Emperor Elite.

EMPEROR ELITE IS NOT THE BEST BOAT IN THE RED SEA. Emperor Divers has been long established with its well-thought-of dive centres in Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada, but it is only comparatively recently that the company has invested heavily in its own fleet of liveaboards.
Emperor was started by a group of English divers and an Egyptian partner who was educated in Britain and who was in some ways more English than any of the others. Its no wonder that the company has been such a success with British divers.
Starting with more modest vessels such as Emperor Pegasus, a boat that was only slightly upgraded from what we have come to expect from many diving day-boats, the owners of Emperor realised that liveaboards were where the real future lay in Red Sea diving, and took steps to redirect the companys strategy in that direction.
Now Emperor Fleet has nine vessels and it categorises these by class: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Emperor Elite is in the Gold class, which is why I can safely say that shes not the best boat in the Red Sea.
She is a wooden-hulled vessel, constructed to a standard of opulence that is becoming almost expected of any Red Sea liveaboard. She compares to similar vessels from rival operators such as blue o twos Blue Horizon and Blue Planets Blue Seas, and Emperor has three other vessels in the same class.
Accommodating 20 guests in nine twin-bedded cabins and one master suite, all with en-suite shower and toilet, Elites 38m hull gives a fairly stable ride and she has a fair turn of speed that can reach as much as 16 knots if the captain decides hes in a hurry. Thats almost twice as fast as some competing vessels.
On the public decks there are two saloons in which to relax, as well as the dining saloon, and of course there is a cocktail deck complete with what has now become the obligatory Red Sea liveaboard Jacuzzi. Above that, there is a spacious sun-deck.
The dive deck provides plenty of space in which the passengers can kit up, with their tanks permanently rigged with BC and regulator for the duration of the trip. Nitrox is provided by means of a membrane system.
Departing from either Hurghada or Port Ghalib near Marsa Alam, itineraries for Elite vary from the wrecks in the north and the offshore marine parks at the Brothers and Daedelus Reef to the far-flung reefs of St Johns and Fury Shoals.

EMPEROR MARKETS ITS FLEET DIVING operation throughout the world, and consequently accommodates the needs of divers who may not necessarily speak English. To this end it has a pool of multi-lingual dive guides available,
and these are moved around from vessel to vessel, according to the nationality of the guests.
Of course, all the dive guides speak English. For this reason it is difficult for British guests to anticipate which of the guides will be on one particular vessel for a particular charter. You either book the vessel you like to be on, or the itinerary you want to do.
In two consecutive charters on Emperor vessels, I found myself being looked after first by an English and a German guide, and then by a South American Spanish and a Polish guide.
Suffice to say that they were all totally professional, very experienced and extremely accommodating, and all seemed to understand, and tolerate, my often eccentric English sense of humour.
I went on Emperor Elite on a diving safari south from Marsa Alam and Port Ghalib to Fury Shoals and the St Johns area, close to the southernmost reaches of Egyptian waters.
This gave us access to well-visited sites such as Elphinstone Reef (named after Lord Elphinstone, Viceroy of India), where there is often the opportunity for a memorable encounter with an oceanic whitetip shark, or to glimpse schooling hammerheads out in the blue, and an equal opportunity to meet plenty of divers from visiting day-boats.
We then went on for a week at sea to places such as Shaab Maksour, and isolated sea-mounts such as Habili Jaffa, where you are unlikely to see another dive-boat.
A habili is an unborn reef, one that is still several metres below the surface at its shallowest point. These become a big attraction for both reef-based creatures and passing pelagic marine life, and they are always great sources of subjects for the underwater photographer.
Dangerous Reef (no-one knows how it got its name) is south of Zabargad and Rocky Island. It is virtually the last reef you will pass en route by sea to the Sudan. When the only other divers in the water are the ones with whom you travelled, the ocean becomes a big place.
Juan and Anika looked after me on my trip on Elite. Besides that, the Egyptian crew, ever respectful of greying hair, made sure I never had to struggle with my wetsuit or climbing into my kit, and were embarrassingly attentive when the time came for me to climb the ladder, pass up my heavy camera equipment, or transfer from one of the two inflatable tenders.
The same could be said of the pair of Ahmeds who worked as stewards in the dining saloon. Egyptians have a tradition of hospitality towards foreigners in their country that is reflected in extreme kindness.

IT WAS MIDSUMMER, a time when the normally prevailing north-westerly wind drops before a southern summer wind takes over. The effect was to leave the surface of the sea like glass and the air-conditioning on Elite severely tested.
All the passengers were accomplished divers, so after each briefing Juan and Anika were content to let them swim unsupervised in their buddy pairs.
Juans briefings were direct and to the point, while Anikas were softened by a bit of femininity. She seemed obsessed with getting a good shot of anemonefish, so on nearly every dive I would come across her concentrating hard with her little digital compact, trying to anticipate the random movements of little yellow fish as they darted around the tentacles of their host anemone.
She was disappointed when I told her that they werent actually Nemo fish. There are no true clownfish to be found in the Red Sea.
Big macho Juan had been given a digital compact by a passenger from a previous charter group and he too was hooked on the smaller side of life, always seeking out nudibranchs while the diver passengers looked for sharks.
We rarely encountered other divers on the reefs and habilis we visited, although everywhere was buzzing. Big schools of surgeonfish were full of males flaunting vibrant colours to impress the females. Groups of bright yellow goatfish hunted busily, while opportunistic jacks would change to a similar yellow colour to insinuate themselves among them and pick off unwary glassfish.
Other jacks would keep their silver paintwork and rely on high-speed manoeuvres to catch a meal. Lionfish hovered like spiky underwater wasps before accelerating forward in a moment to the same purpose.
One-spot snappers bunched up and tried to look like a single big fish. Moray eels grinned toothily from hideouts.
Squirrelfish circledunder overhangs and in small coral caves, looking guilty. Big porcupinefish did the same before bolting into the blue. Pairs of lemon-yellow butterflyfish hovered flamboyantly with itinerant bannerfish.
Coral grouper claimed their territory among the hard and soft corals and the ubiquitous fluttering anthiases.
The odd scorpionfish would have to make a sudden dash for it when a divers light revealed where it lay in ambush, while hawksbill turtles grazed on the soft coral unconcerned about the presence of we noisy air-bubblers. Meanwhile, pairs of octopuses put on shameless displays of heavy petting and worse!
Every diver had a late-deployment SMB, but they were never needed. The seas urface was so calm, and visibility so good, that the boat drivers had only to look down to see where the divers were.
Its quite easy to complete 20 or more dives in the space of a one-week charter. We usually had the option to do four dives each day.
Because our group was experienced, Juan and Anika extended the maximum duration for each dive to 70 minutes. Otherwise people were coming back with only half-empty tanks.

Crew are always on hand when help is needed.
A lionfish stalks its prey.
Not clownfish - anemonefish!


GETTING THERE: Fly from the UK direct to Marsa Alam.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: John Bantin travelled on Emperor Elite courtesy of Emperor Divers, www.emperordivers.com, and Dive Sportif, www.sportif-uk.com.
WHEN TO GO: Any time. The Red Sea is hot in summer and usually cool and windy in winter.
MONEY: Pounds (both Sterling and Egyptian) and US dollars are accepted on board for payment of drinks bills, ancillary diving courses, marine park fees and crew tips.
DIVING SUITABLE FOR: Liveaboard operators usually insist that divers have a certain amount of previous experience. The Egyptian government insists on it for visits to marine parks.
EQUIPMENT: Arrange rental through your tour operator in advance, but its best to take your own gear apart from tanks and weights.
PRICES: A one-week safari on Emperor Elite costs around £999 including flights, accommodation, meals and transfers.
FOOD: A wide selection of food is available on board and special diets can be accommodated if arranged in advance.
CLOTHES: Little additional clothing is needed. Towels and bathrobes are provided.
HEALTH: Egypt now has good hyperbaric facilities at major ports. Usual medical precautions should be taken. Rehydrants are recommended, and medical diving insurance is obligatory.

PRICE GUIDE - £s per day
(A) -£75 (B) £75-100 (C) £100-125 (D) £125-150 (E) £150-175 (F) £175+
Blue Fin (C*) www.blueotwo.com
Blue Horizon (C*) as above
Blue Melody (C*) as above
Colona V (A) www.colona.com
Dolce Vita (C) www.planetdive.co.uk
Dreams (C*) www.seaserpentfleet.com
Emperor Infinity (C)
Emperor Superior (C) as above
Excellence (D) www.planetdive.co.uk
Gelen (B) www.gelen-fleet.com
Golden Dolphin (C*)
Golden Emperor (A)
Golden One (A) www.divetours.co.uk
Grand Sea Serpent (D*)
Kawarty II (D*) www.kawarty.com
Miss Nouran (C*) www.seaserpentfleet.com
Obsession (D*) as above
Ocean Wave www.golden-dolphin.net
Rosetta (C*) www.blueotwo.com
Royal Evolution (C*)
Sea Serpent (D*)
Sea Wolf (A) www.seawolf-diving.de
Suzanna I (D*) www.suzanna-1.com
Tiger Lily (C) www.goldenjoydive.com

Hurghada/Marsa Ghalib
Blue Pearl (C*) www.oonasdivers.com
Blue Planet I (B) as above
Blue Seas (C) as above
Blue Waves (B) as above
Emperor Tranquillity (D)
Hurricane (C) www.scuba.co.uk
Lighthouse Miracle 1 (A)

Marsa Ghalib
Emperor Asmaa (B)
Emperor Elite (C) as above
Emperor Fraser (B) as above
Emperor Majesty (C) as above
Emperor Serenity (D) as above
Firebird (A)
Icebird (A) as above
Stormbird (A) as above
Tala (C ) www.redseaexplorers.com
Thunderbird (A)

Longimanus (B)


Sharm el Sheikh
Aisha (A) www.aquatours.com
Amelia (C*) www.blueotwo.com
Bella (B) www.scuba.co.uk
Cyclone (B) tornadomarinefleet.com
Dive Runner (D) www.diverunner.com
Diamond (B) www.planetdive.co.uk
Freedom III, IV, V & VIII (A)
Ghazala I & II (A) www.sinaidivers.com
Ghazala Voyager (B) as above
Hyatt (B) www.aquatours.com
Juliet (C) www.oonasdivers.com
King Sea Star (A)
King Snefro 3, 4, 5 & 6 (A)
Orchid (B) www.goldenjoydive.com
Oriana (A) www.aquatours.com
Panorama Sharm (C)
Queen Juliana (B) www.colona.com
Royal III (B) as above
Salma (A) www.aquatours.com
Sea Queen I, II & III (A)
Snapdragon (C) www.goldenjoydive.com
Tempest (C)
Typhoon (B) www.scuba.co.uk
VIP One (B) www.vipone.com
Wild Cat (B) www.redseadiving.com

Sharm el Sheikh/Hurghada
Sea Cruiser (A) www.crusadertravel.com
Whirlwind (B) www.scuba.co.uk