Derek Oldham continues his memories of Red Sea diving - his last will feature just before Christmas.
This penultimate episode sees DJ diving the sombre wreck of the Salem Express and wishing he could have held his tongue...
The mask was clear. Weights just right and with an intake of air DJ was able to rise, exhale and we descend! The nearest thing to flying under water! The reef lay in front, the rest of the group above; Terry signals up and DJ realises he is over 30 metres deep! Wrasse, Parrotfish and Surgeonfish cruise the reef, whilst the photo enthusiasts take shots of the Emperorfish, Bannerfish and Sweetlips hanging around the pinnacles. Dive 64 is really turning out to be one of the best. Keeping well out of the range of the Trigger Fish DJ follows the others now at a sensible depth (for him) around the reef into the current! 42 minutes and yet another dive with the normal safety stop, into the Rib and back to Superior.
Discussions had taken place re actually visiting the Island, so after some 60 odd steps there we are on top of the Lighthouse! DJ hold it! Terry takes a shot which later could sum up the happiness of that moment! A walk to the end of the island revealed Superior in all her glory waiting for us as a memory to treasure. Two other dives were made prior to returning to Little Brothers where in dive 67 a shoal of sharks were spotted together with barracuda, in fact there was more life at Little Brothers than Big!
It was proposed that we dive Salem Express although there was some reservation. That's understood as it's a grave for many Pilgrims returning from Mecca. It was decided to go and with some trepidation, remembering his dive on Thistlegorm, DJ joined the others. Luckily the conditions were calm as the currents can be very strong. Dropping to the stern (though DJ did not know that) the group could see the hull lying on its starboard side and very little life. Some lionfish, some groupers and really very little else. DJ viewed the rotted wooden 'shacks' which had housed the Pilgrims who were crushed under the weight of the boat as it hit the Hynderman Reef and sank on December 15 1991. DJ swam with the others alongside the broken windows towards the bow. Still no life. It seemed that the awful catastrophe had influenced even marine life. DJ now understood the reservation of other members and, of course, the crew. It was with some relief that the rope of Superior was reached and we returned to the sun and life.
Much discussion and study of the events leading up to the sinking have since been read but in asking one of the crew a question, innocently, "Why were all the starboard windows broken?"the reply was, "They had to break the windows to get out some of the bodies." DJ felt totally insignificant and still regrets to this day asking such a stupid question. It does appear some 1600 people were aboard, though officially only 960 were registered! The rest on the decks in makeshift shacks. So sad.
On the return and after the dive to Salem Express we stopped at another wreck, this time reported to be caused by the crew who scuttled the boat as they had not been paid, located near Elarish Eltor though that may be incorrect as my diary is a bit vague.
So we return from the adventure of a lifetime, thanks to Emperor Divers to whom I will always be indebted for the opportunity to see and experience such events. I will close next month's with some individual events and wish all happy diving but breathe SLOWLY!