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Diver, diving

ISSUE 5 ARCHIVE - CONFESSIONS OF A LIVEABOARD VIRGIN

Howard Sawyer

I always said I'd never go back. Not to Egypt not if you paid me. Not even that much. Not double.

The omnipresent hawking, the plagues of tourists and roaring diarrhoea on the banks of the Nile... I spent quality time crouched behind a 'bush' that hadn't borne leaves since Moses passed this way, much to the amusement of the waiting felucca crew so much for my attempt to combine learning to scuba dive with a bit of 'culture' on the side.
London and Midlands Diving Chambers
Diver, diving Yet I returned. Welcome to The Nightmare of Sharm. Daily pandemonium at the dock, rammed moorings, overcrowded dives, boom-box aerobics and a nightly table for one. Head in hands I asked myself the question: What on earth possesed me to come here?!

Egypt was Package Holiday Hell, whether you went for an adventure tour, 'See The Pyramids!' (air-conditioned), or for the diving. Snobbish attitude maybe, but I hated it. From the Philippines east, that was my stamping ground. Maybe I only got to dive once a year, but what dives! Quality rather than quantity. The Red Sea Riviera was a quick cheap winter fling and about as satisfying as one.

But then I saw Ken Sutherland's portfolio of the Egyptian wrecks at the British Society of Underwater Photographers, and his "Oh-My-God!" portrait of the Giannis D. I simply had to shoot that wreck. So I was going to eat my words and go back. Worse still, to access the wreck, I was going to have to overcome my neurosis and take a liveaboard for the first time.

The thought of being trapped on a boat for a whole week with a large group of no doubt hard-core, seen-it-done-it divers, 24/7, was frankly intimidating. They were strangers. I loved my solace and The Smiths. This lot were probably stadium rock, possibly U2. What would we have in common once we'd dried off? There were only 3 decks. The luxurious vessel was only 36 meters long. I couldn't hide in the en suite indefinitely, I was sharing it anyway. I was going to have to socialise.
Reef Jewellery
I'd never joined a dive club, so never joined organised trips, preferring to make my own way to some remote dive shop in the back of beyond, happy to buddy up with Mr Whoever for a transient friendship.

"If anything goes wrong, we'll save each other, OK? Great. Sorry? What was your name again?"

And I'd heard stories of single divers being ridiculed by bullying groups on liveaboards. A heady cocktail of machismo, testosterone, Nitrox and neoprene. And that was just the women. British divers in Egypt seemed to spend their spare time bemoaning the demise of the birch, driving motorbikes too fast, or wielding some kind of lethal weapon with telescopic sights. Anecdotes culminated in smoking twisted metal, mutilation, scars, surgery, near death, certain death and actual death. Join twenty plus sharks as they feed? 'Ave it!

Join twenty plus divers on a boat for a week? Do I look insane?!

So despite all the recommendations, I wasn't entirely convinced I'd have that "wonderful time" aboard 'Hurricane' for the Brothers Wreck Special that Tony Backhurst promised.

Preparation had to be meticulous if I was going to blend in: Dive T-shirts from long haul destinations check.

'Street' design T-shirts check. (Don't want to look like you're trying too hard to underline your diving credibility. You are on a liveaboard, after all.)

Revise Python lore; "Tis but a scratch!" check. Name-drop new friend and diving icon Ned Middleton check. Ok, so I lied about underlining your diving credibility too hard...

Hurghada. It's a dump, isn't it? Once a small fishing village, now 40 kilometers of detritus, like a high water mark on the edge of the desert. Have you seen the international airport of this former fishing village? And no mate, it doesn't look like something out of 'Blade Runner'. It's a mad bazaar full of tat, with point-blank eateries and a runway thrown in.

We spend so much time banging on about wreck conservation and our impact on the marine environment, yet there's never the self awareness to look over our shoulder to see just what our presence has already done. Planning permission? It's all about the tourist buck.

Dive the wrecks now, because against time, tide and us in our droves, they don't stand a chance.
Ocean Leisure
It's a full boat, of course. Twenty two divers. Brits from the Shetlands to the Home Counties, four lads from Ireland, plus Mats, a friendly bear of a Swede with a honey-pot smile and impeccable English. It transpires Mats was worried about the trip too. Worried the boat would be full of Germans, and he can't speak German. Not for the first time I appreciate how fortunate we are that the rest of the world speaks our lingo.

I share with Kevin from Wakefield. It's his first liveaboard too. Full marks to Tony Backhurst, who has paired off single divers of similar experience and interests. Kevin is keen to try out his underwater compact, recently accquired from eBay. He's also the nicest bloke you could wish to share with. He's been to the Isle of Man TT, (as a spectator), reads Bear Grylls and doesn't appear to want to shoot anything other than photos. Nonetheless, I apologize to him for my snoring in advance. The fact is all the people on 'Hurricane' are great. The captain, crew, and guides that might go without saying on an award winning liveaboard, but it gets the votes for a reason. There's a relaxed atmosphere aboard which sets the tone. True, everyone is going to get on better with some people than others, as you do on the street where you live, that's only to be expected.

But there's a healthy hubbub when we eat, and always space when you need a bit of quiet time. You'll find a lot of both just looking out at the horizon. The lads from Ireland even get me sucked into 'Band of Brothers' on DVD in the evenings. And the pod of dolphin who ride the bow as we head from The Brothers gives us all a special shared moment.

As for the wrecks? I suggest you go and see for yourself. Don't worry, you won't end up sharing with a neurotic from Essex, because I'm never going back. Probably.
Reef Jewellery

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