After just five seconds in Sharm El Sheik, my first expectation was surpassed. It was warm, very warm, in fact, precisely 24°C warmer than when I set off from a very dark, damp Dorset earlier that morning. Moments later, things got even better as we learned our planned boat was in dry dock. Our replacement for the week was now the crown jewel of the Tornado Marine fleet, ‘Mistral’.
Having been on two brilliant liveaboards in the northern Red Sea, I was sceptical that my previous experiences could be topped. However, they were blown out of the water (I make no apology for the terrible aquatic puns in this article).
There were two key differences between a normal northern Red Sea itinerary and Duxy’s Winter Warmer. Firstly, instead of being a whistle stop tour with no more than two dives at any given site, we spent the majority of the week at just two dive sites: the Barge off of Gubal Island, and Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran. The photographic benefits of this are numerous. Throughout the day, the light underwater varies dramatically so if I didn’t like the look of something with the sun front lighting it, I could always come back and try it again backlit. Furthermore, repeated dives on the same site meant I became very familiar with the underwater layout and so could plan my time efficiently with a subject I’d found on a previous dive. But the benefits weren’t just limited to photography, to encounter the more unusual wildlife like dolphins you need to get lucky, the Barge is one of the best places in the Red Sea to see dolphins, so by staying on site we dramatically increased our chances. This tactic paid off big time resulting in one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles I’ve been fortunate enough to witness.
The other USP of Duxy’s trip is the open deck policy; at the start of each day we were allocated four dives and, so long as we kept within diving safety parameters, we could use these four dives whenever we wanted. This meant we could time our dives to avoid other people on a site, but also plan to coincide with the best time to see certain wildlife, for example dolphins are often spotted around the Barge first thing in the morning and last thing before sunset. Whilst I say we spent 3 days at the Barge, we had the ribs at our disposal so conditions permitting, we could actually dive at any site around Gubal Island.
From a social perspective, the liveaboard concept initially seems a little dubious, captive on a boat with 19 strangers with no escape for a whole week. However it’s a winning formula, meeting new people all with a common purpose, everyone loves diving. Duxy’s trip takes this one step further as everyone shares a second interest, photography.
Before the trip, Duxy sent out reams of information on what to expect and asked for information on what photographic gear we had and what we hoped to get out of the week. Looking at the list of responses there was everything from a simple GoPro to top of the range DSLRs with twin strobes. Being somewhere in the middle of this, I was slightly apprehensive as to how Duxy would manage to juggle the huge range of ability and equipment. As with all the previous hurdles however, he leapt over this one with grace and splendor (not literally, he’s a slightly over weight 50-year-old man) Ahem!! Duxy does read these you know 😉
Duxy excelled at giving tips and tricks between dives which thanks to the open deck policy, I could immediately go and practice underwater. A great example of this came when during a flash talk, Duxy discussed a lighting technique used in fashion photography where instead of lighting the subject front on, you position the strobes in front of the camera pointing in towards the subject at 90 degrees. This gives a powerful dramatic look, as it leaves a shadow down the middle of the subject. Liking the sound of this, I jumped straight into the water to experiment. The uniqueness of Duxy’s itinerary made this possible- I could get into the water when I wanted and return to a subject I’d already visited. This was the result…
The theme of the week was definitely dolphins. Rather than just brief flybys, we were incredibly lucky to have a number of close-up intimate encounters. My first marine mammal meeting came just as we were returning to the boat following a great dive on the Ulysses wreck. As the rib docked on to the main boat, a couple of dorsal fins popped up at the surface just meters away. Knowing how fast they are, I detached my strobe arms (thanks to Ikelite’s great quick release system sold by Cameras Underwater) so I could make some attempt at matching the dolphin’s hydrodynamic body. As I slipped into the water I was greeted with a volley of clicks. To my surprise, it was a mother and her calf- CUTENESS OVERLOAD. Whilst the following two minutes were magical, the pair were quickly gone and we all got out of the water. I had a strange feeling they might return so I kept my fins and snorkel on. Sure enough, moments later their dorsal fins appeared at the surface and they were coming towards the boat again. Whilst everyone else tucked into lunch, I spent the next hour and a half filming, photographing and playing with the mother and her calf. It was without a doubt the most incredible wildlife encounter I’ve been lucky enough to witness under the water.
But whilst this was a magical experience, it didn’t come close in terms of LMAO (google it) to what happened the next day. Stay tuned for part two from Bertie Gregory very soon.