June 2017 – Simply the Best
In January, a few Diveline Club members decided to book a week on a Liveaboard doing the Simply the Best Itinerary with Blue O2. Foolishly, they made this information public, and soon the original 3 became a party of 8!
So in June this year, the intrepid eight set of for Gatwick’s South terminal to embark on a diving adventure. This group, as with all good tours, became known as PaPa Norm and the Dwarves.
For some of us, this was our first experience of a Liveaboard, so there was a buzz of nervous excitement as the mini-bus arrived to collect us all. Amazingly, no one was late, traffic was good, and we arrived at the airport at good time. This was undoubtedly an auspicious start to our week of diving adventure.
We arrived at Hurghada and were met by the Blue O2 representatives, and after a short transfer from the airport, we arrived at the boat.
Blue Horizon is an impressive boat at 41 meters long, and accommodating 26 guests, she feels spacious and comfortable. She hosts a large dining area, totally separate sky lounge, shaded deck area and sun deck, so there is always space to relax and enjoy a Sakara after a day’s diving. TV’s in the communal areas are also equipped with an Apple TV and a hard drive containing movies and TV series which provided welcome entertainment on some of the longer journeys. The cabins were comfortable, and all are equipped with air-conditioning and a mini-fridge in which to store Rum (or your beverage of choice!) And most importantly, comfortable. They are all on-suite, and at no point did I have a cold shower!
The dive deck is well thought out, and the system in place for tank refills is slick and efficient. The dive platform is spacious with ample storage for fins, and has a tank for camera equipment, plus two showers, and two hand-held water jets for rinsing equipment post-dive.
After a briefing about the boat, safety, and the itinerary, we were served a very welcome and delicious dinner, and had chance to get to know our fellow divers before bedding down for the night, ready to set sail the next morning.
Throughout the trip the food was fantastic, lots of fresh salad and vegetables, roasted meat, sautéed fish, pasta, potatoes in every guise, and simply divine rice! The crew were excellent about accommodating dietary requirements and catered for gluten free, non-fish eaters, a vegan, and random fruit allergies (I know it’s odd, but I really am allergic to orange peel, and pineapple). The majority of soft drinks are free on board – only tonic and soda water has to be paid for. And given how much tonic we got through (we drunk the boat dry) I can see why this policy is in place. If a dive wasn’t directly followed by a meal, then snacks were provided. And on those nights where we had enough energy to stay up late (not often after a hard day of diving) crisps would be provided.
Onto the diving! As the name suggests, the Simply the Best itinerary covers some of the best dive sites that the Red Sea has to offer; Big and Little Brothers, Daedalus, and Elphinstone. With many reports of lots of shark sightings in the preceding weeks, we were all hoping for some amazing sites, and we weren’t disappointed!
Day One – Gotta Abu Ramada :
After leaving harbour, we motored out to a lovely reef called Gotta Abu Ramada. This reef is also known as the Aquarium, and as soon as you get in the water, you can see why! The water is warm and clear, and provided an abundance of the sort of fish you’d expect to see in the Red Sea; Blue Trigger Fish, Anemone Fish, Parrot Fish, Angel Fish, Goatfish, Bannerfish, Crocodile Fish…
The main reef is surrounded by a sandy bottom with a maximum depth of about 15 meters. A coral garden extends in all direction replete with beautiful corals, and numerous pinnacles provide great photo opportunities!
Our check dive was an easy dive on this beautiful reef. On the way back to the boat a huge shoal of unidentified silver fish was just hanging out in a little cove, which was fab to see.
Our second dive on the reef was a little more eventful for me. It saw our first foray of the trip into the dreaded rib. Having had a bad experience getting into a Rib on Elphinstone last year, they fill me with trepidation! I didn’t fall in, however, my negative entry into the water wasn’t entirely successful! But it was a good learning experience (I got it sussed after this) on a safe and shallow reef. I then had a rather close encounter with a Trident Trigger Fish, who swam within inches of me. They are known for their feisty temperament and have a tendency towards aggression if you are in their territory. I just kept swimming, and let out a sigh of relief when he followed suit!
The only night dive of the trip took place on this reef. It always amazes me how different the reef is at night, how noisy it is, and the amount of soft coral that come out. We didn’t see many Parrot Fish in their pyjamas, but we did come across some really interesting see life which we never did manage to identify! I’ve noted in my log book “we saw a snake-like white and brown banded thing”.
photo taken by Paul Cozens
Day Two – the Brothers:
We awoke to warm sunshine, and a fabulous view of the reef that is Big Brother, and the 32-meter-high Victorian stone lighthouse that warns passing ships of the reef’s existence. This reef boasts a very healthy fish population, and tiny Anthias, Glassfish, and Sweepers abound. The walls of the reef are adorned with huge Gorgonias and colourful soft coral. We were hoping we would be graced with the presence of some of the sharks that are often attracted to the South East point of Big Brother; Hammerheads, Grey and White Tipped Reef Sharks, Threshers, and the more ominous Oceanics are often spotted here.
photo taken by Paul Cozens
Being a relatively novice diver, and having listened to the briefings avidly, I was a little nervous before the first dive, but I needn’t have worried; Poseidon was kind, and we had a lovely first dive off the back of the boat to the South plateau where we were joined by a Bump Head Wrasse and a turtle. I was having problems with my ears, so did the same dive again for the second dive; those that went to see the wrecks had a more eventful time!
Big Brother is home to two wrecks, the Numidia who met her end carrying railway supplies to India on only her second voyage in 1901, and the Aida who sank in 1957 on a transport supply run. The plan was to drop down on the Numidia before following the reef back to the boat. On the way to the site, one of the divers fell out of the rib, but was successfully retrieved, then arriving at the site, the current was strong, and swept the group past the Numidia before they had a chance to explore. One of the divers got separated from his buddy, and swept out to sea, but was soon found once the alarm was raised by the ever-present and eagle-eyed rib grew. SMBs are a must on these dives!
The third dive of the day was on the West side of Little Brother, which lies about a kilometre South of its big sibling, which has absolutely stunning coral and fish life. Unfortunately, my computer experienced a technical issue and decided that I needed to do a 103 minute deco stop at 3 meters. So my buddy and I had to abort the dive. On the way back to the boat we saw a couple of large Baracudas – the only pelagics we saw on the Brothers – and thoroughly enjoyed being towed by the rib back to the boat! So it wasn’t all bad.
Days three and four – Daedalus:
Day three saw as wake up on Daedalus – also known as Abu Kizan – and what a sight! The iconic black and white striped lighthouse is an impressive sight, and the air is noticeably warmer now that we have travelled south. Daedalus is renowned for the pelagics that its location and strong currents attract, as well as pristine coral, and abundant marine life. The east and west walls are thickly overgrown with fans and soft corals and there are some huge Porites hard coral formations on the wall. It is also renowned for the stiff currents that split at the Norther tip of the reef and the choppy conditions at the surface – sea sickness tablets were a must for me!
We did six dives on Daedalus over two days. The majority of these were hanging out in the blue waiting for some shark action – and we weren’t disappointed! These were my first dives in the blue, and until we saw our first school of Scalloped Hammerheads I found the experience a bit dull; not much to see, and constantly checking your depth. But then, we saw shark-shaped silhouettes appearing out of the blue, and a school of 7 Hammerheads appeared. They are incredibly graceful, seemed curious about what this strange group of floating people were doing, and spent a reasonable amount of time circling us. I was awe struck. Some of our other dives saw schools of seven, and fifteen Hammerheads, a couple of Reef Sharks, and the silhouette of an Oceanic, but they were more fleeting. Some of the other groups of divers from the boat saw Silkys, and Threshers – but I only saw those from the deck! And on one dive an Oceanic was showing a little more interest than was comfortable as the divers were surfacing and getting picked up by the rib.
We did one dive along the west side of the reef, which was stunning. So much soft and hard coral, bright colours, and the most enormous Porites formation that has to be at least 15 meters tall. This was a nice break from hanging out in the blue waiting for sharks.
Once again the rib pilots were excellent – finding partially inflated SMBs in huge swells and very choppy conditions, and always willing to haul both our gear and us out of the water. The choppy conditions and currents saw several buddy pairs being separated, but with good procedure and attentive rib pilots everyone was reunited!
Day Five – Elphinstone
Day four saw as wake up at Elphinstone, in slightly smoother conditions. The first dive of the day was on the East side of the reef – having spent most of the last couple of days, I was keen to see some pretty fish and coral, so chose not to do the dive to the Norther plateau – and we were rewarded with an abundance of marine life and coral formations; Moray eels, Trevally, bannerfish – it was a really nice easy dive. The second dive at Elphinsone was spent exploring the Southern plateau, the highlights being a swimming Moray and finding a teeny, tiny, crab that was only about 4mm across – but perfectly formed down to its miniscule claws.
Our last dive of the day took place on a beautiful reef called Mangrove Bay. Surprisingly, this was one of the dives of the trip for me. This site is on the south side of a small bay.
The sloping reef is interspersed with sandy ravines and begins midway along the south side of the bay, where a group of small pinnacles sits just off the reef. The coral here tends more to stony varieties, with brain and other massive types in evidence. Fish life is diverse and plentiful, with surgeons, unicorns, groupers, emperors, wrasse, Picassos, morays, and basslets in good numbers. On our dive, there were hundreds and hundreds of small black fish “commuting” about the reef in great ribbons. It really was a stunning and very relaxing dive.
Day Six – Small Gufton and Aroug Magawesh
Our last day of diving! We did two dives on two different reefs on our way back to the Marina in Hurghada. The first reef was called Small Gufton, an island which proved to be free-swimming Moray mecca; we saw three bimbling about the reef. There was plenty of marine life, including a shoal of Masked Purffer fish. This was another lovely, easy dive from the rib.
The second dive was Aroug Magawesh, diving from the boat, we explored the reef, and its pinnacles, and were treated to a large crocodile fish, as well as a Picasso fish spreading his seed – a sea serpent and some Morays rounded off a fabulous last dive, before we headed back to the boat to set sail for the Marina.
Our last night was spent on the boat, but we ventured into Hurghada for dinner and dancing, which was the perfect way to celebrate a great week of diving, new friends, and future diving adventures! The food was excellent quality, and extremely cheap, the cocktails were lethal, and the company exceptional. We even learned that some of our diving comrades had hidden talents on the dance floor!
Blue O2 have an arrangement with the Hurghada Hilton for their divers to spend the last day at the hotel, and for the small price of £40, we booked a day room between four of us. This mean we always had somewhere cool to retreat to, somewhere secure to leave all our gear, and private showers before the journey home. We enjoyed a day of sun, swimming, and a bit of snorkelling before the transfer picked us up for our homeward journey.
Thanks to everyone who contributed photos for this blog and to all on the trip you made it a trip to remember.