“LOTS OF REEFS TOMORROW,” the dive guide says as she writes the itinerary up on the whiteboard, and a soft chorus of good-natured groans emanates from a corner of the sun-deck.
The Wreckies won’t be having their best day tomorrow, and may well not emerge from their cabins until after breakfast – they may consume a few more beers than usual tonight.
Our liveaboard will be venturing into the Straits of Tiran in the morning, and mooring up to explore the reefs known as Woodhouse, Jackson, Gordon and Thomas, and the day will be wreck-free.
For some divers – the Reefers – this is the highlight of the trip, with stunning corals and long, easy, shallow drift dives.
For others, it will likely be the dive they’ll forgo in a busy and nitrogen-rich week – or, at best, they’ll see it as a “chance to get wet”.
We divers are a curious breed, and will spend a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of one piece of kit versus another, or the benefits of configuring cylinders and manifolds this way or that.
Likewise, we tend to have preferences for certain styles and types of diving. Some of us won’t touch cold water, others have no interest in night-diving – we’re all different and seem to thoroughly enjoy debating the issues on deck, at the club or on the forums.
One of the clearest divisions is that between divers and their favourite dives, and “wreck versus reef” is often talked about.
I first observed the sharp polarisation between Wreckies and Reefers at my old club. I had been chatting about an upcoming Red Sea trip: “That’s just playing with fish, it’s not proper diving!” scoffed my club-mate good-naturedly.
This chap, I later found, was flying out to the South China Sea later that month and was eagerly awaiting his date with the 15in guns of HMS Repulse.
All that messy biological stuff just got in the way for him.

At some point in any diver’s “career” we ponder the question of the kind of diving we prefer. This may be prompted by fellow-guests on a liveaboard that’s trying to steer a careful course to ensure everyone’s happiness.
As our diving experiences change us and we mature as divers, we air our opinions with increasing gusto through phrases such as “It’s just a nice thing for corals to grow on” or “What, you’re not going to penetrate What a waste!”
Even the quietest of us who hold back during diving discussions may be tempted to nail our colours to the mast.
How often have I heard divers say something along the lines of “Well, it was nice for a wreck, I suppose” or, alternatively, “Yeah, good dive, kept it brief though, it’s only a reef – seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all”.
On one northern Red Sea trip, I provoked an amazed response from another diver when I mentioned that I would miss the familiar tour of the Thistlegorm’s holds and take my camera around the ship’s exterior to shoot what remains of the encrusting corals.
I had clearly upset a dedicated Wreckie, who shook his head at me like a disappointed teacher – I’d let myself down, let the school down, etc…
I realised then that, perhaps, I was a Reefer at heart.
Some easy questions you can ask yourself will help you decide which side of the fence you favour.
Wrecks may be all you live for, or they may just be reefs, albeit artificial.
The chances are that if you know who Helmut Debelius is, you’ve pored over the Red Sea Reef Guide trying to identify a fish – “you know, the red one with the stripes, swims about in the coral”.
However, if you think Debelius is a Bond villain with his own flip-top volcanic island, you’re not destined to be a reef geek.
Similarly, if you’ve heard of Ned Middleton or Ron Young, chances are you have Wreckie tendencies.
If you’ve been studying the books and planning your itinerary at home to make sure that you see both steam locos on the Thistlegorm, your Wreckie tendency is all but certain.

A portrait

Wreckies are a dedicated bunch and tend to tailor their kit according to their preferred dive-sites, choosing robust and well-protected gear that can take the knocks and blows that result from bashing into the side of rusty bulkheads and chain-lockers (despite the Wreckie’s usually excellent buoyancy and obvious respect for the wrecks themselves).
Wreckies consider the best colour for a drysuit to be that special hue known as “engine-room silt” tinged with a touch of “rusty-hatch orange”. They are also well-adorned with torches, substantial reels, compasses and an extra computer or two for good measure.
Venturing into holds and companionways with confidence takes a great deal of skill, so your average Wreckie is usually well-qualified and experienced, and is often the person on the boat who can help less-experienced divers with their kit configuration.
And, given that they are often diving on a twin-set, they will be carrying spanners, Allen keys, pliers, O-rings, hacksaws and so on – tool-kits that enable them to help out with minor technical problems and possibly service the compressor or outboard as required.
They will no doubt have been very disappointed at the sum they were asked to pay at the check-in desk for extra luggage allowance, and may mention this frequently.
Never let the Wreckie’s tendency to light-hearted banter and apparent enjoyment of pushing the envelope fool you – these are some of the best, most self-reliant and reliable divers you could meet. Just don’t let them know that.
Wreckies always have a ready supply of diving stories, so you may wish to spend time with them to pick up tips and amusing anecdotes. However, you may choose to reassess this decision as your trip progresses.
Most likely to say:
“Maldives Nah, no wrecks, mate.”
“Bloody baggage allowance! What’s wrong with 15kg in the cabin Bang out of order if you ask me!”
“Anthias – are they the orange ones”
“The Scylla, yeah, great, but there’s all these fish and stuff on it now…”

A tribute

Reefers tend to have a thoughtful nature and are often accompanied by cameras and pristine copies of ID books replete with colourful corals, fishes and nudibranchs, with their name written neatly inside the front cover.
Reefers are much sought after for their knowledge of corals and fish (the ones that get in the way of the wrecks) and take massive delight in being asked which fish is which.
They are frequently well-travelled, and sport T-shirts from far-flung destinations where the reefs are “pristine” and no doubt better than wherever you are at the moment – your location is irrelevant, there’s always a better reef! A T-shirt from somewhere no one has ever heard of is highly prized.
Reef and fish addicts carrying cameras fall into two main categories. The first group are newish divers, fresh to underwater photography. Revelling in their new-found nerdiness, they tend to take photos of every fish they find, and will show you their blurry images on the dive deck as you dekit and can’t escape.
The second category are divers with large professional cameras with spidery arms that end in huge flashguns that seem far too large to the uninitiated.
They very rarely show you their images, and will protest if you insist, as they “shoot in RAW and the images need processing first”. They are guaranteed to have a website, and will implore you to visit it back home.
Reefers tend to be very keen on conservation and are, in the main, among the most careful and considerate divers you could find.
They are also exceptional at spotting interesting critters, so if you can’t wait to be able to tell your Chromodoris nudibranch from your Hexabranchus, these are the buddies for you.
Reefers have excellent diving skills which they have honed by moving very slowly along the reef looking for critters.
This lack of movement gives them superb gas-consumption rates. They are often upset at the end of a dive after travelling an enjoyable 20m along the reef to find that their buddy is at 50 bar – mainly due to all the huffing and puffing in frustration.
Buddies are then expected to deploy the SMB (which would get in the way of the camera).
Most likely to say:
“Wow, did anyone see that juvenile Pomacanthus No Oh well, it was nice anyway…”
“Yeah, the wreck was OK, but it caused a lot of damage to the reef when it ran into it.”
“It’s not bloody Nemo, you don’t get that species here!”

You may consider yourself to fall between these two opposites, and in reality the vast majority of us do.
In the main we all recognise a stunning reef or an atmospheric wreck for the great dives they are, hence the huge number of divers who head to the Red Sea to enjoy its superb “wreck and reef” itineraries.
In this best of both worlds, wrecks are interspersed with colourful sunlit reefs, complete with endless shoals of fish. Tired of steel and iron Look up and the circling barracuda or shoals of fusiliers will distract you.
The fact that such trips depart weekly testifies to their popularity. They offer the chance to swap stories and ideas. You get to dive with folk with differing views who look for different things they consider represent a perfect dive.
It’s one of the joys on these itineraries that two buddy teams can have vastly different experiences of the same site, with one pair spending the entire dive scanning the reef for coral shrimps while the others venture deep into a silty engine-room, for example.
Staying open to new experiences rather than sticking with what you know might make better divers of us all.
But we can’t help but have our preferences, and it is a rare diver who won’t feel him- or herself drawn into the Wreckie or Reefer debate.