Oman

In October 2009 Neil and I flew to Muscat, Oman on a dive holiday to the Oman Dive Centre, run by Extra Divers. Neil had not dived since our trip to Seychelles in November 2008, due to a medical condition. However, a few days before flying to Oman he did a refresher dive in Fanborough swimming pool with Tina from the Divecrew. She put him through his paces, checking out 15 or so execises, including simulating an out-of-air situation, by switching off his air supply underwater and the obligatory mask-removal test. This meant that he didn't have to do a "checkup dive" in Oman and he found it very useful and would recommend this to others who may not have dived for an extended period. Tina is a very good tutor and it boosted his confidence for the upcoming trip.

Oman is situated in the Gulf, it is the third-largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The sea we dived in was the Gulf of Oman at the other side of which is Iran and Pakistan. Oman is a progressive modern Islamic state with a population of over 3 million, whose hereditary leader is Sultan Qaboos. It is a major exporter of oil. Its citizens benefit from the oil revenue by not having to pay taxes and there is free schooling and health-care in modern hospitals.


Hopefully you are able to see the google map above, if not, click on the following link: &s=AARTsJoDU5qGiu4VV3e9QxPb77rI5KyJ1gMap

Getting there

The trip was organised through the Divecrew and there were six of us who went: Neil and I, Mike and Elaine, Sue, and a newcomer to us, Marilyn. We exchanged information prior to the trip via e-mail. We were flying from Heathrow to Muscat on Oman Air. We could not check-in online, so I phoned their London offices the day before we flew. The lady at the other end of the phone was very helpful and we managed to book seats in an "exit" row, for both the outgoing and incoming flights. She told us that the baggage allowance was 22kg, but that since we were diving we could have an additional 10kg, provided that an individual bag did not exceed 26kg. We actually crammed everything into the 22kg limit - Neil had his regulators in his hand-luggage.

The plane was a new Airbus A330 (2:5:2 seating configuration) and the 6.5 hour flight passed quickly. We flew over Iran and crossed the coast of the Arabian Peninsula near Dubai. It's a pity we were on the port side of the plane else we may have seen the Palm/World development projects. We arrived in Muscat early in the morning. We each had to purchase a visa (6 OMR) before going through immigration. I bought some Bombay Sapphire gin for a very reasonable price in the duty-free shop at arrivals. Then we picked up our baggage and went outside the terminal. It was a bit chaotic but our driver found us and we were soon on our way to the resort, which is south of the capital (the airport is north). It took about 45 minutes to reach the resort

The Oman Dive Centre resort

The resort is right on the beach. We checked in and were each allocated a hut (like in the Maldives) with a bathroom open to the elements, apart from the palm branch roof. Our huts were arranged in a small square. They had a verandah on which you could lounge and view the sea. It was very cosy and much better than a large anonymous multi-storey hotel. The rooms had a safe and a small fridge. The electrical sockets were 240V and took English-style (3 square pin) plugs. We forgot to bring a sink-plug, but it wasn't essential.

The bay is shallow for quite a way out and it was easy to wade to various small coves. The water is clean, but not too clear, as it has a bit of plankton in it. Of an evening we would wander down to the bar, order a round of drinks, chat about the day's diving then migrate to the open-air restaurant. The food was basic, but very good nevertheless. Neil and I shared a camel-burger for lunch one day that was delicious. There are no shops within walking distance of the resort. A large bottle of water cost 1 OMR, but you could bring an empty bottle to the restaurant and have it refilled for half the price. A bottle of (very drinkable Chilean) house wine cost about 10 OMR. No-one had any tummy troubles during the holiday. The waiters were pleasant, but a bit "laid back" and food orders could take a while to come. Breakfast was a buffet affair and we got on well with "the egg-man", who would cook omelets, scrambled egg, or other preparations to order. The bread was very good when it wasn't being used as an incendiary device (Marilyn almost burnt down the place by putting her bread long-ways, instead of sideways, into the conveyor-belt toaster).

The Dive Centre

The people at the dive centre itself were very pleasant and efficient. The first thing we did after registering with them was to put our names down for the dive trip to the Daymaniyat Islands on the Wednesday. There are only a certain number of permits to go diving there and they could only take about 10 divers. Three of us also put our names down for a night dive. You didn't get a box for your dive kit, so each evening you would store your kit in the cleaning room and have to sort it out and take it to the boats the following morning.

The centre has a couple of smallish boats, comfortably accommodating up to 10 divers, more would be a bit of a squeeze. It also had one large boat, with a sun-bathing area on the roof. This boat could comfortably accommodate up to 30 divers. The dive centre has a deep swimming pool and does SSI courses. It has a small shop, but doesn't stock much in the way of dive kit or spare parts. Normally we would have breakfast from 7:15 onwards, then, about 08:00, walk past the pool to the kit cleaning room to retrieve our dive gear. Having checked and packed our gear we'd then take it along the jetty to one of the small boats. The bay is shallow, so sometimes (low-medium tide) we had to wade from the end of the jetty to the boat, which would take us to the large boat.

Diving

The two main dive-masters for the dives were Chad, an American from Seattle, and Jakob. On Thursday and Friday (effectively the weekend in Oman), Ume, from the Lebanon helped out on a non-paid basis. The guys on the boat were very helpful, assisting people who had problems setting up their kit. Neil as usual had a few problems in the connection his regulators made to the tanks, and had to change inserts/tanks a couple of times. I had a tank fall over and Jakob, the dive-master for that day quickly changed my tank, which now had a faulty valve, and setup my kit on it. There was no regimentation or rushing about to get kitted up and I liked this as it lowered the stress levels before getting in the water. In general it was a giant-stride entry into the water and an easy climb up the ladder to get out, after passing your camera, weights and fins to the guys in the boat.

Dive briefings could have been done a bit better, they usually consisted of: "swim to the wall; keep it on your left shoulder; come back after 100 bar or 30 minutes with it on your right shoulder; you might see fish, nudibranchs, rays ...". A few diagrams wouldn't have gone amiss. However, having said that, the diving was not difficult. In general visibility was limited to about 15m, due to the plankton in the water. This wasn't a problem, although on one dive (Cat Rock) we were sometimes down to 5m viz and were in less than 1m of water, with spiny urchins below us! Many of the dives were drift dives, though on one of these, over at Fahal Island, we were wrongly advised to go against the current, not with it. My most favourite dives were: "Aquarium" and "police Bay" (Daymaniyat), Fahal Island, "Cockleshell Bay" and "Plug point".

The majority of the dive sites are within a 30 minute journey from the dive centre, except when one of the two outboard motors packs in, as happened on the way back from an afternoon dive one day. Most of the sites have loads of wildlife and while the coral is not as spectacular as the Red Sea, it is very good nevertheless. Further afield is Fahal Island, which is about 45 minutes away to the north. The diving here is excellent. We passed American, British and French warships, Omani police vessels and oil tankers to get to it. We were careful to give the American destroyer a wide berth. A couple of days previously the boat had been intercepted by the police and shoo'd away before the American captain could decide whether or not to fire a warning shot from their 5mm front gun turret. They're a bit tetchy in the Gulf, as well they should be. The two dives we did were well worth the longer ride and we ran into a school of about 30 dolphins on the way back. These were being followed by fishermen, who were hunting the tuna the dolphins were chasing.

Even further away is Daymaniyat. The small boat takes about 1.5 hours to get there and it can be quite a bumpy ride, but well worth it. We dived "The Aquarium" at Daymaniyat and it is obvious where it gets its name from. It was absolutely fantastic! The dive circles an underwater coral outcrop and the corals and wildlife there are stunning. Our second dive at Daymaniyat was a drift dive at "Police Bay", which although not as stunning as Aquarium, is still a fantastic dive. Do not leave Oman without diving Daymaniyat. Even though it took over 2 hours to get back on the most bumpy ride I've experienced outside Bluewater Rafting on Maui, we would have gone to Daymaniyat again had we been able to. The Al Sawadi Beach Resort, also run by Extra Divers, is the closest dive centre for Daymaniyat. Two guys who couldn't be fitted on the boat still wanted to go, so the dive centre arranged for them to be driven there, but it is a long way to go as it is way to the north of Muscat. The Daymaniyat Islands stretch out over 20kms, starting about 15kms from the coast, with "Police Bay" being one of the furthest dive sites.

We did one wreck dive on the holiday, the 84m long Al Munnassir, sunk by the Royal Oman Navy as an artificial reef. It is lying upright, with the bottom at the stern being in about 30m of water, rising up to about 6m below the surface. If you have the relevant qualification you can enter the wreck. The side of the wreck is absolutely covered in nudibranchs. I have never seen so many in one place before. There are several eels hiding in the superstructure.
Al Munnassir wreck

On several of the dives we saw cuttlefish, which are amazing. They usually appear in pairs and would stay still long enough for you to photograph them, then, as they moved away you could see them change colour to match that of the coral over which they were traveling. We also saw giant seahorses about 6 inches (15cm) long, hawksbill turtles, rays and eels, as well as the usual fish. We saw a couple of sharks at a distance, and some of us saw a lemon shark while snorkelling between dives.

We had a bit of excitement on a couple of dives. On one, a buddy pair got separated at the beginning of the dive. On another (the other) Sue managed to flood her underwater housing causing the camera to stop working and losing the photos on her memory card. Three of us went on a night dive. We were dropped quite a way from the wall and didn't take a compass reading before descending. Instead of heading straight for the wall we stopped to see some sights on the bottom and consequently got disoriented, so much so that we never reached the cliff wall. Then one of us three had a problem and had to surface. The remaining two surfaced after a safety stop only to find we couldn't see the third diver, nor could we see the boat, which was not showing any lights. To make matters worse we had gone in the opposite direction to where we should have gone and were in open water instead of being inside the bay. A few shouts and wiggling of lights drew the attention of those on the boat and we were eventually picked, to be re-united with our third diver. This emphasises the importance of taking a compass reading before starting a dive in particular a night dive. Our last bit of excitement was at the "Cat Rock" dive site, close to Sultan Qaboos's palace. The visibility was very low. We almost lost each other a couple of times. At one point we ended up in less than 1m of water. There were a very large number of urchins around and Marilyn had several stings on her leg when we came up. However, we did see a fantastic turtle on this dive. The dive centre was very good and in fact did not charge us for the Cat Rock and night dives.

Trip into the desert

On the Saturday before flying back to the UK we took a trip in two 4WD cars into the desert and on to Wadi Bani Khalid. My car got bogged down in the sand almost straight away. We then got going and saw another car in trouble. We stopped and again got bogged down, much more seriously this time. I was only wearing "flip-flops" and found I couldn't stand on the hot sand surface for more than a few minutes. Mike went up a dune to take a picture, fell over and ended up with fine sand in his camera. Marilyn had the window open to take a picture when the driver "gunned" the engine to try to free the car. Loads of sand flew up from the wheels, into the car and into her camera as well. Eventually one of the local Bedouins provided us with a rope and our second car towed us free. Meanwhile Neil, Mike and Ibrahim, our driver were trying to help this other idiot of a driver (not in our party) who had tried to do a bit of dune bashing, hit a 45° slope sideways and steered into a deep hole, ripping one of his tyres from the wheel rim in the process. It was impossible to get it to move; it would require lifting gear to get out.

We then went on to see some camels; one just a few days old - oooooow-aaaaaah! We stopped off at a restaurant for lunch. The prices were about one-tenth of those in the resort restaurant. It cost in total 11 OMR for the nine of us (six plus a Belgian lady, who has travelled by local transport from Egypt(!) and the two drivers)! The wadi was a lovely oasis with plantations of date palms and large rock pools that some of us swam in. It was a long day out (about 12 hours in total) and we were all quite tired by the time we got back to the resort.

Summary

This was yet another great holiday. Being only six of us meant that it was cosier than some of the other trips with The Divecrew, especially as we all gone on so well with each other. The resort was great. The informality of the hut arrangement meant that we were not crowded together and each had their own space. While it wasn't really possible to go off-reort easily, most of us were sufficiently worn out at the end of a day's diving not to bother about this. The weather was brilliant all the time; it was not too hot or oppressive. However, we were told it could get well over 40°C in June. I would definitely recommend this as a diving holiday destination.

Summary of dives in Oman 2009
DateDepth (m)Time (min)EANxOman Dive
19 Oct 21.3 50 - Cockleshell Bay - lovely dive, lots of fish, some nudibranchs
19 Oct 17.1 56 - Memaid's Cove - another lovely dive, millions of fish
20 Oct 21.3 50 - Fahal Island (North Bay) - loads of fish, quite a bit of current though
20 Oct 13.1 59 - Fahal Island (East Bay) - interesting topography & trillions of fish
20 Oct 15.9 22 - The Point - night dive, but a waste of time (see report)
21 Oct 22.6 41 - Daymaniyat Islands (Aquarium) - best dive of the holiday!
21 Oct 17.4 57 - Daymaniyat Islands (Police Bay) - Fabulous dive, colourful corals
22 Oct 30.0 36 - Al Munnassir wreck - hundreds of nudibranchs & an electric ray
22 Oct 14.0 58 - Cave Site - poor viz at first, but turned out to be a good dive
22 Oct 17.7 53 - Happy Wall - very good drift dive, lots to see
23 Oct 22.0 56 - Novice Bay - lots of fish, some turtles, nice and easy
23 Oct 11.6 61 - Plug Point - beautiful dive, trillions of fish, turtles and rays and eels
23 Oct 11.6 57 - Cat Rock - very poor viz, spent a lot of time looking after buddies

Sue - October 2009

 
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