Thursday, September 9, 2010

Southern Egypt Safari - Sixth day

I woke up late, the sun was already up and I could see it over the rail of the upper deck. I turn around and went back to sleep another half-hour. 

About the time I woke up and went downstairs to brush my teeth, Piet went around making wakeup calls. We assembled on the deck and prepared to dive.

We took the zodiac to the second wreck on the other side of the reef. This time we went down to the Carnatic, an old wooden ship that sank almost 140 years ago. This was one of the earliest wrecks here, simply because it sank soon after the opening of the Suetz channel and the establishment of this route as a main route from Europe to the East.

The ship was broken in half after beaching on the reef, and the two halfs are sitting along the side of the reef. Much of the wood remained more or less intact and is totally covered in corals, giving the ship a very special atmosphere. Although most of the deck is gone, much of the frame of the ship is there, and can be navigated freely. 

The cargo of the Carnatic was people, mail, and supplies. There were many bottles of wine on board, and remains of many of them are found around here.

The bow of the ship had a series of halls to hold part of the forward mast. This served as an ideal photo op spot.

We then returned back along the ship's hull, and run into Boaz's group going the other direction.

We said goodbye to the ship and moved off to the blue to get picked up by the zodiac.

Dive #21: Carnatic, 200-50, 48:50min, max 24.1m, avg 16.5m.

After the dive we had breakfast, and then the captain took off, and we started crossing the Gubal straits. Although the sea looked calm in the morning, the actual crossing was very windy and rocky. I sat on the deck trying to relax, and at some point realized that my regular glasses are not in the pocket of my shirt (I keep one pair on and the other in the pocket so can switch when going inside/outside). We searched the deck for a place where they might have fallen out, but didn't find them. For the rest of the trip I worse sunglasses, even at night (to the surprise and joy of the crew).

During the trip I tried to fix the flash optic cable that was causing me problems in the last few dives, and felt that I successfully solved the problem.

After two hours of rough crossing we reached a reef on the other side. It is one of the outer barrier-like reef along south western Sinai. The reef called Shag Rock. The tide was extremely low and the whole top of the reef was exposed. We even saw someone who was walking on the reef, apparently collecting sea food.

We took a long zodiac ride to the north side of the reef. There lays the wreck of the Kingston, an old cargo ship. The whole group was on the zodiac, and so we were crowded and heavy on the water. I tried to take a picture and realized that the flash was not firing again. 

We explored the ship a bit, going forward. During that time I got my scissors out, shortend the flash cable and reinstalled it, with the hope of fixing the problem, but alas it did not. 

We had to fight our way to get to the rear of the ship, where we saw a large moray eel (which I could not photograph due to faulty flash).

Once we started going along the reef, we immediately hit a very strong current, and started drifting along. This was our first serious drift dive in the safari, and we all tumbled along with the current, enjoying the scenery flashing by. At some point Boaz held to a rock to check that everyone is ok, and it was amazing how hard it was for him to stay in that one place and how fast he passed by.

And so we hang back, and let the current do the work.

When we came around to the other side of the reef the current slowed and we got to watch the various creatures along the reef.

Toward the end we stayed a bit to take in the magnificent view. But the end we started to feel cold. This was also the last dive where I wore only lycra shirt. 

Dive #22: Shag Rock 200-30, 65:30min, max 18m, avg 9.1m.

After the dive we lifted anchor and sailed to the Thistlegrom. This is a british military cargo ship that was sank by german bomber during WW2. It is considered one of the best wreck dives in the world. It sits in on a boating lane without reef around it, and so the current can be strong. It is a popular destination and so one of the problems is the large number of divers on it. We thought that arriving in the afternoon will let us dive after the daily boat operators will leave and then again in the morning before they return. 

When we got to the Thistlegrom there were two boats moored above it. Piet had to dive three times to tie us to the actual wreck. We had lunch and then rested a bit before diving. At that point two additional boats arrived and we watched them moore as well. It was clear that we are not going to be alone there during the night.

Since Piet did a crazy dive to tie the boat, we went down as one big loosely organized group with Boaz. The descent is by following the rope from the boat rear all the way the down. The visibility was quite poor and there was a bit of current. Again, the flash did not work once I was in the water. Once we were down, Boaz collected all of us and started going into the cargo halls. 

The ship was loaded with military supplies for the British campaign in Africa, and many of the halls were packed with trucks and on them various supplies. The first truck we saw was carrying rubber boots. The next one had three BSA motercycles, so were the next two trucks. Then we saw a truck with motorcycle side-cars. Some of the cargo was hard to recognize after it was rusted and built a large layers of corals. We saw stuff that looked like engine parts, guns, and cables.

We got to the front of the ship we turned and returned along the deck. There were big train cars on the deck. Some were totally intact, and other smashed in the explosion that sank the ship. We reached the rope and made our way slowly up. Since this was a long and deep dive, we took extra care to make short "deep stops" on the way up (you can see the nice the ladder on the end of the dive profile).

Dive #23: Thistlegrom, 200-10, 50:00min, max 27.4m, avg 19.2m.

After the dive we went for a rest. I did a thorough diagnosis of the optic cable, which showed that the problem was on the camera end of things. I secured that part in place and double checked that now everything is ready to work again. 

There was doubt as to whether it was wise to go for a night dive. The worry was that the current was stronger now, and if we get carried away no one will notice us. We decided to go for the dive but take it safely. We went Ayelet, Avi, Ilan (the photographer) and me. We went down the rope from the boat's rear onto the middle part of the wreck. The current was strong, but not too strong. We then explored the decks and some of the cargo halls. At one point we saw a group from one of the other boats. They were going through the lower floor and had flashing sticklights and big torches. The effect was a total discotek. 

My flash didn't work again, so I resigned to hold my camera tight and just explore. We saw a blue spotted ray, and many fish. We reached the front of the wreck and at the anchor point found a rope that also led to our boat. We started going up and immediately were hit by a strong current. The water was teaming with fish that all were facing like us against the current. We slowly went up and this we got to the bow of our boat. There there was a rope that connected with the rear. We "walked" along this rope hand after a hand against the current. This stage was the toughest, but we made it without problems and back on the boat.

Dive #24: Thistlegrom, 200-50, 39:00min, max 24.4m, avg 14.9m.

After dinner we convened on the deck and the chef brought a cake to celebrate the end of the safari. I was dead-tire and did not stay for the ensuing short party.

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