Aquamania
PADI Dive Centre

What a wonderful trip!

DISCOVERING AND BROADENING YOUR DIVING HORIZON

As I was about to qualify as open water diver Conrad announced this trip to the Red Sea… My buddy looked at me, and, even though I do NOT like water, the two of us committed to this trip!  Yes, it is not a typo, yip, I do not like water, but, being a woman older than 50, I am able to enjoy something I do not like!  If it does not make sense, do not worry, proceed reading, the best is yet to come….

When we did our compass work in the advanced training, my buddy, Batie and I managed to get lost every time, and when we did our advanced buoyancy training Conrad was amazed at the number of extra weights we secretly sneaked into my BCD as he unpacked them at Bass lake on the C grid… but, thankfully and eventually we managed to at least do some compass reading exercises and not end up on the wrong side of Bass lake, and we were the proud recipients of our Padi advanced qualifications! 

As the months went by we took every opportunity to exercise our diving skills and Conrad even allowed us two to go on our own unsupervised ‘bus wreck’ dive in Bass… even though Fiona, his very qualified wife told us afterwards she followed our bubbles on the surface with great attention….

So, after three days in Cairo and Luxor we boarded the tour bus to Hurghada… We kind of felt at home with all our luggage travelling on the roof top of the bus, I must add!

Arriving at Hurghada was great, and, it felt like the nitrox was already bubbling in my veins…        

Picture this…. Blue Melody… 18 Aquamania diving fanatics… and 21 Red sea dives….

If you do not have a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine… pause here, get some and settle in….

We went on-board filled with excitement and apprehension…

Amongst the group we had very experienced divers, experienced divers, and then, let’s call it newbies, after all we also have feelings, like me…. Reality dawned on me as we unpacked our kits that evening… and my ‘responsible’ side questioned whether grown-ups really do things like this… after all… with Mr. Google and all the documentaries made, do one really need to go to this length to relax???

The first rule we learnt, which, as the days went past proved the most valuable… was to, when the bell rang touch one’s hair… If your hair was dry – report for dive brief and put on your wetsuit… if your hair is wet…. Rush to the galley where the most delectable food would be waiting… and if there was a knock on your cabin door… smile, open and accept your morning coffee made to your order!  And, in between…. lounge on the deck or sleep or stare over the most beautiful sea…

We only had to do one thing – jump out of bed, drink coffee, get into gear, dive, and return to the boat, and upon arrival back on board, our beds were made in the most original way possible – either the duvet would resemble a ship, or the pillow would look like someone sleeping in your bed with your sunglasses and hat on, or a pyramid meant for a king and not his mother-in-law. (The latter was usually very small and unimaginative!)  The staff, inclusive of the captain carried us on their hands!

We all passed the evaluation dive at Poseidon Reef with flair.  (I suppose that was why Conrad looked so much more relaxed, because almost all of us grew through the Padi ranks at his hand.)  The dive was dazzling, schools of fish all around, a ray settling on a reef and visibility to simply dream about…

Dive 2 on the Alternatives was a dive with great visibility, amazing schools of fish, and, the story of Nemo and the other small fish going to school seemed to not be a figment of the writer’s imagination, since, and the smaller ones seemed to enjoy swimming, playing, and inquisitively observing rubberized strange looking bubble blowing objects…  

Some of them clearly observed the tourist rule number 1 in Luxor and Cairo… don’t look, don’t look simply continue walking, I mean swimming….  Thus allowing us time to observe them up close.   

I must say, it is amasing to float or glide as if suspended in air with landscapes decorated in coral and all kinds of differently coloured see plants and weeds as far as the eye can see.  Fish, similar to humans queuing at different spots, some lying in wait all by themselves, others actively servicing their coral made flat or cave.  I wondered whilst doing nothing else but hang, whether this was how God daily observed us humans going about our daily chores….

Dive 3, a night dive, was at first kind of strange, after all, even measured at Bass lake’s worst days, one could always at least see something…. But here, when the torch was off, pitch black got a new and way more intensive definition!  The unknown made me think of one of those scary ghost like movies and I pictured a shark coming around a corner smiling at me in a not too friendly manner, but thankfully it seemed that the sharks were elsewhere occupied!   

After I settled my buoyancy, the absolute silence, the way fish colours came to life and the impressive majestic outline of the reef made the darkness all the more worthwhile… to observe fish actually lying on their sides amongst the coral, seeming to be in blissful sleep… something everyone should see at least once in their lifetime!

I struggled with buoyancy as my tank became lighter and before I had time to alert my buddy I was on my way up… I must confess, feeling helpless got a more intense definition, because, if one cannot see where you are kind of going other than up, hmm,  made me feel a little uneasy…. Now, in hindsight, I must confess, and I am chuckling here as I am typing, it was interesting to observe from above, the red and blue bleeping lights on the cylinders of my buddies down below seemingly on the lookout for where I had ventured off to and not finding me!  I think the fact that my buddy is a friend of 30 odd years might be the only thing that saved me from a proper hiding after she eventually located me!   

It did not take the other three long to realize that I was not somewhere out exploring but rather hanging like a whale or a ship observing them from the top!  My Morse code attempts were apparently futile, after all who looks up towards the sky if you are exploring down below??  The rubber duck arrived and I very unladylike landed after a few attempts on it.  (Getting onto a rubber duck in the middle of somewhere whilst hanging onto a piece of nylon rope is apparently something men and a selected few women can do, I so am not one of those!)

The other three were kind of not amused that I sat like the queen of the Nile in the rubber duck whilst they had to hold on to a rope being towed back to the Blue Melody!  (Somehow we managed to end up in the reef some distance from where the Blue Melody was moored. But, I suppose, when they eventually realized I was on top and not below, or eaten by a shark or something (this is now my imagination talking), they surfaced right there and did not do the return under water trip to surface right next to the mooring spot which was part of our dive brief!)

The next day I packed more weights…. Lots and lots more… actually, I think I cleared the bin… staggered to the side of the boat, not walking like an Egyptian but more like a stranded whale, and, of course came to understand why stones sink so fast…

We were at Ras Mohammed where there was no anchor points, since it is a protected area, and we were dropped in the go…. Must confess, it was exhilarating, scary, frightening, adrenaline rushing, and all possible and impossible emotions, were rushing through my brain at once…

To jump off the boat and when you turn around the boat is more than 5 – 10 meters further, and to have to immediately do a negative entry to ensure you arrive at the bottom where you are supposed to… because if not you might be swiped away by the current… words can actually not give proper impact to the feeling or the rush through one’s veins..  I am sure it was not my imagination that most if not all of us exited these dives with a few more grey hair….

The following two days we explored Jackson Alley, Woodhouse, Gordon and Thomas reef as well as Shark reef and the remains of the Yolanda.  The Yolanda was a ship carrying toilets and other bathroom amenities, and toilets are still visible, standing in the right position amongst the coral, and, of course, when one of our very daring divers wanted to pose for a picture on a toilet, the eel occupying it thought it was a forcible land invasion and Danny had to, let’s call it gracefully, move on!

The Thistlegorm has made the area at Sha ab Ali its home after it met German shelling on 10 October 1941.   Once in the water one can observe the wreck from the surface.  Once cannot help to be filled with respect and awe, actually, it simply commands respect when you close in and see the dignity with which this grand old dame occupies her grave.  (In my mind I can imagine classic music such as Aida echoing through the hull.)

Entering the wreck, gliding through the various decks and holds… words fail me completely!  To observe the trucks and their tyres still intact,  the motorcycles still chained together, the gun shells, the Wellington boots, the hospital beds, the train locomotives, it is simply too much to take in, and, I was grateful that we went on a second dive to explore some more! 

What is most amasing is the respect divers show towards the old dame…. I am sure that it was not only I that felt as if I was treading on holy ground here.  The devastation caused by the bombing made it almost inconceivable that only 9 mortal soles were lost.  Photos can give some, call it, hmm, impetus, but being there, observing, passing through the alleys and levels… this should be on everyone’s bucket list, whether you love water, or not!

Going down the hull to the bottom, down very narrow alleys, with no space to turn back, and to be left in total darkness… (I managed to take the wrong turn), was an experience that words cannot capture… unlike the sailors in 1941, I had air on my back, was aware that this was an exploration and, as our guides said, I could look up and the light would lead me to the exit… to imagine the sailors without this… frightening… their bravery is something I can only imagine… I do not think that after this exploration anyone that dove this wreck can be afraid of anything in life again! 

Must confess, there were times I wondered if my buddy in front of me felt as scared as I did, because she simply kept on gliding, ducking and crawling through the next hole!  Fortunately, when diving and following in a line, one cannot see the face or the expression of your buddy, so, I suppose bravery and resilience are traits that one learns whilst wreck diving in single file!  After all, this is where training and self-discipline kicks in… and, I must declare, Conrad taught us well! 

The other wrecks we dove, such as the Barge, the Ghiannis D, Carnatic and Chrisoula K all held their own charm and awe.  We by now were experienced in ducking, crawling, turning sideways, upside down and bending in all kinds of interesting ways that most body contortionists must still master as we glided through history!  The privilege to be in close proximity of a ship on the bottom of the ocean is priceless! The lessons learnt indescribable.   If anyone again proffers that his or her life is a ship wreck, the stark images of twisted steel, gaping holes and an eerie silence will automatically dawn in my mind.  (The pedantics my buddy and I pulled at Bass lake when we were allowed to hone our skills of wreck penetration most certainly also helped to a certain extent as we went wreck crawling at certain spots.) 

At times I wondered why the marble tiles, the workbenches and tools to mention but a few items were not salvaged, but I suppose, in the end, all was left untouched because of respect and because people that like to squeeeeeze into tight fitting neoprene need to satisfy their urge to explore somewhere!  Oh, and of cause, what a way to learn not to touch or pick up everything you see than to dive the Red Sea wrecks!

The rest of the dives were at Shaab El Erg.  We ventured into a sea cave at Umm Gamma and to describe the sheer beauty and unspoilt, unpolluted area is almost impossible.  We might have only seen a few sea tortoises, dolphins at a distance, gigantic moray eels and rays but to be allowed access into an area which is commercially unspoilt, properly maintained and protected gives me hope that our children and theirs would at least in the Red Sea be able to meet nature as it was ordained to be!

Aquamania…. All hats are off to you!  The trip was well planned, professionally executed and the most exhilarating holiday I have ever experienced!