Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dive Safari - fifth day

The last day of the safari : -(

I slept again on the front deck. Today, however, we planned to sail early in the morning to reach the site of the first dive. I wake up at 5am hearing the zodiac engine with the crew removing the mooring lines. Avrahami and I pack the mattresses and bedsheets and move them to the back deck so they won't fly in the wind once we start moving. I decide to continue to sleep in the back. Avrahami wakes me up after 15min to see the sunrise. We do several shots of the sunrise over the front "porch".

I then go back to the deck and sleep. enjoying the breeze until we arrive at our next site at Ras Mamlach. The site is a lagoon sheltered from the strong current by Ras (landhead) that projects into the sea. The lagoon is white sand and the reef surround it.

First dive: We go down from the boat to the floor 5m below and start heading southeast. We reach the wall and go down to 25m and turn right. The wall is very rich and full of life. There are many "pine" corrals. After few minutes we reach a large projecting rock above us.It is surrounded by huge schools of glass fishes and פזיות that whirl around it in amazing patterns. The sight is hypnotizing. I try to catch the size of the school with the camera, but I am not sure if that is possible. We continue along the reef and shortly after decide to turn around and return at a shallower depth of 18-20m. We continue past various rock formations and reach a place where there is a land-slide of sand. This was the sign that we reached the rock projection into the sea. Indeed the slope is much more rock than coral now, but still full of life. As we continue forward we start fighting a current. The current mixes cold and warm water so the temperature changes dramatically. We can see the water shimmering at the places where water of different temperature mix together. When the current gets stronger we turn around and drift back to the landslide and follow it up to the sandy bottom of the lagoon. The water here is warm and still and we cruise around the shallow coral groups that dot the lagoon floor.
Stats: 15L 200bar to 60bar. Start 7:52am, 57m, max depth 27.1, avg 13.7

We eat breakfast, and turn south back toward Dahab. The site of the second dive is the Canyon. This is a steep semi-open cave like structure in the rocky slope that we created by an ancient wadi. Usually it is reached from the shore, but we will jump down from the boat and reach it from above. The guides and the captain have differences of opinion about the exact spot that we should enter in, at some point the instruction is given and we all jump from the back of the boat into the water.

Second dive: We collect into groups and start heading south. The sea floor is at about 15-20m, but we cruise at 7m to save air. Turns out that we entered the water quite far away from the canyon, and so we spend about 10 minutes of swimming before we reach the site. The upper end of the canyon is a rock cropping surrounded by schools of small fish. We follow the crack of the canyon down the slope. I am at the end of the group, and see before me people plunging into what looks like a small hole. I enter last. The original crack opens up to a big cavern that is open from above. I notice that the depth is much deeper than the original briefing (we were supposed to enter at 25m, but instead enter at 34m and then go down to almost 40). It is unclear to me whether Peit made a mistake, or just wasn't coordinated with Boaz.

We go slowly up the canyon, and soon reach a bigger "hall" that has a larger opening from above (this was supposed to be our original point of entry). The hall is populated by a large school of גרזנונים a fish that usually lives in darker caves of alcoves. Their coordinated movement is graceful and creates nice play with the light from above, so I try to make capture some of it with the camera. After few minutes we continue going up the canyon. At this stage the tunnel is almost vertical (it looks like an ancient waterfall) and we slowly drift up to enter the last room. 

We exit the canyon into a cloud of fish that lives around the rocks that surround this upper entrance. We stop there to enjoy the large variety of life on the rock and watch the next group after us going through the canyon. The passage of divers in the canyon creates plumes of bubbles escaping through the canyon ceiling. This has the look of a bubble curtain. In the upper part of the canyon there is no clear opening, so the air bubble escape through small holes. There was an area in the sand where many small streams of bubbles come out of random points in the sand.

At this point, 30 minutes into the dive, Avrahami signals that he has only 50bar left. I have 100bar (half of a larger tank). It seems that Avrahami's buddy disappeared, and so he came to me for help. I make a joke asking him how much he is paying, he laughs, and take the regulator from my mouth. I switch to the secondary regulator. We signal to Boaz that we are starting to go up, and he and all the group follow us. I try to maintain slow and even rate of ascent, while keeping Avrahami in tow. I signal to him to stop hovering above me (out of my line of sight), and instead to swim to my side. We go up, and I even manage to take some pictures (not so great). When we reach the safety stop level, Avarahmi returns the regulator. We few minutes for everyone to assemble, and then break to the surface. We were supposed to be picked up by the Zodiac, but we find the ship close to us, and so we swim to a rope they throw and they pull us in one by one.

Stats: 15L 200bar to 60bar, at 12:02pm for 47min, max depth 38.7 avg 13.7.

It is getting late and there is a discussion whether to have lunch before or after the third dive. Boaz plans that we will dive at 2, return to the boat at 3, and then have a quick lunch and enter the port (the target site was just next to the Dahab port) where the transportation waits for us at 3:30. I go down to quickly pack everything that I won't need after the dive. I return to the deck but things are going slowly. In the end we get into the Zodiac at 2:30 and into the water only at 2:45.

Third dive: The site is called the Islands. It is a shallow collection of big rock formations with corals just off the actual reef (somewhat similar to Nabaq in topography). Only about 6 people decide to go to this last dive. I buddy with Avrahami who took a camera from Dani, and I try to show him how to take pictures. I myself don't find that many targets and try to enjoy the reef. We drift to the north side with Shmuel, while the rest of the group goes south. At the shallower ends we see schools of fishes as they swirl around us. After 45 min we go to the water surface (as per briefing). The Zodiac picks us up, and then the other group and we go back to the boat.

Stats: 15L 200bar to ??, at 2:48pm for 44min, max depth 14.6 avg 7.6.

I quickly pack my dive gear, have a quick shower, and sit down for lunch. In the mean time the boat gets into port. The crew changes to their "street cloths". We bring up all the bags and do a double check for forgotten items. It is time to get off the boat, and the crew brings the box that holds all the sandals, which we totally forgot about for five days. It is blazingly hot outside, and we no longer get sea breeze which makes all the difference. Together with the crew we take all the baggage to the two mini-vans that wait for us outside the port (there are no trollies and the cars can't get in), load the baggage on the top of the van. We stand for a collective picture with the crew members, and then take off. At this stage we are totally soaked and dying for the air-conditioning to start working.

Getting out of Dahab involves a series of bureaucracies. We have to fill a passanger list form, get it approved by the local tourist police, and then cross several checkpoints. Unlike the night we came in, now I am awake for the ride, and see all the check points that we have to cross at different intersections. The scenery along the way is impressive.

We reach the coral island, where the dive shop that rented equipment for some of the group sits. While we wait for them to return the equipment the driver takes us to a hill so that we can get Israeli cell phone reception. So there we are a group of tourists standing on a hill overlooking the fort on the coral island and talking on our phones :-)

After 15 minutes we continue our trip. We get to the border crossing, load the stuff on three trollies and start the crossing process. At the egyptian side we need to fill forms and get them to the border control. There is a large group in front of us and the process takes a long while. I am the last in our group and chat with two American Jews that went down to Dahab for two days of diving. When there are only three of us left (Boaz, Avrahami, and me) someone cuts in front of Boaz and gets 10 passports stumped, so we are delayed even more. This fellow had a family of many little kids, each dragging some piece of luggage, and they kept getting in the way of the trolly that was loaded with two sets of dive equipment, three gas tanks, and my bags. We walk 200 m to the actual border, unload the trolly and then carry the baggage to the Israeli side. We reload on Israeli trollies and go the customs. In the end after 2 hours we get outside at the other end. Avi already got the car, we load it, say goodbye to everyone. It is already well after 9pm....

Tzipi is craving ice cream (they didn't have on the boat). So she convinces Avi against his better judgment to go search for Dr. Lek in the north shore. We get there and it is hot, and full of people (mostly young Arses), and Dr. Lek is now something else. Tzipi does not give up and we get some ice cream. In the mean time I try again to contact Yael and manage at last to have a short conversation. We go to Kinnert's apartment, and take the personal bags up. Avi and I decide to go for a night dive. After some debates we decide to go to the coral reserve.

Fourth dive: We enter the water at Ben-Harush beach. We decide to start without lights and turn them on when we reach the action area in the reserve. We go to 15m, and pass through the sandy area. Avi is leading at brisk pace and I keep up.

At some point Avi signals "lights?" I give a yes, and we turn on the light. We visit one coral boulder (Sela Yehoshua). Avi circles to the right and I to the left. I immediately hit a starfish that I never saw before, as though it was made of bubbles. I try to signal to Avi but he does not see. I continue and find a spiked starfish, a type of starfish that eats corals. I saw one before in Eilat, but they are pretty rare. I take several photographs and then go searching for Avi to show him. Few meters to the right I find another one of the strange star fish.

We then continue to the bigger boulder (Sela Moshe). There there is a richness of life forms. My flash batteries run out, so I am more or less out of the game, and just watch the animals. I signal to Avi that my flash is gone and we start heading toward the shore, and once reaching the reef turn right to get back. We get hit by a strong current and spend something like 15-20 minutes swimming against the current to get back out. This part is not fun anymore as we, or I am, at least, quite tired.
Stats: 15L 180bar to 60bar, at 11:21pm for 68 min, max depth 15.8m, avg 5.8.

We get back to Kinneret's place, while Avi takes a shower I call Yael and the kids, then I take a shower and to bed.
The end. These were very active 5 days, but a lot of fun. I can't wait until the next safari.....

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