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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Tekstreme “The Tour”.

Did you know, that one of the most common questions that I get asked when guests are enquiring to me about Tekstreme and wanting to do some diving with us is, “Are Tekstreme located in other countries?” To date, I have had to reply that the answer is no.

Another black shirt for the team copy

Tekstreme have, since establishment, concentrated their time offering technical services throughout Egypt. As a technical company we are one of the largest in Egypt with operations, through the facilities of Emperor Divers, in Sharm El Shiekh, El Gouna and Marsa Alam plus offering multiple specific technical safaris throughout the year. I guess personally for me, before taking Tekstreme to other destinations I want to be sure that we have the right attitude, approach, business plan, commitment, audience and of course the desire. Right now I believe we can easily tick all of those boxes. However, these things are not to be rushed. Much research needs to be done on destinations, availability, profitability, demand etc etc. We see in our industry too many technical operations opening up around the world yet one year later they close their doors. As a reputable technical diving company we need to ensure that if we take on such a project outside of Egypt that our customers can be assured that we will be there to stay.

Tekstreme Wings

Now don’t get too excited, this blog is not Tekstreme announcing a new location, not quite yet, but what we are doing in the meantime is to take Tekstreme “On Tour”. Beginning in 2016 we are going to be offering technical diving trips to multiple other locations outside of Egypt. This way, our customers who want to have the benefit of diving multiple locations, but staying with Tekstreme are going to be very happy. Tekstreme will be organising diving trips including accommodation in various European destinations to begin with, before expanding to worldwide destinations. We will only be using the facilities of highly reputable dive centres in each location who we know will maintain high standards that our customers demand. On each trip one of our highly trained technical team members will be there with our customers to ensure that our high standards are kept and of course to offer technical courses on each trip.

For each trip, we are keeping them quite exclusive, small groups only. We plan to take a maximum of around 8 – 10 divers on each trip. For us, it has always been about quality, not quantity and this philosophy will not change. We want to have a more intimate group of divers that we can care for on a personal level, rather than a conveyer belt of divers!

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For us, these are really exciting times and we cant wait to take kick start Tekstreme “The Tour”, we hope that we are going to see many of our technical diver friends come and join us and make this the best technical tour ever.

Cat Braun

Tekstreme Diving Manager

info@tekstremediving.com

Dummies guide to Side mount Scuba Diving

Before anybody makes any comments, yes I have stolen the “Dummies guide to….” title from John Wiley & Sons, Inc but maybe in the future I actually find the time to write a full Dummies guide on this topic but until then I think the title for this article is very appropriate!

 

As professional divers we can have a tendency to get a bit carried away when we are writing articles or giving descriptions of the type of diving that we are so passionate about. The end result is that the reader / audience gets bombarded by terminology, jargon, slang and other code words which leaves them confused and exhausted. The aim of this article was to write a short article in basic diving language that not only the existing diver can understand but also to enable even the “diver to be” to have a basic insight into the topic of side mount diving.

 

 Introducing Side mount diving.

 If you are a keen scuba diver or have an interest in the area no doubt you may find you spend some of your free time reading the latest scuba magazines, browsing the scuba diving websites, looking at various scuba diving facebook groups. Does that sound familiar? If yes, you may have noticed that over the last two years the term “Side mount” has been popping its head up more and more frequently. Now, not everybody understands what “Side mount” is, let alone to want to try it, so let us here at Tekstreme Diving try to explain what it is all about and to let you know how you can give it a go.

 

What actually is Side mount diving?

It can be as simple as stating…

 “Side mount is an scuba diving equipment configuration in which a diver is able to wear a tank on each side of his body instead of on his / her back”

Historically, side mount diving actually finds it origins from more extreme divers who wanted to explore the inner parts of cave and cavern systems. What they were finding is that with the normal scuba tanks attached to their back it made their overall size very large and cumbersome and it ultimately prevented them from moving through smaller spaces and penetrating deep into cave systems. So, they found a way to move the tanks from their backs to the sides of their bodies where they could easily detach them and swim though the smaller spaces with the tanks in front of their body.

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Now the big question why has it moved over to mainstream diving?

The side mount configuration has tremendous adaptability and its many other advantages have been embraced by the recreational scuba diver of various different experience levels. Along with the advances in equipment development and production by leading manufactures side mount has become much more mainstream that you would realise. A few of the key features of side mount diving include:

 

–       Less back strain

–       Easier movements top side

–       More manoeuvrability in the water

–       Redundant gas supply

–       Increased gas supply for longer dives

–       Ability to extend no decompression dives

 

 

Where do the tanks go?

Side mount tanks lie parallel to the body, below the shoulders and alongside the hips. The diver has two separate and redundant sources of gas and will breathe first from one tank and then the other, switching back and forth between two independent regulators on airflex hoses throughout the dive. The clips on the bottom of the tanks are attached just below the hip, and the top of the tank is secured by a bungee system, which allows the tanks to sit alongside the body comfortably.

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What about safety?

Whether diving a wreck, cave or open sea reef, everybody has recognized the safety and benefits of side mount diving. A side mount configuration gives a diver easier access to tank valves in an emergency; to be able to make gas shut downs or switch to a different breathing supply. Side mount configuration also makes it easier when divers need to swap in and out extra tanks in the situation of a low on gas or out of gas situation. The position of the tanks also gives the diver’s head greater range of motion for enhanced vision and comfort. With all the tanks being alongside the body rather than behind the body the diver can see all of their equipment easily.

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Is it heavy?

Not at all, actually the complete opposite. One major advantage for side mount enthusiasts is simply the management of what can be a heavy load. It’s easy to see the appeal of a system that allows for the placement of tanks in the water, allowing him / her to enter the water in nothing more than a basic harness system. The tanks then clip in, but with the weight burden significantly reduced through buoyancy in the water. Of course, when the dive is done the process is easily reversed, allowing divers to exit the water with the same ease, simply passing their tanks out and then climbing out with just the harness still in place. Older divers, divers with pre existing back, knee, joint issues, and petite women are a few of the dive demographics increasingly embracing side mount diving for these very reasons.

 

Does it increase my dive time?

For divers who previously have felt that their dive times have been restricted by their higher breathing rates the bonus of side mount diving is massive. Of course by carrying two cylinders you have double the volume of gas that you would normally carry! Rather than having to dive with a larger, heavier 15 litre tank, now you can carry two 12 litre cylinders which you can put on in the water. No more heavy loads to carry, but loads of extra diving time gained!

 

Where can I try it out?

Like all forms of specialized diving, divers should seek training to learn about side mount diving. Both recreational and technical certification agencies now offer side mount training, making it easier to find an instructor and a dive centre that can offer such courses. More and more side mount divers are seen on boats and at dive sites; ask their opinion on why they choose to side mount and what safety features are critical to the dive environment. There’s a wealth of information out there just waiting for you to ask the questions.

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So how long will it take to be a side mount diver?

It will likely take a few dives to balance the rig just right and to make the operation intuitive. Divers who want to get started in diving with side mount should take a structured course. Proper training will include removing a bottle underwater and swimming while pushing the tank in front of the body, donning tanks while floating at the surface, air sharing, gas management and deploying a surface marker. Working with an instructor will help the diver configure the finer parts of the rig, set up the tanks properly and make sure the trim is correct in-water. Courses are typically run over two days. How about make it as a combination with learning how to dive nitrox then you will really reap the benefits. Before you plan your diving holiday get in contact with your preferred diving center to check of they have the availability of side mount courses (not all dive centres can currently offer these side mount courses)

 

So lets have a go at cutting through some of the jargon….

 

A = Air flex hose

Light and extremely flexible, Airflex hoses carry an average lifespan that is 3 x longer than standard rubber hoses. Built with durability in mind, Airflex hoses are designed with excellent protection against abrasion, damage caused by UV rays and gear pinches. Their kink-resistant design means you can tie the Airflex hose into a knot and still have continuous air flow. Burst pressure is several times that of traditional rubber hoses and our Airflex hoses are suitable for use with any gas mixture.

B = Bungee

Shock cord that can be used for multiple functions in the scuba diving world. Found in side mount diving for attachment of the tank valve to the harness. Comes in various lengths and thicknesses.

C = Cave

A cave is defined as “A large hole that is formed by natural processes in the side of a cliff or hill or under the ground”

D = D – Ring

There are many different types of attachment rings on the market that the diver can attach to their harness to make tank attachment easy. Typically they are called D rings. The D-ring is the best way to create an attachment point on soft webbing. D-rings are available in various sizes and with differing angles. Made of marine grade 316 stainless steel they will last in fresh and salt water environment

E = Enriched Air Nitrox

Enriched Air Nitrox refers to any gas mixture composed of nitrogen and oxygen; this includes normal air which is approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. However, in scuba diving, nitrox is normally differentiated and handled differently from air. The most common use of nitrox mixtures containing higher than normal levels of oxygen is in scuba, where the reduced percentage of nitrogen is advantageous in reducing nitrogen uptake in the body’s tissues and so extending the possible dive time, and/or reducing the risk of decompression sickness

 

F = Flexibility

The side mount diving approach offers divers significant benefits to the flexibility of their approach. Unlike back-mounted doubles, acquiring and transporting side mount suitable cylinders is often much more convenient and accessible. Side mount diving configuration allows the travelling diver to conduct technical and/or overhead environment dives without having to source traditional back-mounted twin cylinders.

H = Hybrid Harness

Specialised side mount harnesses are available ‘off-the-shelf’ commercially. Some of these are designed specifically for side mounting only, but others are ‘hybrid’ designs, enabling the diver to swap between side mount and back-mounted cylinders, as needed.

N = No Decompression time

A no-decompression limit (NDL) is a time limit. No-decompression limits vary from dive to dive. A diver who stays underwater longer than the no-decompression limit for his dive can not ascend directly to the surface, but must pause periodically as he ascends to avoid a high risk of decompression sickness. A diver should never exceed a no-decompression limit without specialised training in decompression procedures.

P = Pressure gauge

To monitor breathing gas pressure in the diving cylinder, a diving regulator usually has a high pressure hose leading to a contents gauge (also called pressure gauge). The contents gauge is a pressure gauge measuring the gas pressure in the diving cylinder so the diver knows how much gas remains in the cylinder. It is also known as submersible pressure gauge or SPG. Typically in side mount configuration the pressure gauge is attached to a short, typically 6 inch hose.

R = Rig

The term given to the total set up of side mount equipment. To be exact it can be defined as “a device or piece of equipment designed for a particular purpose”

S = Streamline

Side mount diving configuration places the cylinders under the diver’s armpits, in line with their body. This decreases water resistance (improving air consumption and reducing fatigue) whilst also allowing the diver to pass through smaller restrictions than would otherwise be possible in back-mounted cylinders. The flexibility to remove tanks, and propel them in front, allows the diver to pass through very small passages and holes when penetration diving – being limited only by the size of their bodies and exposure protection

T = Trim

Underwater trim is the diver’s attitude in the water, in terms of balance and alignment with the direction of motion. Accurately controlled trim reduces swimming effort, as it reduces the sectional area of the diver passing through the water.

W = Wing

An inflatable buoyancy bladder known as a wing, that is fixed between the backplate and the diver. Wings come in various sizes with varying lift volumes. Types of include the Hollis SMS 50, or the Dive Rite Nomad

 

To summarise….

 

So hopefully in this short article we have managed to give you the reader a better understanding of what side mount diving is all about. It is not just for the hard core technical deep cave divers, quite the contrary, it is readily available and can be of great benefit to the diver beginning his / her scuba adventures. You don’t need fancy mix gas computers or the most expensive fins or to wear all black equipment, no, you simply need to have an interest in a different style of diving, enthusiasm and an open mind to learn. The world of side mount diving is out there for everybody.

 

If you would like to join one of our recreational safaris where we will be running side mount courses simply drop us an email to info@tekstremediving.com

The safari dates with current availability this year are:

 15th August – 21st August 2014

10th October – 16th October 2014

 

There will be a maximum of 6 students per trip so email us early to secure your place.

 

Cat Braun 

Tekstreme Diving Manager