Underwater photography by Andy Kirkland

Marsa Alam, December 2006 Report

I really needed a break from work, so I was more than ready to head off for some chilled diving.

Port Ghalib is still very much under construction, so (at the time we went) there wasn’t a lot to do if you’re not diving. But the hotel (Coral Beach) is only about 10 mins from the airport.

Diving is with Emperor Divers, who are located at the hotel. The boats are a short walk from breakfast …

Port Ghalib is actually about an hour’s drive north of Marsa, and the diving really falls into two categories : “local” and “premium”.
Don’t write off the local diving as “noddy” though – the sites are far more pristine than those with the same title in Sharm, and you’re still likely to get some surprises.
The main constraint seems to be the distance the boat can travel during the day – Abu Dabab and Elphinstone are about as far as the boat can travel in a day, as there’s a rule that it must be back by sundown. Both of these sites involve an early start.

My max. depth on the week was 25m.
Nitrox and 15L tanks are available, although you may want to choose your days for either of these, as the depths on some of the dive sites don’t really warrant them.
Standard tanks are 12L Aluminium. Most are convertible to DIN.

Of the “premium” sites – which you’ll be charged extra for :

Elphinstone ..

… is, of course, fairly legendary, and you’ll need a minimum of about 50 dives to be allowed to go. There can be strong currents (there were when we dived it).
This is probably your best chance at seeing an Oceanic White-tip shark. We didn’t see one on the day we went, but one turned up for another group a few days later.
This reminds me a bit of the reefs of Tiran – high energy, lots of nice soft corals.

Abu Dabab …

… is where you may meet “Dennis” the Dugong. There are a few dugongs around this area, apparently, but Abu Dabab is a smallish cove, so you’ve got more chance of an encounter.
The diving area is roped off (no boats allowed), so you may well be delivered (and picked up ) by Zodiac. Encounters are largely down to luck, but you’ll probably see some other things down there – we saw a number of green turtles.

Sha’ab Samadai …

… is also known as the “Dolphin House”, as there’s a resident pod.
This is an offshore reef, with an enclosed lagoon. The area is designated as a marine park, so activity is strictly monitored. You’ll get an opportunity to snorkel (although – with a mandatory life preserver – free diving is out) and the dolphins may come and play. Or not. The nice thing is that it’s up to them, and there’s an area where there’s not even snorkelling.
(In our case they took one look at Darryl and swam off !)
Even if you don’t get to see the dolphins, the diving is good, with – again – nice soft corals and a small cave complex at around 3 – 5m.
Again, we found some quite strong currents.
Diving here isn’t from Emperor’s own boat – you’ll take a bus to Marsa, and board a local boat there.

Accommodation …

… was clean and spacious.
The food was OK (I’m quite a fussy eater), with a “special” every night.
The pool wasn’t heated.
There is a bar.

The Dive Centre …

.. seemed well organised, although as I wasn’t taking a course I can’t really comment on the instruction.
The Dive guides were all very professional (and mostly Italian).
Manuela produced an excellent DVD of our day at Abu Dabab (I don’t usually buy these, but this was an exception).

I was using a 5mm wetsuit, which seemed about right for the time of year.
It can get a bit breezy on the way back, so it’s a good idea to take a fleece / rugby shirt at this time of year to keep your core temperature up.
Apparently there is a decompression chamber in Marsa, but it’s privately run. So do take out dive insurance, unless you want to risk coming home with a new mortgage …

The Photo Album can be found here ….

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