Twenty divers flew from the UK to Sharm on Sunday April the 25th for a weeks diving from a live-aboard. Derek had been organising the Brothers Wreck Special trip with his diving mates from ‘Up North’ and had asked Fletch if he wanted to go and if he knew anyone else who would be interested. We got a call and decided to join in, Ruth hadn’t done a week long live-aboard before but thought she’d have to try it. While we were anticipating the trip, the boat, Typhoon, burnt while being re-fitted. Or was it before it was re-fitted? We got a message that Hurricane would stand in, looking at the website it looked a better boat. It was described as Red Sea live-aboard of the year 2004-2006.
So eight flew from Gatwick and twelve from Manchester, landing times were an hour apart but Sharm airport was so busy when we arrived and it took over 30 minutes for our bags to start to turn up on the conveyor, we ended up there ready to leave at the same time. The transfer to Sharm Port was un-eventful but the security check at the port was ridiculous. We spent the first night on the boat trying to get to know each other and the boat itself.
Wake up calls were given at 6am and I thought it was supposed to be a holiday! We made our way up to the lounge at 6:30 and Pete, the tour leader, started his spiel with the help of a power point presentation. The first dive was going to be a check-out dive at Stingray Station, a relatively shallow dive but as the divers had a mix of set-ups that they maybe didn’t normally use, it was a good idea. Some were using 15L steel cylinders, some were Manifolded Ali 80’s, Indie 80’s or even a single Ali 80 and that was how it stayed for the week with the addition of the odd stage cylinder. During the whole week we were told a maximum depth was according to your qualification and experience, which was a maximum of 40m unless you took deco cylinders. Then 55m would be the maximum as there was no Helium on board. I argued that I was experienced at deeper depths than that on air but they told me I couldn’t go deeper.
Stingray Station is a fairly ordinary site with little of interest to divers on a wreck special trip but it was pleasant enough. A single Stingray was spotted during the dive as well as a Leopard Shark which gave some of us a chance to play with our underwater cameras. Especially those of us that were using new ones.
Our next dive was on the wreck of the Carnatic at Sha’ab Abu Nuhas. There were already three boats on site and another one heading in, so it was probably going to be busy. The Carnatic sank in 1869 and lays on it’s port side at a depth of around 25m, so a fairly easy dive. We were taken out in three waves on the two RHIBS in some choppy seas which made the start a little fun. We dropped down the shotline which was attached near to the bow. The visibility looked impressive at around 20-25m but there was a lot of other divers to negotiate. There are some easy and interesting swimthroughs at the bow and the stern, amidships is flattened. A very nice first dive and covered in life as you would expect in the Red Sea.
The last dive of the day was going to be the Ghianis D, still at Abu Nuhas but a little closer so less fun on the RHIB. The Ghianis D is a much newer and larger wreck, sinking in 1983 with a cargo of timber and also lying on its port side. There are several swimthroughs that were still relatively easy but it was not as open as the Carnatic. The stern and bow sections are fairly intact with midships broken up, the propeller can be found mangled and embedded into the reef. There are still odd timbers dotted around which are rotting slowly. Life is fairly prevalent and there are loads of photo opportunities, so good diving for everyone. Maximum depth is around 30m with the top of the mast at around 4m. There was no night dive on the first day as we were traveling down to the Brother Islands much further south overnight.
Next morning, another 6am start for our first dive of the day on Little Brother. The itinerary was for a dive on the Numidia but we were told there were too many boats on Big Brother where the Numidia was. We counted six on Big Brother and five on Little Brother and we made six. We were told we could expect some big fish, so with that sort of info and the promise of four dives on the Aida and Numidia the following day, we decided it would be fine. On entering we saw some Silky Sharks below us, a good start but they were at 40m+. They didn’t hang around long so we headed off on the west side of the island. The reef is very attractive just like so many reefs in the Red Sea, apart from one large free swimming Giant Morey Eel there wasn’t too much to shout about though. The second dive was also on Little Brother, east side this time. Our first sighting of interest was a huge Napoleon Wrasse which seemed to appear a couple of times during the dive.
The other dive boats had now moved from Big Brother so we headed there but not to dive a wreck, the reef again, which was on the itinerary as the third dive. Another beautiful reef with plenty of life. As we headed back to the boats at 6m we saw an Oceanic White Tip in the distance, it soon shot off but we then noticed a couple of Grey Reef Sharks circling us. We hung around for a while as they got very close, almost at arms length. One diver who had some deco left ended up there on his own as it got very dark and more sharks were circling, he didn’t hang around.
To get four dives in the next day as promised we were woken at 5am! First dive was on the Aida, the bow has long gone leaving what is left at a depth of 25m to the top and 60m to the propeller. Bottom time was going to be limited unless we wanted to clock up some deco, we had 3 more deep’ish dives planned that day so a quick look around for the first one made some ‘sort of’ sense. What is left of the wreck is small and interesting but it wasn’t long before we ended up heading along the same reef we had dived last night. The second dive was also on the Aida, another quick swim around and a look at the propeller and off along the same reef again. After the second dive we were told time was going to be too short to do two dives on the Numidia and we wouldn’t be able to do a night dive at Safaga instead, which was the original itinerary. So we would miss one dive. What we hadn’t realised is that Hurricane is a slower boat than Typhoon and it couldn’t cover the distances required to complete the itinerary properly, so we were going to lose out anyway. So our last dive of the day was on the Numidia. I was being watched like a hawk underwater in case I wanted a photo of the propeller at0m. I didn’t as I wanted to spend a bit more time on the wreck, the top of the Numidia was at around 17m which meant more time to enjoy the wreck. There was loads of life on the wreck and the following reef, we came across a Turtle after leaving the wreck which swam between us for quite a while. It would have been great to do two dives on it but we were heading off to dive the Salem Express tomorrow morning.
Today’s wake up was 6am but, we had to put the clocks an hour forward for Egyptian Summer Time so it worked out a 5am rise again! The Salem Express was described as a ‘spooky’ wreck with no life on it at all. It was a ferry that sank in 1991 with hundreds if not over a thousand people on board, most of them perishing. The wreck lies on it’s starboard side and actually has quite a lot of life on it. Shoals of fish, loads of small pipefish, soft and hard corals encrusted all over the wreck. The Salem Express looks huge, probably due to the fact it is intact. It can be easily penetrated through the rear car loading door opening and there are a couple of exits onto the top of the wreck. When entering the wreck there are packed suitcases and personal belongings everywhere, it did feel ‘spooky’. There are other entry and exit points but there are plenty of hazards inside if you venture away from the wider open areas. We completed two dives on the Salem Express, both of which were very enjoyable if not quite sad when thinking of the loss of life. Some ventured off onto the reef where the ship came to grief and had to return by rhib.
For the next dive we were then offered the chance of diving a different wreck from the itinerary, instead of the El Mina we were offered the El Arish El Tor. The Arish caught fire in 2001 then mysteriously disappeared one night only to be found at the bottom of it’s mooring a few years later. We decided that it would at least make a change. On the descent the visibility didn’t look too impressive, it was within Safaga harbour and has little current, so little chance of it clearing too much. Laying on it’s port side it is bigger than the Salem Express and just as intact. There isn’t a lot of life on it yet and penetration needs to be careful as it is quite silty and easily kicked up. Enjoyable if you like low visibility and newish wrecks, reminds me of the Scylla for visibility and intactness but without as much life as the Scylla.
That evening we headed off to Gota Abu Ramada for our night dive, it was definitely night time but definitely not the Barge as the itinerary stated. We did enjoy the dive and saw Spanish Dancer Nudibranchs, Squid, sleeping Puffer Fish and lots of other fish that wouldn’t let you come close during the day. Several of the divers managed to get lost and had to be recovered by the rhib after swimming the wrong way and fighting against the current on the return
The sixth days diving was the day everyone was looking forward to, we were going to do two dives on the Rosalie Moller and two dives on the Thistlegorm. For some reason the boat decided not to attach a stern line to the Rosie and we had to pull ourselves along the side of the wreck through some choppy water and current to the two bow lines, at least the return was easy. The wreck is upright and intact with a large hole in it’s side where a bomb had been dropped by a Heinkel bomber during WWII. It must have dropped just on the deck as the explosion has bent the metal outwards. It is an excellent dive even with lower than expected Red Sea visibility, there wasn’t too much life but this is a wreck dive and it is a cracking wreck.
I was glad we did two dives on it rather than one followed by the Kingston. We then headed across to the Thistlegorm. We had three dives planned on the Thistlegorm and we were all looking towards this very much. Visibility on the wreck wasn’t as good as hoped and there was some current on the first dive, so we stayed close to the wreck and avoided swimming off too far. The Thistlegorm is legendary and is a first class wreck dive. The cargo of BSA & Norton motorbikes, trailers, steam locomotives with coal and water tenders, Lee Enfield .303 rifles, aircraft spares and lots of other stuff are great to see. There are two rear deck guns and loads of shells and munitions around the stern. Swimming between the holds is a wreck divers dream with plenty to see from coal to wellington boots, from motorbikes to Morris Jeeps. Not quite sure why everyone makes a fuss about the captains bath and toilet though. Life is extremely prevalent all over the wreck and it is a ‘must’ dive for everyone. All three dives were excellent.
After our last dive on the Thistlegorm we headed to the Dunraven. An upside down wreck which sank in 1876, it is a very pleasant dive that is an easy swim through most of the hull from the stern, past the boilers and towards the more broken bow. There is a small section that can’t be swum through but inside it is all very atmospheric. After doing the usual, taking a photo of someone being the lost propeller blade, we headed off past another large Napoleon Wrasse to swim with the current back to the boat, unfortunately the current was going in the wrong direction and we had to come back via the rhibs.
The last dive of the trip was on Shark & Yolanda reefs and Anemone City. A commonly dived reef with the famous cargo of toilet pans and other bathroom items. The reefs are always a pleasant and pretty dive, pity we didn’t have sunshine above us to help bring out the colours. We had to enter on Yolanda as the current was running the wrong direction here too, at least we found out before we got into the water. Greg was the ‘sacrificial lamb’ and did the dive in a silver thong and no wet suit. That attracted the attention of an amorous Cornetfish more than any of us expected. We came across a huge shoal of Snapper and another Turtle just before finishing the last dive. The last night was on the boat in Sharm Harbour, we caught a minibus into Naama Bay that evening just to be on dry land. The following morning we were put up in two rooms in a hotel in Naama Bay until it was time to be transferred back to the airport. So we had a little wander around for the last time.
Apart from missing a dive on the Numidia, and totally missing the Panorama, El Mina, Ulysses, the Barge and the Kingston we had gained some reef dives and only lost one dive of the total twenty one planned. The diving was always excellent and very memorable, the crew were friendly and helpful and the group of divers and new friends made the trip even more enjoyable. The weather had been indifferent and it even rained while we dived Shark & Yolanda. We had a few niggles with the boat such as general poor condition of the cabins, overflowing toilets and broken toilet seats, faulty cylinders, dodgy electrics, air conditioning dripping onto your face while you slept, some dangerous RHIB driving and bad handling of dive kit causing damage. The shower water was yellow as was the water that filled the Jacuzzi, we could only fill the Jacuzzi twice during the week as there wasn’t enough water on board to fill it more often.
There was also a huge issue of complaining about how much we had tipped the staff and guides. We all agreed to put in 100 Egyptian Pounds, about £12 Sterling, into the two envelopes, one for crew and one for guides. The guides rarely guided anyone as we all did our own thing on most dives and there was only two guides but fourteen crew but it was easy to give both the same. The crew complained that after combining all the tips including the guides it only reached 1100 EGP, they brought it up and we counted 1450 EGP. They had apparently talked to other boats in port and their guests had tipped 600 EGP each, about £72 sterling. I talked to the guests on the only other dive boat afterwards and they said they never did, it was 100 EGP just like us. So had we all not put in 100EGP each? No, some had put in English money that never appeared in the pile of cash. We were getting a bit annoyed now and threatened to take back the tips. Someone disappeared and retrieved the envelopes to show us there were all empty, three had £20 notes in them. Which was also strange as one cabin had put two £20 notes in one envelope. We had had enough now and left.