I’ve dived in Egypt many times over the last 15 years, exclusively from day boats in Sharm-el-Sheikh, but with the recent restrictions, getting to Sharm is far from straightforward at the moment. However, flights to Hurghada are readily available and as I’d never done a liveaboard before, I was rather excited at the prospect of a week aboard Bluefin.
My wife Anne and I, plus another couple of MAD Scuba Club members, Heath and Steve, arrived in Hurghada feeling a little worse for wear. We had travelled over the Pennines to Manchester airport in the dark in a bit of a snow storm, waited in the snow for the Jet Parks bus and got rather cold. A few of us were still suffering from the after effects of a Christmas cold too, so not a good start to the holiday! It was, of course, a little warmer in Egypt, but not as warm as we were expecting. The temperature was in the low 20s during the day (cooler at night) and the sea breeze on the boat meant there was little chance for sun bathing and fleeces were very welcome. It’s a good job we were there for the diving rather than the sun!
For those that have yet to try a liveaboard, I heartily recommend it. It looks quite a bit more expensive than day boats initially, but when you consider that it’s an all-inclusive trip, the comparisons are a little more favourable. Note: there are some exceptions to the all-inclusive ticket, i.e. alcohol, but you shouldn’t be drinking that much on a diving holiday, liveaboard or not!
The food on the boat is nothing short of miraculous given the confined space the cooks have to work in. It’s plentiful and in my view, puts some top-notch hotels to shame. There are always at least 2 courses for every meal and snacks available in between. You won’t go hungry believe me!
The on-suite accommodation is good or great depending on how lucky you are with your cabin allocation. We had a one of the big doubles, which was fantastic, as good as many hotel rooms. We didn’t need the air-con at that time of year though!
So how does liveaboard compare? Everything is relative of course, but on a day boat it always feels a little bit of a rush – getting up and breakfasting at the hotel, catching the bus down to the jetty, travelling out to the first dive site in the hope that you get there before all the other boats, setting up your kit for every dive, including changing tanks and then the return journey back to port and your hotel, a quick shower and out to find something to eat, then start all over again tomorrow.
A liveaboard is an altogether more relaxed experience. You set up your kit once at the beginning of the week and that’s it. You use the same tank all week and it’s filled in situ between dives. Those choosing to roll out of bed for the optional pre-breakfast dive are woken with a cuppa and 30 minutes later you’re donning your kit for the first dive of the day. Including the night dive, there are 4 dives a day on offer, for all but the first and last day.
After every dive the crew are on-hand to assist in any way they can. They almost look annoyed if you try and do something for yourself – removing fins and gear and handing you a cup of hot chocolate as soon as you’re back on deck. Needless to say, that’s very welcome after a rather cool hour-long dive. Perhaps I’m a bit of a wuss, but I’d recommend you pack a decent 5mm wetsuit for this time of year. The water temp was down to 22/23°C and my trusty 5mm is getting a little long in the tooth now and was barely adequate. I’ll certainly be taking another layer if I repeat this trip next year with the same suit.
We chose the Northern Wrecks and Reefs tour (www.blueotwo.com) and many of the dive sites will be familiar to those that have dived around Sharm before – Shark & Yolanda, Jackfish Alley, Thistlegorm, Dunraven. Perhaps there wasn’t the abundance of life on some of the sites that I’m used to seeing later in the year, but it was January, so I guess that’s to be expected. It certainly beats 8 Acre Lake in January and I know, because I was in there the week before!
We did quite a few wrecks new to me such as the Dunraven and the Kingston (see below). None quite as impressive as the Thistlegorm, but I doubt there are many wrecks in the world that can match it.
The usual creatures were to be found without looking very hard. Blue-spotted rays and morays aplenty were on show, as were pyjama slugs.
The only thing I really missed was turtles. Other divers spotted one or two but I didn’t see a turtle all week. I don’t suppose we see that many later in the year, but this is the first diving holiday I’ve had there with none at all.
However, this was more than compensated for by the highlight of the week, a dive site called Dolphin House, which lived up to its name.
From a few minutes in, a mother and calf were buzzing one dive group after another throughout the rest of the dive. I was trying to take pictures of Anne and these pesky dolphins kept getting in the way!
It really was a most memorable end to the week and I will certainly be keeping my eye open for more liveaboard bargains in the future. If anyone is thinking of going and needs a buddy to take, stick me at the top of your list please!