Scuba Diving Photos
Red Sea Wreckfest
Red Sea Wreckfest
It's a wreck diver's paradise, but this part of the Red Sea also yields incredible color, which you can best enjoy nearly solo form live-aboards like VIP One
My eyes were as wide as saucers, but it was only partly due to the dim light inside the hold. Thistlegorm was every bit as good as its reputation, and then some. To boot, my buddy and I were the only ones inside, on a wreck that’s dived about 60,000 times each year. We swam a circuit around the hold, going over British World War II Enfield motorcycles, past a truck and a jeep, aircraft-engine cowlings, and around the chassis of a car, its radiator remarkably whole. Something stirred in the gloom, and my torch beam picked out a large green turtle. As we came out of the hold by the locomotive water tanker sitting on the port side of the deck, the rest of our shipmates were descending the anchor line to amidships.
Discovered during one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s first expeditions aboard the Calypso in 1956, the 375-foot SS Thistlegorm had been bombed and sunk by the German airforce in October 1941. The ill-fated vessel’s amidships were blown open when bombs struck the ammunition hold, exposing Bren gun carriers, rifles and artillery shells. It sank with its cargo full of war supplies, taking the lives of nine sailors. Lying to the northwest of Ras Mohammed at a depth of 55 to 115 feet, the ship has become one of the most popular wreck dives in the world.
After leaving the holds, we finned with the gentle current to take in the stern and the coral-encrusted artillery and anti-aircraft guns mounted to the rear. The ship was a real beauty, with many treasures to discover. I managed to dive it three more times in the following 16 hours. After a very eerie night dive into the hold, punctuated by watching another group of divers put on a cool light show, I took to my cabin early so as to hit the water at sunrise, again alone with my buddy.
The light was incredible, and the current slack, allowing us to move 25 yards off to port to check out one of two locomotives blown off the deck in the explosion. One lies to each side, and when the current is pumping, it’s difficult to get to either of them. At sunrise, the port-side loco looks particularly cool — this must be one of a very few underwater train wrecks. When the current picks up with the tide, as it did on the previous dive, the bows around the anchor winch are buzzing with schooling fish swarming back and forth.
Operated by Red Sea Diving College, VIP One is a 16-berth, purpose-built, luxury motor yacht. Drawing on 20 years of Red Sea expertise, VIP One has been designed to offer the best in comfort and safety for both open-circuit and rebreather divers. On my trip, there were four rebreather divers who were assigned their own closed-circuit rebreather guide (all guides are at least instructor level).
Air-conditioned and spacious throughout, the interior boasts large double cabins each with a private bathroom, a generous salon and dining room, and a fully stocked bar area. Externally you will find sizeable sun decks on a number of levels, perfect for sunbathing, reading or an on-deck barbecue. A top-deck bar offers a perfect location for enjoying Sinai’s spectacular sunsets.
Before embarking on the VIP One, I wasn’t much of a wreckhead — I’d always rated corals and fish over metal hulks. Three days in, and my horizons already had been widened. We’d warmed up to the Thistlegorm by visiting a series of wrecks on the other side of the Straits of Gubal at Abu Nuhas reef. The Giannis D — a 300-foot Greek cargo ship that sank in 1983 — was a spectacular start; its stern is arguably one of the most photogenic anywhere. The Chrisoula K is another Greek freighter from the early ’80s with easy access to the bridge, another sexy stern and resident batfish. The P&O steam sailer SS Carnatic sank in 1879 and has almost become a reef in itself, starting at just 12 feet of depth at the bow. Access to the holds is easy and open, with more soft corals, glassfish, lionfish and anemones. After a great dive on this iconic site, my buddy and I were the last ones to surface with Hooch, our guide, and were zipping back to the boat in the RIB when the helmsman swung hard to port and yelled, “Dolphins!”
Snorkel gear on and in we went — a few clumsy rolls and spins at six feet were enough to get them to play. There were close to a dozen, with two youngster sticking near their moms, and a playful adult who came up to Hooch balancing a stick of dead coral on its nose. Splendid.
Ras Mohammed and The Straits
After the wreckfest, we cruised back to Ras Mohammed, home to world renowned sites such as Jackfish Alley, Shark Reef and the wreck of the Yolanda.
We arrived midafternoon, just as the last of the day boats from Sharm el-Sheikh moved off, leaving us and one other live-aboard. Between June and August, large schools of snapper and barracuda hang around just off Shark Reef, and have given it a reputation as one of the best dive sites in the world. It did not disappoint, delivering a large school of both, a friendly Napoleon wrasse, two turtles and a giant moray. At the Temple and Fiesta sites, keep an eye on the blue for mantas and whale sharks.
We’d just finished breakfast and cast off when the flotilla from Sharm started to arrive. In an hour it would be diver soup. Not for us though, as we cruised to the Straits of Tiran, where Gordon, Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson reefs have thick hard- and soft-coral coverage, plenty of fish and more fans. Jackson’s popularity also makes it a day-boat magnet. An early morning dive yielded a distant glimpse of eight scalloped hammerheads, and a diver-free tour of its gorgonian and fish-covered tip to end a fantastic week.
5 Reasons to Dive the Red Sea Aboard VIP One
1 Peace Day-boat operators depart from and return to the Naama Bay jetty at the same time, meaning there can be a high number of day boats on the most popular sites in Ras Mohammed and Straits of Tiran. Live-aboards can overnight in Ras Mohammed Marine Park, meaning you can dive the best sites before the daily boats arrive and after they leave.
2 Wrecks The first two days are spent diving the splendid Giannis D, the Carnatic, the Chrisoula K, the Kimon M and the Kingston. Then you cross back over the straits and arrive on Thistlegorm just as everyone else has left.
3 The Reef Life Ras Mohammed and the Straits of Tiran have something for everyone: schooling fish, some sharks, occasional mantas and whale sharks, turtles, nudis and more.
4 The Guides VIP One’s lead guide, Paul (aka Hooch), has been diving here or 10 years, and has logged more than 400 dives on Thistlegorm. He and the skipper work out the best itinerary in relation to the weather forecast, rather than sticking to a set schedule that could give you a rough crossing or poor conditions.
5 Space While it doesn’t have a top-deck Jacuzzi, VIP One does have plenty of space, both indoors and outdoors, so it never feels cramped on board.
Need to Know
> When to Go Schooling snapper and barracuda come to breed in June and July, but mantas, whale sharks and scalloped hammerheads can be found, anytime — with a bit of luck.
> Dive Conditions Water temps range from the low 70s F in winter to the mid-80s in summer.
> Average Visibility 90-plus feet
> Operator VIP One, vipone.com
> Price Tag from $910 to $1150 depending on season and cabin type (based on two sharing an en-suite cabin), including nitrox. The ship sails year-round from Travco Jetty, Sharm el-Sheikh.