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This just in from my oppo Neil Bedwin in Muscat, Oman, on his team's recent trip up to Musandam. Enjoy.

Musandam Magic – Jan/Feb 2004

Do you remember Jacques Cousteau? He was the man that used to sail around in the Calypso diving in tropical blue water, looking at colourful fishes. For him the water was always crystal clear. It was warm, the sun always shone and there were so many fish you could hardly see the colourful corals past them.

The only reason I bring this up is that I am now standing on the diving platform of an 80 foot dhow looking down at a reef that is 6m below the surface. If Jacques were to swim by at this moment I would be quite surprised as he is, unfortunately, dead but this is just the sort of setting you would expect to see him in.

We are on board the Al Marsa 1, a dhow that Muscat Divers has chartered for the next three days. This boat, although it looks like a dhow, is in fact made from modern materials, has air conditioning, a large saloon and seven comfortable double cabins. The 14 of us have travelled up from Muscat to dive the waters, see the fjords and generally have a rest and now I was standing with my diving gear on looking at our first dive site.

Mushroom Rock is a small island that doesn’t actually break the surface. The sides of the reef slope gently down to a sand floor at about 20m. It is a good place to start a dive trip and check that all our equipment works properly because of the gentle slope and the shallow depth.

So, without much fuss, I stepped into the water, followed soon after by my two sons. We checked that everything was ok and then descended into the quiet world under the surface.

As we hovered above the coral we could see hundreds of reef fishes darting this way and that as they looked for food or shelter.  Looking into the distance we could see shoals of larger fish gliding serenely through the clear water. Batfish and barracuda seemed interested in our appearance in their world and took turns, it seemed, in following us as we made our way around the rock. Small sergeant major and trunkfish swam between rocks or under reef outcrops to avoid us as we viewed the reef and its inhabitants. All too soon, our time was up and we had to make our way back to the surface.

As the days past, we slowly sailed back towards Dibba Port; diving the best dive sites on the way. On board the dhow we slipped into an easy rhythm. We would get up and have a dive then eat breakfast. Before lunch we would dive again and then for those that wanted it there was a night dive before dinner. In between dives we would look at the digital pictures our intrepid photographers had taken underwater, talk about the forthcoming dive or just rest and have a good time on the sun deck.

For me, the dive that summed up our whole trip was Limah Rock. This is a large island which juts-up magnificently from the seabed. It is over 300m high and sinks down over 60m into the depths. We dived Limah Rock on our last day; the tide was just about to turn so there was no tide movement and the sea was flat calm; it was perfect conditions for a dive.
We stepped off the dive platform and slowly descended through what felt like an aquarium. The fish below us would move aside and as soon as we had passed the gap would close so that we were constantly surrounded.

During this dive, we were on a mission. The dive guide had told us that seahorses live on a large rock at 29m, so we were off to find them. At that depth we would not have long so I was relieved to be able to see the rock from 20m away; there would be no searching in low visibility for us.

Approaching the rock, there were no seahorses to be seen. Then, as we looked closer, one was found holding onto a piece of soft coral. It was small and blended perfectly with its surroundings; using natural camouflage to hide from predators. Unfortunately we did not have time to look for more but, as we turned to ascend, I was amazed at the sight that met me.

From nearly 30m down, I could see the bottom of our dhow. There were several pairs of divers gliding over coral through so many fishes that you could not possibly count them all. Silhouetted against the sun was a school of large batfish. I turned and looked along the reef. Larger fish were gathered a little way off; the water was so clear that they appeared to be floating in mid air with nothing to support them. Further up, a shoal of fish swam by at speed as if they were in a rush to go somewhere important.

We slowly made our way up the side of the reef, looking into every hole and under every overhang. I could not believe the colours in the coral. It seemed as if every colour you could think of was there in every shape imaginable. There was large soft cabbage coral in a soft green; spiky ‘teddy-bear’ coral in red and yellow; purple soft coral and no end of brown and green table coral.

All too soon this dive was over and we had to ascend to the surface; but it is one that will get a special mention in my log book.

The dive trip came to an end that day as we arrived back in Dibba, but for the divers it will live with them a long time. We took nothing but pictures, we left nothing but bubbles……we will be back.

Neil Bedwin
Muscat Divers BSAC 621
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