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Trip Report Egypt - BD (almost E) - Emperor Elite

Discussion in 'Red Sea' started by bvbellomo, Jun 12, 2021.

  1. bvbellomo

    bvbellomo Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: United States
    First post – skip reading this to get to the diving:

    I’ve been planning a Red Sea trip for 2 years, this would be my 2nd dive trip, the first was Blackbeards in the Bahamas. I was a master diver with 50 logged dives. I choose the Tillis, based on price and trip reports and planned to go on my own, towards the end of 2019 I booked flights and a liveaboard for May 2020.

    Covid cancelled everything last May – flights, hotels and liveaboard. I booked a portion of my travel with Kiwi and only got a small refund, but travel insurance picked up the rest. EasyJet only gave me credit. The Tillis allowed me to rebook, and hotels refunded me in full.

    Rebooked everything for October. Travel was possible, but COVID restrictions were in place and Egypt required a COVID test within 96 hours of arrival. Lufthansa sold me on using their test at Frankfurt airport so I’d have no trouble with the deadline. 24 hours before my flight, the online check-in warned me I would not be allowed to board without a COVID test. I spent close to 2 hours on the phone with both Lufthansa and United (who ran the first leg of my trip) and both assured me I would have no trouble boarding. The United agents at the gate were of a different opinion, and I was denied boarding but allowed to reschedule for later in the week. I got a COVID test, but by the time I got the results, I missed the 96 hour window. Thankfully, the Tillis let me reschedule again.

    Rebooked flight and liveaboard for May 2021, planning to do hotels and land tours ‘on the fly’ in case I didn’t go. By coincidence, the dive club “Just Add Water” that I did Blackbeards with scheduled a trip to Egypt the same 2 weeks. Although it was more expensive than traveling on my own and sold out anyway, I wished I would have joined their tour. 1 week before departure, the Tillis contacted me that a large group of Swedes all cancelled and the Tillis would not be leaving port. The Tillis refunded almost all of my money as cash, which I am very thankful for and I intend to rebook with them for a future trip. COVID restrictions reduced the number of guests allowed on a boat, and “Just Add Water” booked a 2nd boat and had space for me so I joined.

    The first week was amazing but very busy. We saw the pyramids and museum in Cairo, I arrived a day early so I saw the Baron’s palace, Cairo tower and Zamalek on my own. We flew to Luxor and saw the Karnak and Luxor temples and the Valley of the Kings including a hot air balloon and drove to Marsa Alam. I’d definitely recommend 2 places of the 3 places (Cairo, Luxor, Red Sea) for a 2 week vacation – doing 3 was too much for the time we had.
    Dan and living4experiences like this.
  2. bvbellomo

    bvbellomo Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: United States
    The water part:

    We spent a day at Jaz Lamaya and I really enjoyed their house reef, being my first chance in the Red Sea. I just snorkeled. No one else in our dive group even went in, and it wasn’t big enough to spend more than a day or two here. But I explored every inch of it, and all the parts with coral at least 4 times. Would be a nice place for classes or certification. This hotel has a nice outdoor area and good food, so I can recommend a week here with a family or couple more about relaxing than diving.

    We booked the Emperor Elite and Echo, I was on the Elite. Both were much larger than Blackbeards, but to me felt about the same. Rooms were much nicer, but I didn’t spend much time there awake on either trip. They have 1 room for briefings, charging electronic and camera equipment, with a small storage bin too small for my camera (a6300), although the crew was okay with it on the floor. I wish this space was larger and had more storage and outlets. The 2nd and 3rd floors had nice outdoor areas, but these seemed underutilized. The food was good, but too much too often. Before COVID, this was buffet style, and that probably worked better. Dinner included complimentary wine, which in my opinion was terrible (others seemed to enjoy it). You can bring your own alcohol, and Sakara and a few other options were available at reasonable prices, but seemed in short supply (although I drank more beer than anyone else). An expresso machine was available for charge but I found it hard to use, and nescafe and tea were free.

    The first diving day was Trombi, which I found very similar to the house reef back at Marsa Alam. Nice easy dive to enjoy smaller Red Sea fish, some coral and do 2 check dives and a night dive, but I wouldn’t want to spend a lot time here. I ran out of air way before anyone else, and people went up in pairs, so not only was I missing some of the dive, I was ruining someone else’s trip too.

    I asked for a larger tank (they offered 12L, 15L and I think a larger option). As far as I could tell, the 12L was an aluminum 80. The dive guide told me to drop 2kg and I should be fine – I questioned this, as aluminum tanks are positively buoyant at the end of a dive, but he insisted. I thought I was using 10kg on my check dives, but was surprised when I opened my weight pocket and saw only 8kg, 3kg on one side and 5kg on the other. So either I somehow lost a 2kg from a closed weight pocket, or never put it in. I decided to keep 8kg, 4kg on each side.

    The 2nd day we arrived at Brothers. The dive guide wasn’t too thrilled about being here, saying it was the wrong time of the year and we should be here in September. I absolutely loved the coral at little brother, the small fish were mostly the same but more plentiful, and we spent time looking out at the blue seeing a thresher shark and some tuna. I felt really overweight, and decided to try 6kg on my next dive.

    Big brother wasn’t as impressive as far as coral – I just saw mostly brown soft corals, and a few more tuna, but no sharks out of the blue. A little under 1500PSI, I went to let air out of my BCD and realized it was empty! I swam down, which was easy at first, but I realized I was getting lighter and would not finish the dive. I tried to alert my buddy, but couldn’t get his attention. I believed I got the attention of someone else in the group, and went up as slowly as I could (which was too fast towards the end) with no safety stop.

    The dive guide was a little mad back on the boat. He asked why I went up so fast, and said he noticed how fogged up my mask was. I was impressed he was watching us so carefully. When I explained the weighting, he said it was incredibly stupid to go with less weight in rough water like that. I really wish I had used the larger tank and adjusted weights the first day, but if I was overweight, I’d have no other chance to fix it as the whole trip was rough water. Then my dive buddy got off the zodiac and asked how I enjoyed my dive – he was completely oblivious that I didn’t finish!

    The Zodiac, especially after the first day, was rough. All divers have to enter straight backwards at the same time, or they collide. I hit the zodiac hard a few times too when I didn’t have all the air out of my bcd. I am tough as far as getting hit, but noticed a lot of bruises on other divers, and know I was responsible for some, and felt bad. I also learned to put my mask on before the zodiac leaves – the guide did not do this, but otherwise I got so much salt it my eyes I could barely see before the dive started. Getting back on the zodiac was not easy either, although we had a skinny skipper who was a lot stronger than he looked throw us on board like landing a fish. Getting the timing down was the issue, if you lifted when he pulled, you got in easy.

    The 3rd day, we arrived at Daedalus. We saw a hammerhead on the first dive, I didn’t bring my camera as I wanted to be more comfortable with my weighting and the Zodiac first. The 2nd dive, my camera leaked and I aborted early (better to save the camera and lose the dive), although no one really saw much. I finished the 3rd dive, which was similar. My camera held vacuum during the day in air and didn’t leak in the freshwater tank overnight, so I thought I’d try it again the next day. As soon as I got to depth, the alarm went off, and I lost another dive. That was my last attempt taking the camera.

    The 5th Daedalus dive was exceptionally great. We split into 2 groups – some divers went back into the blue to look for hammerheads where we were having little luck, and another group went to view the reef. I was in the reef group, as I was losing patience with empty blue and wanted to see something. Not only did we see a reef worth seeing, several Napoleon wrasse came right up to us, and in the end, we saw a pair of hammerheads come right up to us! I thought the other group would be jealous, but found out they got a whole school of hammerheads similarly close! The last Daedalus dive was unexceptional, although we did see anemone city with a lot of large yellow anemones and clownfish.

    We traveled overnight to Elphinestone, but woke up at Abu Dabab. The guide explained we reached Elphinestone early in the morning, but it was too rough to keep the boat there so we’d do our first dive at Abu Dabab and see if the weather gets better. We all really enjoyed Abu Dabab, which although it didn’t have hammerheads or other large animals was a beautiful reef. The guide said the weather made it possible to dive Elphinestone although we wouldn’t enjoy it. We were all happy to stay at Abu Dabab, and the next dive was my favorite of the trip, with huge coral formations and swimthroughs, a bright red anemone, and so many colorful fish – we also saw the wreck of a scuba liveaboard. After another dive at Abu Dabab, we did a fourth dive at night at Marsa Shouna.

    The last day was Marsa Shouna, which was not as nice as Abu Dabab or even Trombi. It had some interesting corals, but visibility was poor. We spent the last dive unsuccessfully looking for dugong seeing only seagrass, by far the least enjoyable dive of the trip, although it would have been worth it if we saw a Dugong. This was the most physical dive, as we went against the current from the tide and covered a large area. Surprisingly, my SAC rate was better than most – I do well moving, but need to work on staying still.

    Lessons learned and experience I wish I had:
    1) Lots of people on this site warned me about strong currents, and we did deal with them, but they really weren’t an issue at depth. They were an issue getting into the water, and I really wish I had some zodiac experience before this trip.
    2) I don’t regret moving to a larger tank, but wish I had some experience before this trip. It was a bigger change to buoyance control than I thought it would be, and my cummerbund was too loose making my tank flop around which took some getting used to. I am going to buy a backplate and wing, and do some local dives to see if that is better, but either way, need experience diving with the tank and BCD I will use.
    3) I practiced with an SMB for certifications, but this trip expected you to deploy one every safety stop, often in strong current. Many times I got tangled in my line, tangled my reel around a mooring line, ended up at the surface before my safety stop was over, or lost my reel – probably my biggest issue overall. More practice would have been a huge help.
    4) I got lots of suggestions about the camera, but I wouldn’t do much different. Obviously, not leaking would have made a big difference, but I don’t think anything I did ahead of time would have helped. I still want one next trip. I don’t feel a small DSLR is substantially more difficult than a go-pro (easier to control, harder to lose), although longer strobe arms are harder to maneuver in strong current.
    coldwaterglutton, Roy_W, Dan and 2 others like this.
  3. Parlem

    Parlem Registered

    Thank you very much, that was a useful yet entertaining read!
    Can I ask you what exposure protection you used?
  4. jfe

    jfe Contributor

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Qatar / South Africa
    I think they gave you a S100 cylinder (13 liter aluminum). They must be the most horrible cylinders to dive with i.m.o., extremely heavy to start with and become incredibly buoyant when empty, they have the worst swing in characteristics I have ever experienced in a dive cylinder. My experience with these are you weight to be neutral at the end of the dive and manage being overweight at the start.
    Pity about your camera, some shots of the hammers would have been great, at least nothing can take your memories and it sound like you had a fun trip.
  5. Efka76

    Efka76 Contributor

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
    Nice report. Yes, Ree Sea is a bit rough. I got a lot of experience when i did LOB in Red Sea 2 years ago. Diving there was different from diving in calm waters of Thailand. However, I had more expectations regarding sea life. Reefs were healthy but not so much of fish. I like fishes very much. From this aspect that was a huge disappointment.

    The last day of diving was successful, we dived with dolphins. Also, saw hammerhead shark as well.
  6. bvbellomo

    bvbellomo Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: United States
    I used a 5mm, which some of the divers felt was too much but I thought it was appropriate. One of our divers went with just a wetsuit top and swim trunks. SAC rate is a big part of this, I'd be comfortable enough in a 3mm, but my air consumption would be significantly higher. It was probably 78F most of the time.
  7. bvbellomo

    bvbellomo Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: United States
    Some of us got to see dolphins underwater, I was not one of them, but I saw them from the boat, and heard them on several dives.

    I was an aquarium keeper before being a diver, so I was probably more impressed than anyone with huge orange tail Emperors and Regals, schools of anthias and glassfish, Klunzinger Wrasse and Sohal tangs everywhere. There was no lack of fish anywhere, although for other divers, they want to see rarer fish or larger fish.

    In the USA, we choose between dive trips like Florida and Hawaii that are easy to get to but very expensive once you are there, or places like Indonesia which have better diving and are cheap but a long expensive trip to get to. The Red Sea was in the middle, but I am considering Thailand as it is cheap but not as far as Indonesia.
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  8. JustSurfaceInterval

    JustSurfaceInterval ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Germany
    May i add some comments and questions as well:
    They had more than 15L. very unusual.... What volume was that?
    In Egypt 12L and 15L Aluminium tanks are the standard equipment. You get used to it. If they are tangled properly they won't move on your back,

    did you not had something to make some noice with, by banging on the tank? add this to your lessons learned or gadget you need for the next dive.

    He noticed because that something good guides do: it is a sign that you are too busy with something else, or too uncomfortable, or even close to panic, to take time to clean your mask.

    Backward entry is standard from small vessels. Having all your stuff sorted and in place (incl. mask) is quite usefull esp. if you have to do a negative entry. And the skippers are well trained that they can pull a diver in full gear out of water. That's quite convenient at e.g. Elphinstone when sharks are around...

    Note that this one is not the one that sunk last year. It's there since several years.

    From what you are reporting: yes, so that you can really enjoy your next trip. It always comes down to more practice.
    Finally 2 questions:
    How many divers were on that boat and from where?
    How was the organisation of PCR tests that were certainly needed by the one or the other to tavel home?
    And thanks for your report, indeed. Much appreciated you took time to do so.
  9. bvbellomo

    bvbellomo Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: United States
    I don't know exactly what the tanks were. If you say "In Egypt 15L Aluminium tanks are the standard equipment" do you know if this was an Aluminum 100 or something else? I don't remember the 3rd option, and I don't know if they actually had it - no one used it, but it was on the price sheet. My BCD has over 1 inch slack around my waist adjusted as tight as it goes, not a big deal with an Aluminum 80 but I plan to move to a plate/wing or different BCD in the future to eliminate this issue.

    We had 22 divers in our group, 13 on the Elite and 9 on the Echo, plus up to 3 paid dive guides depending on the dive. Our group is from Cleveland Ohio, but at least one of us was from Michigan.

    We got rapid (not PCR) tests in Hurghada, I believe this was the ministry of tourism building.

    More practice with anything is good - but I am specifically saying more practice with my SMB, with a larger tank and with a Zodiac would have helped more than anything else.

    Do you know which liveaboard this was that sunk several years ago? I agree it looked to have been there much longer than a year
  10. JustSurfaceInterval

    JustSurfaceInterval ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Germany
    Ok, thanks for coming back.
    i don't know the name of that sunken boat.
    For the tank, i think that an Aluminium 100 tank ist the equivalent of a 12 L, but not sure as i live in a metric world.
    The size above 15L did not show on the price list i found. Anyway.... Not that improtant.

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