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Red Sea North trip - 2002


Dive In, the dive shop from Limassol, Cyprus chartered Shalkamy Explorer for a week of diving in the Northern Red Sea. My brother did all his open water training with them, and I used to dive with them when I was out there - so we were invited to join the gang. I flew to Cairo and met the rest of the group there and we all took a short flight to Hurgada where our boat was

The Boat - Shalkamy Explorer II
When I first saw the boat I could not believe my eyes. The boat was absolutely huge, probably the size of 3 average Aggressor boats combined. It was freshly painted and looked new. Rooms were comfortable, air conditioning worked and we had hot water. Since it was only 16 of us on a boat configured for 25, most of us did not have to share the cabin - which was good because there was no camera tables on that boat, so my brother and I used our second beds as one.

That brings me to what was not on the boat - no photo facilities (no E-6, no camera tables, no chargers or converters - bring your own, thankfully mine worked). We had one camera rinse basket, and even though it was dedicated to the cameras, during the week, I have seen items ranging from masks to knives and reels in there.

The Food
Oh my! Whatever that boat lacked in photo facilities was overly compensated by the quantity and quality of the food; even more commendable given that it was the end of Ramadan and the crew fasted during the day when we were consuming copious amounts of food.  Seafood every day, almost every meal, variety - we all were complaining of the weight gain by the end of the trip

On the American Thanksgiving, they did a turkey dinner for us, a group of English/Cypriots/Russians. OK, we did have one token American. They lit the candles (put some candles inside the carved fruit), the cook was there in his white hat with a huge knife in his hand, ready to carve the juicy pieces and put them on you plate with the generous helping of staffing - it was wonderful

The Diving

My brother coming into the swimthrough
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Diving deck was huge and I could see how it probably would not be crowded even with 25. But when it came to diving from zodiacs (or ribs), there were only 2, and I was glad we were only 16. With half of the crowd diving doubles and rough seas, each rib would only take 4 people. At some sites we had to wait our turn, but the wait was never too long. And somehow, we never had to wait to be picked up - most of times when we surfaced, the zodiac would be right there.

All night and twilight dives were done directly from the boat at your own leisure - you could do as many night dives as you wanted. Since we generally pushed the limits during the day, we would only do one hour-long dive every night

Restrictions - they were none as long as you dove within the limits of your training and, more importantly, comfort. We did a few deco dives but tried to limit our deco obligations to less than 10 min total - most of the times during wall dive, when we would be spending the best part of the dive drifting at 20-30 ft and off-gassing.

Wreck diving dominated reef diving (no complains from me ;-)). All in all, we visited close to 10 different wrecks in 10 days - my brother and I got to dive on most of them. As I did in my previous reports, I would only describe the sites that remained in the memory for longer than the day we visited them - for good or bad reasons

Siyal El Kaver
The boat departed Hurgada on Saturday and we did 3 dives that day. This site was home to our dives #2 and #3 of the first day or dusk and night dives. It is within easy reach of day boats, so it is quite over-dived and has lots of dead coral. It will remain in memory as the site where I saw my first ever Spanish Dancer nudibranch - 4 of them actually, for the first time. When I first sighted one, I almost lost my regulator - I have only seen them in the Marine ID books before and thought they would be small - I never looked at the size section that said they grow to 50 cm (19 inches)!!! And I might have found the largest one, it was huge - I was very happy I had 15MM lens on my Nikonos V had I have my macro on, it would not have fit in the framer (as a result, I spent all my subsequent macro dives with 1:3 instead of 1:2 - was hoping to see more Dancers)

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Once I made about 5 shots of the first one, saw the second one close behind and another 2 by the end of the dive. That was it - I could go home happy

The Shaab Abu Nuhas Wrecks
There are at least four wrecks there next to each other within the rec depth limits - I understand that there are others as well in deeper waters. We have done (chronologically) Giannis D, Carnatic, and the Chrisoula K (aka Tile Wreck). Each dive was wonderful in its own right. Carnatic is 100 yrs older than the other two wrecks and more beat up, so you could swim pretty much through it - which we did - parallel to each other and I snapped few shots of my brother

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On each of the wrecks I did silhouette shots that I use a lot in the lakes - the Giannis pics turned out quite well
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The Tile wreck (so called because it was transporting the tiles) lies with its bow stuck in the reef almost at the surface and the stern at about 80 ft - there was quite a strong surge when we dove it and I had an experience of being sucked into the room while swimming next to the door and my brother had a reverse experience with being spat out of the room into the corridor - neither of us liked those experiences too much and we decided not to go inside anywhere else on this one. Below is the prop of the Tile wreck

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This wreck is in most guide books. It is quite old, upside down and swimmable through. Of interest is a huge boiler inside, 2 resident Napoleon Wrasse and the prop outside

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Funny story on this one - we were supposed to dive Dunraven and then drift back to the boat along the reef wall - except the current was going in the other direction, so we did a drift dive against the current - most work I did of all dives. That was the moment when I decided to give up my split fins;-))

Ras Mohammed Wall
fan1.jpg (143414 bytes)This was one of those WOW dives when you are experience a total sensory overload from the amount of color, movement and the variety. Having dropped briefly to 150ft, we spent most of the dive at 30 ft - I don't experience this feeling often, but I did not want to leave even when the film ended (normally, the end of the film means the end of the dive as well)

Shark and Yolanda Reef (Wall dive)
We dove that one twice and went deep on the first dive looking for .. the sharks of course (saw none). I noticed how pretty the 40 ft and above area was as we were coming up. So, when after some surface time we decided that single tank divers will dive the same area again, I was in the water very fast - we stayed at 50ft initially coming up to 30 ft in the second half of the dive. Another WOW dive - I could not believe how healthy and plentiful the coral was, how many variations of colors of soft coral they were, and the diversity of fishes surrounding us. The current pushed us gently along the wall and we just drifted in total relaxation fascinated by the marine life happening around us. After about 70 min it as time to come up and we did, very reluctantly

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When I finally got down to the deck, I could see what was all the hype about this wreck, but I think this wreck is being ruined by the volume of divers that it gets. When we got there at about 4pm, there was about 7 other boats moored on it already - all stayed overnight

Unless you are willing to forgo the best light conditions and dive at the weird hours, be prepared to share this wreck with hundreds of other divers - and when I say hundreds, I am not kidding.

In total we made 4 dives on this wreck.

Our first was just exploratory, we did not go inside, did not spend much time at one spot, just swam around, saw the features we would like to see in greater detail later and made decisions on if we were going to penetrate

Second was a night dive - I had my macro set up - was not much macro there -it is so over dived, there is not much life left. We did managed to find a nice scorpion fish and few lion fishes. It was night (about 8pm), but there was so much light coming from the boats, it was like a day dive. Luckily, most other boats had their dives finished before we got in the water, so it was not too crowded

Our dive #3 started at 5:30am the next day as we knew that a lot of divers from other resident boats would be in the water by 6am, so this was our only chance to go inside and be there by ourselves with some daylight already available. And that was what we did. Had fun swimming through the holds looking at all the items there. Just as we were finishing up in the 3rd hold, the hordes arrived, so we did few ambient light shots of the wreck and went to the line.

After about an hour surface interval, we went down again - boy, was that thing ever crowded! We just swam to the stern (the damaged part) to make pics of the guns and there was a friendly school of barracudas and another school

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Bluff point Barge
It is amazing how this very boring-looking site (old broken down barge) turned out to be my best macro dive ever! The barge is rusted and almost flat, but due to the fact that it is in the calm waters, it makes a perfect night dive.

We were the first boat to arrive at the site and other boats that arrived later moored nearby and put the lines between the boats and the site. As we were still offgassing from previous dives, we did not get in the water immediately. At about 7pm at night, we were ready to go, but after one look down at the site (it was right under the port side of our boat) decided to postpone it for an hour - the site was overcrowded with people some of whom had HID lights

At about 8pm, we finally got in the water and made our way to the site. Immediately I thought that it looked promising. There was a lot of ruble around and I was hoping we would see some shrimps and other mini critters. Once we made it to the wreck, we saw couple of lion fishes right away. Spent some frames on those, then saw more and more and more - by the end of the dive I just ignored them

As I really wanted to get a picture of banded shrimp, I started swimming inside the hull looking into every hole and under every ledge. Soon enough, I did find a small shrimp sitting on the face of the moray eel. That was quite a view, but he refused to pose for the camera

I noted where the hole was and figured I would come back and see is he would be more cooperative later. Moving towards one end (could not say where stern and bow were), saw some anemones and red colored sea urchins. Then one of the holes in the hull yielded a very cute blue baby eel - after than one I saw at least three more

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We then saw some people for our group trying to attract our attention. They found a very large crab. It was sitting in the crease, completely out of range for my framer, so I could only look

I then decided to go outside of the hull and search the rubble - as soon as I looked under on of the metal plates I saw the eyes! Shrimp! Was very cooperative one as well - posed for the camera. After that I saw at least ten more shrimp. Later. my brother suddenly flashed the light at me and, as I moved closer, I could see his frustration He had a very small macro framer and found a very big scorpion fish.

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I was running low on film and was not going to get out of the water anytime soon, so I only made one shot. I went back in the direction of the hull keeping low to the ground and looking for more mini critters when I almost came nose to nose with another scorpion fish. Both of those are in my Red Sea macro albums

 Back to the hull to look for other things when some movement caught my eye. I cold not believe my senses for a moment - there was a piece of coral that moved! Then I saw the eyes..turns out it was a very cute hermit crab with corals growing on his shell. Another first for me. Snapped one picture than went and got my brother as the little hermit was perfect for his frame. This is the one

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He snapped the pics and signaled 'out of film' and 'I am cold but don not want to come up". We stayed for another 10 min to finish my roll and very reluctantly came back up. Computers registered 80 min. Decided against another dive as were both quite cold (and that was dive #5 of the day)

The Non-Diving Part
We decided to stay in Cairo for 2 days after the trip and that was a wonderful decision. From my previous visits to the Pyramids, when we would only pass through Cairo on the tourist bus, I had an impression of Cairo as very poor, unsafe and rather dirty city. Later, having spent two days living in the middle of it, this impression disappeared.

We stayed at the hotel in Zamalek area, very leafy and bustling with shops and restaurants. Zamalek is an island in the middle on Nile right across from the downtown core. We walked around a lot, took a long stroll along the Nile, spent 3 hours on top of Cairo tower watching the city during the daylight, dusk and seeing the lights come out below after sunset. The next day was spent on a private tour when we had the minivan with the driver to ourselves to take us where we wanted. In my opinion it was the best way to see the sites and avoid the crowds.

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