Diving - A whole new world!
Go straight to my latest diving experiences.
My scuba diving experience started in 2009 when our hotel in Cyprus displayed a sign reading "Try scuba diving for free in our pool" - Sounded like fun and the price was right, so I made a point of being at the hotel when the Latchi Watersports Centre people arrived.
They were friendly and helpful and it was fun to breath underwater, but although I enjoyed it, I let it slip from my mind for a day or two until Mandy suggested Lauren and I go and have a 'try dive' in the sea (the aim of the Dive Centre's free introduction).
We watched a half hour video, had some basic safety steps explained to us (how to retrieve a lost mouthpiece, using a spare from another diver and how to clear a flooded mask amongst others) and then hopped in a small boat and motored to the Blue Lagoon on the North West coast.
We did the James Bond style roll back into the sea and there we were scuba diving!
We swam around for 30-35 minutes in about 10m max of water, but it was great and, despite two very brief moments where I had to tell myself that it was perfectly OK, you CAN be breathing underwater, whilst my instincts were saying "GET TO THE SURFACE!!!", I came away thinking "Why have I never done this before?" and "How can I do it again?".
The answer to the latter was to do a PADI Open Water course and over the next year, I explored various options, including doing some or all of the course in the UK, traveling back to Cyprus or maybe taking a summer family holiday in the Red Sea.
All fell by the wayside for reasons of cost, extreme temperature and because I broke my leg skiing in April 2010.
However, by October 2010, my leg was well on the way to full recovery and I had my full allocation of holiday leave accrued and needed to take a few days off, if only to ensure I didn't lose any holiday entitlement.
At that point I decided I was going to go to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt to learn to dive.
It would be unfair to say my family greeted my decision to go with wholehearted enthusiasm, but as the only complaint was I wasn't taking any of them (and they'd all been away over half term without me), I decided life was to short to live it for other people (rather belatedly) and booked my trip and course, the latter, on recommendation from a colleague, with the Red Sea College.
The following is a brief diary of my trip.
I was up at 6AM to drive to Gatwick for a 10AM flight.
My car was collected promptly by the parking people and it was a smooth, if busy, check-in for the Thomas Cook flight.
I had time for a quick look around the shops and a bacon butty for breakfast and bought some food for the journey (Thomas Cook charter flights don’t include food in the price even when the flight is 4.5 hours long, but it didn’t seem any better than any other cheap airline food so no loss and more than I paid for the stuff I bought in Boots).
The flight left on time and we crossed Alps, which looked glorious, and then down over Italy heading for the Med, then down past Cairo to the Sinai Peninsula.
To pass the time, I watched a film on my netbook and finished reading my PADI Open Water Manual.
The airport at Sharm was fairly chaotic, although you get processed through according to travel company and as I’d booked online I was whisked out of the very long Thomas Cook line and processed through quickly.
Given the arrival hall chaos, the luggage handing was remarkably smooth and I had my case quickly, but the transfer buses seemed even more chaotic than the arrivals lounge. Eventually, we set off for the hotel, dropping others off at various grand looking hotel complexes.
The Badawia, by contrast was very small and in the area of the main town (although quite far from the shopping centre). I guess it had been rather good once and it has a peaceful ambiance, but it’s in need of an upgrade, my bathroom looking decidedly tired. However, the reception, pool area and restaurant seemed quick nice and my room was a decent sized twin, which was fine just for me.
I had dinner, which was tasty, local food served in a buffet and then retired early as I knew i had an early start.
Friday 5th November
The bus from the Red Sea College arrived almost exactly on time for the estimated 7:35 pickup and 20 minutes later I was in Naama bay. There was quite a lot of form filling and hanging around, but eventually I was introduced to my Instructor, Ahmed, and my fellow students (two Young Finnish brothers, Janni and Garry, who spoke remarkably good English). We spent the next 3 hours watching training videos and then another hour going over the scuba equipment, how to assemble it and connect the air to the BCD, etc and then Ahmed described the exercises we’d carry out to demonstrate the skills we had to master on Confined Water Dive 1,2 and 3.
Finally, we got into the water for about an hour and carried out all the exercises to demonstrate the skills. This was quite hard work. We were close to the shore in about 3m of water, but as the bottom was sandy, we stirred it up quite a bit and sometimes it was difficult to see Ahmed clearly enough as he demonstrated what we had to do. It was also difficult, I found, to remember what all the various hand signals meant, but in the end we all demonstrated the required skills.
Whilst completing the 200m swimming test, I spotted numerous large, blue and yellow fish, which bode well for the sea life we’d see on the Open Water dives.
We disconnected, washed and packed all our scuba equipment and Ahmed asked us to complete the Knowledge Reviews in our Dive Manuals for Sections 1-3 for the next morning.
By now it was 3:30 and, having had no lunch, an early start and a long flight the previous day I felt shattered. (My two classmates commented that they’d been similarly tired when we met up the following morning and had gone to bed early, so I didn’t feel such an old wreck!).
I had to wait until about 6:00 before the shuttle bus returned me to the Badawia .I could’ve taken a taxi and Ahmed even offered me a lift, but I decided to use the time to look around (originally they’d said the bus would go at 5, but I later found out it is dependent upon boats returning with divers from various dive sites.)
I wandered around the resort centre (town would be the wrong word) of Naama Bay, looking at the fake watch shops, the seemingly unending perfume shops (one of which I was lured into by the very pushy, but very friendly sales people only narrowly escaping without spending money on stuff I didn't want!) and the various other shops – a sneaky trick they play is asking you to come into their shop to sign their ‘guestbook’ for good luck!
Finally I got back to Badawia about 6:45, had a very disappointing shower (luke warm and lacking pressure) and then wandered over for dinner which took a very similar form to the previous night’s.
My fellow guests seemed to be mainly Russians (some rather Soviet looking, others quite elegant) and some, mostly fat, older British couples (although people later seemed to come and go all the time and the weekend was to bring in quite a lot of younger people from Northern England).
After dinner I tried to complete my Knowledge Reviews and was mightily glad I’d read the manual in the weeks before my course, but even then I could only complete 2 before near exhaustion over took me.
Oddly I awoke in the night shivering and with a sharp pain in my right side. I got a blanket out of the cupboard and managed to go back to sleep eventually, but in the morning, even though the pain had gone I felt extremely tired.
Saturday November 6th
Ahmed had predicted a fairly relaxed second day and it turned out to be a short one rather than a particularly relaxed one.
None of us had completed all our knowledge reviews, so we spent an hour or so watching the final two training videos and then Ahmed spent another hour explaining the Recreational Dive Planner tables, which was actually my favourite part of the classroom training as I hadn’t got to grips with it beforehand and we got the chance to do some thinking and working out, rather than simply being bombarded with information.
Once this was completed, Ahmed asked if I minded taking the next day off as my two classmates and their family were going to Cairo for the day. As I was still feeling pretty tired, I thought it seemed a pretty good idea as I didn’t really fancy tacking the Open Water dives feeling as tired as I did.
We spent about 40 minutes in the sea, practising flipper tip pivots, hovers, removing and replacing weight belts and scuba equipment and going over the CESA (Controlled Emergency Safe Assent) and a few other skills to complete our confined water exercises, next time we dived we’d be in the Open Sea.
I had a tuna sandwich and a Coke for lunch (I had a feeling my odd reaction the previous day was due to dehydration, not helped by a beer whilst I waited for the bus) and then took my waterproof camera housing into the sea for a snorkelling trip to see if it was truly watertight. It showed no signs of leaking, but as I’d not seen any fish this time, I didn’t bother going back to try to take any underwater photos.
I hung around until 5 for a bus to take me back to my hotel and passed the time completing most of the remaining Knowledge Reviews and looked forward to relaxing the following day.
After dinner (hurried as the air conditioning was freezing in the restaurant) I returned to my room and watched another film on my netbook, before reading in bed for a short while before tiredness overcame me.
Sunday 7th November
It was nice to be able to lie in on Sunday, but I awoke about 7:00 anyway.
I simply rolled over and had a little more snoozing, before ringing reception to check the time breakfast finished and then completing some of this report.
My plan was to do very little as I wanted to feel as fresh as possible for the following day’s first Open water dives.
I got up about 9 and had breakfast about 9:30.
Afterwards, I took some photos of the hotel grounds and the desert mountains visible from the front of the hotel. If you like bleak and arid, this part of the world is the place for you. I would quite like to visit the mountains to see what they had to offer, but, from what I saw, on land the Sharm area doesn’t offer much of interest beyond diving and the availability of oppressive heat – Even some locals commented to me how hot it was and I saw one later fanning himself with a booklet, you tend to imagine the locals get used to it, but I guess everyone’s different and everyone has a limit.
Certainly lots of the hotel residents seemed happy to lay on a sun lounger in the full glare of the sun all day. I sat for a while and completed my knowledge reviews in the Open Water manual and then reading some of a book I’d bought with me, but I made a point of getting back to my room regularly to douse my head and top up the sun tan lotion (I’m pale and burn quite easily if I’m not careful – I didn’t want anything to ruin tomorrow’s diving). I also bought a bottle of water from one of the hotel bars (someone was complaining that these were free in another hotel they’d stayed at in the area in the past, but cost about 1.20 Sterling here).
At lunchtime I wandered the short distance up to the main road and found a ‘cafe & juice bar’, where I had a Fajita Sandwich (Chicken, onions and green peppers fried and put in a hot dog roll with mayonnaise – About as appetising as it sounds – a Sprite and an Ice Cream, which was the highlight).
I headed back to the hotel after calling home and speaking to the kids and then had a snooze in my room for an hour or so. In the morning I’d complained about my shower having no hot water and they said they’d send someone to sort it out, but no-one turned up whilst I’d been in during the day, so I tried the shower after a short dip in the surprisingly chilly pool, although you soon adjusted. There was no hot water and pressing the buttons on the boiler unit caused the cover to fall off it, so I called reception who quickly sent a couple of chaps over to fiddle with it and after 10 minutes or so they had hot water flowing, albeit at a rather disappointing rate – Still, a hot trickle was better than a cold one...
I read for a little longer then had dinner, which was rather drab – The meals seemed to be virtually the same every day and there was little to excite the pallet, except the fish this evening, which was unidentifiable (I’m not a fish expert anyway!), but was quite spicy. The fresh grilled beefburgers, by contrast, were dry and tasteless – very disappointing.
I wandered briefly around, took a photo of the pool area at night, which did look rather nice and then headed back to my room. I planned an early night with another early start and two open water dives to look forward to tomorrow, but ended up reading until about 11.
Monday 8th November
The bus picked me up a little late, but I was still at Naama Bay by 5 past 8 and the first task was to hand in our Dive Manuals for Ahmed to check our completed Knowledge Reviews and then sit a ‘mock’ final exam of 40 questions.
We all made the usual jokes people do, but I think we were all a little nervous about the test, but there wasn’t any real need, we all passed the test with just one or two questions wrong to our great relief although we were aware tomorrow’s test was the real thing.
We then went down and kitted up for our first open water dive. This was great fun as all we did was go and dive on the reef in Namma Bay. We all quickly got into the swing of it and enjoyed spotting fish, seeing hundreds of Clown fish and Angel fish, a shoal of Barracudas (with their mouths agape – a very impressive sight) and a couple of Stingrays.
We also swam over some Amphora, no doubt dumped for diving and snorkelling enjoyment, but they were fun to see – one of my diving ambitions is to dive on a submerged town or ruin of some site – and they attracted the fish.
We found adjusting our buoyancy easier than in the shallow water (Garry noted we had dived down to 11m at the deepest point he noticed) and it was just great fun.
We must’ve swum for about 45 minutes and a photographer accompanied us and took photos of us and the fish we encountered along the way.
At the end, my air was getting quite low, but not critically so and we swam back into shore for a debrief which was pretty positive, Ahmed just pointing out a few little pointers that one or all of us could improve.
The final open water dive was a little shorter and mostly not as deep, but more intense as we had to repeat some of the exercises we’d done in the confined water dives. First we removed our masks and replaced them – a really easy thing to do, but somehow I got in a muddle and failed to clear my mask at my first attempt and ended up inhaling water up my nose – not nice!).
So, a bad start which was rather unsettling, but as I recovered my composure a bit watching the others, I had little trouble with the second stage (mouthpiece) recovery, alternate air source exercises or flipper pivot and my confidence was restored.
We did a couple of other exercises and then swam for a little bit, even spotting a Moray Eel popping out of a hole in a rock to eat – Cool or what!
We finished the dive with a tired diver tow exercise and a regulator/snorkel breathing exercise where you inhale from the regulator and exhale through the snorkel – I struggled a bit to see the value of this one, but we all managed it.
Then it was out of the water and it was only 1PM! After a VERY quick debrief and washing and stowing our kit ready for the following day’s boat trip (Yay!!!!) we went our separate ways – The Finns went back to their hotel and I grabbed lunch and then caught the shuttle bus back to my hotel, had a quick swim in the pool and a hot shower (Woo hoo!) and then sat in the declining light reading for a bit until it got too dark and then went back to my room and read for a while, caught up on the BBC World News channel and phoned my parents.
I had dinner, had a wander around for a bit, read a lot of my book and went to bed ready for the big day!
Tuesday 9th November
Boat day started as usual except that I awoke from an incredibly vivid dream in which I was telling my Fencing Coach that I had somehow forgotten to return from the day off in England to finish my course and I needed to be in Sharm NOW to finish it!
Fortunately, I immediately realised it was a dream on waking and finding myself still in the Badawia, but it was a scary dream!
After a quick breakfast, I hurriedly packed, changed up another 50 Sterling at reception (The guy there even, very honestly, told me the rate was better at banks, but I needed the money now and knew I wouldn’t have time on arriving at Naama Bay – The rate seemed ok to me anyway) and the bus picked me up to go to Naama Bay.
Our kit was already aboard the boat, so after the usual waiting around (Diving involves lots of that from what I’ve seen) it was a leisurely stroll to the nearby jetty (complete with metal detector for people boarding boats and a bag check – they take terrorism seriously here) and then to the JoJo.
About 30 minutes later we started to don our wetsuits and BCDs and get ready for our first boat dive.
The boat, which was quite comfortable and nearly empty, had a diving deck on the back so, unlike the small boat in Cyprus where we’d rolled Bond-like into the sea, we simply stepped out with our BCD’s inflated and bobbed around until we got to the guide rope and then descended down it to around 12m.
We were at Temple Reef which is near by cliffs under one of the large hotel complexes. There were lots of snorkelers from the hotels (and later another boat full arrived), but we looked up at them from deep(ish) below and marvelled at the collection of fish and coral on the Reef.
Mostly we just swam around although we did a mask removal and fin pivot exercise and then completed the dive with a weight belt remove and replace and a BCD remove and replace, which left me puffing at the end of the dive!
We reboarded the boat and swapped tanks (I’d used nearly all my air) and then relaxed for about 45 minutes, which was welcome, but we were all itching to get back in the water.
This time we swam from the boat towards Ras Um Sid and rejoined the boat after it had moved.
Again the sights were what you imagine when you think of diving, a rich tropical fish tank full of clown fish, box fish, angel fish, massive Tuna and even the odd large Barracuda! It was frankly wonderful and exactly what I’d hoped it would be like. We didn’t really do any exercises this dive and I was pleased that at the end I’d used about the same amount of air as Janni (Garry a little less), meaning that simply diving wasn’t what was consuming lots of my air, it was the puffing whilst doing the exercises.
I took my camera down on both dives and it worked flawlessly. For a first go, the images were a bit mixed as you’d expect, but some were quite good, especially the longer, wider shots of divers.
At the end of the dive we followed a rope trailing the boat and reboarded via a ladder. We removed our BCDs and wetsuits and disconnected the used tanks, packing away our equipment, although mine was to remain on the boat as I’d decided to do another two dives on the following morning as a, hopefully, qualified Open Water Diver.
We ate a fairly decent lunch and relaxed on the boat, the Finns falling asleep and arrived back in Naama bay about 2:15.
Of course, our lovely dives had simply been a practical test (and a bit of a softening up, we felt) for the final stage – the final exam!
After a quick drink (and changing into dry clothes) and a cigarette for Garry, we returned to our loathed classroom with the hard seats.
Ahmed sat us down and presented a multiple choice answer sheet and the final exam questions. There weren’t (as I recall) any exactly the same as in the ‘mock’ the previous day, but they took a very similar form.
When we’d finished, I didn’t think I’d done badly and Ahmed told us we could get away with answering 13 wrong, but 14 was a fail. I was hopeful, but I needn’t have worried, none of us got more than 3 wrong and we all passed with flying colours.
The information you learn on the PADI Open Water course isn’t difficult, but it’s mostly pretty important and I was pleased to have absorbed so much information over the course of the 4 days and my time reading the Dive Manual beforehand.
The rest of the afternoon was spent signing forms, waiting around, paying for our courses, drinking a celebratory drink (although I stuck to Coke after my first day as I was diving again the next day, my classmate’s weren’t) and having some photos taken together by the Finn’s friendly mum, who was probably about my age!
Finally, Ahmed arrived with some printed sheets of paper with some hastily taken mug shots scanned in – these were proof that we were now PADI accredited Open Water Divers (at least for the next 90 days, by which time our proper cards and certificates should have arrived at our home addresses).
We’d done it - We were qualified divers, free to take part in dive groups anywhere that the PADI qualification is recognised, which is pretty much anywhere that matters.
The Finns departed to their hotel, Ahmed left for a break in his home town of Alexandria and I was forgotten when the shuttle buses left.
The Egyptian organising buses then seemed to have a melt down and I was given 20 Egyptian pounds by one of the staff to get a taxi home and pointed to the Naama Bay Taxi Rank.
Once there things got a little fractious, but in some ways summed up my experiences in Sharm El Sheik well.
I’d been told 20 pounds was plenty for the trip to my hotel, but the taxi drivers on the rank wanted 50, although one offered to take me in his ‘just around the corner’ for 25... What annoyed me was their refusal to use their meters, when a sign on the rank clearly stated that if they didn’t passengers should call the police! When I pointed this out, they told me there were no taxis, point blank refusing to take me. One, slightly less aggressive driver, said the taxis ‘across the road’ would take me for 20, so I crossed the main dual carriageway from Old Sharm (where the Badawia is) to the airport and a driver of a legal looking taxi slowed down immediately and asked “Where too, boss?” (lots of people called me boss here!) – I said the Badawia and he said ok and then when I said “On the meter”, he said “sure!” and turned it on.
We then chatted in a friendly manner (he introduced himself as Bebo, but admitted his real name was something typical Moslem, which I forget now) as he quickly took me back to the hotel for under 20 Egyptian Pounds, which I left him all of anyway.
Two different people, two different approaches – so many people here seem so helpful, friendly and keen to help and yet, others seem like dangerous sharks!
A welcome (warm!) shower followed and I transferred my photos to my PC just in case a disaster should befall my camera on my last two dives of this trip and then I updated this report before dinner called.
The food on offer tonight was quite tasty, some form of spicy meat (Beef I’m guessing) dish being the main element.
After dinner I did the usual, not much, mainly reading and then got an earlyish night ahead of my first two dives as a qualified diver.
Wednesday 10th November
The usual early rise, quick breakfast and bus pick up got me to Naama Bay in plenty of time for the boat. There wasn’t a lot to do, but I got chatting with Phil, a diver from the north of England, who I’d met on the bus the previous morning. He was coming on the same dive boat as me, having had to carry out a review the previous day as his previous dive had been a few days over the 6 months that PADI insist on.
After some hanging around we headed to boat, same one as the previous day, but there was more hanging around there as some divers’ equipment was missing. Finally everything turned up and we traveled a very short distance to Middle Garden, a reef site.
We had a briefing, kitted up and set off. Following our Muscovite guide (no longer an instructor – I was responsible for myself and my Buddy, Phil) we swam around the impressive coral reef, the sea awash with fish. We dived deeper than I’d been before, my analogue depth gauge showing 18m (Katya’s computer showed a maximum of 17.7m, which is what’s recorded in my log book) for some time, which was good, as although OW lets you dive that deep, I hadn’t actually done so before and it was good to experience what it felt like – I had no real issues with the depth, equalisation being easy enough.
We saw lots of fish and I experimented more with my camera, although it was clear taking photos under water is more of a challenge than above!
After about 40 minutes, Katya asked about our air limits – I thought I was doing OK at 80bar, but many of the other divers had Nitrox (which allows you stay down longer) and I was sent to return to the surface with most of the other air only divers.
We bobbed around on the surface a little way from the boat and then returned and climbed back on board, switching to fresh tanks for our next dive.
We spent about an hour and a quarter just relaxing and letting the nitrogen out of our bodies before returning for our next dive.
The boat had moved the short distance to ‘Fiddle Garden which has some very impressive looking coral heads – High outcrops of coral on a sandy seabed, surrounded by fish. Both ‘Gardens’ also stand on the edge of sheer drops into deep water (I’d guess it goes well below the 30m limit they let you dive to here) and it was perhaps even more impressive here than Middle Garden as it sloped away to the greater depth, rather than dropping straight away.
There were some great sights (Crystal fish shoal, blue spotted ray, Angel fish, Wrasses, Sergeant Major fish, Yellow Tailed Surgeon fish , family of clown fish feeding, etc) and the dive was really enjoyable with no negative aspects at all, except that (even though I’d been cautious on air) I had to come up with the second group of air only divers, leaving the Nitrox boys (and Phil, who was sipping air!) to enjoy a few more minutes underwater.
Back on board, I dismantled my equipment and put it back in my box, I could have done another dive and felt fine, but I’d decided not to push things and leaving feeling happy and confident was the way to go.
We had lunch and then the boat returned to Naama, where I disembarked and then had a lengthy wait for my equipment. When it arrived, I washed and returned it and paid for the outstanding items on my bill with RSC.
Then I wandered around the shops for a bit, buying a few gifts (probably spending far too much, despite my attempts to barter with the shopkeepers and knocking them down about 50% - not really knowing the ‘right’ price made it hard work, but at least they were friendly unlike the taxi drivers on the rank earlier in the week) and then returned to the college to catch my last bus back to the Badawia.
I had a shower and a sleep for an hour or so and then had a lateish dinner, before sitting and reading by the pool for a bit (poor lighting and bugs driving me indoors after a while) and then carrying on inside before going to sleep and looking forward to a lie in.
Thursday 11th November
My return flight wasn’t until quite late in the day, so I could’ve stayed in bed until lunchtime, but of course I woke up at 6AM...
Despite my best efforts, I could only snooze until 7:30 when I decided to get up, do a bit of packing and then go and have a leisurely breakfast (nice not to have to rush through it for a change!).
I did a bit more packing, some reading and took a last swim in the pool and updated this report, before I had to leave my room at 12.
The bus was coming for me at 15:20, with flight departure at 18:20 (seemingly plenty of time as the airport is about 20 minutes away from Sharm), so I sat and read a bit until the bus arrived, a little early.
We picked some more people up en-route, but were at the airport by 16:15, but then things got chaotic again.
Firstly there were 5 huge queues to scan us and all our luggage. This moved reasonably quickly, but then we entered the check-in area which was just a mass of people. I managed to find an approximation of a queue for the appropriate desk for my flight and spent the next hour plus edging towards the desk whilst the men (all) on the counters seemed to spend more time chatting amongst themselves, running off for a few minutes, directing other staff or advising the desk next to them on what to do – Anything, it seemed, but just get on with checking people in! There were also two brief power cuts, which caused all the displays and desks to reboot (into Windows 2000!!!!), causing yet more delays.
After waiting one back from the front of the queue for 20 minutes (someone traveling on a non-UK passport caused complete mayhem, although she said it’d been no problem when she’d arrived in Egypt!) I finally was given my passport, boarding card and a piece of paper covered in Arabic writing, but no instructions that I needed to do anything more than present them all at Passport control.
I was rather annoyed, then, when I got to passport control, with about 45 minutes until my flight departure time to be told I had to fill the piece of paper in with loads of personal details... Frustrated, I had no option than to leave the queue and fill it in.
Finally, I got through with about 20 minutes until my flight departure time, but I could see there were people still waiting at the gate, so I grabbed an overpriced slice of Pizza and a Pepsi – No time to browse duty free – and rushed to the gate to get the last bus to the plane.
Finally, though we were on our way – I’ve never found traveling home from places much fun, but the experience at Sharm Terminal 2 ranks way up there amongst worst ever experiences! It was almost as if they’d simply driven down to town and picked 30 blokes up from the side of the road that morning and then asked them to check people onto planes!
The flight was ok, as I lucked into a whole 3 seats to myself and put my feet up, but on arrival the car parking people had flooded my car, so it took me until 2AM to get home and I had to be in London by 9:30AM.
Overall, though the diving had been brilliant and after a few days I found I was plotting and planning for my next diving experiences - I think I will aim to do the Advanced Open Water course in the next 6 months (maybe in the UK, despite the likelihood of cold!).
Read some more of my diving experiences, by clicking the icon below.