Red Sea 1998

coral

Please note:  all pictures in this journal are thumbnailed. 
If you would like to see the  larger image, just click on it.

The sun peeps through the dense grey clouds a few hours a day and has yet to heat the air enough to feel like summer.  The rain still pours and pours day in and day out. It is July and we are still carrying winter around as if we we may miss it.  The one good thing is that it does stay light out until about 10:30 or 11:00pm.  We have more time to throw the football around or go for a walk after a long day at work.  Here in England there are the ups and downs for every season, but this summer we had to go to The Red Sea to get our burst of sun for the year.

We wanted to take a holiday this summer and scuba diving was a must.  I was working at the watersports store and we got a great deal on a trip to the Red Sea.   Yes, we had been there before, but it is the most convenient warm place to visit from England, when diving is on the agenda.  There was one unique feature about this holiday click to see larger image of bluespotted reef stingraythat made it different than others either of us had been on in the past.  We were spending a week on a live-aboard boat, with 10 other guests and 6 crew members, in the Red Sea. 
We are typically land based and trekking all around to see the sights and experience the local culture, but this time we were to explore the deep blue sea for 8 days and 7 nights and get to know mother nature a bit better.

Thursday
We arrived at Gatwick Airport a couple of hours early, in high hopes of getting an emergency exit row (LEG ROOM). No such luck, apparently more than 3/4 of the other passengers on the flight had the same idea.  We roamed around the airport for a while and checked out the duty free shops, not a thing worthy of purchasing.  After about an hour they made an announcement as to which gate we were to board.  We were sitting in the Costa Coffee Shop and decided it may be best to wait at the gate, off we go.  It felt like we walked miles in the terminal and the scary thing was there were no other people around once we left the shopping area.  It must have taken a good ten minutes to reach the gate and we were the only ones there.  Ofcourse we felt we must have made a wrong turn, but there were two people working at the gate and they said it was correct.

click to see larger image of clown fishTwenty minutes may have passed prior to any other passengers arriving, then they swarmed. Most people were loading up on booze and cigs at the duty free. We met a few of the others that were on our boat with us, but we weren't sure who the others were.  After about another 20 minutes the few people we had met showed up (Sam/Steve, Garrin, and Scott). Scott works with Heidi and this was a working holiday for him as he was going to do our Advanced Open Water Certification. We also bumped into a few people that Heidi worked with at Ocean Leisure (Steve and Sid, they run the Camera Dept. at Ocean Leisure) they were going on another boat just for professional photographers filming for the BBC.   See, we know people in high places over here....heee heeee  It was a riot to see Steve loaded down with about 7 cameras on his person, shoved in pockets that you would not normally expect ( on the thigh and inside a his vest).  He was trying to beat the system and not pay for an extra carry on so he had it all out, not to mention his official carry on loaded with more cameras, film, batteries, and underwater housings for them all.  We should have had our camera ready for a shot.  Time to board the flight and look out Egyptian Sun here we come...

Remember how we arrived early to check in to get a good seat, well we not only neglected to get an emergency exit row, but we got the last row  in the center section with our non-reclining seats up against a wall.  Alan's knees were imbedded into the seat in front and we were cozy happy little lambs.  Right!  That lasted about 10 minutes, we then moved to another set of seats that at least reclined. The four and 1/2 hour flight actually breezed by and we arrived into the tiny little Sharm El Sheikh Airport. When departing from the plane, you walk down a flight of stairs, hop on a bus and then the bus drives you 50ft to the terminal (What a joke, we could have walked faster, but makes you feel like your going somewhere big). We had arrived and we didn't really care how we got there because it was about 11pm and it was a cool 95'F.

click to see larger image of Moray EelWe had to wait in line to buy our visa, which are two cool looking lickable stamps that you put in your passport and pay approx. $15.  Once you have your stamps and a form filled out it is into another line to have your passport inspected and the officials stamp it for you. You must know that all of these lines are meshed together and some people were going the wrong way. There were even about 20 people waiting in line by a window with no one working at it.   It only took them about 15 minutes to figure out their line wasn't moving and then they merged in to the mesh of other lines, entertained us though, (I suppose we could have mentioned to someone the line they were in wasn't open, but that would have spoiled a few laughs). After all of the official immigrations stuff takes place, in a room about 40x40, we then move to another room about the same size the collect our luggage.  From there it is through the security gate that no on mans and out the door.

We were greeted by an employee of the tour company we were with, and she directed us to our bus. After just a few minutes, and about 20 other people boarding, we were on our way.   It is about 15 minutes or so from the airport to the marina, but we stopped by a few hotels to drop the others off that were staying in town. Once we were at the Travco Marina we finally knew who the rest of our group was.  Ofcourse Heidi being a busy body, was trying to figure out who the other 8 people on the boat were from the time we were in the airport lobby.  We all gathered our goods and headed for our home for the week... THE ORCHID.

Here we were greeted by the crew and  our divemaster Ahmed (pictured here kissing a sea turtle).click to see larger image of Ahmed and Turtle in Red Sea 
We were told the captain's rules: 
no shoes and the crate for us to throw them in, wet and dry areas of the boat, where the head was on deck and how to always leave your dive kit set up ready to go.  The cabins were down stairs and each had their own bathroom and shower.  We were informed that the toilet must have water in it to flush.We needed to use the hose next to the toilet after we did our duty or dutiette, but before we hit the little flush button (This is a rule that must be followed or who knows what we would be smelling at the end of a week at sea).

At this time we decided to nab a cabin and unpack.  A bit about the cabins- there were a total of 6, one with a full sized bed on the main deck and 5 down below with 2 twin beds, a nightstand, a few small cabinets, a couple of windows the size of a coffee/tea saucer and a TV. 2 cabins were in the front, 2 in the rear and ours was between then down the side.  Small, but cozy and sufficient for our needs...sleep.

click to see larger image of lion fishThe group gathered on the upper deck about 20 minutes later. We were all pretty tired and Ahmed could see that, but he wanted to get to know us a little before we called it a night. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and letting everyone know a bit about our dive history including how many dives we have done to date.  Alan was the first to go, he mentioned he had about 75 logged dives. Then Heidi, very excited about this trip and getting certified advanced and about 35 logged dives.  As we went around we met Tim, a man in the 40's and was ending a month long holiday with this trip.  He was travelling with Brian, also in his 40's and wanted to dive some wrecks. They both had approx. 35-45 logged dives.We then met a group of four travelling together all in the mid twenties or so, a nice couple named Glen and Justine, plus David and Darrin. They too were interested in wreck diving and also had about the same experience as everyone else thus far.

Next was Scott, (sir Scott as heidi likes to call him, he does have such a   wonderful British accent) he has somewhere between 700 and 800 dives and was working as the instructor on this trip, but plenty of time for fun too. Garrin was Scott's cabin mate and he is currently in the midst of being certified divemaster, under Scott's instruction in England.click to see larger image of queen anglefish This was a holiday for him, but he would help out with teaching too. Then we met another nice couple, Sam and Steve.   Sam had about the same number of dives as Heidi and she was travelling with her boyfriend Steve who's a certified PADI instructor on holiday.  Then Ahmed let us know a little about him and what our plans were for the next morning.  He estimated he has over 8000 dives and stopped counting long ago. Although Ahmed is 100% Egyptian he was born and raised in Kuwait. He went to college in Cairo and worked as a Disc Jockey there. Then moved to Sharm about 5 years ago and began   working as a divemaster.

After all of the chat it was getting close to 1or 2am, but a few of us just had to jump in the water to cool down.  AH! that felt so good and wow was it salty. Another hour or so went by, then it was quiet and calm and we were all zonked.

The bulk of our holiday consisted of diving, so if you double click on the name of the underlined dive site it will bring you to a page of facts for that particular site.  Please note that not every dive site is linked. If you wish to skip the facts and just continue with our story feel free, but you'll be missin' out. Alternatively you may visit the Red Sea Virtual Diving Center and get details about all of the fish, coral, wrecks and plenty more info.

Friday
The official Day number 1 of the holiday.  We did a few easy dives just to freshen up our skills and wet our appetites for the big stuff.  By easy we mean not much current, not too deep and pretty damn good visibility. Our first dive was at approx. 8:30am (we all slept in a little too long) and it's named Temple

For the two of us the dive lasted about 50 minutes and we saw some really cool creatures. Some of which you see every dive, but it still can give you chills of thrills all over. This dive site consists of many pinnacles that are covered with so much sea life. This visibility was about 60 feet and the water was about 78-80'F.  Under the waterclick to see larger image of scorpionfisheverything is so peaceful and quiet.  It is the ultimate means of relaxation and solitude amongst so many other forms of life. We saw 2 Blue Spotted Rays, Parrot Fish, Trigger Fish (mating season for them and they were a wee bit aggressive), quite a few large oysters and lion fish and scorpion fish(looks like a rock and can be dangerous). The clown fish are always so cute swimming through the anemone as well. Don't think we didn't see more, it's just difficult to remember every little thing.

After completing the morning dive we ate a hearty breakfast and then the anchor came up and we were on our way to dive number 2 for the day.  An hour or so later we arrived at Stingray Station (officially known as Alternatives).  This was another low-key easy dive to get everyone into the swing of things. click to see larger image of juvenile trigger fishThe viz wasn't as good as the last dive, but still pretty darn good.  This was a large circular reef that we drifted around with the slight current.  Again we saw much of the same sea life as on the earlier dive.   This particular dive Heidi was apparently a little too close to a nesting trigger fish because it came at her.  The trigger fish was approximately 2 feet long or so.   No big deal, but it was kind of spooky and they have ugly teeth. The dive lasted about 55min for Alan and Heidi and shortly after we all had lunch together. 

At this time Ahmed came to all of us and asked if we minded changing our plans.   At some point during the week we were planning to cross the main section of the Northern Red Sea that leads to the Suez Canal and go to some wrecks out in the middle of this area.  The exact day was up in the air due to weather and sea conditions.   We had to be sure the sea wasn't too rough and apparently Ahmed felt that now was the time to go instead of the early morning.  We all agreed as long as we get to dive we're happy. 

It took a few hours to cross and it wasn't too bad except for the last 30 minutes or so.  The sea was getting pretty rough and the orchid was bobbin' and a rockin'.   On the upper deck books and personal items on the table tops were sliding around and falling to the ground.  This was all quite exciting for all of us trying to catch everything and hold it all down.  Then we noticed there were dolphins following us for quite some time.  We finally reached our destination, Shaba Abu Nahas, out in the center of the Red Sea surrounded by many large reefs, which helped to keep the water calm where we were.Red Sea DolphinsThe dolphins hung around us for quite a while as we were anchoring.  Steve was absolutely dying to jump in and swim with them, but he needed the Okay from the captain that we were secure and it was safe.  The Okay came and in Steve went.  He was having the best time.  A few others jumped in as well and then Heidi did too, but neglected to wear fins.  Heidi came back to get fins because there was a slight current and the group was getting further and further away from the boat.  Fins were now on and Alan and a couple more people jumped in too.  We swam out about 50 yards or so and saw the guys swimming with the dolphins and free diving down below the be with them as well.  It was so incredible to see this and see how responsive and playful the dolphins were.  This went on for an hour or so and then the dolphins were on their way.  A LONG swim back to the boat and time for the briefing for our night dive.

The dive site was Shaba Abu Nahas for the night dive and this is where we were anchored for the night. We hopped in with a little extra equipment, (glow sticks attached to our tanks, big torches/flash lights so we could see) because of it being night time and all. We buddied up as a group of four this time because it was one of the dives for our advanced course.   Our group was Alan, Heidi, Scott and Garrin.  The site was basically a large circular reef and the plan was to go around it. 

We descended on the anchor line and went around the reef clockwise.  This was so cool, everything looks so different at nigh.  Imagine total darkness and down at the end of your flash light beam you see the most brilliant colored coral you have ever seen, deep red, magenta, blue, green, yellow (all the colours in a crayola box). As we were going around Heidi kept noticing little tiny orange glowing eyes and zoomed in for further inspection, the were the tiniest little creatures that almost glowed they were shrimp and they were absolutely everywhere.  We also spotted loads of sea urchins that looked like (a kids beige soft ball with 1inch spikes coming out of it from all sides) or something like a mine. There were plenty of lion fish, starfish, groupers and an extra large sea slug.  We were down for about 50 minutes and loved every minute of it. After the dive we all just hung out on deck reading, talking and most of all relaxing.  We did plenty of relaxing on this trip.

Saturday
The next morning  we were greeted with some dolphins and then it was off to one of three wrecks just on the other side of the reefs that were protecting us from the rough seas.  The boat couldn't go over to the dive sites, so we had to split into two groups and take the rib(inflatable motor boat).  Group 1 would get ready and the boat would take them out maybe 5 min or so and drop them above the wreck and then it would return for group 2.  We opted to go in group 2 and have a little more resting time that morning.  Well as it turned out it only gave us an extra 10 minutes or so and off group 2 went.  The ride was pretty bouncy and the swells were a few feet high and it did become a bit nauseating on an empty stomach.  We all rolled back one at a time off of the boat and gave our ok signals. 

As we were descending Alan was extremely seasick and ascended to the surface.   Heidi went up after him to see what the problem was and they at that time decided it would be best to get back on the boat and go back to the main boat.  On the trip back again it was a bit rough and it was just Heidi and Alan with the driver.  Alan leaned over the side and graciously 'fed the fish'.  Alan was pretty much out of commission for the rest of the day.  Once you are sick at sea the only thing that helps is to be on shore, and that wasn't possible so Alan rested the rest of the day.  

Heidi did do the next dive on the same reef, but a different wreck, named Chrisoulak, and was buddied up with Ahmed and Justine.  Again we needed to split into two group and take out the rib.  We went in the second group and the ride was just as rough, but this wreck was a few minutes further away than the previous one.  It was very difficult to maintain your balance loaded down with dive gear perched on the edge of the inflatable boat flying over swells and bouncing around.  Ahmed had a couple of us do the buddy grip as we road, which is inter locking feet with the person directly across from you and grasping hold of their forearms (almost like you are shaking hands but holding forearms).This was a great help with the seasickness and bouncing around.

Once we arrived, again we rolled over backwards off the boat gave the OK signal and down we went.  We first circled around the outside of the wreck and slowly descended at the same time.  As we reached the bottom sandy area at 82 feet Ahmed pointed out the garden eels that were out feeding in the sand.  These are rare to see, because the slightest disturbance to them and wvooppp down they go into the sand and they won't come back out for a long time.  They are about the thickness of a thin jump rope and were out of the sand about a foot or so. 

click to see larger image of starfishAfter admiring them we continued to circle the ship and Ahmed found a Candy-cane sea starfish and had each of us hold it, then we spotted thousands of glass fish (they are almost like glimmery gold fish).  We were completely surrounded by them and we all sat there very calm so they wouldn't know we were there.  Then Ahmed moved his hand in a fast jerky motion out towards a group of them and they all moved about 2 feet away as a group.   It was as if they kept their same distance from each other and moved the 2 feet then they all returned to the same spot as a group.  Shortly after this Ahmed led us inside the ship, we had to swim down a flight of stairs and down a long dark hallway.   This was spooky and thrilling all at the same time, it went from daylight to dark in just moments.  It appeared we were around the engine room, there electrical boxes and cables everywhere.  After milling around inside we went back out and began our ascent to the surface. 

When we returned to the ship lunch was ready and Ahmed again said we could  spend the night there again or go ahead and cross back to the eastern side now while the sea was manageable.  We said let's go now and head towards the Thistlegorm for diving tomorrow.  That is exactly what we did, but the sea wasn't as calm as we anticipated.   The crossing took a bit longer than it did before, but we were all pro's at hanging on to things now.  We arrived at our spot for the night protected by some reefs near the Thistlegorm.  By this time Alan was feeling better and decided to go on the next dive.

This site was called Shaba Ali in the channel and was a mellow shallow drift dive.       (A drift dive is when the boat drops you in one spot, you float with the current until your time or air is up, then you surface and the boat comes to get you).  We spotted all kinds of nudibranch (A type of sea slug, snail without a shell, very bright and vibrant colors. It measures only 2 inches long and this tiny creature stores noxious compounds inside its body, and its bright colors serve to warn potential predators that it is distasteful or poisonous). We also saw a couple of blue spotted stingrays and some juvenile lion fish.  Later that night we both decided to skip the night dive and hang out on the boat, catch up on filling in our log books and some reading.

Sunday
The following morning we sailed over to the Thistlegorm, which only took about 30min to get there.  There were 4 dives scheduled on the wreck for this day and one the following morning.  Alan and Heidi did the early morning, early afternoon and night dive, skipping the late afternoon dive on the first day.   If you remember we dove the Thistlegorm on our last trip to the Red Sea as well, and we wrote about the wreck in detail. Prior to diving this site, Ahmed popped in a video for us to watch.  They had interviewed a few of the survivors from the wreck and they told the story in such a way that while we were diving images of their experiences came to mind.

This trip was absolutely incredible, good visibility, minimal current and not too many divers.  The first time down for the day we all pretty much stayed together as a group, to get familiar with the wreck.  As we were descending we saw schools of barracuda and tuna everywhere. The wreck is approx. 100 feet down and a bit away from the wreck is a train engine at 111 ft.  We tried to find it, but were a little apprehensive to go to far out of sight from the main wreck.  The stern is broken off from the remainder of the ship and in the back were again millions of little glassfish glowing in the sunlight.  There were quite a few puffer and boxfish spotted as well. Inside were plenty of army trucks carrying motorcycles and ammo.  It was a very eerie felling swimming through this grave site and half expecting to see a skeleton or something to freak you out. The stories from the survivors were so vivid you could picture exactly what happened.

On the night dive in the Thistlegorm was even more exciting and really got your mind wondering. We descended down the anchor line in groups of four and went around the outside of the ship. The colours were so much more vivid and vibrant at night.  Our lights really pinpointed each thing that we saw and just filtered out everything else. We then popped inside a few rooms and in one small corridor there was a beautiful sea turtle just sitting there on the floor.  It was about 2ft in diameter and it remained very still as we carefully swam over it so as not to disturb it. 

As we were swimming through the main hold we entered the various rooms with the trucks and motor cycles. In certain spots between rooms we noticed the ceiling shimmered.   As you go up you can actually poke your head in an air pocket inside the ship, down about 85 feet under the water.  Confused yet?  You see over the years as the diver exhale, they produces air bubbles, which in turn rise to the surface.  If they are inside the shipwreck the bubbles rise to the ceiling and can go no further because of the wreck itself.  Eventually  they form large air pockets on the ceiling if there is no way for the air to escape. You can actually poke you head through and take out your regs and talk.  This was so cool. We then swam through the captains quarters and saw the bath tub and toilet.  Then we exited the ship and continued to swim over the bow for the remainder of the dive.  On our ascent, while we were doing our safety stop, we spotted another turtle swimming past.  This was an exceptional dive and experience for all. 

MondayClick here to see a large image of the Coral Variety
The next morning just about everyone woke up and did one more quick dive on the Thistlegorm, but we were a bit lazy and skipped that dive.  After everyone that went down returned we ate breakfast and then on to the next location the Dunraven wreck.
Here we divided into two groups because we had to take the rib boat out.  We went in the first group this time with Scott and Garrin.  This wreck was more in the shape of a submarine. There were two different areas to enter the wreck,  the bow being the deepest portion and then the stern was separate area. Then you swim up the wreck and out along the reef. 

As we entered the front portion of the wreck we saw a few lion fish and  the most colourful purple coral.  There was a scorpion fish down below us on a metal beam still as can be and it looked like a rock.  The inside was just empty of its original contents and was full of sea life and coral.  It was quite small in comparison to the Thistlegorm, but very exciting. As we exited that area, and swam through the exposed portion of the wreck, we spotted a huge parrot fish (about 4 or 5 feet long) and a huge triggerfish as well (approx. the same size).  It is so amazing how big these fish can get and when they swim next to you how inferior they can make you feel. In this area we poked around and followed Scott's lead.

We were now entered the second area, not as deep as the first, and this was a narrow passage way into a room and then out of the wreck.  Again there was plenty of sea life to enjoy in this wreck and everything seemed to be massive in comparison to what we had seen at other dive sites.  After exiting the wreck we swam along the reef until our dive time was up or we were low on air, which ever came first (almost made it all the way back to the boat, if it weren't for the strong current the last 20 yards or so). Along the reef we were overwhelmed with colours from the coral and fish.  We saw so many goat fishbright purples, blues and yellows, like we have never seen before.   We spotted a long brown Moray Eel and it glided along the reef so gracefully.   On this dive we also saw for the first time the yellow goatfish.  This fish is extremely bright yellow with two little white hairlike things hanging from its chin area, therefore it was named goatfish.

The next dive of the day was an absolutely exhilarating drift dive in Ras Mohammed National Park named Shark Reef and Jolanda Reef (This site was one of our favourites last time we were here). We did this dive two times, but the first time we went as a group and the second we were with Ahmed only.  The boat dropped the entire group along side a shore based reef and then we all swam along this reef then crossed over the blue to Shark Reef (circular surrounded by blue), continued around and then to Jolanda Reef (circular surrounded by blue about 20 yards away from Shark Reef). 

As we all jumped in we gathered together and then began our journey underwater.   Again the reef was beautiful and as the reef turned we were all to continue straight ahead and across the blue.  When we say blue we mean blue.  There is nothing else in your site but the crystal blue of the sea, no reefs, no people, no noise complete peace and tranquility (that is unless you freak out that you are out there in the big blue sea with all the big fish).This feeling was indescribable, just remembering it gives you a warm flowing rush through your body and makes you feel so good. 

We followed each other in a single file line, so we wouldn't lose anyone out in the blue.  Once we reached Shark reef (swimming into the blue a few min), we waited until the group gathered and just soaked up the experience of the sea life and this massive wall like reef.  It seemed to go down forever and ever much farther than we could possibly ever dive or see.  The suns rays sent glistening streaks through the water and it always seemed as though it was a halo coming from your head.  The reef was full of life and colour and again millions of the little glass fish.  Ah, this was so relaxing, the ultimate peace that can never be describe, only felt and experienced.

As we rounded Shark Reef, and the area between this and Jolanda Reef, we spotted a large Moray Eel and all sorts of parrot fish, lion fish, angel fish and triggerfish, and puffer fish.  There was also a brightly yellow and blue coloured box fish,(shaped like square boxes with a face and a tail, with little fins flapping on the sides). There was a huge brown jackfish trying to eat all of the smaller fish that crossed his path.   This was so much fun to watch how aggressive and quick the jackfish was.   Between the two reefs is the remains of a wreck which carried a railcar full of bathroom fixtures (toilets, basins, and bath tubs), and yes they are all still there home to many sea creatures.  The entire group gathered between the reefs and a few posed on the toilets for photos, whilst the remainder of the group was hanging on to what ever they could to fight the current.  We then continued on to Jolanda Reef and spotted another Moray Eel and even more lion fish and jackfish.  General consensus was that this dive was heavenly! That was it for the day for Alan and Heidi, we skipped the night dive that evening and read our books and lounged on the top deck of the boat.

Tuesday
The next morning we again did Shark Reef and Jolanda Reef, but we went in smaller groups.We weren't dropped across the blue this time, but right next the Shark Reef and we were buddies with Ahmed.  The dive was just as spectacular as the day before, but fewer people around, the group was spread out a little further.  We went quite deep on this dive and the size of the fish just got bigger the deeper you went.  The water also got much cooler, except when you would swim through a thermolcline.  These were so fascinating because you could actually see the ripples in the water and know that tiny area of water was warmer than the water you were in.

Click here to see a large image of the Coral VarietyAs we rounded Shark Reef and were swimming in the area between the two reefs we spotted a very large trigger fish nesting, Heidi got a little to close and the trigger fish came after her, but backed off as Heidi did.  Ahmed pointed out a Moray Eel inside some coral and rock.  He stroked the back of it head and it began to come out.  It was then all of the way out and we must have startled it, because it swam away into another rock area.  We followed in awe and then Ahmed signaled Heidi to come over and actually stroked the back half of the eels body.  It was solid muscle and the skin was smooth and silky.  Then it was Alan's turn to experience this incredible creatures muscle and skin.  We were just ecstatic and thrilled to have had such an experience, not much can top those moments. 

Okay, take that back.  Just seconds later a large sea turtle came swimming by, gliding, tilting and turning.  He looked as though he was just out for a playful swim.  We followed him along the reef and Ahmed was directly behind the turtle gracefully swimming with its every move.  The turtle stopped for a few moments and we were able to touch its shell and watch him rest, then he was off way into the deep blue. It was nearing the end of our dive and we again passed the toilets etc. and there were some enormous tuna in the area.  WOW! Yet again a fantastic experience.

Later that day, just after lunch, our dive was at Jackfish Alley.  This too was one of our favourite sites on our last visit.  The current was going in the opposite direction it normally did, so Ahmed recommended the following dive plan:   We were to enter the water and swim up the alley towards the caves, instead of doing the caves 1st, and then down the alley if time and air permitted.  The alley is named such because it is just that, click here to see larger image of the puffer fishan alley way of sand (about 30ft wide and about 80 ft at its deepest point) bordered on either side by a wall of coral up to the surface.  In the alley there was plenty of  head coral and school of puffer fish (they look somewhat normal until the feel threatened, then they puff up like a big ball with a tiny face and fins). Again there were tons of glassfish shimmering along side the reef, quite a few juvenile lion fish swimming around and a big scorpion fish that seemed to be posing for us. 

After about 15 minutes we reached the two caves and Ahmed was to lead us through in two groups, single file.  The cave was narrow and twisted from the entrance at about 50ft up to the exit at about 28 ft. We needed to wait our turn to enter the cave to be sure the person in front didn't kick us as well as to ensure that we each had good visibility by letting the water settle between people.  The entrance was about 3ft in diameter and it was as if you entered a dark room, to the left yet another room with an entrance to small for us to enter.  In this portion of the cave there was a lone large lion fish swimming around and incredible colours of coral, (only seen by the beams of sun filtering through the exit which was up and around a large corner).  Many people were a little too claustrophobic to enjoy this experience, but we loved it.  By the time all of us had gone through the first cave there was not enough time to do the second.  We all split up into our buddy teams and headed back down the alley, at our own pace, towards the boat.

click to see larger image of crocodile fish in lower center of pictureWe still had plenty of air so we took our time exploring the reefs. There was a beautiful blue spotted ray at the bottom of a large head coral.  A little further down the alley Heidi pointed out a crocodile fish,   almost the same exact spot where we saw one last time we were here.  The crocodile fish is so odd because the head looks like a crocodile but the body looks like a fish.  We stuck around for a while thoroughly inspecting the poor little guy then back across the alley to where the boat was anchored.

Later that day we anchored pretty close to shore at Ras Cati.  This is the location where we did our navigation dive for our Advanced certification.   Nothing too spectacular, just a shallow calm dive for all of us to enjoy and do our classwork. We did manage to spot a small octopus under the rocks and a pretty large moray eel.   Ahmed apparently lived just over the hill, so off he went to go home for a couple of  hours.  He jumped in the water swam the 30 feet or so the climbed up and over the hill.  About 11pm we heard a splash and saw a light in the water and it was coming towards the boat from the shore (Ahmed swimming back to work).  It was funny watching him carry his things he wanted to stay dry in a plastic bag held over his head. Wouldn't that be cool to commute to work via swimming.  That evening we spent catching up on some reading and yet more relaxing.

Wednesday 
Today the boat was up and running before we were.  We were headed for the Straits of Tiran, closer to Saudi Arabia and Israel.  The Straits of Tiran basically consists of 4 reefs, in somewhat of a line up the gulf. If you remember from our last trip to the Red Sea, this is where we ran into some horrific currents and didn't have a very good experience.  This is a national marine park so if we can get some good sea conditions we may have some awesome diving.  The weather was beautiful and the sea seemed to be fairly calm.  Our first dive was Thomas Reef, and Ahmed said there was a fantastic (Very Deep, infact we won't mention exactly how deep) canyon and gave us the dive plan and asked everyone if they wanted to do it.  We did this dive as a group and stayed together in buddies of 2 as well. 

The plan was to jump off the boat, signal okay, get with your buddy, then meet as a group down below. There wasn't much current so it made things very easy for all of us.   We all headed down, down, down (like the B-52's rock lobster, ha ha).  Ahmed led the way and he informed us that down below the reef wall there was a canyon, which at some places were narrow. In this canyon there were also 3 different arch ways that led to an even smaller area.  We were to only go through the first arch because the others were much deeper.  I suppose it is like driving on a 4 lane road in a mountainous canyon and all of the sudden the road goes down to one lane to enter a semi covered tunnel. (bad analogy?  oh well, you get the gist)

So, we descended down the reef wall and it was spectacular.  There weren't any other divers in our site and the sear was ours, ofcourse along with the millions of sea creatures and life.  The colours again were unbelievable, like the box of 164 crayolas this time.  We reached the entrance to the smaller portion of the canyon and we had to enter single file.  Once inside were were able to swim two people side by side.  It was like a red rock mountain about 5 feet wide and forever deep, couldn't really see the bottom. If you look up you see clear water and the sun shinning through and beautiful coral and colors everywhere.  Unfortunately when you dive to deeper depths it cuts the time of your dive a bit short.  It was basically a bounce dive, you go to the deepest part then bounce up and continue ascending and swimming along for the remainder of the dive.  This dive gave us all smiles that were to last for weeks.   I was so peaceful, beautiful, and exciting.   What a difference from our last visit.  If we come back to the Red Sea again,  this is an absolute must do.

After the 1st dive we at some lunch and sunned our bods.  Then it was time for dive 2 of the day and it was Jackson Reef. Here again was a nice calm drift dive, we couldn't have asked for better conditions or dive guide. For this dive we were just paired off with our buddies and we didn't have to stay together as a group.  Early in the dive Alan spotted a very large scorpion fish and we also saw yet another turtle (this was definitely the turtle trip). Much of the same colours and life the we saw on the first dive of the day.  We weren't really too far away, you see all of the reefs in this area are within eyeshot of one another.  We stayed a bit shallower on this dive because we were pretty deep on the first one.  After this dive we headed back towards Sharm and got prepared for our last dive of the trip, in the early afternoon.  You know the rules "no diving a min of 24hrs before flying".

Our last dive was at Ras um Sid, very close to Sharm.  This dive was very mellow and relaxed.   We followed around a huge moray eel for at least 10 minutes, as he swam in and out of hiding places. There was so much fan coral at this site it was incredible.  We played around some of the pinnacles, swam through a few thermoclines and basically just played. There were quite a few lion fish and box fish around the pinnacles.  On our return to the boat we saw yet another moray eel, Yippee!

Thursday  
Kick back day on the boat or into town to test out our sea legs.  Ten of us got up and headed out for shore to ride the Quad Bikes. Once we were all situated with bikes we headed into the desert, (very calm at first, but it was a riot once everyone was comfortable and feeling a little devilish!  hee hee hee).  Just as we did on the last trip they escorted us through various parts of the desert, stopped at a Bedouin tent for Hot Tea (go figure), and then headed back to the main road. The sun was so incredibly hot the our skin blistered from the heat. Justine was feeling very weak and light headed by the time we arrived at the Bedouin tent.  We all splashed plenty of their well water in our faces (basically doused our entire bodies), to help us cool down.  It was about 120'F or so and not a drop of shade in sight. This is when you can just feel you heart pumping and your head throbbing on the verge of exploding. Probably not too smart riding quads at almost high noon in the hot summer desert, but we managed just fine looking out for each other.  Ofcourse there was a major run to the by some cold water when we were finished with the ride. 

At that point we all spilt up and did our own things. I suppose it was to be expected, after all we had all spent 24 hours a day for 7 days together on a boat.  No explanations needed, and off we go.  The two of us went into town for some lunch and Heidi had the bright idea of walking to get some exercise.  Five minutes into the walk we both announced that walking into town was about the dumbest of ideas yet.  We did manage to get to town after making a few stops at local hotels to enjoy a moment of their air-conditioned lobbies. It was actually pretty comical going from shaded spot to spot and then in and out of hotels. (In our defense... you must remember we are no longer used to any heat having lived in England for 15 months.  We are lucky to see a day over 80'F.)

Once in town we just wanted something cold to drink and some breakfast/lunch.  We took care of those needs hopped in a cab and headed for the boat.  The rest of the day we just hung out at the boat and did plenty of swimming. Later that evening it was time to pack up and say goodbye. By 9pm we were on our way to the airport and in no time at all back to London.  We arrived in London about 5am and Alan had to catch a flight to Amsterdam at 8:30am for business then back home in London by 7pm that night.   Heidi go to go home and sleep. What a way to end a holiday, but a holiday that was so enjoyed and classified "a must do again". 

Some of the lingo we picked up:

Numbers zero through ten:     sorry we can't put in the appropriate symbols, (no arabic keyboard)
      0         Sephyrr
      1         Whyhand
      2         It-neen
      3         Telet-ah
      4         Arrb-ah
      5         Khenisah
      6         Sit-ah
      7         Sab-ah
      8         Tah men ya
      9         Tiss-ah
     10        Ashara-ah

Beautiful               =   jameel  (zhah-meel)
Thank you           =  Shahkran (shah-ke ron)
You're Welcome =  Ahfwan  (off won)
Yes                      =   Ahewah ( I-E-waaa)
No                       =   La