Scuba diving in the Red Sea

By Debi Shank
This item appears on page 27 of the February 2019 issue.

Blue-spotted ribbontail ray at rest underneath staghorn coral — Red Sea. Photos by Debi's fellow diver Victor

There are several spots around the world that top scuba divers' wish lists, and the Red Sea is most certainly one of them. I was given the opportunity to visit parts of Egypt in July 2018 (Nov. '18, pg. 6 & Dec. '18, pg. 6), and since I was going to be so close to the Red Sea, it was a no-brainer to extend my trip and indulge my passion on my own.

My private transport for the 5-hour drive from Luxor, Egypt, to Hurghada and also my hotel accommodations in Hurghada were booked for me by my host tour operator in Egypt, who warned that any flight between the cities might be jeopardized by a sandstorm.

I insisted on making my own diving arrangements, however. Based on my criteria and the reviews I read online, I chose Dive Hurghada (dive-hurghada.com). I was impressed with their quick replies to my emails and their attention to detail regarding my diving experience.

Once I had my travel dates confirmed, I booked two days of boat diving with a total of four dives. The rate was 100 (near $114), which included transfers, equipment, buffet lunch and water, and I was kindly offered a "return-guest discount," bringing my cost down to 60. I paid a deposit through PayPal (www.paypal.com) and the remainder in cash upon arrival.

Upon my arrival in Hurghada, I reestablished communication with Dive Hurghada through WhatsApp, and Dalia gave me specific instructions for my 8:00 pickup the following morning. I was to meet a driver outside the hotel's entrance to avoid delays with hotel security.

Since the revolution in 2011, tourism has been slowly returning to Egypt, and tourism-related industries are still trying to get back on their feet. The diving industry is no exception. As a result, Dive Hurghada shares space on a boat with other dive operators.

Once on board, divers are assigned spots and numbered crates in which to stow their gear on the lower deck, keeping the area free of clutter during the trip. Guests can then spread out and relax on the spacious upper deck, enjoying the incredible views.

During my visit, there were guests on board from several nations, including Spain, Sweden, Germany and China. Based on the conversations I overheard, I think I was the only American on board, but the crew I dealt with spoke English well.

A couple from Spain had also made their arrangements with Dive Hurghada, and, once we were under way, Ali, our divemaster, provided the three of us thorough briefings for each of the dive sites. When it was our turn, we were called down to the main deck to gear up, and when we were all ready, the four of us jumped into the water.

Everything was very organized. Although there were about 20 divers plus crew on the boat, it didn't feel crowded, and I wasn't tripping over people or gear.

Each site offered a splendid variety of marine life. I recognized some species, such as moray eels, angelfish, titan triggerfish and lionfish, but there also were new ones that I added to my log, including large schools of glassfish, white ribbon eels and blue-spotted ribbontail rays.

Clownfish with a juvenile domino damselfish hovering over a bubble-tip anemone in the Red Sea.

Because of the skills the three of us displayed on our first day of diving, we were offered an additional advanced dive (20 each) for the next day, which turned out to be to two wrecks.

During the next day's first dive, we found El Minya, a 190-foot-long minesweeper resting on its port side at 104 feet, teeming with life. We swam past schools of glassfish and silversides that had taken up residence and watched lionfish stalk their prey.

With enough bottom time remaining, we swam over to the Hasaballah, a fishing boat resting upright on the sea floor, spending a few minutes exploring below the main deck before returning to the surface.

The other two dives were spent at Fanous East and West, a fabulous lagoon abundant with fish and coral. A highlight, for me, was having my teeth cleaned — and my ears checked — at a cleaning station occupied by a school of cleaner wrasse. When I briefly took my regulator out, a fish or two would quickly inspect my mouth!

I did this three times. I couldn't stop laughing, though, which once caused me to inhale water and choke a little. It was a memorable end to a fantastic trip.

As for Dive Hurghada's communication and coordination, at home, abroad and on board the boat, the staff was first class.

A final note — If you rent an underwater camera, as I did (10), I recommend noting the file numbers of the first and last pictures that you take. Alternatively, you could make sure that your first and last photos are selfies. This will make it easier for the dive operator to determine which pictures are yours on the shared photo card.

DEBI SHANK
ITN


School of fish in the Red Sea.

The dive boat's deck.

Debi Shank with fellow divers from Spain, Victor and Maria.