I have said it quite a few times before, but the success of a weeks live aboard trip is mainly down to the key constituents onboard the boat. And whilst the cast and crew of the boat, in this case MV Whirlwind, as always, went above and beyond to provide us with great diving, safe passage and wonderful food. There was not a great deal they could do about the weather. So the guests have as much a part to play in the trip being a memorable one for all the right reasons, as was the case this time.
In fact Owen “Ozzer” Clements upon our return proclaimed this week to be a “brill, brill, brill week maybe even the best live aboard week i’ve had”
As is my way I am not going to go into the finer details of each and every dive, I don’t think that’s really necessary so I will pick a couple of landmark sites out to give you an overall flavour of the week.
Val our guide ” Duxy, the skipper wants us to make the crossing as soon as possible as the weather is going to change on Tuesday”
Me, ” OK lets get over there as soon as possible, Alternatives for a check dive and then Abu Nuhas?”
Five minutes later, Val says ” skipper has said that the weather is changing right now, so the change of plan is that we overnight at the Thistlegorm and cross tomorrow”
This was the order of the week with us all, from the skipper down through Val and Yasser our guides, things were changing not just daily but hourly on account of the capricious weather conditions, so we had to be flexible and the normal way of doing things was eschewed in favour of a much more pliable itinerary.
We couldn’t have had a pair of better guides for doing this though in Val and Yasser, who with good humour steered us a varied and interesting route, and we managed some sites not normally encountered on a more traditional Northern Wrecks and Reefs itinerary.
I got the chance to show folk a dive I used to do for my guests years ago, which was the Canyon inside Marsa Bareika, a site rarely dived not because its not worth diving, but more because a lot of the newer dive guides just aren’t aware of its existence and as such has fallen out of favour.
Val got me to put my money where my mouth is and announced to all that I was going to brief Marsa Bareika Canyon as I was familiar with its layout. Gulp! Its been nearly 10 years since I last briefed a dive, but I didn’t make a bad fist of it, if I say so myself.
Well they were all at least polite enough not to heckle too much, and considering some of my ship mates that must have been quite difficult.
This site is often used by film crews for advertising shoots, as at the start of the dive, is a huge well lit sandy patch perfect for media types looking for an easily controllable aquatic film set, with occasional schools of Spanish Mackerel, flickering over the rippling sandbars and sea grass and .
On descent to the sea grass we searched for elusive dwarf lion fish, who sadly weren’t around, but did find lots of Chelidonura, a type of shield slug, these ones are inky black adorned with bright blue rings and a hammer shaped head. It was clearly breeding time as they all seemed to be at “it” or in the pursuit of “it“.
After pootling around the sea grass beds -and Goose and Owen stayed there for the duration of the dive tooled up with close up DSLR rigs, such was the abundance of macro life just waiting to be shot by them – the rest of us descended into a steep and narrow canyon, only around a metre or so in width at the entrance opening out and getting wider the further you progressed. Following the right hand wall of the canyon at your allotted depth, it changes gradually from a wall into a shallow plateau studded with coral blocks, mostly Stag Horn and Agripora, full of Chromis and Chocolate Dips. Perfect habitat for a patient photographer, wanting to practice their technique. Also a good spot to find Torpedo Rays, as we encountered quite a few of them along with other sand dwellers like Crocodile Fish and Blue Spotted Rays.
The only downside to this dive was that I built it up to be a secret location, frequented only by me and my old employers, so blow me down with a feather to find my old colleagues turning up in the very boats I did my Dive Master course in!
What are the chances of that eh? About 1 in 7 I suppose, but so much for telling everyone that this place was going to be ours and ours alone. Pete and Amy the guides on the other boats, co-ordinated with us to make sure we kept underwater clashes to a minimum.
We did a lot of dashing about on this trip, upping sticks on occasion to guarantee a safe mooring. So hats off to the crew on Whirlwind managing to cope with the logistics of keeping us lot happy, keeping us fed, and also making sure they themselves were fed and watered.
This side of things is often overlooked by us guests, but it is one of those things that is crucial to the smooth running of a liveaboard. Tanks being filled,food being prepared and cooked, boat cleaned from top to bottom,mooring lines put in, and then all change as the wind and waves change.
These multiple tasks were carried out on the whole by happy smiling faces, and it is usually invisible to us the clients, as it should be, I suppose, but next time you are on a liveaboard spare a thought to the unsung stalwarts that really make these trips work for us all, the skipper and all his crew.
Another memorable dive was one of Val’s favourites which is Small Crack or Small Passage as it is sometimes called.
This is on the West facing seaward side of Shaab Mahmoud, and is started on the outside of the reef and currents pending, will whisk you at various speeds, to the inside lagoon.
There are stunning photogenic table corals at the usual beginning of the dive, with us being dropped off and gently moving with the current towards the “Crack” with the reef on our left hand side.
It was running fairly gently that day allowing us to stop off and photograph a small Red Anemone that is a landmark on this reef, Val was pleased that it seems to have attracted a small Clown Fish, as it has been vacant for most of the last six months. Hiding under the sand with only his eyes and mouth giving the game away was a fat Stonefish that the eagle eyed Richard and Lynda Ferry found. Another good find was a Periclemenes Shrimp living on the side of a Sea Cucumber, that Nick More and his buddy Roger found.
As I said earlier these trips are made a success by the folk participating, and from the get go, when Val announced we would be doing a dive called “Small Crack” there was schoolyard sniggers all round! These people were well prepared to enjoy themselves despite the variable weather, and there was a constant jovial and jokey camaraderie that infused the weeks proceedings.
The Barge, is another great dive packed full of photographic potential, and is also a pretty safe bet in poorer weather, as if needs be it can be dived in a variety of different ways without you, the big boat, or the zodiacs moving very far at all. If you want to see huge Moray eels in a number of types then this is the best place to see them.
Just around the corner and a short rib ride away is the wreck of the Ulysses. So Val being Val and knowing we have a fair contingent of metal heads on board gave folk choices, “do you want to dive the Ulyssess? thats cool, get in the rib” or ” would you rather go off the back off the boat?” either was fine, and so some of our number went off towards the Ulysses, and the rest stayed on or around the Barge itself. The focal point, and thus the name of the Barge comes from the remains of what many think is a humble barge sitting on the bottom at around 10 to 15 m.
There isn’t a great deal left of the wreck itself just a few spars and metalwork lying around. What makes the site great is the enormous diversity of marine life around from the very tiny crustacea and nudibranchs perfect for the macro lovers, to the bigger stuff like Morays, the occasional turtle and most afternoons at around and hour before sundown, a resident pod of dolphins is often to be encountered playing about and catching fish.
I have been on a trip where we had to stay moored here for a couple of days, as the weather was bad, but save for a few folk who got frustrated because we couldn’t make some of the other sites, every one had a great time.
In fact Nick and Anne Medcalf are not the only ones to ask me if it was possible to do a whole weeks photo excursion centred on the Barge, so I never say never.
This time though we didn’t have to stay a couple of days, as yet again the weather changed allowing us to go on our merry way.
Unfortunately though the weather was such that diving the Wrecks of Abu Nuhas, the Ghiannis D, Carnatic and Chrisoula K was a no go.
Val, Yasser and myself tried our best to deliver the best we could with the prevailing conditions, and though this was one of my Onboard Trips which are a Wrecks and Reefs itinerary I did feel that the week was more favoured towards Reefs rather than Wrecks, this really couldn’t be helped though.
Here is a slideshow of some of my favourite shots from the weeks proceedings.