Saturday, September 4, 2010

Southern Egypt Safari - First day

Today is the start of a new adventure. A week-long dive "safari" to the southern Egypt coast.

Yesterday I took a ride with, Itisik, a fellow from Mevaseret who also joins the safari. Turns out he is a roof-builder with a colorful history, some of it I knew by the time we got to Eilat. 

I collected my regulator that was left for maintenance in a dive shop in Eilat, and we went for a short dive to get ourselves wet.

Later that evening we met the rest of the group at the Taba border station. The group consisted of veteran divers, most of which did several safari's already and thus knew the drill. Our guide was Boaz who I knew from my first safari two years ago. 

Once we all were assembled, we started the procedure. This involved making sure everyone was present, had their equipment and medical insurance and such. Going through the Israeli part was easy. The Egyptian side was harder. We had to x-ray all of our stuff --- everyone had their own diving gear --- and random luggages were picked for inspection that included question about each item. Once through that we had to go through passport control where each passport was studied carefully before signature. It more than an hour but then we were through and joining our bus.

Here Itisik discovered that he can't find his car keys. He searched all of this pockets, luggage and belongings, and he guessed that he left them at our initial assembly point. Thereafter followed many phone calls to the Israeli side to see if they found them. In the mean time the Egyptian driver took our passports to get approval for a week-long stay. It was close to midnight before we took off.

Everyone dosed off on the bus and then we reached Sharem's Marina. Here we disemberked from the bus, loaded all of our stuff on carts and met the Sea Queen crew how helped us carry it over to the ship. Many of the crew I knew from my previous safari last year on the Sea Queen, and especially the chief divemaster, Piet, an austrian who worked as the local guide. On the ship we unloaded our dive gear and set it up, and then went to sleep.

I woke in the morning to find the boat still moored in the harbor. However, there was a nice surprise and we got our travel permit relatively quickly and started sailing. 

Boaz gathered us all on deck to give an overall overview of our plans and to give us general diving instructions.

The first leg was crossing of the Jubal Straits, the entery way to the Suetz channel. The wind in this area runs from north to south, which means that the waves travel the same way. We were going west and thus getting rolled from side to side by the waves. I was in my cabin setting up my camera, and for the first time in my life felt sea-sick. I rushed outside and made sure keep my eyes on the horizon. After a bit I felt much better, and made sure to stay on the deck.

Going back to look at my camera, I discovered that the o-ring sealing the flash batteries was not closed properly. The whole chamber was full of rust and vile looking stuff oozing from the batteries. I removed their remains and carefully cleaned the whole chamber. The flash is built so its internals are not connected to the battery chamber, and so there was hope. I cleaned the contacts of the batteries and dried the whole space with spray of compressed air. To my surprise, after the treatment the flash worked.

After few hours of sailing, we reached temporary stop for a dive at Um Gammar. We had our first dive orientation.

And into the water we went. 

This was a nice site with some pinnacles and structure. Once we got to the outside the current picked us up and we had to simply relax and let it carry us back to the boat.

Dive #1:Um Gammar, 200-30, 43:50 min, max 23.2m, avg 12.8m.

Once everyone was onboard, we went in to have a late lunch, and the boat started sailing again. This time down wind, and so the going was smooth. We sat on deck and enjoyed the wind and the sea.

By night fall we reached Middle Reef (Uh Hallala) across from Safaga. 

We went down for a night dive. I went with Ilan, an accomplished photographer. For some reasons my flash synchronization cable (and optic cable) got banged and stopped working. So I spent much of the dive trying to fix it. In general the area was promising but mostly covered by broken corals and rocks.

Dive #2: Um Hallala, 200-100, 44:00 min, max 13.1m, avg 9.1m.

Once again, once everyone was onboard the boat took off. We had dinner, a bit of whiskey, and then went to sleep. I decided to sleep on the deck. Since we were moving, I slept on the upper deck that has a protective rail. The moist air made the whole area wet. Avi came up and showed me some of the star configurations, and after he left I had no problems falling asleep.

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