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South of the Sinai

by Mark Webster

Reproduced from in focus 9 (April 1985)

Having dived the Sinai peninsular several times in the time honoured safari fashion, I was extremely attracted to the idea of enjoying superb Red Sea diving from the comfort of a beach side hotel. The location was Safaga in Egypt. and the literature provided by the agent boasted excellent facilities for the diver photographer. The agent proved to be unreliable on several counts, but more of this later.

To reach Safaga you must fly to Hurghada via Cairo, and then transfer to the Safaga Beach Hotel by taxi. The hotel could be described as typically tourist, and the accomodation and meals were adequate. We discovered that it was in fact good by Egyptian standards, but fortunately you are not spoilt for choice - there is only one hotel at Safaga!

The diving centre is very much a part of the hotel, and is only a short stroll across the sand from the main building. It in ably and efficiently run by French instructors, and has a fleet of diving boats (of local design) which proved to be relatively stable diving platforms. The centre stocks a vast range of equipment, and can easily cover every need. However, you will be well advised to take all equipment except weights and tank, as hire prices are expensive. There is diving every day, weather permitting, with boats departing at 8.30a.m. and returning at about 5.30p.m.

All the dive sites are located offshore, to the north and south of Safaga. This feature is the greatest difference between the southern Red Sea and the Sinai peninsular, where the reefs and drop offs are found literally right on the shore. On the whole, the diving can only be described as superb. Those who visited the Sinai in the mid seventies will remember the delight of diving virgin and near perfect reefs. Well this experience is still available from Safaga. Everything from coral gardens, where the seabed is totally obscured by coral growth and masses of reef fish, to the spectacular drop offs, which can almost guarantee sightings of sharks, mentas, eagle rays, tuna etc. etc. The reason for these largely unspoiled sites is quite simply, there is only one dive centre at Safaga, and therefore the reefs have suffered far less abuse than the sites further north.

Our main interest is underwater photography, and although there were no disastrous drawbacks, things are not quite as implied in the brochure. A great play is made of the overnight processing facility, which at the time of our visit was simply not available. Equipment rental is also fairly limited. However, the biggest danger is the electricity supply! The Egyptians have the annoying habit of turning the power supply off during the night, no doubt assuming that it is not needed when people are sleeping'. So you are well advised to check your charging in the morning with a Voltmeter, and take a supply of alkaline batteries. Apart from the normal equipment hiccups, the natural facilities for photography are sensational, so take plenty of film (which incidentally can be stored in a refrigerator at the dive centre).

So all should be set for a near perfect diving holiday, but bewarel We booked a week's package through Sub Explorers / Explorers Ltd, only to find that the company had failed to pay its bills with the hotel, and had cancelled all cheques presented by the hotel. Unpleasant arguments between us and the,owner of the hotel ensued, and resulted in us paying for the accomodation a second time. This incident is still now dragging on, and we have been forced to take proceedings against Herbert Sylge of Sub Explorers to retrieve our initial payment. Despite several assurances that a cheque had been posted, nothing has materialised, and frankly I find that sort of behaviour unscrupulous. So the moral is to choose your agent very carefully, or make your own arrangements, as an incident of this sort can severely mar a potentially perfect holiday.

Should anyone require further information on diving at Safaga, please do not hesitate to contact me. Mark Webster, PHOTEC, 13 Clifton Terrace, Falmouth, Cornwall. TRII 3QQ. Tel. 0326 318307

Reproduced from in focus 9 (April 1985). with kind permission of Mark Webster (http://www.photec.co.uk/)


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