This is monkey diving the Tala way.
OUR TWO ZODIACS BOBBED up and down in the heavy swell and stiff wind while the waves crashed over the reef just 50m away.
I could see why the reef of Abu Nahas has, over the years, proved to be a popular place for wrecking your ship.
We were planning to dive four of these well-known sites but, rather than spend a day and a half doing so, we intended to do it in a single dive, on a single cylinder...
It was Faisal Kahlaf, the owner of the liveaboard mv Tala, who dreamed up what he called monkey diving. I wont go into how it got its name, but the best description I could come up with was extended range snorkelling. Such a novel concept had to be tried!
Monkey diving consists of a stainless-steel backplate for weighting, a single stage cylinder of nitrox under the left arm, a scooter and - well, thats it.
The substitution of exact weighting for a BC and the use of scooters instead of finning renders this an unlikely mix of retro and hi-tec. Scooters in hand and cylinders under arms, our team of four rolled back off the inflatables. I was experiencing that I know Ive forgotten something sensation you normally have while slamming the front door (and, in my case, then finding you have left your keys in the kitchen).
However, this exposed sensation instantly fell away as I hit the trigger, and the advantage of this Alpinist rig became apparent.
Both our speed and manoeuvrability were incredible, and within moments we were flying between the shallow wrecks of the Chrisoula K, the Carnatic and, finally, the famous Giannis D.
We spent just a few minutes on each, zooming down the gangways, around props and through the wreckage before regrouping and cruising along the reef to the next site of exploration.
Forty-five minutes later we surfaced, and every one of our number was laughing into our regulators. Amazingly, due to the total absence of finning, we had done all of this on little over 100 bar out of a single 11-litre cylinder!

THIS NOVEL FORM OF DIVING was one of the many factors that, as the week progressed, would mark the Tala out as that bit different to other good Red Sea liveaboards. This was why Eddy, my 18-year-old son, and I had chosen to take a holiday aboard.
Tala looks a pretty plain and unimposing vessel when parked next to some of the grander boats plying these waters, but inside are 10 comfortable twin cabins spread over three decks, all en-suite and with an ample supply of hot water for the powerful showers.
The food was excellent, with all tastes and needs catered for. If you didnt like what was on offer, the chef would simply whip up something else.
This level of service extended to the diving activities. Each outing was preceded by a briefing using 3D images of the sites on the widescreen TV on the main deck. We would then head to the rear dive deck, where the differences between Tala and other vessels became ever more pronounced.
There were no fewer than 15 shiny twin-sets for guests, and numerous stage cylinders of varying sizes racked down each side. These would allow us to do a huge variety of diving from 6 to 60m-plus, so the crew were working perhaps three times harder than they would be on a regular single-cylinder vessel.
Nevertheless, guests just had to say what they wanted for the next dive and it would be ready and waiting when the time came.
Tucked away below decks to supply all these tanks were 35 huge cylinders of helium and 20 of oxygen. Nitrox 32 was supplied to qualified guests at no extra cost. Once in the water, divers were always shadowed by one of Talas two Zodiacs for additional peace of mind.
Now all of this, plus the scooters, might make a Tala trip sound very technically orientated, but the tools were applied in a different way.
About half our number were dedicated single-cylinder divers, including 11-year-old Brad Williamson, who had learned to dive on this boat the previous year.
Through the week, under the tutelage of PADI instructor and guide Tired Dave, Brad became one of the most proficient scooter pilots aboard, making good use of them to cruise some shallow reefs.
Others enjoyed the twin-sets simply to extend bottom times in the 30m range, while others explored some deeper reefs and wrecks using all of the tools available. One practice employed on Tala meant using stage cylinders to extend bottom time or add a safety margin for single-cylinder divers.
After some basic tuition off the back of the boat, just about all those on board were using the 11-litre stage cylinders to make the most of some of the great wrecks we were diving in safety.
Additionally, as Tala does not allow air or nitrox diving below 30m, guests often used a stage cylinder of 25/25 (25% helium, 25% oxygen) for non-decompression diving.
This approach, it was explained, was to give guests the added clarity of thought that helium brings in the 30m-plus range and leave the back-gas cylinder virtually untouched for the whole deeper portion of the dive.
I thought this approach laudable and not a little bold. I am sure there will be some sharp intakes of breath on reading about recreational divers being allowed to use helium (we christened this techreational diving).
Mind you, I can just about remember when nitrox was the devil gas. Now you can learn to dive on it from the age of 10.
I think its a shame the 25/25 method is not used more widely. I have been doing it for some years at home in the 30m range, and I reckon its safer than dropping divers on wrecks such as the Thistlegorm with a single cylinder of air or nitrox. Time will tell whether this will be seen as pioneering or maverick, but the unilateral approach is likely to ruffle some feathers.

MIDWAY THROUGH THE WEEK, I was presented with the opportunity of exploring a newly discovered deep wreck that to that date had, I was told, been visited by only five divers.
You know its a special dive when the boat-owner wants to do it with you, so I went with Faisal and former training director of GUE, Andrew Georgitsis.
In 1994 the 7697-ton Al Qumar Al Saudi Al Masri had left Jeddah carrying 83 crew and 500 passengers when she caught fire and sank. Discovered and positively identified as recently as last August, the wreck lies on its starboard side in 83m of water south-west of Shag Rock and close to the shipping lane.
The sheer scale of the wreck as it came into view was breathtaking. It was the first time I have ever visited one on which both the bell and telegraph were still in place!
Despite needing to carry four stage and deco cylinders to complete the dive safely, thanks to the scooters we were able to tour the entire vessel and the forward holds in a single dive. At the end of our bottom time, the empty stages and scooters were shot to the surface on lift-bags for the inflatables to recover.
Another trip highlight involved scootering around the holds of the Thistlegorm and Rosalie Moller. The last time I visited these wrecks I was using standard single cylinders and had time only to see the main features briefly.
This time we were able to spend more than an hour exploring the insides and exteriors of these diving monuments.
What would have been a bounce dive around the top of the Rosalie Moller became a lengthy exploration, including even the lower engine-room.
Yes, you could do it on air (circa 43m) but in a tight space in the dark, give me helium any day.
The final big dive of the week was a poignant one. We chose to visit the Salem Express ferry, which sank in 1991 while carrying many hundreds of pilgrims returning from Mecca.
Swimming down the cargo hold filled with suitcases, bikes and personal effects was incredibly sobering, and felt more like strolling around a graveyard to pay ones respects than an exploration dive.
Its hard to believe the sheer amount we managed to fit into six days of diving. The Talas unique facilities and hard-working crew made this the best trip I have had in the Red Sea by some margin.
It is comfortable, and it has Internet access but if youre looking for hot tubs, forget it - this vessels special features are firmly centred around the dive deck.
The trip was well-priced but the extra gas and scooter rental did add up considerably, so be prepared for that.
I for one will find it hard to go back to a standard liveaboard after this trip.

Everybody uses scooters, but some divers use more stage tanks than others.
Exploring the wreck of the Marcus.
If you dont fancy the food, the chef will just rustle you up a bit of what you do fancy!
Is Tala the most hardworking liveaboard in the Red Sea
Chris Boardman


FLIGHTS: Direct flights to Hurghada are available from most major UK airports (transfer to port 10 minutes). For southern itineraries, you may need to fly to Marsa Alam (transfer 30 minutes).
WHEN TO GO: Any time, though summer can be very hot.
MONEY: Egyptian pound, credit cards.
PRICES: Red Sea Explorers ( offers trips aboard Tala, including transfers, for 750-900 euros, depending on itinerary. Prices for technical diving (gas and equipment) are competitive and available on request. Flights cost £200-£250.