Red Sea - the big 5

Red Sea - the big 5

This years trip to the Red Sea was on board the MV Emperor Echo out of Hurghada, and titled the Big 5. Our group were Neil (organiser), Evelyn, Mike, Lynda, Wayne, Elaine, Steve, Hilary, Nic, Alan, Pete, Brian, Paul, Ronnie, Lisa, Ken from SubC and Kurt & Jen from America. We were joined on the boat by 5 other divers. It started well, we breezed through security at Terminal 1, sampled a few gins in the duty free, hit the bar, and the flight left on time.

After a check dive on the picturesque Tobia Arbaa, we were straight onto the Salem Express, a roll-on roll-off ferry that went down very quickly with a large number of pilgrims coming back from Mecca. The ship is lying on its starboard side in about 30m of water, coming up to about 10m at its shallowest point. It is quite a moving dive because of the loss of life when it went down, particularly seeing one of the lifeboats that went down with it and looking through the windows on the way back up and seeing empty bunk beds. A night dive on middle reef finished the first day.

The next day was the first of 2 days on the brothers. The first dive was on south plateau of big brother, which goes down to about 40m before dropping off. After a bit of looking out to the blue we ended up swimming back to the boat, and near the boat we spent a mesmerising 15 mins or so being checked out by curious Oceanic White Tip sharks. Some very close encounters indeed, and this was one of my favourite dives of the week. The second dive was the SS Numidia which ran aground on the north plateau of big brother in 1901. The ships bow lies in 8 m and the stern goes down to 80m. We hit the entrance to the engine room at 40m behind the bridge and swam up through this looking down past the engine at the gantries and boilers, meeting a large porcupine fish towards the end of the visit. We then swam back along the reef, passing the engine of the Aida, with a nice view of the wreck below. We finished off with another dive on the south plateau which ended with a twilight encounter with yet another shark.

The next day saw two dives off the north end of little brother, this has a plateau at 20m and another at 40m. On the first we swam out into the blue over the 40m bit and current picked up a bit which made for a bit of a swim back to the reef wall, we spent quite a lot of time on top of the reef and spotted a nice Moray, some barracuda and 2 more Oceanics. On the second dive we saw a thresher some distance below us more barracuda etc. The last dive on the brothers we were back on the Numidia for a good swim around the superstructure this time out in the blue I saw some barracuda having a go at a much larger fish (Trevelli?).

On Wednesday we were back north with the crowds on Shark and Yolanda in Ras Mohammed. We did this a bit shallower than I have done in the past which made the 2 reefs feel more separate than before with some interesting thermoclines, before hitting the toilet wreck. Lots of life including a large tuna at depth, moray rays etc. We then went north to the SS Thistlegorm, which I haven't dived for a good number of years. After a good brief, we decided to explore on our own instead of following the guide. We started at the stern, swam along the lower companion way and over the wreckage seeing quite a few bits of shell casing & shells on the way, then swam into the top of the engine room from hold 3 over a boiler and through a gap on the port side into the coal hold. We were alone, there must have been at least 15 boats tied up above, we had 20 odd divers on the wreck yet there was just the 2 of us in this hold. We swam over to starboard and out into the lower part of hold 2 and we were still alone. We spent a lovely 5 - 10 mins or so swimming around looking at the neatly parked Bedford trucks with the BSA motor bikes with only the odd torch shining in from the hold main entrance. Then out the hold and up the mooring at near the captains cabin. The 2nd dive we went round hold 1, the chain locker, the fo'c's'l, off the bow round the captains cabin and back to the engine room. This time we had to join various coach parties whilst exploring different bits of the wreck. It is still a great wreck, but that 1st dive when we were inside away from everyone else made for a very special dive. The last dive on Wednesday was a night dive on the barge and in the dark we saw a big Moray, cuttlefish and a stonefish.

Thursday started with a dive on the Ulysses which is a very pretty early steamer which lets a lot of light in through the floor supports. Saw a flat head scorpion fish inside and a devil scorpion fish on a table coral. The 2nd dive was on the Rosalie Moller, another war casualty which lies on its port side in about 40m of water. We did a circuit from the stern following the port rail to the bows then along the starboard rail back to the bow. Very nice views just off the bow looking back at the wreck. It was a bit of a push back towards the stern and I got separated from my buddy whilst swimming through a large shoal of glass fish. I pushed on back to the shot and had an anxious few minutes waiting for my buddy to turn up. During our extended safety stop Elaine & Wayne got the "Happy BurySAC" message out to Nic (What happened to birthday guys?). Then we went on to do 2 dives at dolphin house (no dolphins). The first one we got horribly lost and had to swim back to the boat to have another go but saw a nice eagle ray swimming whilst we were doing this. On the 2nd dive I did a nice night dive with Hilary where we saw a swimming nudibranch and a lot of other small things.

Friday was the last day of diving and wasted another dive looking for dolphins, very pleased that Neil and Evelyn managed to see some, makes up for them not finding the Rosalie Moller. We then did a reef called Um Gammar which had a plateau at about 10m but then goes round to a wall with some very nice coral pinacles. Nice crocodile fish on the way back. The final dive was on a mine sweeper the Miniya which was sunk in 1970. At 30m it was deeper than I expected it would be for a harbour dive in Hurghada. Interesting to see all the workings including the cabling and fish that are towed behind the sweeper and the sonar eye near the front of the ship. There were some beautiful bat fish off the front off the wreck and it was a good dive with my backup buddy Hilary.

That's it 20 dives in one week. But what did we do for the rest of the time? As with most other trips it was mostly sleeping, eating, drinking and sleeping. But unlike a lot of dive trips we could do this in the sun or the warm shade. In the evenings after tea was a nice time to chill with a couple of drinks and we had a few rounds of the name game, a quiz and a new one for me 10,000. In some ways the diving is quite easy, warm water, helpful crew, excellent visibility, pristine coral (and I was constantly surprised at how well looked after the corals appeared to be). In other ways it is tiring, 3 - 4 dives a day, 5:30 starts, the dives rarely being slack, using mooring lines for shots, wet suit diving. This meant we rarely had a late night, except on the Friday where we visited a couple of bars in Hugahda harbour. All in all I had an excellent week, good company, good buddy and well organised. So many thanks Neil for organising the trip.