Sunday, 31 May 2009

St John’s Caves and Dolphins – Day 5

As well as the general crew running the boat, there is also a team whose responsibilities are to assist us into the water and look after the diving side of life. This includes the gas mixer who is responsible for the Nitrox mix many of us use (air enriched with oxygen which has the effect of reducing the chance of decompression sickness if used correctly), those who assist us get dressed and into our dive jackets, boys on the deck itself fitting fins and managing our entry into the water (usually we jump off the rear of the boat) and then others manning the zodiacs used to moor the boat and also to pick us up if we surface some distance away from the boat. They are also there to act as rescue boats if something goes wrong and someone needs a quick return.

Dive 11 – St John’s Caves

The boat repositioned itself from last night by moving about 10 minutes around the corner of the shoal.

St John's Caves

We are allowed an extra 30 minutes in bed before the first dive of the day, the reason being that we are exploring a cave system and the lighter it is outside, the more light gets into the caves. On the dive plan above, the caves are the gaps between the coral blocks (often marked with a black side). This is going to be a relatively shallow dive and therefore air consumption and safety stop times are not likely to be important.

Cave 1

Cave 2

above is a short video of a dive through one of the caves at St Johns.

Ben finning through a cave

Ben fining through a cave

The coral is also very spectacular and beautiful.

Coral 1

Coral 2

Coral 3

There are also a couple of interesting muscles embedded in the coral

Muscle 1

Muscle 2 

A very good 61 minute dive with a welcome breakfast to follow.

Dive 12 - Shirnaka Island

Two hours north to Shirnaka Island which we have to ourselves for Dive 12 of the holiday. This is an island with a number of coral reefs around it.We decided not to go with the guide but to mosey around on our own and see what we could find.

SHirnaka Island Dive 12

Shirnaka Island reef

the actual dive site (note the mast in the picture and on the plan above)

Ben led an easy dive off the boat deck. We went through a number of swim throughs, saw lots of coral and coral fish and he had a great time taking pictures.

Coral 4

Coral 5

Coral 6

Fire Coral 8

Fire Coral which stings for a long time if you touch it

Paul Hanging in mid water

one of the most perfect dive moments is when you are exactly neutrally buoyant and just hang over the deep and can look at the coral and fish

Fish 1

Freckled Hawkfish resting in coral

After lunch, a three hour cruise almost directly north to the Fury Shoals. As soon as we moored at Sataya West (aka Dolphin House) we were told that the dolphins were still in the area and the question was “Does anyone want to go for a snorkel with Dolphins?” 19 people were instantly on the dive deck getting ready to snorkel.

The way this works is that you put on trunks, sun block, fins,mask and snorkel (no dive gear) and head out in a zodiac to try to get in front of the Dolphins. When in position, you slide gently and quietly into the water and pretend to be a Dolphin and wait for them to come and play with you. If they do not come, you haul yourself back into the rib and head off and try again in another position.

Third time lucky – six Dolphins came to investigate four of us in the water

Swimming with Dolphins_01

and swam around us for about 5 minutes showing off and doing dolphin things. They came so close that I could have touched them. You can hear them

underwater long before you can see them and they really are the most wonderful creatures who seemed genuinely pleased to be with us. For us both, this was the absolute highlight of the holiday.

Sataya West - Dive 13

Sataya West Dive Plan

The afternoon dive was in the general area of the boat, It was unremarkable other than a very large Napoleon but the coral was

Lion Fish

interesting and we saw a few Lion Fish, a species which have been scarce (thankfully since they are poisonous) this trip.

Nobody went on the offered night dive because we were all too tired after three long dives and a long snorkel. Into bed at 9, more diving at 6 am tomorrow!


Saturday, 30 May 2009

Sharks a plenty – Day 4

A typical four dive day follows this pattern:

6 am Wake-up
6.30 am Briefing on first dive
7 am Put kit on and enter water
8 am Dive finished, dry off, do log books
8.45 am Breakfast
10.30 Briefing on second dive, kit up,dive, log books etc
12 noon Lunch
2.30 pm Briefing on third dive, kit up,dive, log books etc
7.00 pm Briefing on fourth dive, kit up,dive, log books etc
8.30 pm Dinner
A Beer and Bed

In between the above, the boat will reposition a few times, time has to be found to maintain one’s kit, the crew recharge our air tanks and we then test the gas mix, books are read and you rest as much as possible. Dives last around an hour so during a typical day you spend about 4 hours actually in the water – no wonder we get tired.

Dives 7 and 8 – Gota Soroya

This reef is a large pinnacle reef with a fairly steep drop-off all around

Gota Soroya

(sheer walls with the sandy bottom being below sensible diving depth). The plan for these dives is to fin around the circumference, looking for sharks – White Tips and Reef Sharks.

It is not long before we see our first sharks – they are just getting on with life looking for breakfast which rarely (if ever) includes divers. We have been briefed to treat them with caution and how to behave if they approach but they are not regarded as a threat – there are far more dangerous fish in the Red Sea than the sharks.

Shark 1

Shark 2

Shark 3

In the above pictures (you have to look carefully), the sharks are about 10m away and at best are only curious about divers. Other fish are far more interested in us and come very much closer.

Fish 1

Common Big Eye

Fish and Coral


Puffer Fish

The fish are as interesting and colourful as they always are and it is particularly exciting when  number of Tuna start hunting amongst the shoals swimming around us – the shoals break and regroup very fast, each fish trying to avoid becoming breakfast. Below is a picture of Tuna

Tuna hunting

hunting fish. Sometimes the prey shelter under an overhang and wait for the Tuna to go away (as in below).

Fish sheltering

We see around five sharks and are thoroughly pleased.

Dive 9 – St John’s Woods

The briefing describes this as a very interesting dive with lots of coral

St Johns Woods 

pinnacles to explore with some slight water movement (aka current). The coral is indeed very beautiful and the water is very clear.

Coral 1

Coral 2

Swim Through

Coral 3

Coral 4

The currents however were far more complicated that the briefing had said and everyone found themselves either fighting to fin against the currents or being swept along with them. Fortunately we could shelter behind the pinnacles and with air getting low training and rules took over and we headed back to the boat where everyone agreed it had been a beautiful but challenging dive.

Dive 10 – Paradise

Two hours sailing north takes us to the night dive where we tie up on what

Paradise DIve 10

looks like a peaceful bit of coral. An easy night dive looking for fish etc, nothing spectacular found. There are some caves here but they are not something you explore at night.

Friday, 29 May 2009

St John’s – Day 3

Whenever you get to a reef, the boat ties up to some predetermined anchor points in order to minimise damage – all reefs seem to have them. A zodiac goes out with a diver who then attaches a rope from the boat to the reef anchor point, usually we anchor down wind so the wind or tide keep the ropes tight. Rarely is an anchor dropped to the sea bed.

Mooring 1

Mooring 2

Mooring 3

Dives 3 and 4 - Habila Ali

We arrived at around 4 am local time and moored about 17kms north of Sudan. There is one other boat at the reef but it is moored at the other end of the reef and they are not in the water yet. This means that they will not have frighten away the fish since this is a prime site for Sharks and Rays.


During Dive 3 we saw a White Tip shark cruising beneath us which made the dive worthwhile. Coming back was difficult because another boat had arrived whilst we were down and moored in between us and the other boat which was there when we went down. Consequently we surfaced at the wrong boat and had to go down again and fin further.

White Tip (top middle of picture)

White Tip Shark swimming below us

For Dive 4 we went with Will as the Dive Guide. RIb drop off at the end of the reef and a very easy fin back to the boat – numerous Tuna, two white tips and lots of other fish,or particular interest being a Pipe Fish which seemed to want to play with us and swum right in front of my mask. We did our safety stop in an overhang which enabled us to look out into the blue and watch for large fish. A very good dive with an excellent dive profile.

Brocolli Coral Dive 3

Broccoli Coral

Coral 1 

Coral 2

Fish Dive 3

Coral Grouper

Fish 1

Dangerous Reef – Dives 5 and 6

Before lunch we sailed north to Dangerous Reef – no one really knows why it is called this. Dive 5 in the afternoon was our best ever (and our longest). During the briefing, a number of complicated dive throughs were described so we decided to go with a dive guide (Kati) in order to ensure that we got the most out of the dive and also the dive throughs.

Ben in control

The visibility was superb, sunlight everywhere, great fish and anemones as well as the most amazing dive throughs – they seemed complex and twisty but easy enough because we were right behind the guide.

Sunset behind mountains of sudan

The sun sets over the mountains of Sudan and it is time for another dive. For the night dive, we decided to hang around the boat and see the immediate area again. So we descended to the sea bed at 21 metres and sat there for half an hour just looking at the fish which came by us including a Moray Eel which swam by twice, a Blue Spotted Ray, Banner Fish, Parrot Fish and numerous others.

Dinner, Beer and Bed

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Check dives – Day 2

A late start with breakfast at 8 am followed by boat briefing and numerous other matters. It is interesting how briefing varies from boat to boat although they are all doing essentially the same thing. On this boat we are not encouraged to hang on to the shot line for safety stops and not to worry too much about getting back on board at 50 bar, less is ok provided we are at the 5m safety stop on no less than 50 bar. If one stands back a bit from the briefing content and considers its content, it would put the non-trained totally off the idea of diving but now we are more experienced, we know when they are joking and when it is serious stuff.

Apparently we have an 80% chance of seeing Oceanic White Tips, Rays and Hammerheads – let us hope we are not in the 20% on this trip. 20 dives are on the schedule although from past experience, we will sit out at least one.

The tone of the boat (and the overall quality of the trip) is set by the dive guides, in this case a couple (Will and Kati) from the Netherlands. Whenever we are on the dive deck putting

Dive Guides Will and Kati

our kit on, we are entertained with Dance tracks (some based on Madonna albums and others sounding from more dubious sources) although if both of them are diving, by the time we come up, the crew have put on some Egyptian pop music. As Dive Guides, they are probably the best we have had and certainly know the geography of the dive sites and their briefings are very good.

Check Dive – Dive 1

I am on 15 ltr steel which means a reduced weight belt of about 7 or 8 Kgms, the purpose of the check dive is to test this (Later in the week I went down to 6 kg as I got better at buoyancy control). Also we will be practicing putting up of Delayed Surface Marker Buoys (DSMBs) since deploying them is an art and it is easier on the seabed than when you are

DIve 1 Gota Marsa Alarm

at 5 m (when it is usually deployed). The check dive itself is at a dive site just outside of Marsa Alam – a useful dive but nothing special in the sea other than two interesting “dive throughs” – these are tunnels through the coral which lead from one side of the reef to the other and often are full of fish and sometimes dappled sunlight coming through holes in the tunnel roof. On one side of the reef is a relatively new wreck.

Dive 2 – Sharb Sharm

Dive 2 Shaab Sharm

During lunch we start to sail two hours south to the site of the next dive. This is to be a rib entry with a negative entry (roll backwards off the side of a zodiac and sink as quickly as possible making for the reef wall). Nothing

Ben in Rib

spectacular seen other than a reasonable number of fish including

Blue Spotted Ray 1

Blue Spotted Ray 2 

Blue Spotted Rays

Fish 4


Fish 6

Orange Spine Unicorn Fish

and also a Moray Eel which Ben spotted first

Ben pointing out location of Moray Eel

Moray Eel

There are numerous Dolphins in the area and whenever they come to the surface, the Egyptian crew start whistling in an imitation of a Dolphin’s call as they swim alongside the boat. They often like to swim just in front of the bow of the boat, playing with us and showing how easy it is to swim fast (if you are a dolphin).

Dolphin under bow of boat

After the second dive, it is quickly up with the anchor and we start sailing south to St John’s at around 10 knots – getting there will take about 12 hours.