Around the Reefs in Eighteen Dives

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A trip to the Red Sea has not only become a K&E annual event but is often the highlight of the dive season, and this year was no exception. We flew into Marsa Alam on 10th June and headed for our floating hotel, Miss Nouran. Being a liveaboard virgin I, perhaps naively, expected a sophisticated harbour and easy access to the boat. Instead the coach dropped us at the water’s edge in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by rubbish and half a dozen Egyptian children eager to earn some tips. I immediately spotted a problem: there was no jetty to our boat. My question of how we were going to get ourselves and our luggage on board was soon answered as 2 RIBs appeared. I also now understood how the Egyptian kids were planning on earning some small change! Our luggage was loaded onto the RIBS and, despite being precariously balanced, was transported without incident. It was then our turn and again we were successfully delivered to the boat with nothing worse than wet feet.

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Whilst many of the experienced liveaboard divers commented that the boat was smaller than they were used to I was immediately impressed, especially by the size of the cabins and bathrooms. There must also have been almost as many crew as there were guests – I certainly have no complaints about the way we were looked after.

After a greeting from our dive guides, Hanny and Ahmed, we unpacked and settled down for a very welcome evening meal. It was then early to bed, excited about the diving ahead.

The next morning we started with a check dive direct from the boat. Thank goodness for check dives as I had some problems with the deployment of my DSMB at the end of the dive, it got tangled and I didn’t let go of it quick enough.  My buddy, Kevan Tulip, surfaced safely and fortunately there were no ill effects.

The second dive was from the RIB and was excellent – it’s what Red Sea diving is all about: perfect visibility, beautiful corals and an abundance of stunning life including blue spotted rays, puffer and surgeon fish and a massive moray eel.

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We headed off to St Johns in the Deep South, our main destination. All we had to contend with was was the oceanic white tip sharks!

I won’t talk about every dive individually but they were all reef or wall dives with a couple of small wrecks thrown in – a sunken liveaboard and a small yacht.

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The highlights for me included the Shaab Claudia, the Small Abu Galu, and St John’s Caves where we were guided through wonderful coral gardens and inlets. We were entertained by enormous Napoleon wrasse, moray eels the size of elephants’ trunks, shoals of tuna, jacks and huge barracuda. The beautiful blue spotted rays were seen on many of the dives and those with good eyesight saw nudibranc and octopus. We were surrounded by lion, parrot, surgeon, clown and puffer fish, and so much more stunning and colourful life. We experienced many different hard and soft corals and a brain coral city.

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We also did several night dives, which for the novices amongst you aren’t nearly as scary as they sound. In fact I can’t recommend them enough but make sure your torch doesn’t go out the moment you start descending, like mine did. A pretty hard wallop fortunately did the job and I spent the rest of the time trying not to blind my fellow divers!

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Perhaps one of the dives that will stick in the memory banks of many for a very long time – particularly Jackie Maskell – was Habily Ga’Afer. Like most of the dives, there was an abundance of life and beautiful corals but we were also accompanied by several oceanic white tip sharks. Jackie was finning along taking in the scenery when something bumped into her. Assuming it was a fellow diver she turned and found herself nose to nose with a 3 metre oceanic white tip! Remaining calm and drifting with the current, her new buddy soon got bored and left her to enjoy the rest of her dive in peace. I suspect her air consumption increased rapidly for a short period!

Elphinston, a 300 metre cigar shaped reef with sheer sides, was also a highlight for many, again party because of the shark sightings. It was here that an oceanic had its eye on Marcela Turanova and Len Hards’ rear ends but being camera shy, disappeared into the blue as Kevan Tulip got ready to take a picture!

There were numerous other sightings of oceanics, reef, and hammerhead sharks on several of the dives and the buzz on the dive deck when we all surfaced was fantastic as we all swapped stories and re-lived our encounters.

My own first sighting of sharks was on the 3rd day when I signalled to my buddy that there were 4 big fish several metres above us. My realisation that they were actually reef sharks left me with a mixture of excitement and fear!

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Both sharks and dolphins were spotted from the boat when we were enjoying well deserved rests and refreshments – somebody shouting “shark” or “dolphins” is undoubtedly the best way to be woken from a doze in the sun.

Our evenings were relaxed and very short if we’d enjoyed a night dive. We simply chatted over a drink or watched a DVD, including Jaws! John Rapley also managed to entertain us by losing a tooth during dinner one evening!

After our last dive of the week, we packed our bags and returned to shore on the RIBS, again without incident. We were taken to our hotel for the last night and day, which was beautiful. It was great to be greeted by Cynthia and Julie. They’d had a wonderfully relaxing week and had enjoyed the pool, facilities, and entertainment.

In our absence they’d also entered John Rapley into the belly dancing competition to be held that night… being a spoil-sport he refused to participate!

Our pick up wasn’t until 4.30pm the next day so we had plenty of time to relax in the sun but several of the group (me included) were seen sprinting around the complex. It soon became apparent that the run was always in the same direction and followed by a slow stroll back to the sun-bed – yes, Egyptian tummy had hit us with a vengeance! We pooled our supplies of Imodium and the Egyptian equivalents and all succeeded in getting home accident free (I think)!

Despite the episodes of runny tummy don’t be discouraged – it was a fabulous week; the diving and company great; and the service and support we received from the dive guides was excellent. If you haven’t yet experienced a Red Sea liveaboard add it to your to-do list – I’m not sure how it can be beaten.

As always thanks go to the organiser of the trip, John Rapley. Looking forward to next year already!

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