Tuesday, 11 June 2013

BECOMING MORE FISH-LIKE & DIVING WITH SHARKS (AS A KID) - SHARM, EGYPT

Around the year 2000 Dad found a new hobbie; Scuba diving. It quickly became the central focus of any free time he had for the next few years, and after some time it lead to stacks of diving equipment around the house, countless weekend diving trips booked and eventually a 15,000 gallon/3m deep diving pond with 50+ fish in our back garden.

Towards the end of '05 Dad paid for Dan & me to start taking lessons. At first I hated it, I think we both did; every Wednesday evening, spending hours reading over theory books and watching horrendously boring tutorial videos in a small musty room on Old Street, knowing you had to come back and do the same routine next week. Nowadays you don't have to do as much theoretical work - it's not fair really.

A much less hairier version on me, learning to dive in '06

Once that was all out of the way, it became the thing I looked forward to most - I'm like a fish in water, except up until that point I wasn't so good with staying underwater, the whole needing air thing kept me back a little, so naturally once I learnt the basics of diving, it became the 'it' thing for me.

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I completed my open water dive qualification in Marsa Alam '06 - my first official dive that day was sick; Dad, Dan & me found a cloud trail on the sea bed, which after following we realised was the trail of a huge Dugong. It was so calm when we approached, simply stopped and look at us as we came close, even when we were only a few feet away it stayed still, and after a few moments turned and carried on swimming, picking at sea grass as it went along.

Marsa Alam '06 - Typical drop off set up when shore diving
Once moving on and completing the advanced open water qualification, we progressed onto boat dives. These have always proved to be far better trips; you spend the day on a nice comfortable boats, see some amazing coast lines, are provided with beautiful, tasty local foods and best of all reach the best dive sites & marine life.

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Below are some scans of my marine life guide - I always tick off the animals I remember seeing, hopefully I'll have them all done by some point, especially the whale shark, that's top of the wish list. There's also a few scans of my dive logs as a kid below.



My dive instrutor had been going to Egypt for 15 years looking for Dugongs and never seen any, yet I seen one on my first official dive - He was p*ssed!

Bear in mind I was only 15 when i drew this (I'm much better now) - heres a log of a once in a lifetime dive I took in Sharm; we came across a grouper which had bitten a porcupine (puffer) fish, and held on as it inflated, snapping its jaw wide open. However, because it had sunk its teeth in the two were locked together, it was inevitable the two were going to die stuck to eachother.

This was my log on my first two dives of Jacksons reef , where I had my first ecounter with sharks. Initially I though it was 6 hammer heads & 2 black tips, but it turned out one of the black tips was actually an oceanic white tip - the species responsible for the 5 attacks in Sharm 2010 resulting in 1 death.

The day started early; we had far to sail to reach our scheduled dive site for the day, Jacksons reef. As usual all the divers came together for a briefing of the dive which involves being given a list of animals we may potentially see. The only thing different about this briefing was the word 'sharks' came up. Now I'll admit, even though I'm fascinated by them, sharks scare me - I think that's mum's fault for letting me stay up one school night and watch Jaws with her as a kid. However, I'd dived enough to know 9/10 times, what your told you will see, never seems to make an appearance. I don't think I would have taken the plunge off the back of the boat if I'd believe the dive guide - After hearing Dads stories of being bumped and sharks rolling to bite him in South Africa, I don't know, it just didn't seem too appealing to me.

Once we descended down to around 20m I noticed Dad had a scrunched up water bottle, sealed with air inside. He began squeezing it which make a faint crackling noise - a trick he'd picked up in Mozambique, which disrupts the sonar senses of any nearby sharks, attracting them to the area. Within minutes I spotted a dark shadow out in the open blue*. Faint shimmers of greys and silver flickered as it moved alongside us, then another 2 appeared below. We were told if we do see a shark to always watch it, which is exactly what I did. After some moments I looked away quickly only to notice that it was six hammerhead sharks circling our group, roughly 5-6ft in length.

Me & my buddy for the dive became a bit too fixated on watching the sharks, so much so that we began to sink deeper into the blue. At my deepest point my dive computer read 40.5m which is the limit for a qualified deep diver (so when we got back on the boat we got in a bit of trouble with the dive guide). At this point we were far below the main group and 4 of the sharks were circling us - not to say they were going to attack but they were clearly curious - at some points coming within 20ft of the two of us. My heart was beating like crazy but I still leaned towards them as they came closer, it was a major adrenaline rush - a mixture of fear and amazement, a feeling and experience that will always stand out for me. After a few moments however, the guide through bubbles and blurts of screaming caught our attention and we began to ascend back into the group.

As we carried on swimming along another shape appeared alongside us out into the blue, a far larger and more familiar shape of shark - an oceanic white tip, roughly 6-8ft long. This guy hung back into the darkness of the blue, just watching us for some time during our dive, never coming too close, but just enough so that we could see him. This was probably for the best though because those guys are known killers - very dangerous sharks. Later on we spotted another shark below us, a black tip reef shark, but he wasn't too big, maybe 5ft in length.

*the blue is what you call being out in a deep part of the sea, where all you can see around you is blue; no reef, sea bed etc just dakr blue below fading to a lighter shade as you look up.

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Turtles have always been a favourite of mine to see - the way they glide through the water is too cool, they always make me think of Crush in 'Finding Nemo' - DUUUUUUUUUUDE!

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HIDDEN TREASURES - The Lara Freighter Shipwreck

As we sailed round the bend of a branch of land from the coast line, shapes began to appear on the waves out across the horizon. We were heading for Jacksons reef, a popular dive site, a favourite of Dad's. As we approached it became clearer that the shapes formed a huge shipwreck, raised above the waves. In 1981, the Lara Freighter ship, crashed up onto the reef in the Straights of Tiran, its rear end breaking away and sinking down the edge of the reef, littering the reefs wall with its contents.





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To this day, the quality of diving in the Red Sea, along with our countless amazing experiences, has resulted in Dan & me taking 5 trips there over the course of 5 years,  with Dad, 21 & Mum, 17 over the course of 11. I feel hugely lucky to have had such experiences growing up, and wouldn't take any of it back - diving is something I'll 100% be getting my kids into as it really did develop my love for the natural world, allowed me to witness some truly beautiful wildlife and gave me a far more interesting twist to my childhood/teenage years, so cheers Old Fella! I know the fairly recent sharks attacks have lowered its appeal but remember its the swimmers who get bit not the divers, so you'll be fine!

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Just to add, I would put up lots more images of the dives, but unfortunately none are of good quality really, as back then under water cameras for amateurs were pretty terrible, and I dont want to litter the post with blurry, dark images.

But anyway, I hope you enjoyed the post, feel free to ask any questions!

-Jamie

Our last diving trip in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt 2011 - The Old Fella, Dan & me



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