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Saturday, 21 September 2019
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Oh Brother Print

Having just returned from two weeks of hard work back in the UK decorating my house inbetween tenants, and a worrying return flight to Hurghada with oxygen masks dropping down and no announcement from the captain as we watched the plane descend rapidly to 10,000 feet before returning to Gatwick for a 24 hour delay, I was ready for a holiday!

Emperor Elite

I was keen to dive the Brothers Islands this year after a failed attempt last year due to high winds.   The Brothers are situated 60 miles off the coast of Queseir and are visited by safari boats departing from Hurghada and Port Ghalib.   I checked availability on Emperor Divers website and found a 7 night safari leaving in two days and reduced by fifty per cent in cost due to only four guests having booked so far.  I then checked the weather forecast which showed light winds most afternoons.    It was sooner than I was planning to go but because of the cheap price and good forecast I booked straight away.

So, a busy couple of days checking equipment and packing and organising everything and then excitement on the morning of departure with thoughts of my holiday.   Well that didn't last long as Emperor Divers telephoned to say that two of the four had cancelled last minute and they couldn't justify a safari going with only two guests.   That was understandable so they offered me another safari leaving that day but going to the Northern wrecks and reefs from Hurghada.   Well this would be like going on holiday in your back garden as most of the sites are accessible from El Gouna.   She then said there was another safari leaving in one week to The Brothers which was twice the price that I had paid but I could go for the same price.   OK, sounds good so now to unpack and wait until the following week.

The Groupo on Big Brother Island

Later in the week I received a call advising me of my pick up time which wouldn't be until 8pm as the other guests were arriving after midnight from Spain.   So 12 Spanish guests and me (one British!) should be interesting.   At least the boat won't be full so I should get a cabin all to myself.

I arrived in Hurghada on the Saturday evening and was taken by zodiac to the boat Emperor Elite which was moored near the Hilton Resort.   My home for the next seven nights.   Emperor Elite is a 38 metre boat which can accommodate 20 guests in en-suite cabins.   It really is very impressive with salon and enormous flat screen TV for dive briefings and DVD's, another upper salon with bar and TV and plenty of mattresses for relaxing on the sun decks and also a jacuzzi.   I was introduced to our dive guides for the week, Gabriel and Maria, who are from Argentina.   I also met Ahmed who was overseeing the final training of the guides and about ten other members of the crew taking care of the boat.    The en-suite cabins were very good with a small fridge, hairdryer, safe and small TV that connects to a central DVD player.  Towels and bathrobes were also supplied.

Night Dive Treasure Hunt

I had dinner with the guides then off for an early night as I realised with 12 guests arriving after midnight there would be a lot of noise.  I think it was 4am by the time the Spanish guests finally settled themselves in after sorting out their dive equipment, unpacking and going to bed.

So, up early the next morning for breakfast and introduced myself to the new arrivals.   There were eight men and four ladies, some of who could not speak any English, but were all very friendly.   We completed all the final paperwork and boat briefings (nearly all in Spanish but with Maria translating for me) and then our boat left Hurghada to start our safari.

Big Brother Lighthouse

Our first check out dive was at Gota Abu Ramada.   An easy shallow dive so everyone could check their weight and equipment.   A very pretty reef but a surprising amount of rubbish on the seabed probably from all the Hurghada snorkelling day boats which were mooring above us.   We ended the dive with a 'balloon party' putting up our SMB's on our safety stop to check everyone was happy using one.

The second dive was a drift dive off Giftun Island.   A beautiful site with loads of marine life.   This was followed by a night dive and after dinner we began our overnight journey to the Brothers Islands.


View from the Top at Big Brother

The Brothers Islands are located about 60 miles offshore from the coast of Quesier.   They are two pinnacles of undersea mountains with steep walls dropping down into the abyss to a depth of 300m.   It is a lonely place but an oasis for marine life in the middle of the surrounding blue seas.  Big Brother has a lighthouse which was built by the British in 1880.  Their isolation means the diving is suitable for more experienced divers due to strong currents and rough seas.   Divers also need to be equipped with surface marker buoy and torch.   It is possible to be swept away from the reef if you venture too far away searching for shark action over the plateaus and divers have been left drifting for hours while boats search for them.   Some only being picked up at night when they have been spotted by their torches.

Jetty at Big Brother and Reef Drop Off

Our first dive was on Big Brother and we would be taken by zodiac close to the north plateau where the wreck of the Aida lies starting at 30 metres.   We were instructed to do a negative entry which means no air in your bouyancy control jacket so you fall backwards off the zodiac and go straight down swimming immediately to the reef wall so you don't get swept off in the current.    So, one, two, three and off we go.   Fin like crazy expecting to see the reef wall but I am above a 4 metre deep plateau and have gone straight over the drop off.   I could see some divers on the wall so I tried to fin against the current to get back to them but the next thing they were all swept onto the plateau with the guide rattling her shaker signalling everyone to surface.    Luckily we surfaced by a mooring rope and could all hang on and stay together as the surface conditions were very rough with the waves breaking over our heads.   The zodiac picked us up one by one as we passed up our weight belts and equipment and headed back to Elite to re-kit and try again.   We had a talking to from Ahmed about negative entries because he had seen some divers with their heads above the water and fins in the air and it is so important for us all to drop straight down together so we are not separated.

Sunset at The Brothers Islands

Second time was successfull and we were soon all drifting in the fast current over the steep drop off admiring the beautiful soft corals and gorgonian forests.   I was keeping an eye out in the blue and deep below and suddenly could make out the dark shape of a shark about another 20 metres below us.   It was swimming in the opposite direction and I studied it hard before realising it was a hammerhead.   I started screaming in excitement in my regulator and pointing below but everyone else was examining the reef wall and not looking in my direction at all.   My buddy was Maria the guide but by the time she turned round the shark had disappeared.   Oh well, at least I saw it!

Little Brother Island

For the second dive we dropped in near the Police Station and lighthouse on the island and drifted to the southern plateau.   We saw a huge napoleon wrasse on the way.   Gabriel's group (Groupo Uno) were ahead and quite deep on the plateau below and had seen a black tip shark.   Our group (Groupo Dos) ventured out over the plateau but couldn't see anything apart from another large napoleon wrasse.   Maria then signalled for us to return to the reef wall.   This was hard as the current was against us and I soon realised that I couldn't keep up with everyone and they were getting further and further ahead.   Maria turned round and I signalled for her to stop but I don't think she saw as she was watching everyone in the group.   I started to focus on a fan coral on the plateau below and could see I was making no progress at all against the current, infact I was now being taken further out.   I then saw two of my group, Alfonso Grande and Alfredo, behind me.   They had been videoing something and I signalled to Alfonso that I was finning and not going anywhere and held out my hand in hope of a tow but no such luck as he was now struggling more than me.   Then the reef, divers and plateau disappeared from view as we were taken further and further out and could now see nothing except blue all around.   I knew it was hopeless to continue finning and must get my SMB inflated and sent up to the surface quickly before we drifted too far.   I was happy that I had the two guys with me and not alone and they also started to inflate their SMB.s.    I think I must have sent up the limpest, floppiest SMB I have ever inflated!   I was not too worried as conditions were calm this end of the island and so surface visibility good and could soon hear a zodiac arriving above us as we did our safety stop.   By the time we were back in the zodiac we had drifted nearly half way to Little Brother!

Guests and Crew on Emperor Elite

The next dive on Big Brother was very pleasant as the wind had dropped and the sea beautiful and calm and the currents had dropped completely.   After the dive we all visited the police station on the island and climbed up the spiral staircase of the lighthouse tower for fantastic views from the top.   After dinner we thought it appropriate to watch the movie Open Water!   Albeit in Spanish though.   Anyhow we fast forwarded through the part where the divers are just drifting for hours to the bit where the sharks start biting!


Emperor Elite from zodiac
The next morning the wind had picked up so the sea was quite rough and we moved to Little Brother.   As we were kitting up we could see a zodiac picking up five divers from another boat that had been swept off the reef and were drifting away!   Our ride in the zodiac was very bumpy and rough but once we were underwater it was very pleasant and currents were strong in parts but then gentle.   This time my buddy was the other guide Gabriel and as he ventured out over the plateau looking for sharks I decided to wait by the reef wall!   The other marine life was stunning.

Underwater Groupo

Mid morning the wind was dropping and sea becoming calmer.  Our second dive on Little Brother was just before lunch and we made a negative entry from the zodiac and swam to the reef wall and continued descending.   I started to inflate my BCD to slow my descent but soon realised something wasn't right!.  My BCD wasn't inflating!   Of all the places for this to happen, the Brothers Islands is really the worst place with no visible sea bed below!!   I got to about 20 metres and realised I would be in trouble if I got any deeper and put on the brakes by finning upwards hard to hold my buoyancy.   I looked around for my buddy Gabriel and immediately caught his eye and signalled that I had a problem.   He came over in a split second and I indicated my inflator hose.   He checked the hose and disconnected and reconnected it.   Then checked my dump valves and saw that the shoulder dump was constantly dumping air.   He signalled to me that the air was escaping from my should valve and that I should keep inflating the BCD all the time.   I didn't want to abort the dive and go to the surface, although this would have been the sensible thing, because it was so rough where we had dropped in and the waves were breaking near the plateau and Gabriel needed to remain with the group so I would have been up there alone.   I continued along the reef gradually getting shallower but started to get a stinking headache as I was using my lungs to maintain my buoyancy too and not exhaling deeply enough.   I felt much more relaxed when I reached about ten metres and continued the dive hugging the reef keeping shallow as everyone dived below me.   I was very relieved to get back on the boat!  Ahmed and Gabriel checked my BCD and fixed the faulty shoulder dump.   I guess with all the negative entries I had been tugging away on all the dumps to make sure I had all the air out my BCD and had pulled the shoulder dump too hard.

Roast Turkey, Gabriel and crew

The afternoon dive was very pleasant with flat seas now and no current.   We finished the dive in the blue under Elite searching for sharks but the water temperature at this time of year is just too warm for them and they remain very deep.   We did see lots of barracuda and very large tuna.   Because of the lack of shark action and a bad weather forecast for the morning we all agreed to head towards the dive sites near Safaga as the Brothers would not be enjoyable in such bad conditions.   So we headed off into a beautiful red setting sun all sitting on the bow of the boat and with a big moon rising behind us which later lit up the flat, dark sea.   After dinner we all sat up on the deck and the Spanish, who were all getting along famously, started a rum and coke party doing a conga around the deck which usually happens on the last night!

Next morning we are moored near Safaga Port to dive the wreck of the Salem Express Ferry which sank on 15th December 1991. The ferry was overloaded after returning from Jeddah with pilgrims who had completed the Hajj.   The experienced captain took a short cut through the reef to shorten the journey by two hours and to protect passengers on deck from bad weather.   Sadly it struck the reef at the bow and sank very quickly with huge loss of lives.   Some passengers managed to swim the long distance to shore.   There was no time to launch the lifeboats.   It is a sombre dive and you do not go inside the wreck which is laying on its starboard side.

Here Come The Dolphins!

Our next dive was Abu Qifan which translates to 'father of the deep' and is 60 kilometers from Safaga.   This is a narrow, long and deep reef with southern plateau.   We could jump straight off Elite for this dive without having to use the zodiacs.    As we headed along the wall towards the plateau there were some major temperature changes in the water.    We dropped down to 30 metres with no current.   The plateau was around 20 metres and as we turned back the current picked up and returning to the main reef was really hard work.   Because of the depth and extra time some of us started to run into deco.   Eventually we managed to get to the shallower part but the current was strong all the way back to Elite and we just got back as our air was getting low.

The next dive near Soma Bay was Tobias Arbaa which has seven pinnacles and a really easy dive which I was certainly ready for.   I dived with Ahmed this time and it was so pleasant and tons of marine life.   We met Julia and Carmen during the dive and they were more interested in photographing Ahmed than the fishes!   That evening there was also a night dive at this site.

Dolphins at Sha'ab el Erg near El Gouna

The following day we headed back towards Hurghada for another drift dive on Giftun Island where we found a turtle and several giant moray eels.   After that we moved nearer to El Gouna and to two dive sites that are regular day trips for me, Poseidon Garden and Dolphin House at Sha'ab el Erg.   There was a bit of rivalry between Groupo Uno and Groupo Dos during the week and as dolphins had been spotted on the surface there was a mad rush to get kitted up and in the zodiacs to try and dive with them.   Groupo Dos went first this time and we were going to wait for Groupo Uno to arrive on their zodiac but the dolphins appeared under our boat so we got in the water quick.   There were eight dolphins around us and it is just magical to be underwater with them.   I was keeping my fins together and trying to swim like a dolphin as one came right along side me and we held eye contact swimming along together for a few precious seconds.   Just wonderful.   Sadly, when we got back to Elite after the one hour dive, Groupo Uno had not been lucky and did not see the dolphins so they went off with their snorkel equipment in the zodiac in search of them.   Luckily they found four of the dolphins and had a wonderful time snorkelling with them.

Farewell Dinner at Felfela, Hurghada

In the evening there was a night dive treasure hunt competition between Groupo Uno and Groupo Dos.   Gabriel took one Groupo and Ahmed the other.  They had to search for weights with floaty ping pong balls on the sea bed close to Elite.   I stayed on the boat too tired for this dive but it was amusing watching all the torch beams underwater and some divers going completely in the wrong direction!   Ahmed's Groupo were the winners.   After this it was party night onboard with roast turkey dinner and plenty of dancing and drum playing and a very late night going to bed at 2am.

Our dive on the last day had to be early to give the Spanish 24 hours surface interval before their flight home.   This meant a 6.30am briefing which was pretty tough after the late night.   It was a great last dive though at Umm Gamar with turtle and giant morays and a final underwater Groupo photo.   In the evening I took the Groupo to Headkandi bar in Hurghada followed by dinner in Felfela restaurant which they thoroughly enjoyed but another 2am bedtime and they had to be up at 5am to head for the airport.

Spending a week with the Spanish divers was a wonderful experience.   They all got on so well and we had a lot of fun both above and below water.   And as usual Emperor Divers and the boat Elite stood up to their usual excellent and professional high standards.   An absolutely unforgettable experience!

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