EGYPT

Dean Martin is mes­merised by close en­coun­ters with sev­eral species of shark.

Sport Diver - - Contents - Pho­tographs by DEAN MARTIN

Tourism in the Egyp­tian Red Sea may be go­ing through a tor­rid time at the mo­ment due to flight bans and re­gional un­rest, but this didn’t de­ter me from mak­ing my sec­ond live­aboard in this fab­u­lous div­ing des­ti­na­tion. In fact, now is the ideal time to visit, with many deals avail­able and the lack of divers mean­ing that marine life is even more pro­lific than nor­mal. De­spite the Red Sea be­ing the num­ber-one warm-water lo­ca­tion for Bri­tish divers, it wasn’t un­til last year that I fi­nally made my first-ever visit. I had been end­lessly tempted by fan­tas­tic pho­tographs of Egyp­tian flora and fauna, and thought it time I saw it for my­self. I em­barked on a live­aboard to the Deep South, a favoured haunt of var­i­ous species of shark, but we didn’t see a sin­gle one. Not that I cared - as it was my first time in these rich wa­ters, I was busy tak­ing pho­tographs of ev­ery­thing else!

This time, how­ever, I wanted to break my shark ‘duck’. I had booked my­self on to the same itin­er­ary as my pre­vi­ous trip - the Deep South, com­pris­ing St John’s, Daedalous and El­phin­stone - and on meet­ing my fel­low pas­sen­gers dur­ing ini­tial board­ing and the first night, it be­came clear we were all after the ‘big stuff’. Namely oceanic whitetips, manta rays, ham­mer­heads and even whale­sharks. Would our luck be in?

EL­PHIN­STONE

After the usual check dive and gen­er­ally get­ting into the swing of things - jump­ing into the Red Sea un­der a cloud­less blue sky is a world away from splosh­ing into a Bri­tish quarry when it is chuck­ing it down! We kicked off our Deep South odyssey with the short trip to the leg­endary El­phin­stone.

We had the rou­tine now - bell rings, check Nitrox cylin­ders and sign log. Bell rings again and it is briefing time. Third ring of the bell and you get kit­ted up and go div­ing. I had dived El­phin­stone the pre­vi­ous year and it was an awe­some dive - we had dived with the cur­rent and made our way all the way around. This year was go­ing to be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, as dur­ing the briefing we were told that only a few days ear­lier, oceanic whitetips had been spot­ted. My heart be­gan to race - it’s one thing think­ing you may be in the water with sharks, but it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent when you’re told it is nearly guar­an­teed you will be en­coun­ter­ing them!

We made our way to the dive plat­form and jumped in. We slowly made our way over to the reef and waited… and waited. Now, when you are at 10-15m star­ing into the blue for what seems like an eter­nity, it gets a lit­tle strange and you start to think ‘what am I do­ing? I’m a grown man just hang­ing in the water wait­ing for a big scary fish to show its face’. I spot­ted a jel­ly­fish and swam over to take a few pic­tures and then, just out of the cor­ner of my eye, I spot­ted a twome­tre fe­male oceanic with an en­tourage of pi­lot fish swim­ming straight to­wards us.

“These sharks were get­ting to be like a school­yard bully and I had to ad­mit I had a lit­tle mo­ment at be­ing last in the water, but we all made it back safe and sound after the most-elec­tri­fy­ing dive I have ever had ”

I looked at my buddy and shouted ‘shark!’ through my reg­u­la­tor while point­ing at the beauty com­ing di­rectly to­wards the pair of us. I was now get­ting mixed feel­ings of ‘what am I still do­ing in the water?’ to ‘make sure you get the shot’!

My heart was rac­ing and even though she swam away after a sin­gle pass, I was left feel­ing ab­so­lutely ec­static - my first Red Sea shark sight­ing and it was an oceanic whitetip!

We fol­lowed up our El­phin­stone dives the next day with dips at Gota So­rya (Lit­tle Gota), Gota Ke­birn (Big Gota) and Dan­ger­ous Reef, which all boasted a mul­ti­tude of marine life swarm­ing in and around stun­ning co­ral gar­dens, bom­mies, pin­na­cles and walls. Even though it didn’t have the heart-thump­ing drama of our El­phin­stone en­counter, there was more than enough go­ing on to keep even the most-hard­ened live­aboard vet­eran glued to their viewfinder.

ST JOHN’S

The St John’s reef sys­tem is un­like any­where else in the Red Sea, and I was al­most as ex­cited to be re­vis­it­ing some of the sites as I was about see­ing more sharks. Our first site, Umm Aroug (St John’s Wood) boasted a sandy bot­tom with an abun­dance of pin­na­cles - it was al­most like an un­der­wa­ter moon­scape, but rather than be­ing de­void of life, it was smoth­ered in shoals of fish.

The next dive was at Umm Kararhim (St John’s Caves), which was one of my favourite dives from the pre­vi­ous year. It’s part-cathe­dral, with beams of sun­light shin­ing through cracks and holes in the co­ral, and part-labyrinth, with myr­iad twists and turns as you ven­ture into swim- throughs, tun­nels and cav­erns. It is an ex­tremely at­mo­spheric lo­ca­tion, with plenty of photo-op­por­tu­ni­ties for those with cam­eras, and be­cause it all lies in rel­a­tively shal­low water, you can spend pretty much your en­tire dive within the ‘caves’.

That af­ter­noon we headed to Sataya South (Dol­phin House), a walled reef drop­ping off to 45m that is home to a res­i­dent pod of dol­phins. Un­for­tu­nately for us, on this par­tic­u­lar oc­ca­sion they were out play­ing or hunt­ing, but even with­out the pres­ence of the pod, it was still a good dive, with walls of co­ral full of huge gor­gonian seafans and sea whips.

DAEDALOUS

Our ex­cite­ment built yet again as we trav­elled overnight to Daedalus, a huge ex­panse of reef with a dra­matic light­house and a long jetty. It is not what you ex­pect in the mid­dle of the Red Sea, and I can see why the light­house was con­structed as it sits in the main ship­ping lanes. But while the reef it­self may be en­thralling, that wasn’t what had got us ex­cited - it was the prom­ise of ham­mer­head sharks lurk­ing in the depths that had us on edge. Morn­ing couldn’t come soon enough.

We were split into two teams for the long zodiac trans­fers round to the north­ern side of the reef. It was so hard to watch the first wave go out on the zo­di­acs, know­ing they were go­ing to see them first, but it wasn’t long be­fore the boats came whizzing back to col­lect us. We were all grin­ning wildly. This was what we had all been wait­ing for - a chance to dive with the big boys of the sea, ham­mer­heads. We still had no idea if the guys in the first wave had even seen any, but we were full of hope. As the zo­di­acs reached the north­ern side of Daedalous, our guide

en­tered the water to check the cur­rent, gave the ‘okay’ and then we were all in and drop­ping down the wall into deeper water. It didn’t seem any time at all be­fore one of the team shouted ‘shark’ and pointed out into the blue. There they were, swim­ming al­most on their sides – a to­tal of 16 ham­mer­heads. They con­tin­u­ously cir­cled us for al­most 30 min­utes be­fore it was time to leave and make our way back to the reef and safety stop. As we ex­cit­edly chat­ted about our dive on the way back to the live­aboard in the zo­di­acs, we are still not sure if the first wave of divers saw the sharks, but as we drew near, we could hear the cheers! I couldn’t wait to check my cam­era and see what shots I had man­aged to take.

We logged two more epic dives on Daedalous and then opted to stay for an­other whole day, re­peat­ing our ham­mer­head en­counter the next morn­ing. This time the sharks were a lit­tle deeper, but they swarmed in and around the divers with lit­tle con­cern for their close prox­im­ity. It is hard to put into words how I was feel­ing on this dive when I had large ham­mer­head sharks above, be­low and to the left and right of me. My en­tire body was tin­gling with adrenalin, and look­ing into the eyes of my fel­low divers, I could tell that they were feel­ing the same way.

CON­CLU­SION

All too soon, the trip was com­ing to an end, but with our fi­nal dives be­ing back on El­phin­stone, we were con­fi­dent that they would make a fine fi­nale to an awe­some week - and we were not wrong.

Dive one got off to a slow start - we hung in the blue for what seemed likes eons be­fore see­ing a sin­gle oceanic whitetip in the dis­tance just as we had to head back to the boat - but dive two more than made up for it!

Ini­tially I had that sink­ing feel­ing, as I spent 30 min­utes in the blue with­out a sniff of a shark, but then just as I was ready to give up hope, a sole oceanic with her pi­lot fish en­tourage came cruis­ing out of the blue, swiftly fol­lowed by an­other one. At first they kept their dis­tance, but then they be­came in­creas­ingly cu­ri­ous, bump­ing cam­eras and mak­ing quick turns for re­peated close passes.

There were six of us to­gether in the water and the two ocean­ics cir­cled us, draw­ing us away from the boat and reef wall into their play­ground and their com­fort zone - and out of ours. We were all so ex­cited, with end­less cam­era flashes from the strobes fir­ing and the sharks only inches from the dome ports - this was what we all wanted, but it was get­ting a lit­tle scary as we started to think we had to climb back into the zodiac! One by one we made our way into the boat, with me still shoot­ing at ev­ery chance I had. These sharks were get­ting to be like a school­yard bully and I had to ad­mit I had a lit­tle mo­ment at be­ing last in the water, but we all made it back safe and sound after the most-elec­tri­fy­ing dive I have ever had.

I can­not put into words how good this dive was, and it was great to spend it with a bunch of peo­ple who, after 17 dives to­gether, had be­come friends for life. To share some­thing like this with some­one who only six days ear­lier was a to­tal stranger is a lit­tle weird, but that’s div­ing for you, and even more so live­aboard div­ing. You make friends with peo­ple you may never meet in your nor­mal walk of life, but for a week on a boat in the mid­dle of the Red Sea, you have bonded with and shared ex­pe­ri­ences like never be­fore.

Dean had a close en­counter with a cu­ri­ous oceanic The ham­mer­head shoal cir­cled the divers Oceanic with at­ten­dant pi­lot fish

Clown­fish in host anemone “As we ex­cit­edly chat­ted about our dive on the way back to the live­aboard in the zo­di­acs, we are still not sure if the first wave of divers saw the sharks, but as we drew near, we could hear the cheers!”

Inside the cav­erns at St John’s

El­phin­stone is famed for its ocean­ics

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.