Saturday, March 28, 2009


The reefs at Tubbataha are only open to the public for three months of the year. Between March and June, the Sulu Sea is calm enough reliably to permit scuba diving. The whole area is a marine reserve, where diving is sometimes permitted, fishing is forbidden, and dynamite fishing is extremely forbidden.

Dougie of the Dubai Dive Club started to investigate an expression of interest way back in early summer of 2008. His initial long list became gradually shorter, so that eventually a group of half a dozen or so of us rendons-noused on board the MV Oceanic Explorer that was moored at Batangas in the Philippines. Different people’s schedules meant that we arrived at Manila airport on various flights and made our way south via disparate means of transportation. My own, shared with Beloved Wife and Ahmed, was by taxi – driven by someone who’d apparently never been to Batangas before, and seemed to believe that the accelerator had only two positions.

We eventually lurched to a halt and boarded the tender that took us on board. Cabins aboard the Oceanic Explorer were basic, but each had an en-suite shower and head, and some ferociously effective air conditioning. Beloved Wife and I collapsed unconscious after a long and exhausting journey. We’d sat on board a variety of machinery for interminable hours.

The way the Expedition Fleet operates is to start the season with a ‘Transition Trip’ from Batangas to Tubbataha and then back to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The trip takes in diving on reefs at Apo and Quiminatin Islands before arriving at Tubbataha.

Over the next three months, the vessel would operate out of Puerto Princesa, and then at the end of the season, a second ‘Transition Trip’ would deposit the punters at Batangas before laying up for nine months. Nice work if you can get it. All major passages were undertaken at night. While we punters slept, the crew moved on to the next dive sites so there would be none of that “Are we nearly there yet?”

The MV Oceanic Explorer is an old converted Japanese squid-fishing vessel, dating from 1979. As such, all the ceilings and doorways are very low. We were warned about this to limited avail. Ideal headroom for hobbits, I suppose.

I know hobbits aren’t supposed to like water and boats and stuff, but that aside it was a bit of a hobbit holiday. Every morning we arose and had Breakfast before boarding the dive boats for a first dive. An hour later we were back on board for Second Breakfast. A couple of hours’ decompression later there was dive two followed by Elevenses. Then Lunch, an afternoon dive and a light Teatime Snack. A fourth dive preceded a night dive and Dinner. A rigidly-enforced rule was that consumption of any alcohol signified the end to that day’s diving. The food was on the whole excellent too, with plenty of it and a variety. Various special dietary requirements were adequately catered for, although a Muslim who didn’t eat fish might have had a problem.

The diving itself was also, on the whole, very good. The huge numbers of pelagics didn’t show up, but there were sharks, rays and turtles to observe and photograph, plus uncountable numbers of reef fish.

Pretty much all of the diving on Tubbataha reefs was wall diving. A shallow coral garden drops vertically into the black abyss, and divers float along the wall at various depths, looking into caves and overhangs.

It was warm too. Water temperatures were an almost constant 26°C so a suit was not required. After rather stupidly getting sunburned, I dived in a tee shirt. My sunburn, incidentally, turned a lovely shade of suntan brown before turning white and flaking off.

I struggled to get the hang of the external flashgun for my compact underwater camera. Exposures were seemingly at random. Almost everyone diving carried a camera of one flavour or another, ranging from pocket compacts to huge and unwieldy pieces of expensive Tupperware sporting external flash units.

We were promised ridiculous currents that would hurtle us along at four or more knots, but as it turned out, the currents were a lot gentler than this. On one dive where the current did indeed develop, we encountered a mooring rope. As it was the end of the dive Beloved Wife and I held on to this, flapping in the underwater breeze like two banners, while the rest of the group was blown to oblivion. Surfacing, we’d picked the wrong boat, and discovered ourselves aboard the MY Apo Explorer. We waited to be picked up and transferred back to our own vessel, and were relieved to note that our boat had a funnel rather than the smutty black stern exhausts that we were currently experiencing.

The fishing ban at Tubbataha is enforced by a small group of guys who operate a ranger station. They’re there with their colleagues for months at a stretch, drinking rainwater and eating whatever they can catch – up to three fish per day. Apart from the occasional tourist, there are no visitors. I can see this posting as an excellent way to go nuts. The rangers seem to be effective: there was much less evidence of coral damage owing to dynamite fishing than the ecological disasters we witnessed at Apo Reef.

Despite the best efforts of the crew, one of two things did go wrong. The nitrox compressor broke down after the first day, so we had no option but to breathe air. Whilst this isn’t a major problem, it does mean that after a series of dives, fatigue tends to creep in. I for one was too tired on four dives a day, and therefore disinclined to do any night diving.

The inexperience of the dive guides also showed. They were very experienced divers, but were new to Tubbataha. This will not be a problem for the punters over the rest of the season, and as Beloved Wife and I prefer to dive as a buddy pair rather than in a horde, it was of limited relevance anyway.

Nineteen dives later we arrived at Puerto Princesa, and I stood on dry land for the first time in a week. We transferred by minibus, accompanied by half the cast of The Muppet Show on the dashboard, to Puerto Princesa airport for the flight back to Manila. The domestic and international terminals are right next door to one another, but to get between them requires road transport around Manila’s congested road network. A shuttle bus did arrive, but it was already full.

Beloved Wife didn’t have to return to Dubai immediately. She and a couple of other lucky types with too much annual leave had a second week of diving booked at Puerto Galera. Fortunately, I spotted their bus and hitched a ride to the international terminal before they drove off towards Batangas, the ferry and a second week of submarine delights.


Friday, March 27, 2009

It's make-your-mind-up time

Remember this?

The vendor came back to us with a much improved attitude. This time, we and our lawyer have copies of a document signed by the said vendor.

So, maybe this time... Champagne is in the fridge, but isn't going to be opened until I have a copy of the title deeds in the names of Goat and Beloved.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Gulf Bike Expo

Helmet – Check
Gloves – Check
Boots – Check
Kilt - Check
Petrol – Check
Chrome – Check
Outrageous paint job - Check
Gothicness - Check


Warm-weather biker

That's handy!

As part of this weekend’s Gulf Bike Expo at Dubai Festival City, the Black Eagles Motorcycle Club organized a charity ride. Any biker was welcome to make a financial contribution to the charity, Dubai Autism Center and take part in a 60km procession around Dubai.

I like these events, and therefore seized the first opportunity in a decade to get involved. It’s also chance for some interesting machinery to take to the road. As anticipated, the parking was wall-to-wall Harley-Davidsons. There was a smattering of BMWs and some Japanese machines, but we were very much in the minority compared with the might of Milwaukee.

One of the oldest bikes there. Probably 50 years old.

After paying and obtaining my minuscule wrist band, I, along with four hundred or so other participants, waited for a briefing before setting off from Festival Centre. We took the airport tunnel, then up past Al Mamzar, before following the coast road towards Jumeira. Through Shindagha tunnel, past the flagpole and then left and past Al Safa Park. Then back along Al Khail Road and over Business Bay Bridge before returning to Festival Centre. I have a theory that the route planners chose two tunnels as a direct opportunity to make as much noise as possible. You can’t only hear straight-through Harley pipes; in tunnels you can feel them.

Waiting for the off

The run was astonishingly well-disciplined. Members of the Black Eagles worked with Dubai Police to stop traffic at all junctions in order to let the procession through. Near the back of a procession is where the stop/start nature gets exaggerated, but not so from my point of view. I didn’t stop at all, and speeds about three quarters of the way back ranged from 20kph to perhaps 60kph. We stuck in two lines of bikes in one traffic lane, leaving space for the marshals and traffic controllers to get to the front of the run to deal with the next junctions. Dubai Autism Center had a minibus in the run too, which was a platform for cameras.

Apologies for anyone delayed for a couple of minutes as the four hundred of us rode by. Every participant paid typically Dh100, and I reckon that’s little inconvenience for raising Dh40,000 for charity out of thin air.

With a minimum of fuss, we returned to DFC and, having parked up, it was time to chill out and then, at noon when the doors opened, to get indoors and see what the Bike Expo was all about.

There was a lot of extremely high-quality paintwork in evidence.

Grrr! Aarrgh!

And a fair amout of carbon fibre.

Lightweight dragster

Plus an amusing gag at the expense of an energy drink.

Tee hee!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Muntz moment

Why was there a traffic jam on Airport Road the other Thursday? By the time I got to the front of the queue, the reason was obvious. A white minibus was broken down in the left-hand lane and its passengers and luggage were being transferred to a taxi that was parked in the right-hand lane. Three lanes of afternoon rush-hour traffic all funnelled into the one-lane gap. It apparently didn't occur to anyone to park the taxi on the service road. Blocking two thirds of the highway was clearly much more satisfactory.

It was to my astonishment then, that as I drove past Terminal 3 the aforementioned white minibus came hurtling past me as if the Devil of Hell was pursuing him. Not so broken down after all, it would appear.

After Terminal 3 and before the Airport Expo there is a set of traffic lights. Here I encountered the same white minibus. As I pulled up in the queue, the driver decided to swerve left into my lane. I only avoided impact by stomping hard on my brakes and hitting the horn. He stopped, and then spent the next minute or so fiddling back and forth before cutting behind the Goatmobile and heading off up the empty left-turn and U-turn lane, clearly in an enormous hurry to go somewhere. The airport, perhaps? Probably not, given he'd just discharged his passengers and luggage. He was probably heading back to his base, the Eureka Hotel, if the signwriting all over the minibus was to be believed.

When the lights eventually turned green, the left lane wasn't going anywhere. I crawled to the front and saw what had happened. Mr Minibus had overtaken the queue, pushed in at the front, and then been rear-ended by a taxi. So much for his hurry. He'd now have to wait around for a Police Report.

"Haaa, haaa!"


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dhobi wallah

My old washing machine was excellent in many respects. It came free with the apartment and it became my property when I moved. Legally, I might add. It churned the laundry and made it clean. In fact, the only problem was the 400rpm spin speed. Clothes came out a little damp, and in an apartment they took days to dry.

It seems ridiculous to pay to dry the laundry when there's all that free solar energy outside, but following a couple of incidents at the Crumbling Villa involving a washing line, some pigeons and my formerly clean shirts, I accepted the need for a tumble-dryer.

As luck would have it, one of Beloved Wife's friends was leaving Jumeira for Foreign Parts, and it became incumbent on the Goat to borrow a trailer and remove several tons of Frigidaire automatic washing machine. For those not in the know, a typical front-loader comprises a pressed-steel hollow box and a rotating stainless-steel drum. The space between the two is filled with concrete by bands of itinerant guerilla osteopaths.

Anyway, having goathandled the new machine with its 1200rpm spin speed into the Crumbling Villa, I thought that this would be the end of the matter. Laundry came out almost dry, meaning that an hour of dizziness in the dryer would normally be sufficient.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when the housemaid reported that there was a problem. Sceptical as always, I ran a load of laundry, and was sitting in the kitchen when the spin cycle started. The cacophony is difficult to imagine, much less describe, but it's not unlike half a dozen brickbats in a cement mixer. The internet was a little help: perhaps a coin had slipped between the inner and outer drums. But no, shining a flashlight through the little holes revealed nothing untoward, and the main bearing was certainly OK: I know exactly what a knackered washing machine bearing sounds like from a previous life. So I left it alone and went on holiday.

Today, it needed dealing with. It occurred to me as I laid out the spanners and sockets on the kitchen table that the scene was similar to the end of Braveheart - the bit where Mel McGibson gets drawn and quartered. I was going to get the washing machine to behave, and its full compliance was the only available option.

Off with the back, and the drive belt, then I took the rear off the drum. Surprisingly, there was no small change or shrapnel that might have been making the godawful racket.
It was only after removing the bearing that I discovered the problem: two of the four cast alumininium arms holding the inner drum had snapped. These flail around at high speed. A 100 gramme weight pulls around 50g (473N) at 1200rpm, so welding, bolting, gluing or otherwise bodging probably wouldn't be viable. Should I try to find a replacement inner drum? The phrase "It is not coming in Dubai" crossed my mind, as did my previous experience with something as simple as a drive belt. It also occurred to me that resetting all the gaskets and O-rings that I'd disturbed might be an interesting exercise in Applied Incontinence. At this point I set off into town to buy a new washing machine.

It's coming on Monday.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Mark 4:25

Again we see the discrepancy between the public and private sectors. Eid Milwad an-Nabi, the Birthday of the Prophet (pbuh), is a UAE national one-day holiday. It falls on the twelfth of the lunar month Rabi al-awwal. Given that the first of the month fell on 26 February (the new moon), it doesn’t take a PhD in astronavigation to work out that the public holiday falls on Monday.

Last week, there was an announcement published in the local papers that the public sector would have Sunday off. This is wonderful. Not only more than a week’s notice of the actual date for a holiday, but also a long weekend. Huzzah!

But what of the private sector? Monday? Sunday? No. the government in its mercy declared that the private sector would have the holiday on Saturday 7 March. That’s right: the weekend. This beneficence is brought to you by those who get more, longer holidays.

Grump, grump, grump.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fifth Amendment

“Is this your vehicle, sir?”

That terrible, inevitable question that follows the flashing blue light and a brief wail of siren.

And the response, “Er, yes officer,” sounds like a full confession for all those times you never got caught.

So you know you’re bang to rights. You get your ticket, and as surely as night follows day, the Black Points will appear along with a fine that will have to be paid.

The local constabulary is on record as being a little annoyed that errant motorists don’t immediately pay their fines. There’s no real need to until annual re-registration or some other dealing with Officialdom at which point all fines must be cleared. It is in theory possible to check and pay on line or at one of the machines found dotted around the shopping malls. I know for sure that there’s one in Lamcy Plaza and another in Deira City Centre. But if you don’t habitually go along to the Dubai Police website, how would you know? Especially if the traffic infraction was detected, as most of them are, by a camera on a stick.

If there’s some means to communicate the offence to the vehicle owner, then “Pay up within 28 days or we’ll see you in court” starts to become a horribly realistic proposition. How about an email, or SMS? Or even, imagine this, a letter in an envelope? The current system requires that a responsible motorist (presumably the one who’s responsible…) actively seeks out whether or not he’s been busted. Actually, “Pay up within 28 days and receive a 50% discount and no Black Points” would surely have the money rolling in.

Hang on, despite all the easy ways to pay that are on offer, the whole traffic fine system isn’t a milch-cow; it’s to enhance road safety…

Off to the Dubai Police website, then. It doesn’t matter where the vehicle is registered; if it was detected at high speed or parked in front of a fire hydrant in Dubai, the evidence is to human view displayed, complete with date, time and sometimes even a photo of the number plate.

But what if your car only ever breaks the speed limit in Sharjah? If it’s registered in Dubai, Sharjah Police tell Dubai police and up pop the details. The problem comes if the vehicle is registered in Sharjah and offends there. Nothing on the Dubai Police website. And the Sharjah Police website ‘Traffic Fines’ link points straight at the Ministry of the Interior Traffic Infraction System in Abu Dhabi. So still no information. A further complication is that the MOI website needs the “Unified Traffic ID”, whatever that is. I only found out yesterday that it’s the number on the bottom of the back of the registration card and is unique to each vehicle owner. Both the Goatmobile and the bike have the same “Unified Traffic ID”. By the way, searching by driving licence number only works for Abu Dhabi licences.

I rang the number on the Sharjah website, 800 3333 and was eventually regaled by a bilingual robot woman who told me that my call wouldn’t be answered. Duh. A lot of telephone tag eventually revealed that the correct number to call for checking traffic fines in Sharjah is 06 5177566. A Yemeni gentleman expressed surprise and disappointment when I didn’t have any fines showing on his system. It would appear that despite my hatred of speed cameras, they might actually work as advertised.

How difficult can it be to set up a single website that covers all vehicles registered in the United Arab Emirates and shows any and all outstanding offences committed in any one of the seven United Arab Emirates?

Come on guys…!


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.