Alone again (not really) – on the Grand Sea Serpent

Bubble reflections

I’d been missing dive action, after spending more time in city breaks than in the water recently.  So once again I headed off into the Red (blue?) Sea as a single traveller to sample the delights of live aboard action.  Even though I’m now no longer a single girl, I’m still a single diver – thankfully live aboard diving is still a great option.  This year, I decided to give the Southern Red Sea a try, in the hope of some shark action.

Easy diving

The check dive started us off.  A nice easy reef dive, on Abu Dabab, a reef system of around 12 or so small plateaus, connected by some rather nice coral gardens.  After a weight check, we dropped down and immediately saw the wreck of the Heaven One – a liveaboard that caught fire a few years ago and sank here.  Thankfully all the passengers were out diving at the time….but it does give me a stark reminder that almost anything can happen out here.

After a calm drift, and a few pleasant things to see, including a moray hiding under some coral, we surfaced.  All good so far – good buddy, good (new) BCD, a little overweighted, but nothing that I won’t rectify for the next dive.  A minor SMB-related issue, when my regulator got caught in it and threatened to pull me to the surface, but I managed to get it free.  I’ll practice again next dive.

After some food and a snooze (the liveaboard staples) we set out for Elphinstone, a reef I’ve heard good things about.  It’s a long thing, needle-like reef with sharp drop-offs all around.  I do love a good wall dive.  As the second group in the water today, we get kitted up after the others, and head out on the boat with our guide Hamy.  (I always dive with guides where offered – I find they know where all the good stuff is)

As we hit the water and get to around 10 metres down or so, I noticed Hamy having some problems with his Octopus (spare regulator, in non-diving terms).  He signals something to me, but I can’t see as he’s above me and the sun is right behind him.  He says something like “you four stay together” and then disappears up to the surface.  I see him put his SMB up, so I signal to the others to stay close to the reef, and we’ll head on.  It’s a straight line, there’s no way we can get lost.

We continue the dive, keeping the reef wall to our left.  I’ll say it again, I love wall dives; hanging in the blue, looking below me at almost nothing.  I imagine it’s the closest I’ll get to base jumping without actually chucking myself off a cliff. It’s very easy to imagine these huge cliffs as mountains before the sea water rose…  Beautiful.

Nice wall…..

Nice wall

Clownfish

Little and Large

Purples

Stunning colours

We spend almost an hour swimming along the cliffside, until we pass by the boat and see the end of the reef.  Not wanting to go around the point, in case there’s a current (I don’t want to get pulled out to sea in one to the world’s busiest shipping lanes), we put up our SMBs (successfully this time) and head back up the ladders.

No sharks, but there’s time yet.

Only two dives today, as we immediately head off towards Daedalus – an 8 hour trip.  There are bound to be sharks there.

Hammertime

An early start on the second day- 6am.  While you can choose not to dive and keep sleeping if you want, the First Law of Sod states that the dive that is slept through is the dive with Whale Sharks and schooling Hammerheads. So I’m up and munching cookies and listening to the dive briefing before the crust is out of my eyes.  Daedalus is famous for sharks.  Lots of them.  People on the boat who have been here before talk about schools of them last year.  But that was July.  This is April.  And Nature does what she likes when she likes. I cross my fingers, kit up and get in the boat.

Liz, my buddy, realises just as we pull away she’s not got her computer on.  Thankfully, not too far that we can’t go back, but it’s an unsettling start.  it’s also not set to Nitrox, and we’re diving on 32%.  As it’s set to air, it’s not the end of the world, as that will underestimate how much time she has left rather and therefore be ultra-conservative, but we agree to be extra careful, and stay above 30 metres.

As we hit 25-odd, we see two sharks skittling off.  Reef sharks, perhaps?  Is it a good omen?

Actually, no.  While the reef itself is beautiful, another lovely wall with lots of soft and hard coral, we don’t see any more sharks, until right at the very end of the dive, when I’m on my safety stop – a hammerhead (apparently) in the distance, at about 25 metres.  It dashes away quickly, and I only see its massive tail.  We did see a small green turtle, which was cute, and munching on coral in the swell.

The second dive of the day however, is much more promising.  And when I say promising, I mean, I forgot my camera.  The Second Law of Sod states that the dive on which you forget your camera, is also the dive on which you will see those Whale Sharks and schooling Hammerheads.  So when we did drop in, and hung around 30m looking eagerly out into the blue, it was no surprise when Hamy pointed frantically at a sleek whote shape about 20m in front of us.

And then they arrived.  13 beautiful sharks, their scalloped heads so easily visible.  They circled us at a distance at first, assessing.  Then they came in closer, circling in a pack again, coming underneath us, maybe only 7 or 10 meters below us.  They must have circled 4 or 5 times, so sleek and powerful, close enough to see their eyes.

Thanks to Justine for the photo!

Thanks to Justine for the photo! I’ll remember my camera next time.

It’s so easy, when you’re held in awe of something wonderful, to forget all your training, and take your eye off the ball.  I heard another 3 computers beeping, before mine did the same; signalling we were dropping below the safe depth for our nitrox mix.  A quick look for my buddy and a squeeze of air in the BCD and I came up a few metres to a safer depth, but the hammerheads had started to move away at this point.  I watched them slink off into the murks, having ascertained we were probably a bit dull for them.

I decide to break open a bottle of wine to celebrate.  And on my buddy’s 200th dive too.

Celebrating....jpg

Celebration time.

On to the Reefs

The reefs are stunning down here in the Southern Red Sea.  I’ve dived plenty across the world and seen some lovely reefs, but the quality and diversity down here is something else.  Beautiful pristine reefs, purples, blues, yellows.  Soft and hard coral, teeming with life.  Rocky is interesting, Zagarbad is stunning. full of giant blue clams, and vivid purple and blue corals; possibly the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  The night dive on Umm Aruk is breathtaking too – two huge pinnacles looming from 20m to the surface, surrounded with night life.  Two big morays come out of hiding to look for prey; a spanish dancer lurks at the foot of a pinnacle, munching on something interesting.  The shadows make the pinnacles look even bigger, and I love covering my torch and submersing myself into darkness, watching the other torches light up the eerie landscape, or peek form behind a rock.  I always feel as if I’m on an alien planet on a night dive.

Umm Aruk

The Pillars of Umm Aruk. Sounds like something from Lord of the Rings.

Gota Soraya is next, with a gorgeous cave and streaming sunlight, which makes for nice photos, and then on to St Johns Caves, which goes one better – a lovely swim through cave system, showcased by the mid morning sunlight shining through holes in the top, making for a lovely eerie atmosphere.  And a bit of silt – you need good buoyancy control for this dive.

Sunlight

Sunlight at St Johns Caves

Alas Dolphin Reef didn’t live up to its name (pretty, however) but Abu Galawa is a nice reef dive, with a nice little wreck at the end.  With my trust wide angle lens in hand I spend a short while trying to get a nice photo, waiting for the right moment for my buddy to come into shot….before glancing down at my computer and having the jolt of terror as I realise I’m at 20 bar.  Oops.  How did that happen?  Schoolboy error.  I’m an experienced diver… but it is a stark reminder to me that you simply can’t take anything for granted down here.  Signalling to my guide, I sheepishly allow him to swim me back to the boat as we share his air.  I feel suitably embarrassed.

Wreck

Make sure you check your air while you’re admiring the scenery…

Finishing up with a couple of more reefs, hassled by a rather flirty Ramora, we ended the week on Marsa el Shouna – a pretty boring sandy dive, with a bit of life, but always the possibility of bumping into the famous Dugong.  Alas, she wasn’t in (probably dodging the thousands of snorkelers, I don’t blame her)  but I still made sure I enjoyed every last minute of the dive – my 200th!

200!

200!

Once again, single liveabording has been a fantastic experience; I met some lovely people as I always seem to do.  Although I’m not going to stay single for long, I’ve no doubt I’m likely to return to a liveaboard near you soon* (well, if you live near the sea, that is)

*Note: I’ve just booked my next one!  Watch this space!

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