By Sandy Sondrol
Envision an underwater playground with breathtaking pinnacles, photogenic shipwrecks and soft-coral-covered vertical walls that extend clear up to the surface. Then, populate these sites with reef sharks, hammerheads, big tuna, Napoleon wrasse and shoals of multicolored reef fish, as well as the occasional oceanic whitetip, thresher or whale shark, and the central and southern regions of the Red Sea become a destination even the most seasoned divers dream about.
Many of the best dive sites lie beyond the range of day boats, and most of the land surrounding the Red Sea is desert, creating an uninviting environment for shore diving. So live-aboards are the way to go in this exotic locale. Multiple boats run from each of the major dive destinations: Sharm El Sheikh in the north, Hurghada in the central region and Marsa Alam in the south. Each offers a different type of diving, from wrecks and walls in the north to current-washed reefs and seamounts in the central and southern regions, which is the cruising ground of the live-aboard Emperor Superior.
The Superior sails from Hurghada, a resort town on the western coast of the Red Sea. It is one of eight live-aboards operated by Emperor Divers, which also runs dive centers in four land-based locations throughout Egypt. The best known of the boat’s itineraries is called Simply the Best and includes three popular areas in the central/southern region: Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone Reefs. These reefs are part of the Marine Park Islands National Park, which Egypt has established to preserve and regulate diving in this remote area. All three are well out in the open sea with moderate to strong currents, but they yield great rewards for making the trek.
Brothers consists of two separate islands, Big Brother and Little Brother, which are about a mile apart. Big Brother is less than a mile long from end to end and is home to two wrecks, the Numidia, a 450-foot freighter sunk in 1901, and the Aida, a 250-foot supply vessel sunk in 1957. Both are heavily encrusted with corals and offer great photographic opportunities. Little Brother is only a fraction of the size of its larger sibling, with sheer walls and ripping currents. Reef sharks abound, schools of anthias cover the walls, and a field of large gorgonians covers one corner.
One-hundred miles to the south of Brothers, Daedalus Reef lies just below the surface. Schools of hammerheads frequent the southwestern corner, and oceanic whitetip sharks patrol underneath the anchored live-aboards, offering divers a thrilling experience.
Elphinstone reef is at the midpoint, about 40 miles from both Brothers and Daedalus. Since it is closer to shore, it can be reached by day boats and can become quite busy, but it’s a good place for seeing the colorful reef fish that abound in the area.
Other than the wrecks, there are not really specific dive sites in the marine park. Rather, the dive guides select the best area of the reef for that day’s conditions and drop divers off from Zodiac inflatables to ride the currents. They usually do three dives per day, but night dives are not permitted in the marine park.
In contrast to the high-energy dives, life aboard the Emperor Superior is peaceful and relaxing. The 120-foot yacht accommodates 20 divers in 10 cabins, all en-suite, and boasts both open and shaded lounge decks, as well as a large, shaded dive deck. Emperor Divers also offers free nitrox on all of its gold and platinum boats, including Emperor Superior, and the entire boat conveys a sense of casual elegance with salons and cabins gleaming with polished wood and brass. A relaxing dive trip on remote reefs — you can’t ask for much more.
DAY 1: Afternoon arrival at Hurghada, check in and enjoy dinner on board.
DAY 2: Checkout dive followed by training dive to practice diving from the Zodiac in preparation for rougher seas and diving currents during the remainder of the week.
DAY 3 & 4: Big Brother. Dive the wrecks of Numidia, a freighter and Aida II, a supply vessel, both heavily encrusted with corals, plus drift along walls with sharks and Napoleon wrasse. Overnight trip to Daedalus.
DAY 5 & 6: Daedalus. Dives out into the blue, looking for schools of hammerheads and tuna. Drift dives along the walls or off the stern looking for oceanic whitetips. Near the south end of the island, the wall is covered with huge gorgonians in an area where sharks frequently circle just off the wall. Overnight, travel to Elphinstone.
DAY 7: Dive Elphinstone in the morning with whitetip reef sharks and nice soft corals. During a long lunch break, the boat moves 25 miles to the wreck of the Salem Express, a 300-foot ferry boat, for an afternoon dive. Return to dock late afternoon.
DAY 8: Depart.
Need to Know
Travel Tip At the beginning or end of your trip, Scuba Travel Ventures can arrange a boat tour of the Nile, where you’ll see Carnak and Luxor Temples, the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Queen Hatchepsut, the Colossi of Memnon and the high dam in Aswan, and spend four peaceful days on the river.
When to Go Mantas and whale sharks are most likely to appear during the spring and summer months.
Dive Conditions Water temps are around 70°F in the winter and 80°F in the summer. Visibility averages more than 100 feet year-round. Winter brings pleasant air temperatures, but cooler water and breezier conditions.
Getting There You’ll fly to Cairo (CAI) through New York’s Kennedy Airport (JFK) nonstop on either Egyptair (egyptair.com) or Delta (delta.com). From Cairo, you fly Egyptair to Hurghada (HRG). Emperor Divers will arrange airport transfers.
Price Tag The Simply the Best seven-night cruise is about $1,416 per person, and includes ground transportation from Hurghada airport, all meals and nonalcoholic beverages, port and marine-park fees and — unique to the Emperor Fleet Platinum and Gold Class boats — free nitrox. More info: www.emperordivers.com, www.scubatravelventures.com .
If the Boat Fits...
Each area of the Red Sea offers a different type of diving, from wrecks and walls in the north to current-washed reefs and seamounts in the central and south. Here are two other options if you’d like to explore itineraries in the north or the deep south.
This ship departs from Sharm El Sheikh (in northern Egypt) with 22 divers in 11 cabins, all en-suite. Built in 2006, it’s a fairly new ship, and the Wrecks and Reefs itinerary includes the Ras Mohamed National Park, the wrecks of the Dunraven, Ghiannis D, Barge and Yolanda, as well as drift dives in Tiran Island. Seven-day packages start at $1,066. www.tornadomarinefleet.eu
The Blue Pearl departs from Marsa Alam in southern Egypt with 20 divers in 10 cabins, all en-suite including a mini bar. The 118-foot vessel is sleek with mahogany finishes and two spacious sun decks. The Deep South itinerary includes some of the most remote diving in the Red Sea. Swim-throughs, walls, sharks, schools of jacks, reef fish and soft corals are prevalent. Seven-day packages start at $1,475. www.discovery-divers.com