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
Ian Hussey and Dive Club writers.