Crowds on the jetty.
We have done all our diving in Sharm with Ocean College who have been efficient, friendly and very professional. Guess that is why we keep on using them :-).
If you have not been diving in Sharm before then (assuming the rest of the town works line Ocean College) you book diving in chunks of days, as a days diving is a 9am start on a charter boat, with one morning dive, a buffet (Egyptian) lunch on the boat and an afternoon dive before a return to the jetty for about 5pm (ish)
Almost all diving in Sharm starts with the daily ritual of arriving at the jetty for 9am (and not a moment later if you believe the dive guide!) to ensure you can get away quickly on your boat. The reality is always arriving at 9 ish to join the crowds of confused people trying to get on the jetty whilst looking for their boat in and amongst the 30 odd boats trying to tie up on a space about large enough for 8 boats. Invariably it will be 9:45 or even 10 before you get on your boat, and probably 11 before everyone is on and you actually leave for the site.
The local reef sites are generally fairly shallow 15-20m normally, and are invariably used as warm up sites for the first two or three days of a trip, before your boat starts taking you further afield. Don’t worry about them being poor sites because they are not. Since you are often shallow for most of the dive you will be right up there with the light and colour, and most of the fish. These are real pretty, enjoy them.
The Thistlegom’s Stern.
This was to be my first wreck dive. As it turned out the first dive on the boat for the day would only have 1 very brief interior section, in order to allow those of us who had not done a wreck dive before (most of the boat) to get a feel for diving in a confined space. Then on our second dive we could be split into two groups the people who wanted to explore the interior proper and those who preferred to stay outside.
The dive began with a briefing designed to scare the crap out of you! Our dive guide made very sure we were aware of the fact the Thistlegorm has claimed the lives of more divers since she sank then she has crew. The area can have some very strong currents and can have poor visibility, and we were to do a five minute safety stop.
Having put the wind up us new boys the dive quickly revealed itself to be almost as good as you could expect, we had truly excellent visibility (20m) and a light current.
We began with a decent down the line, and after a quick check to see we were all accounted for and all calm and OK, we began a circuit of the ship. Our line was tied off at the prow and we began by passing across the deck before going over the side and gliding along the port side of the hull. About two thirds of the way down the terrible damage caused when she was hit could be seen in the form of a massive hole that had almost ripped the ship in two.
It is a testament to the quality of Tyneside ship building that she held together after such a fatal wound.
The ship was so solidly colonised by corals and so forth that it was often hard to see any steel (or rust!) for the vegetation and the vast range of fish life that was living in and around it. I had not expected the life to be as rich as this and it was a pleasant surprise.
The lowest level of the dive was as we rounded the stern and came face to face with the huge screws of the back of the boat That sight put this massive ship into perspective. Moving on we headed forward on the starboard side and up on to deck. This was beginning to feel a little odd. Swimming around the outside of a boat seemed just fine, but swimming along an exterior crew corridor encrusted with soft corals (and at least one small brown Moray) was very strange and made you realise that you were visiting a real lost ship.
The final part of the on-boat dive was our brief introduction to wreck penetration. We entered into the captain’s quarters where there is not much left now but the Captain’s bath.
This first dive was beautiful, far more vivid and alive than I had expected a wreck to be. It was a joy to dive and awesome in its size. Sitting as it was on a sandy sea floor, it was an absolute oasis for sea life of all sorts. It wasn't until I did my second dive, in the true interior that the human tragedy of the sinking really hit home.
motorbikes in the hold.
This dive began with a descent on the line and entry into the cargo loading area down into the bowels of the ship.
Having just tried out a wreck penetration the dive before (a brief trip through the captain’s quarters) this was really my first proper interior dive. Swimming through the cargo holds, with steel on all sides, in an area that would be huge were it not for all the flatbed trucks laden with motor bikes, it was quite different, and very exciting.
Since the cargo left us with a vertical area of 1 - 1.5 metres to manoeuvre in, this is not a dive for those with any sort of claustrophobia problem (however mild) or poor buoyancy control.
This was so different it was fabulous. There is something both splendid and very saddening about swimming through a sunken ship; man’s great engineering efforts broken and lost to all but marine life and divers. Considering some of her crew were lost in its sinking it made me very angry that idiots have pillaged the holds for souvenirs (handlebars and steering wheels). Swimming through this wreck reminds you (or should) of the human cost of war, and makes a fitting memorial to the war-dead. To me stripping it for dive trophies is nothing short of desecration.
There are four sites out in the Tiran straits; Gordon, Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson reefs. These are all large coral islands that just rise up from the deep strait, and as such are swept by strong currents. Expect very good coral, great fish, and a good chance of sharks. Well worth a visit (usually a 3 dive trip this one)