Scuba Leeds trip on Blue Melody Daedalus and St Johns Safari
The weekend the clocks changed I slept outside on the top deck of a boat in the Red Sea, the stars of the Milky Way clearly on show in the cloudless sky that was my ceiling.
I was one of the Scuba Leeds team on a trip to Daedalus and St Johns itinerary were Cato, Sally, Shep, Peter, Paul, Jenny, Ken, Abbie, Jake, Calab, non-diving Andy, and me. A small but perfectly formed group left Manchester airport headed to the sun in Egypt. This was my and Peter G’s second trip on Blue Melody this year this time we were headed south to Port Ghalib to join the safari exploring the southern Red Sea and for me to find and swim with Hammerhead sharks.
We arrived in Hurghada late in the day and had to transfer south to Port Ghalib where the boat was waiting for us. Safety film and briefing completed, passport handed over and disclaimer completed we had to set up or gear to ensure we had not left anything behind as we were going to be at Sea for a week and there was no coming back for a forgotten fin or mouth piece. At shortly after midnight I went down to my cabin and woke Leon who had arrive hours earlier on a different flight and been happily dreaming of sharks!
The first day had us diving after some breakfast, a check dive to make sure we were set up for the week. I was diving side mount, and using tanks that needed to be tuned in to be comfortable.
I dived all week with Cato and Sally, who both had instructed me on course during the year, feeling a bit of an interloper they took me under their wings and looked after me all week, improving my diving each time I got in the water.
First dive site was Abu Dabbab III. This was a quick (60 minute) check dive to fettle our equipment around. 63 minutes down to 17.3 metres. We stared of the weeks diving spending some time with a Napoleon Wrasse that was bigger than Cato. The check to identified that I needed to make some rigging changes and also to loose some weight as I was clearly too heavy with empty cylinders. When I came to enter the dive in my logbook I realised that this was dive number one hundred.
We sailed on to the afternoon dive site and a visit to Elphinstone and our first shark encounter we were circled by an oceanic white tip as the boat was tied up. This had disappeared by the time we were in the water. The water all week was a nice 27 and 28 degrees which was a bit of a change from the weekend before in the Farne Islands where is was 12!
Blue O Two describe Elphinstone Reef as a finger shaped reef, with north and south plateaus covered in hard and soft corals, unpredictable and exciting this truly is an awesome reef where hammerhead sharks are regularly spotted in the summer and oceanic white tip sharks often congregate in large numbers during late autumn.
After diving here we sailed on over night to St Johns where we spent a couple of days and managed to get in six dives including one night dive. We dived the following sites, Gota Kebir, Umm Aruk, Dangerous reef (day and night) Gota Soryr, and Umm Kharalim.
Blue O Two describe St Johns as follows; located on the Tropic of Cancer, this chain of reefs boasts stunning dive sites, most of which are very close to each other allowing you to move quickly and easily from one place to another. This adds a lot of variety to your dives; drop-offs, tunnels and stunning hard-coral formations. One of these dives (St Johns Caves or Umm Kharalim) is truly unique and is a photographer’s heaven with rays of light filtering through into the beautiful tunnels. The reef formation is not the only thing that will stun you at St Johns; the marine life and colours of the soft corals are some of the best in the Red Sea. With any luck, dolphins or pelagics will join you on your dives and St Johns will forever have a place in your heart.
The dives we completed were a mix of deep and reef dives and also Caleb was able to complete several of his dives needed for him to achieve his deep speciality certificate. These were a great series of dives and on Gota Soryr we had dived to 40 meters and as we moved to the surface at the end of the dive we were joined for our safety stop by a turtle who stayed with us mooching around and escorting us back to the boat.
Diving side mount meant that we were able to get the full benefit of both the depths and time available and this brought a new challenge to my diving and that was diving to no decompression limits rather than the amount of air I was gulping down.
St John offers some great dives and a real mix of soft and hard coral and plentiful sea life, still no sharks though! Listening to Shep describe the differences between different fish in the same family made me realise that I know nothing about what I was seeing. I will ask for a book for Christmas and learn more before I visit again.
The morning dive on St John’s was the last one and we sailed on to what was for a short while to be my favourite dive of the week. We stopped at Fury Shaol for a day into night dive on Sataya Reef.
This large cluster of reefs offers unforgettable and easy dives. From the northern site of Small Abu Galawa to its most-southern site of Sataya, Fury Shoal can prove to be surprising and diverse. Each dive site has its particularity: from dolphins, to stunning hard coral formations and not forgetting the two little wrecks “Tug Boat” and the “Yacht”.
A late afternoon dive as the sun set, we dropped in the water just after 4pm. The plan was to swim out along the edge of the reef against the current and then drift back to under the boat and spend the rest of the time investigating the reef under and around the boat, max depth 30 meters and time 60 minutes. We dived the plan, the swim out along the edge of the reef was stunning and there were shoals of Barracuda out in the blue. As the sun started to drop the fish on the reef were everywhere and really active swimming in large groups as the sun dipped down and the reek darkened the large groups of fish disappeared to be replaced with different ones, we spent ages watching Goat fish (Shep would know which ones) hunting in groups for their dinner in patches of the sand. They would swim around the area very fast and then all dive in to the sand throwing it up in clouds and striking down on their prey before swimming round whilst the sand settled to do it again. There were very clearly rich pickings. The darkness brought the moray eels out into the open and the lionfish were using the light from out torches to locate their prey. This truly is a great time to be under the water and was the best dive of the trip, to that point.
After the dive the shop on board opened and started to sell goodies, there was no way I was going to buy anything with a hammerhead on it in case is cursed my luck. Team Cato Ball Smith did all buy matching jackets!
The next night was spent a sea sailing to Daedalus and its famous lighthouse.
Daedalus is described by Blue O Two as: a huge tear-drop shaped reef rises from the sea bed in the middle of the Red Sea, 80km offshore and more than 300km south of Hurghada. Easily recognised by its zebra-striped lighthouse, this reef offers some of the most amazing dives in the Red Sea. The sheer walls are covered in over-grown hard coral formations and a variety of reef fish. Napoleon wrasses and turtles are often cruising by, but make sure you keep your eyes open on the blue! Daedalus is one of those places where anything can happen… oceanic white tip, grey reef and thresher sharks are often sighted, but Daedalus is most famous for its scalloped hammerhead sharks which can often be seen in large schools out in the blue during the summer months. The sheer size of this reef means that you can do several dives here and never get bored!
My pulse had moved up a few beets and I had vivid dreams of sharks, boy was I excited. Not only sharks but also diving from a Zodiac, great!!!!
The plan was to ride to the north side drop in where the current split and swim into the blue spend a bit of time at 30 metres and just see. Swim back in towards the reek pop up an SMB and zodiac back to the boat. No guarantees of seeing anything!
There were a few boats already here and our first dive was to be one of the last first dives, we saw other divers returning and could see that they had indeed seen hammerhead sharks.
We set off in the first Zodiac and after getting the signal we rolled off and into the water. As soon as I levelled off I saw an arm out pointing to an oceanic grey shark. As I turned I spotted a group of about 50 barracuda swimming in the blue. As we moved out away from the reek into the blue I spotted two Hammerheads swimming below us I slowly dropped and hit the thermocline at 30 meters. Next time I looked I could see three and then five and finally seven. The sharks were stunning and just, as I had imagined. They were at about 40- 50 meters just a bit too far away to see real detail but close enough to realise how wonderful a creature they are. With computer alarms going off I was soon time to start to ascend and to head back towards the reef and the zodiac back that 50 minutes felt like one of the shortest dives ever made.
After two and a half hours we were back in the water, we dropped off the rib and descended into the blue. Oh boy, I was swimming with 15 hammerhead sharks they were above, below and at eye level swimming around me about a meter away from me. I could see the eye following me as they swam past. My dive alarm was chirping as I had forgotten to move the depth alarm to 40 meters and I was at the end of my range in the thermocline with these beauties. Then I looked up to see a massive manta ray swimming away in the blue another first. I spent the first tem minutes at 40 meters followed with 10 more at 30 meters and then another ten at 20 meters, all of this time in the company of hammerhead sharks. As we moved back up the water warmed and we swam back along the reef wall past one of the largest corals I had ever seen, (I missed this first time). There was also the sight of a diver that will forever be etched into my eyes each time they are closed. Budgie smugglers are not for the 20 plus stone gent diving in a skin that allowed his form to spill over the straps of his harness, I hope that your imagination allows this image to be shared with you.
For the final dive of the day Sally and I decided not to take the rib but to spend time under the boat, and this also paid of as Sally and I died along the edge of the reef next to the blue at about 30 meters Sally started pointing below us and I saw a thresher shark swim over the reef directly beneath us. As we headed for our safety stop white tip sharks swam around us at five meters.
We spent another day and three more dives at Daedalus what a place:
Dive one – Grey reef shark, Barracuda’s and seven hammerhead sharks
Dive two – Barracuda’s, fifteen hammerhead sharks and a manta ray
Dive three – Thresher shark, Barracuda’s and white tip sharks
Dive four – Grey reef shark, and two hammerhead sharks
Dive five – White tips sharks and Barracuda’s
Dive six – White tip sharks
There was only one day and two dives left and I was having some problems with my ears so I decided that this was a good place to end my diving in the Red sea for the year.
A quick summary of the year 4 minutes short of 22 hours under the water, 30 dives. Including visits to the following wrecks, Giannis D, Carina, Chrisoula K, Dunraven, Thistlegorm, Rosalie Moller and the Barge. Firsts included all of the sharks and the Manta ray.
If you haven’t been on one of these trips I cannot recommend these enough if you have you and I know we will be back on board again very soon.
Here are some pictures the shark one I have stolen from Jenny Cheesman who took them, thanks Jenny