There was quite a lot of action last week and I’ll depart from strict chronology to start with the diving. Peter was having his first go at towing the boat (in fact his first go at towing anything) but we got to Al Khan and launched the boat without any undue alarm. The destinations were the Neptune and Jumbo which are about 35km offshore and we’ve had to abort on account of the sea-state the last couple of times that we tried to get there (most recently last weekend). Jumbo was also the occasion of "The Perfect Storm" (see Archive for 28 January 2011)!! No such problems on Friday – the sea was calm – but arriving at the Neptune we found a police boat anchored over the wreck all flashing lights and waving arms; clearly we weren’t welcome. Reversing our plan we went to the Jumbo (only 2km away) and dived this first. PJ takes up the story:
With Ian marshalling and not diving, Sergey and Phil buddied up, as did Mike and Robin, while I followed Derek and Rob down with a camera. We were on the neaps with no current, no waves, a surface temperature of 35 degrees, and good viz. It was also good to be out with a full boat of divers again.
The anchor fell first time securely into the wreck. MV Jumbo is a small freighter, which as it breaks-up, provides ever more dramatic swim-throughs, as well as interesting external exploration of its open holds. The contrast between the calm blue waters outside and its very black interiors was impressive, with jagged voids letting in dramatic (and welcome) shafts of light, The warm summer sea is having its usual effect on the variety of fish life present, but the wreck still attracts large yellow shoals of big-eye and dory snappers. Ubiquitous monocle bream, goatfish, a few small angelfish and an immature batfish made up the balance. Clams, barnacles and soft corals now cover the fragmenting steelwork. With a maximum depth of 23m, bottom time was limited to around 40 minutes, but in these conditions it provided an excellent dive that we all enjoyed. Being last up, Rob and I first relocated the anchor clear of the wreck.
We returned to short distance to the Neptune, by now clear of other activity, and dropped anchor. While gassing off, a few of us fell into the sea to try to escape the heat but at 35 degrees this proved completely ineffective!
The Neptune is a large 79m long drill rig tender barge that collided with an oil platform during a storm in 1973, and subsequently capsized under tow back to Sharjah. Lying upside down in some 24m of water, again it is slowly breaking up, to offer some interesting penetrations. Again following Derek and Rob with my camera, we reached the anchor in sand, to follow the line Mike Dalton had laid for some 20m to the wreck. Viz at first was not as good as at the Jumbo, but once we were down it improved. The massive pipe outriggers around the bow are quite sculptural in good visibility, and although we didn’t attempt a full swim-through, we penetrated the sides for great views through parallel rows of porthole openings. Much less fish-life than on the Jumbo, but again the steel is well over-grown with soft coral and clams.
We returned over the top of the up-turned hull, where I was filming a very pretty nudibranch, until rudely interrupted by Rob, whose computer was indicating he was getting into deco time- always frustrating to come up with plenty of air, but it was our second dive well over 20m. Every bit as good as the first, Derek and I surfaced, leaving Rob on the line for another 8 minutes of deco to run and his computer settings to be checked before next dive!
While packing up our gear, our return was delayed by someone shouting “Shark”. This was not quite accurate, but we did find ourselves the close attention of a pod of 4-5 bottlenose dolphins, that stayed around us until we started the engines. This has been a summer for regular dolphin sightings.
Robin drove us at a good pace back to Al Khan, with those of us on the port side experiencing considerably more humidity than those returning starboard. That just left me with the task of learning to tow the boat back and to reverse it into the yard for the first time. Thankfully this was achieved without too much embarrassment under Ian’s cool guidance. High temperature and humidity then required the imbibing of cold decompression fluid around Uwe’s table by the pool, in time-accustomed manner.
Back to Ian:
Saturday saw us up early and traveling to Jazirat Al Hamra. The purpose was to dive the Energy Determination which is a regular (if infrequent) dive site for us. This particular trip was organised by DSDC which meant that they had the responsibility for fixing the anchor line in the wreck. While we waited (and waited) for them to achieve this, a devil ray came close to the boat and flipped on its back before disappearing back into the depths.
The Energy was a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) which caught fire after an explosion in 1979 and broke in two, the stern section sinking in about 80m of water. This makes it a challenging dive, not for the faint-hearted or the inexperienced. Brendan, Heike and Hani went down in full technical diving regalia (ie more tanks than the Eighth Army) enabling them to descend to the bottom and have a look at the propeller which is naturally of very impressive dimensions. Mike and I diving air, were limited to around 50m (which is still deep) and we spent around 20 minutes swimming along the deck section, the break and the soft corals on the upper hull. There were some large barracudas but we both missed the big marble ray that was swimming along the deck rail.
The sea was almost flat and the current very small on the surface. The visibility was a bit disappointing below 20m (it was better at 80m according to the techies) but the Energy is always good to dive. It is on a much larger scale to anything else we dive and this combined with the depth creates an eerie atmosphere quite unlike anything else around here. Thanks to Steve Manthorpe and DSDC for running the dive.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING:
To wind the clock back a few days, last Tuesday we had the AGM (we sometimes have one each year). Brendan will be writing the full minutes but the highlights (as I remember them) are as follows:
· We are active, managing to get a boat out on 85% of available weekends over the last two years. Dives are sometimes cancelled due to weather but rarely due to lack of interest. Highlights were the two trips to Sharm El Sheikh and Muscat and the Dara 50th anniversary last April with its ensuing page 1 publicity in the local rags.
· Numbers on the boat have reduced over the last six months due to people leaving. We could do with some more members.
· Dive fees will be increased to cover increasing costs. Price will now be Dhs 70 per dive for members and Dhs 100 per dive for non-members. Kit and nitrox charges to remain the same. We had a couple of one-off costs recently offset by a couple of one-off donations.
· Generally boat maintenance costs are down, however the engines on 125 need reassembling. The new parts have been delivered.
· Mike’s old Land Rover Discovery will remain at the club to be the boat towing vehicle. Petrol, maintenance and registration costs to be borne by the club. There will be an effort to train more divers in boat towing, thus relieving the pressure on Ian and Mike.
· The web site is good and continues to improve. Thanks are due to Simon who set up the site and Jutta who continues to maintain it.
Your new committee is:
Chairman – Mike Dalton
Diving Officer – Ian Hussey
Treasurer – Peter Jackson
Memberships – Cathy Terry
Training – Janette Elphinstone
Boats – Mike Anthony
Equipment – Derek Roberts
Compressors – Brendan D’Souza