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.

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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.

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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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Winter Warmer in The Red SEA

When the European summertime comes to an end and Christmas would be fast approaching take a final chance to escape to the warmer waters of the Red Sea for some scuba diving action.

In November 2015, Emperor Divers will be offering back to back trips to visit the northern wrecks and reefs of the Red Sea and have very kindly offered Tekstreme the opportunity to invite trained decompression divers to join the boat. Tekstreme will provide a guide for divers wishing to enjoy a safari trip made up of non-deco dives and deco dives.

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These trips are also the perfect opportunity for divers onboard the boat who currently do not have any decompression qualification to take the first level decompression course and maximize their times diving on some of the most amazing wrecks that the area has on offer. The SSI Extended Range Nitrox (SSI XR Nitrox) course enables you to continue to use your current scuba diving equipment whilst you learn the basics of decompression diving. You will be trained to dive to 40m utilizing eanx gases up to pure oxygen for decompression. You can do home study for the short course before hand, at your convenience, leaving the most enjoyable part of the course, the diving, to when you are on the boat with us.

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The Safari route

The Wrecks and reefs trip is the best of both worlds, where you visit famous wrecks in the northern Red Sea along with some stunning reef diving. This trip is not about depth, but it’s about having the time to explore the wrecks and reefs in all their glory within the 30 – 45m range.

Abu Nuhas has four well-known wrecks: Ghiannis D, Carnatic, Chrisoula and Kimon M. All wrecks offering spectacular dives and plenty of fish life, and how about to try diving all four wrecks in one dive!

Night dives can be superb as Gubal Island offers protected anchoring for the night. A small wreck at 8-10 metres makes for a spectacular night dive with lionfish, scorpion fish and its resident giant moray eel as well as the wreck of the Ulysses.

The wreck of the Rosalie Moller is a perfect example of where having some decompression training can transform a dive. Imagine not being stuck to having only 20 minutes on the wreck before decompression but to be trained to happily have 40 minutes instead! Now we are talking! Next onto the Kingston lying at Shag Rock; the Carina lying close to Sha’ab Ali and the Dunraven at Beacon Rock in Ras Mohamed National Park.

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Last but not least lets not forget the most famous wreck in the Red Sea, the Thistlegorm, at Sha’ab Ali.

The SS Thistlegorm was sunk in 1941 after being bombed by the German Luftwaffe while on a mission to deliver a cargo of ammunition and other war materials to the British troops in North Africa. The Rosalie Moller, carrying a cargo of coal, suffered the same fate just two days later. Many divers have yet to explore the wreck and the surrounding debris field in all its glory again because the computer says “no”! This does not have to be the way. During your SSI XR training you will learn how to combine the best eanx gas for deeper exploration, in combination with an efficient decompression gas to enable you to be the first in the water and for sure the last out the water!

Whilst in Ras Mohamed, you may have the chance to do a dive at Shark Reef; a sheer wall falling into the blue. From here the boat heads back towards Hurghada.

In between wreck dives you will also visit the reefs of the Straits of Gubal, Gulf of Suez and those to the north of Hurghada. A variety of deep walls and hard coral gardens with an abundance of reef fish make them well worth a visit.

All wrecks are subject to divers’ experience and weather conditions.

 

The Dates

November 20th – 27th 2015

November 27th – 4th December 2015

The Price

As a special winter deal Emperor Divers are offering either of these trips above for 899 euros.

This price includes:

Airport transfers

7 nights accommodation

Marine park fees

Fuel Surcharges

All food and soft drinks on the boat

Technical dive guide

This price does not include:

Technical diving supplies:

Twin set hire or CCR tank hire = 60 euros for the week

2 x Deco tank hire / bailout tank hire = 30 euros for the week

CCR oxygen gas fills = 5 euros per fill / top up

Eanx gases up to 39% = 5 euros per fill / top up

Eanx gases between 40% – 79% = 8 euros

Eanx gases 80% – 100% = 12 euros

Sofnolime = 11 euros per kg

Notes

Please note that this trip is not a specific technical safari. It is a traditional wrecks and reefs safari with the option to make some decompression dives or join the entry level SSI XR nitrox course with one of the Tekstreme team. Tekstreme will guarantee their normal high level of service with regards to:

Custom gas mixtures to 200bar

Technical guide(s) available for all dives

Safety procedures and dive awareness

Detailed dive site briefings from a decompression perspective

Emergency oxygen and additional emergency drop down gases

There are no minimum requirements in terms of how many divers would like to make decompression dives. One of our guides will be there even if there is only one person who would like to make decompression dives! There does not get better service than that!

Contact us for reservations or more information.

Cat Braun

Tekstreme Manager

info@tekstremediving.com

Tekstreme “The Tour” visits Malta

Tekstreme Wings

MALTA 2016

May 7th – 14th

Price = £600

 

The Maltese Islands’ clear blue Mediterranean sea is ideal for scuba diving. All three islands offer some unique diving experiences with an abundance of reefs, caves and wrecks that make diving here some of the most interesting in the Mediterranean. The calmness and clarity of the sea makes for excellent visibility whilst the risk of encountering dangerous fish is extremely low, creating the ultimate conditions for scuba diving. For the more experienced divers, there are plenty of challenging dives to choose from.

Price Includes:

  • 7 nights self catering accommodation in shared villas with equipment storage
  • Transfers to and from the airport
  • 5 days diving
  • Transfers to and from Dive locations
  • All ferry costs
  • 12 litre Twin set hire or CCR tank hire
  • 1 decompression tank
  • Technical guides

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This trip is aimed at diving some of the most popular wrecks and reefs of Malta and Gozo to with all dives between depths of 30 – 55m. It is preferably that divers should hold a certification to enable them to dive to 50m on either air or limited trimix. Lower certifications of certifications are also welcome and courses to achieve the higher levels are available during the trip.

For the shallower dives (30 – 40m) there will be planned two dives per day. For the deeper dives up to 55m it is planned for 1 dive a day. This makes for a minimum 8 dive trip. The dives are subject to weather conditions but hopefully will include the following: P31 patrol boat, Rosie Tug Boat, El Faroud, MV Karwela, MV Xlendi, HMS Stubborn and the Blue Hole to name a few.

Nitrox, Helium and extra Deco cylinders are available but not included in the overall price. All extras are to be paid directly to the Dive centre at the end of the trip.

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 Flights are available quite inexpensive from most major UK airports.

 Email to info@tekstremediving.com for more information.

New deep wreck in Hurghada, Red Sea

By Paul Vinten 

The number of technical divers discovering the wonders of the Egyptian Red Sea is on the steady increase with the availability of support now for both open and closed circuit divers. The numerous deep reefs around Hurghada, Sharm and Dahab provide a multitude of sites for visiting ‘tekkies’, but it is nearly always the wrecks which get the adrenaline of a deep diver pumping.  Around the daily diving area of Hurghada there are 5 well known wrecks from 32-110m, not including those at Abu Nuhas reef, to offer a dive for all technical abilities, but a lesser known, and by far the biggest wreck in Hurghada, has just been located and dived by the team from Tekstreme Diving at Emperor Divers.  The ship is that of the ferry, Al Qamar Al Saudi Al Misri which translates as ‘The Saudi Egyptian Moon’ and lies in a depth of 83 metres rising to 64 at the shallowest point so providing a superb trimix dive just one and a half hour’s sailing from the main port of Hurghada. 

The Al Qamar Al Saudi Al Misri

Launched in 1970 as the Trekroner, the vessel was 124.85 metres in length with a beam of 19.31 metres and a gross tonnage of 7697.  It changed its name in 1971 to the Dana Corona when it moved from Copenhagen to the Mediterranean, and then in 1979 changed again to the Dana Sirena.  Finally in 1983 it made the move to Egypt when it was bought by the Al Sabah Maritime Services Co. Ltd. of Jeddah who renamed it the Al Qamar Al Saudi II, then in 1988 it made it’s final move to Alexandria to the Khaled Ali Fouda shipping company who named it the Al Qamar Al Saudi and then one year later changed it again to the Al Qamar Al Saudi Al Misri.

It was a very large roll-on roll-off ferry capable of carrying up to 718 passengers and 120 cars at speeds of up to 21 knots and in its final days was used on the route between the ports of Suez in Egypt and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

 

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The sinking

The ship was on a return journey from Jeddah back up to Suez carrying 527 passengers and a crew of 63 when late in the night of the 18th May 1994 a boiler explosion was reported to have caused an oil leak and fire in the engine room which then spread to the rest of the vessel.  Various offshore vessels and navy ships responded to the mayday call from the ferry over the radio as people began jumping into the sea and launching the lifeboats to escape the rapidly spreading flames.One of the closest rescue vessels was only 25 miles away when the distress call came.  The American destroyer, USS Briscoe, on its second Northern Red Sea deployment was captained by Cmdr. Andrew J. Pitts and he was quick to get to the scene of the disaster and launch his ship’s helicopter to begin pulling people from the burning ferry and out of the sea.  Following numerous stories of daring rescues and individual moments of heroism, 15 crew members of the Briscoe were awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Medal.The Al Qamar Al Saudi Al Misri eventually sank the following morning on the 19th May 1994 with 8 confirmed dead, 13 missing and over 50 people injured.  

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Finding the wreck

With the popularity of technical diving in the Egyptian Red Sea on the rapid increase, there are always people trying to locate new sites, in particular wrecks, to provide greater attractions to the area.  When Aaron Bruce, Tekstreme manager in Sharm el Sheikh passed me some information about a ferry close to Hurghada including a ship’s name, the hunt was on!  I spent some time researching the vessel, including obtaining the ships plans so as to provide as much background as possible before actually looking for its location.  From the information we had and talking with various boat crews and captains, we had an area to search in no time and everybody we talked to knew the name Al Qamar Al Saudi and so we were very positive about locating the wreck given enough time.  Although an initial search proved fruitless, we were not disheartened, and on returning close to the original search area with some new information, it was only just under 3 hours of running a search pattern before a large shape appeared on the echo sounder which, up till then had been showing a flat sandy bottom of between 78 and 83 metres.  There was no doubt about it – we had found a very large wreck!Several more runs over the site to plot dimensions and depths revealed an object over 100 metres in length and rising from the 83 metre seabed to a minimum depth of 64 metres.  The smiles and excitement on the boat were becoming infectious! 

Diving the Al Qamar

The following morning, with spirits running high, we returned to the location of the wreck.  With our two KISS closed circuit rebreather units prepared the night before and carrying a trimix diluent along with two open circuit emergency bailout tanks each, we were ready for an exploration of the site.  A shot line was dropped next to the wreck on to the seabed and we began our descent.  As we descended, the visibility reduced quite quickly and we thought we were in for a disappointing dive, but by the time we reached 60 metres, it cleared up again and we could clearly see the stern of the wreck, lying on its starboard side, appearing out of the gloom. 

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After reaching the clear sandy seabed, the ambient light gave us the most amazing view of the stern with its twin propellers towering above us.  We took a moment to compose ourselves and attach a line from the shot to the wreck for our return, and then began our exploration.It was at this point that the value of having, and studying, the deck plans prior to the dive proved to be invaluable, especially with such depths limiting available bottom time.  As we swam round to the aft deck the swimming pool came into view and beyond it the entrance into the restaurant and bar areas.  Due to the cause of the sinking we had no plans to conduct any serious penetration on this dive with the idea more to get information on the state of the wreck and its condition in the water following the explosion, fire and 13 years of submersion in order to pave the way for future explorations. 

The damage to the superstructure became more and more evident the closer we got to the midships area where the engine room was situated.  The very uppermost level of the ship had fallen off the vessel on to the seabed, as had the main part of the funnel, presumably from the intense fire weakening the structure to a point where it could no longer support itself as the ship rolled on to its side and hit the seabed.  As a result of the explosion, access could be easily gained into the engine room area through the deck where it had been ripped apart.  Looking down to the seabed, a single lifeboat could be seen crushed under part of the wreckage, but apart from that all the lifeboat davits around the wreck were empty testifying to the fact that so many people escaped the sinking without injury.

As we came to the bridge section, the top level containing the control station was also lying on the seabed next to the main vessel, but the lounge and bar situated at the front of the second deck to offer passengers a view over the bows was still intact with the seating.  A compass binnacle was still in place on the port side bridge wing surrounded by a multitude of fish life.  Across the bow deck the foredeck hatch was fully open, a curious thing which was also seen in an image of the Al Qamar Al Saudi I obtained from when it was still afloat.  A huge spare propeller was still lashed to the port side deck and it was from here that we ascended up to the port side hull to begin the long swim back towards the stern.

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All over the wreck, fan corals & fish life could be found with shoals of big eyes and the occasional grouper lurking in the shadows looking on at the unexpected intrusion of their home.  The coral growth covered most of the outer surfaces of the wreck with the majority of the railings and superstructure having become inhabited in some way and small fan corals adorning the upper side of the hull.As we swam along the shallowest side of the wreck, it gave us a real idea of the enormity of the vessel with the hull seeming to stretch on forever in all directions.  Ropes still holding the block and tackle lay across the hull from the deployment of the port side lifeboats, and looking down into the ship through the various doorways & portholes, everything still seemed more or less completely intact, barring some obvious signs of fire damage.  Returning to the stern, any doubt of the wrecks identity was instantly dispelled as the raised lettering could clearly be read announcing the ships name in both English and Arabic.  Then it was a chance for one last look at the propellers and rudders before returning to the shot line and that long ascent back to the surface.

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After a relatively short 25 minutes spent on the wreck, we managed to get away with only 75 minutes of decompression and ascent time, a fact which was made only made possible due to the big advantages of the closed circuit rebreather on such dives. It did, however,  give us time to reflect on the dive as we crept up the line, with both Aaron and myself smiling away and thinking about our return to the wreck – the next time with a camera and a plan to fully explore the wreck, but not forgetting the fact that there were fatalities during the sinking. 

Less than a week later, we were returning to the site with the rest of the Tekstreme team from Hurghada and Sharm and, armed with cameras; we were trying to document and gather as much information about the wreck as possible in its current state.  We managed to take images of most of the wreck, but as we quickly found out, even with six divers working together, a wreck of this size and in this depth of water requires several dives to explore it in its entirety.  

So as Hurghada increased its number of wrecks available to the visiting technical diver by one, the search was already being planned by the Tekstreme Team for at least two more deep wrecks in the area.The Hurghada region really is a wreck diver’s heaven with rusting metal at all diveable depths and in some of the best diving conditions in the world.

For more information on diving the Al Qamar wreck, contact Paul Vinten by e-mailing paul@tekstremediving.com or visit the website at www.tekstremediving.com