A Shark Tale
Myself, Paul Eyden, Andy Ethell & Shirley Deluce decided to take leave from the Christmas shopping and cold weather for a weeks holiday diving the Brother Islands in the Red Sea the week before Christmas. We were joined by 16 other divers from different clubs all over the country, with some of them even coming in from Ireland.
A slight hiccup to start with!..Shirley picked Andy up, then me (as we were both in Worcester Park), but then it took us an hour from Worcester Park to find Alan’s house in the rabbit warren where he resides in Epsom! However, despite a bit of stress on my part it was smooth sailing from there. We’d booked into the nearest on-site car park and it was only 3 minutes by bus transfer to Gatwick south terminal. Within 10 minutes we were booked in and in Yates wine bar airside having a pint of Stella and a Full Monty breakfast, well I was, the other 3 were having tea and toast!.
The flight was with Britannia (Thompsons) to Marsa Alam, and I’m pleased to say we can now add this airline to our diver friendly list. Due to favourably strong tail winds the flight time was cut to 4 hours 20 mins and so before we knew it we were in the mini-bus and onto our liveaboard the ﾒSea Serpentﾓ.
She was a really nice, spacious vessel, so after giving us a welcome drink, briefing and dinner we had a fairly early first night and the next morning at 06:00 we set sail for our first dive which was about an hours sail. It was a really nice relaxing dive and we encountered a nice free swimming turtle and a large variety of colourful marine life. Our second dive was on the famous Elphinstone Reef and we were joined by an Oceanic white-tip shark, cruising right under the boat with a couple of black & white pilot fish swimming an inch from his mouth ﾐ we would return to Elphinstone at the end of the week and that Shark had obviously gone off to tell all his mates about us!.
We did a night dive which was enjoyable and we saw lots of sleepy marine life including a Turtle kipping under a rock until the divers rudely woke him up with the bright dive lamps. After dinner we set sail for our main destination for the week, the ﾒBrother Islandsﾓ ﾐ consisting of Big Brother, the large islands (350m long) complete with its own manned lighthouse, and, _ mile away Little Brother (250m long) and nothing on it apart from a few rocks and an Egyptian flag.
The forecasted strong winds had not materialised, so we were rewarded with a smooth crossing. The Brothers are situated bang in the middle of the Red Sea, in between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and there has always been conflict between the two countries on the sovereignty of the Islands.
We awoke at 06:15, had a cup of Tea and after the briefing we were in the water at 07:00 for our first dive on Big Brother. We had an awesome 1st dive, coming across White tip reef sharks, a thresher shark, Silky sharks, a turtle and a school of massive Tuna, very large Barracuda, Jacks and an explosion of colours. The second dive was on the wreck of the Aida II. The Aida II is an Italian ship which was carrying troops one night in 1957 when it hit Big Brother. A large wreck with much intact superstructure, it starts at 15 m and stretches to below 45 m. Alan seemed very at home!!I’m glad he left his lump hammer at home. The third dive was a drift along the fantastic walls, it really is another world.
Because the Brothers are a protected marine park, and because they are so far out at sea, no night dives are allowed, so apart from the first and last night when night dives were possible, we did 3 dives a day. The first dive was usually around 6.45 after which we had breakfast, the second dive was about mid-day after which we had lunch, and the third dive was about 3.30pm ﾐ dinner was at about 7pm.
The next day our morning dive was on the wreck of the Numidia, which is less than 100 metres north of ‘the Aida’. This wreck is called ‘the railway wreck’. It was an English ship transporting material for railways. The ship sank around 1900 and is completely covered with soft corals in all colours.
The bow, marked by a collection of railway wheels starts in 9 meters of water. The rest of the wreck starts at 15 m and goes on to 40 m, where the hull has been broken. The rear of the boat and the propeller can be found around 80 m (not by us!!!). The current can be very strong. This was a very pleasant dive, and once again, after mooching around the wreck the rest of the dive can continue along the reef walls. All the dives had a maximum dive time of one hour.
After two days on Big Brother we made the short journey over to Little Brother. We had some tremendous dives on Little Brother as well. The first of these was tremendous, a great, gentle drift on a dive that we later named ﾒShark Cityﾓ !, several large grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, a thresher shark and to top it all, an Oceanic white tip once again cruising under the boat, a truly amazing dive. The pipefish are really funny, once they take a liking to you they position themselves just above your mask and escort you for the whole dive!.
The second day on Little Brother brought the winds at last!!Northerly force 4 to 5 made for quite challenging conditions. The first dive was down to 32 m on the NE plateau where we encountered 5 or 6 large white tip reef sharks, then back towards the boat with the reef on our right, half way back a large white tip buzzed us very close before returning to the pack. The currents were ﾒconfusedﾓ on this dive, changing directions several times, making finning quite hard work. A very rewarding dive but bloody knackering ﾐ breakfast was well deserved and the pancakes took a hammering. The following dive was to start from the same plateau but coming back with the reef on our left ﾐ a large Oceanic white tip greeted us as we entered the water ﾐ and we saw the same 5 or 6 white tip reef sharks on the same plateau,, an enormous thresher shark swam below us ﾐ its tail as long as its body (Threshers use their long powerful tail fin to stun their prey) ﾐ The sharks were chasing a massive shoal of grey fusilier fish and the barracuda and jacks were also hunting the fusilers ﾐ all this hunting by the marine life left us hungry too, well it was lunchtime for us humans too.
Our last dive on Little Brother was a quiet one!.we only saw 2 sharks! ﾐ 2 grey reef sharks ﾐ we decided to cut the dive short at 42 minutes to get ready for a nice gin & tonic. Our time at the Brother Islands was at an end, and the Captain decided it was time to sail for Elphinstone Reef the site of our next 3 dives, because the wind was increasing, the seas were whipping up and would only get worse. So we set sail about 3.30 pm, arriving at Elphinstone at about 9.30pm ﾐ for a late dinner. The 3 dives we did on Elphinstone the next day will live in my memory forever.
On the first dive, I was an acting novice with Andy Ethell leading the dive (part of his DL) ﾐ we were finning along the reef when we were buzzed by a large Dolphin ﾐ not many divers saw it, but it was excellent. We thought the second dive was brilliant with Oceanic white tips everywhere, but the 3rd dive was something else, there were 4 large Oceanics right under the boat ﾐ we spent ages with them, they were simply circling us changing directions, heading straight for us before veering off, it was breathtaking, some divers spent the whole dive just under the boat with the sharks until their air ran out!. That was one of the most memorable dives of the holiday, the other most memorable dive was the final dive of the week. Unfortunately (for them!), not many bothered to do the final dive, preferring to wash and dry their kit out before we returned to land, so it was just myself and Andy with 4 others and the dive guide. This final dive, we’ve named ﾒTurtle Cityﾓ! ﾐ the dive site was only just outside Marsa Alam harbour, and we’ve dived it before and it wasn’t up to much ﾐ but the dive guide (Riham) said she was going to dive a different area around the other side of the reef, it was quite a distance away so the rib would pick us up after the dive ﾐ it was a very pretty reef and after 15 minutes of mooching around we came upon one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in my life ﾐ within view, all laid out around the reef, were at least 8 or 9 really massive loggerhead Turtles, I have never, ever seen that many Turtles before, all at the same time ﾐ as soon as we unwittingly disturbed them some of them took off swimming gracefully along with us, over and under us, at one point a baby turtle swam between my legs back to his mother to see what all the fuss was about. It was a truly amazing experience. None of the others would bloody well believe us when we surfaced!.all we got was ﾒyeah, yeah, yeah ﾐ pull the other oneﾓ..all I can say is, you missed out big time !
A couple of ﾒfunniesﾓ for the week?
Okay, well for a start Alan was absolutely horrified to find that the Sea Serpent had PLASTIC portholes! ﾐ and he also fell off the rib one day when it was a bit choppy ﾐ and on another occasion when the rib was half way to the dive site he discovered he had forgotten to put his weight belt on and we had to turn around and go back to the Sea Serpent to get it for him!. I usually do something as well!.what was it this time? ﾐ well I forgot to pack my sunglasses for the holiday (after giving everybody a check-list!!.) and I also forgot my swimming shorts ﾐ so I had to use pants! ﾐ me and Paul Eyden sharing a cabin!..a mouse somehow got into our fridge and ate all my wine gums (that’s what Paul said anyway),
Our last night was spent in a Hotel near the Port. It had only finished being built for about 6 weeks and whilst it was an excellent hotel built in a Nubian style, it was very quiet ﾐ but we had made friends with a nice bunch on the boat and so we all made our own entertainment. Some of us decided to go quad biking on the last day, and this was excellent fun ﾐ there was a choice of two types of bike, manual and automatic ﾐ the automatic ones were red and the manual ones were blue (so I had a manual one of course being Chelsea!) we went right out into the desert and we were meant to all keep in a line behind the guide ﾐ that lasted about 5 minutes! ﾐ I went off-piste and all around and over all the sand dunes I could find until we arrived at a Nomads desert camp ﾐ that bit was a bit tacky/touristy, the locals had laid out a table with nick nacs they had made and hoped to sell us ﾐ and we dutifully obliged of course!.and gave us a cup of tea made out of flowers!..yuk!..flies were everywhere ﾐ they had a baby whose mouth and eyes were covered in flies!..I went to use their loo for a wee and it was a whole in the ground covered by a hut made out of corrugated iron ﾐ and there were thousands of flies inside ﾐ horrific!
After half an hour we made our excuses and left! ﾐ I got on the wrong bike ﾐ it happened to be Andy’s bike (which was also blue!) and after 10 minutes Andy ran out of Petrol! (maybe because I had burned it all up going off piste on the way out?!) ﾐ we had to stop 3 times on the way back to siphon some petrol out for Andy!..
All too soon the holiday was over ﾐ it had been a fantastic week ﾐ without a doubt the best weeks diving I’ve ever done ﾐ we really felt ﾒall sharked outﾓ!
Looking forward to our next trip in June ﾐ whilst we won’t get the sharks, the wrecks will make up for it!