Friday, 13 February 2009

Home again, home again

Day 8 Friday February 13th

Although taking place on an inauspicious day-date combination, the return trip home went smoothly even though the airport tried to convince us that our luggage (which was within weight on the way out) was now over weight and an additional fee would have to be paid. Perhaps the fact that the airport scales registered between 3 and 12 kgs when empty might have had something to do with it?

The flight back was cramped and boring. It also took 30 minutes to get off the plane and into the coach to take us to the terminal and another 40 minutes to get through Immigration.

Our diving techniques have definitely improved during the week and we have benefited from a few challenging dives. The underwater camera bought for me as a leaving present from HRC has proved a definite plus and is evidenced in this blog.

We have learnt an enormous amount about Coral and better understand some of the factors which affect seabed pollution, local economies and politics.

My personal air consumption (a useful measure of diving ability) started off at a good level (reading number 33 on the chart) and remained there for the whole week (with a couple of air hog blips for the Thistlegorm and the Barge).


By the time of our next live aboard which is scheduled for the end of May, I want to get a wrist compass (to avoid getting lost underwater again) and also a strobe light for use on the surface during night dives.

Our next dive is a one day dive with sharks in Scotland – provided they are not hungry, it will appear in this blog in mid March.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Dive 50 at Umm Gammar and Fanadir

Day 7 Thursday February 12th

The first dive today will see me clock up dive 50 in my short 18 month diving career – Ben is one dive behind me and therefore will reach 50 on the second dive of the day. Although we have an Advanced Diving Qualification, we are relative novices when compared to some of those we dive with. Today is also the last diving day of the holiday – because of the rule which advises that there is a 24 hour gap between diving and flying (we fly back tomorrow evening). Therefore there will only be two dives available today before the ship goes back to port.

At the stern of the boat is the dive deck where all of your equipment is stored between dives and where you dress for the dive – with 26 people on the boat, it becomes quite crowded at times.

Dive Deck

Our equipment positions are numbers two and three from the right on the front row in the picture (which is actually at the back of the dive deck because we prefer not to be first into the water). There is also a table upon which you can leave you camera, dive computer and anything else that is delicate.

Camera Table

Umm Gammar (lat 27.35278 long 33.90914) means “Mother of the Crescent Moon” and is known as a nice dive site, with a relatively slight current, plenty of fish and pinnacles to dive around and also a cave (at 24+ metres) which you can enter if you want to.

Umm Gammar Dive Plan

Our dive plan was to jump off the dive platform on the port side, quickly descend and then fin as slowly as possible past the pinnacles, taking every opportunity to look at the fish and coral.

Fish 16

Black Snapper

Fish 17

Blue Triggerfish

The dive went perfectly and was generally a nice dive. Amongst the fish seen was the Clown Coris and a Scorpion fish (very nasty).

The last dive of the trip is one which you hope will be long, easy and interesting and the dive at Fannadir (meaning Rock) lat 27.29560 long 33.83118 was not to let us

Fanadir Reef

down. The above picture shows the shape of the reef – the actual rock is to the left of the picture.


Fanadir Dive Plan

The plan was the same as many other reef dives, “giant stride” off the dive deck, follow the reef wall to and then around some large pinnacles, slowly back to the boat doing a safety stop towards the end of the dive.

We kept to the dive plan and saw nudibranchs, blue spotted rays and lion fish. A very nice dive to end the trip with.

Immediately after the dive, everyone started to wash their equipment in fresh water and hung it out to dry, the aim being to get as much hot sun on it as possible before it had to be packed for travel home.

Return to Dock

Having docked back at the Hotel, we were told that because the ship was not going out again the next week, we could all stay on it until the coach came to collect us the following afternoon. So we had dinner on the boat and then went into town to try and find a fish T-shirt for Sam.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Point, Big Sea Yol & Sha’ab el Erg

Day 6 Wednesday February 11th

Four dives were planned for today but as it turned out, I would only be able to do three of them. Having recovered from the Barge currents and the Thistlegorm swell, the pre breakfast dive (14) at The Point was to be a fast drift along a reef wall. This means that there is a current flowing and you get into a position where it sweeps you

Gubal Island

along  past what you want to see (the reef wall) and a rib picks you up when you come to the surface. On the dive plan above, The Point is on the right of the plan. So we exited the boat from the dive platform, finned north to the wall and let the current take us east. Our plan was to do a reverse just as we got to the Point, partly because to go any further meant heading into strange current areas and partly because we wanted not to have to rely on a Rib pickup.

The fish were amazing, Stonefish (very poisonous), Sea Urchins (painful); Lion Fish (poisonous), Giant Morays, Masked Puffer Fish; a large Parrott fish; Shrimp Goby and Partner Shrimp trails in the sand, Fang Blennys and the current was nice and strong with an easy reverse for a rib pickup as soon as the SMB was raised.

After breakfast we set sail for Big Sea Yol (lat 27.55772 long 33.88298) for

Big Sea Yol

another Reef Dive (15). In the picture above, the reef is the lighter blue areas of sea and one dives in the darker blue bits but as close to the reef as possible. Like many chunks of rock in the Red Sea, this one has an automatic lighthouse on it. As soon as we got there, a turtle was spotted off the bow

Turtle at Big Sea Yol

mooching around and eating whatever it could find. The dive plan was to go off the back of

Big Sea Yol Dive Plan

the boat, get to the wall and drift with the current, trying to do a reverse back to the boat, and if not, surfacing for a Rib pickup.

The visibility was superb and there were more fish and spectacular coral than anyone could want.

Paul Big Sea Yol 1
Coral 5
Fish 12
Common Bigeye
Fish 14
Sea Snake
Black Spotted Moray
Fish 10
Clown Fish
Fish 15
Moses Sole
Fish 13
Speckled Sand Perch
Coral 6
Salad Coral
Fish 11
Clown Fish (aka Anemone Fish)

All was going swimmingly until I suddenly found myself ascending to the surface out of control – one of my weights had fallen out of the jacket again. “Out of Control” means that I could not stop myself going up from the sea bed from just over 10 metres to the surface even though I did everything we had learnt in training - dump all of the air in your BCD and breath out as you rise. Having got to the surface, I put up my SMB to indicate I needed picking up and also checked underwater to see what Ben was doing. He had correctly deduced what had happened but was coming up the correct way – slowly with a 3 minute safety stop at 5 metres depth.

Once back on the ship we decided that the reason one of my weights had fallen out was because of the way my weights were configured – solving that problem was quite simple (and it never occurred again). The penalty for me was that because I had not stopped at 5 metres depth for 3 minutes to do a safety stop (to ensure any Nitrogen in my body created as a result of diving at depth had escaped), I should sit out the next dive so that if there were any, it could escape naturally. This extreme caution was probably slightly over the top (particularly because I was using 29% Nitrox) but safety rules are there to be followed, not broken. Ben also chose to sit it out to keep me company (one of the unwritten duties of a buddy).

For the dive I had to miss (a rubbish clean up dive) and the night dive (16), we moved to Sha’ab el Erg. The night dive was a

Sha'ab El Erg Dive Plan

relatively boring dive in that all of the interesting fish had gone to sleep and few night fish had come out. There were also quite a large number of divers down and the 50 minute dive got a bit crowded.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Thistlegorm and the Barge

Day 5 Tuesday February 10th

Diving is an activity which, if done according to the rules, is always done with a buddy, i.e. you always dive with someone else and you take care of each other during the dive. This care starts with the pre-dive buddy check. For us, if we used all of our equipment, getting dressed for diving usually involves putting on: trunks; rash vest (or equivalent); wet suit; hood; dive socks; weights; buoyancy control device (bcd) with attached tank; mask and snorkel; fins; gloves; dive knife; dive computer; camera; surface marker buoy; dive slate; regulator and octopus. Although the total weight of all of the above is in excess of 25 kg, as soon as you get into the water you are virtually weightless.

Having got your equipment on, you then proceed to the important “buddy check” where you check that your buddies equipment is being correctly worn and works in the order: BCD; weights; regulator; air; and final check. Since you will depend on your buddies air supply if yours goes wrong, it is advisable to check properly and carefully. Also if any part of your equipment goes wrong during a dive, you may land up depending on some other item to keep you safe – so a wise diver checks his own equipment carefully.

Once in the water, you constantly communicate with each other via a sign language which consists of certain common codes (which can be understood by any diver) plus your own dialect variants. The whole of this was to prove valuable to us today.

Dive 11 – Thistlegorm (lat 27.81268 long 33.9194)

The Thistlegorm is dived by most divers when they visit the Northern Red Sea. It can be a challenging but straightforward dive, it can also be a challenging and difficult dive. There is much on the web about the Thistlegorm so I will not repeat this information here – if you are interested just click on the ship name above and you will be taken to another web site with detailed information.

In summary, it is a freighter which was sunk by German bombers during the second world war whilst fully laden. During the dive you get the chance to go into the holds and see much of the cargo. the bomb damage area, accommodation etc. We both dived the wreck last year when there was a strong current and visibility was not very good.


For this dive, the plan was to descend down a line tied to the bow, fin along the starboard side exploring Holds one and two, then back up the port side to the bow line and ascend.


Because the dive was difficult last time (strong current and poor visibility) and it is also a more complex wreck penetration dive, we asked for a dive guide to go with us.

Three other dive boats were tied to the Thistlegorm when we arrived, our boat tied of to the bow of the wreck (by sending down a diver with the rope) and then because there was a heavy swell of about 4 metres (not ideal diving conditions), three more ropes were attached. We suited up, Ben and the Dive Guide jumped into the water and just as I was about to follow them, three of the four mooring ropes snapped and I was stopped from going in whilst the ship repositioned. Ben immediately swapped buddies to the Dive Guide and followed standard procedures for hanging around in rough water – inflate your BCD, stay calm and stay with your buddy. There were also other ships near by which they could have gone to if things got difficult.

Eventually I was put into a rib and driven over to them and we dived (as a threesome) down through the swell (which was now even heavier) to the bow. Visibility down on the wreck was very good and we had an excellent dive through the holds and saw many things we had not been able to see last time including the railway engines.

722 Thistlegorm Motorrad

On the way back up, the dive got a more difficult because the mooring line up which were were supposed to ascend was jerking a lot indicating that it was quite rough on the surface. The line managed to knock one of the weights out of my BCD but luckily I was holding on to the line at the time so I did not shoot up and Ben ascended with the weight in his arms for me to reaffix. Once on the surface, it was a matter of inflating our BCDs as fully as possible and putting up a Surface Marker Buoy to indicate our position and then awaiting the arrival of a Rib to take us back to the Blue Melody.

It was a great dive but it was marred by the surface conditions. Thankfully the planned second dive on the Thistlegorm was cancelled and we sailed off to quieter waters. We both felt that our decision to ask for a Dive Guide was absolutely correct in the circumstances although our training had covered all that we did during the dive.

Dive 12 was on The Barge (lat 27.67792 long 33.80543) and the lagoon area nearby.

Gubal Island

The barge is located on the south side of Big Gubal Island and is a well known dive spot. We both dived it last year and were amazed at the variety of fish and the large Moray Eel (George). Rumour was that George had now been joined by Georgina.

The dive plan was to descend to the barge, have a look around it and then proceed north, go across a lowering of the reef wall and into the lagoon.

The dive proceeded to plan although the current was slightly stronger than estimated by the dive guide – this was said to be due to the fact that it was a Full Moon.

There is not much left of the barge now and The Barge

no-one knows of its history. Large shoals of

Fish 9

Crown Squirrelfish shelter against its walls although they are then prey to the many Lion fish who live in the

Lion 1

Lion 3

area. Georgina was hiding against the wall of

Georgina 1

Georgina 2

the barge. Particularly nice was the return from the lagoon through the gap because the

Entrance to lagoon

current was flowing out of the lagoon through the gap and it swept you past some very

Coral 4

nice coral and towards shoals of Scissor Tail Sergent Fish.

Zebra Fish Shoal

Dive 13 was planned to be “The barge by night”. Quite simple - off the back of the boat, head to the barge, around the barge a few times, look out for George (and even more Lion Fish), back to the boat, a quick shower and then dinner and a well deserved beer. The only thing we were warned to watch out for was that the current was said to be “a little stronger and running from the barge towards the boat”.

As soon as we got into the water it was obvious that the current estimate was well short of the mark. One had to fin very hard to make any progress against it and by the time we got to the barge I was worn out. We rested by holding onto the barge and floated in the current and then called off the dive (through sign language) and with a few current driven detours, headed back to the boat platform and the line hanging off the back to do our safety stop. Unfortunately we missed the line and then had to fin very very hard against the current to get to the line. By the time we were on deck I was exhausted, as were most of the other divers who went in at the same time as us. The general conclusion was that the current was increasing in strength all of the time we were in the water because of the moon.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Ras Mohammed National Park

Day 4 Monday February 9th

For most people on a live aboard, life is (unsurprisingly) focused solely on diving, food, sleep. A beer is only allowed when you have finished diving for the day and on many evenings we were too tired even for that.

The schedule for a typical day is:

6 am Wake-up Call
6.15 am Tank and gear check
6.30 am Briefing
7 am First Dive
8.30 am Breakfast
11 am Briefing and tank check
11.30 am Second Dive
1.30 pm Lunch
4 pm Briefing and tank check
4.30 pm Third Dive
7 pm Briefing and tank check
8.30 pm Supper
Drink and Bed

During any gaps, you might write up your log book, read or snooze or repair any gear that is misbehaving. Hence the need for great varieties of clothes is small since most of the day is spent in trunks, shorts or dive gear.

There are times when getting up and going for an early morning dive makes you question your sanity. Your trunks are often cold and damp, the wetsuit certainly is and the water looks rather uninviting. But as soon as you get underwater, you remember why you are slightly mad and the buzz in the air when everyone is back on the dive deck is clear evidence of mad divers enjoying themselves.

Early in the morning we made our way to Ras Mohammed National Park to dive Shark and Yolanda Reefs followed by Nemo City. Divers think of the park as an underwater park but it includes nearby land and beach areas and the animals on them.

Ras Mohamed Dive Plan

Last time we were here, we penguined off the end of the Boat at Shark Reef and then the current took us towards Nemo City (so called because of the numerous anemones on the reef at that point) and away from the dive hot spot near Yolanda Reef. Today the current was going the other way so we were hoping of getting to the Yolanda wreck site. Penguining off a boat means the boat reverses close to the reef and then slowly moves away from it. All of the divers are lined up on the dive deck as it moves away from the reef and they then enter the water as quickly as possible as soon as a clear spot appears beneath them - just like penguins going into the water off an ice flow.

Napoleon 1 

Napoleon 2

Napoleon and other fish abounded

Fish 4

Yellow-bar Angelfish

Blue Spotted Ray

A blue spotted ray

Coral 3

There were lots of small fish (Lyretail Anthias) living amongst the anemones

The reef is named after the ship which hit it. The Jolanda was on a voyage from Piraeus to Aqaba with a general cargo including toilets, wash basins, bath tubs, a BMW 320 motor car (apparently belonging to the captain), aluminium, plastic sheeting and several containers of general goods.

Yolanda Toilets 1

During a bad storm on April 1st 1981 the ship got caught on one of the southern reef mounts at the tip of the Ras Mohamed peninsula. After 4 days aground she rolled over onto her port side, her bow awash, and with her stern hanging over the abyss. The wreck remained in that position for several years, slowly toppling over until it was totally upside down. Then one day in 1985 the hawse wire holding it snapped and a great wreck was lost as it slid down the reef leaving behind only evidence of its cargo; baths, toilets and a car.

Yolanda Toilets 2

For divers, evidence of getting to and touching the toilets is one of the required pictures and experiences of diving in the Red Sea.

The next dive was towards Nemo City, again plenty of fish includingFish 6

a Titan Trigger Fish

Fish camoflaged

Some fish are very well camouflaged with their surroundings (a Speckled Sandperch),

Fish 7

others are much brighter (Red Sea Bannerfish).

Fish 5


Fish 8

There were Wrasse and many large table corals.

Paul over a table coral

plus other corals

Coral Cucumber

We put up our SMBs before the Rib return. The amusing thing for us about the return was that the rib boy seemed determined to leave no-one behind for the second rib so we returned with 12 divers and their equipment plus the rib boy in a relatively small rib (rather too low in the water).

Off to Beacon Rock (lat 27.70503 long 34.12964) for Dive 9 (our first clean up dive) and Dive 10 - a night dive.

Beacon Rock Dive Plan

Beacon Rock is located on the south side of the Ras Muhamed Peninsula and is within the boundaries of Ras Muhamed National Park. In this area is the wreck of the Dunraven (we dived it last year), which was a steam freighter from the first part of the century. It is also said to have been a spy ship for T.E. Lawrence.

Ben collecting rubbish

Too many dive boats toss their rubbish over the side and hence the popular dive sites land up with a lot of debris lying over the coral and sand. The objective of our first dive was to pick up as much rubbish as possible provided it had not yet become encrusted with coral. Ben carried the sack (the hard job since it meant constant buoyancy adjustments) and I picked up from the sea bed.

Rubbish Collection

Our haul contributed to 4 crates of bottles, cans, metres of fishing line, lots of glass, numerous items of plastic and a large mooring rope.

Coral lecture three concentrated on threats to coral ecology – some human others marine.

During the night dive, we were followed by a Lion Fish - they have learnt that their dinner is attracted by our dive torches and therefore follow divers rather too closely and then try to grab dinner from within the torch beam. So Ben turned his torch off so that the Lion fish would go over to another pair of divers with a tourch! We also saw some big Jacks and rather nice Feather Star Anemones which closed up when a light beam was shone on them.