Southern Red Sea Exploration.

So finally on dry land and I am back in the office where I find some time to reflect and evaluate upon the “exploration trip” that my colleague Shaun and myself had recently undertaken.

I use the term “exploration” for lack of better terminology, but I feel an explanation is in order as “exploration” also is not really the correct word!   The term “Exploration” would suggest to the reader that we were finding new dive locations, new reef systems, when simply this was not the case. We were in fact visiting very well know reef areas but the “exploration” part was specific to the depth that we were diving and the area of the reef we were diving.

 Emperor Asmaa

During my very first years working in Egypt I had the pleasure and opportunity to visit most dive locations within the Egyptian side of the Red Sea, from as far north as the straights of Tiran down the southern reef systems of Elba which lie on the Sudanese border and everything and anything in between. These were the days where as a safari guide you were not “fixed” to any single route, you were moved around from boat to boat, route to route each week. What this created was a generation of safari guides which a huge expanse of diving knowledge and experience of the entire Red Sea. Sometimes I miss those days, now however, I don’t think the husband would be so happy with me being out at sea for 6 weeks each time!

Anyway, I am becoming side tracked….

So, I found myself back in the southern area of the Red Sea, of which the purpose of the trip was to “explore” each of the dive sites between the depths of 40m – 80m. Currently, there are no companies who offer specific technical diving trips to this area, OK, there are a few boats where they could cater for the odd deco dive but nobody is looking specifically at these dives sites though the eyes of the diver who would like to go that bit deeper. We had to find out why. Is it because there is nothing of interest below 40m in this area? Is it because the potential stronger currents pose a safety hazard to divers during decompression? Or is it lack of knowledge of the area? Or is there simply no demand. We at Tekstreme Diving wanted to try and answer these questions….

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The reef systems in the southern Red Sea are absolutely stunning in the shallow water and believe me this continues though to depth, actually, I would say even better in terms of quality of coral growth. As an example, the size and abundance of the Gorgonia fan corals that we were witnessing between 50m – 85m were mind-blowing. You need to trust me when I say it was like diving untouched reefs, reefs where no diver’s fin had accidentally clipped the coral and snapped off an entire branch, no damaged hard corals about from natural processes, this is what we were experiencing. It was amazing. You can see that not many divers are visiting these depths and the currents provide such a rich supply of nutrients that the soft corals especially can flourish.

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A particularly favourite of mine is a narrow tower of a reef, the local turn for it would be a “Habili”. This particular Habili looks like nothing on the surface but is simply one the reefs which is the most rich in life, its an aquarium for all creatures great and small. This cone shaped reef gets wider as you get deeper and provides marine life, colour and excitement all the way down to around 75m. We actually spent most of our dive at 50m watching as grey reef sharks smoothly cruised in and out unfazed by us as we were still and quiet. The world of having no bubbles on a rebreather comes into its own and the pelagics come closer to check us out. There is a potential for much current on these reefs but as these reef systems rise all he way to the surface you will always have a reference to swim alongside as you fulfil your decompression obligations. Plus, we will always have zodiacs to support us from the surface so if any divers find themselves away from the reef they will always be tracked and collected.

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Within the southern area there are also some wrecks. One in particular is sat at a maximum depth of 50m, this wreck attracts a huge array of marine life and has a great atmosphere. It’s at a nice depth to enjoy a longer bottom time having a scrape around and exploring the wreck in its entirety. There is also another more historic wreck, which is not greater in depth than 30m, but makes a great afternoon dive. Do dive it well it would still require some decompression due to its size so for sure a great feature of the area.

There is talk of another larger wreck within this approximate area but deeper which we aim to do a more specific search for on our next trip to this area. I am always a bit dubious when it comes to listening to tales of sunken wrecks as most of the time it turns out to be nothing, but when I have now had information from a few different sources all talking about a similar location, it certainly gets my attention.

 GotaKebirSouth

Moving a little bit further north there are some reefs that sit on the edge of a deep-water trench with walls dropping vertically down depths. These reefs are fed by a stong consistent currents that suppy the goodness for the corals to flourish. It’s on these reefs as you descend through the depth ranges the types and colours of corals here is changing quite dramatically. The colours of the soft corals are not restricted to the shallow waters they can be found through 50, 60, and 70m. Whip corals, black corals and Gorgonians’ in substantial volumes and sizes can be found at depth. Some of these reefs over the years have taken their toll on safari boats and the wrecks that are left behind may not have an exciting history but, what you find is that over time they have created a mini ecosystem and they attract a wide variety of marine life around the outside and inside. For sure it makes a nice feature of the dive.

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Of course we can’t be visiting the southern area without a stop at Elphinestone reef. This particular site needs no further exploration from us, this is one dive site that is already included in some of our other existing technical safari trips, but I include it here for those who have never had the opportunity to dive the reef. This finger long reef has dramatic plunging walls to the east and west, with plateaus on the north and south. You can dive to 100m all the way around this reef if you wanted to! Typically, we dive the northern plateau to any depth between 40 – 100m with eyes peeled with the to aim to find either Grey Reef sharks off the tip of the plateau or Hammerhead sharks. Its an area that gets a great current feed and so very nutrient rich. The colours of soft corals across the plateau are some of the best to be found in this area. As an alternative dive to the north, the reef has provided for us a natural landscape feature in the shape of an archway. Running directly under the southern plateau, this natural feature allows you pass from one side of the reef to the other. You can swim through this archway anywhere between 48m – 60m. It is also on this southern side of the reef where you have chance to find the Oceanic White Tip reef sharks patrolling the shallow waters.

Summary

As much as we have had a great week of diving and the exploration of the area at depth has begun there is a great deal more for us to do and hopefully more wrecks and natural features to be found. With the information that we now have, we have put together an itinerary for next year that will return to the sites that we have just visited but will also build in more time for further exploration. This means, for the divers on trip next year, will be just like us and exploring these areas for the first time. Is there a demand for this type of diving, this type of exploration, I absolutely believe the answer is yes.

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“Exploration is really the essence of human spirit”

Frank Boreman

Trip Details

Dates = 14/08/16 – 21/08/16

Vessel = Emperor Asmaa

Price = 999 euros

Contact info@tekstremediving.com for details on the trip and how to reserve your place.

Cat Braun

Tekstreme Techical Diving

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Red Sea Northern Technical Safari

Truly magnificent….that is how we can sum up our most recent northern technical safari!

Armed with a boat full of open and closed divers of all levels we set sail to go and explore the wrecks and reefs of the northern Red Sea. All the guests arrived on board the platinum boat Emperor Elite, our home for the week, on the Friday night. After a couple of hours of completing paperwork, setting up equipment and getting familiar with the boat, it was time for a sleep before we left the port the following morning. (I actually managed to find time to sneak away to watch Wales demolish France in the six nations rugby game! So for me it was already a great start to the week!)

The first reef we headed to was within the Hurghada region at a site called Gota Abu Ramada. This shallow reef provided the perfect location to check that all equipment was working correctly, make sure the weighting of the divers was fine and generally get back into the swing of things. After lunch we then began our journey towards the north, stopping off at the island of Umm Gammar to give the divers their first decompression dive. For most divers the planned maximum depth was between 40 – 50m with run times of anyway between 1hr – 1hr 30mins.

The plan for the following day was to visit the grandiose wreck of the Rosalie Muller. This second world wreck which lies in a maximum depth of 45m is a personal favourite of mine. The visibility in this area is typically less than on outside reefs which instead of being a negative point actually makes this dive more atmospheric and appealing. The bonus of this relative shallow depth is the huge bottom times that can be achieved to explore the wreck. As we were at the location all day the divers we able to make two long deco dives in the wreck, under the wreck, over the wreck, on the sides of the wreck, you can confidently say no part of the wreck was left unexplored!

Deck of Rosalie Muller
Deck of Rosalie Muller

After we left the Rosalie Muller we made the crossing over to the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to sleep for the night before heading up to the straights of Tiran early in the morning. The first dive we had planned there was to dive the wreck of the Lara. This particular dive does require the wind strength to be lower due to the wrecks location on the north side of Jackson reef, which is the uppermost of the four reefs that make up the straights of Tiran. Upon arrival we were pleased to see that the weather conditions were good and we managed to take the zodiacs and drop directly onto the wreck. The wreck itself has split into a few sections as it came to its final resting place. With a maximum depth of around 80m it makes for an interesting dive to move from piece to piece getting progressively shallower. Jackson reef itself is a stunner. The amount of soft and hard corals growing on the walls makes for a dive in itself, how blessed are we that we get to dive wreck and reef in one.

Stern of the Lara
Stern of the Lara

The plan for the following morning was to visit the very well known Thomas Canyon. I don’t know anybody that has done this dive and said that they did not enjoy it. The topography is simply amazing. This narrow canyon that can be entered from as shallow as 43m slowly and steadily drops down to around 90m. There are natural arches formed by large boulders which make for some fantastic pictures and visual features. You are protected from the current completely once you are inside the canyon and so it makes for an effortless swim though. Upon exiting the canyon, the current was heading from south to north and was running quite well, for sure we do not swim into this current but instead, we get to fly along the reef enjoying this current all the way until the northern tip. The faces of all the guests when they came out of this dive is a perfect picture. Happy divers.

Inside the Thomas Canyon
Inside the Thomas Canyon

On this trip we were lucky to have a trained Hyperbaric doctor on board. Dr Mattjin Buwalda kindly offered to give an evening presentation on decompression sickness, treatments, preventions and general theory. This was very well received by all the guests and is always good knowledge to have and be up to date with the latest information. We hope to make Mattjin a regular feature of our trips to give his invaluable information to guests on our trips to come.

DCS Presentation
DCS Presentation

By now had reached the half way point of the week and began our journey travelling down to the south. Before sunset we stopped off at the wreck of the Dunraven located at Beacon Rock for some divers to make a second dive. It also gave myself and Chris an opportunity to try our Bonex scooters! We managed to dive from the boat, to the wreck and back again in under 40mins! (and of course wave at everybody on our way by!)

The following morning marked our last dive in the Sinai region, and what better dive to finish with but Shark and Yolanda Reef at Ras Mohammed. The surface conditions were flat like a lake and with a mild current a good dive was had by all. Most divers made a slightly shallower dive here, between 40 – 50m as they were saving their energy for the challenge of Abu Nuhas! Can they manage to do all four wrecks in one hit?!

The reef of Abu Nuhas has been the devil for many a boat captain over the years and the end result us that we have four large wrecks all on the north side of the reef just waiting for technical divers to come and try to dive all of them in one go. With the guests that were on the boat it was a given that they would try this challenge and for sure they would conquer! (I think they will all admit that they were quite tired at the end!) But, a great achievement nonetheless.

Structure of Ghiannis D
Structure of Ghiannis D

Our final dive of the week was to dive the deep wreck of the Gulf Fleet which lies off the side of the reef Shaabrugh Umm Gammar. At a maximum depth of 105m it would be a great dive to finish the week. Unfortunately the wind conditions had picked up substantially which made the dive unsafe to do. The current was mild but due to the location of the wreck it was unsafe to try and get divers in the water at that location. There were many disappointed faces, but for sure all divers appreciate that safety is first, and the wreck will be there for years to come. We did manage to still dive the wreck of the Colona V slightly further down the reef in more sheltered water so overall still a nice end to the diving week.

This week was a first for me to try my hand at videography. Please bare in mind I had never ever even used a video camera on land so the small clips produced are for sure from an amateur, but hopefully it will give you an idea of some of the sites that we visited. You can check out the videos by heading to:

 

Back in port there was only one thing left to do, go out into town to celebrate, remissness and look back over our amazing week. In the newly opened South Beach bar in the centre of town the drinks were flowing, the live music was excellent and the dancing skills of the guests was interesting (think we should all stick to diving!)

Final night out
Final night out

Many, many thanks to all the guests on board our trip for providing a great relaxed atmosphere and for sure a week to remember.

Our next technical safari is in June to go and visit the breath taking sites of the Brother Islands. Wrecks, reefs and sharks all in one trip, certainly one not to miss. If you would like to join us on this trip, you can get in contact we us at info@tekstremediving.com and we can provide you with all the details.

Cat Braun – Technical Manager

Red Sea Summer Expedition to the Brother Islands – Part Two

Welcome to the second instalment of our build up blogs for our technical expedition to the Brother Islands.

 

In this blog we are going to examine the larger of the two wrecks that lies on Big Brother Island; The Numidia. Once again I have called upon Mr Middleton to assist with the description of the wreck and also Mr Spenceley for his expert photos. Thanks again boys.

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The Ship

The British cargo ship Numidia was built in Glasgow in early 1901. A relatively large vessel, she displaced 6,399 gross registered tons and was powered by a 3 cylinder triple expansion steam engine capable of providing a top speed of 10 Knots. She was 137.4m long, 16.7m wide and had a draught of 9.2m. The Numidia was owned and operated by the Anchor Line at the time of her loss.

The Loss of the Numidia

On 28th February 1901 the Numidia set out from Glasgow on her Maiden voyage. She was a well-found ship and the lengthy journey to Calcutta and back was an excellent opportunity for both Captain and crew to get to know this brand new vessel. Her second voyage, however, would prove to be her last.

On 6th July 1901, the Captain ordered the mooring lines slipped from her berth in Liverpool and stood beside the Pilot as the vessel moved slowly into the River Mersey and then out into the Irish Sea. The Numidia was carrying a general cargo of 7,000 tons and a crew of 97. There were no passengers.

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The ship cleared Suez in the early hours of 19 July 1901. They made good time and by 7pm that evening, Shadwan Island was already abeam. The weather was fine with a fresh breeze from the NW. At 11pm the course was altered and at 1am on the 20th the light on Big Brothers island was sighted off the port bow. Observing the bearing, the Captain altered course again and informed the “officer of the watch” this would take the ship over one mile to the west of the Island. He then left the Bridge leaving instructions to be called when the Light was abeam. At about 2.10am the Master was awoken by the shock of his ship crashing onto rocks. Hurrying to the bridge, he found his ship hard aground on Big Brothers Island – almost directly below the Lighthouse!

After two hours of trying to get off the rocks the engines were stopped. By this time the ship was taking on considerable water although the pumps were coping. At 7.30am dispatches were sent to Suez for urgent assistance and most of the crew were landed on the Island. Other vessels then arrived and every effort was made to refloat the Numidia without success. Eventually realizing his vessel was lost, the Master allowed his crew to be rescued – although he remained on the island for a further 7 weeks – during which he supervised the salvage of most of the cargo before the Numidia finally sank.

Diving the Numidia

tec safari brothers web-7The Numidia is found off the northern-most tip of Big Brother island. Quite often, however, there is a strong current running straight onto the wreck.

This is a dive to set the heart racing and one of the most incredible shipwrecks available to Divers. She defies all the known laws of gravity and lies “up” the reef at an almost vertical angle. After nearly 100 years underwater she is, of course, now an integral part of the reef itself and will never move.

At a depth of only 8m the Diver will find the Bows are well broken and marked by a pair of Railway Engine Wheels originally carried as deck cargo. From here, the ship quickly takes on its original shape and the Diver is soon descending to deck level. The first thing that most Divers comment on, however, is the absolute colour that now adorns this vessel. Hard Corals and Soft Corals have colonized this ship in a manner similar to the wreck of the Aïda – making them amongst the most beautiful shipwrecks in the world. The railings, masts, lifeboat davits, windlasses and deck winches are all still in place – having become part of a living Reef of such vibrancy that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a “wreck dive!”

The wooden decking has, of course, gone and, of course, the cargo was salvaged. This, however, provides an incredible opportunity to investigate a large ship at whatever depth suits the personal requirement. Forward of the central bridge are two cavernous cargo holds with ventilation hatches along the starboard side. The decks are now a square pattern of steel in between which is the lower half of the forward masttec safari brothers web-23

Immediately behind No 2 Hold is the raised central “castle” with its accommodation and what remains of the Bridge. Having been constructed of wood on a steel floor, all but the basic outer framework has rotted away. We are now at a depth of 50m and the remainder of the ship lies in very deep water.

Immediately behind the bridge is the ship’s funnel which has fallen over to one side. Here several lifeboat davits are swung out. The Engine Room is immediately below. Further aft are Nos 3 and 4 Holds – and the decking is very similar in appearance to that nearer the Bows. Once again, the Diver will find the lower half of an equally stout rear mast – also defying gravity, along with all the attendant deck winches. The stern is raised and provides a beautifully rounded poop deck below which the single large propeller is found at a depth of some 80m.

Apart from the damage encountered at the Bows, all metal structures are fully intact throughout the ship and they are all covered in the most exciting arrangements of Hard and Soft corals – which only begin to fade in their intensity from 50m downwards. The largest Grouper are also a feature of these deeper aspects of the wreck.

As I said – this is a dive to set the heart racing…

 

Brother Islands technical expedition – 05/07/2013 – 11/07/2013Elite web full boat

This particular trip is open to all levels of technical diver and even entry level technical courses can be taught on board. The bonus of the wrecks that will be dived is that they fall between the depths of 15m – 75m, plenty for all levels of technical divers. For more information on the next technical trip to the Brother Islands contact us on Tekstreme@emperordivers.com.

Don’t miss out on the upcoming blogs by subscribing to receive them by email.

Cat Braun – Tekstreme Technical Manager.

 

Acknowledgments

Ned Middleton – http://www.touregypt.net/vdc/shipwrec.htm

Duncan Spenceley – http://www.redseasnapper.com

 

Red Sea Summer Expedition to the Brother Islands

As we return back from our first Northern technical expedition we look for forward to our first technical expedition of 2013 to the Brother Islands. Over the up coming weeks we will be bringing to you a few blogs about the highlights of the trip.

 

Beginning our trip from the port of Hurghada the first wreck that we will be paying a visit to will be the wreck of the Salem Express.

 

Much has been written about this particular wreck but I think that the best write up is from Ned Middleton’s book “Shipwrecks of the Red Sea”. I personally am not such a good writer, and also struggle to find much available time and so have taken the article from his book and recognised him for his efforts. I have trimmed down the article some what but if you would like to read the whole write up you need to purchase his book! Thanks Ned. I have however included throughout the blog photos that were actually taken from our trips with many coming from Duncan Spenceley, owner of the Red Sea photography company “Red Sea Snappers” and also a Tekstreme Technical instructor. Many thanks Duncan, a beer is coming your way.

 

The Loss of the Salem Express

The Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah is located on the eastern shores of the Red Sea it was here on 16 December 1991 that the Egyptian ferry “Salem Express” was loaded with vehicles and several hundred passengers. These were mostly Pilgrims who were in good heart and dressed in their finest robes – as is always the case when returning from the holy city of Mecca.tec safari brothers web-4

Based in Safaga, the Salem Express provided a ferry service between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Her Captain was Hassan Moro a very able and vastly experienced Master Mariner. He was appointed Master of the Salem Express in 1988. This was a Captain who knew the route between Safaga and Jeddah. Every time he approached Safaga, Captain Moro was in the habit of sailing between the Egyptian mainland and the treacherous Hyndman Reefs – which lie just to the south of the port. This maneuver shaved a full two hours off the journey time.

None of the other captains would follow such a route – always remaining further offshore until they were able to take the designated path around the northern tip of Panorama Reef before adopting a south-westerly course that would keep them in deep water until they were safely in Safaga. It should be noted that, in the aftermath of the loss of the Salem Express, this “safer” route became compulsory for all big ships.

On 16th December 1991, the Salem Express commenced her final journey. By nightfall, the weather had deteriorated with winds gusting to gale force. Many of those on board were deck-passengers and Moro was well aware of their discomfort on such a foul night. Crossing the Red Sea, he deliberately hugged the coast as he made his way northwards – trying to provide his passengers with whatever protection was available from a “lee” shore. As the vessel approached the Hyndman Reefs it was close to midnight and impossible to distinguish Reef from Sea in such conditions. Moro was just slightly to the east of his normal route and that resulted in the Salem Express striking the most southerly Reef a heavy glancing blow.tec safari brothers web-1

The result was twofold. Firstly the hull was holed on the forward starboard side. At the same time, the impact caused the Visor on the Bows to be jolted upwards from its closed position allowing water into the car deck. Such a double blow was utterly catastrophic and, as vast quantities of water swept into the vessel from these two sources, everything happened too quickly.

An immediate list to starboard caused by the ruptured hull was worsened by the water entering the car deck and the list increased at an alarming pace. Within 20 minutes of striking the reef, the Salem Express sank. She came to rest in 30m of water on her starboard side.

Many lives were lost when the ship sank and others perished in the immediate aftermath. So swift had been the sinking that none of the lifeboats or life-rafts had been properly launched. Remarkably, 180 people survived with most of them eventually reaching shore unaided.

The Ship

Launched as the Fred Scamaroni in 1976, the roll-on roll-off ferry ship Salem Express was built by French shipbuilding company. She was later renamed Nuits Saint George, Lord Sinai and Al Tahra before becoming the Salem Express in 1988.salem3a

She was 4,771 gross registered tonnes and her measurements were 100.29m x 18.1m with a draught of 4.92m (unladen). Powered by 4 x 8 cylinder diesel engines reduction geared to serve two propellers and directional thrust propellers forward, the engines were built by Ch de L’Atlantique also of La Seyne and produced a very powerful 14,880 bhp.

Diving the Salem Express

This is one of the largest wrecks in the Egyptian Red Sea – roughly the same size as the Thistlegorm. She lies perfectly on her starboard side at an almost uniform depth of 32m from Bows to stern. The visor is still found in the raised position – just as it was so many times when loading vehicles. The large foredeck has few obstructions except for a pair of windlasses for the large twin anchors – both of which remain fully retracted into their respective hawse-pipes.

The tall forward-facing accommodation block has many rows of square windows with the upper-most belonging to the bridge. Some of the windows have been removed making it quite clear that some divers do enter the wreck from time to time. Above the Bridge is an open space occupied by the ship’s large mast.

The uppermost port side of the entire wreck is at a fairly uniform 10-12m throughout and a companionway runs for most of the ship’s length from bridge to stern. Here are many doors that once gave access to the ship’s interior – but all are sealed. Behind the bridge and above the accommodation, is a raised sun deck with lifeboat davits on both sides. All the lifeboats on the port side are absent.

Amidships, the divers will find twin funnels connected by a strengthening brace. On both sides of each funnel there is a capital letter “S” – very appropriately within a “wreath” of laurels.

 

Immediately below the funnels are four lifeboats sitting on the seabed. The after deck was where the deck-passengers were congregated. A light framework stretched over the deck onto which sheets of blue corrugated plastic were fixed in order to provide some shelter from the sun. These corrugated sheets now litter the seabed at a point where one or two personal belongings – such as a large stereo and suitcase, are found.salem2a

From here, the ship’s sides curve back slightly towards the square stern making it quite easy to swim under the wreck and emerge on the other side right next to the two huge propellers and single rudder.

As I mentioned earlier this is the first wreck of the week and makes for a great afternoon extended deco dive on the first day of the trip.  As the maximum depth is only around 30m a nice Eanx for the open circuit divers and a single deco tank is suffice. For the CCR divers, well, lets face it they can spend the entire afternoon if they choose.

Brother Islands technical expedition – 05/07/2013 – 11/07/2013Elite web full boat

This particular trip is open to all levels of technical diver and even entry level technical courses can be taught on board. The bonus of the wrecks that will be dived is that they fall between the depths of 15m – 75m, plenty for all levels of technical divers. For more information on the next technical trip to the Brother Islands contact us on Tekstreme@emperordivers.com.

Don’t miss out on the upcoming blogs by subscribing to receive them by email.

Cat Braun – Tekstreme Technical Manager.

 

Acknowledgments

Ned Middleton – http://www.touregypt.net/vdc/shipwrec.htm

Duncan Spenceley – http://www.redseasnappers.com

 

 

 

Red Sea Technical Diving safari

I have to be perfectly honest and say that this last technical expedition to the Brother islands and Safaga was a perfect reminder of why we dive the Red Sea, and why the Red Sea is still one of the most popular diving destinations in the world!

A good technical expedition is made up of a variety of factors and one large reason is the quality of the diving vessel. We here at Tekstreme are blessed to be able to use the Platinum boat by Emperor Divers called “Elite”. She is an absolutely wonderful vessel and is most convincingly one of the best in the Red Sea. Maybe you called me biased, but a trip for yourselves will prove my point.  The technical specifications are as follows:

Length = 38m

Beam = 8m

Engines = 2 x 764 HP Caterpillar

Generators = 3 x 84 kW Caterpillar

Fresh Water capacity = 2 x Aquaset desalination system; 11000 litres/day

Air Compressors = 4 x 260lt/min Coltri sub plus 2 nitrox compressor

Now, for those of you who that information means nothing, let me put it in simple terms; The boat is fast, stable, has a continuous supply of fresh water and can fill tanks nice and efficiently.  She also has all the creature comforts of home; personal controlled air conditioning units, mini bars in the cabins, media centres in the cabins, two large lounge areas, one large separate dining area, bath robes, Jacuzzi….the list goes on. The boat can actually sleep 24 people, however as technical divers we value our space and so we put a maximum of 15 technical guests on board. You can find for yourselves more information on the boat by clicking on the following link http://www.emperordivers.com/liveaboards-fleet-elite.php

Now that we are happy with the boat the next large factor in enjoying a technical expedition are the members of the technical team. For each trip that we run we make sure that there are enough members of the technical team to be able to offer all guests a very personalised service. This trip was no different. We had technical instructor Chris Armstrong on board who would be teaching Mattjin Buwalda his first CCR Air Diluent Course. We had technical instructor Duncan Spenceley on board to not only act as an in water guide, but was also taking some fantastic photos of the dives and also teaching to Peter Scarlett, Mike Robertson and Lizzie Driscoll their PADI Gas Blender courses. We also had technical assistant Szilard Bardozc on board to gain some more teaching experience with George Lamprinoudakis who was aiming to begin his PADI TecRec courses, and of course there was myself on board to oversee all aspects of the trip, organize the diving logistics, fill lots of tanks and to make the tea! You can see more about our team by clicking on the following link  http://www.tekstremediving.com/tek-team.php

OK, so now we have the boat and technical team covered, the obvious next big aspect of the trip would be the dives themselves. And wow, did we have some great dives.

We started off the week with two local dives in the Hurghada area. Time was spent making sure that all equipment worked correctly, the weighting and trim of all divers was good and generally getting back into the water for many.  On this day Mattjin began his TDI CCR Air Diluent course and Georgios began his PADI Tec 40.  Pete, Mike and Lizzie all made a nice long deco dive along the eastern wall of Abu Ramada as they had managed to sneak in a few days of tech diving before the trip began so all check dives were done already.  On a downside (and you will see a pattern emerging to these downsides) Simon Vogler came back to boat minus one Heinrichsweikamp OSTC computer!! Don’t worry Simon, I will be back in that diving location in the future and will hunt it down for you, if it has not already been found. Gutted it was a nice computer!

After an early morning dive at Small Giftun we immediately set sail heading towards Safaga and to the wreck of the Salem Express. The weather conditions were perfect. A very light breeze and a very mild current. The visibility was fantastic, a good 30m, and sea temperature at around 26 degrees. All divers had a nice long multi level dive on the wreck with no other divers in the water. On a downside Simon Fordham this time, came back to the boat minus one emergency surface marker buoy and his Jon line! Simon was a bit luckier than the other Simon (gets confusing when there are multiple people with the same names but try and keep up!) as luckily I had seen both items drop at the very beginning of the dive and managed to do some salvaging, this time all items were recovered.

During that afternoon as the seas were flat calm we travelled directly to the Brother Islands. First port of call Big Brother.

The current check was made early in the morning and revealed a slight current heading down the eastern wall with almost nothing on the wreck itself. Perfect. All divers were dropped directly over the wreck and all enjoyed a very chilled out dive covering the wreck from bottom to top. Shaun Fox, Simon Fordham and Ola Nielson had a nice 16/40 trimix to enable them to explore closer to the bottom, whilst the remaining divers were working their way from 50m upwards. Nothing like seeing an awesome wreck to distract student technical divers from their dive plan!! Saying that, George and Mattjin are still doing very well in their course dives. On a downside (are you seeing the pattern yet?) Lizzie came back to the boat minus one wrist slate!! Unfortunately to retrieve this one it would mean a dive to around 100m +, maybe on the next trip huh Lizzie!

The afternoon dive was around the southern plateau of Big Brother to search for the Thresher Sharks. As we drifted gently down the western wall approaching the south plateau all was great, we even had our first sighting of Grey Reef Shark, and then we hit the corner onto the plateau, or shall I say the corner hit us. The current was amazing. It picked up substantially by the time we reached the plateau and was swinging divers around the corner onto the eastern wall!! The only way to have prevented this is if you had a scooter! (Mental note made for next trip, must invest in scooter… or maybe two scooters!) With the absence of said scooters, all divers had no choice but to go with the flow and end up on the other side of the reef, not such a bad thing as it turns out as more Grey reef Sharks were spotted on the wall and Duncan even reckons he did see a Thresher. (There was no photographic evidence of this sighting even though he has the biggest camera in the Red Sea!! ) On a downside….well, actually there was no downside for this dive; all divers came back to the boat with all their equipment in place. Yeh, happy divers!

Once back on board there was no rest for Mike, Pete and Lizzie who now got to try their hand at some real gas blending not just theory.  8 full nitrox decompression tanks later and around 5 hours later, they are done for the day. We hoped the filling would get slightly quicker!!!

The following morning the current check once again revealed a mild current over the wreck of the Numidia running down the western wall this time. Most divers actually chose to get dropped in on the Numidia wreck and then drift down the Aida, with a few divers just opting for the Aida alone.  Everything was going absolutely fine and then we noticed Duncan swimming with his camera (which was a common sight,) however on this occasion he was carrying three fins instead of the normal two fins!! A very odd sight! But a mystery at the time. On a downside, Pete came back to the boat with only one fin! (Aha that would explain why Duncan ended up with three!! It all now makes sense!)

That afternoon most of the other safari boats had left Small brother Island and so we took this to our advantage and quickly changed island. Our afternoon dive was to explore the south and western wall of Small brother. Now, I kid you not, I did the current check which showed a mild current coming down that western wall, by the time all the divers were in the water it had picked up some what, in fact, it had picked up a whole lot!! No worries, luckily the eastern wall had more shelter and once again the slightly changed dive plan resulted up in divers in the eastern area to see more Grey Reef Sharks.  Not a bad dive after all! On a downside (and I do have these for every dive!) Georgios came back to the boat minus one large 100m reel. He apparently decided that he did not like the reel he was using and decided to donate it to the sea, well that was his story anyway!!

The following day was our last day at the Brother Islands and the plan was to dive the northern plateau on both dives. Up until now we had had relatively mild currents in the mornings and so we were hopeful that this would be the case. The current check showed the current to be stronger and coming over the northern plateau. The briefing to the guests was as simple as, roll in and get down….quickly!!! Hmmm, not as easy as it sounds when you are fully kitted up in twin sets and deco tanks or rebreathers and bailout tanks and for some not the smallest of cameras and also for some who also are still diving in dry suits!! It was a very interesting dive with up currents, down currents, left to right currents, right to left currents and every other direction you can imagine. I think all divers came to the same conclusion that it was a good experience dive! I do have to say with such currents the reef comes to life. It was absolutely incredible to see so much marine life if you had chance to notice it!! Funnily enough though, nobody actually lost any equipment!! Figure that one out!

For the afternoon the guests were a bit anxious about trying that dive again and so a compromise was reached. We would start on the eastern wall and swim towards the north as far as we could until the current was too strong. You would not believe it, but not only had the strength of the current dropped, it had pretty much disappeared completely. We could all hang over the plateau with ease watching the circling Hammerhead above, looking in the blue for the Grey Reef Sharks and this time it was my tern to spot a Thresher (no photo evidence of course!) On a downside (here we go again) Pete returned back to the boat minus one NHeO computer. Nice way to say goodbye the Brothers!

We then travelled during the late afternoon and evening to end up back in Safaga for our final dive of the trip the following morning. By this point Mattjin is now a certified CCR diver, Georgios a certified Tec 45 diver, Mike, Pete and Lizzie as Gas Blenders. Time for a final dive for everybody to relax and enjoy the majestic soft and hard corals that the reef has to offer. For Ola, Simon and Shaun it was the last 90m dive of the week and where better to do this but at Panarama reef.

It was a week of amazing diving, with great guests, being on board a great boat with an awesome Captain and crew I don’t think anybody could have asked for anything better. It really does remind us all how lucky we are to have such an amazing environment on our doorstep.

Many thanks to everybody on board the trip and we hope to see you again soon.

Pete, Mike, Lizzie, Shaun, Ola, Georgios, Irena, Simon, Simon, Mattjin, Chris, Duncan, Szilard and me.

Due to such a demand for these trips we have now released some more dates for 2013:

Northern Technical expedition = 22nd – 27th February 2013

Brothers & Safaga Technical expedition = 5th – 11th July 2013

Northern Technical expedition = 1st – 7th November 2013

There are only 15 places available so contact us now to make sure you reserve your place.

Tekstreme@emperordivers.com

Cat Parfitt

Technical Manager

TEKSTREME CHRISTMAS SAFARI 2010

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!

 

 

The Tek boys

 

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.

 

Phil on his rebreather

 

 

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

Christmas Eve

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

Shelter behind Sirinaka Island

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.

 

Kimmy's Birthday

 

 

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.

Ludo on his shiny new Evolution CCR

 

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.

One of the best dives at Habilli Soraya

 

 

 

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

Martynn and Gil set off to 100m

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

Northern Tech Safari

We are back.

Tekstreme have just returned from a weeks northern technical diving safari exploring the wrecks and reefs in between Hurghada and the straights of Tiran.

As always the trips produce a variety of stories and events, and this trip was not short of both.

We welcomed some experienced technical divers from Finland. they did not bring santa with them but they did bring scooters and CCR units. Well, for Vesa, he brought most of his CCR unit but left one vital part of it on the back seat of his car at the airport!! The Sentinal does not work very well without its breathing loop!! oops!

Jani, spent most of his trip flying past us all on his zooped up super size scooter, most of us trying to grab his fins to hitch a ride!!

Daniel and Nancy made their technical courses on board passing advanced nitrox and decompression procedures combo and advanced nitrox respectively. Well done guys.

Rowan and Chrissie, the two recreational divers who hitched a ride on the boat surpassed themselves and the tech divers by diving all four wrecks on Abu Nuhas on a single 12 litre tank!! Way to go girls 🙂

Hanno discovered that the air in the wing can move and for once he found that his trim was how it should be.

Fabrice realised that a twin 15 litre is not always necessary!

Shaun has managed to get in a lot of hours on his new inspiration, and soon will be ready for the mixed gas course.

Anni had a small stop over sharm, where she visited the chamber and the supermarket – thanks for the treats.

Thankyou to Chris, Duncan and Lea as fellow guides on board for making the trip run smoothly and enjoyable for all.

If you have not seen our photos yet you can head to the facebook Tekstreme Diving fan page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tekstreme-Diving/164697956879419

The next trip is planned in for February 2011, lets hope it is a good as this one. There are still some places left, but they do not last for long!!

Hopefully see you there.

Tekstreme team

Exploratory Safari – Day Four

Day four

What does day four have in store for us… I am now back with my student James after my deep wreck adventure yesterday. We were planning on making two 45m deco dives to finish off the course. However such is the nature

James making his dive plans

of the trip we never know for sure what the reefs / habilis are going to be like. As it would happen on this occasion we managed to find 40m in the morning (just!) but it was looking very unlikely that we would find much more than 30m in the afternoon. Armed with this information we decided to postpone the final afternoon dive until the following morning at St Johns. Again, this is why I am growing to love making courses on safari. The time that you have is so much more flexible than when teaching from the daily boats.

The dive In the morning proved to be fairly uneventful, well, James basically let me kill myself, but apart from that everything else was fine. My student learnt a very important lesson, never turn your back on you diving buddy when preparing for a gas change, you never know when they are going to put that regulator in their mouth. Not sure how many times I have now died of an oxygen hit, but they are racking up.

Wall shot of one of the towers

After giving up on finding more than 40m on our dive, we decide to concentrate the dive around one tall tower to make our ascent. The tower was covered in soft corals and teeming with marine life. There was a bit of current running around the tower so we pretty much stayed on the sheltered side of it. The Habili went all the way up to 9m but then stopped, so for our 6 metre stop we put up the smb’s and drifted below. For the duration of our 6m decompression stop we were being watched by a very curious large barracuda who spent the whole time circling around us!

Back onto the boat and we were welcomed by a well deserved hearty breakfast. Think at this point I have now put on 2 kilograms in weight from the food alone!! In the afternoon we decided to make a normal recreational dive in the afternoon with our cameras. We dived again around some very large towers and were rewarded with the sight of free swimming white tips reef sharks and also a small sleeping white tip. The usual larger suspects were also there such as Tuna, Snappers, and many flabellinas. The current was quite mild which meant that it is was a very chilled out dive.

We have now seen our first other boat of the trip….a large  cargo ship was spotted in the distance.

A small sleeping White Tip reef Shark

Not sure if that counts or not??!! The weather is now awesome,

not a breath of wind around.  We fill up the Jucuzzi and off gas in the comfort of cool water as we travel! It’s a hard life.

During the evening our boat is surrounded by plankton, this is a very good sign, hopefully we will have the chance to see Manta Rays the following day.

Exploratory Safari Diary

Day three

We awake on the morning of the third day to find that the wind has dropped to nothing and the conditions are perfect for making our wreck dive. After careful analysis of our gases and a final review of our dive plans we set off, I have been waiting to make this dive for 11 months.

A successful wreck dive

Because the weather is fantastic Sonia manages to put a line directly onto the stern area of the wreck itself. As we make our descent the visibility is awesome and already we can look down the length of the wreck and see where it splits at 50m. The stern area is basically upside down but where the wrecks splits the bow section is actually completely on its side. We keep descending but surprisingly the bottom comes to us earlier than we expected! Scraping the sea bed around the bow our computers read 70m, we have hit the bottom! My estimation was not that far off! Swimming onto the open deck side of the wreck out comes my wet note pad and I start to map the wreck. With time constraints against us the sketch was very simplistic but gives the main structural points of interest.

The visibility was around 30m and looking up I could see Shaun hanging over the split area with a big smile on his face. The wreck appears to be in quite good condition. We do not make any penetration of the wreck this time, that will have to wait until our next trip! But at least now we know where to go.

Side view of wreck at approx 60m

The computers signal to us that our time here is almost up and we begin to make our ascent following the length of the wreck up into the shallow waters. Our decompression time flew by relatively quickly and before we knew it we were back on the boat with big smiles. After breakfast we began to travel back up in northerly direction. There is nothing better than off gassing in a cool water Jacuzzi, it’s a hard life sometimes.

In the afternoon I succumbed to my curiosity and I used the Satellite phone to try to find out the current situation in Europe. Unfortunately there was no good news to be had. Most of Europe’s air spaces were still closed and so my fiancé was now on a 15 hour ferry journey from Hull to Belgium! Not a happy man. Of course to make him feel better I told him the safari was rubbish!! No need to rub salt in the wounds!

Have I mentioned before that we have not seen any other boats for two days now!

Our Exploratory Safari Diary

Welcome to our second installment of our diary from our recent exploratory and technical safari.

Day Two

We have arrived! After a peaceful 11 hour travel over night we eventually arrive at the most southern point of the Red Sea within Egyptian waters. There are so many reef systems within this area it is difficult to decide on where to start! Sonia decides that we are going to explore a longer more finger shaped reef that we discovered on our last trip. We are hopefully looking to find some Pelagics in the area, fingers crossed, but for my student he has more on his mind than fish spotting! We are planning on making a 40m no decompression Advanced Nitrox dive on the northern tip of the reef.

Checking the dive plan

With our back gas loaded with a light nitrox mix of 24% and armed with a 40% stage tank  James has to prove to me that he can follow a simulated decompression plan, safety make a gas switch and other skills that I may surprise him with.

After 10 minutes of being in the water we catch sight of the recreational divers who have smiles beaming on their faces (yes you can see this even though they have regulators in their mouths!) Why are they so happy, the distinctive Hammerhead hand signal that they are all showing reveals why! Right, James and myself go off in the hunt but to no avail! We have to settle for some Tunas and Barracudas, not  a bad consolation price.

Once we are back on the boat a hearty breakfast is awaiting us. ( I do usually put on maybe 2kgs after these trips!). After making our debriefing and planning for our afternoon dive, we have time to sit back and relax a while.

Our second dive in the afternoon takes us to the southern plateau of the reef system.

Diving around Habili Jaffa

The plateau is not very wide and drops to depths that I can only imagine. We plan to make a slightly shallower dive with some extra skills thrown to challenge my student. James is handling himself very comfortably in the water, too comfortable, I need to make this more challenging. I think a mid water gas shutdown with a flooded mask may be on the cards! I do like teaching fellow instructors the first technical course as it really brings them back to ground. Suddenly the easy diving tasks that they are doing day in day out take on  a different light. Surely a PADI SMB Speciality Instructor should be able to send up a SMB from mid water and not lose control of their buoyancy, surely! We as instructors hate it when things go wrong, and in an expected fashion James has multiple excuses for why his SMB deployment was, let’s say, slightly messy!

There is nothing more frustrating on a dive than hearing Dolphins continuously but not actually seeing them! Argh! For 60 minutes their high pitched squeaks was driving me crazy, they must have been so close, but yet not close enough! Our shark count is still on zero, but I am confident that we will be rewarded at some point.

Once back on board, and after lengthy discussions about SMBs still (he won’t let this one drop!!) we sit back to cover some more of the theory of decompression diving, and to look more closely at decompression planning software. Tomorrow we take a break from the course as I need to leave my student! Where I am going is a bit too deep for him! On our last trip to this area we found a large wreck. One mission of this trip is to find the bottom of the wreck and to map the wreck!! Myself, Ben and his guest who is also a trimix diver sit down to plan our deep dive.

The sun sets on day two

Shaun, my wonderful odd job man, gas blender and CCR guide is going to be staying at around 50m to explore the

mid section which has split into two pieces and will also act as our support diver if needed.  I have estimated that the bow of the ship should be between 75m – 85m, with the stern at a more reasonable 20m. The boys plan a 90m dive just in case it is deeper than I can remember, I plan a slightly shallower one at 75m as I want to spend more time mapping the wreck rather than reaching its maximum depth. Let’s hope the weather holds up and we can dive it tomorrow.

Since we left St Johns no boats at all have been sighted, not even a fishing boat. This is a luxury that is becoming a rarity within the Red Sea on safari routes. I think we all appreciate how lucky we are.