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Red Sea visit

by Jenny George

Reproduced from in focus 4 (June 1984)

Israel

A group of five BSoUP members (Brian and Linda Pitkin, David and Jenny George and Peter Funnell) with five other divers, left Gatwick airport on 25th April for the Sinai desert, Aquamarine and the Red Sea. There had been rumours and articles written about the hazards of the border crossing, deterioration of the facilities in the Sinai etc. and we were prepared for all eventualities. We had been told emphatically that Monarch Airliner were very strict on weight (2OKg total hand and hold baggage) -impossible for underwater photographers. However by throwing out clothes (who needs them?), surplus diving gear and taking no camera spares, David and I managed to get our baggage down to 45Kg - by filling our large anoraks with four Nikonos camera bodies, flash guns, close-up kit and batteries galore. Happily our hand baggage was not weighed as the plane was not full, and once through check-in all 'anorak gear' was quickly transferred to the half empty bags.

From Ovda airport, near Eilat, we were taken in a coach with the party of 16 for the Lady Jenny V to the border at Taba. At the Israeli side there was a long wait and an even longer one on the Egyptian side. People staying for longer than one week had to change 150 dollars into Egyptian pounds, which took time, but the delay was really due to the large number of divers. We arrived at Aquamarine in the early hours of the morning and were told that we could only stay one night as they had 10 divers arriving in the morning - which fortunately turned out to be us. Eventually things were sorted out and we 'fell' into the straw rondelles (David and I did not the first night, but that is another story).

The diving at Aquamarine is being run very efficiently by two Belgians, Alan Sobol and Claude Antoine, ably helped by Bob Johnson (the silver-suited star of Mike Portelly's film 'Ocean's Daughter'). Vic Verlinden from Belgium was spending two months there also -he recently gained the 'Underwater Photographer of the Year' Award at the Antwerp festival in December 1983, winning gold medals in the Audio-Visual and Portfolio sections.

It was the end of the main season at Aquamarine and we were the only group of divers and consequently could dictate the diving sites. There was the occasional French or Belgian diver, but they seemed happy to come along with us. Apart from the 2~12 days we spent on the boat 'Tom', diving was from the shore and we had two long dives per day - morning and mid-afternoon. We visited the familiar sites of Ras Um Sid and the Tower, but also went to several new sites in the Sharm area. We visited Ras Muhammed on two occasions by boat, and also spent two days as Ras Nasrani (Whale Bay and the old buki camp) where we had a night dive.

The diving was as good as ever with very little plankton (the u/w photographer's nightmare) present in the water. Large fish seemed more plentiful than I remember and the hard and soft corals were in excellent condition. Highlights of the diving for me were seeing the rare small Ghost Pipe Fish at the Near Garden, the Manta Ray at Fisherman's Wall, the large fish (Puffer, Queen Angel, Barracuda, Crocodile Fish ... ) at Ras Muhammed (sharks were not abundant!) and meeting Lawson Wood underwater on the wreck 'Yolande at Ras Muhammad (he was down with the Lady Jenny V group who swam quickly past, bubbles ascending). The Ras Muhammed area is now also a marine reserve. We spent one evening talking to the new Egyptian warden. The Egyptians are planning to set up a museum and other facilities outside the reserve; the diving centres do their best to stop people collecting and spoiling the reefs, but Bob told us horrific tales of Italians smashing up the corals with hatchets and Israelis spear fishing and we saw a group of French divers cleaning shells collected at Tiran Island at Aquamarine.

The facilities at Aquamarine could be better - the Egyptians do not bother to sweep out the rondelles (and they get very dusty) and we had to 'nag' to get the sheets changed after one week' The toilets and showers were rarely cleaned and the water usually went off from midday to ten at night. We used to leap into the large freshwater tank at Aquamarine ' (which was filled in the morning) after the cameras and diving gear had been washed. The food proved better than Peter had experienced on his previous visit in Novmber when he lost lbs in weight'. Also two 'Brits', Adrian and Caroline Akroyd have opened the'Wreckers Bar' next door and we ate there quite often. They had struck a deal with the Egyptians so that guests at Aquamarine could have the Plat du Jour at no extra cost.

Photographically the trip was reasonably successful with no dire casualties to equipment. It was certainly eventful

.... the BSoUP newsletter editor dropped both cameras when jumping from the 'Tom' one day.. also went in three times without his weightbelt ... and then super glued two fingers together when repairing a camera'. 'Surgeon George' plunged both fingers into hot water, which made him jump a bit, and then cut them apart with a scalpel - it seemed funny to the rest of us but was quite nasty for the victim....

.... the BSoUP president lost his 15 mm lens cap aboard the 'Tom' and after everyone spent ages looking for it, taking up floorboards etc, he found it in his dive bag!

.... the 'elder statesman' of the group cut his forehead with his flash gun and then went around with a 'caste mark' of mercurichrome for days afterwards, always ready to dab the 'cut parts' of female anatomy with the red stuff also....

.... the BSoUP Beginner's Trophy winner 1983 lost a close-up rod....

.... the President's wife took the first six shots of a film (extension tube set up) with the lens cap on

.... the newsletter editor (yes, him again) wore a pink leotard....

.... and Moja (Bob's monkey) was always picking up camera gear and bikini tops....

Altogether it was a very enjoyable trip made more so by the superb diving and the good company. One can forget the poor facilities at the 'hotel', and the long waits at the border (yes we had trouble on the way back as we had not gone to the police station at Sharm to get more stamps on our passports after one week)

I cannot wait to go backl


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