Foreword – Chris
14 UBUC’ers headed off to Egypt (Hurghada) with Blue o Two on Blue Melody for a week of diving in the Red Sea on some fantastic reefs and wrecks. The original itinerary was supposed to include the Brothers Islands but as it was closed due to recent shark attacks, we spent a lot of time in the north before heading South to Elphinstone and finishing in Port Ghalib.
Day 1 – Jess
After a sleepy 5 hour flight the group of 14 arrived at the Marriott hotel in the dump that is Hurgada. We boarded Blue Melody and met Sam, in charge of the boat, and the rest of the crew
who we soon realised would be literally waiting on us and attending to our every need. From wake up calls with hot chocolate delivered to our rooms, to sorting our gear after a dive and putting a mint tea in our hands before we even realised we were out of the water, feeding us ridiculous amounts, dolphin spotting and life saving operations…
We tucked into our first meal and headed to the cabins for some zzzz.
Day 2 – Tiffany
First day of diving! We left the marina after breakfast and arrived at Sha’ab El Erg for our first dive at Poseidon’s Reef. The water temperature was around 23 degrees throughout the week, but the wind made it seem much colder while gearing up. We were extremely spoilt by the crew on board helping us with our kit before and after every dive. During this dive, we saw a giant pufferfish, lizard fish, black-mouthed sea cucumber, and lots of angelfish.
Due to the strong winds, we had to cancel our afternoon dive and head further north for a dusk dive instead, which was at the Barge near Gobal Island. This was the first night ever dive for several of us, so having the gradual transition from dusk to night was perfect. Here we saw the two resident giant moray eels, George and Georgina. There were also geometric moray eel, octopus, red-tooth triggerfish and clearfin lionfish. Overall, the first day was a nice and easy introduction to the busy week of diving.
Day 3 – Jake
Our second and first full day of diving on the Blue Melody included our dive of the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm, which a lot of us had been looking forward to. However, following our night dive the night before, we first dived a much smaller wreck called the Barge at dawn. A much shallower wreck but nonetheless full of life. With the two Moray eels that live on the wreck unable to be found, it gave everyone an opportunity to look at the other life, such as a rather large Scorpionfish, pyjama nudibranches and a small shoal of glass fish.
We then set out for the main site for the day, the Thistlegorm. For most of us, this was our first sub 25-meter dive, with the wreck laying in roughly 30 meters of water. We had two opportunities to dive the wreck, the first having an outside tour of the main superstructure, the second (and my first ever) wreck peneration!
My first dive was with Emily, and began with a descent onto what was left of the forth hold, bombed by German forces in the second world war and what caused the ship to sink. The debris field of the ship is famous for a mix of old missiles, locomotive carriages and two tanks. Following up to the bow, swimming through the corridors on deck involved an up-close look at the life that had taken root because of the strong currents. A brilliant mix of coral, damselfish and bigger predators like a Moray eel (that Emily got very distracted by, as we were about to start our ascent). The overall condition of the wreck was brilliant, with the brass plates on the anti-aircraft guns in almost perfect condition over almost 8 decades later. We finished by popping down to see the prop and stern of the wreck before our ascent.
Our exploration of the Thistlegorm didn’t stop here, with the strong currents of the afternoon making it perfect for wreck peneration. Seeing as this was my first time penetrating, me, Lois and Jess decided to go as a threesome. The lack of current and past good dive practise had preserved the inside of the wreck astoundingly. Entering through hold three gave us a look at a series of train carriages, trucks and motorbikes bound for British forces in North Egypt. The next hold contained a surplus of wellie boots and the final hold had an array of electrical components. The confined size of the internal passageways followed by wide open cargo holds was a brilliant experience, and probably the best dive I have done to date.
To finish our day, we did a night dive around a coral garden called Shaab Mahmoud. With the prey species mainly hidden away, this gave us an opportunity to see some nocturnal predators. Mainly this included a Moray eel out hunting, Lionfish, even some Scorpionfish. With this, we were definitely ready for more the next morning.
Day 4 – Lois
Following our dives on the Thistlegorm yesterday, we headed east towards Ras Muhammed National Park. The early start was absolutely worth it for our first dive of the day on a site named Jackfish Alley. We descended onto the most beautiful wall, covered in hard and soft corals with anthias and other shoals of fish absolutely everywhere. We gently drifted along, passing pufferfish and boxfish, multiple giant barracudas and a crocodilefish before reluctantly surfacing.
After a yummy breakfast we sailed to the nearby site of Shark and Jolande (with spinner dolphins playing in our bow waves!). This was a slightly more challenging dive with strong currents taking us from Shark reef, to Jolande reef (and the wreck of the Jolande – with a massive pile of toilets!), finishing on Satellite reef. Sightings of bluespotted stingrays, a green turtle and a napoleon wrasse meant everyone surfaced with a big grin on their face.
Our afternoon dive consisted of a group dive, with Jake being nominated leader as it was his 21st birthday, and 50th dive wooo! We bimbled along and saw nudis, coral crabs, geometric eels and many juvenile fish. In the evening we headed to Dolphin House for our night dive, a site which would prove true to it’s name the following morning… At night the site was bustling with lionfish out hunting, hermit crabs out and about, and with torches off and much waving of arms we could even see some bioluminescence.
Another incredible day of diving with a brilliant group of people out on the Northern Red Sea!
Day 5 – Ellie
After being woken up and greeted with our usual tea/coffee/hot chocolate at 6am we were briefed for a very exciting dive at Dolphin House! As the name suggests this site is home to a pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins. With a good chance of seeing them we were very excited to jump in. Those who kitted up quickly and got in first were rewarded with an encounter with the dolphins for several minutes, with them coming up to the divers, looking them in the eye and being generally inquisitive. For those of us who weren’t in the water so fast (curse the UBUC dive faff) we briefly saw the dolphins as we were descending but didn’t get a close encounter like the others. A few were unlucky and didn’t see them at all. But at least earlier in the week we were treated to a pod of spinner dolphins riding the bow waves! Some of the non-UBUC divers even saw the dolphins rubbing themselves on their favourite coral (as featured in Blue Planet 2 at that exact dive site!)
The next dive site was called Um Gammar. There was a reef wall with a plateau that sloped down to depths of 30m plus (yay depth progression!) It was a very beautiful dive with huge reef pinnacles surrounded by the quintessential, bright orange Red Sea anthias and lots of other life. Other highlights included a big moray eel and anemone fish fiercely protecting their anemones and making good subjects for the underwater cameras.
Our third dive of the day was at Gota Abu Rammada – AKA The Aquarium – which was a gentle reef dive featuring lionfish, puffer fish and large blue triggerfish. Not much to report other than a lovely reef dive with the usual reef-dwelling fish.
The Aquarium came to life in a big way during our night dive at the same site. Descending below the boat we immediately saw a giant trevally pass us by. Meandering along I spotted a massive moray eel. It poked its head out from the small patch of reef on the sandy bottom and slowly snatched a fish camouflaged in the sand – a metre from my face! The majority of the dive was spent watching incredible, Blue Planet-worthy, hunting action by Giant Trevally that used the light from our dive torches to catch smaller fish. Where we shined our torches, the trevally followed, sniffing out the fish hiding amongst the corals. It stayed with us for most of our dive, chasing its prey and devouring them right in front of us. Meanwhile the moray came out to hunt and went along the reef wall getting several fish. As if the dive couldn’t get any better, we spotted a tiny scalloped torpedo ray which looked like a floating pancake and swam straight towards James’ torch to eat the little parasitic creatures attacking his hand. Unicorn fish also swam by while the trevally continued its hunt. On the way back to the boat I saw a beautiful starfish, and a big Red Sea fire urchin, as well as our first two sea cucumbers of the trip. According to Miren, the first species is also known as the ‘Mega Bum’. (Apparently actually Megabun). Away from the reef we also saw a reef squid zooming up towards the surface, and a moon jellyfish which Chris was filming. All in all it was an action-packed dive with incredibly hunting behaviour from the Giant Trevally as well as the moray eel. It was my favourite dive to date!
Day 6 – Ollie
This dive site is based upon the edge of a ridge which plummets to unreachable depths with the exception of a coral covered plateau at 20m. This dive site had multiple rays, wrasse and the other such aesthetically pleasing coral based fish. This dive was good fun and reports came in of larger rarer sightings. But I was not so fortunate… largely because I go through air like it’s going out of fashion.
Sheer beauty… (couldnt resist the crap ubuc pun) This dive site had the most magnificent coral blooms I have ever seen. Leading up to the reef there is a 20m or so deep trench teeming with the predators of the reef such as moray eels and rays. The reef itself is sloping down providing a full range of colourful corals which has large shoals of fish roaming the area, including a school of yellowfin barracuda.
A truly sobering experience diving this large vessel. Look up the Salem Express for the context of the situation. I wouldn’t describe this as a fun dive in the slightest however I’m glad I got to see the wreck itself. The ship itself was huge and hence the 100m long wreck provided much to see such as two large propellers and the opportunity to see sea life such as nudibranch’s, small trigger fish as well as large Napoleon wrasse.
Day 7 – Carl
The final day of diving had descended upon us and everyone was very sad. The day began as normal, being awoken by our 6:00am tea/coffee round before we were briefed about our first dive of the day, Elphinstone. Being a shark site, this was one of the dives everyone was most looking forward too during the week.
Despite no sharks being seen by any of the divers, sightings included turtles, wrasse and many beautiful fish on the reef. For most, this was a very relaxing and enjoyable dive however two divers forgot to take their SMB with them and quickly got separated from the other divers. With poor vis and no idea where they were, they surfaced to realise they were miles from the boat and stranded at sea. With the current pulling away from the boat, swimming back was not an option, so thankfully after 45 mins of waving and screaming, a crew member on board noticed something in the water and sent out a Zodiac to rescue both divers. Lesson learnt, always take a SMB with you!
Our final dive of the trip was at site called Marsa Shuna. This was a very chilled and gentle dive over corals and see grass bed, where sightings included a few large trigger fish, spotted ray and leopard spotted snake eels.
Upon returning to the boat, with everyone safely back this time, it was time to de-kit all our equipment and get it washed and dried for our trip home tomorrow. After chilling for a few hours in the afternoon, we spent the evening in Port Ghalib exploring the beauty of some of Egypt’s most (UN)natural sights. The evening was spent in a cocktail bar, with some interesting dancing and somewhat more interesting vocals and was a lot of fun for all. The highlight definitely being ‘Just the two of us’, where sadly only one of the couples on the trip had the confidence to dance to. Around midnight once we had had enough belly dancing and karaoke for one night, we returned to out boat to spend one last night in our cabins.
Day 8 – Chris
No more diving for us! We spent a relaxed morning waking up (8am! Glorious!) and having breakfast, before finishing packing and getting on the bus at Port Ghalib at 9am.
The bus took 3.5 hours to reach Hurghada where were dropped off at the Hilton. We all got pizzas at the restaurant by the pool (can’t argue for £3) and then sat around / went swimming / played volleyball with a random guy who was obviously very happy that some people had arrived that actually made noise and did things.
We were all very sad to be leaving until we got picked up by the bus again and arrived at the airport. This is where it all went downhill. There was a queue to get into the airport (as they were checking all baggage, but only had one person doing both the scanning and checking of bags). Then another queue to get checked in, where an airport employee was offering queue jumps if you paid $15. After that, another queue for immigration, another ridiculously long one for yet another bag check, and to cap it all off, another bag check for anyone flying to the UK (though this one was random so not everyone got checked). I had my rechargeable batteries taken off me at this point in time even though the regulations explicitely state you are supposed to carry them in hand luggage. I’m pretty sure the guy was just taking them to sell them on. I can’t anywhere to complain to the airport either. That pretty much capped off an excruciating 3 hour slog and by the end we were all very glad to get out of there.
We arrived back in Gatwick, everything went smoothly and we went home. It seems that everyone has spent the last few days reminiscing not about the diving but about the milkshakes they made on board, and recipes for the best Oreo to banana ratio.