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Each year, about 540 000 foreign divers travel to Egypt, to dive in the waters of the Red Sea. It was with this is in mind that I packed my dive bag, and caught the plane to Cairo, determined to go and see what all the fuss is about. I have previously had moments in my life that I was wondering how to describe the best dive experience of my life, and I am there yet again, because I am going to try and describe to you what was simply the best diving experience of my life up to date; by far.
I will start off by explaining what exactly a liveaboard is. For most new divers this is a new word, and it is also not a word that the spellchecker on your computer would be happy about. Simply put, a liveaboard is a boat that you live on, which is built in such a way that it provides you with the most comfortable dive experience that you will ever have in your life. Diving cannot be easier and more convenient than this. Everything gets done for you - I literally did not even have to take the fins off my own feet!
Now I have been on boats before, but this boat was different. My previous boating experiences were a bit like camping – I was normally ready to go home by the end of the day, longing for a warm shower and a clean bed. This boat blew all my previous perceptions out of the water – it was the epitome of a 5 star experience! We had comfortable air-conditioned cabins (important when you are dealing with the 40 degree Celsius temperatures of Egypt), on-suit bathrooms & showers, and the rest of the boat essentially consisted out of 4 stories of well planned diving facilities and relaxation areas. It was on this boat that I realized why millionaires buy luxury yachts – the experience of sailing around on tropical seas in comfort is simply unbeatable. There was an internet connection on board, but by the 2nd day I was already well on my way to a full digital detox – Facebook simply has no appeal when you can be lying in the sun on a luxury yacht!
In all of the 7 days on the liveaboard, I only kitted up my gear once, and I only washed it once. On the 1st day you put your gear together, and it stays together until you pack up to leave. When you are doing 4 dives a day, it becomes senseless to try and wash you gear in between dives.
We did 20 dives over a space of 6 days. I will not attempt to describe all these dives to you, but I have picked my top 3 to write about.
1.) Ras Mohammed
I have done in excess of 500 dives in my life, and this one, was without a doubt, the best, by far. It even beats my previous best, which was a chance encounter with a Southern Right Whale in Cape Town.
This dive started with a giant stride off the back off the boat. Now one normally does not say that you descent into heaven, but when I stepped into the water off that liveaboard on that day I descended into scuba heaven! After about a minute, I just turned onto my back, and gave over to the pure bliss that was overwhelming me. Around me, underneath me, and above me, was the most beautiful scenery that I have probably ever seen in my life. The water was as clear as crystal, and there were so many fish that at times it almost felt as if I had to push them aside with my hands to be able to swim forward.
This dive is next to a cliff that drops down to about 180 meters, so you have to be comfortable with your buoyancy. The visibility was spectacular - how do you measure the visibility when you sit at a depth of 30 meters and it looks like the surface is only 10 meters away? I couldn’t guess. 50 meters? 60? As far as the curve of the earth allows you to see?
There was fish everywhere. Thousands of them. All kinds of fish came to congregate on this spot – I saw Barracudas, a hammerhead, and lots and lots of fish that I have no idea what their names are. The wall next to us contained more colours than the average man’s vocabulary allows for!
This site is, without a doubt, one of the top diving spots in the world.
2.) The Thistlegorm
The wreck of the Thistlegorm brings in more money for Egypt through tourism than the pyramids does. This is no mean feat if you consider that the Pyramids are one of the 7 wonders of the world! If you like mystery and history, then this is the wreck for you.
The Thistlegorm was a British supply ship, and was sunk on the way to Egypt while carrying supplies for the troops. On the way there she was sunk by a German bomber, and today she lies on the bottom with all of her supplies.
The 1st thing that striked me about this wreck is just how easy it is to penetrate it. The holds have been blown open by the bomb and the subsequent explosion (the German bomb landed right on top of the ammunition hold), and there is plenty of entry and exit space. When you enter these holds, you are instantly transported back to another era… there are boots for soldiers, motorbikes with sidecars that are still neatly lined up inside, Bedford trucks, tanks, Bren Carriers, Lee Enfield rifles… all of these treasures await the diver who is patient enough to look around. There is also some ammunition left – I was surprised to see some 16-inch artillery shells, still intact – they are huge! On the back of one of the smaller shells one can still clearly see the manufacturing date – 1929.
On the outside, there are 2 locomotives, and the anti-aircraft gun still sits on the ship, pointing towards the sky still as it did on that fateful night she was sunk. It made me wonder… did that gun and her crew continue shooting as the ship was sinking into her grave, trying to get at that German bomber, or was it all over after the explosion? This dive really transports one back to a time gone by.
We also did a night dive on this wreck, and during this dive we discovered the bath in the Captains quarters.
This is one of the best wreck dives out there, and a must do for every diver.
3.) The Marcus
The Marcus is one of 4 wrecks lying against a reef, and I had no expectation beforehand about this specific wreck. The thing that really impressed me about this wreck is just how far you can penetrate it, and how easy it is to do so.
The Marcus is a fairly new wreck, and is still in good condition. It was transporting tiles when it hit the reef. The nice thing about diving wrecks in the Red Sea is that 2 stress factors have been removed from penetration: it is not cold, and the visibility is great. This meant that I went 3 stories down into this ship, swimming along the walk ways down to the bottom of the huge engine room, and that even though I was this far down I would have still been able to easily find my way out of the wreck without the help of my torch. What is also quite nice is just how intact the ship still is - there are still drills and various other tools that would have been used on the ship standing around inside the workshop.
Coming back from my trip to the Red Sea, I completely understand why so many divers flock to the Red Sea from all over. The water temperatures were hovering around 28 degrees Celsius, and even after a 70 minute dive I still wasn’t cold (and I get cold easily). Time flies when you enter these magical waters. It was also quite interesting to note the contrast between above and under water here – above water the land is dry and completely void of life, but under the water lies a paradise.
Diving in Egypt is also some of the best value for money dive trips that you will ever do. It is also quite convenient – there is a direct Johannesburg to Cairo flight, and the time zone is the same as in South Africa. This meant that the group left here in the evening, and by the next day at 3pm we were already settled in on the liveaboard and busy doing our 1st dive!
During all my time on the liveaboard, one thought stayed with me – I am doing this again next year! If you are thinking about joining us on this trip, we are already taking deposits for the 2013 trip. We will be doing this trip in the June/July school holiday. There is space for 20 divers on the liveaboard, of which 3 have already been taken in the 3 days that I’m back from this trip, so let me know if you would like to join me.
Contact us if you are interested in joining me on this trip next year!