcome boost to our bank balance. The struggles of his recent years have been well documented but that is now over and one can imagine him now energetically organising and improving whatever cosmic realms he now inhabits – inspiring and annoying in equal measure but getting the job done nonetheless.
A few thanks are in order:
· Mike Anthony for permanent loan of his old Discovery which can be used as the boat towing vehicle as long as it keeps running and is drivable by any club member. Also for efforts above and beyond on the small boat engines.
· Steve Higson and the Wanderers for building us our nice new tank for washing the kit post-dive.
· Mike Dalton for agreeing to take over as club Chairman despite the fact that he’d met us.
· Peter Jackson for performing his treasurer’s duties with energy and thoroughness and as well as that, keeping the memberships up to date while Cathy has been ill and maintaining the web site. This despite extremely difficult circumstances for him this year.
· Janette Elphinstone for her training efforts and for the RAK barbecue which could hopefully become a regular fixture on the calendar.
· Derek Roberts for keeping the equipment in good order.
· Sami for his kind and generous hospitality in Beirut.
· Everyone who has organised dives or any other event over the year and without whom…
Next year we aim to carry on diving as much as possible with maybe a few more east coast trips. We’d also like to grow the membership numbers if we can. The club is in good shape financially which is down to a number of factors but mostly because we continue to put people into the water at weekends. This we intend to carry on doing!
A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL AND SEE YOU ON THE DIVE BOAT IN 2013!
After last week’s brunch in Dubai, the previous week’s trip to RAK and the bad weather the week before, this was the first time in a month we’d taken the boat out in home waters. Numbers were a bit light but this sometimes happens around the holiday season. We launched from Al Khan and headed out to the Jumbo or at least we did eventually…
The Greek philosopher, Zeno of Elea, had a theory that motion was impossible since before moving a distance one had to move half that distance and before moving half that distance one had to move a quarter that distance and so on infinitely meaning that one could never start moving. Derek seemed determined to prove that theory on Friday. Having moved away from the quay he announced: “forgot my weight-belt”. The second time we got a bit further before he said: “forgot my ID card”. At this point it looked like taking until lunchtime just to leave the harbour but fortunately for our diving (and possibly Derek’s life expectancy) there were no further interruptions and we made out to the wreck.
We hooked the anchor on the bow of the ship at the second attempt and looking around, a most impressive sight was the surface visibility. We could see Ajman to the north, Palm Jumeirah to the south and in between the Dubai and Sharjah skylines were clear and sharp on the horizon. This was from 33km off-shore. Regrettably, the underwater viz was not as good being what you could charitably (well it’s Christmas) describe as extremely average. It was a good dive all the same. The water temperature was around 24 degrees – not too bad in other words although wet suits are now very much the order of the day.
There were barracuda on the bow and the usual snappers in the holds as we swam along the vessel. At the stern there was a small group of nine or ten batfish. Hiding by the prop was a large hammour. When it turned sideways it turned out to be maybe 80cm long which is unusual since most end up on restaurant menus long before they reach that size (and which is why they are now endangered in the Gulf).
The second dive was on Karen’s Dhow. We hooked on to the rudder from whence came the copper nails that adorn the Dive Bar. Not a large wreck, it usually has some interesting fish life. This time Mike and Derek had a close encounter with a sea snake (which we also saw on the surface) and a turtle which seems to live there as we’ve seen it before. It was then back to the club for refreshments. As is usual with this wreck, a few glass plates came back with us.
We abandoned diving this week in order to visit DSDC and partake of their Christmas Brunch. As it turned out the sea conditions would have probably ruled out diving in any case. As you would expect from such an event there were weighty and serious discussions and contemplation of major diving issues – for a few seconds at least. After some egg, bacon and sausage washed down with a couple of glasses of the best South African fizz thoughts turned to other matters including beating a drum full of sweets whilst blindfold, drinking Corona through a straw in time to music, changing clothes inside a duvet cover and threading string through clothes to tie people together. All good fun and in the best possible taste of course!
There was no diving the previous weekend for the first time in a while. The forecast for Friday 30th was very discouraging with large waves, and wind and sure enough we woke up to rain which turned into thunder and lightning during the day. Being a long weekend we could have got out on Sunday which was National Day (happy 41st) but again the forecast wasn’t great albeit rather more benign than Friday had been. With hindsight we could have gone but in truth I wasn’t as upset as I should have been to have a lie-in.
In contrast last Thursday night, we had an excellent barbecue at Ken and Janette’s place in RAK. The numbers were a bit down on last year but we had a good time all the same with Uwe joining us from Lubeck courtesy of Skype. We went on into the early hours – the precise time escapes me – making our intended start time of 9.00 am Friday a tad optimistic. The breakfast was good though!
Although we were a bit (OK a lot) tardy getting into gear, the slip at Al Hamra Marina is just round the corner from the villa so we were soon on the water heading for the Ajman Glory which is only 17km away. Courtesy of Ken volunteering to do boat handling we could all go in together which saved a lot of time. The anchor had just missed the wreck but there was next to no current so Mike just ran a line to the wreck.
The viz was reasonable rather than spectacular but it was a nice dive nevertheless. Among the fish down there was a lot of batfish some of which were very friendly even by batfish standards. The Ajman Glory is deeper than some we do round here which limits the bottom time but we got a good half hour in water which although cooling down is still warm enough to dive without too much neoprene.
Last year we dived the Rig Supply Vessel in conditions of very poor viz and it wasn’t a lot of fun groping around in the murk. All the same we decided to re-visit the wreck for variety if nothing else and to see if conditions had improved. Well they had up to a point. You could hardly describe the water as crystal and the viz was significantly worse than it had been on the Ajman Glory but at least this time I came away with some sense of what the vessel looked like. Which is… well at the risk of stating the obvious it was a supply ship for the rigs. The bridge is at the forward end behind which is a long flat deck for carrying whatever cargo was required. At the stern there is the tip of a prop sticking out of the sand – there must be a second prop as well but that was completely buried. The vessel is about 40m long – maybe a bit more.
The bridge was covered by nets and we did the environment a favour by cutting them off, freeing some fish in the process. There were a lot of batfish here as well – it must be the season for them. It was then a short boat ride back to shore and a rather longer car journey back to Sharjah.
Grateful thanks to Janette and Ken for their hospitality. Perhaps we’ll do a repeat in the new year.
Ian Hussey and guest writers.