LiveAboard: North Red Sea Reefs and Wrecks

I’ve been LiveAboard-ing based out of Hurghada, Egypt on Blue Horizon for the last week and it’s been phenomenal! I got scuba certified for a university course to South Africa in April, but was really interested when my dive instructor told me about LiveAboard, where you live abroad (duh) a boat while it takes you to a multitude of dive sites in a variety of locations. I wanted to get a few dives under my belt before South Africa (where I want to have no diving worries while I do research) and I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt (you can read about my day in Cairo here). With that, I bit the expensive bullet that is LiveAboard fees and set off!

I will talk about dive conditions, life on the boat and dive highlights before I go into a dive-by-dive description.

There were about twenty passengers, almost exclusively British or otherwise coming from England. I was the youngest by nearly ten years, with most of the passengers coming in couples or families. About eight people came alone, mostly men. The demographics where predominately 35-55 years old with a few individuals on each side.

I was roomed with a Brazilian woman working in Hull called Pri(scila), and since we both had about the same experience (virtually none), we were dive buddies. We had a cabin with two twin beds and an en-suite bathroom. Since we were closer to the front of the boat, our room was a bit smaller, but I didn’t mind. In addition to a dozen cabins, the boat has a dining room, lounge, scuba gear area, sun deck and top deck. You can better see the layout here.

We were treated really well by the crew. They made our food, cleared our plates, helped us with our scuba gear (put our fins on for us, zipped up out wetsuits, cared for our gear), offered us a warm drink after every dive, cleaned our rooms, gave us a wake-up call with tea or coffee and so much more! They were so accommodating.

Our primary dive guide was Tifa, who would lead all the dive briefings, gave dive lessons and guided some dives. Another guide dive was Ramadan, who would lead most of the dives.

Daily boat life was as follows:

  • 6:00: Wake-up call
  • 6:30: Briefing for the early morning dive
  • 8:15: Breakfast and free time
  • 10:30: Briefing for the morning dive
  • 12:30: Lunch and free time
  • 14:30: Briefing for the afternoon dive
  • 18:00: Briefing for the night dive
  • 19:30: Dinner and free time
  • 21:30: Lights out (for me)

Between dives, I enjoyed reading, napping, logging my dives, writing about my trip and talking to other passengers.

All dive conditions unless otherwise stated had a water temperature of about 25°C (77°F) with 20-25 meters (66-82 feet) of visibility and calm conditions. The dives had a maximum dive time of one hour or when you get to 50 bar of air. The weather this week was mostly cloudy with a few hours of sunny spells, but still quite warm at 20-25°C (68-77°F). It goes unsaid that the water was beautiful and the reefs and marine life were stunning at every site, I just commented on anything especially spectacular I noticed in the summaries below.

Here are highlights of the dives:

  • Total number of dives: 16
  • Average depth: 21 meters
  • Maximum depth: 33.5 meters
  • Average duration per dive: 51 minutes
  • Total duration: 11 hours, 50 minutes
  • Critters seen: lion fish, eels up to two meters, large shoals of various fish including barracudas, hawksbill sea turtle, bluespotted rays, Napoleon wrasse, bottlenose dolphins, Homo sapien
  • Favorite dives and why: One of my favourite dives was the Shark and Yolanda dive: an admirable wall of coral, interesting wreck and spotted my one and only sea turtle. Another amazing dive wasn’t a dive at all: after spotting dolphins from the boat, several of us quickly suited up and grabbed a snorkel to chase after them. They were nothing short of magnificent. Finally, I really enjoyed penetrating the Thistlegorm wreck. There is so much to look at in the massive vessel.
  • Least favourite dive and why: Dunraven, the dive that never was. We didn’t get dropped off at the correct location.
  • Other highlights: riding in a zodiac, swimming with dolphins, meeting new people and making (hopefully) long-lasting friendships, being waited on hand and foot, getting an Advanced Open Water Diving certification, relaxing down time, diving all sorts of different wrecks, a “free” afternoon at the Marriott.

I have limited Internet, so I will upload pictures when I’m home tomorrow.

Also check out the photos and video of swimming with dolphins from my trip in separate posts.

And now, the play-by-play…

Friday, 22 December: I relaxed and caught up with blogging during the day before my transfer arrived at my hotel to take me and three other early comers to the boat. Then, we got a brief orientation with the boat and our cabins and tried on our gear while we waited for the other passengers to arrive.

Once the other passengers got a chance to set up their gear, Pri and another passenger called Greg didn’t have a torch, so a dive guide called Ramadan drove us into town to buy one. That night, the boat stayed docked and we departed early the next morning.

Saturday, 23 December: After breakfast, we had a dive briefing regarding safety produces expected of us on this particular vessel. We were also told about opportunities on the trip, including further dive certification. It was strongly recommended to me and Pri to take the Advanced Open Water certification so we can enjoy night dives, wreck dives and dive deeper, so we participated. Our days were spent reading up on the relevant lessons and doing on-land drills before our exercise dives.

First dive: El Fanos

  • Maximum depth: 14 meters
  • Duration: 55 minutes
  • Comments: On this dive, Pri and I practiced our peak performance buoyancy with Tifa for half of the duration and spent the other half of the dive exploring. On the reef, we encountered a lionfish, which we admired from a safe distance. In the same area, I took out my regulator per suggestion of Tifa and opened my mouth for service from a cleaner wrasse. The small fish came right up to my fish and apparently cleaned my lips, but I didn’t feel anything. I did, however, feel something when he cleaned my ears, a small little thump and he made his worked his magic!

Second dive: Chrisoula K, Abu Nuhas

  • Maximum depth: 25 meters
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Background: The Chrisoula K is one of four wrecks in the Abu Nuhas area. It is 100 meters long and 15 meters wide and sunk in 1978 in bad weather conditions. Since then, it lies on the sea bed on a slope between 4 and 28 meters and hosts a variety of sea life.
  • Summary: Although we didn’t get to practice any skills, Pri and I followed Ramadan on this dive, allowing him to show us the highlights of the vessel, monitor our skills and guide us back to the boat. My favorite part of this dive was going into the wreck and seeing the host of marine life that has already flourishing in a short amount of time since the vessel sank.

Today, I skipped night dive.

Sunday, 24 December

Third dive: Carnatic, Abu Nuhas

  • Maximum depth: 25.5 meters
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Background: The Carnatic is another wreck in the Abu Nuhas area. Slightly smaller than the Chrisoula K, this vessel sank in 1869 and has since been a vital host of soft corals.
  • Summary: Although Pri and I missed out on the night dive here, we were eager to see another wreck in the day. The water was a little choppy, but we got in with ease and followed the line down to the wreck. This wreck had a lot more coral and life than the previous wreck, but less area to penetrate the wreck. My favourite site was hundreds of tiny fish in schools that dart about when I shine my flashlight at them and let you get really close to swim through them. Once we made our safety stop, I had a fun time being swayed by the water and watching the waves while hanging on to the line. Getting out was another story… It was hard to get the ladder when it goes from completely submerged to well above the water line in a few seconds. With help from the crew taking off my fins, once I got my foot secured on the first rung, the rest was easy.

Fourth dive: Emperor Fraser, Shaab Mahmoud

  • Maximum depth: 31 meters
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Background: This boat sank in 2009 after hitting a reef while the divers were underwater. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and important possessions were recovered. Surrounding the wreck is a reef garden filled with life.
  • Summary: Since the depths of this dive were up to 30 meters, Tifa said this could be included in our advanced certification training. Although the wreck was impenetrable and had relatively little life compared to the other wrecks, we did spot quite a large group of fish idling in the ruin and about five lion fish. On the reef, in addition to exceptionally colorful and large schools of fish, we saw a large Napoleon wrasse and a few eels.

Fifth dive: Alternatives

  • Maximum depth: 16 meters
  • Duration: 50 minutes
  • Summary: We swam around this table reef and saw two bluespotted ribbontail rays, lion fish (from now on, I will not mention lionfish as I notice they quite common), a large Napoleon wrasse and a small shoal of barracudas.

Sixth dive: Alternatives

  • Maximum depth: 12 meters
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Summary: My first night dive! Pri wasn’t feeling up to it, so I was paired with a man called Ali. I was a bit nervous at first, but the visibility of the water, the lights from other divers and the familiar of the site by diving it during the day put my mind at ease. Early in the dive, I spotted the nocturnal Spanish dancer. Additionally, we got to see all sorts of corals that come out only at night (particularly feather-like corals) that wither in our flashlight beam and the stillness of the reef after hours. During our safety stop at five meters, we spotted a massive free swimming moray eel (from now on, I will only mention exceptionally sized eels as I notice they’re quite common) near the bottom 10 some meters below us. I saw it kick up some sand (so to speak) and I think it must have been hunting. Then, it met up with another rather large eel and swam off into the dark. The night dive wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Between being mindful of my breathing and buoyancy, there isn’t much time to think about what out there, or else my mind would go to the worse possible place and think that there is a Megalodon waiting at the edge of the shadows until I turn my back.

Monday, 25 December

Seventh dive: Jackfish Alley, Ras Mohamed National Park

  • Maximum depth: 20 meters
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Summary: This was my first drift dive. Since the boat can’t anchor close to the reef, it drove slowly towards the edge of the reef and we had to promptly jump into the water, swim towards the reef and descend. Pri didn’t sleep well, so she decided to rest for the morning, so I was buddied with Jon. The exit was swift and smooth and once we descended, a world of color and life opened up to contrast the dry, thirsty land above (“If death could die, it would look like this” – Mike on Egypt). There was a large wall of coral complemented by smaller mounds a bit further from the base of the wall up to 20 meters below. We got to dive through a small cave before exploring the diversity of life on the reef. The highlight of the dive was seeing a barracuda have its teeth cleaned by a cleaner wrasse, nature is amazing! Once our dive was over, we deployed our SMB in a small group and the zodiac came by and cast us a line to drag us about halfway to the boat before the boat came to us. It was quite intimidating to see the massive vessel head-on from the water!

Eighth dive: Shark and Yolanda reefs, Ras Mohamed National Park

  • Maximum depth: 33.5 meters
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Background: This site was named after the Yolanda boat the crashed into the reef in 1980. Although the majority of the wreck has sunk to the depths, parts of the wreck still lie in the reef. This has been critically acclaimed as one of the top ten dive sites in the world as its where two gulfs meet and is especially rich with life during mating season (July to October).
  • Summary: This was another drift dive entrance, where the captain steers close to the reef and divers jump off. For this dive, I was back with Pri and a guide. Again, the seemingly never-ending wall of reef and life was incredible. We saw a few exceptional shoals of fish and a bluespotted ray on our way to the wreck. The wreck itself was interesting, with only the “bones” and a disturbing amount of toilets left behind. Just away from the wreck, all the divers admired a hawksbill sea turtle as it descended from the surface to the sea bed to eat. We watched it for a bit too long as Pri was running low on air and had to use a few breaths of the guide’s tank. Then, I had my first zodiac ride: we mounted the zodiac and made way for a few other passengers before speeding back to the boat.

Ninth dive: Small Crack, Shaab Mahmoud

  • Maximum depth: 20 meters
  • Duration: 55 minutes
  • Summary: On this dive, Pri and I did the underwater navigation skill for our diving certification. However, we didn’t want to miss out on the sites of the small underwater canyon, so our guide agreed to compromise and take us through part of the dive site before our exercises. The “small crack” was largely uneventful, but it was really peaceful to be in 5 meters of sand and open water, where you can see the peaceful sand and turning waves in one panoramic view. There, we did our exercises: natural landmark navigation, navigating in a straight line and navigating in a square. It took Pri a little while to get the last drill, but there was plenty to look at while I waited. After our drills, we have a little bit of time to swim around a small nearby reef, where we saw a massive moray eel quite close, probably as thick as a basketball. We identified one of the boat lines and surfaced to see where the ladder was, but before we could make a move, a zodiac picked us up and dragged us to the boat. It was so fun, I laughed and salt water went into my mouth!

Tonight, I skipped the night dive before having a large, festive Christmas dinner. You can read about celebrating with fellow passengers here.

 Tuesday, 26 December

Tenth dive: Dunraven, ShaabMahmoud

  • Maximum depth: 20 meters
  • Duration: 20 minutes
  • Background: This 80 meter long wreck is quite old, dating back to the 1870s, and lies upside down surrounded by a lovely reef.
  • Summary: I made a group of three with my previous buddies Jon and Ali when Pri decided to skip the morning dive. According to the briefing, the zodiac was meant to drop us really close to the wreck, but even once we entered the water in 20 meter visibility, we couldn’t see the wreck. The divers from our zodiac looked around, but once the person who used to lead this itinerary, Gareth, gave up, I took that as a bad sign. Once the zodiac picked us up again, several of the divers were quite upset, but I wasn’t too bothered. It’s too bad this dive was a bust, but it sounds like we didn’t miss too much anyway.

Eleventh dive: Thistlegorm

  • Maximum depth: 25.5 meters
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Background: As I mentioned, there’s a man called Gareth on this trip that used to lead this itinerary and has returned recreationally quite often since. With that, he was the one who led the briefing, which was different! This 125 meter cargo vessel was bombed and sunk by the Germans in 1941. Gareth mentioned that in all the times (300+) he’s dived this site, this was the only time there has only been one boat and that we’re very lucky to get one of the top wreck sites in the world all to ourselves.
  • Summary: On this dive, we didn’t penetrate the wreck but rather got oriented with the exterior with a guide and another diver, Jason. The boat was massive, I’m glad we get several dives here because it will take a while to see the whole thing! Although we didn’t penetrate the cargo, we went into the bridge and a small portion of the bow.

Twelfth dive: Thistlegorm

  • Maximum depth: 25.5 meters
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Summary: On this dive, we got to penetrate the wreck and do another Advanced Open Water skill: wreck diving with Tifa. Although we’ve done several wrecks before this one, this was our proper wreck dive where we practiced leaving a trail with a rope and following it back through the wreck. I was really impressed with how much is in the wreck: so many cars, motorbikes and train cars all recognizable even from so long ago. Another highlight was a school of batfish that let me swim up right next to them; each individual was about the size of my head!

Thirteenth dive: Thistlegorm

  • Maximum depth: 20 meters
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Summary: This was the final skill I need for the Advanced Open Water certification: night dive. I thought it would be fun to see this wreck at night as I can’t get enough of it and be done with my certification. Pri and I have both done a night dive prior to this proper dive. We were led by Ramadan into the black around the wreck. We didn’t penetrate it, which I was hoping for, but it’s not safe at night, especially for someone like me with such little experience. We enjoyed our time underwater and came up newly certified!

Wednesday, 27 December: Today, I skipped the morning dive on the Thistlegorm. Although I would have liked to penetrate the wreck a bit more, I was exhausted from yesterday’s full day of diving.

After breakfast, we were heading to our next dive site when we spotted a pod of dolphins from the boat. About ten people, myself included, grabbed snorkels and cameras hoping to join the dolphins if they got close to the boat. After a few minutes of watching from the boat, they were nowhere to be seen, so we boarded the zodiac to chase after them. Once we spotted the pod, we jumped into the water and 15 meters below us, about thirty dolphins! We followed them as they moved in a group and occasionally came close to the surface to breathe, investigate us or play in the wake of the zodiac (one dolphin even raced it!). Individual dolphins came close to us, just out of arm’s reach, it was magical. We boarded the zodiac again to follow the pod once they moved out of swimming distance to experience them a bit more. It was such an incredible experience and without a doubt one of the most amazing parts of this trip.

Fourteenth dive: The Kingston, Shag Rock

  • Maximum depth: 20 meters
  • Duration: 30 minutes
  • Summary: I was really tired from chasing dolphins, but Tifa encouraged me to do this dive. Pri went with another buddy while Tifa guided me on a shorter dive. The wreck was covered in soft corals, making it barely recognizable, it was so gorgeous.

Fifteenth dive: Ghiannis “D”

  • Maximum depth: 22 meters
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Background: In 1983, this 87 meter cargo vessel sunk and contains one of the most impressive engine rooms in the Red Sea.
  • Summary: Pri and I were guided by Ramadan around the vessel and into the engine room, which was truly impressive, but a tight squeeze. The vessel lies at a 45° angle, so penetration was a bit difficult, I’m glad we had Ramadan with us! Also, we saw a large shoal, the largest one yet, of small fish scatter as bigger fish tried to feed on them.

Today, I skipped the night dive, as Tifa emphasized that “this dive is not ‘wow,’ it’s just a dive.”

Thursday, 28 December

Sixteenth dive: Dolphin Reef, Shaab El Erg

  • Maximum depth: 20 meters
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Summary: At the briefing, we were told that there was a possibility of seeing dolphins at this site, but they never came. However, Pri and I enjoyed our last dive together without a guide for the first time and it went really well. The shallow dive and ease of navigation (simply through a small canyon and back) made it easy to find our way back to the boat.

After the morning dive, the boat headed towards the harbour to refuel before the final dive of the week. At the harbour, I enjoyed the views and sunshine while reading and relaxing. Also during the refuelling, we finalized our log books, made arrangements for the airport transfer and paid for our expenses throughout the week.

I skipped the final dive as I wanted to end my journey on a nice, round number.

That evening, we docked in the late afternoon and I went with a group of around eight to dinner and drinks in town.

Friday, 29 December: We checked out of the boat and said our goodbyes at 10AM. We were allowed to use the nearby Marriott facilities until our flight time, which for me will be until late tonight. I had an especially nice time lying in the sun and swapping last-minute laughs with Jon.

I had an amazing time on this trip and can’t believe it went by so quickly. It was also strange to receive a certain level of luxury, which my wallet certainly felt. I won’t be doing anything especially fun for a while now!

Photo by Jonathan Smith.

Follow:

Leave a Reply