Sunday, 8 February 2009

The wrecks at Abu Nuhas

Day 3 Sunday February 8th

Food on a liveaboard is quite important to divers – what we are after is good easy to digest food in reasonable quantities served often. From a meal perspective, the day starts with with Breakfast (for me, always a freshly cooked Spanish Omelette), Lunch was usually something salad plus a meat dish, Dinner usually started with soup, then a main course (turkey on the last night) and desert. Wine and beer was available after your last dive of the day, biscuits, soft drinks, tea and coffee were available throughout the day, and there was usually cake at tea time. The chef never had problems in creating a vegetarian option for the only non meat eater on board (me).

Abu Nuhas is famous for the number of wrecks around the reef (probably five). Two were to be dived today, the Giannis D and then the Carnatic.


The theory put forward for the large number of wrecks is that Captains get over confident having left the Suez Canal and misjudge their position with respect to the reef. Readers of ship wreck history may have formed a different opinion about the reasons for some of the wrecks.

The first wreck dive was on the Giannis D. This is a most impressive wreck. One story is that when the ship hit the wreck, the only people on board were the Captain and Chief Engineer. This was the second (of three) wrecks for the Engineer and we were told that at the official inquiry into the sinking, he commented on hearing “the familiar sound of steel hitting coral”!


Getting to the wreck required us to go out in one of the two zodiacs (also known as a Rib) belonging to Blue Melody. Entering the water from a rib is great fun – you get fully kitted up on the dive deck bar your fins, climb down into the Rib, then sit on one side of it and put your fins on as it speeds off to the dive site. Upon arrival, there is a count of 3,2,1 and then you all elegantly roll over backwards at the same time into the water, surface briefly to give the ok signal to the rib and then sink by letting the air out of your BCD jacket.

On this dive we sank down to the starboard side of the stern section, finned towards the stern going over one of the propellers,

Giannis D Propellor

then around the stern keeping on the bottom(22.3m) and looked into the engine room through an open doorway, then through the general area where the hold would have been,

Ben in Giannis D hold

up towards the bridge, past the funnel (where a big D is still attached)

Giannis D Funnel

then towards the safety line attached to the crane frame where we did our safety stop.

Giannis D Crane

There is a lot of soft coral on the wreck

Coral 2

and a great variety of fish.

Fish 3

(a parrot fish)

It is a most impressive wreck which has the effect of making a diver feel very small.

Getting back into the rib is less elegant. Once on the surface, firstly you inflate your BCD, then locate the rib (or if it has not seen you, put up a marker buoy) and when it has come into range, grab one of the ropes on one side of the rib, hand up your weights, unclip your bcd (with the attached air tank) and push it up into the rib at the same time as it is pulled in by the Rib Boy. Then you fin like crazy so as to get yourself moving upwards and then haul yourself into the rib feeling a bit like a beached whale.

Whilst we were waiting for the next dive, some dolphins came and played around the ship.


The second dive of the day was on the Carnatic. Quoting from the Dive Site Directory website

“The Carnatic is one of the older wrecks in the Red Sea and after her sinking in September 1869 she lay alone on the reef of Abu Nuhâs for over 100 years before being joined by several others wrecks in the 1970’s and 1980’s. She is of iron framed planked construction and was a P&O passenger sail & steam ship, 90m in length with a beam of 12 metres.

On September 12th 1869 she began what ended up being her last voyage from Suez with an intended destination of Bombay under the command of Captain P.B Jones (who had taken command of the Carnatic in 1867). With 176 crew, 34 passengers she had a cargo of wine, cotton bails and £40,000 of royal mint gold. It is thought and widely reported that Captain Jones did most of the navigation and course plotting and with the inevitable lack of sleep certain bearings were not taken during watch changes. Whatever the reasons, the Carnatic struck the reef of Abu Nuhâs just after midnight where she did not sink immediately but became stuck on the shallow reef top. It was a clear night and the decision was made not to abandon ship, but for crew and passengers alike to remain on board. Captain Jones knew that another P&O vessel, the Sumatra was due to pass them in the opposite direction on route to Suez, and intended to seek her assistance. After a perilous night on the reef top the Sumatra had still not arrived on Sept 13th. The Carnatic appeared to be in fair condition and as nightfall approached for the second time, Captain Jones made the fateful decision to ride out another night on the floundering vessel. After some 36 hours on the reef the Carnatic finally gave up her hopeless battle against the elements and broke in half, late morning on Tuesday Sept 14th 1869. The passengers and crew abandoned ship, using the lifeboats which were not damaged and could still be launched. They allegedly used some of the previously jettisoned, tightly packed cotton bails as flotation devices, and the remaining 7 lifeboats then made for Shadwan (or Shaker) island, approx 2 miles to the south. The cotton bails were also used to keep them warm during the cold night experienced in this area in contrast to the heat of the day and to make a fire. The lives of 26 crew and 5 passengers were lost.”


The dive gave us the opportunity of a few penetrations between the decks. Last time we were here I dived the stern so this time we concentrated on the bow. We went in just before the deck section at the bow and finned towards the bow on two different decks. Having got to the bow, we came out through a hole in the port side of the ship’s hull. We saw millions of fish including thisGreasy Grouper

Lyretail Grouper

Ben looking for his father

and Ben looking back for his father.

The afternoon dive was at the Alternatives (lat 27.7302 long 34.1995).

Alternatives Dive Plan

The boat was moored some distance from the reef and even though there was a line from the bow to the reef, the currents were strange and it was exhausting getting to the reef. The front side has little to offer but the fish variety around the back was amazing including Unicorns, Napoleons and Lions plus the usual assortment of wall hangers.

The afternoon coral lecture surprised me by telling us that starfish are members of the coral family and that some coral can walk (slowly)!

We chose not to do the night dive because we were concerned about swimming the distance to the reef at night and the fact that no rib drop off or pickup was on offer nor was there a rib in the water to search for any lost returning divers.

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