Caroline Vitalini reports on a trip back to old stomping grounds in the Egyptian Red Sea aboard Tornado Marine Fleet’s Hurricane
We’ve all got those friends you’ve not seen for many years. A reunion sounds like fun, but what if they’ve changed? What if things aren’t as good anymore? I felt a bit like this at the prospect of diving Daedalus, Rocky and St Johns this year.
In my time as a Red Sea dive guide, I was lucky enough to log hundreds of dives in the Southern Red Sea. I have so many magical, happy memories from these sites. My first manta was seen here. I was in awe at schooling sharks. My first cavern dives were in Fury Shoals. The whole itinerary is steeped in dive history for me. But it’s been a good 11 years since I was last there. What if the diving today didn’t live up to the memories? My excitement to return to Hurricane was tempered by these concerns, niggling at the back of my mind, when I stepped on board last week.
I needn’t have worried.
May and June must be hands down the best months to dive the southern Red Sea. Okay, maybe I need to qualify that a bit. They have been, in my experience, the best months for manta sightings and often for hammerheads too. I admit, the adrenaline rush of oceanics later in the summer is quite something – and for many divers, the zenith of the Red Sea calendar. Threshers and silkies tend to be better in the winter months. I’ve travelled much farther to find both shark species… and had less success when I think of it! But there’s something about spring that brings the twin delights of rays and sharks together. After the dark winter months of the UK, to jump in with playful and curious pelagics is a sheer joy.
Daedalus was on fire. The water around the north tip was thick with plankton and we had virtually no current. A school of around six hammerheads cruised in to check us out, slowly passing by. Yet the mantas really stole the show. Mantas are always a bit hit and miss in the Red Sea. You just need to be in the right place at the right time. No denying it – that place in May is Daedalus. We must have seen at least five individuals, from a small one-metre to a whopping three-metre-plus, from 30m to 5m. Within the first six minutes of one dive we had seen a grey, two threshers, hammerheads and manta. I almost got out. Glad I didn’t though. The manta would swoop in, barrel roll in front of the divers and then swoop off again. A single hammerhead tried to get in on the action, cutting in between the manta and divers. ‘Look at me’, she cried, ‘I’m cool too!’ A dive buddy of mine has logged several thousand dives around the globe, but on that single dive saw most of the big fish that had thus far eluded him. It was with a heavy heart that the boat left Daedalus to carry on our itinerary.
If like me you are an ardent reef diver, it really doesn’t get much better than Zabargad, St Johns and Fury Shoal. The hard-coral pinnacles at Zabargad are breath-taking. I could spend hours in the coral gardens in Fury Shoal, especially Abu Galawa Soraya. Hard corals are supposed to be that bit extra sensitive to adverse conditions. By the condition of the Southern Red Sea, she is in amazing health! Blues, yellows, greens, surrounded by fusiliers, banner and butterflyfish and of course vast clouds of anthias. As we drifted down the walls of St Johns, swathes of anthias and glassfish floated around you, only to suddenly dart into the wall as the trumpetfish raced in on the hunt for lunch.
Jump in at St Johns caves and be sure to spend a few minutes with the resident Napoleon. Their eyes fascinate me, watching you from every angle. We did several sites where you have ‘cave’ dives. They aren’t really caves in the true sense, but more caverns where the reef has cracked open. For someone like myself with a camera, the rooms of dark and light are a playground. Our small group of photo-mad divers didn’t tend to go very far and buddy Brian was an ever-patient model here! Blue-spotted stingrays dart across the bottom while hatchet fish lurk in the gloom. I think these were some of the most-popular dives of the week… after the mantas.
Hurricane is always a delight to dive from. Her steel hull really does make the sailing so much more comfortable. We had good weather, and there was barely a roll as we ate enroute between sites. She’s easy to get on and off and the two zodiacs are some of the most generous I’ve come across in the Red Sea. But, as every diver really knows, it is the crew that makes a trip work and my thanks go to all the crew, guides and captain. From Adel and Wahid, our guides, to Samir in the saloon and Red, the all-important chef… some of these were familiar faces, having worked with Tornado Marine Fleet for many a year. Others were newer recruits to the team. But all welcomed us with a genuine smile and could not have worked harder to cater for our every need. Let’s not forget the dive deck team. The zodiac drivers were brilliant and ever present, and I never put my fins on myself once.
At the end of the week, I had once again fallen well and truly for the charms of the southern Red Sea. It’s the range of diving that keeps me coming back for more. From the biggest sharks and rays at one location, to hunting for nudis in a colourful coral garden. The happy thoughts of the dives kept me smiling all the way back to Gatwick.
There are still some places left on Hurricane this year, so if you fancy an amazing diving adventure, get yourself booked on!