I was just browsing through my emails when Ex Dragon Eagle Sphinx stood out to me. One week adventurous training, diving, in the red sea. I’m sorry, who would turn that down? No previous experience was needed as training had been organised prior to this exercise, so complete beginners including myself could be part of this fantastic trip. Capt Girdler and WO2 Yates were the ones who made this possible by giving up two of their weekends to turn four beginners into BSAC Ocean Divers. With the training completed, it was just a case of waiting until the 12th May, the start of Ex Dragon Eagle Sphinx.
The 12th May had finally arrived and all 26 of us were departing Gatwick and on our way to Hurghada, Egypt. Five hours later, we arrived and stepped straight on to the ‘Blue Melody’, the boat we would be staying on for the next seven nights. With all our kit sorted, we then got the chance to meet the crew, who had prepared a lovely meal for us. The crew had made a cake for WO2 Gale as it was his birthday, so this was a great treat for our first night. It was then time to get our heads down, so we’d be fresh for our first day diving.
With a knock on the door at 7.30 by the crew, it was time to test our ability and see what skills we could remember. We had breakfast first before the anchor was lifted and we were on our way to our first destination, Dolphin House. Everyone had their hopes up that this place would live up to its name and we were not left disappointed. As soon as we arrived, we saw numerous sightings of dolphins. Seeing them from the surface is impressive but no words can describe being in the water with them, swimming only a few feet away from you. For the first dive of the week, I don’t think we could have had a better start than that. This however wasn’t the only thing which grabbed our attention. Two of the blokes made a great impression by having a superman and batman wet suit. I’m not sure if this encouraged the dolphins over or sent them dashing in the opposite direction but it made us laugh on deck. With two dives completed during the day, the Sub-Aqua Diving Supervisors (SADs) planned a night dive for the evening. The marine life completely changes from day to night, but one individual Sgt Elston was more interested in making a underwater lamp from a plastic bottle he found during his dive. I guess some people are just pleased very easily.
With another early rise, we had now moved location to The Gubal Islands. We did our first dive before breakfast on a small wreck known as ‘The Barge’ which had some amazing marine life from moray eels to crocodile fish. The ocean divers were progressing their skills and learning new ones, all requirements needed for us to advance to Sport Divers. There were two dives of The Barge before moving to Ulysses wreck. This wreck was built in 1871 in Newcastle but was sunk after hitting the reef of Gobul Seghir in 1887. Due to it being submerged for such a long time the Ulysses is now completely covered with corals. Within the variety of marine life seen at this wreck included more dolphins. It appeared that they had become quite fond of us, with the second wave of divers being surrounded by them from the moment they left the zodiac. It was the financial help from the Ulysses trust that ensured the success of the trip.
We remained at Gubal Islands for our first dive of the day, however, the number of divers had decreased quite significantly. A number of people had woken with a horrendous bug, basically major D&V, with some of them even being bed ridden for the day. The ones who had luckily avoided the bug for now, carried on with a drift dive. But unknown to them, by the end of the week, all but a couple would have experienced this horrendous bug. However, getting back to the diving, this was one of my favourite dives as little effort was needed. You could just let the current take you whilst admiring all the marine life such as box fish and star fish. After this, we moved to one of the most famous wrecks, SS Thistlegorm, which was sunk by German bomber planes in World War Two. Essentially, this is a giant underwater museum, so there is plenty to see.
By now, the majority of oceans divers and the padi divers who had moved over to BSAC had progressed to Sport Divers. This was achieved by several theory lessons that Capt Girdler had taught us between dives and in the evenings, which was massively appreciated as now we were allowed to dive 25m instead of 20m. For Thistlegorm, this was great as it meant we could penetrate the wreck. As we had done a couple of dives on this wreck now, after breakfast we moved to Shag Rock. This was a large circular reef so there was more marine life to see. The newly qualified sports divers were now allowed to dive together as buddies which allowed the experienced sports divers to progress with their qualifications to Dive Leader. We then took a short trip to our next destination, Abu Nuhas for our third dive of the day. Here is where we dived, The Carnatic which is one of the older wrecks in the Red Sea sinking in September 1869. The marine life on this wreck ranged from giant moray eels to shoals of glass fish. This was also an important day as it was the second birthday of the trip, this time it was Capt Barnes. I will not embarrass him by revealing his age, but no matter the age, what a way to spend your birthday. The crew once again made the effort of making him a cake which was demolished in the evening and was very nice too.
Remaining at Abu Nuhas, the plan for today was to do another wreck dive. But the waves were too rough to head over to the wreck so the SADs decided to do a reef dive off the boat. The red sea never disappointed us with the amount of marine life to see and this was the first time I saw a blue spotted ray. When the time came to do our next dive, the waves had settled so we were able to do another wreck dive. The third dive of the day was at Siyul Kebira where there was a mixture of soft and hard coral, glassfish and lionfish.
Sadly, this was our last day diving and due to the rules of having 24 hours ‘off gassing’ before flying, we could only do two dives this day. We started of the day with a wall dive at Umm Gamar where a lot of sport divers had the chance to get their 30m progression dive ticked off. This was a really enjoyable dive, with my buddy and I enjoying it a bit too much and ended up overshooting where we thought the boat was. But of course, with the superb training we had received, a DSMB was sent up with no hassle and it wasn’t long before the zodiac was over to pick us up. After breakfast, we then had our final dive, and what a place it was to do our final one. This was a circle of reefs which made a lovely route for us to follow. Due to the reef being shallow, it meant even those of us who were awful with air consumption managed our longest dive of 50 minutes. On this dive, we saw even more marine life including a sea cucumber. So, all the dives had been completed now and it was time to clean all our kit and settle up our beer bills for the week. In the evening, we had the option of going out for a meal. With the majority of us taking up the offer, the crew suggested ‘The Lodge’ for a good place to go. This was a lovely way to end the trip and we spent the night in the town, trying out numerous cocktails, getting beaten at pool against an 8 year old and trying to pick up on the local dance moves.
The Ex had come to its final day and there was no more diving to be done. We had been given the use of a hotel right next to the beach as our flight was not until the evening. During the day, we could choose what to do from sunning it up by the pool (not a good idea for Airtpr Flintoft), go into town or play volleyball on the beach. It didn’t take long for the evening to come around and we were back at Hurghada airport. Once arriving in Gatwick, we set off in our individual directions, looking either slightly redder or browner than we started off. Looking back, I had one of the best experiences and would recommend anyone to try diving if they haven’t before. A massive thank you must go to Capt Tate for organising this trip. It was unfortunate he couldn’t make the trip himself, due to a broken wrist, but no one forgot the hard work he had put in prior to make this exercise possible. In addition to this, the SADs constant work and effort was hugely appreciated by everyone aboard. Many thanks must go to all the instructors who helped people progress to Sports Divers and helped with the progression to Dive Leader for some. I personally would like to thank every individual who was on the ‘Blue Melody’ for making this adventurous training, not only challenging but extremely enjoyable.
Airtpr Dobson, 6 Regt AAC