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Oceanic Whitetip


Adventures with Aquatic Element

Despite the best efforts of XL to disrupt our trip to the Red Sea, fourteen intrepid divers from Windsor based Aquatic Element (AE) ventured forth to Hurghada and Blue O Two's MY Blue Fin. Even those who met in the wee hours of the morning to catch the minibus leaving Windsor Railway Station were buzzing with energy as we checked in at Gatwick. Viking Air, the replacement airline, had to refuel their jet in Athens as it didn't have the range to reach Hurghada in one hop. That aside, we arrived on board Blue Fin a couple of hours later than scheduled. I had been struggling with a hip problem and was in two minds whether to go or not, I was so glad I went.
Liveaboard In addition to AE's owners, John and Katie Carlin and yours truly, the rest of the explorers were: Iain Lindsay, Rebecca Price, Pip Upright, Mike Comber, Paul Horn, Martyn Fox (an amateur magician and my dive buddy for the week he is the only man who can snore louder than me), Paul Jarvis, Mark Rogers, Richard (Harry) Potter, Lesley and Richard van den Bergh. Every one of us went on this trip to enjoy ourselves and that is what we did, people smiled constantly, laughed, joked, enjoyed some brilliant diving and made new and lasting friendships.
Divers John and Katie, for whom this was their first holiday since setting up Aquatic Element in May 2007, had one of the luxury double bed suites the words of the song 'All Through the Night' came to mind. The van den Bergh's also had a suite but as they, like me, will not see the underside of thirty again, the song might have been 'Sweet, Sweet Memories You Gave Me.'

AE has its own expert in all things marine, as John Carlin is presently awaiting the award of his doctorate in Marine Biology.

For us this was something special because Blue O Two had arranged for marine biologist and shark expert Elke Bojanowski to be one of our guides on the trip. Our first night was spent in Hurghada. For many of us it was a time to get to know each other before what we were told was going to be some challenging diving. After dinner we received our first bonus, the first of a series of lectures by Elke about sharks. Like many I thought I knew a great a deal about them. What I learned was that I knew little and our knowledge base increased dramatically during the week. AE actively supports marine conservation and has recently been running a number of events in support of the Shark Trust. Our other dive guide was Kevin Toomey a really knowledgeable and caring diver whose briefings were awesome.
Check dives followed the next morning at Gota Abu Ramada, a small reef not far from Hurghada. Unfortunately the site was already heavily populated with day boats. However, this is a charming reef with lots of aquatic life and healthy corals. The visibility wasn't the best I have seen here but our two day dives and the subsequent night dive were a good 'starter for 10'. These dives provided the opportunity for those less experienced in the deployment of DSMBs to practice in a safe environment before coping with the challenging currents to be found later in the itinerary.

Day two took us to the Brothers and we were welcomed by some very lively seas. John disappeared between the rib and the boat as a wave picked up the rib and tossed it away from Blue Fin just as he was mid stride to board. I got in, sat down and then was bowled backwards into the sea! Neither of us was any worse for the experience and it provided our friends with much mirth. Two dives full of life on Little Brother were followed by a short hop to Big Brother and a dive to the wrecks of the Numedia and Aida. This was a drift dive with a difference and our first encounter with really strong and changing currents. The DSMB practice paid off with many of us surfacing some distance from Blue Fin and the supporting zodiacs. But the excellent and ever watchful crew members were quick to spot us and pick us up, wherever we surfaced.

We then moved to Daedalus Reef for two days diving that proved to be memorable. Elke had tried to limit our expectations of shark spotting but sharks there were in plenty. Some of our party saw Hammerheads but we all saw many Oceanic White Tipped Sharks. Elke is leading a project to track the movements of Oceanic White Tips across the Red Sea, her database and knowledge of these sharks is amazing.

The sharks were inquisitive and completely relaxed swimming close to people snorkeling around the boat. Some maybe became too inquisitive and there is a marvellous piece of video where a big White Tip comes up close to Rebecca, the scream as she hid behind Martyn Fox is clearly audible on the video clip. The sharks were supplemented by some brilliant trips into the blue, wall dives and coral gardens together with all manner of fish including a huge, extremely photogenic Napoleon Wrasse.

At Elphinstone, a reef which Elke had told us had been without a large number of sharks for two years, we found no less than 25 Ocean Going White Tips. The diving was excellent with so much to see we could have dived it again and again. A night dive on our way back to Hurghada was followed by a splendid roast Turkey dinner.

The following morning saw us dive the wreck of the tragic Salem Express. The respectful way in which Kevin briefed us about the ship's sinking and the loss of life set the tone for the dive. The last dive before returning to port was on the Minesweeper Mina, just outside the harbour and a chance to inspect the damage caused to the ship as it was sunk by Israeli jets.
A return to port and an enjoyable evening spent at Bulls and onto my favourite Egyptian restaurant in Hurghada, 'FilaFela'. The next day the hours before flying were filled at a local beach club and for me at the local medical centre to get an injection to relax the muscles around my hip. Then home on a delayed flight to a chilly Gatwick.

John has put together a DVD of the trip, the opening credit that it 'is to be watched only by people who smile', that sums up our week on board Blue Fin: fun, laughter, enjoyment and amazement combined with some serious and challenging diving. The week was a huge success and the excellence of the Blue O Two operation played no small part in making it a holiday to remember.

For me, I am writing this article while convalescing at home after a hip resurfacing operation and missing out on my London Diving Chamber Medic Course and the trip reunion.

Nearest recompression chamber
Hurghada Naval Hyperbaric & Emergency Medical Centre, Korniche Road. Tel: +20 653449150
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