On Tuesday morning we arrived at Marsa Breika in the Ras Mohammad National Marine Park. We started our first brief of the day at 7am, a most popular decision by the girls who were bright eyed and bushy-tailed – NOT!
The group was split in two three smaller groups between myself, Alex and Bassem. Alex and myself took the girls for a pleasure dive while Bassem completed the open water course for Ms Dyer who a slight stomach upset the day before.
My group’s first dive of the day was the ‘Navigation Dive’ which counts as 1 of their 5 adventure dives towards their Advanced diver course. We released the air from our BCD’s and headed just behind the boat about 10m down to the sandy bottom. We then completed a number of navigation skills including measuring the time it takes to travel a set distance, how many fin kicks to cover that distance and then some compass skills. Then I led the girls around the dive site where there were some stunning coral formations and hundreds upon hundreds of tropical fish. Then, as briefed on the surface, I handed control of the dive over to the first buddy team. The deal was that they had to take us to within 10m of the boat otherwise they would have to make me tea for the rest of the day. Much to my displeasure they used the angle of the sun, compasses, bottom contours and coral formations and led us straight back to the boat….try again! I led them once again from the boat, and handed over control to the second buddy team, yet unfortunately once again led us straight back to the boat.
The second adventure dive of the day was Fish ID so we spent much of our surface interval learning the different types of fish species and the symbiotic relationships that exist such as Nemo and the Anenome.
We then descended in to the blue and headed over to the reef wall which was smothered in hard and soft corals. Here’s the list of the fish we identified – stonefish, hawkfish, napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, clownfish, half and half chromis, damsels, banner fish, butterfly fish, royal angelfish, goatfish, lionfish, grouper, fusiliers, surgeon fish and blue trigger fish to name but a few.
We shallowed our dive as we reached a large canyon and made our safety stop before being picked up by one of the two zodiacs.
For our final dive of the day we decided to have a chilled dive and take in the scenery. The zodiac dropped us off by the reef and we made our way down to the canyon where we ended our previous dive. The entrance to the canyon was around 18m and we made our way along to the exit about 100m away. Due to the position of the sun, this allowed some amazing hues of blue and shadows against the corals.
Another morning let us see the sun rise over our next dive site, The Alternatives, located just at the other side of Ras Mohammad.
Today my group swam around 7 seven major pinnacles that make up this dive site. An orientation dive started the day and then after some lunch and a further brief we started our third adventure dive – underwater photography. The lesson included how to adjust the white balance, how to take good photos of underwater objects and people. The winner of the best photo was Hattie, whose shot is featured in this post.
By the third and final dive we went to the largest of the pinnacles called ‘stingray station’. Here we saw several blue spotted stingrays (shock horror), a large pufferfish, hermit crab and lots of small, non-stinging, jellyfish.
After drying off and refuelling the stomachs Miss Allen-Mirehouse commenced a very competitive quiz that was split in to several rounds including diving, the man round (including questions on Top Gear and BBQ’s), Headington School, music (or was it noise) low brow current affairs (i.e. the contents of HEAT magazine). Best quiz team name went to ‘Awkward Turtle’ and several Nemo related prizes were handed to the overall winners. A separate, special prize went to Miss Patterson who managed to lock herself in the toilet twice in one day.
We’re now half way through our adventure and what better place to spend it than at ‘small crack’, the name that seems to leave some of the girls chuckling in to their T-shirts.
Our boat moored up in a turquoise blue lagoon and the zodiacs took us out to the reef wall. This was deep dive that saw Alex and myself take our groups 30m below the surface where pressure is 4 times greater than at the surface (one of the least popular quiz questions). We did a few tests such as comparing depth gauges and NDL’s on our computers and looking how the colour ‘red’ completely disappears at depth. There were few signs of Narcosis as we left the sea-bed and made our way up the reef towards the crack itself. We then swam through the crack taking in the table and fire corals and ascended at the back of the boat.
Our second dive was not as successful; our Zodiac was about to manoeuvre us to the south of the ‘crack’ but a rope got tangled up on the propeller. The wind and the waves quickly made the zodiac beach on top of the reef so we were rescued by some fellow zodiacs. A shame not to dive in such a pretty location but at least no one was injured or hurt.
Our next dive of the day was our drift dive, this is one of my favourite dive types as it requires little navigational skills and the current moves you along rather than having to flex your fins. Our leisurely dive took us along the reef wall past the crack, and because our air consumption has improved so much, we were able to take in quite a bit of the south plateau that we’d missed in the previous dive.
After some pizza and popcorn 6 of us left for our final adventure dive; a night dive. With our equipment checked and torches on we jumped in to the black water. We descended down and made a few navigational skills that didn’t go quite as well as the ‘navigation dive’. I think all of them found it a very surreal experience and their initial apprehension soon faded while they observed the creatures of the night trying to go about their business.
Tonight is star gazing on the top deck and several episodes of ‘Friends’ in the main saloon.
Having just tried to upload the blog it appears that it’s not a poor internet connection, it’s just that the girls from Oxford have managed to use up all 10GB of data. So unfortunately you’ll be reading this once we return to the UK but I hope it is still of interest?
Thursday 27th March, I awoke to another majestic sunrise and sipped a cup of tea while waiting for the girls to stir from their pits. Once some of the ‘sleep dust’ had been wiped away we briefed them on their first proper full drift dive off the dive platform of Snefro Love at a dive site called Jackfish Alley . The girls put on their wetsuits and scuba units and completed their buddy checks and made their way to the platform. The captain gave the signal to jump and like lemmings we quickly entered the water. We then descended 5m where the entrance to a small cave can be found. Then in single file we made our way through taking in the different shades of blue and the rays of sunlight coming through the cracks at the top. We then made our way out of the exit of the cave and in to the blue. We followed the reef wall along until we reached the reef garden. My group spotted a large crocodile fish nestling on the bottom. Due to the strong currents that sometimes hit this area there were many species of pelagics too such as Jacks and Tuna. We were hoping for a siting of something larger such as a reef shark or manta ray that sometimes frequent the area, but I think it must have been their day off.
On returning to the surface the waves had increased in size which made for quite an interesting exit but one that didn’t seem to faze the girls, it just allowed them to put their training in to practice.
The boat then made its way back to the Alternatives for some shelter from the waves. The Alternatives are a series of large pinnacles that are dotted along the reef’s drop off area and cover a distance of about a mile or so. Sleeping Guitar Sharks and Leopard Sharks can sometimes be found here, but again they must have been on strike and kept themselves away from the divers. Never the less it was still a fantastic dive site with loads of giant puffer fish, napoleon wrasse and all of the usual small fish but in large numbers.
The boat then started its engines and we made our way to our final dive site of the day; Ras Katy. This is one of the local dive sites that allowed for a nice easy gently dive from the boat around the ‘jaggedy’ rock formations encrusted with soft and hard corals. It also proved a good opportunity for the girls doing a night dive on the same site later in the day.
In the evening ‘Shirlock Holmes’ seemed to be the order of the day of the boats 42” plasma TV but it didn’t take much persuasion to send them to bed for a nice early night.
On our final day of diving we headed back to Ras Mohammad to ‘Ras Ghazlani’ meaning ‘Gazelles Head’ in Arabic – apparently Gazelles could be found on the cliff over looking the site when first discovered. Ras Mohammad itself was made famous by the late Jacques Cousteau who rated ‘Shark Reef’ as one of the worlds top 10 dive sites, one that can experience some unpredictable currents and only suitable for experienced divers – may be next year?! Never the less Ras Ghazlani is still a stunning site. My group made our way down 30m or so to the drop off area where the reef wall disappears off in to the blue (to about 800m). Our eyes were trained on the blue in the off chance something large strayed by but again they were being elusive. We then made our way back up the plateau when suddenly the sound of a dozen or so girls shrieking filled the ocean as they spotted a large green TURTLE feeding on one of the broccoli corals. This made for a lovely photo opportunity as the turtle didn’t seem to be phased by all of the attention. I think this was the highlight of the week for many of the girls and will be stored in their memory banks for years to come.
Our next dive was at Ras Umm Sid, ‘the head of Sid’s Mother’. This is one of my favourite local dive sites as there are dozens of giant gorgonian fan corals, approximately 5m in diameter making an underwater forsest. We were gently pushed along by the current which kept our finning to a minimum and made a very relaxed dive. On reaching the head of the reef we turned the corner where the current disappeared and we shallowed up to look at the large brain corals which housed lots on Antheas and Clown Fish.
Temple, our last dive of the holiday and for some seemed quite emotional. This was also where we completed their first dive of the holiday and the improvement in their diving was truly remarkable . They are all now experts in conserving air and buoyancy control! As it had been a long tiring week we decided to make this an ultra-leisurely dive. So we slowly made our way around the pinnacles and even stopped off for 5 minutes or so for the girls to play with ‘Nemo’.
In the evening Miss Allen-Mirehouse presented each of the girls with a certificate and lapel badge for their school blazers and made a small speech that left a tear in a few of the girls’ eyes.
Today the plan is to pack our dive gear away, top up the tans and jump of the back of the boat to keep cool. We have a coach collecting us at 4pm when we will be very sad to say goodbye to the crew that have made us feel so welcome, looked after us so well (get your diet books ready) and kept us entertained.
The girls have been an absolute pleasure to teach and I think they have all found it a genuinely fulfilling experience and one I hope they will continue to do in the future in to adulthood and provides them with as many happy adventures and travels as it has with me over the years. If they are interested in keeping up to date with what is happening with other Oyster trips, or dive news in general they can ‘like’ our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/oysterdiving or we will happily send you our newsletter, just drop me a quick note to firstname.lastname@example.org.