When Yves Christiaens and his gang from Aquatec in Belgium returned for another Tekstreme safari, it was for a trip with a difference; we were heading South and the family were coming too!
Joining Emperor Asmaa in the small port of Hamata were Junior Open Water Divers Kimmy Christiaens, Lui Vanderheeren and Victor Joos and seasoned pilot and Explorer Klaus Zwenig. Ludo Braekman, a regular Open Circuit diver on previous Tekstreme safaris was looking good in his shiny new Evolution Rebreather and seasoned Advanced Trimix CCR divers Phil Vanderheeren, Anke Christiaens and Mick Perks were looking forward to a relaxing holiday on their Inspirations. The pressure was on however for Guy Joos and Alain Vanpeteghem who were here to complete their TDI CCR Normoxic Course and Gil Driege, the only man on twin tanks (and proud of it!) who was attempting to finish his Advanced Trimix Course. Holding the group together as usual were Instructor Trainers Maarten Ramon and Yves Christiaens.
DAY 1 – Christmas Eve
A shakedown dive at Abu Galawa Kebir gave the fun–divers a chance to see the wreck of the Tienstin tugboat while those on courses brushed up their skills and drills next to the boat. The shallow caverns and swimthroughs of Al Malahi finally lured the juniors in and tested the buoyancy skills of the rebreather divers!
DAY 2 – Christmas Day
An early start on a beautiful sunny day saw us sailing from Fury Shoal towards Sirnaka Island. This was the perfect destination for the first Trimix dive of the week; a twenty-minute exploration of the wreck of a large fishing boat at 50m was followed by a
long skills session on the sandy plateau above. Lines were laid and followed blind, tanks were swapped and swapped again, divers were rescued and towed and smbs deployed and all finished with flying colours!
A second dive at Orabia 3 was a great introduction to the St. Johns area with warmer water, beautiful coral and caverns and towers…………
DAY 3 – Boxing Day and Kimmy’s Birthday
The day was very windy and with dives getting deeper we cruised to Gota Kebir in St. Johns
This reef is well-known for it’s strong cross current and today was no exception. A fast drift while descending
over the drop-off made the start of the dive quite exciting but once below the plateau the current slackened off and we were able to enjoy the spectacle of overhangs dripping with soft coral and huge whip corals at 50m while watching the bubbles from Gil’s team rise up from below. Our first deep stop became a ‘turtle stop’ as it coincided with a large turtle eating broccoli coral. She completely ignored us and it was hard to drag ourselves away when it was time to move up to our next stop. The two zodiac ‘taxis’ were ready and waiting at the surface to whisk us back to Asmaa.
All enjoyed a second dive around the beautiful coral garden of Dangerous reef. Ludo looked as if he had really become comfortable on his rebreather and Alain impressed everyone with his skills performance. All the scuba divers had a great dive and it finished with great demonstration of emergency SMB deployment by Gil. A party followed a night dive at Abu Bossala for Kimmy’s 12th birthday. The cook produced a beautiful cake and the crews’ demonstration of belly dancing was joined by all.
DAY 4 – 27.12.10
With the wind blowing a little less we ventured across to Habili Soraya for what was to be one of the best dives of the week. A tough entry in choppy seas contrasted with the calm water below. The water was crystal clear as we descended through a huge school of swirling barracudas at 30m.It was tempting to stay with them but we were planning deeper; we stopped at 55m and watched as a huge Napoleon Wrasse approached the rest of the team at 85m below. It instantly latched onto Anke, obviously fascinated by her blonde hair. Suddenly Maarten started pointing and shouting through his rebreather. The deep group turned and followed the Grey reef shark but was unaware of the manta ray cruising above! Alain practiced a bailout ascent through schools of snappers and tuna. We were not the only ones who had a lucky dive; Phil and Ludo had been buzzed by a grey reef in the current split at 30m.
After lunch we bounced up to Orabia 1 (St. Johns’ Caves) for a late afternoon dive followed by a night dive at Sirnaka Island.
DAY 5 – 28.12.10
This was a big day for all. The Captain tied Asmaa at Sataya Reef in Fury Shoal and safety plans were agreed. This was Gils’ first 100m dive and Alain and Guy’s first 60m. It felt like free-falling to drop down the vertical wall. No problem getting depth here as it just keeps on going! Some beautiful deep red corals shone out in my torchlight and the view upwards revealed a forest of ghostly pure white whip corals. All too soon we had to drag ourselves away and concentrate on Guy’s bailout ascent practice that went smoothly. Soon after, Gil’s team emerged from the deep and we had an easy deco next to the reef.
After lunch everyone had a chance to snorkel with the resident dolphin in Sataya’s lagoon. A shallow afternoon dive was topped with a night dive for all the scuba divers.
DAY 6 – 29.12.10
The last day started early. We received a storm warning on the radio and last nights oily swell had been replaced by a southerly wind and quite turbulent seas. We headed up to Shaab Maksur under grey skies. Our plan for a nice easy dive on the South plateau had to change… it was too risky to fix the boat on the North end as the wind might suddenly change again so we planned a zodiac entry but Captain Salah made his decision and carefully tied long lines onto the Northwest tip. This was the last dive and we planned it as a team….Gil and Martynn were heading for 100m with everyone else acting as support divers to their new qualification levels. The lack of sun meant that the dive was almost like a night dive at depth and from 80m I could barely make out Gil’s bubbles coming up from the depths below but his torch beaming up an ok signal was unmistakable as they started their ascent. Unbeknown to the newly qualified divers, we had set up a scenario to test their
reactions…..Martynn suddenly bailed out on ascent and switched with me further up to appear as if he needed more. By the time he sent up his emergency yellow smb asking for gas, the rest of the team had started to ask if he was ok. The surface team reacted quickly and within a minute they had launched the zodiac and spare tanks were sliding down the line……… the scenario had gone smoothly and gave everyone a chance to see team diving at it’s best but sadly the last tek dive was over! We had one more dive for the lucky scuba divers though and it gave a chance for our juniors to make their first wreck dive on the beautiful sunken yacht at Abu Galawa Soraya.With the wind picking up it was time to head to port. A stunning sunset was followed by the threatened storm – pouring rain and one of the best lightning shows I have ever seen in the Red sea that lasted all night!