Saturday 26th October 2019 dawned a typical grey, damp and breezy Autumn morning in the UK, but this did not dampen the spirits of the 18 members (including a few family and friends) of Newbury Scuba Diving Club as they arrived at Gatwick. As in a few hours time they would be arriving at Hurghada, Egypt for a fabulous, week’s Scuba diving in the Red Sea aboard Whirlwind, Scuba Travel’s live-aboard, on their ‘Wrecks and Reefs of the Northern Red Sea’ itinerary. The journey to Hurghada went smoothly, even though one member accidentally left their regulator bag in the departure gate – but luckily their partner was on the ball and the regs were restored to one very relieved owner, but oh boy does he owe her! Whirlwind is a nice size boat and can accommodate 20 divers in comfort. It is based in Hurghada marina, so the transfer from the airport to the boat took less than 20 minutes. First up was the requisite admin and an introductory briefing by Hamada and Moussa, our two dive guides for the week. We also got to meet up with the other two guests, Lou and Jason, who luckily already knew Andy from a previous trip, and then it was time for dinner and bed.
Blue skies, a gentle breeze and 30°c weather started the day with a smile. The shake down dive on the Sunday morning was at Abu Nugar and after the customary adding more and more weight to compensate for the Aluminium cylinders and the high salinity of the Red Sea, we all went for a nice little dive along the reef.
Whirlwind then sailed on to Gobal Island to dive The Barge for both the second and also the night dive. The barge is quite shallow (15m), but it is like diving in an aquarium packed full of life; from Moray Eels to Crocodile fish. The dive wasn’t without incident though, first when Barry’s weight pounch preceded him to the bottom, which curtailed his dive, followed soon after when Alan’s O ring blew just 10 mins into the dive and he had to surface, thus dispelling the myth that he has gills! The night dive on The Barge was a bit challenging to say the least, as the cross current was running the best part of 2 knots, which made getting back to the boat interesting! This was made harder for Barry as someone (who must remain anonymous for now as they are potentially a contender for a ‘special’ award!) had accidentally taken his prescription mask just before entering the water!
The 05.30 wake-up call did raise a few comments, but once we were in the water for the dawn dive, it was grins all round as the sights and sounds of the prolific marine life having their own breakfast was simply magic. A gentle drift down towards Bluff Point and then the RIBs came to pick us up. The second dive, at Ras Mohamed, Shark Reef and Yolanda, was a superb wall dive with excellent viz and masses of life. Pick up though was a bit like organised chaos with strong winds and numerous dive boats milling around, but we all returned safely. Barry’s run of bad luck continued when his second stage disintegrated during a stride entry, but luckily Phil had a spare Reg that he could use. Ras Ghozlani made a great drift dive followed by a lovely night dive at The Temple. The Lionfish were particularly interested in pursuing prey fish accidentally illuminated by the divers’ torches.
The dawn dive at Rass Umm Cid was another stunning drift above a steep drop off, it was easy to see where the prevailing current hit the wall at the end of the point as there was a forest of huge Gorgonian Fans with their branches spread across the flow.
But the high point of the dive was a white tipped reef shark hunting at 30m in the morning light. Rass Zator is a fabulous, shear wall drift dive, made all the more special by a fly-by of a beautiful Green Sea turtle that came straight through our group of divers, almost bumping into Aimee who was filming it throughout.
David joined the growing list of kit failures when his weight pouch was dislodged getting back on-board Whirlwind and it disappeared in 100m of water. The third dive of the day was at Jack Fish alley, an exquisite wall dive starting with a short cave swim through, marred only by a bunch of trainee techies who were determined to force they way through against the flow of divers coming single file through the cave! The finale of the dive was a drift along an idyllic coral garden lined canyon with over 25m viz.
The day finished at Beacon rock, another quite challenging night dive due to the poor viz and strong current. Tuesday was officially accident day, as we had three minor injuries; one from a slip on the ladder getting back onboard the boat, one from slipping down the stairs (no alcohol involved) and the third was a face plant on the dive deck, but it did go to show how easy it is to lose your balance on a moving boat.
The group’s first negative entry from the RIBs was somewhat chaotic to start with, but most divers made it down to the wreck of the Dunraven, an 80m long 19th century inverted wreck with a great swim through at 25m. This was the first proper wreck for some of the group and a great intro to Red Sea wreck diving.
Then the iconic wreck of the Thistlegorm was to be the site for the next four dives, including one night dive. The first dive was in low current and fabulous viz which was a great way to see all of the wreck, however once the tide turned the viz dropped and the current picked up, so there was a flag of divers hanging off the mooring line on the way back up to the boat surrounded by shoals of hunting Jacks and Fusiliers. Come sunset there were only four boats moored up ready for the night and dawn dives. The Thistlegorm claimed some more equipment from Barry as his weight pouch was pulled out on the rope on the way back up. The Thistlegorm really does have something for everyone, a great depth for Nitrox, lots of fish, especially around the bow and extensive penetration opportunities throughout the holds, which is probably why it holds the title of being in the top ten dive sites in the world.
Now three days into the holiday the inevitable water fights started onboard Whirlwind, usually when dekitting after a dive and by pure coincidence(?) the same person featured in every one, didn’t it Kathy? It wasn’t just our group though, but also an increasing number of the crew were drawn into the water fight, usually targeting Moussa, one of our two dive guides.
An amazing almost deserted dawn dive on the Thistlegorm was followed by a gorgeous dive on the Kingston and adjacent reef. This 100 year old wreck is now more reef than wreck and is surrounded by pristine reef and an extensive coral garden. The open shell of the wreck is literally wall-to-wall fish of all shapes and sizes and nearby two Green Sea Turtles were spotted, one feeding in the shallows, a truly magical dive loved by all the scenic divers.
The Carnatic lies alongside the Abu Nuhas reef that she hit. She is also a 100 year old wreck and this picturesque wreck was only marred by two other boat loads of divers dropping in on us, including three DPV divers who showed little consideration for others. But another great dive enjoyed by all. Barry decided to stick with traditional as yet another lead weight plummeted to the sea bed, but this time it was easily retrieved mid-dive. Whirlwind then moored at Abu Nuhas which was also to be the site for the night dive, a gentle drift along the reef and our new marine life convert, Barry even spotted a feeding Octopus.
Friday 1st Nov
Due to the considerable swell against the reef, half of our group decided to do a sheltered drift dive through a coral encrusted channel near to where the boat was moored as this was where some of the Dolphin scenes from Blue Planet II were filmed recently. Alas though there were no dolphins that day, but still masses to see. The second half of our group dived the Giannis D, a large intact wreck suitable for safe entry into the engine room and surrounded by a lovely coral garden and masses of fish to look at during the safety stop. Though getting off and then back on the RIBs was made ‘fun’ due to the big swell hitting against the reef. The holiday diving finished with Abu Nugar Small, which was a disappointing last dive on the way back to Hurghada marina. Much of the coral reef had died off and there were only small pockets of life, coupled with quite poor viz. A real shame as it looked beautiful from the surface and we had experienced so many other gorgeous dives that week.
The last night was spent in the marina allowing many of the group time to get off the boat and eat in Hurghada. A very lively evening was had and then after one last sleep on the boat it as time to say our goodbyes to the crew and head off for a few hours at the local Hilton Resort until it was time for the coach to take us once more to the airport for the flight home. Security at Hurghada airport is understandably strict with multiple security checks. This caught out one member who chose to leave their Reg bag in security on the way through – yes you guessed it, the same person who left the same bag at Gatwick on the way out (hmmn, it was almost as if he wanted to lose the regs so he could buy a new set!).
The week was a great success and Scuba Travel’s Wrecks and Reefs itinerary had something for everyone; wall-to-wall Egyptian sun with a cooling breeze, 27 degree water, 30+ metre viz, drift dives, wall dives, reef dives, wreck dives, night dives, a great boat and an excellent crew. I think there is a very good chance that Newbury Scuba Diving Club will be back in the Red Sea very soon. Photos and videos courtesy of Aimee, Sarah, Hilda, Jason and Richard B. To see more fabulous images from the Red Sea holiday go to our Overseas Diving Photo Gallery