Doing a dive safari in the Red Sea has been on my radar for a few years. I couldn't imagine visiting this region without doing a specific diving trip, so I booked us 7 days on a live-aboard dive boat. The itinerary was to leave from Porto Ghalib and dive three main areas: Elphinstone reef, the Brothers Islands, and Daedalus.
It took us nearly 24 hours to go from Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, to Porto Ghalib on the Egyptian mainland portion of the Red Sea. First we took a car from Dahab to Sharm el-Sheik. Then a flight from Sharm to Cairo. Then a car from the airport to the bus station. We waited there for 7 long hours. Then we boarded an overnight bus for 10 1/2 hours.
The bus ride wasn't bad because we got the entire back row to stretch out on. There were a lot of checkpoints in which military officials came on board to check everyone's ID's that kept me from sleeping well. Nick was passed out the whole time though. It didn't help that the driver put on the movie Child's Play as soon as we began the trip, and I could hear (through my earplugs) the screams of the people Chucky was murdering for two hours.
We met a fellow Californian on board who has been traveling nonstop for 3 years and turned out to be the most judgmental person we've ever met while traveling. We were very relieved that he was not going to be diving on our same boat, especially after spending 4 hours at a cafe with him once we arrived in Porto Ghalib.
The bus took us to the prearranged drop-off point, where we met a man who drove us to the boat. We hung out in the small port town for the day waiting to take off later that night.
The trip started off sketchy as hell when we learned about a massive miscommunication regarding the rental equipment we ordered. The girl I had been emailing with for a week didn't bring fins, boots, or even regulators for us, and their dive shop is 3 hours away in Hurghada.
Adding to the cluster fuck was the fact that we learned there would only be 2 dive guides for 28 people on board. I was not a happy person that first evening.
The next morning when we received the remaining gear just before leaving port, we learned the rental regulator doesn't come with a depth gauge, only an air gauge. We had brought my dive computer from home, but now one of us was either not going to know our depth or have to spend $50 more to rent a computer.
I was pissed and definitely let the Russian owner Sergi know it. This was just too much now. What else wasn't I prepared for? We rented the dive computer, decided to make the best of a strange situation, and set out for 6 days of diving.
On day one we had two somewhat boring warm-up dives in a local bay and then drove to Elphinstone reef. It was amazing to be surrounded by water and have an active reef with crashing waves jutting out of nowhere.
The next day we were at Big Brother island where the seas were really rough. Nicks' ear began giving him issues and he had to abort the second dive. I decided to abort as well after feeling nauseous from my first ride on a small zodiac boat through big rough waves. The third dive that day was canceled due to the rough conditions, which was fine with us because Nicks' ear was now a serious problem.
The currents were really strong and unpredictable at the Brothers Islands and I did not enjoy it. So I decided to sit out the entire next day with Nick and his poor ear while everyone did one dive at Big Brother, one at Little Brother, and then a night dive.
All day the boat was rocking violently. The most turbulent boat experience I've ever had. There were moments out on the deck that we would rock so far in one direction that you'd have to hold on and would be looking straight down to the sea below. That third evening on the boat was a moment of panic for me as I realized that I had three more days of this.
Thankfully I wasn't throwing up, but I was feeling so bad I had to be laying down at all times. I didn't feel like being social at all. It made me feel like this might be my last dive safari because I couldn't possibly subject myself to this again. At this point I was no longer having any fun.
That third night we had to go all the way back to port to get a new zodiac because one got popped during the insane turbulence at Brothers. The Egyptian crew was working so incredibly hard for us, all day long, and were having the worst luck. Everything was so difficult for them on this trip. They were getting their asses handed to them by the conditions.
This trip back to calm waters, even only for the night, changed everything for me. I was able to take more Dramamine, relax without turbulance, and reset myself for the remaining three days.
Day four we traveled a long distance to get to Daedalus, and I was no longer feeling the doom of seasickness. It had much calmer surface waves for our boat, but incredibly unpredictable currents. Daedalus is where we were going to dive deep and see the Hammerhead sharks.
When we arrived we only had time for one dive. Nick was still nursing his ear and missed the exciting dive where everyone got caught in some terrible currents.
We took a zodiac to the north side of the reef and drifted south along the wall. No hammerhead sighting on this dive. When the current picked up, our guide Malak and the rest of us were not quite prepared for its strength.
We ended up clawing at the coral wall for dear life. At some points we clumped up dangerously close to one another with legs and arms flailing about, and at other points I couldn't see anyone but my two dive buddies and was sure we lost our guide Malak, as our plan was to surface in the blue and try to ride the current to the boat line.
There were moments I thought my mask and regulator would get ripped off my face by the rushing water. I was very uncomfortable by how serious the situation had become. We had no choice but to slowly walk our way across and up the coral wall to the lighthouse jetty across from our boat. I was diving a threeway buddy with Yimin and Sophie and somehow ended up between them in the sketchiest moments.
Timing our ascent up the wall to grab the rope as the waves were surging and crashing into the lighthouse jetty was tricky and scared most of us.
Once on the surface, climbing across the rope, it was every ounce of strength I had to hold on and not be ripped away with the current. I was huffing and puffing through my regulator and getting smacked around until I physically couldn't pull myself any further against the current.
The deckhand tossed the bouy out to me and Sophie and pulled me in while I was sideways with one leg out of the water. My adrenaline was pumping hard, and I was glad to be back on board.
This dive goes down as one of the most gnarly dives I've ever done. It made me stop in my tracks and realize that these dive guides were willing to put us in dangerous situations and had no way of sticking to a plan or letting everyone in their group know when and if the plan did change.
Several people in the other group had even scarier moments after losing their guide, getting lost, and surfacing with another boat. Those people sat out the entire next day, rightfully pissed.
Day five we dove at Daedalus again, eager to see the hammerheads. The currents were less rough than yesterday and Nicks' ear was better, so we went for the first two of three dives there.
Luckily we saw a hammerhead on both dives. They were both brief encounters, and they were a few meters below us, but it was still amazing to see hammerhead sharks in real life.
Others in our group who swam deeper saw more. I wasn't comfortable going to 40 meters when Nicks ears only let him get to 28. I wanted to stick together. The visibility wasn't great either, so you really had to go deep to get a good view of these creatures. Mission accomplished though. I saw hammerhead sharks and will remember it forever, even if I didn't get any footage.
The last 10 minutes of each of these two Daedalus dives made me very uneasy though. The currents were changing and completely unpredictable as we made our way toward the surface. There was a period of 2 minutes where I could not physically swim up from 50 feet. I was trying, and the current kept pushing me down.
Then at around 10 meters the water turned into a washing machine, and the bubbles of about 10 divers started swirling in all directions. The waves were heaving overhead but I had a difficult time keeping my orientation. It's unnerving to be underwater and keep losing track of which way is up because the water is swirling in every direction. I was feeling waves of seasick and confusion.
We were about center of the pack of 14 of us as we began the 6 meter deep safety stop away from the reef. Malak inflated his orange safety sausage to alert the boats above. With the swirling bubbles severely decreasing our visibility and currents pushing us apart, it only took an instant for us to lose Malak. Seven of us gathered around our British friend Kate who also ascended a safety buoy.
When we surfaced in the 1 meter swells, not only was Malak and the other half of our group nowhere to be found, we had drifted really far from the reef, and couldn't see a zodiac. There was nothing we could do but bob at the surface and wait, hoping to be spotted.
A few minutes went by and we were luckily picked up by a zodiac from another boat. The young Egyptian boatman graciously grabbed us all out of the water and took us to JP Marine, where Malak and the rest of our group were already drying off. I did not like losing him and drifting out to sea without our boat guys nearby. I can see how easily divers could get lost at sea and left behind, which sadly happens sometimes.
After the turbulent ascent, losing our guide, and randomly being picked up by a different boat, we sat out the next dive, as did half of the other divers. I've never seen so many divers sit out a dive on a live-aboard boat. For me, I don't like diving in sketchy conditions and especially don't like relying on luck to make it back safely. It's just not worth it.
The final day we made our way 100km back to Elphinstone reef and had a very memorable experience with a pod of dolphins. They followed our zodiac to the dive site. They swam by us and played a bit near the reef. There were about 2 dozen out in the blue, making this the first time I've dove with dolphins.
The end of this dive was quite possibly the highlight of all my dives in the Red Sea. A curious Oceanic White Tip shark (long emanu) circled around us at our safety stop. I didn’t want to surface. I just wanted to stay under and watch him swim.
We extended our safety stop by nearly five minutes to keep watching as he slowly circled us and played with the safety buoy. There's something so magical, yet so intimidating about a 2 meter long shark swimming directly at your face.
I got some amazing footage of it swimming near Nick and the others and all around me. These five minutes are the epitome of why I dive.
We met some really incredible people on this trip. We spent a lot of time hanging out with Uwe, Nicole, Sophia, Yimin, and Kate, and even enjoyed some beers and lots of laughs on shore during our last night together.
And of course the Egyptian crew made absolute certain that we all were well taken care of and had the time of our lives. The mechanic Ahkmed kept calling me Fatma (his daughters name) the entire trip, and the other boat guys were friendly and helpful.