Sub-Aqua Overseas Trips

July 2005: Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (Red Sea trip)

BoatThe Red Sea is a diver’s dream: warm water, crystal clear visibility, a huge variety of marine life, interesting wrecks and a rich local culture. Added to all these attributes a trip to Sharm also includes a comfortable hotel, interesting night life, good food, a great dive boat, funny boat boys and the best dive guides in the whole world! Its no wonder we went back for a second year.

Our trip began with an early morning drive to Gatwick followed by a six hour flight to Sharm el Sheikh. We landed in the evening and stepped out into the “cool” dusk of 30C. We traveled from the airport to the hotel in the centre of Na’ama bay and as soon as we had settled in we found our way to the local Pizza place. Sitting outside and absorbing the ambience was most gratifying; the week stretched ahead, full of promise.

For some of us, we already knew Alison the dive guide, our boat the “Galaxy Sharm” and its crew and we knew what was ahead of us but for others these delights unfolded as the week went along. During the week we explored a variety of reefs around Sharm, in the marine conservation area Ras Mohammed and in the islands in the Straight of Tiran. Some of our group explored the reefs from under the water, others bobbed around on the surface with a snorkel but we were all overwhelmed by the beauty of our surroundings.

CamelDido, Trevor, Ben and Becky hadn’t been before and although they had heard stories about the size and grandeur of the corals, about the variety and colour of the fish and about the possibility of encounters with turtles, octopus and sharks they had no idea of how good the reality is. None of them had done much wreck diving so a dive on the SS Dunraven was another experience.

The Steam ship Dunraven had been built in Newcastle in 1873 was lost in 1876 when she was in collision with the reef. She had been en-route from India with a cargo of cotton and tea and although all her crew were saved, when the wreck was discovered by Scuba divers in the early 1980s so too were bones. These were taken to the doctor in Sharm who decided that they were the bones of a child or young woman. It was felt that she must have been a stowaway and preparations were made to bury her. However, the remains were sent to Britain for testing and it was proved that the bones, rather than being from some unfortunate stowaway, were actually those of a pig. The manifesto of the Ship was examined and besides her cargo, she was also carrying a pig as food for the crew.

The wreck is covered in soft corals and surrounded by fish, you can explore inside and as you come out a shoal of glassfish make a curtain at the entrance which the divers have to swim through. On the upturned hull of the ship bubbles of air form, making glittering pools of silver on the ceiling. It is a lovely dive.

DiveStill more spectacular is the wreck of the Thisltegorm. This is rated as one of the ten best dives in the world and we were delighted that the weather conditions permitted diving on her for us. Thistlegorm was sunk during the Second World War. She was en-route to Egypt from Britain with supplies for the 8th Army in Africa but as the Suez Canal was closed she had to make her way all around the cape of Africa and up the Red Sea. Having finally made this nine month voyage, she was in safe anchorage in the straights of Gubal in the Gulf of Suez when during the night a lone Heinkel bomber returning from a bombing mission and with only one bomb left on board, lost his way and found himself over the sea. Spotting the Thistlegorm he released his last bomb and scored a direct hit. Thistlegorm sank into 35 metres of sea taking with her a cargo which included two locomotives and tenders, Bedford trucks, BSA motorcycles (over 100 of them) and a large quantity of Wellington boots.

The wreck was discovered by Jaques Cousteau in the late 1970s and is a truly awesome dive. Besides the cargo, she is now a reef and home to a wide variety of creatures including the wonderfully named pyjama nudibranches. These bright and stripy sea creatures are fairly closely related to slugs but unlike their land based cousins they are beautifully coloured and very graceful in movement.

Nine lives were lost when Thistlegorm was sunk and in commemoration of this someone has placed a red poppy in one of the cabins. This has become encrusted with sponges and soft corals to become a fitting tribute to the men of Thistlegorm. We dived twice on her and were able to explore the holds full of motorcycles and trucks, we found boxes of anti-aircraft ammunition and a whole variety of military goods. The locomotives lie upright on the seabed close to the ship and some of us were able to explore them too.

Lying at the depth she does, and miles from land this would not seem a good place for snorkellers but Mahoud, our guide took Heli and Ben on a snorkeling expedition and through the clear waters of the gulf they were able to see the wreck for themselves.

NightlifeOur last day of diving was spent at Dahab. This is a very famous diving resort north of Sharm and involved some off road jeep driving to reach. It is a Bedouin settlement and camel trading post. The high points of this day out including watching the camels, playing with the dogs, having local girls make plaited friendship bracelets for us and a 4x4 “race” which ended with a punctured tyre! Of course there was diving too, the corals are different in this area, and although just as colourful, had very varied forms. Another experience here was dropping down through the caves to reach the famous Blue hole. However, the big event of the whole trip took place on the final dive, when a Great Hammerhead shark came in to check us out. Common hammerheads are often seen in groups around Sharm but Great hammerheads are solitary and very rare. The one we saw was a large mature male and he was huge; it's hard to judge size underwater but he was probably the length of a minibus, possibly bigger. He swam over, looked us over scanning us with his head before turning and heading back to sea. An amazing moment!

We had a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable week. Our thanks must go to our friends the dive guides, Alison, Mahoud, Annelene and Richard. Sadly only a few days after we left, Sharm was subject to the most awful terrorist bombing. Areas we know so well, the car park we were collected from each day, the chemist we called in to so often, the restaurant we used and the shopping centre where we all bought tee shirts, towels and our other bits and pieces, are all gone. We do not know if the lovely people from the dive shop survived the attack, certainly the shop where we seemed to find ourselves every evening is now just a pile of rubble but we do know that our dive guides, although affected, survived. Will it stop us going to Sharm again? I doubt it. Terrorism is everywhere these days and Sharm is no less safe than London, Madrid or New York. Its too wonderful a place not to go back.

The participants were, Ben Garth, Dido Graham, Trevor Henderson, Joe Payne (OB) Tristan Powell, Ben Spalding, Tom Whateley, Howard Williamson (OB) and Becky Young, with GRY, JEA and Helen Staddon.

April 2005: Oban, Scotland

Map of West Scotland around Mull

Oban, North West Scotland, in early April is cold, and wet, sunny, and warm, snowy and windy. The seas are calm and rough, cold and very cold: it’s all four seasons in one week. Last summer it had seemed such a good idea to go diving in Oban at Easter. By March the idea seemed less attractive. However, the boat was booked and we were going.

BoatOur home for a week was the MV Halton; 170 feet of converted fishing vessel, with berths and facilities for twelve divers. Four of these divers were from Blundell’s Sub Aqua Club, the remaining eight were from RAF Innsworth Joint Services Diving Club in Gloucester. Two dropped out which made more room for the rest of us. We arrived around midday on the 31st March after a long drive from Devon to Oban, found the Halton moored up at the quay in Oban and unloaded all our equipment and personal possessions for a week. As the tide was out this involved a long rope and a lot of throwing but eventually everything was on board and stowed.

Oban is a lovely town, with all necessary facilities in easy walking distance, pubs, restaurants, Tesco, and WH Smiths all close by the quay. Surprisingly, for a place with a reputation for excellent diving, the only thing that it didn’t have was a dive shop! There were two dive centres in the area but neither were really in walking distance of the town.

Skipper!Halton is usually based in the Orkney Islands but her skipper Bob Anderson had brought her down to Oban for the Easter. With him came Magnus (the Viking) and Tracey. Right from the start the atmosphere of friendship, trust and black humour was established, as were Bob’s expectations of a regular supply of tea and his specialist sandwiches comprising cheese, salami, ham, sliced apple and crisps. These needed to be presented to him, deferentially, on a regular basis if we wanted to be picked up out of the water after the dives. Our first evening saw master chefs GRY and JEA rustle up a Chilie con Carne followed by cheese and port. There was rota of duties so all the catering was dealt with impartially with no allowance made for ability to cook or previous experience with the Rayburn, which resulted in some interesting gastronomic experiences during the week.

DiverOur first day’s diving was on the SS Breda, just north of Oban in Ardmucknish Bay. She was a Dutch Steamer of 6941 tonnes and 402ft in length, built in 1921. In the early evening of December 23rd 1940, German Heinkel bombers attacked the Breda damaging the engine room. She was towed towards the shallow water in Ardmucknish bay but sank before she could be beached. Today the Breda and most of her cargo lies on the seabed in sheltered waters in position 56’ 28.54N 05’ 25.07W. She is sitting upright with her bow pointing towards the shore in about 20 metres with the stern in 30 metres. The Breda is a big wreck with lots to see, so two dives still left lots to explore another day. Many of the derrick posts are strewn across the decks. The winches are still in place, along both sides, encrusted with sea life. The hull is covered in Dead Men's fingers and coloured Plumose anemones, forests of featherworms and sea squirts sway in the gentle currents around the wreck.

Sea anemonesSea anemones

Sea anemones

Oban portThat second evening we berthed again in Oban but in the morning set off for the Sound of Mull. Here over the next few days we dived on the wrecks of the Hispania, the Thetis, Shuna and the Rondo as well as two scenic dives around the Calve Island and near Loch Aline.

We spent two evenings in Tobermory (Ballamory to those with small children in their families). It really is as pretty as it seems on television. The first night there we spent at anchor and the evening run ashore was accomplished with the small inflatable running us ashore. Because we used a lot of water - Bob complained that we had showered our way through a week’s supply of water in just three days but I think it was his tea consumption that did it – we had to moor up and take on more water in Tobermory on our fourth night, but this did give Tristan chance to make a short visit to the distillery to buy a bottle of Tobermory whisky (a present for his parents of course).

However the main focus of the week was the diving. Diving on the Rondo was an interesting experience. The Rondo was a 2363 ton steamship wrecked in 1935. She had been sheltering from a storm on the night of 25 January, 1935, anchored near Tobermory. During the night the anchor chain broke and the Rondo started to drift down the Sound of Mull, driven onto a small island in so hard that it was stranded balanced precariously across the island. 56 32.30N, 5 54.75W Although extensive salvaging removed most of the hull and machinery, eventually the balance of the wreck was disturbed and it slid bow-first over the rock and down the slope.

Oban port fishing vesselsDiving gear

The bow now rests dug into the seabed in 50m, with the stern rising to just 5m below the surface. A buoy is attached to the rudder post and we descended this shot line blown like flags in the current. Although we had waited for slack water, slack over the Rondo is still a considerable current to swim against so from the rudder post we descended down beside the hull to take shelter. The hull is covered in marine life, the current ensures that silt is quickly cleared so visibility is good. The winch and some A frames are evident amongst the forests of Plumose anemones. Ballan wrasse can be seen (and felt) one taking exception to JEA’s finger as she held on to the side took a bite. This was surprisingly painful but as ballan wrasse have teeth not just at the front of their mouths but also in second rows further back. The effect of being bitten by a wrasse is not unlike being trodden on by someone rather heavy. Because the wreck goes down to over 50 metres buoyancy control must be excellent. We had decided not to go below 35m and so at this point began to go back up. Inside the hull the marine life is different, with attractive weed growing well.

Aboard a rib

Shuna was a coal ship which sank in 1913 and is a wonderful wreck to explore, both in terms of marine life and maritime archeology. Thesis with her bows in 12 meters and the stern in 30 sank in 1891 and was about 50 meters long. The ribs, especially around the bow section are festooned in plumose anemones and sponges forming a natural "cage". She and is still relatively intact, with lots to enjoy.

ShrimpThe Hispania is regarded as one of the best wrecks in Scotland, certainly she must be one of the most colourful. This 1305 ton 73 meter steamship was approaching Tobermory when she ran aground and then sank in bad weather during December 1954. She is sitting upright in depths ranging from 30 to 15 meters and is virtually intact, with many accessible areas to explore. This was defiantly the prettiest dive of the week. We visited her twice but on the second dive Tris had a memorable pick up. Bob the skipper has a black sense of humour and a strong sense of the wicked. Three buddy pairs were all due up from Hispania at about the same time, Pete and Tris broke surface first followed quickly by Gerry and Mark. Of course Pete assumed they would be picked up first and were quick to “salute” Gerry. Bob steamed towards them slowing down and making as if to pick them up but just as Halton drew alongside the pair, he speeded up and went to get Gerry and Mark out of the water first. Pete was quite vocal with his opinion. Meanwhile Ben and GRY had surfaced. They were the other side furthest away from Halton so Halton steamed towards Pete and Tris, for a second time he carried on past them to pick up other divers. Pete was apoplectic and the air went blue! Tristan could be seen in the water rocking in laughter at the whole thing.

ScallopsA scalloping dive was arranged one afternoon and sufficient scallops harvested to provide a meal for all. Fresher scallops it would be hard to imagine. They were much enjoyed. Another day’s starter for some of us also came from the sea in the form of langoustines. These creatures, also known as squat lobsters, can be seen peeping out from crevices. Several of us preferred to see them in their natural habitat rather than on our plates, so only a few were caught and served up. Blundell’s buddy groups took photos rather than a catch.

This sort of diving expedition is not for the faint hearted. Getting into the water is the first challenge, it is a long drop from the decks to the water, and then that water is very cold when you arrive. Maximum sea temperatures were just 6C and often the air temperatures matched this. It is quite dark on some of the wrecks so we were glad of our torches and some of the wrecks were silty but overall the visibility was wonderful. After the dive, getting out was also a challenge with a long ladder to ascend. This is hard with all the heavy SCUBA gear and very, very cold hands. Magnus was always ready with a hand and a rope which one member of the team in particular was very grateful for. It was Magnus too who attended to the basics of the diving, he ensured our air tanks were filled before each dive, he helped up get into and out of equipment and was also the person who ran us ashore (and picked us up) in the little inflatable. Between this then and Bob’s ability to put us down right on the wreck, made the diving rather special. The company of the RAF Innsworth divers was also a memorable experience. Not ever stuck for words, nor worried about causing offence, they were funny, outspoken, kind and superb divers. It was a joy to be with them all.

Boat

The ship's company were:

  • Bob Anderson – Owner and Skipper
  • Magnus the Viking – Crew
  • Gerry, Pete, Mark, Tony, Nick, Nathan – RAF Innsworth divers
  • GRY, JEA, Tristan Powell, Ben Spalding – Blundell’s divers

Halton Charters - www.mvhalton.co.uk

Meal time

Magnus the Viking in a rib     Getting ready to dive

Jumping in     Hitting the water

August 2004: Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (Red Sea trip)

We went; we dived; we bought the t-shirts.

The senior members of the Blundell’s Sub Aqua Club, SAA1069 (ironically B.S.A.C.) passed the final week of July on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt: one of the world’s finest diving sites.

Under the watchful eye of Yanet / Mama and Papa (GRY & JEA), we totalled 14 dives over 6 days, exploring many reefs and two wrecks, primarily in the areas of Ras Mohammed National Park and the Strait of Tiran. (No, we didn’t get to dive the Thistlegorm, but we did stand on Saudi Arabia).

HeaddressAssigned to our guide, Alison, and the sense of humour possessed by the crew of the boat the “Galaxy Sharm”, we encountered; at least two turtles (much to JEA’s delight), dolphins, a couple of sharks, a Manta ray, Morays, and many shoals of Triggerfish, Barracuda, Parrotfish and Scalefin anthias. Then there was the cornet fish that decided to join our group and elicited a reaction from Tom, much to his surprise, as he had been oblivious to fish until it was a mere centimetres from him. GRY was chased by a “nesting” Triggerfish early on in the week and had the presence of mind to photograph the beast coming for him mouth open. And, of course, a few Nemos. Much to the boys’ disgust some of the finest moments were in the last 10 minutes of each dive, when lower air consumption allowed the female contingent of the BSAC to experience more flora and fauna in it’s less disturbed state after the males had departed the deeps to return to the dive boat.

In addition, we undertook a night dive, a phenomena which is far less suitable for the British climate we have trained in. This allowed us to encounter a form of nightlife in Egypt before we fell asleep, of hunting Lionfish, a shimmering Spanish lady and phosphorescent plankton, which light up the water as a result of a certain degree of movement.

Riding a quad

A definite highlight was the Salvador Dali-esque Yolanda reef. Sitting amongst a beautiful coral garden is the cargo of the SS Yolanda, a Cypriot merchant ship. The ship itself disappeared off the reef and into the blue on the 15 March 1987, 7 years after it sank. The cargo, comprising porcelain bathroom ware by “Ideal Standard” including many toilets together with a BMW 320 belonging to the captain, remained and lies at a depth of 25 – 10 metres, provided a somewhat ironic photographic opportunity primarily for Tris, if only from a distance.

TeamHowever, this was not just a diving trip. We trotted between sampling the local cuisine, including pigeon much to Joe’s delight, Ben’s disgust and many others’ downfall, perfected our haggling skills, attempted the local version of devilish whirling dance, befriended everyone (and almost anyone), sold into marriage one member of the group for 300 camels and a water buffalo (Thank you Tom), and experienced the desolate beauty of the Sinai desert on quad bikes, via a couple of Bedouin villages. Certain members of our group encountered flying, and others flying economy class. The trip is almost as hazy as the air of Na’ama Bay after an evening of Sheesha, but there are now a number of potential Dive leaders/instructors ready to leave for the Red Sea! Hopefully this year’s trip will provide a little more immunity for those who suffered a certain gastric affliction.

Enough thanks cannot go to Yanet, for all their hard work and generosity which sustains the B.S.A.C. as a whole. Thank you also to Ray and his dubious driving to and from Gatwick. We await Malta and next year!

The group: GRY, JEA, Tris Powell, Ben Spalding, Howard Williamson, Joe Payne, Tom Wheatley and Cassie Noble. (Appropriately in their buddy pairs!)

October 2004: Malta

Diving with fishThe Blundell's Sub-Aqua Club went to Malta in October half term. We left Britain from Gatwick airport on a cold, windy and wet autumn morning. We arrived at Malta airport in glorious sunshine and were met by drivers and minibuses that transported us through hot dry and dusty Maltese roads to our apartments. Malta is in the middle of the Mediterranean and is a small rocky island, with architecture drawn heavily on Arabic and southern Mediterranean styles. Wild cactus grows abundantly from rocky outcrops and little lizards run along the roadside. It was a million miles away from Autumnal Britain! Our rooms at the apartment building were immaculately clean, very spacious and comfortable, far better than we had expected. In the basement of the apartment block we found purpose built equipment washing facilities, with a designated secure cage where equipment could be left to dry.

Rocky bayAfter we had settled ourselves in we made our way to the dive shop to sort out the diving. Once they had checked our medicals (something that is very important in Malta) and our diving qualifications, we were able to book. Malta is mainly shore based diving, and so each day we were transported to the dive sites in a fleet of open back vehicles with all the equipment in the back.

submerged El Faroud tankerThe diving was brilliant; the waters were clear and warm (compared to what we are use to in England). As well as some interesting reefs, Malta has some excellent wrecks. Highlights were the El Faroud which is 110m tanker in about 30m depth and the HMS Maori, a tribal class frigate dating from the Second World War which lies in Valetta harbour in about 12 metres of water. Cave diving is something of a speciality in Malta, as the rocks are limestone, there are many caves and tunnels to be explored and enjoyed. On the reefs sea grass grows and blows in the tide, giving the impression of a windswept moorland landscape. Only having recently completed her diving training Dido Graham was awestruck by the whole experience, she immerged speechless from the water on several occasions, able only to mutter “I didn’t think it would be so beautiful” or simply “Wow!” after each dive.

Group photo at M'dinaThe dive centre also arranged a boat trip to Comino, the small island where the film “Troy” had recently been filmed. There we had a close encounter with a shoal of bream that circled the dive group and nibbled pieces of bread the instructors had taken down with them.

During the afternoons and evenings we explored Malta, a highlight being a visit to M’dina, the medieval city in the centre of Malta, often known as the Silent City because of its tall and imposing walls; we ate some of the best chocolate cake in the world there, sitting on the ramparts with views out over virtually the whole of the island. A boat trip round the harbour allowed us to see how Malta’s role as a military base in the Second world war had left its impact on her and small things like the red pillar boxes and policemen’s uniforms reminded us how Malta had been a part of the British Empire for so many years.

Sea cave     sea cave underwater

For those divers new to the sport this week was a wonderful introduction to the possibilities that diving can offer, we experienced wrecks, reefs and caves, we saw a huge variety of marine life including very colourful fish, seahorses, octopus and all kinds of colourful seaweed. It was a holiday where we could mix diving with exploration and we all came away feeling that we had learned a lot.

Mailing postcards

Group members Supported by
Dido Graham
Michael Henderson
Richard Henderson
Trevor Henderson
Tristan Powell
Cassie Noble
Miss Turnbull
Mr. Yates
Mrs. A’Lee