Into the Blue
Carl Hobson deep dives into the watery depths of Oman and Jordan
Diving in Oman and Jordan offered two unforgettable opportunities to experience the wonderous marine diversity and coastline that these two very different countries have to offer. With my father in tow, who had learnt to dive with North Sea deep sea divers a lifetime ago but had to complete his PADI (Open Water Diving Qualification) just before we set off, we were ready for our diving experience!
Diymaniyat Islands – Muscat, Oman
As the heat steadily rises throughout the morning, we arrive at the marina, just outside of Muscat, ready for our briefing. We set off on a canopy-covered Zodiac to the Diymaniyat Islands (or ‘Police Islands’ as these are known locally, due to a small outpost there) across the Gulf of Oman towards Iran. We begin assembling our equipment and carrying out checks with help where needed, before setting off over the water. Ten minutes out of the marina we are crippled with engine failure – drat! We limp back to have it fixed, but amazingly, one member of our party, Taimur, reveals he has a boat of his own. He offers it up like a spare item of clothing and the adventure resumes; we power out to the dive site, now at full throttle – an exhilarating experience in itself!
As we approach the islands, the boat is brought to a gentle burble. We slowly hug the coastline until we reach a small bay where we drop anchor 100 yards from the beach. With a sense of nervous excitement, we start putting on our equipment – buoyancy control device, weight belts and flippers – before approaching the stern of the boat for a “step in”. This move consists of holding the palm of your hand over your regulator (the bit on your mouth), while your index and second finger lie over your mask; you then take a large step out into the sea and let gravity do the rest. My father enters the water first, followed by me. As I meet the water a momentary shock from the temperature change hits me, but quickly passes. I begin to let the air out of my buoyancy device and slowly begin to descend, equalising pressure every few meters. At 15 meters below the surface, the visibility is perfect and the water teeming with life – I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed at the sheer abundance of fish and coral, the array of colours and the fact that I have no real business being there, and yet I am, and it is really happening!
The temperature drops the further you descend as the effects of UV rays that heat the water weaken (the thermocline as it is known), but even 15 meters down, it still feels pleasant. I start to notice marine life all around me. A distinct silhouette of an eagle ray against the sun penetrating the surface of the water passes above me, a beautiful honeycomb moray eel with its vibrant white honeycomb markings glides by, joined by the welcome sight of multiple sea turtles all varying in size. These are inquisitive, as are the many species of other fish that approach me, hovering within inches of my mask as if to question what I am doing there. I am in heaven and completely consumed by my surroundings.
Having covered a fair distance underwater and now down to my last minutes of air, I signal the dive instructor and we slowly make our ascent. As I breach the surface, I see the boat in the distance, a reasonable swim away, and start to paddle on my back letting the equipment take the strain as the sun warms my face. The 25 minutes I spent below the surface in another world went by in a blink. I am itching to get back in the water but since we are limited to 25-minute dives with breaks in between, I settle for a very light but spoiling lunch served on the sun deck instead. Until the next dive….
Gulf of Aqaba – Jordan
The Gulf of Aqaba where Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Suadi Arabia share a coastline, has much cooler waters than Muscat, so wet suits are a must. While it’s not quite the Red Sea, this region is still thriving with all manner of underwater life, and I couldn’t wait to explore the depths. We set off on a palatial boat manned with three support crew, which felt both indulgent and reassuring, for a shipwreck approximately 200 meters from the shoreline. Visibility is less favourable here due to reasonable currents which are strong enough to carry you but it’s the temperature that hits me first; on entry, it leaves me breathless for a few moments. We descend and head away from the dive boat. A sunken ship, the Cedar Pride, comes into view almost immediately. It sits in a clearing on a reef and has become home to an inordinate amount of life over the years, with every nook and cranny home to a species of fish or colourful invertebrates. I hover over it to get a sense of the scale of what once was a working cargo ship back in the 1960s. The wheelhouse is fully intact, and all the hatches and doors are open for those who feel adventurous enough to swim inside. I opt to swim over and around it, which is breathtaking, and even though I am tall at 6ft 4 inches, the scale of the ship made me feel insignificant in comparison!
Moving the boat further down the coastline, we visit the site known as the Seven Sisters. Here, the former King’s WWII battle tank has been sunken onto a sandbank for the amusement of divers and to act as a home to sea life that find comfort from predators in its belly. Several military vehicles have also been placed strategically along the reef to add to the dive experience, which offer an eery and interesting feast for the eyes. As sensational as the diving in both countries is and as much as I did not want to leave this other worldly environment, I knew I didn’t belong there. However, I felt privileged to have shared space with its inhabitants, if only for a short period.