Best of Wrecks – June 2018
Scuba Leeds trips are nothing if not eventful, and the June trip to the Red Sea for Best of Wrecks was another eventful trip.
The trip this time we embarked on the Blue O Two “Best of Wrecks” safari on board M/Y Blue Melody, sailing from Hurghada.
During the week we dived 19 times on 13 wrecks, including Giannis D, SS Thistlegorm, Salem Express, Numidia and Carnatic. The wrecks of the Red Sea are some of the best, and this was them in a dive bonanza named “Best of Wrecks”.
• AJV was early
• We had seasickness
• Omelette gate
• A police raid
• Lost torches
• Random dinner guests
• A hammerhead shark
• Napoleon Wrasse
• Metal and rust
The Morning Before Take-Off
As one of the drivers and the one charged with delivering AJV, I was clear I would be leaving Shep’s at 9am, in time for coffee on route and plenty of time to relax once at the airport. I arrived at Shep’s early, only to be greeted by the sight of Alex on the phone parked on the drive. So 9am we were loaded and on route to Starbucks at Hartshead Moor.
After meeting up at Manchester Airport, we played the scuba holiday essential game of “hide my weight”. Checking in non-standard luggage meant that once it was weighed, it was given back to be delivered to an oversized luggage gate. In those short few meters travelling, the bags all managed to gain weight. One diver even weighed their hand luggage in whilst wearing their regulators around their neck as a form of modernist jewellery.
We all made it, one of us only just, but we were there and soon we settled onto the plane. Due to the number of feral children, the noise-cancellers went on, and I was to miss the first real excitement of the trip, which came in the form of an announcement that went something like “We know who you are and if you smoke again on the plane, we will divert and you will be offloaded”. This was followed on arrival by a further announcement that went “Please remain seated with your seat belts fastened until the police have arrived on board”. Most of the passengers then began to impersonate meerkats on the Serengeti, whilst one random male stood, and skulking off head down, walked to the front of the plane and towards the waiting Egyptian police.
M/Y Blue Melody
Blue Melody is a 38 metres, 26-berth dive boat with accommodation over three decks. We arrived on board, had the safety briefing, allocated cabins and began setting up our dive equipment. This was to be our home for the next seven nights.
Day One (Omelette Gate)
We set off towards the south, stopping for a check dive at To Bia, a group of five pinnacles. Before we dived we had our breakfast, and after pre-ordering our eggs there was a bit of an issue with the order placed by AJV. Someone had sabotaged his order, adding words like “very hot” to his Spanish omelette order. The galley crew are very diligent and produced a lovely omelette made with fresh and very hot chillies. AJV found that his tongue began sweating and his mouth caught fire. There was some suspicion as to the perpetrator, and joint top of the list were Hesh and Chris.
Dive briefing done, we all began to jump in, checking our weight and making small changes until we were all comfortable in the water and weighted appropriately. I dived with Neil, Chris, Dave and AJV – this was a fairly shallow dive averaging 10 metres, and we spent 75 minutes exploring and running drills, as well as getting trim and propulsion right before the first wreck dive of the week.
The Salem Express
The Salem Express is a roll-on roll-off ferry, sitting on its side on the Hyndman reef. The ship is 100m long and sits in water between 12 and 30 metres deep. I was a bit apprehensive about this dive due to the significant loss of life that occurred when the ship sank in 1991.
The Salem Express is a big wreck, but a wreck with a recent history that saw a massive loss of life. This is made more eerie as the unused lifeboats sit on the seabed. Even after almost thirty years at the bottom of the sea, the ship has little coral growth. The Salem Express was operating as a passenger ferry, when on December 15th 1991, whilst sailing from Jeddah, it sunk in a storm. The ship was returning with passengers who had been on a Mecca pilgrimage to Port Safaga. The ship hit the reef, ripping a hole in the starboard side and opening the bow doors, sinking within ten minutes to the seabed at 30 meters.
Diving on this wreck needs to be done with respect to the dead. Nothing should be touched or moved, as the property of the dead can be clearly seen due to the lack of coral formation. This includes children’s toys and clothing.
Again I dived with Chris and we were joined by Neil, Dave and AJV. We completed shut downs on the side of the ship before diving through the hold area. We sent up DSMB’s and completed a simulated decompression stop to the surface. There was an interesting moment with the launching of the DSMB, which was not a classical launch, and the second SMB to assist was mistakenly clipped to the reel and not the line, which created some underwater macramé for Chris to untie once back on the boat 60 minutes after jumping in.
Day Two (Brothers)
Blimey it was windy. This meant it was rough, the boat was all over the place and several of the group were struck down with seasickness.
We were diving the reef, as we hoped to see hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. The dive briefing had me contemplating whether I had enough experience to complete the dive, but looking around the room I saw that those who were not ill all looked like they were up for it.
I decided to jump in – my buddy was not feeling it, so I dived with Neil, Dave and AJV. Due to the conditions, we jumped off the back of the boat negative and headed towards the reef down at 40 metres, and we only stayed for 40 minutes. There were no sightings of any large species, and we made a nice slow ascent up the anchor line taking it in turns to swim for the ladder and back to the boat.
The second dive was a repeat of the first – this time Chris was up for it and he joined me. This time we were blessed with a slow pass from a Hammerhead shark as we were making our way back to the boat. It swam directly below us, showing its unique profile to us. This time as we were shallower we managed a 45 minute dive.
If the last briefing was bad, this one was hardcore. If you wanted to go, you would be needing high levels of diving fitness, very challenging, don’t dive if not confident were some of the expressions used in the briefing. The worst part of this dive was a Zodiac ride out and the risk of needing a return trip if the current was too strong to get back to Blue Melody independently. We got on the Zodiac ready for another negative entry. The boat was placed directly over the wreck, and we rolled in. One of us nearly lost their mask when the strap came loose, but good training and muscle memory ensured that it was recovered.
The Numidia is an awesome dive site. Sitting almost upright on its stern, the bow is in about eight metres of water and the ship descends to 80 metres. The Numidia was carrying steam train wheels when it sank on its second trip in 1901. We dived to 25 metres and spent the time exploring the upper part of the ship; the wooden part of the deck had disappeared and the metal framework is all that was left.
We entered the hold and swam through to the engine room. Once completed, we accepted the challenge of not being able to swim all the way back to Blue Melody. We set off along the reef wall being pulled gently by the current whilst looking out into the blue for the pelages that are often seen around the reef. Whilst two of the four made it back to the boat, two did not.
As we held our safety stop, dark shadows were seen in the distance moving under Blue Melody and the other boats anchored off the reef. We headed up into the Zodiac and once inside waited for Iron Mike C and Richard, who were sitting under their DSMB. As they caught hold of the rib a pair of White Tip sharks swam around them. This led to a very effective egress from the water from Iron Mike C.
The Trip to Ras Mohammed
What happened next will stay in most of our memories for a very long time. We sailed for ten hours to Ras Mohammed, in the roughest sea known to man, off to find the shelter of the Suez peninsula. We tied up over the wreck of the Dunraven. The Dunraven was an English merchant ship that sunk in 1876, and now lies upside down at between 15 and 30 metres. The Dunraven boasts both square-rigged sails and two boilers to provide steam power.
My buddy was worse for wear despite his vast experience in the Royal Navy, and he never made the dive. So it was left to Dave and Neil to join me on the dive. We swam to the reef and dropped down on to the wreck, swimming to the props before entering the wreck and exploring around through the engine room, and out to the front of the ship before swimming back along the reef to the boat. Another 50-minute dive completed before breakfast.
On to The SS Thistlegorm
From the Dunraven we moved slightly further north to SS Thistlegorm, the most famous wreck in the Rea Sea. It also features in most top 10 dive site lists. Thistlegorm is a World War II shipwreck; it is a 128m British transport ship that sunk in 1941 after a German air attack.
The dive site offers a historic tour as the ship was carrying two steam locomotives, two armoured personnel carriers, army trucks, jeeps, BSA motorbikes, wellingtons and thigh boots, rifles, and various spare parts for planes and cars including wings. It is like diving within a piece of History! This is very definitely a multiple-dive site. The SS Thistlegorm lies in 30m of water. The deepest point is the propeller at 32 meters and the shallowest part is only 16m deep.
Chris was feeling better, so up for this one – we had planned a first deco dive so AJV also joined us for the dive. The briefing advised that had people not dived the wreck before to use the first dive as a reconnaissance and not to penetrate, but as we had with the exception of Chris dived the Thistlgorm several times, we were going in as there would be fewer divers than on subsequent dives.
The current was strong on the line, this abated once on the wreck and in the shelter that she provided. We moved along the starboard side of the ship to the rear and the rudders. We entered the holds at the rear and made our way through the holds of the ship crossing through each of the holds. After a misunderstanding over the amount of decompression time accumulated we went to the line to complete a slow ascent to the boat taking 10 minutes. With Ted Rogers in charge of the ascent, there was some confusion over signals but we made it back safely.
We completed four further dives on the Thistlegorm and some of the group completed dives as part of their Wreck Specialty course, which beats the Podsnap in Capers a bit. I dived four times and spent 205 minutes in and around the Thistlegorm. During this time we dived to both Locomotives in one dive and found the only remaining steering wheel. I also managed my first two official decompression dives.
Onward to Sha’ab Abu Nuhas
We moved from SS Thistlegorm and sailed to Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef and Giannis D.
The Giannis D is in three parts, lying along the side of the reef. The rear of the ship lies at 24 meters at about 45 degrees.
From the partially buried propeller towards the aft, the deck areas included deck fittings, bollards, winches, and the boat davits made for an interesting dive. The bridge I found really confusing and disorientating, as it sits at 45 degrees. We dived into the ship through a passage to the engine room, which remains intact as the angle of the ship made it impossible to salvage.
Again, due to the angle I remembered that earlier in my diving career I found this a difficult dive. This time I was much more comfortable and really enjoyed negotiating the catwalks and handrails that sit at odd angles, with the diesel engine lying to one side. The mast of the ship reaches upwards to almost 4 meters below the surface and is a good place to make your safety stop.
We dived on the Giannis D twice, the fist time I dived with Chris. I led the dive using the well known navigation method, I followed Ricky and Josh! We knew we had had a great dive when we returned to Blue Melody and our wetsuits and fins had a covering of rust.
The following day started with our second dive on the ship, not quite according to AJV’s plan. I formally dived with Josh and Neil and Dave tagged along. We spent a long period of the dive in and around the engine room diving under the catwalks and into some tight spaces.
The second dive of the day was a drift dive along the Sha’b Nu Has reef, this gave us a great chance to play with the stages. Patrick and Jenny joined Neil, Ricky and I with their cameras, so it was also a great opportunity to pose for pictures. We drifted along the reef for 45 minutes watching the fish, rays, nudibranchs and the rest of the reef life before turning round and heading back and arriving at the boat 75 minutes after we jumped in.
The P&O Carnatic
The captain moved Blue Melody and we tied up directly over the wreck of the P&O Carnatic. The Carnatic was a British built steamship that sunk in 1869. The wreck is at the bottom of the reef on its port side broken in two. All of the wooden decks have rotted away, leaving only the beams that supported the deck planks in place. Some of these supports still have the remains of the boards on them, looking like the teeth of a saw blade. These beams were covered with colourful soft corals and shoals of glassfish. There were also blue-spotted rays, moray and some divers reported seeing (they have pictures) a turtle. Neil and I dived for 50 minutes on the Carnatic.
We sailed in the afternoon to Dolphin House for the night dive, and were welcomed by dolphins swimming in and around the boats moored up. Despite their presence early in the evening, by the time of the night dive they were nowhere to be seen.
The last day and my final dive of the trip was Dolphin House. We listened to the briefing and then we were in the water. We could sit under the boat by the heart of shells on the sand or dive the reef and see what happens. Neil and I dived together and we opted to follow the reef.
We bumbled along, Neil found a snorkel and an anchor and turned the dive. Shortly after turning the dive we heard the clicks of dolphins a quick spin round and we were joined by a pod of about 15 dolphins who took a good look at us before swimming round us for a while. Whooping and high-fiving we made our way back to the boat, first in last out. But this time we were late! Due to the excitement of swimming with dolphins and a slightly sore ear. That was it for me, I was happy and dived out!
The whole team on the boat, dive guides, deck lads, the captain, cooks and Mohamed the saloon manager, everyone was super helpful, always there helping you in and out of wetsuits, and providing cool glasses of juice after day dives and hot chocolate in the evenings.
Food was plentiful and there were always clean and dry towels around if not always the one you brought down.
Even the bad weather and seasickness didn’t put anyone off for too long and we all went into town in the evening to eat and drink whilst watching the football. Everyone was already planning their next trip on a liveaboard.