A Club holiday to Sharm El Sheikh had been suggested and a suitable victim was selected to organise it for a group of 18 plus a 2 year old! (She was easily recognisable as the mature one of the group!) And so began the long saga of emails, phone-calls, meetings and a flurry of questions and texts regarding accommodation, baggage allowances, diving packages and costs. We had been horrified when we saw our hotel featured on “Holidays Undercover” 4 months before departure but had been reassured that work would be completed by the time of our arrival. Now, all modern stories contain a dream sequence and this was no exception. A nightmare two weeks prior to the trip saw the group standing at the Marina at Sharm El Sheikh, being told that no boat was available, no diving had been booked and the Hotel was unfinished! Two of the group, who were builders, then rolled their sleeves up and began the task of finishing the Hotel for us! Thankfully, though, this was just a bad dream and so back to reality… Having had to get up around 5am to catch our flight from Glasgow, the news that we were to be picked up by the TGI Diving minibus at 8am the following morning was met with little groans of dismay! However, keen to get started on our diving, we stumbled from our beds, some more readily than others and set off for the Marina.
It was very windy and the sea choppy when we set off for the long sail to Gordon Reef in the Straits of Tiran, hoping to find some calm water for our first dive. We laid claim to our own little area of the boat and while the boat rocked, bounced and bobbed around, we staggered around, grabbing available cylinders and began assembling our kit. One or two faces were a bit green on the journey but Alima, our resident toddler, was in her element, squealing with laughter and lapping up every minute of her exciting new environment.
If you have never dived the Red Sea, perhaps the best way to describe it is that it’s like imagining yourself in miniature, diving inside a tropical fish tank. There are various types and colours of corals and little clouds of very brightly coloured fish everywhere. Kitted up, we jumped off the back of the boat and into the water. It was 24 degrees and about 30m vis and we dropped down to around 27 metres. It was a nice, scenic, warm-up dive with the usual plethora of colourful sea life of all shapes and sizes, including a Blue Spotted Ray, Lion fish and Clown fish, to name but a few. We had seen a Dolphin’s fin cutting through the water from the boat but sadly it didn’t put in an appearance on this dive anyway. Dive 2 was at Far Garden and was even more interesting than the first and we saw Groupers, Lion Fish, Parrot Fish, Potato Cod, Puffer Fish, Napoleon fish and intricate Fan Coral, which is best described as looking like giant Pretzels! We elected to do three dives the following day at sites called Jackfish Alley, Ras Ghoslani and Temple. We had an excellent dive at Jackfish Alley and this was one of my favourite dives. This time we saw Moray Eel, Potato Cod, Trumpet Fish, Spotted Ray, baby Spotted Ray, Tuna, Grouper, Puffer Fish, Lion Fish and Parrot Fish. I particularly enjoyed this dive as I inherited a pet Banner Fish. To the untrained eye (myself), this fish looks like a giant, friendly Angelfish. It buddied up with me and followed me for the majority of the dive, just out of arm’s reach. Every time I thought it had got bored and gone away, one of the group would point it out to me, still very close by, whether behind or up above me. It seemed very tame and well used to seeing divers and the fact that it had a “Nooky Bear” type smile on its face endeared it to me. I felt a bit like I was taking my dog for a walk!
The following day was one I had been looking forward to for months; returning to dive the wreck of the “SS Thistlegorm”, which I had dived 2 years previously. The Thistlegorm was a supply ship during WW2, which was bombed and sunk in May 1941 at Sha’ab Ali and still contains its cargo of motorbikes, Bedford trucks, Bren-gun carriers, tanks, Lee Enfield MK III rifles and 2 locomotives to this day. I could still remember clearly the excited little squeals I had made on entering the first hold, containing the normally unlikely combination of neat rows of motorbikes and fish, muffled by the fact that I was 26m under the water and had a D/V stuck in my mouth! Thankfully, by now, the weather had settled and the sea was calmer. The group had elected to pay extra for a larger, fast boat for the long sail out to the Thistlegorm. We had agreed that this was well worthwhile, as it meant we could set off from the hotel at 6.45am, instead of 3am! Again, the dives were fabulous and I wasn’t disappointed. On the first dive, we passed over the twisted metal and gaping hole of the main bombsite and finned around largely the exterior of the ship, along the “mirror” walkways and past the propeller. There were clouds of colourful fish everywhere. On dive two, we dropped down through a hold, past a large Moray Eel, which seemed to be acting as Sentry and made our way carefully past a Lion Fish which was lurking in the darkness. We penetrated much further into the wreck and through more holds than previously. We saw a gun, anti-aircraft gun, boxes of shells, one of which had been cleaned up and was clearly marked “1929”, tanks, piles of tyres, trucks, a cart, railway carriages, rifles, a generator, batteries and piles of giant black Wellington boots. Swimming in & around all of this were my favourite gentle giants, the friendly Napoleon Wrasse and also caught in the torchlight were Lionfish, Ghost Pipefish, Tuna and Bannerfish, amongst others. I was amused to see a colourful little fish resting on the seat of one of the motorbikes. For him, this was probably home and an everyday occurrence but to me, it looked hilarious. The dives were excellent but the downside was that we spent nearly as long dangling on the shot-line doing our deco stop as we had done on the actual dive! 24 minutes on the shot line – the Dive Guide thought this might be a record!
The next day, some of the group had elected to take a bus trip to see Cairo, the Pyramids and Museums, leaving around 1 o’clock in the morning. This was to be a gruelling 7-hour bus trip overnight but seeing the magnificent Pyramids had made the journey well worthwhile, they said. Meanwhile, the rest of the group was heading off towards our first dive of the day, which was to be on the wreck of the “Dunraven”. I’m not big on wreck diving in general, unless the wrecks are outstanding but again, this was a great dive and combined the benefits of both scenic and wreck diving. There was a Puffer Fish resting on a gun towards the start of the dive and probably around half a dozen massive, green Napoleon Fish patrolling around and above the wreck. These gentle giants have powerful jaws and can weigh up to 200 kilos. Their odd-shaped foreheads reminded us of a quiff and they became known as “Elvis” fish for the remainder of the trip! We spotted a large Crocodile Fish, resting on the sandy bottom and a massive, multicoloured Trigger Fish hiding under a beam which had been scattered and lay just to the side of the main wreckage.
Our last day was another 3-dive day. Some of the group, who had not been qualified divers, were able to join us on the boat this time, having completed short courses during the holiday and undertook a couple of shallower dives. We did a site called the Tower, where we dropped down a chimney to 32 metres. This was another good dive, containing all the usual colourful and plentiful Red Sea life that we had by now begun to take for granted. Our second scenic dive of the day was Ras Um Sid, which was a nice drift dive, where we saw a large shoal of Barracuda, ParrotFish, Crocodile Fish and Lionfish. While we were anchored for lunch, part of the group entertained us by diving from the boat, duck diving, snorkelling and swimming. Dive 3 was to be the deepest dive of the trip. This was something a bit different and was basically on a massive, stacked up pile of old Israeli Trucks and Bren Gun Carriers that had been dumped there after the Six Day War. These started at around 9 metres and continued on down past 40 metres. This rather surreal stack was also teeming with life, such as Moray Eel, Nudibranch, Crocodile Fish, Trumpet Fish, Puffer Fish and a Clown Fish, which was guarding it’s rather odd looking baby, which was almost transparent!
Having had a brilliant but totally exhausting week of early starts, 2 or 3 dives per day and the compulsory consumption of “a few” refreshments at the hotel bar each evening, we were looking forward to a long lie in on the Sunday and some lazing by the pool. Quad biking in the desert had been organised for that afternoon and almost the whole group went along for that, except little Alima and her mum. Having been dropped off by the company’s minibus, they wrapped us up in our checked headscarves and sunglasses, to protect us from the dust and sun and took a group photo of us all, looking more like a group of terrorists than divers on a day out!
We were then given a “crash-course” on driving the bikes in the safety of the courtyard before being released out into the desert for a couple of hours! Again, it seemed surreal, a long line of divers speeding along on quad bikes, out into the barren desert, passing closely along the bottom of the impressive sand-coloured mountains, huts made out of flimsy bits of wood, twine and matting, and an occasional camel tethered to a puny little tree.
We did 12 dives over the week, mostly ranging between 18 and 30 metres depth and the water temperature was a consistent 24 degrees. Easily the most memorable for me were the wrecks of the SS “Thistlegorm” and “Dunraven”, a scenic dive at Jackfish Alley and the Bren Gun Carriers. And so ended our holiday to Egypt and we resigned ourselves to returning to the cold, wind and rain… and back to work for a rest!
All were agreed it had been a fabulous week of diving, with much fun and laughter in the group, who had revelled in each other’s company. PSAC would like to thank Hugh Fraser, EO, TGI Diving, Freedom Travel & Thomas Cook Airlines for getting us there. Those present on the trip were:- Marion Fraser, Hugh Fraser, Alan Lissimore, Karen McPherson, Brian Lyell, Christine Lyell, Alima Mohamed, Lisa Mohamed, “Mo”, Kim Orsel, Lorraine Raynolds, Derick Scott, Sally Fraser, Eddie Fraser, Jonathan Payne, Simon Petrie, Claire Kitching, John Drynan and Kira