Just over seven weeks since my last diving trip to Egypt, the crack of dawn finds me at Gatwick heading down to the Red Sea again to dive around a group of islands called The Brothers.
Scuba Travel describe The Brothers thus:
The Brothers, or Al Akhawian as they are known in Arabic, are two islands standing virtually dead centre of the Egyptian Red Sea. They lie almost directly east of El Quesir and mark the first of the Southern Red Sea destinations. Surrounded entirely by blue seas, it is the lighthouse that first comes into view. Built by the British in the 19th century, this lighthouse is the only indication that man has made it thus far. And then the Brothers loom out of nowhere. These two sea mounts have risen out of the water, driven by volcanic action deep below, and are home to some of the best wall diving you will find in the Red Sea. To spend a week here is to throw yourself into a world of fast drifts, big fish and spine tingling drop offs.
The Brothers itinerary is the Wrecks and Reefs of the Southern Red Sea. Big Brothers is where the Aida and Numidia met their ends. The Aida sank towards the north west tip of Big Brother, overwhelmed by the waves whilst attempting to deliver goods to the lighthouse. Ripped in 2 she fell to 30m. Hanging over the precipice edge of the northern tip, the Numidia smashed into Big Brother in 1901. Her upper bow has disappeared into the reef but from mid ships down, the structure vanishes into the dark blue depths. Sat on a ledge around 90m, the Numidia is a spectacular wreck dive at any hour of the day. Little Brother island sits just below Big and is home to pristine reef, adorned with giant gorgonian sea fans. Shifting currents move down the Red Sea and carry vast amounts of nutrients to the islands and with it an astonishing marine life. The vertical walls are packed with large grouper, scorpion fish, resident napoleon and octopus. Swathes of anthias, snapper, barracuda and tuna school in the blue and patrolling grey reef sharks can be found wherever the currents meet. Spring sees hammerheads and silkies close in on the walls whereas the summer brings oceanic white tips. A healthy population of thresher sharks are spotted over winter months, just adding to the shark tally. With turtles on Big and manta on Little, the Brothers is an oasis in the midst of so much sea.
The Brothers itinerary is suited to advanced divers and although there are no longer any minimum dives required, we do recommend divers have around 50 dives. The reef walls are steep, making it a brilliant technical destination. Night diving is prohibited meaning you get to enjoy the sun set behind the mainland mountains, visible over an uninterrupted horizon. Currents can get fast and an SMB is needed at all times. Remote, wild and sometimes challenging, the Brothers itinerary stands out for it's excellence. The wrecks are alluring and worth repeating over the week. The reefs are plush and thronging with fish life. Large pelagics are routinely seen, which means dives are never boring. Up close and personal, the Brothers itinerary and Southern Red Sea take diving to the next level.
The planned itinerary is very simple: drive to Gatwick, fly to Hurghada, drive to the port, set sail, do a check dive, continue sailing to the Brothers which are about 150 km south east of Hurghada, dive everywhere around the islands and on the wrecks around them, sail back, final dive, spend a boring day in the Mariott hotel, then fly back to Gatwick.
The liveaboard is to be “The Sea Serpent” which is a smaller version of The Grand Sea Serpent from which I recently dived. It carries 20 divers and its dive deck layout is better
to my mind for divers. I have dived from it before and therefore know what I am in for. Most of the liveaboards in the Red Sea are very similar in design and construction because they all serve the same purpose.
The weather and the sea temperature will have cooled a bit from September and therefore it may be necessary to wear my wet suit. Never-the-less, it will be much warmer than the UK. The sea is expected to be rougher than St John's because we are further north and also in the middle of the Red Sea and this roughness can sometimes affect the itinerary.
The flight was on a packed and cramped Thompson 737 which headed south east following a similar track to last time (Marsa Alam) but going to Hurghada which has a much larger airport (apparently the 6th busiest airport in Africa with approximately
six million passengers per year as compared to one tenth of this at Marsa). Like Marsa, its passenger numbers have dropped by 30% in the past year due to the political situation and the recession.
Travel to Egypt is not encouraged by the latest briefing / warning (November 2nd 2012) on the Foreign Office website which said
“There is a high threat from terrorism throughout Egypt. Although security is tight throughout the country, especially in resort areas, there remains a high risk of attacks, which could be indiscriminate, including in public places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers such as hotels and restaurants”
and hence it is understandable that tourist numbers are dropping fast. My roommate on board received a very anxious phone call from his wife (who had seen the revised warning) asking if it was really safe for him to be there. We, however, saw no signs of trouble and were welcomed enthusiastically (of course we were in the green part of the above map).
The flight was straight forward and the airport was more chaotic than expected with very long queues to get our visas stamped. We were coached from the airport and quickly arrived at our boat which was moored in the main marina area of town. It turned out there were only 16 on this trip (the boat can take 20) and once all had arrived, we received the standard boat safety briefing and then supper.
The marina was quite impressive – busy (over
60 boats, some of which looked very expensive) and with lots of people, both Egyptian and tourists, obviously on a relaxed holiday. It was noticeable that the port was well maintained and very clean.
the main mosque with the town to the right
The layout and prosperity of the area was perhaps that which Port Ghalib down at
restaurants and bars line the ground floor of the buildings at the back of the marina
Marsa Alam aspires to copy but it is a long way away from achieving it.
And so some 13 hours after I closed my home front door, I opened the door of cabin 3 on the Sea Serpent, ready for another week’s diving.