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Published: February 6th 2008
I love my wife. She was happy for me to escape the Scottish winter and meet up with Jeremy for a last minute deal on a liveaboard trip in the southern Red Sea. Islands in the middle of nowhere, big drop-offs, coral-encrusted walls, drift diving, sharks, and two deepish wrecks - bring it on.
Jeremy had just come off an offshore job in Qatar and after a transportation nightmare managed to find his way to the remote town of Marsa Alam in southern Egypt from which we were boarding our liveaboard the "M/Y Sea Serpent". For me it was easy, the whole trip was all inclusive so I flew from London straight to within 40mins drive of strange old Marsa Alam. I met up with Jeremy on the dirt shoreline and we were picked up by RIBs and taken out to the Sea Serpent which was sitting 100m offshore. The boat had been overbooked by two, so Jeremy and I had the two dive-guides' rooms which were on the middle deck rather than below decks, and provided us a room each with double beds rather than us sharing a twin room. Very nice.
The next day involved a couple
With all the Brits on the trip I had forgot we were actually in Egypt - until we got back on shore and were surrounded by unforgiving desert and a small truck full of camels.
of check dives before we started the six hour trip out to the "Brothers". The Brothers are two islands imaginatively named "Big Brother" and "Little Brother". Unsurprisingly Big Brother was a bit bigger than Little Brother...
January and February is the coldest, windiest time of year on the Red Sea, but it was positively tropical after coming from Scotland. The sky was cloudless for most of the time, and during the day it was lovely and warm. Apparently out at the Brothers it can blow up quite nastily this time of year, but the weather pretty much behaved itself for the four days we dived there.
The first two days were spent at Big Brother which has a lighthouse and four residents - two military and two lighthouse staff. Crazy stuff, the place is so barren and small. By the end of their 3 month stints they must be loopy as.
Our first dive was on the wreck "Numidia" which is a huge freighter that lies on the northern plateau. With her stern wedged into the island at around 80m, she lies against the island almost vertically, with her bow only 8m below the surface. The Numidia
was built in 1901 in Glasgow and was pranged on her second voyage. After clearing the Suez Canal on the 19th of July 1901, as they headed for Calcutta, the captain ordered the ship to be taken over one mile to the west of Big Brother. He then left the bridge for a nap, leaving instructions to be informed when the lighthouse was abeam. At about 2am he was rudely woken as his ship ploughed into the north of the island. Apparently the guy left in charge had a little kip himself, with disastrous consequences. Poor bugger, imagine being responsible for steaming into the only few meters of land in the mid Red Sea.
Having been underwater for almost 100 hundred years, the Numidia is now part of the reef and home to many fish and soft corals. Descending down the wreck, the main body is smashed out in areas due to the initial salvaging of the cargo. This allowed Jeremy and me to safety penetrate the wreck at 35m and work our way up inside before popping out at 20m to a underwater garden of soft corals and fish-life. Its times like these when you really appreciate the
experiences that diving allows you. For those divers interested in video of the Numidia check out the following (the oblong hole above the two doors is how we got into the engine room): Inside Numidia Engine Room
and Tec Dive on Numidia Down to Sea Floor
It was cool to see new species endemic to the Red Sea. Lots of colour, and bizarre shapes. On one of my first dives I saw a fish that took my fancy and was stoked to find later that it had an equally interesting name: the "Arabian Picasso Triggerfish". The "Greasy Grouper" and "Orangespine Unicornfish" were also winners.
Using his new rope skills, Jeremy roped up a couple of nitrox sling tanks for us to take down to ensure that if we headed slightly deeper we would have double the gas of a single tank and therefore be nice and safe. This meant that on the second dive of the day we visited the other wreck the "Aida" and were able to check it out down to 50m. Very niiice.
The cool thing about diving at the Brothers is that you can do some deeper diving and spend your time slowly coming to the surface as you drift past the coral-laden
sheer walls of the islands. Jeremy got a bit bored with all the pretty stuff, but just quietly I was into it.
Another fishy highlight was a huge Napoleon Wrasse that was happy for us to get very close. They are the bumphead fish which feature in Monty Python cartoons. So cruisy and relaxed. I read a book by Cousteau describing when he and the Calypso crew were the first people to dive the Red Sea. They were carrying out underwater research for a while in one area, and there was one Napoleon Wrasse that would wait for them at the bottom of their anchor-line despite the fact they did not feed him. In the end he was so inquisitive that they made a special cage for him and imprisoned him in it while they were diving so they could get on with the job! After reading about this fish, it was nice to meet one in person. Unfortunately the Napoleon Wrasse is becoming increasingly rare as its meat (particularly its lips) are a Chinese delicacy. Its sad that the Chinese are committed to the belief that an inverse relationship exists between the conservation status of a species and
Thresher shark at 50m
This guy swam within a few meters of us just as we were about to head to shallower water
its aphrodisiac properties. Maybe if we convince them that the possum and stoat are on the brink of extinction we could save DOC a fortune in pest control. Stoat penis anyone?
The Brothers is also famous for shark sightings, so we spent a few dives at Little Brother hanging out deeper to find them. Our slings meant we could go a bit deeper and stay longer than the other divers, which paid off when we had a thresher shark swim close by us at 50m. Threshers are not sighted by divers very often, so this was a special dive. We saw him again on the next dive, along with a grey reef shark. Very niiice.
On the last day diving we stopped in at Elphinstone reef which is closer to land and had a couple of dives before being taken to a hotel for our last night in Egypt. The hotel/resort was in the middle of nowhere in "Port Ghalib" a marina development that has been underway since 2001. It was slightly bizarre - a new hotel complex surrounded by barren desert and a few other half-completed resorts. The funniest thing was when one of our group reported
that they found a Costa Coffee, and was informed there was no coffee...
I flew back into London and baked some bread with Ben, and have just celebrated Trace's and my second wedding anniversary back home in Scotland. Good times.
The underwater photos below are from other divers on the trip (Guy, Mike, Brett, Rob, and Matt). One poor guy flooded his US$2000 camera on his first dive at the Brothers. It was the second time he had done this. Moral of today's blog: do not use "Ikelite" underwater housings...
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