We sailed back north towards the St. John’s area for our fourth day of diving – fourth day already…. Only 1 more full day of diving left…… Where has the week gone?!……
Our first dive is Gota Kabir aka Big Gota. The wind has picked up a little so there are some waves and the boat is swaying at its moorings. Big Gotta is a reef with a small plateau which has some coral blocks on it. Either side there are sheer walls with a couple of cracks in the coral that apparently form great swim throughs. We are briefed on the dive plan, what to look out for, and importantly, the swim through one way system! It all sounds lovely!
My buddy has more camera related exercises to complete on this dive so I can also practice with mine. We are jumping in group 2 today so plenty of time to get ready.
We giant stride into the water and our gangly legged cameras are passed down….. Ok, down. We descend on the reef wall and the visibility is amazing…. The best so far this week…. It must be 20 – 30m……. We amble along the wall admiring the beautiful colours of the soft corals and the abundant fish life. Today’s exercises require a model and I am the slightly unwilling volunteer….. Click, click, click….. Twiddle shutter speed, adjust aperture, click, flash…..(Hurry up!)….
One of the dive guides passes by leading a group back to the boat and gives me a long description in sign language which I guess as being ‘baby sharks, sleeping, under ledge, that way’……. But we are nearly at half time so need to turn…….
We surface dot on 60 mins with big smiles on our faces……What a gorgeous dive!
The breakfast bell rings almost immediately (the down side of being second group and last out) so we rush to dry so we can tuck in to yet more eggs.
After a short sail we arrive at Umm Orouk which is a site made up of lots of pinnacles of different sizes. They make a kind of pinnacle forest that when you swim through you can get disoriented and a little bit lost!
The briefing explains to zig zag through the pinnacles and then head over to the reef returning to the boat with reef on right. Simples!
More camera skills and drills so I am free to paddle about slowly with my camera and admire the scenery……. This is an amazing dive site….. Huge pinnacles relatively close together that you can weave in and out and round and round. Some are quite close together which need good buoyancy, some are small so you can swim over them, round and round….. We click and snap until it is time for the safety stop……where is the boat? Fortunately one of the group has taken a bearing so we duly follow completing our safety stop on the way.
Another amazing dive which I would happily do all over again right now!
The journey ever Northwards continues after lunch and we arrive at St John’s Caves after a fairly short motor…….
The one we have been waiting for!
St. John’s Caves (Um Kharadhim) – is a number of inter interlocking pinnacles which when drawn on the dive plan resembles Lego blocks. There is room between the blocks to swim but because some are so close together give the impression of a cave (but without being a proper overhead environment). This is a shallowish dive so should be really relaxing.
The dive guide describes this as an exciting opportunity to explore so we choose to brave the labyrinth by ourselves and head off through the big opening in the reef wall. The light streams through the cracks between the reef and you can see the surface rippling in the sun light….. Really, really pretty.
We try taking some creative shots capturing the blue of the water and the sun’s rays breaking through the surface with mixed success and pootle about viewing the marine life.
As we emerge from the reef we pass another small group heading in the opposite direction asking for directions to the boat…… I signal the way we are heading but they are not convinced so carry on following their current course.
We paddle on and emerge into the blue through clouds of tiny fish. A quick check on the compass and we head south, as per the briefing, with reef on the left…. A little further on the ‘lost’ group re appear and follow on behind us.
As we near the boat there are a number of divers below watching a Napoleon Wrasse. It is huge and attracting quite a crowd!
The whole dive is AWESOME!
We continue sailing further north and there is some doubt on whether there will be a night dive today. We lounge around the deck nattering and napping, generally enjoying the sunshine and the welcome breeze. Finally the confirmation of the night dive arrives and it will be at Sarnka Island.
After cruising for a while a sandy Island comes into view with lots of bird life flying about. You can see the reef from the surface. This would be a good location for my first night dive of the holiday and my first night dive with a camera!
Just by the boat there are a number of coral blocks and then the edge of the reef. You can navigate reef on left or right so all nice and simple. My buddy offers to be spotter and we giant stride in to the dark water. We opt for reef on left and find a nice coral block to explore.
One of the things they don’t teach you on the camera course is how to have more than one pair of hands….. I have my torch strapped to one hand as normal and then trying to hold the camera with both hands. This means the torch beam is shining diagonally across my picture, hmmm. What’s my depth, hmmm, I need to shine the torch on my computer to see…… This isn’t working very well…. I manage to work out how to get the spotting light on the strobe to stay on so the torch is now only needed for reading my computer…. Oh, and signals…… Definitely need to review my set up for night diving……
I get into a rhythm of dangling the torch when it’s not needed and start trying to take photos of tiny things that hide in crevices and seem not to like bright light. We slowly bimble around seeing banded shrimps, squat lobsters, basket stars and even a snake eel slithering across the reef. The site is big enough for everyone to have their own little area so you aren’t blinded by other divers or bathed in torch light so it appears like more of a day dive.
We surface after 45 mins after a beautiful dive with plenty of things to see. Others have seen rays and even a Spanish Dancer…… Damn. I so want to see one of those……
The dinner bell is chiming so we race to shower and get cleaned up ready to refuel. The crew are busying themselves preparing to sail again whilst we eat. Over dinner the guides break the news about the morning wake up time. 5.00am…ahhhh ….. But we are on holiday……..we need to sail further north so the deal is to split the sailing up so that we don’t have to travel through the night….. The trade off is the early start so we can cover the miles but still squeeze in four dives.
One last drink on the deck before bed and one of the OV crew brings along his copy of Viz to amuse us with excerpts….. I didn’t realise they still printed it!
The knock at the door comes at 5.20am, they forgot to knock on our door! Yay, and an extra 20 mins sleep!
We are moored up next to another shallow reef. This is Malahi in the Fury Shoals area. The dive map shows another Lego brick reef system similar to St John’s Wood so is another opportunity to explore.
We are the first group today so we kit up and jump in the warm water so we can get into the passageways before the crowd. The reef is a little bit broken up but the lighting through the swim throughs is beautiful, cue more arty photos! We turn left and right and eventually emerge out of the reef into the blue. The current has picked up a little but fortunately in our favour so we drift gently along the outer reef wall through shoals of fish, expanding and contracting in the sun light.
Once everyone is back on board we set sail heading further north and we can for the first time in days see other boats on the horizon. We are getting closer to civilisation and the dreaded end of the holiday…… I can’t believe tomorrow is kit washing day.
Phone reception is also back so I’d better text home to advise that we haven’t been captured by pirates!
Our next dive will be earlier than normal and the briefing will be at about 9.15 so that we can continue the trek back towards Port Ghalib.
The next dive is Small Abu Galawa which is one of Scuba Girls favourite sites. The reef has a large crack in the middle which you can swim through, there is a tiny wreck and some pinnacles – something for everyone! The highlight for me though is a red bubble anemone over on the far side of the little reef.
We discuss our dive plan and we are on mission ‘red anemone’! We are not interested in the little wreck so we head straight along the crack in the reef to the site of the anemone. My buddy spots it first and I settle on the sandy bottom (avoiding any marine life) and attempt to capture the perfect image….. Click, click, flash, click……. Ok I give up. The fish keep moving, my strobe isn’t firing and there is now a small queue of photographers forming behind me.
We swim round a little and gradually head back the way we have come. We give the Titan Trigger fish a wide berth and gradually shallow out to exit the crack. Between us and the boat is a pinnacle at the perfect height for a safety stop so we circle round admiring the coral and marine life.
I have to agree this is a fantastic site!
Back on board I get ready for lunch. Feeling a bit hungry and then notice the time is only 11:00……. The early start has had a knock on effect to the usual flow of the day!
The lunch bell is finally rung and the locusts descend on the food…… It seems that everyone is hungry today!
We sail further north and land starts to be visible. There are fishing boats dotted around the reefs. We sail for about 3hrs so it gives plenty of time for more snoozing and photo reviewing and editing. The pictures are getting a bit better even if I say so myself!
We arrive at Sheleniat for the afternoon and night dive. It’s an easy briefing – jump off the back of the boat, reef on right, turn at half time/half tank, reef on left……… Easy peasy!
We giant stride into the water and gradually descend to the sandy bottom which is littered with coral blocks. The fish life is good and as we swim slowly along we see a large Napoleon wrasse mooching about. The sandy area seems to be home to lots of baby fish, goat fish that are a quarter of the size you normally see. Jacks are hunting so the peace and calm is occasionally interrupted as a Jack charges at a shoal of fish sending them scattering. We pass a large group of Masked Puffer fish, 6 or 7 – I have never see so many all in one place.
We turn after 30 minutes and head slowly back up along the reef admiring the hard corals and the reflection of the reef in the water surface. A lovely amble along, not bucket loads to see but a restful, chilled out dive.
Only an hour or so to kill until the night dive so we lounge around eating, cake, popcorn and crisps!
I have a new buddy for this dive. A newbie night diver so we plan for a bimble on the coral blocks under the boat. Everyone else heads over to the reef wall so we have the blocks almost to ourselves. Perfect!
We bimble around the rocks shining our torches in lots of nooks and crannies looking for shrimps and crabs. As I shine my torch across the sandy bottom a huge moray eel swims past. I wave my torch frantically under my buddy to get their attention….. Wow!
We turn a little to the left and there is another free swimming moray weaving in and out of the blocks hunting for its tea……Double Wow! If there are morays there must be Banded Shrimps about so we set off searching and find one hiding in a small crevice.
A lovely night dive and hopefully a new keen night diver too!
As this is the last night on the boat before we get back to port it is always a special night and chef pulls out all the stops with a massive roast turkey and more trimmings than there is room for on the table. We have been sailing for a large part of the day, rocking and swaying on the waves, and the chef has cooked up a fabulous treat! Amazing!
The other great thing about tonight is that it’s ladies first…….. We get the pick of the best bits while the lads have to sit and wait!
Whilst eating, the briefing for tomorrow, our last day (sniff), is given. We are trying for Elphinston….. Depending on the weather……. It’s supposed to get windy tomorrow so it may not be possible. Everything is crossed.
We set sail after dinner and sail through the night to a sheltered mooring ready for, hopefully, a short hop to Elphinston in the morning
The knock at the door comes at 5.30 and we are already moored up at a good spot on the south of Elphinston reef. The winds haven’t arrived yet, phew!
The briefing gives two options:
- Rib ride to the north of the reef to look for sharks
- Giant stride off the back of the boat for a small pootle round.
My buddy’s back is still delicate so a rib ride probably isn’t the best idea so we choose option 2.
We watch the rest of the group kit up, safely negotiate the rib entry and then speed off to the northern point of the reef….. I hope they see sharks…….
There are a few others that choose option 2 as well so we giant stride into the water, follow the surface line to the reef and then drop down to the southern plateau. There’s no current and we meander down the reef to 28 metres. I am keeping half an eye on the blue just in case, you never know! I then notice a turtle heading up the side of the reef making a break for the surface and a breath of air. I try to signal to my buddy but he has his head buried in the reef taking pictures. I take a quick snap just for proof…
The visibility is brilliant again and we gently fin along the reef wall watching the fish and looking for nudibranchs…… I find a Phyllidia Elegans nudibranch hiding under a ledge and a Freckled Hawkfish that is happy to pose for photos.
A couple of other divers pass us but apart from that we have the reef to ourselves. What a lovely penultimate dive. We swim back to the boat to see a rib full of tankless divers jump into the water and swim for the ladder. We wait patiently and then ascend ready for breakfast.
The briefing at breakfast is long covering bill paying, tipping, kit washing, feedback forms, collecting passports… Phew loads to remember.
After breakfast we duly follow our instructions and complete all the admin tasks. While this is going on our OV leader shares the video he has been creating of the team, crew and holiday highlights….. Lots of giggles and a lovely summary of the trip (available here).
After sailing for over an hour we finally reach our last dive site of the holiday which is Marsa Shouna. The sandy bay is already full of day boats loaded with snorkelers. There is lots of splashing and screaming coming from the water as some people are clearly on their first ever snorkel. The Dugong is obviously not about as there aren’t loads of boats zipping about frantically chasing something which is good to see.
We have decided to finish the navigation course that we started last year. I still need to complete the 5 point navigation exercise. Last year I seemed to get in a right pickle with it and abandoned the task. I remind myself of the use of a compass and walk around on the deck navigating the 5 points. I think I can remember this all now!
The briefing gives us a number of options:
1) try the sea grass and look for Dugongs, Turtles and Guitar Rays,
2) head to the reef and see the ‘usual Red Sea life’,
3) swim around all over until you get lost and then put up your SMB.
A new species of fish can apparently been seen here too – a bikini fish! As this is our last dive we have been granted 75 minutes….. Woo hoo!
We jump in the water and I find a rock to signify my start (and hopefully end) point. I set off with compass in hand (strapped to my arm as per the PADI book of course!) 0, 10 fin kicks, turn to 60, 10 more fin kicks, 120, 180, 240, 300…… Yay. Back to my rock! Job done! After a congratulatory handshake from my instructor we crack on with the final dive……
We initially head over to the grassy area but the vis is rubbish, it’s quite deep too so we head back over to the reef instead. We shallow out to make sure our air lasts the full 75 minutes and scour the rocks looking at the marine life. As well as the ‘usual reef life’ we are entertained by passing discover scuba divers being dragged round the reef by their tank valves too.
There is a noise similar to what I imagine a drowning duck would make…. Honk, quack, honk….. Ahead is another group of divers rushing over to their guide who has spotted a turtle!
We saunter over casually and the turtle is ushered our way allowing my fellow buddies to take a few close up shots!
After 45 mins we turn around and navigate back to the boat. We count the mooring lines and turn left in to the ‘blue’ when we get to the second set. The vis is awful and reminds me of one of our favourite inland dive sites in the UK. You can’t see the boat let alone the flag under it so we have to trust the compass and eventually we see the familiar white flag rippling under the boat.
72 minutes! We could have hung out under the boat for the extract 3 but with nothing to see we didn’t bother. As we surface and head up the ladder the kit washing commotion is already underway. Divers and kit are scattered all around and we pick our way back to our spot for the final time.
My buddy’s back is still delicate so I offer to wash the kit and hang it out to dry.
It is only a short sail back to Port Ghalib from here via the petrol station so we settle down on the back deck to enjoy the last few hours of our holiday. As soon as the boat is moored there is a hive of activity as the crew start to prepare the boat for the next guests. Supplies are thrown on and empties thrown off… we create a little line to help on-board the fresh supply of soft drinks.
We have opted to eat out tonight and generally stretch our legs so once the shopping has been delivered we head out. Port Ghalib is a pretty port and a nicer spot to moor up than in Hurghada. We find a restaurant and settle down for a bit of people watching and reflect on an amazing week!
Back on board the traditional last night ceremony of emptying the duty free bottles begins, followed by various dancing and agility demonstrations! Thank goodness it’s not an early start in the morning!
Friday arrives all too soon and we gather for the final group photo, collect up our bags, say our goodbyes and board the coach heading further north, back to Hurghada and then home……..
As always the guides and crew on the boat have done everything to make our trip an enjoyable and memorable one. Thank you!
Yet another great OV holiday!
Only 68 more days to our next club dive trip……. North east coast of Scotland to Scapa Flow but I’m doubtful we will have 30 degree water with 30 metre plus vis but it too will be EPIC………..