Last weekend was the long awaited trip to Al Sawadi in Oman to dive the Damaniyat Islands, just north of Muscat. This is usually a good trip and this one certainly lived up to expectations. There was a party of 17 in total including a couple of non-divers so we were quite a crowd and it was good to welcome Graham Wilson, a former Diving Officer back in the dim and distant past and his son, Samuel. Also along were Bryan and Helen for the first time since the “old lags dive” on the Dara in October 2011.
We drove down on Thursday evening and on arrival convened in Mike and Peter’s room. The journey was largely uneventful which was a relief after the hassles of getting to Khasab a couple of months ago. Being Ramadan of course the bars were all shut but room service was open for business. After a long journey and with some diving to do in the morning, we didn’t push the party into the early hours but it was a good start all the same.
We were diving with Extra Divers, based at Al Sawadi, who run a very good and efficient operation. And before we set off another blast from the past – Alison Mackenzie once of this parish but now resident in Oman for ten (!) years was at the centre for her weekly diving fix. She was surprised to see us from which I conclude that she doesn’t always read her emails! Derek acted as our point man, co-ordinating with Matteo who was our Dive Master for the day. The only thing he didn’t manage to co-ordinate was his own gear as he arrived on the boat without his regulator. A swift sprint back to shore sorted out the problem.
There was another diversion before we set off. I’ve seen some strange equipment brought on a dive trip but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone turn up with a helicopter. Not a full size one but the small remotely operated variety used for taking aerial photographs. Oliver Jackson, son of our treasurer, is a professional photographer and had brought it along to get some shots of the resort and the dive boats from the air. It caused a bit of a stir, not just with the divers and dive centre staff but also some crows who were clearly puzzled at this interloper in their airspace.
Once on the water, it took about 40 minutes to reach the first target, Junn West Wall. The water was rather cooler than expected – about 21°C at depth so wet suits were highly recommended. It was a bit of a shock after the bath water that is the Arabian Gulf at the moment. The viz apparently hasn’t been too good recently but on this first dive it was very respectable if not quite crystal clear. A full list of all the fish down there would be very long but there were a lot of clown fish – some seemed to be without a parent anemone, a large shoal of blue trigger fish, barracuda, lion fish, snappers, angel fish of various sorts and a stone fish that gave Peter a shock when he nearly put his hand on it, so well was it camouflaged. The maximum depth was around 18m but the best stuff seemed be in the 10 – 15m range so the dives could be quite long before the air ran down (or when you turned blue whichever came first). We were able to shallow finish the dive among some attractive table corals in 6m or so.
The best was saved for the surface interval. With the boat parked at Sira Island, we were discussing whale sharks when one suddenly appeared. The next sound was a large splash as everyone jumped in with masks and snorkels to try and get up close. The shark was a juvenile – maybe 4m or so which is not large by whale shark standards – but it was large enough and it hung around for about ten minutes allowing us a good look although some frantic finning was needed to keep up. It was Mike Anthony’s first whale shark sighting in his 2000+ dives and afterwards he was heard muttering: “Now I can give up diving!” Somehow I can’t see that happening.
After that almost anything might have been anti-climatic and indeed for much of the second dive at Sira Island, the viz was as poor as we’d been told to expect, despite a good start in clear water. A few of the divers turned back when the underwater fog was encountered but the rest of us soldiered on. Peter and Mike A were rewarded with a very friendly turtle which spent several minutes performing for the camera right at the end of the dive. Earlier on, Sami also got some footage of the same animal.
The trip back started off a bit slow since one engine had packed up but half way back another Extra Divers boat caught us up. We trans-shipped and were soon back on shore where Mike Dalton had most of the resort staff searching for his brown flip-flops which had mysteriously gone missing. There was one other slightly jarring note – during the whale shark encounter one of our number caught hold of the shark’s dorsal fin. Back on land the lady at the dive centre let him know this was Not A Good Thing, a point she felt compelled to make several times. In all fairness you could hardly argue – guilty as charged m’lud – but you wondered whether the full hairdryer treatment was really appropriate.
But let that not spoil a good day! After an extensive search, Mike’s brown flip-flops were found (naturally) in his dive bag – no sniggering at the back please! (well you can a bit) and in good humour we all convened in Sami’s room to give the room service another workout.
On Saturday morning some of us went out for some more diving, others favoured the swimming pool and jacuzzi.
The party was Derek, Geoff, Sami, Brian, Mike D, Zulfa, Daniel, Graham, Samuel, Bryan, Helen, Ian, Cathy, Mike A, Peter, Oliver and Jacqui.
Thanks to Geoff for details of Day 2: