Monday, 29 December 2014

EMPEROR DIVERS NORTHERN WRECKS AND REEFS

From 28 November – 5 December 20142 I was lucky enough to go on a diving expedition to Egypt with Emperor Divers on M/Y Emperor Superior on their Northern Wrecks and Reefs itinerary.  The trip consisted of 25 personnel, 6 of whom were instructors, 9 were qualified BSAC Ocean Divers (OD) and a further 9 who required their last 2 dives to qualify as an OD.  There was also a PADI Rescue Diver who was crossing over to BSAC Sports Diver (SD).  The primary aim of the week was to get all newly qualified personnel trained to (SD).

So why Egypt?
Located between Africa and Asia, the warm waters of the Red Sea are home to more than 1100 species of fish, 200 species of hard and soft corals and 44 species of shark, which makes it some of the most spectacular diving in the world.  Additionally due to its fierce storms, or navigational error around the chains of reefs and submerged islands, the Red Sea is littered with shipwrecks.

From the website; Measuring 37m, Emperor Superior offers 9 twin-berth, 2 bunk style and 1 double cabin and a compact single bed cabin, comfortably accommodating 25 people.  All cabins have air-con and en-suite bathrooms (WC/shower).  Each guest enjoys two towels. The spacious dining and salon areas offer air-con, media player and TV and stereo.  She has limited free WIFI (for internet browsing and connecting with communication applications only when in signal).  Outstanding menus are offered on board.  There are also two sundecks, complete with Jacuzzi, and a dive deck with platform.  As with all the Emperor Fleet, all safety equipment meets International standards.  She is also equipped with Nitrox, offers technical diving and carries a minimum of two dive guides”.

Aesthetically the boat itself does not live up to its’ ‘superior’ name.  Cracks were starting to show and certain areas look a little worn.  Nothing a short trip to the dry dock wouldn’t sort.  However the crew were superb.  They could not have been more friendly, catered for our every need, and understood the restrictions on military diving.  Additionally the food was excellent, in fact probably the BEST I have had in the Red Sea.  In addition to the three meals daily (each was a three course minimum) there were plenty of freshly cooked snacks such as sweet treats and pizza along with fresh fruit smoothies.  Everything was free less alcohol.  Add to that the free Nitrox on all dives the boat was an excellent diving platform.  The only real negative point is that the main lounge area is very small and it was a struggle to fit in all 25 divers.  Despite this I would have no hesitation diving from them in the future. 
Base of seat on top deck
Cracked toilet











So with the ‘sell’ out of the way, here’s a brief run-down of the week.

Day 1, Friday 28 November 2014
The majority of us left Pirbright at around 0545, and despite being cold the students’ enthusiasm shone through.  We arrived at London Gatwick South Terminal a few hours later and checked in.  On previous trips Monarch have usually allowed us to check in as a group.  Today however it was individually so am grateful to the students who allowed me to transfer kit into their baggage due to being overweight.  Speaking of baggage, Monarch grants an extra 5kg allowance on the production of a diving certification.  After a small misunderstanding with the check-in staff who would initially only accept a PADI certification we finally headed to the departure lounge.  With another 2 hours to kill before the flight we were able to relax and get some breakfast. 

The Monarch flight was as to be expected with no complimentary meal or reclining seats, but at less than half full we were able to spread out and relax.  In Hurghada we were met by organized chaos and unlike Blue O Two, there was no reprehensive until after passport control.  After approximately a 30 minute coach journey we arrived at the marina.

We were welcomed on M/Y Emperor Superior by our guides; MoMo and Ahmed.  Following the repertoire of briefs from our diving supervisors and the guides, our diving documentation was checked, our passports were handed in and finally we got to eat dinner!  The students were spared lectures so after a few beers it was off to bed.
Twin room
En-suite (shower out of photo)















Day 2, Saturday 29 November 2014
The morning after a very long day, we had the first of only 2 lie-ins of the week; 0700!  After breakfast, once permission was sought from the harbourmaster we slipped our moorings and headed north to arrive at the first site of the trip; Fanous East.  Following a comprehensive briefing from Ahmed and our own diving supervisor, we headed into the water for the first of 2 completion dives for the OD trainees.  Mask clearing and DV retrievals were revised followed by an AS ascent and an exploratory dive to 14m.  For those that were already qualified, they conducted an exploratory dive with Ahmed.  There was barely time to dry off before the theory training started for the SD trainees. 

The second dive was at Uma Gamar where the OD trainees carried out a CBL and then led the dive to a maximum depth of 20m to qualify as ODs.  The qualified divers conducted an exploratory dive with MoMo.

There was no rest for all the students as they carried out 2 more SD lectures; Diver Rescue and Equipment with your truly whilst the remainder of the instructors carried out a night dive.  The highlight for the students was the break in the lectures, not from my voice but because of the pod of dolphins that swam past the boat.

Day 3, Sunday 30 November 2014
The day started off with a 0600 wakeup call, which was a shock for all the Red Sea virgins.  Our first dive was back at Uma Gamar and our second Siyul Kebir; both reef dives with a maximum depth (for the students) of 20m and a light current.  These dives created an ideal environment for all of the students to practice leading a dive.

After lunch we had a bumpy 2 hour crossing which proved a little much for those that didn’t have their sea legs until a pod of white dolphins arrived.  Dive 3 was at Sha’ab Mahmoud, adjacent to the wreck of the ‘liveaboard’ where the students carried out a dive using an SMB.  The evening finished off with theory lectures on decompression theory, dive planning and Nitrox.




Usually on itineraries such as this there are 4 dives per day, however due to the military regulations and the fact that there was diver training to conduct we would omit a dive, usually the night dive.

Day 4, Monday 1 December 2014
The day started with a DSMB lesson on the Dunraven.  The day started off well as we had dolphins around the boat during the kit-up, but unfortunately underwater there was quite a strong drift that meant we briefly passed the wreck and followed the reef.  As we rounded the corner the current decreased but there was not a sandy bottom large enough to conduct the skill. 

Following breakfast we headed back into Sharm as one of the guests had to see a doctor for a non-diving related issue so we made use of the time by conducting some gas planning.  Once at Sharm we also conducted some dry practical rescue lessons.

Once everyone was back safely on board we steamed back out to Small Crack lagoon, adjacent to Dunraven, where we conducted DSMB and compass lessons.  The day finished off with more theory for the students and a night dive on the Thistlegorm for the instructors.  The dive proved extremely eventful for both waves who saw the resident turtle; free swimming on the first wave and sleeping during the second.
Lounge
Galley













Day 5, Tuesday 2 December 2014
Another early start but for once the students didn’t seem phased.  The previous evening we learnt all about the history of the Thistlegorm and her cargo and coupled with a video I made previously made (link), plus the stories of the previous day, the students were excited to do their first wreck dive.  Other than some line laying during the dive and some rescue skills at the end, the students had a great opportunity to explore.

After breakfast we conducted a second dive on the Thistlegorm and allowed the students to penetrate.  At this stage the students were growing in confidence as other than the teaching, they were buddying up as pairs and the instructors were taking more of a back seat.  The conditions both dives were excellent and everyone enjoyed the dives, especially those that found themselves surrounded by fish as they exited hold number one. 

As a mark of respect to those that lost their life in the sinking we placed a poppy on the wreck.

After lunch we transited over to the wreck of the barge where we would conduct an excellent night dive with plenty of marine life and free-swimming moray eels.  In between dives however the students completed their theory lessons and conducted a group revision session.  After dinner the students successfully completed their theory exam and all qualified as SDs.

Day 6, Wednesday 3 December 2014
The first dive was the beautiful Carnatic where most divers managed to explore spines of the wreck.  As all of the divers were now qualified, they were ‘let loose’ on their own in their buddy groups. 
Dive Deck

After breakfast we briefly moved position and dived the beautiful wreck of the Ghiannis D.  Everyone agreed that this was an amazing wreck and the jury was out as to which was the better wreck?  The Thistlegorm or the Ghiannis D.

The evening finished off with a night dive on Giftun Reef.
 











Day 7, Thursday 4 December 2014
The final day of this military exercise (remember it’s not a holiday) started off with a ‘drift’ on Giftun Island.  Unfortunately a lack of current meant it was a very long swim, but we did get to see turtles and free swimming moray eels.  We then headed back into Hurghada and finished off with a dive on the El Mina; an ex Russian minesweeper that sank just outside the harbour during the Arab–Israeli war of 1970.

The remainder of the day was spent washing and drying our dive kit.  The boat looked like a Chinese laundry.  After some sunbathing we headed into the harbour for a few beers and an authentic Egyptian meal.

Day 8, Friday 5 December 2014
For some, the morning after the night before.  We had our second lie in as we were up for 0700 for breakfast.  At 0930 we said our goodbyes to the crew of M/Y Emperor Superior before heading off to a local hotel for a few hours.  The time soon disappeared as before we knew it the transfers had arrived to take us to the airport.  At Gatwick we said goodbye to a couple of the instructors and the remainder of us went back to Pirbright arriving slightly before midnight.

Overall
The week was busy; for both the students and instructors. Overall, 383 dives were completed, an average of 16 per person.  Had this been a civilian trip with no instruction this number would have been closer to 21.

We are all very proud to have qualified 18 qualified BSAC Ocean Divers (9 prior and 9 during this trip), 18 BSAC Sports Divers and conducted BSAC Dive Leader training.

As previously mentioned, both guides and all of the crew were superb, as was the food (massive understatement).  I would gladly return and dive again with Emperor Divers.

A video of the week can be found here.

NOTE:  I have deliberately left out much of the history and description of the dive sites as much of it can be found on the internet but if you do have any questions please feel free to ask.

The boring bit!
All opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may differ to other instructor’s and agency guidelines; by no means are they wrong and I would not wish to disrepute any of them.  This article is for information only and should not replace proper training.

Safe diving!

Timothy Gort
BSAC, PADI & SDI/TDI diver training
l Mob: 07968148261 l Email: tim@rectotec.co.uk l