I WAS FOLLOWING one of the guides, Shaker, an Egyptian chap who was equally excited about exploring this region after previously working in his home waters. We spotted a few nudibranchs, and both took some shots before my camera flashed “card error”, and I remembered that one of my memory cards had been troublesome before.
“Oh well,” I thought. “I’ll simply enjoy the dive – if that’s all that goes wrong after such a long trek, then I’ll take it.”
Our second dive was to a wreck, known locally for its proximity to the Marriott hotel. That’s all anyone knows beyond the fact that it’s old and steam-powered.
Perhaps some locals know the vessel’s identity? At 70-80m long and very broken up, it was a bit disappointing. Yellow sun corals looked great on the steam tubes on one of its massive boilers, but otherwise it was unexceptional. That is, it was until we night-dived it a few hours later.
By night the wreck reminded me of one in the Red Sea, the Barge at Gubal – a dull-looking dive in the daytime but one of the finest night-dives you could experience. The jumbled deck-plates and spars were packed full of huge sleeping parrotfish, urchins, octopuses, decorator crabs and a small cuttlefish I came across that I swear was imitating a hermit crab.
It had hunched its “legs” under its body and, using only the tips of two tentacles, mimicked the mouthparts of a crab so well that I had to look twice.
With a fresh memory-card and a macro lens on my camera, I had a wonderful hour on this shallow wreck among the blue-spotted rays, a torpedo ray and a very patient squid.
During the night we left the coastline for the island for Al Hasikiya, which meant a journey of eight hours’ uninterrupted sleep for me, something that doesn’t always happen.
We enjoyed a few dives here among massive car-sized boulders, swim-throughs and caves, all populated by shoals of fusiliers, goatfish and bannerfish. Neon blue-lined Arabian dottybacks were everywhere. At night, the nudibranchs came out, including the wonderfully named beautiful risbecia.
It was on the night-dives that I came to appreciate just how rich this area is in terms of marine life. Christmas-tree worms were everywhere, as were coral crabs – some shiny, some hairy (like ugly teddy bears), living their lives among the hard branches of coral.
Al Qibliyah, the most remote island, was similar, and even though I was tired after my hike I enjoyed the dive around Al Qibliyah Rock. Once again, we had sailed through the night and, from the next day onwards, would slowly start to work our way back towards Salalah.
By now I’d fallen into a nice rhythm of liveaboard life – the hallowed dive, eat, sleep and repeat. Between dives, the guides were exploring, looking at the way the land ran into the sea and checking out places they thought might be interesting.
It must be exciting to be in their position, with so very much more to discover. I can only imagine that in six months’ or a year’s time the list of dive-sites will have grown longer, and the guides will be able to pick and choose, as their knowledge of the local currents increases.