Appeared in DIVER January 2006

I love liveaboards

Why is a life on the Red Sea wave so intoxicating Mike Ward reveals all in his diary of a week-long expedition





LORD, BUT IT WAS EARLY WHEN I GOT UP, 2am, and I was tired. Id had a lousy week, three 16-hour days with more than 1000 miles driven on top, and now I had a four-hour drive to Gatwick.
The Remedial Learning section of a dive club especially for fat people with beards, tattoos and irritating nasal voices was already at check-in (please let them be on another boat!), and the nice lady from Airport Security insisted on emptying my hand-luggage for a fingertip search.
If only shed attended the part of the course that covered repacking the bag.
The flight boarded on time, hooray! And was then delayed by an hour.
No worries. I could have slept on a washing line but was woken somewhere mid-Med when the lady next to me realised that she was at the limit of her bladder capacity.
Three hours with my chin on my chest left me with a neck so stiff we were over Marsa Alam before I could look at anything right way up. So I was just in time to see the huge swell and the galloping white horses.
The last leg was a three-hour transfer further south, and for my comfort and convenience the bus-driver cranked up the volume of his Egyptian technopop, getting revenge in advance for the lack of a tip.
Deafened, sore of neck and all but asleep on my feet, I finally boarded the liveaboard and headed for the upper deck with a glass of half-decent duty-free Merlot decompression fluid.
It is desirable to get in a little early decompression to avoid excessive stops when tired and bored at the end of a long dive.
By ell, but it were windy up there.

Day One
Set out from Hamada after breakfast, straight into the swell and the white horses. The boat rolled and pitched and yawed, often all three at the same time, and some of the guests were a bit poorly. In some cases, noisily poorly.
Ah, well, thatll be the south Red Sea in November for you.
Anyway, we reached the first dive site without capsizing, always a bit of a relief, and tumbled into the water.
We were in Fury Shoal, an immense patch of reefs just a few miles offshore, and the weather meant that we would be there for the week along with a load of other boats. Think Tescos car park on a Saturday morning. My heart was in my boots, but there were no other divers in the water.
It being windy November, I had to de-kit with a wind like a sharp, icy blade slicing through to the bone, until I twigged that there was always one side of the boat out of the wind and relatively warm in the sunshine.
Of course, the rest of the team worked this out as well, and by the end of the week you could find 13 of us struggling to occupy the same 3sq ft, but at least we stayed warmer.
The owner briefed us on the next dive, explaining that a guest must experience the feelings that make a destination unique. If you dont, he said, you might just as well dive in an aquarium at home.
Feelings Hells teeth, old lad, were rufty-tufty, hairy-arsed British divers, tha knows, not some sort of namby-pamby, touchy-feely holiday chorus line!
On the other hand, and in diving there is no shortage of other hands, perhaps he had a point. Back home in Scotland, Martin dives an Inspiration on trimix to 80m-plus just about every weekend of the year. Real hardcore, he is, but get him started on rebreathers and feelings pour out of him.
If ever I try a rebreather, itll be because he convinced me that theyre a Good Thing.
Come dive two, and six cameras hit the water. Not too long ago, me and my Nik V would be the only photographically enabled pair on the boat, but now everyone seems to have a digital camera and a laptop, although Lynn won the techno race with a dead swish Sony.

Day Two
Settled to a routine, now. Briefing, kit-up, dive, de-kit, see to camera, nap. Lynn, Maggie and Carina are convinced that the ability to sleep without dropping your book, or even losing your page, is an exclusively male talent.
They also seem convinced that this is the only talent men have. I dont mind sexist humour - Im a bloke, I dont understand it - and I have to admit that they didnt dive too badly for girlies.
First dive today was a proper wall on the eastern end of Shaab Sataya. At 30m, the water was clear, cool and calm. Time slowed down, and I could just toddle along, or bimble if I preferred. This time there were nowt to be seen down there, but I kept looking into the blue, just in case.
I was starting to feel a bit chilly after 75 minutes in the water. BSAC John suggested I could avoid this by surfacing somewhat sooner. Hes been diving for 30 years, so has the experience to lend credibility to this sort of suggestion, but Im from Yorkshire. Im not cutting my dives short until they give me a rebate on unused air.
I suppose I could buy myself a thicker wetsuit, but theres years of wear left in this one. Besides,I have a cunning plan for tomorrow!

Day Three
I kitted up with my shortie over my wetsuit, and a good thing, too, as we dived the Playground twice.It aint deep, it aint challenging, but it is a cracker.
The briefing was concluded with an invitation to the guests to get lost! This meant enjoy the site and forget about navigation, because wherever we surfaced in this small coral patch, the RIB would pick us up.
On this liveaboard experienced divers are encouraged to take charge of their own diving, which includes photographers diving solo. New dive guides sometimes struggle with this, but are soon converted to the Dark Side.
The night dive today was hell. Not surprising, really, with seven boats crammed tight together inside the eastern tip of Shaab Sataya.
Our tall, red-haired Ukrainian dive guide did her best to find out who was diving when and put us in at a different time, but at the last minute an extra boatload of foreigners steamed up, and they all piled into the water carrying floodlamps fed from the Egyptian national grid.
As the third one shone a torch into my eyes, presumably to attract my attention to whatever poor marine critter hed already blinded, a plan formed in my mind. Later that night, two of us slipped quietly into the water and attached timed charges to the hull of their boat.
We didnt really, I made that up, but Lynn would have been up for it had her eyesight recovered in time.

Day Four
This morning, Carina wet the bed. To be fair, she had shut the porthole, just not dogged it tight. The sea surged in as we pitched and rolled through a particularly mountainous early-morning swell.
Maggie, on the lower bunk, saw a waterfall pouring over the lip of the upper berth. Both of them lay still for a while, curling away from the water, and trying to think of a way to tell us more experienced old sea-dogs without having the wossname taken.
They neednt have worried. BSAC John simply broke out the expedition Tesco Value Ginger Nuts to cheer them up, and the rest of us pitched in with offers of sleeping accommodation. After all, no-one should have to sleep on the wet patch.
Still chilly, I added my hood. Cue general amusement as it was pointed out that the colours clashed a bit. Well, I may not have been the co-ordinated vision in yellow and blue presented by the person of indeterminate sex on the gay-boat moored next to us at Shaab Maksour, but at least I was warm. And I can do a stride entry without needing medical attention afterward.
Sorry, I meant day-boat.
Talking of visions, Jon, a US fireman currently based out in Kuwait, was taken by a little hotty on the next boat. Following a discussion in comparative linguistics, we realised he meant totty, but what can you expect from colonials
This was one of two sites on which we saw other divers under water, and there were hordes of em. In fact, I saw more boats in the south in November than I saw in back-to-back northern liveaboard safaris in July.
Sean, whose dad taught him to dive as soon as he was big enough to carry a cylinder, had done the deep south years back, and he was amazed at how many boats there were.
We dived the wreck of the Tienstin, a little tugboat that moored up on Abu Galawa Kebir on the way from who knows where to someplace else.
Then it sank. For our liveaboard owner, the wreck is an example of death, rebirth and the miraculous power of Mother Nature to rebuild.
So miraculous is it that you have to look hard to spot the bit where the wreck starts and the reef stops.

Day Five
I noticed as we kitted up that them as ad em ad oods on. Told you all so.
Our dive guide loves Shaab Claudia. She had had a lousy, head-all-bunged-up-with-no-chance-of-diving cold all week, but was determined to get wet here. She explained that all sites get samey after the umpteenth dive, so you have to see them differently to keep the experience fresh.
If you dont, its time to find a new way to make a living. Shaab Claudia was the site where she realised this, and the site she learned to see in a new way.
She woke to the roughest seas of the trip and hit the water to find UK-like viz. Not Stoney at Easter, granted - the only dive-site in the world that has negative viz - but definitely Farne Islands in August. She did 20 minutes in the water, then didnt even talk about diving again for the rest of the trip.

Day Six
The last day always arrives so fast. Our last two dives were on a lovely little site where I spent more than two hours not getting a good picture of a fairy basslet while the rest of the team saw two turtles and a shoal of barracuda. My choice where I went, however. Individual responsibility cuts two ways...
Then all we had to do was hang the wet kit on the rails to dry overnight. BSAC John lost a bootee.
We reckoned it was the wind, but his version was that somewhere in the oceans of the world there is a mermaid searching for the diver with a foot just the right size to fit.
Yeah, right, and youll recognise her if you see her - shell be the one with the nose-clip.

Back home
As soon as I get saved up, Im going back.


Yacht wreck at Abu Galawa

Healthy reef in the southern Egyptian Red Sea


scribbled leatherjacket

giant clam



GETTING THERE: Charter flights to Marsa Alam in Egypt leave regularly from London and Manchester.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION : Mike Wards trip was aboard Coral Queen, which sank during last year but has been refitted and is about to be relaunched.
MONEY : Egyptian pounds, US dollars, credit cards
WHEN TO GO : Year-round. Summer is very hot and there may be winds at any time.
COST : Oonasdivers can organise a weeks diving on Coral Queen from£790, which includes flights, airport tax, fees, meals and diving (01323 648924, www.oonasdivers. com)