Last weekend was the long awaited Khasab trip which proved a memorable experience in more ways than one and provided some useful lessons, not least in negotiating border crossings. Some of you may remember the days when going to Dibba involved merely crossing a wadi and even the main Emirati border posts were empty patches of gravel. Those days are gone; getting through the Hatta/Wajaja border from Dubai for example, now requires crossing seven checkpoints, two before you even reach Hatta. This costs time of course but also means that all papers and cards must be in order with no unexpected complications. Several of us fell foul of the system in various ways although in the end we all made it to the destination.
Having said all that, the first problem was mainly my fault. Through sloth and inattention I had allowed the car registration to lapse which wouldn’t have been a problem since they don’t check the registration cards at the border crossings. Except now they do and needless to say an out-of–date card caused some consternation and nearly prevented us from leaving the Emirates, never mind reaching Oman. Fortunately after some fervent pleading and promising we were allowed to continue having lost only five minutes or so but it was a close run thing.
Geoff, Peter and Andy weren’t so lucky. Arriving at the border the following morning, Geoff was denied entry to Oman because of his tank of nitrox in the back which was clearly a dangerous chemical and possibly explosive. Having failed to convince the border police otherwise, Geoff rang Sami who has got us out of trouble before with his native Arabic and tongue as silver as his hair. True to form Sami was able to convince the police that Geoff was a diver and was not intent on wreaking havoc in the Sultanate or terrorising its citizens. Just the same they were not sufficiently convinced to allow the offending tank into the country.
Meanwhile Peter and Andy, travelling separately but arriving only five minutes behind became caught up in the same situation. Seeing the dive gear the police concluded correctly that they were in the same party as Geoff but incorrectly that Peter’s car would also be carrying dangerous tanks. They weren’t backing down and Peter’s car had to stay at the border despite the complete absence of diving tanks of any kind. They did allow Peter and Andy to continue having first transferred all their gear into Geoff’s car. The logic of this defeats me completely but at least everyone was into Oman albeit minus one car and some tanks and half an hour behind schedule.
Had we but known it, Sami had needed to use his persuasive skills on his own behalf the previous day. He’d flown in from Beirut on Wednesday evening and arriving at the border on Thursday afternoon, he was told the system had not registered his entry to the UAE and that therefore he didn’t exist. One would have thought that a living, breathing human being clutching a passport would be strong de facto evidence of a person’s existence in the UAE. As ever, officialdom works otherwise and Sami was unable to prove his point with an entry stamp since he’d come in through the e-gate. Instead he managed to orchestrate a phone conversation between the border police and some person at the e-gate office at Dubai airport who was able to say that Sami had indeed entered the country the previous day. His existence confirmed, Sami was able to proceed.
The serious message here is that the e-gate system seems to take 24 hours to recognise anybody as having entered the UAE and anyone wanting to cross a border less time than that after arrival would be well advised to get a stamp in their passport, even if means a long queue.
After all this the diving might seem anti-climatic but such was not the case. We were with Extra Divers which is next to the Golden Tulip hotel just outside of Khasab. Since there were eleven of us, we had a boat to ourselves along with Dive Master Kurt and two boat drivers. The first destination was “No-palm Beach” on Musandam Island which was about an hour out of Khasab. Despite the name this was not a beach dive – we dived the reef around the island which starts shallow before sloping down to 40m or deeper. The viz was not spectacular but the large table corals were very attractive. There were plenty of soft corals as well and the usual reef fishes found in the Musandam. There was also a turtle swimming around and seen by some of us. The current was gentle which was good as it can vary unpredictably in this area as we were shortly to find out.
The second dive was on Abu Rashid Island and the dive site was called Abu Rashid Drift. This really was no joke. The current varied with position and depth during the dive but in general it was one-way traffic only. Unlike the first dive the sea bed went down steeply in what was virtually a wall so care was needed not to go too deep. There were fields of very nice purple coloured soft corals which could be appreciated during those moments when not trying hard to stay on the reef. In the event Peter got blown off and had to surface after only twelve minutes or so but most of the rest of us made it round the corner into calmer conditions in shallower depths. After that we had a relaxing boat ride back to shore. Peter described the day as “one dive and a washing machine”.
The party split in two at this point. Peter, Geoff, Derek, Chris and Andy went off to do a night dive whilst the rest of cracked a couple of cans in the bar. The latter activity needs little elaboration but let Peter describe the night dive:
“There was limited enthusiasm for the last dive of the day, a shallow night dive to 10m on a deliberately sunk transport landing craft, laden with aircraft wings on the deck. After the disappointment of the afternoon dive, five of us decided to go for it. The Extra boat was much less pressured with fewer divers, and we changed into our gear while still in Khasab harbour as last light faded. The dive site was only ten minutes away, in the entrance to the first fjord. Close to the cliffs, there was no current, and the shallow water was comfortably warm - lucky for Derek who forgot to bring his wet-suit!
The night diving party returned to the hotel to join the rest of us for an excelent buffet meal accompanied with generous amounts of liquid refreshment. All in all it was a very good day and many thanks are due to Kurt and Sandra of Extra Divers.
In the morning we all went our separate ways, some of us to the nearest sun-loungers but others were more adventurous. Geoff picks up the story:
“After collecting their kit from Extra Divers and saying farewell to the others in the group who were heading straight back to Sharjah, Derek, Andy and Geoff set off to explore more of Musandam. The first port of call was Khor Najd, where spectacular views are obtained at the top of the approach climb and a steep winding gravel track leads down to a remote beach used by local fishermen. Derek and Andy decided to sample the warm waters and check for marine life with mask and snorkel but with little success. The next stop was the acacia forest at the end of Wadi Sall Ala, barely 10 km further east from Khor Najd where a shady spot was found for lunch beneath some of the numerous trees.
Many thanks to Geoff for organising the weekend. The divers were: Geoff, Derek, Ian, Cathy, Mike A, Andy, Peter, Chris, Sami, Richard and snorkeler Sharon. Some pictures are attached – many thanks to those who sent them to me.
For those interested, the club is featured in the next edition of “Time Out Sharjah” – available next week at a newsagent near you.
We are planning another Eid-al-Adha trip to Beirut to dive the Souffleur, the Vichy French submarine that went down in June 1941 as well as one or two other wrecks such as the “Alice B”. Eid this year is due around 15 October but the exact dates and duration is not known yet. More details will follow and the trip is highly recommended.
The club is open as usual tomorrow night which is a good opportunity to meet the usual crowd of terrorists, international arms dealers, traffic offenders and mugging victims. Divers are welcome provided they exist. Purchase of food and beverages will be accepted as proof of existence and the more proof the greater the certainty. In the words of the great philosopher: “I drink therefore I am”.
On a more serious and sadder note and for the benefit of those former Wanderers of recent years who remember him, I regret to report the death of Stephen Thompson (Tonk) in a car accident in Saudi Arabia. We never did manage to persuade him to come diving with us but he was a visible and charismatic presence at SWSC and will be missed very much around here.