Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Returning and thoughts – Day 7

The last day at the hotel is extremely boring and so you tend to sleep much of the day. The Marina Lodge is ok as a hotel but somewhat isolated and the fierce heat and high humidity outside tend to keep you confined to your room until departure time.

During this week, I dived 17 times and spent nearly 18 hours underwater at depths down to 32.4 metres (the maximum depth for my gas mix). My diving skills have improved, particularly balance and floatation – just hanging in space over a shear drop looking at a particularly interesting fish or bit or coral or allowing a shoal of small fish to buzz around you or looking out into the blue for a large fish is a fantastic experience.

The most memorable moments were:

  • seeing the Green Puffer Fish (Darwin – you were correct about the link between evolution and environment);
  • seeing the large Sea Turtle; and
  • being alone on a large stretches of coral with just millions of fish and my dive buddy (Darren Birmingham) for company.

Darren Birmingham Dive Buddy

The most exciting and pulse raising moment was the high speed drift on Rocky Island where the current just swept you along and you had no choice but “go with the flow”.

Thanks Darren.

Tony Backhurst and Scuba Travel certainly delivered another good dive holiday – this bit of our blog is not supposed to be an advert for them but they are very good.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Elphenston again and Marsa Shouna – Day 6

Getting into the Water

Divers do not just simply get into the water and finn around, there is quite a process to go through first. It starts with a briefing on the dive site from one or both dive guides. This covers underwater topography and features, currents, fish, maximum diving depth and dive time, known hazards, where the boat is moored, dive entry and exit methods, the intended dive plan (Plan A), a possible alternative dive plan (Plan B) and what to do if it becomes an unplanned dive plan (Plan C). Emergency procedures are also discussed. If you do not attend the briefing then you do not dive – no arguments.

Dead divers dive on their own so a check is then made as to if everybody has an agreed dive buddy and does anyone want to go with a Dive Guide – sometimes this is useful, particularly if the site is complicated or there might be some hazards you are not so sure about. On my 100th dive for example, I simply would not have known my way around the tunnels and caves (even though I had attended the briefing) and following the guide makes it much easier.

In order to minimise congestion on the dive deck (where we put on our equipment), divers are usually divided into groups and some of them will then be sent off to get changed.

Changing involves checking over your gear to make sure everything is in the correct place (and that you have got everything), measuring the gas mix if using Nitrox and recording that you have done so in the boat log, measuring your air pressure and then putting on your equipment. On the dive deck, there are deck boys to help you get into your wet suit, into your BCD (for simplicity referred to here as the jacket) and that all of the belts and buckles are in the correct place. You do not assume that just because everything was there on the last dive, it is still there. Nor do you assume that just because it worked a couple of hours ago, it is going to work now.

You then carry out a Buddy Check – you check your buddy’s equipment and he checks yours. It is surprising how many divers have considered diving without their finns or turning their air on or diving with their trunks on backwards – ideally your buddy spots this before it becomes an issue.

Meanwhile if you are diving off the back of the boat, a current check will have been undertaken by the Dive Guide just to ensure that nothing has changed and you then proceed to the dive deck. Just before you take that Giant Stride into the water, one of the deck staff checks again that you have got your air turned on – and you step off the end of the boat into the blue depths.

Our last two dives of the week

The final day’s diving with two dives planned – the first with a wake-up call of 0545 so we get into the water early.

Elphiston Hamra Dive Plan-1

The plan is off the rear of the boat, head towards the reef, turn left into the current towards the plateau at about 30 m where there might be sharks, then reverse and drift to the other end of the reef for a rib pickup. In the event, there is little adverse current but also no sharks so the dive becomes a long drift along a long coral vertical wall

large fan coral

where there are some impressive fans

Coral growing on coral

and also coral growing on coral (here broccoli growing on fan)

Fish 1 

There are large numbers of fish but few remarkable ones

Fish 2 

Fish 2 close up 

These Black Spot Snappers herded together as I approached as a defensive mechanism to being picked off individually if I was a predator.

Fish hiding under ledge

Other fish hide under ledges keeping out of the sunlight but also out of the easy gaze of any large predators fining by.

Dive 17 (104) Marsa Shouna

The final dive of the trip is in a bay near Marsa Alam known as Marsa Shouna – which translates as the bay where fishermen meet. It is known for its sea grass and the animals which live in the grass. The

 Desert Development

shore surroundings are not exactly picturesque and reflect much of the developments along the coast – half completed shells built presumably during a time when speculative investment was the fashion.

Traditionally the last dive is a long memorable easy dive not too deep and the briefing from our two dive guides (Samer and Hani) gives us to

 Sam and Hally - Dive Guides

understand that this is an unusual site and might be memorable in terms of the fish and animals that we might see if we are lucky. Much of the bay is given over to Sea Grass which stretches out as a field in front of you.

Grass 1

An individual blade of grass looks much like ordinary grassA Grass

but with a broad blade and grows in sand. The animals which live in the grass have adapted their colour and behaviour so that they can hide in the grass or sand

Green Fish

In the above picture are fish grazing on the grass but they have developed a greenish hue over time so that they are harder to spot.

Green Fish

If you think that was easy, spot the fish in the photograph below

Spot the fish

click on the photo to bring up a large version and try to spot it

Spot the fish

the fish concerned (a Moses Sole) is just above the centre of this part of the photograph and shows as a slightly raised mound with black spots on it – the rest of the sand around it is a different colour. They are poisonous and emit a bitter toxin from just below their tail fins.

Scorpion Fish  

This Common Scorpion Fish is well adapted to its surroundings – they are poisonous and inject venom through their dorsal spine (running along their back) if accidently trodden on (so you try not to tread on them!)

Green Puffer Fish 

Compare this Sea Grass Puffer Fish to the type seen elsewhere in the Red Sea.

Puffer Fish 

The Green Puffer Fish is a perfect example of adaptation to surroundings.

Sand Eel

This Sand Eel is green and black and fits into its surroundings so well that it is very hard to see from any distance than right under your nose.

The sign that something interesting is ahead is often “sand in the water”, (hence the poor visibility in the bay) caused by fish or animals digging up / eating the grass.

Signs of a fish

and just ahead was one of the most fantastic sights of the trip

Turtle on the horizon

a very large Sea Turtle

Turtle 1

with three Remora on its back. The Turtle feeds on the grass

 Turtle 2

and the Remora (attach themselves to the Turtle with a sucking disc, keep it clean of parasites and clean any wounds it might develop. This turtle was about 1.5m long and was considered large and old.

Port Ghalib 

And so after a 73 minute dive, the trip is over, Port Ghalib is around the corner

Marine Lodge

with the Marina Lodge where we stay one night to degas

Sea Serpent  

and it is goodbye to the Sea Serpent after 17 long dives, the average length of each dive being 63 minutes.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Dive 100 at Claudia in the Fury Shoals – Day 5

Today I clock up my 100th dive having started diving some three years ago. There is a supposed tradition that your 100th dive is done in the nude – that rule has been relaxed here because of the mixed company on the boat. It is also the case that four divers will become 100 during this week, and that much nudity could put off the fish.

Claudia Dive Map 

From the surface, the reef looks something like the map although you have to allow for artistic interpretation in the map (we saw no Elephants)

insert stitched picture of claudia

and also the fact that coral slopes out underwater towards the seabed and many elements on the map cannot be seen from the surface.

Claudia offers an amazing set of swim throughs – narrow passages and tunnels into the coral which open up into caverns or chimneys down which

sun light streams. The tunnels twist and turn around one side and rise and fall like a roller coaster

Cave exit 

Eventually you see the exit in front of you.


Shoals of large fish are hangingShoal-1 

around in the early sunlight (it is about 1 hour after dawn) 

Chocolate Dip Fish 

The coral is particularly picturesque and seems to thrive in an area with good water flow.

Nemos and Anenomes 

One clump of Anemone has some very active Nemos living in it

Nemos and Anenomes 2 

Nemos and Anenomes 3

Dive 101 – Abu Galawa Small

A lesson about clams – there are a lot of clams on this dive site so it is worth a brief diversion to learn about them. The old story that divers could get a leg or a fin trapped in a clam mouth and meet a sorry end unless rescued in time, is luckily  a myth. However often they react by closing as you swim over or approach them.

Clam 1

Clams will grow on almost anything but seem to prefer coral pinnacles with some constant water flow. Where you get one, you usually find more and apart from their mouths, they are well camouflaged with their surroundings. There are at least four in the above photograph.

Clam 2

Clams are filter feeders – this means they suck water in through one hole, filter it for nutrients and oxygen and then pump the water out through the other hole. Therefore they thrive most where there is a flow of water over their mouths.

Clam 3

You can the the two mouths (Valves – hence the name Bi-Valve for a clam)in the photograph below, one

Clam 5

near the middle and the other on the far right,


when they close their shells, they do so gracefully and relatively slowly. The mouth is about 1 cm deep.

This video shows a clam reacting to passing water flows

Dive Map Abu Galawa

This site offers a beautiful swim through a coral garden into a large amphitheatre, then over a coral wall and on the less spectacular western side, with the famous wreck of a yacht. Depth is never more than around 25m and currents are light so it is an easy mid morning dive.

Coral 1

After the garden comes a number of pinnacles, some rising to within a few

Coral 2

metres of the surface, others are much smaller but just as interesting.

Coral with bleaching

Some coral is showing signs of bleaching due to high water temperatures

Whole Wreck

This site is famous for the wreck of what must have been a fine sailing yacht (possibly the Endymion) – apparently it was American (or maybe Australian !) and sank in 1998 or 2002 depending on whom you believe. It was sailing around the world when it dragged onto the reef. Not much is left now

Wreck Bow 1

and it is slightly more barnacle encrusted than when I saw it last year.

Bow 4

Bow front on

Its inside is home to shoals of fish including these mirror fish

SHoal inside wreck 

The toilet remains however and many divers have had their picture taken on it – divers please note that marine flush rules apply!

Toilet 1 

The sea bed is dotted with rather large sand casts – I have no idea what

What made this

created them. The above is about 10 cms by 7 cms in size. If anyone knows, please tell me.

There were also a lot of grazing goat fish, they root around in the sand seeking anything they can eat.

This is a most beautiful dive, the coral garden is one of the best found anywhere in the Red Sea and the pinnacles are teaming with life. There is no better way to spend an hour underwater than to dive here.