Law­son Wood re­calls his long love-af­fair with the Egyp­tian Red Sea as he cel­e­brates the launch of his new dive guide/fish ID book.

LAW­SON WOOD has just re­leased a new guide to the Egyp­tian Red Sea, and here he rem­i­nisces about his long his­tory with the re­gion

Sport Diver - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by LAW­SON WOOD

Ifirst dived the Red Sea back in 1974 with my very good friend Harry Sim­monds on a ma­rine bi­ol­ogy course headed by Dr Paul Cragg (a con­tem­po­rary of my good friend Pro­fes­sor David Bel­lamy). I had a loan of a Nikonos II un­der­wa­ter cam­era with no clue what­so­ever on how it worked, but Jim Wil­mot, Pete Bignel and Kevin Cul­limore soon set me straight. I had picked up a Nikonos guide book by Jim and Cathy Church to read on the plane to Ei­lat and took just three rolls of 35mm film on our two-week trip!

This first trip spurred me to start lead­ing sa­faris through the Si­nai Penin­sula from Ei­lat in Is­rael (re­mem­ber that the Si­nai was con­trolled by Is­rael af­ter the Six Day War in June 1967). These ex­pe­di­tionary sa­faris took in all of the East­ern Si­nai Penin­sula when there was no de­vel­op­ment what­so­ever. There was only one ho­tel - the Ma­rina Sharm Ho­tel - and only three dive busi­nesses in Na’ama Bay. Red Sea Divers, run by Howard Rosen­stein; Aqua­naut, owned and op­er­ated by Rolf and Pe­tra Sch­midt; and Aqua­ma­rine, with Alain Sobol and Claude An­toine. There was no con­struc­tion at all and hardly any roads, ex­cept for the main road from Ei­lat to Sharm, and a very poor track up to Suez via El Tur and on to Cairo.

Util­is­ing small Be­douin en­camp­ments and fish­ing huts, we carted all of our needs - sleep­ing bags, food, wa­ter, soft drinks (and harder drinks when re­quired!), air tanks, weights and air com­pres­sor - for a week or two of sleep­ing rough and div­ing un­ex­plored coastal reefs in an area which was vir­tu­ally un­in­hab­ited. We dived the leg­endary Blue Hole at Da­hab, Nuweiba, Ras Nas­rani and Ras Um Sid. Un­der the con­trol of Is­rael un­til 1979, I ran one of the last sa­fari trips into the Si­nai, and was part of the ex­pat com­mu­nity who were po­litely asked to leave the Si­nai. All busi­nesses were shut down and many struc­tures and schools were de­stroyed as Is­rael evac­u­ated the Si­nai, mean­ing the reefs of the Red Sea re­mained un­dived for al­most two years.

While open trade ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Egypt and Is­rael re­sumed in 1980, it would be an­other cou­ple of years be­fore any com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment started to take place, and I was in­vited by Bruce Lyons of dive hol­i­day com­pany Twick­en­ham Travel to ac­com­pany the first live­aboard dive boat, the Lady Jenny III, into the Red Sea to show the new crew where to go, help map new div­ing sites, ex­plore the reefs and wrecks, and open the area up once more for mass div­ing tourism.

Liv­ing in the Red Sea be­tween 1982 and 1986 and, of course, re­turn­ing yearly since those early days, I was part of a group of peo­ple to wit­ness a num­ber of ships run­ning aground on reefs (in­clud­ing my­self) and dis­cov­ered the iden­tity of an un­known ship­wreck at the time (the Car­natic at Sha’ab Abu Nuhas). While not di­rectly in­volved in the for­ma­tion of the first Egyp­tian ma­rine park at Ras Mo­hammed, my au­dio-vis­ual slide shows so in­spired the Min­is­ter in charge that I was asked to present a spe­cial show for a few of the very high­est dig­ni­taries of the coun­try in the Ma­rina Sharm Ho­tel in Na’ama Bay. It was from these early pre­sen­ta­tions that the ma­rine park grew and was of­fi­cially sanc­tioned in 1983.

Those first ex­ploratory dive trips took the Lady Jenny III - and then the Lady Jenny V - down the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, through the Straits of Ti­ran, east past Ti­ran Is­land on to Sanafir and even Shusha in Saudi Ara­bian waters. Dive sites were named, ship­wrecks dis­cov­ered, iden­ti­fied and named, and sites such as the Al­ter­na­tives soon be­came ex­tremely pop­u­lar in their own right ( The Al­ter­na­tives were so named as the ‘al­ter­na­tive’ site to dive when Ras Mo­hammed was blown out by bad weather, or when the cur­rents were too strong to dive safely). We were the first divers to ex­plore what would be later dis­cov­ered to be the Kingston on the north­west shore of Shag Rock. We al­ready knew the name of the Dun­raven on Sha’ab Ali (de­spite a BBC film be­ing made about the ‘dis­cov­ery’ of the ship af­ter we al­ready knew its name!) and were among some of the first divers to visit the Broth­ers and dive those fab­u­lous reefs and her two su­perb ship­wrecks, the Nu­midia and the Aïda. Lit­tle known

“Egypt may be go­ing through a tough time at the mo­ment, but the coun­try’s por­tion of the Red Sea is recog­nised as one of the world’s best div­ing desti­na­tions”

naval wrecks sunk dur­ing the Six Day War, old sub­ma­rine nets, cu­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non in Marsa Bureika, un­known reefs, la­goons with per­ma­nent pop­u­la­tions of wild dol­phins and du­gong, in­cred­i­ble ship­wrecks, caves, cav­erns, his­tor­i­cal an­cient sites lit­tered with am­phora and fish, sim­ply tons of fish. These reefs were the dive boat’s hunt­ing ground, and I was very proud to be part of the ground-break­ing ex­plo­ration of the north­ern Red Sea.

I guess that you could say that the rest is his­tory, and now with over 50 books pub­lished and hav­ing made pho­to­graphic his­tory by be­com­ing the first per­son to gain Fel­low­ships in both the Royal Pho­to­graphic So­ci­ety and Bri­tish In­sti­tute of Pro­fes­sional Pho­tog­ra­phers solely for un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy, my un­der­wa­ter trav­els have taken me all around our wa­tery world to write and il­lus­trate books and mag­a­zine fea­tures.

I guess that you could say that I am as qual­i­fied as any­one to write a guide to the Red Sea, and know­ing my his­tory and per­sonal links with the re­gion, my pub­lisher John Beau­foy - whom I had worked with for many years - asked if I was in­ter­ested in pro­duc­ing a small handy-sized guide to the north­ern Red Sea.

This Un­der­wa­ter Guide to the Red Sea of­fers the best div­ing and snorkelling to be found in the Egyp­tian Red Sea, but equally as im­por­tant is the Ma­rine Life Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sec­tion, which fills over half of the guide. This guide is an easy ready-reck­oner of all the usual sus­pects, plus a few of the more-ex­otic crit­ters that you may not usu­ally find. How­ever, with around 1,000 types of in­ver­te­brates, 200 species of hard and soft corals, and over 1,200 species of fish, of which ten per­cent are found only in the Red Sea, there is plenty to choose from - I have in­cluded around 370 in this pub­li­ca­tion, and an over­view of all the ma­rine ecosys­tems found.

In­cluded in the guide is in­for­ma­tion on the ge­og­ra­phy, ge­ol­ogy, his­tory, cli­mate and prac­ti­cal­i­ties of hol­i­day­ing in the Egyp­tian Red Sea. The dive and snorkel desti­na­tions in­clude Taba, Coral Is­land, Nuweiba, Ras Abu Galum, Da­hab, The Gar­dens, Tower, Ras Umm Sid, the reefs in the Straits of Ti­ran, Ras Zatar, Ras Mo­hammed, the Al­ter­na­tives, Sha’b Ali, Shag Rock, Sha’b Abu Nuhas, El Gouna, Brother Is­lands, Marsa Alam, Sha’ab Sa­madai, El­phin­stone, Daedalus, the Fury Shoals, Zabar­gad, Rocky Is­land and St John’s Reef.

Egypt may be go­ing through a tough time at the mo­ment, but the coun­try’s por­tion of the Red Sea is recog­nised as one of the world’s best div­ing desti­na­tions. It is the clos­est coral reef to Europe and, with av­er­age fly­ing times of only around four to five hours from al­most ev­ery Euro­pean coun­try, it makes for a re­mark­ably easy ‘trop­i­cal’ div­ing ad­ven­ture. What makes the Red Sea so pop­u­lar is prin­ci­pally its stun­ning coral reefs and ver­ti­cal walls, the sim­ply mas­sive amounts of fish and in­ver­te­brates to be seen on ev­ery dive and, of course, its ship­wrecks, some of which are the most pho­to­genic to be found any­where on the planet.

Ras Mo­hammed at the tip of the Si­nai Penin­sula is a Na­tional Ma­rine Re­serve and is world renowned for the ver­ti­cal wall which drops into ex­treme depths. The geo­phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion is such that there are three con­verg­ing oceanic cur­rents at the point, thus there is a very high level of plank­tonic move­ment al­low­ing for coral re­pop­u­la­tion and crea­ture re­pro­duc­tion over wide ar­eas of the Red Sea. Div­ing is al­ways ex­cel­lent all year round here, but dur­ing the sum­mer months of July through to Septem­ber, huge con­cen­tra­tions of fish con­gre­gate off the walls. There are bar­racuda, em­per­or­fish, uni­corn­fish, bat­fish, jacks, sur­geon­fish and, deeper down, large num­bers of grey reef sharks and even sand­bar sharks. This is truly the divers’ Mecca.

The Red Sea is un­doubt­edly one of the top div­ing desti­na­tions on the planet and is suit­able for all lev­els of diver, in­clud­ing those who want to learn to dive all the way up to ex­treme tech­ni­cal divers.

“These ex­pe­di­tionary sa­faris took in all of the East­ern Si­nai Penin­sula when there was no de­vel­op­ment what­so­ever”

Live­aboards such as VIP One ply these waters Truck in­side the Thistle­gorm Vi­brant soft corals and an­thias - typ­i­cal Red Sea

Pris­tine hard and soft corals

An­thias swarm over many of the Egyp­tian wrecks

Law­son’s new book is a combo of dive guide and fish ID

Mo­tor­cy­cles in the Thistle­gorm

Mas­sive soft coral hangs off a wall

Dol­phins at Sha’ab Sa­madai

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