Sunday, September 5, 2010

Southern Egypt Safari - Second day

I woke up a bit after first light. There was a red band along the eastern horizon. I could see blue calm sea in all directions. I went down to the main hall and made myself a cup of coffee and then went up, past the captain on the bridge to the foredeck. I sat and watched the sea and the sky coming brighter and brighter. After few minutes Peit showed up and told me that in about 30 minutes we will arrive at Elphinston. The sun came up, as usual, surprisingly fast. After a while I saw a light green patch ahead. The boat slowed down and we started approaching the reef. 

Elfphnston is a long and narrow ridge just below water level running north to south, parallel to the current. The two long sides are very steep walls going to the abyss below. Since it is in the open water there is a good chance to see big open water fish around here. 

Our first dive started with a zodiac ride to the northern most point. The entry was a fast drop on to the "shoulder" of the reef at 40m. The reef here is narrow like a knife edge reaching from the bottom of the sea. We spent some time on the shoulder and then started going along the eastern outer wall. In theory this was supposed to be a drift dive, but the current was so weak that we barely felt it. 

We slowly went up along the wall.

There were a lot of whip corrals.

At some point the a big Napoleon fish, which we later saw again and again, came to check us out. It turned out that the fish likes to swallow bubbles the divers leave in their wake. And so it was patroling the reef back and forth untll it found divers to follow. 

When we exhausted our air, Peit raised a signal tube, and we went up to the water surface. The zodiac quickly showed up and picked us up.

Dive #3: Elphinston, 200-30, 37:40min, max 40.8m, avg 20.4.

When we came to the boat we heard that divers from the second group have seen a shark from afar when they entered the water. This gave us hope we will see more later on.

For the second dive we started again with the zodiac. This time we ventured into the blue water around the reef with the hope of seeing sharks. Few minutes into the dive we saw a very large baracuda that swam near by to check us out. We continued circling but did not see any additional large creatures. We returned to the reef and started going along the western wall. Piet recognized a school of large baracudas off in the distance to our right and I managed to get near them.

We then continued along the wall.
Toward the end of the dive my air was starting to go low, and so at some point I signaled to Peit that I am going up. I though I will continue by swimming above the group, but in 2 minutes the zodiac showed up and pulled me out of the water.

Dive #4: Elphinston, 200-10, 40:40 min, max 26.8, avg 15.8.

Since this was the second time that air was running out on me, I consulted with Piet, who suggested to switch to 15L tank. This is what I did for the rest of the safari.
After the second dive of the day we had a break. We all sat on the deck, looking at the sea and the reef. 

Avi was sleeping the chair next to me, and I read a book and after a while dozed off. I woke up to the shout of "Monster Shark" by Piet. Immediately everyone rushed to the foredeck to see what he was pointing at. By the time we got there we didn't see much. After few minutes we saw several dolphins passing next to the boat, on away from the reef. 

We frantically started getting ready to dive. I decided to save the effort of wearing a suit and dive only with lycra shirt (afterwards this was my default configuration). When we were almost all suited up and with gear on we saw the dolphins again, this time south of us. One of them was swimming upside down, and Piet said that this is an escape maneuver. I was the first to jump off the boat to the water. I hopped to see the dolphin and maybe a shark. However, except for blue water and many fish I didn't see anything. After a minute or so the Napoleon fish came to check whats up.

We grouped underwater and started looking for the dolphins. We swam out from the reef in their direction, but didn't find any. At that point we decided to return to the southern shoulder of the reef. Here the current was suddenly noticeable and we had to fight it to get around the corner onto the sheltered western face.

Dive #5: Elphinston, 200-40, 49:20min, max 28.3, avg 13.7.

We thought we were going to spend the night at Elphinston. However, we found out that the mooring here was not secure enough, as the boat could not anchor in the depths that surround the reef. We disengaged from the two ropes that tied us to the reef, and the captain took us to reef closer to shore where he could park. 

Avi, his colleague Ayelet and me decided to go for a late-afternoon dive. We took tanks and went down to explore the area. The reef was built on a collection of boulders and rocks, and formed interesting topographical shapes. It had lots of caves and passages, which was fun to explore.

Dive #6: Um Dabbab, 200-80, 48min, max 15.5m, avg 8.8m.

After we returned we rested a bit, and saw the sun set.

We then went out for a night dive. Here we were jointed by two more from our group. As usual in night dives, the aim was to find small objects of interest. 

One of them was a small cuttlefish that gave us a show of its capacity for changing colors and shapes.

Dive #7: Um Dabbab, 200-100, 44min, max 14.0m, avg 9.8m.

After dinner we sat on the deck. Unlike the previous night, we were moored and the engine was off, and so it was much quieter. Avi was solicited to give a lecture about the formation of the red sea, which to my surprise taught me new things about geology of oceans.

After a bit I went up to the upper deck. Since the boat was parked, it was not lighted like the night before, and I could see the stars much brighter. I was tired and fell asleep quickly.

No comments: