Red Sea 2003

This was a week long live-aboard on MV Valerie based in Hurgarda on the Egyptian Red Sea Coast and arranged by Newhaven Scuba. It covered the 'northern circuit' of wrecks and the reefs from the 21st to the 28th of November. I have normally done the Red Sea as a summer holiday but it occurred to me that going to the warm when it was warm at home was silly so I went when it was cold and damp at home this year.

My report is based on my digital camera log. I started with 306 pictures but by the time I had deleted the pictures of the inside of my kit box, the no-focus ones, the black on black ones and the ones where even I can't guess what it was I'm down to 211. Click the pictures to download the fullsize image but be warned that they are big and if you're not on ADSL or cable it will take a while. Use the Back button on your browser to get back to this page afterwards.

Hurgarda is a mostly purpose built tourist town with a road and blocks of new build hotels and tourist places. I tend to think of it as Basingstoke in the sun but that's probably unfair.

Certainly the fuelling dock is nothing like the pontoon at Brighton Marina and, yes, those are propane fired lights on the boats. They must be fish lures. It's just too big to be lights to fish by.

Right. Let me introduce Amro Shatia. DM, Guide and general good guy. I first meet him when he worked for the Shalkami fleet but now he has stepped out on his own and had the enormous Marine Mortgage of the Valerie hanging round his neck. The boat is written up on it's own web site.
Amro draws magic site maps, he briefs a dive very well and he is worth following as a 'point it out' man. I'm going to use his pictures as the introducion to each dive. He tells you where to go, what you can find and he normally gets the current and the visibility right.
However the first dive was a check out so I didn't take the camera.

The second dive was a bit further north and I was beginning the fight with the flash gun that marked the whole trip. I'm sure it's simple and I'm doing something wrong but there are a lot of gloomy pictures here and I don't know why.

There was a night dive on offer but I didn't go. I was smashed. I really must give up this working for a living lark. It is interfering with my diving.

We stayed tied up at Siyui Saghira over night and at 6am the Valerie moved off and tied up at a new site and the morning call of "Dive briefing!" summoned us.
We had moved to Sha'ab abu nuhas, 'The reef of brass' I think. A shipwreck site from antiquity with recent skippers keeping up the tradition. We were to start with the Carnatic. A British merchantman with sail and steam power. Built 1862 at 1776 tons and sunk in 1869. The steel hull remains lying on her port side in 27 meters with the deck planking now gone. You can easily move down through the decks and find the boilers and I was quite suprised to find that in the bow area the wooden planking that formed the inner hull is still in evidence. Martin, my room mate and dive buddy, was a touch apprehensive of my attraction to every dark hole but he admits to being more of a reefie than a wreckie so I hope I didn't annoy him too much.

There seems to be some discussion about the name of the next wreck and I can't remember the details but it used to be thought to be the Chrisola K but it seems that that was the wrong size and the wrong cargo and that could be the wreck nearby so I'll just refer to it by Amro's designation as 'the tile wreck' from its cargo of floor tiles. Poor Martin followed me round the stern but drew the line on the descent to the engine room and the camera refused to bring back evidence of intact alternators and instrumentation. It was one of the best dives of the week only slightly marred by the fact that I was restricted by how far my personal limits for diving a single cylinder rig alone let me go alone into a wreck's internal passageways.
We finished the dive by photographing the Valerie's ribs picking up the others while we were doing our stops and then the trip back.

There was a night dive on a bit of reef but I didn't bother. However it gave me an opertunity to take some pictures of the dive deck. You also get to meet Gemma, the youngest member of our team at 12, who was on the trip with her father and brother and ticking off the AOW dives under the care of the Newhaven Scuba instructors on the trip.

We moved to the Ras Mohammed park at the southern end of Sinai and were dropped from the Valierie into 800 meters of water on the east of Shark Reef, no sharks when we were there, and paddled round to Yolanda Reef, the wreck of the Yolanda has long since slid off the reef into the deep trench leaving some of its deck cargo of baths, loos and bidets. Frankly its not a very exciting dive. We saw a nice sting ray who posed for the camera and a turtle who didn't.

We came back to Sha'ab abu nuhas to dive the Dunraven. This is another sail/steam powered ship like the Carnatic and wrecked on the same reef in 1876. Built in 1873 at about 1800 tons she now lies inverted on the sloping reef ranging from 29 meters at the stern 19 meters at the bow. She is quite spacious inside and you can work your way forward from the stern to the boilers but it then gets a bit blocked and the bow requires a separate entry. We proceeded back up the reef to the Valerie where it occurred to me to photograph the blindingly obvious trick of painting your name on the hull so these dumb divers can find their way home.

The next move was to the Thistlegorm. Now the Thistlegorm is considered the must do wreck of the Red Sea but it's begining to get too busy and it is certainly over hyped.
Now previous Thistlegorm visitors will recognise that my pictures of Martin at the stern deck gun are faked. The stern lies on its side and the gun is pointing straight down but as divers don't swim, they fly, we could pose it just how we wanted it.
Since we were trying to stick roughly to the recomended 'deepest dive first' plan we pottered round the stern first dive and then came back to our rope. This is were the trouble started. I'm holding 5 meters doing a safety stop and the rope starts to turn in my hand. I know one end is tied to the davits on the Thistlegorm so I look up. There is a big prop rotating at me. Then the rope goes slack and the cut end starts to float down towards me. Martin and I transfer to another rope as the place is infested with RIBs buzzing about and shallow is not a safe place to be. When I reported this Amro said certain uncomplimentary things about the day boats from Sham. There were at least 25 big boats that I counted at one point and some of the RIB pilots were short of a clue about divers in the water - well - some of the other boats divers seemed a bit clueless about how leathal a RIB prop can be.

Our second dive took us through the forward holds. I don't think we followed Amro's suggested route but since the Valerie had crept in as the day boats came and left we at least just had to ascend the right rope to put ourselves on the rear ladder. We finished with a night dive but I didn't bother to take the camera in the dark.

Now we moved to Shag Rock and the wreck of the Kingston. A nice open pile with a drift back along a reef and a bonus wreck, well a prop, drive shaft and some plates at safety stop depth on top of the reef to finish with. I took some pictures of the RIBs picking us up. There are others but, frankly, there is no way to get into a RIB gracefully, you flop over the side and somebody pulls your fins off so you can crawl off and sit out of the way. The pictures are Gemma again because you have to admit she photographs better than Martin or me.

The Ghiannis D. Built in 1969 and sunk in 1983 at 2900 tons. A nice open route to the engine room and Martin was now quite happy to follow me down under the engine.

We night dived Umm Gamar and then went back next morning to sample the two caves. The first was a chamber with two or three exits while the second was accessed by a passage and then opened into a chamber with several side passages. It was possible to get away from outside light but not by much. This was more playing at cave diving than for real.

Our final dive before the run to Hurgarda and the inevitable 24 hour break before the flight home was a delightful sandy plane with numerous binnacles. There was lots of life and each binnacle seemed to have a different character. There wasn't anything special but it was just a fun dive and I dragged it out to 75 minutes which was good for me as I'd been shovelling down the air all week like mad.

Overall it was lots of fun. I don't think I can do it again next year because I've already planned most of my holiday time on trips already but it will happen again. We had two injuries, both people running too fast down the stairs in the quest for a bucket of sea water to be used for personal conflict resolution so they don't count. I did 14 dives out of a possible 17 in good company. I like the boat, I like the people, I like the dive sites. I can't say much more than that.
It was colder than my previous summer trips but exclaiming 'this is a bit chilly' as you strip off your wet suit in the breeze and wander about all soggy in your swimwear on thursday is hardly to be compared with the horizontal rain that greeted me pushing the shopping trolly across the ASDA car park the following saterday.

The pictures can be accessed by clicking the thumbnail but they tend to be 900K+ files
Pictures by Nigel Hewitt
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