THE EXOTIC INDIAN OCEAN is no-one’s idea of a typical long weekend. Having said that, if you are moved to shoehorn some Indian Ocean diving into a short space of time, it’s the Red Sea that will give you your closest, most convenient access to that vast body of water. And after that, it’s the United Arab Emirates.
Dubai is 3400 miles or a seven-hour flight from the UK. Of course, it’s a popular stopover for long-haul flights east too, so you could also break a longer trip to dive there. Anything’s possible.
I gather that a lot of Polish divers are currently unhappy about being sold diving-holiday packages in Dubai, after being led to believe that they could enjoy the pleasures of the Arabian metropolis combined with popping under water whenever the fancy took them.
In fact the decent diving in the Emirates is in Fujairah, a longish drive from Dubai city and airport, and four hours a day there and back wasn’t quite what the Poles had in mind.
So you have to factor that taxi-ride into the equation. Even so, I reckoned that by staying in Fujairah itself I should be able to squeeze seven or eight dives into a flying visit.

I WOULD HAVE PREFERRED a visit that was less of a gamble, but with Fujairah’s five-star Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort pretty well occupied on weekdays in April and rammed at weekends, when many Emiratis arrive for the diving and other recreational pleasures, the best it could offer was three midweek nights.
I would arrive Monday lunchtime after an overnight flight, dive that afternoon and the next two days, and leave on Thursday.
But the Gulf of Oman isn’t the Red Sea, so would the weather be kind
The gods seemed to be looking in kindly fashion on the enterprise with my first dive, on the local wreck Inchcape 1.
On my last visit to Fujairah some years ago, I had been sorry to have to forego diving Inchcape 1, but on that occasion the mooring buoy had come adrift and the wreck had gone AWOL temporarily.
We jumped off Al Boom’s dive-boat, one of four it operates from its centre at Le Meridien, into choppy waters.
My first thought on hitting the water was that bringing a 3mm wetsuit had been a trifle optimistic in April, when the water temperature is still around 23° and cooler at depth.
With a fair old surface current running we slipped down on the line, through green water full of the sort of tiny life-forms that gladden a whale shark’s heart, but render visibility
pea-soupy.
Then, at just short of 30m, the upright wreck emerged out of the broth, and gladdened my own heart.
This is a lovely little wreck, not least because of its colourful inhabitants. US-built, the 20m cargo vessel worked in the UAE for some 30 years, latterly for Inchcape Shipping, and was sunk as an artificial reef 12 years ago, the deeper of a pair lying off Fujairah.
The vessel is swarming with yellow snapper, and lionfish patrol the open hold. Alongside the wreck, a cuttlefish hovered over the sand.
And two giant honeycomb morays also call Inchcape 1 home – the pair live apart but within hailing distance, like sophisticated divorcees.
I watched one of them – Fred I think, though it could have been Freda – sharing its dwelling-place with flower cardinalfish that seemed reluctant to leave its side.
Best of all, dropping off the starboard side of the wreck, I was able to hang just below a green seahorse.
We sometimes forget that common seahorses can grow as long as 20cm, and this was a hefty specimen as they go.
These photogenic fish usually start doing the twist as soon as a camera appears, yet this one remained in perfect profile, blessedly unbothered.
Framed as it was by delicate soft corals in fiery colours, its convenient appearance within my first few minutes under water seemed to bode well for the trip.
After that exciting first dive it was time to kick back and bimble, and I wanted to see the new reef garden I had heard was putting down roots off the beach in front of the resort.
The reef is part of a long-term plan hatched by diving hotel manager Patrick Antaki and Dubai-based Al Boom head honcho Simon Tambling to add more underwater diversions for guests.
With access to some 300 purpose-built structures from the Reef Ball Foundation, they were still considering how best to deploy them all. That’s a lot of concrete to shift.
A sandy area is enclosed by the beach on one side and by three massive walls formed by Geotubes, effectively long bags pumped full of sand to make rigid sausage structures. These had already proved effective in preventing shoreline erosion caused by storms, I was told.

BEYOND THE REAR BREAKWATER in 8m or so you find a large cage-ball and
at present a dozen satellite reef-balls, with one acting as a mooring point.
The vis wasn’t conducive to viewing the whole vista, but what I could see was how popular the cageball in particular had become with the cardinalfish.
Sergeant-majors congregated near the top of the swirling mass, as if aware of their rank, and lionfish and butterflyfish were also in evidence.
Following the breakwater around, mildly chilled by the end even though I had graduated to a 5mm by now, there were signs of early colonisers: anemones and their attendant fish here and there, spider and hermit crabs peeping from the bottom of the wall and a few nudibranchs. Plenty of sting rays and flounders lurked in the sand, too.
It’s early days for the reef-ball project – it isn’t pretty yet but you can’t hurry nature, just encourage it.
So it was a promising afternoon and, looking forward now to two full days of diving, I sauntered down to Al Boom the next morning without a care in the world. I found Bruce and Ceri Henderson, the amiable Scots couple who run the centre, looking glum.
The reason turned out to be a two-mile Coastguard ban on recreational craft imposed that morning because of strong winds. My worst fears were coming to pass, and I could only console myself with the thought that I’d got to Inchcape 1 in time.
From where I sat, the sea was only mildly ruffled and the palms swaying gently. “It doesn’t look that bad,”
I said plaintively, but it seems that the Coastguard don’t take any chances.
In other circumstances I’d love to spend a morning chatting to Bruce and Ceri, who are excellent company, but I just kept wondering: would this offshore wind blow for the next two days
Luckily not. By mid-day, it seemed that although the north was off the menu, sites further south had become a distinct possibility.
Pre-arrival, Bruce had suggested a trip north to Musandam in Oman for that day, but given my short stay I had been reluctant to add further travelling time. It was a little early in the year to see whale sharks there, too, though a good success rate is claimed from April on.
As it happened, of course, the trip would have been blown out.
So we jumped on a boat and headed south to nearby Sharm Rock to explore the three pinnacles rising from around 12m. Pipefish, scorpionfish, flounders, hermit crabs and a marble ray under an overhang – not the most thrilling dive, but it was a relief to be under water.
With our options still limited by conditions in the afternoon, it was a return to the barnacled breakwaters of the embryonic house reef and life among the rays, scorpionfish, anemonefish and other sand-dwellers.
On this occasion a small resident green turtle that I had seen previously at the surface performed a fleeting flypast above the reefballs.

RUNNING OUT OF TIME, I prayed that the weather would smile on my last day.
It did. There were only two divers on the morning boat, guide Ronald and me, and it took 25 minutes to reach Shark Island off the Khor Fakkan commercial area, where the underwater terrain is marked by rectangular rocks decorated generously with sea urchins.
Again we saw morays in abundance, including a geometric specimen relaxing in a landscape-format pose outside its hole, an assortment of rays, little cowfish, an enormous star pufferfish in a gully and more anemonefish. Towards the end of the dive we surprised a big green turtle that took off quickly.
Back at the centre, a boat-load of divers were heading out to Inchcape 1 so, reluctant to miss any opportunity, I climbed aboard. The current was much stronger today, even beyond the surface, and although visibility on the wreck was better I didn’t see the seahorse.
My final dive was a return to a celebrated shallow site I had enjoyed on my previous visit – Dibba Rock.
Damage wrought four years before by Cyclone Kimo, followed by a devastating algal bloom or red tide, was still evident on the latter shallow section of the dive.
Discoloured fragments were all that remained of the resplendent “raspberry rice” coral fields that had once hosted turtles and cuttlefish in abundance.
I wished the climax of the dive had been the first part, because that was a happy parade of cuttlefish, morays,
sting rays, Nemos and a multitude of snapper and other fish among the corals and overhangs.
A mini-break in the northern Indian OceanIt’s risky, but it’s do-able. I’d rather play safe and make it a week.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Direct flights to Dubai with Emirates, www.emirates.com, and on to Fujairah by road.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Al Boom Diving at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort is a PADI Gold Palm centre with four dive-boats. The luxurious 5* resort was one of the first in Fujairah, www.lemeridien-alaqah.com
WHEN TO GO October to March are the coolest, wettest months, with temperatures from 25-30°C, though in January the vis effectively rules out diving. Summer brings the clearest water, but also intense heat.
CURRENCY UAE dirham, credit cards.
PRICES If booked online via Travelbag, four nights’ B&B in a deluxe ocean-facing room (two sharing) costs from £1463, including flights and taxi transfers. Seven-nights costs under £200 more at £1646, so go for the week if you have time. A two-tank boat trip costs 250 dirhams (about £44). www.travelbag.co.uk
FURTHER INFORMATION www.fujairah-tourism