The Red Sea for the first time

Booking

After many failed plans of going to Egypt and diving in the Red Sea I managed to get to Sharm El Sheik with Ruth for a week at the beginning of March 2009. We had booked the flights and accommodation on-line, there was a slight hiccup with the luggage. We had paid for the extra weight allowance but there was no mention of the fact we needed to pay for standard luggage as well! After a call, it was sorted. We had booked with an ATOL bonded company for financial protection just in case.

We selected the flight price and time and then the hotel, we didn’t know what airline we were flying with until the paperwork came through. We had selected the Halomy Hotel after reading both positive and negative comments about it, it sounded close enough and we just needed somewhere to sleep. The paperwork arrived, luggage had been added to our easyJet flights and all looked fine’ish. After studying the easyJet website we were still very confused by the luggage allowance, how much weight? How many bags? It was all very confusing. Eventually we decided that we were allowed 32kg after paying for the extra weight but were unsure about how many bags. On check-in we were told we could have had two bags each instead of one very heavy bag each.

Travelling

The early morning flight went smoothly and we landed in Egypt at the new Terminal 1, the previous single terminal was now Terminal 2. easyJet are the only British airline using Terminal 1 at the moment. Transfers went smoothly as did the hotel check-in. We had asked for a double bed but they only had rooms with single beds, so they gave us a ‘very nice room’. The room was fine with a view over the open air theatre and gardens. By daylight we could just see a glimpse of the sea from our balcony. The hotels location was excellent, views over the whole of Naama Bay and out to sea. There was a private ‘beach’, well it was sandy, cut into the cliff with a small jetty to have a snorkel. The 112 steps down to the Naama Bay pontoon road took no time unlike the return journey. It took just five minutes to walk from our room to the centre of Naama Bay, as it got hotter during the week the return took a little longer each time.

We spent the first evening walking around the centre of Naama Bay finding our bearings as well as the ATM’s etc. We were pestered by some of the locals, they wanted us to go into their perfume, T-shirt, gift, spice, papyrus etc. shops. All the Taxi drivers would ask us if we wanted a taxi, it all felt a little similar to Thailand. Alcohol was served at nearly every café and every bar. The Camel Bar, above the Camel dive centre, had a good roof terrace overlooking the main walk through area if you could find a seat, it was even better. It was right next door to Pacha Night Club which didn’t open till 11, it was our first night so we went up the cliff back to the hotel, Pacha can wait.

The following morning we went looking for the Emperor dive centre everyone had recommended, we were told it was at the Novotel. It wasn’t any more. We asked the travel agents next door and they told us it was near the Hard Rock Café, we’d walked past that, 15 minutes ago! Near the Hard Rock we asked again, they pointed up the road and said to ask up there. Eventually we saw the Emperor sign in the distance on the side of the Bay View Hotel, just 5 minutes walk from our hotel. We booked up for the next four days diving, giving us the last day to look around and spend money. We spent the rest of the day looking around, buying some of the usual nik naks that everyone wanted us to buy the night before and wandering around along the beach.

Dive Day 1

Our pick-up time from the hotel was 7:45, luckily breakfast was served from 7:00 so we managed to get a bite to eat first. The minibus arrived on time and we loaded our dive kit bags. At the centre we told the dive leader we had arrived and we waited about an hour before being taken to the jetty, at the bottom of out hotel steps. We asked if we could just walk down and meet them at the jetty, no, we had to book in at the centre so they had an exact list of who was on the boats. The Egyptian Authorities wanted a list of everyone who went out on the boats. We were told to bring our passports in case we were asked, we weren’t, my bag was searched once but the metal detector buzzing as I walked through didn’t seem to matter.

Our first day was on the boat Emperor Marcus, a largish, newish, well laid out day boat. We were being taken to a couple of ‘local’ dive sites, to check our weighting so we were told, they wanted to check US out really. Our first site was ‘Fiddle Garden’, so called because it was between the far

and middle gardens. It was a mildly interesting dive site with a few nice hard & soft corals and not too many fish. The visibility wasn’t too great, I estimated 15m, I work out visibility on the distance I can identify what I’m looking at and not the furthest object I can see. Visibility of 15m was what I had been getting close to in Cornwall. The second dive was a site called Amphorus, apparently there had been a large collection of clay Amphora pots that had been removed slowly over the years and an anchor we were told could have been from the ship carrying the pots. The reef was much more interesting than Fiddle Gardens, visibility was also much improved. The anchor was pointed out, it was a lot larger and a lot newer than I would have expected from an old timber ship. The remains of a broken Amphora was also pointed out, it looked a very old pot much older than the anchor. I came across a blue-spotted ray laying on a sandy patch, again very few fish. We were offered a third dive but as only three of us were interested it was decided that it wasn’t worthwhile and we headed back. We went back to the dive centre where we had a drink with some other British divers. The minibus drivers turned up to take everyone home, we stayed for another drink then walked back to our hotel.

Dive Day 2

We waited outside the restaurant for breakfast, they were ten minutes late in opening. The minibus was on time but they weren’t expecting us! The second days diving took us to the national park of Ras Mohammed. As we were travelling further we didn’t have to wait too long before heading off. The dive sites were decided on route, Jackfish Alley and the Shark & Yolanda Reefs were picked for us. The current on Jackfish Alley was heading in the opposite direction from expected so we dived it in reverse order from the brief. This site was more what we had expected from the Red Sea, 30m visibility and pristine corals as far as you could see.

There were also more fish, puffer, angelfish, triggerfish, in fact the sort of fish you’d expect although not in any quantity. We also came across a turtle searching the coral for an easy meal during our dive. The second dive of the day took us to Shark & Yolanda reefs and the remains of the Yolanda Wreck. The Yolanda wreck is famous for it cargo of porcelain, not fine porcelain but toilet pans, urinals and baths. Both Shark and Yolanda reefs were excellent dives with excellent visibility and corals. The Yolanda wreck is very broken, parts of it are reported to be beyond 200m down, we weren’t going there. What we did see was a few spars, ribs & pipes and a single upright wall which was covered in soft corals. The pile of pans and urinals make a recognisable picture to anyone who had dived here before. Corals had started to colonise them and the stacks of baths and assorted sanitary ware around the site. Another Blue-Spotted Ray, a couple of Crocodile fish and another turtle were the larger animals of interest on the dive.

Again we were offered a third dive, once again three of us were interested but this time we dived. The Temple was going to be our third dive of the day. We descended down the wall and along to a smallish recess, the Temple. I removed the wide angle lens from the camera and put the camera into macro mode, the visibility wasn’t too great again. The group headed off leaving me behind to find things for my macro lens. I found a nice colourful Nudibranch and a Black spotted flatworm and some tubeworms, but, eventually, the site became less interesting.

We’d been down there nearly an hour and there was only the guide and I left when I made a ‘yawn’ signal, so up we came. Just as the boat was about to leave we saw some dolphins swimming by so the boat hung around for a while. This time we just walked up the stairs to the hotel from the jetty.

Dive Day 3

Breakfast was only 5 minutes late today, I knew the minibus would be arriving as the another couple from our hotel were finishing their Open Water course today. When we arrived at the dive centre I made sure they knew they had to pick us up the following day, the other couples course would have finished and they were having a day off. Day three saw us back on Ras Mohammed but with a change of boats. We were now on the Kastan Sea after two days on the Marcus, a much older and slightly smaller boat but still adequate for what we needed. The first dive was on Ras Za’Atir which apparently translates to ‘Oregano Headland’. Another steeply sloping dive site with immaculate corals and a large table coral standing out on a limb. We came across two orange spotted white Nudibranchs that seemed to be ‘getting it on’. As we got to the shallows the colours really came out, marvellous reds, oranges and pinks stood out against the blue waters.

During our surface interval the boats engines started up, I heard someone say ‘Oh No!’ I looked out of the window and could see a plume of black smoke coming from a boat in the distance. We headed towards to see if we could help but there were already many boats close to it, we could see a bright orange ball of flame engulfing the boat after hearing gas cylinders exploding. It was a snorkelling boat from Sharm, everyone managed to get off safely and the boat was beached. The second dive of the day was Ras Ghozlani, another pristine reef with a few sandy patches separating the otherwise constant coral reefs.

We were told that some people were off the following day and wanted to get home early, so we weren’t offered a third dive. We arrived back at the jetty early, some of the divers who required minibuses weren’t too happy that they’d have to wait a couple of hours before going back to their accommodation, we just walked up the stairs again.

Dive Day 4

Day 4 and the minibus arrived for us. Today we were heading for Tiran to dive Jackson Reef and the wreck of the Kormoran. There are a series of four underwater pinnacles in the straits of Tiran between the mainland of the Sinai and Tiran island, two of them have wrecks visible on top of them. Jackson Reef has the Lara, which is in a bad state considering in foundered in 1981. There is a debris field for the Lara but we weren’t diving that, we were looking for something larger. We dropped in close to the reef top and descended to have a look at a Red Anemone, it looked a very dark red, very strange considering the depth. Taking a photo of it with the strobe it comes out orange. As we swam clockwise around the reef the current started picking up and was moving us along at quite a pace. We kept an eye on the reef keeping our distance as well as out into the blue just in case we had some large visitors. It wasn’t long before the current almost stopped and we found ourselves swimming into a slight current, this gradually increased to the point we had to turn again.

Ruth’s air was now getting a little low so we ascended, as we did the current took us away from Jackson Reef. By the time we had surfaced it had brought us back again, we had ended up in the washing machine – the area between the pinnacles that is rather turbulent! Great fun was had by all, especially one small group who had seen a lone Hammerhead Shark. During our surface interval we were told no-one wanted a third dive so it was straight back after the Kormoran, neither Ruth nor I were even asked, probably because they knew I’d say ‘yes’. The Kormoran sank in 1984 and is rarely dived for a Red Sea wreck.

Maybe because it is too shallow to be of interest, we were told weather conditions made diving the wreck a rare occurrence. The stern section is fairly intact laying on it’s starboard side and the engine can be made out clearly, the wreck forward of this is fairly flat. There is an abundance of table corals in the area and they have made their home on the wreck in what seems a short time. The rest of the group started swimming away from the wreck which was a pity as we could have swam round it a couple of times, there were a lot more fish around the wreck than off of it.

Instead of following the other group we swam to the bow before heading off to find the them. On the way we say a very dark Octopus hiding in between in corals. Christmas Tree worms were visible on some of the corals but the table corals were the main attraction. Our last dive of our holiday hadn’t been a disappointment. We headed back from the boat to the dive centre to meet our equipment, cleaned it and left it hanging out to dry, we’d collect it tomorrow.

Summary on Sharm

During our week the weather had improved every day, daytime temperatures had gradually increased to 28 degrees and the wind hand dropped. Our last day in Egypt saw the wind picking up again though. Water temperatures had remained around the 21/22 degree mark all week.

Our hotel was in an excellent location although it hadn’t really worn too well. After the first two days our TV lost most of it’s channels including the only one with any spoken English. The shower would flood the bathroom faster and faster every day, the food was plentiful and reasonable though. We never did work out if the on-site Internet Café was real or not.

Camel Bar Roof Terrace was a good place to chill with a Sakara, the Panorama and Zaza Bars had a good view but were expensive. On Saturday Pacha advertised a ‘Progressive and Electro House’ evening, we decided that would be a good night to visit. We were shown around the club before it opened, it had no roof, that was one way to keep it as cool as possible. We bought the tickets early to save a few Egyptian Pounds and went in around midnight. The first DJ made a few big mistakes with his mixing and the music was far too cheesy, any club that plays a house version of ‘I will survive’ cannot be taken seriously, let alone be number 54 in the worlds ‘Top 100 Clubs’. The second DJ started at 1am, his mixing was better so was his choice of music.

Would we go back – yes, we’d love to. Same hotel – yes, we’d want the shower room to stop flooding though. Same dive company – yes, maybe venture further afield as well, the Thistlegorm & Dunraven wrecks maybe.