Back from the Reef

I have been back a week from a wonderful two weeks of diving in Sharm el Sheikh.  I would have posted something sooner, but I started a job the day I got back and have been trying to catch up with myself.  I took some lovely photos and will be sharing a few with you.

Before I do that I want to tell you that I spoke with my dad before I left and when I told him where I was going he became a bit anxious.  When I asked why, he said that ‘they’ are saying in the USA that Egypt isn’t safe.  I couldn’t believe it.  So, for all of you that want to go to Sharm, go!  Go to Cairo if you can get a flight too!  Egypt needs the tourism.  If in Cairo, just don’t go to the squares where there might be protestors.  The UK has been the only country consistently flying into Sharm since the revolution.  Sharm is safe.  To be quite frank, I really couldn’t give a fig if a certain type of tourist doesn’t go to Sharm as the diving is nicer with fewer people around.  Enough from me on that subject.

Back to the holiday…I went with my dive buddy.  This was our first holiday together since we met this time last year.  It was the best holiday I have ever had with another person.  If you can spend two weeks, 24/7, with another person without wanting to scream or lock yourself away somewhere, then something must be working right.  If I had any complaint, it was that his kit was too heavy!  We needed to re-pack our suitcases 3x before we could check in!  I blame the tech jacket and drysuit!

Having had experience diving at this time of year in Sharm, I was glad that I packed some warm clothes.  The weather was unseasonably cool.  Still nice to wander around in a pair of trousers and a fleece and you could probably get a nice suntan sitting out of the wind by the pool, but it was freezing on the boat.  There is nothing fun about getting in and out of a wet, cold wetsuit with the wind howling and the boat bobbing up and down on a choppy sea.  I was getting brain freeze getting back onto the boat in the first week.  I am surprised I got a tan considering I spent most of my first week on the boat inside and wrapped up in a pair of sweatpants and fleece in-between dives.  The evenings were quite chilly too!  Still, a good time was had by all and it progressively got warmer in the second week. 🙂  It was also lovely to catch up with friends and meet new people.

We dived local at the Gardens on the first day.  Because my buddy was trying out his new drysuit for the first time and I was just cold, neither of us took our cameras.  We saw a manta and a feathertail ray.  It figures!  That was the biggest that things got for us while diving for 10 days.

Because diving isn’t just about the big things, I tried to focus more on the actual reef.  The reefs in Sharm are quite beautiful.  There is a huge variety of hard and soft corals and many varieties of small fish and crustaceans.  There was a lot of plankton bloom and a fair amount of jelly fish floating around.  If you bothered to look closely at the stuff floating around in front of you, you could actually make out what some of the little creatures looked like.  Some of them were quite electric!

Warty Sea Wasp - These things have a nasty sting, apparently!

I also love Anthias.  They are everywhere.  They let you know what the current is doing and are easy to spot because they are orange.  There are several types and are incredibly hard to photograph as they never stay still long enough.

These are Anthias, even the things that look like bubbles!
Little spots of gold!

Here are some of my best photos of the fish.

And here is some of the reef.

I have a lot of inspiration here for some paintings I want to make.  Painting the reef and some fish will make a nice change from painting flowers and fruit.

As with all holidays, it didn’t seem long enough.   Nevermind!  I have the next one to look forward to!

Sharm Again, Naturally!

Yes, its been that time of year again!  Holidays!  We haven’t had much of a summer here in the UK and I was in desperate need of consistent sunshine, and some heat.  A spot of diving wouldn’t go amiss either. (I can’t believe that I have been home a couple of weeks now!  Been very busy!)

After some issues in March at the hotel I usually use, and the fact that they are currently closed, and having vowed never to go back there again, I upgraded myself into a 5* hotel that was all-inclusive.  I wanted some luxury and a bit of pampering  (more to come on that in another post).

People are always asking my why I go to Sharm to go diving in The Red Sea.  There are many reasons to go diving in Egypt.  Here are a few:

  1. It is a 5 hour flight from the UK.  This means it is relatively quick to get there and you can start diving the next day.
  2. It is always sunny and relatively warm.
  3. It has some of the best reefs and marine life on the planet.
  4. It is reasonably priced compared to booking a holiday in the Caribbean or Far East.

Over the last couple of years I have met some very nice people on dive holidays and have been fortunate to be out in Sharm at the same time as some of them on various trips.  This certainly makes the holiday more enjoyable.  It is great to dive with people you like and are familiar with.  As I have been diving consistently with the same dive centre, Ocean College, I have gotten to know some of the staff to a level where we can socialize with each other and have a good laugh.  I went solo on this trip, but was lucky to have a few familiar faces to buddy up with.

My sweetheart kindly lent me one of his underwater cameras, a Fuji FinePix F80 EXR.  The camera is easy to use.  We programmed it before I went to Sharm.  I personally can’t be worrying about sorting out the white balance at this stage.  I just wanted to point and shoot.  I am not used to taking pictures underwater.  However, now that I am down with my buoyancy, I feel it is a good time to start taking pictures underwater.  I still have a lot to learn, so I wanted it to be as easy as possible, which it was.

If there is a downside to taking underwater photos, it can be that you might end up missing something while taking a picture of something else.  There is so much to see.  I am more used to fish spotting than fish photography, so this was going to be an interesting part of my trip.  I was very interested in taking pictures of the corals to learn how to identify them and to use as inspiration for paintings.  It helps that they don’t move.  They are underwater architecture.  It is amazing what you can see if you stare at a piece of coral long enough.

As is SOD’s Law when using an underwater camera, if you don’t take it on a dive, you usually end up missing out on a great picture.  Hence the picture of the octopus I spotted and didn’t have my camera with me!  It wouldn’t have made much difference anyway, as I managed to lose the first week’s photos while transferring them from one computer to another.  How that happened, I have no idea.  They are gone for good, and some of them actually really were good.  Them’s the breaks as we sometimes say.  (I am pretty gutted as I had some really nice pictures.)  Nevermind.

I did manage to hang onto a few which I will post here.    I still need to practice a bit and use some more flash, but I did get some nice ones.

Off of Gordon Reef and Shark and Yolanda

Things I saw in Tiran:  Turtles, Hammerheads on the back of Jackson :), octopus, morays, Napoleon Wrasse, Moses sole, a free-swimming stonefish, as well as the usual suspects.

Things I saw in Ras Mohammed National Park:  Huge schools of jacks, tuna and spadefish off of Shark and Yolanda, free-swimming morays, grey reef shark, a large crown of thorns, as well as the usual.

I also dived The Dunraven for the first time, although I didn’t go in it.  Penetration isn’t my thing.  Instead, I took some lovely photos of the outside of it which we will never see as they were some of the ones that got ‘lost in transit’.  It was a really lovely dive, with no current.  I saw the largest moray eel that I have ever seen before.  It was a monster.  It was bloody huge.  Did I say I saw a really large moray eel?

Off of Na'ama Bay and The Barge

These are photos that I took off the barge in Na’ama bay.  It was a beach dive.  It was 83 minutes and I still had 70bar left.  We couldn’t really go any deeper than 12 meters. 🙂  The barge is sitting in about 12.5 meters of water and has a lot of coral growth on it.  If you look really closely, you can see lots of little things hiding inside the coral.  I saw reef squid, pipefish, a little crab, a baby lionfish, a crown of thorns, and a host of other baby fish.  On this dive we also saw crocodile fish and a spotted eagle ray at the end of the dive.  This was the last dive of my holiday and it couldn’t have been better thanks to my dive buddy Kat.

Things have picked up a bit since my last visit in March.  There are more snorkelers and tourists and people are still feeding fish and standing on reefs!  I can’t feel sorry for those who do things they shouldn’t if they get hurt in any way.  Anyway, although tourism is up a bit, it is still good for divers as it wasn’t too crowded on this trip.  Not as great as in March, but still good.  I don’t know how good the going will be next year once the elections have taken place.  There seems to be a bit of tension between some indigenous and foreign workers at the moment.  However, I didn’t feel unsafe, but some people were really trying hard to milk the tourists, especially the taxi drivers.   We will just have to see how things turn out.

So, that’s another wonderful diving holiday, until the next one! 🙂

STOP fishing in Ras Mohammed National Park! Please!

The Governor of  South Sinai has given the green light to commercial fishing in one of the most famous marine nature reserves in the world.  Please take the time to read about this here at Sport Diver News.

Ras Mohammed National Park is a protected area where NO fishing has been allowed.  Because of this, the reefs have become some of the top rated dive sites in the world.  Shark and Yolanda has been rated as one of the top 10 by Jacques Cousteau.

I have been to Sharm el Sheikh five times so far in the last two years and dived at Ras Mohammed National Park .  Sharm is relatively easy to get to from the UK.  The weather is pleasant all year round and regardless of how many times you dive the same site, no dive is ever the same.  You just never know what the current will be doing and what wonderful things you may see.  I love diving in The Red Sea and would hate for this area to get spoiled by the ineptitude of decision makers.

As well as diving, Sharm has now become as popular as The Canary Islands for the sea and sun brigade.  Most of the hotels on the seafront are near local dive sites where there is some lovely snorkeling to be had.  In spite of the shark biting last year due to ignorant people feeding the fish and the sharks themselves, snorkeling can be another way to view the marine life if done properly and with care to the reefs.

Tourism has been down partly because of the political situation in Egypt, but the politics have not really interfered with life in Sharm.  If fishing is going to be allowed in Ras Mohammed National Park, this is going to have an added detrimental effect on tourism in this area where numbers are already low.

There is a petition set up by The Red Sea Diving Community.  Please sign the petition and show your support, divers and non-divers alike.  You can find it here.

Thank you.