Red Sea relaxed: six good reasons to visit the Red Sea
A pod of dolphins is heading our way and there’s only seconds to grab fins, mask and snorkel before leaping onto a RIB and speeding our way to an intercept. ‘GO!’ exhorts our RIB driver and we plunge backwards into the azure blue embrace of the glorious Red Sea. A curtain of myriad white bubbles created by our clumsy entry clears to reveal a dolphin fireworks show. We wrap big smiles around snorkel mouthpieces and feel that inner joy welling up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re seeing this for the first time or whether you’ve done it all before. Reason No 1: dolphin encounters are always good for the soul.
We’re being circled at high speed by four muscle-bound playful mammals with cheeky smiles. They want to interact. Two youngsters in the pod drop down below us, adopt vertical nose-up postures in the water and start blowing silvery streams of bubbles at us. Underwater kisses. Then they wind up their tails for two more high speed passes, dorsal fins scything through the surface against the gorgeous dappled evening light. And a final slower pass with mouths open and heads wagging, seemingly laughing at our hopeless attempts to match their agility. Suddenly they’ve had enough fun and the dolphins recede elegantly into the deep blue, leaving behind a group buzzing with excitement. Reflecting later that evening how these creatures spirit you away from life’s worries and into their delirious blue world, you feel free of stress. If this was all that I had seen on this trip, I would be happy. But there’s more to come. ‘Red Sea relaxed’ helps you unwind, but it sure has some high octane moments.
Reason No 2: a journey is often best measured in friends, rather than miles. I’m always fascinated to meet new people and this kind of trip reveals a welcome mixed bag of characters with varied diving and photographic ability. A couple of seasoned photographers and some folk with lots of Red Sea and other diving experience. A chunk of slightly less experienced divers soon dubbed ‘team Go Pro’. All but one diver has some kind of camera and a significant number were on their first ever liveaboard. We even had a delightfully well-mannered 12 year old doing her junior advanced open water course. I take my hat off to Duxy and the crew of Mistral for helping this eclectic group to rub along so nicely, each getting what they want from the trip. The reality is a tricky balancing act. And let’s not forget the captain and crew who provide outstanding service on Mistral. They become great friends too.
Reason No 3: you often have spectacular reefs all to yourself. Although security concerns have put some people off, Egypt is in my opinion still safe when travelling with a reputable company like Scuba Travel. The drop in numbers diving, whilst certainly not welcome for business, has had two noticeable positive side effects. First, the reefs are as spectacular as I’ve seen them. Soft corals in particular are growing in great numbers to their former full glory. This may not speak well for the damage that some divers had been doing through poor buoyancy control or just ignorance, but my dives on Shark & Yolanda, Jackson reef and the Alternatives now reveal great swathes of amazing deep reds, pinks and purples. Everything looks more pristine. And secondly, the current paucity of divers means that you often really do get many reefs to yourself, including one of the most dived and spectacular reefs on the planet: Shark and Yolanda.
I’ve been on dozens of Red Sea liveaboards in recent years and even led a couple of my own trips, but the chance to join amiable Hartlepudlian Duxy on his ‘Red Sea relaxed’ itinerary was manna from heaven. In much need of a break, but as always still yearning to get underwater, this itinerary with Scuba Travel looked like a perfect ticket. As Duxy puts it:
“It’s a rewarding, but more relaxing and slower paced alternative to the more usual wrecks and reefs itinerary. With the same amount of dives available, but at fewer locations, it allows you to see the best sites at different times of the day.”
We had some diving ‘open deck’, which allows you a little bit more flexibility for exactly when you jump in, so you get ready at your own pace and have a bit more space between divers, which can be important for photography. This worked well and provides reason No 4: The relaxed itinerary works brilliantly for photographers, but is also proving to be a hit with people that prefer to take things easier.
I’m straight to reason number 5: like its sister itinerary ‘wrecks & reefs’, the variety of diving and what you will see on the Red Sea relaxed itinerary is just wonderful. The essential elements of this trip include visits to sites as far east as the Straits of Tiran, where the soft corals are truly stunning. Around the corner from Shark Reef, we had a special visit to a small canyon and heard from the crew when we got back that a whale shark had been near the boat. The more central dive site of the Alternatives has a nice surprise; Duxy takes you to a lesser-known, but beautiful coral pinnacle decorated with hard and soft corals and swirling with schools of small reef fish. And around the corner is a cracking little drift dive called Small Crack. Although unusually murky on our particular dive, it is most often gin-clear and well known for its amazing coral gardens and abundant marine life, including some resident stone fish. We also headed west to Gubal Island, where you can choose between the ever-productive ‘Barge’ and nearby lagoon or the beautiful wreck of the Ulysses. All delivered wildlife in spades.
The dive sites reflect an easy style of diving and it’s flexible to suit group tastes. I really liked the discussions that avoided conflicts of interest, because it can be so difficult to manage disparate groups whose members inevitably have competing ideas of what comprises the perfect trip. On this trip we agreed to skip some famous marks like the Thistlegorm in order to concentrate on shallower wrecks and reefs, which allowed the whole group to remain cohesive and get stuck in. If the divers had wished an alternate plan, Duxy would have adjusted the schedule accordingly. So overall, the flexibility and variety is incredible. Topping a long list of marine life encounters were sharks, dolphins, big schools of fish, reef squid, rays, barracuda and numerous octopuses, some fighting or mating. The latter have rather odd sex lives; it’s sometimes hard to know what you’re looking at!
And finally, here’s reason No 6: You get tailored help and advice. It was fascinating to see how Duxy helped everybody with top tips and practical advice for all manner of diving and photography issues. There’s not much he can’t resolve and one of the great benefits of liveaboards is that you get to know other divers and photographers well enough to pull on their advice. I’m very self-reliant, but was very grateful nevertheless for Duxy’s box of eclectic camera spares that let me rescue an unexpected failure on my own photography rig.
The bottom line? When I asked people afterwards for their highs and lows of the trip, people could only give me highs: amazing diving and wildlife encounters; a great trip leader and crew; outstanding food; and a friendly group of fellow divers. It all added up to a stress-free and highly-enjoyable trip.