By Jim Yanny, Eco Divers/Emperor Divers
I first dived in Hurghada in 1985, moved there in 1992 and spent the next six glorious years enjoying the many and varied dive sites. Since then, I have had the good fortune to dive all over the world but just recently the opportunity arose for my wife, Cary, and I to return to Hurghada so we dived in with both feet!
We can honestly say that we were more than a little nervous about what we would be confronted with underwater. After all, these were going to be our first dives there in over fifteen years! When we lived there we loved Hurghada’s diving, offering at the time an exceptional combination of shallow ‘aquarium’ dives and deeper dramatic walls, plateaus and drop-offs. Not to mention regular dolphin encounters and easy access to the largest concentration of wrecks to be found anywhere in the Red Sea. However, during the nineties we also witnessed the growth of Hurghada from a sleepy backwater for divers into a hugely popular Red Sea resort with a massive increase in tourist numbers. Many divers had stopped going there, opting instead for alternative resorts further south. We were genuinely intrigued to learn how Hurghada’s previously magnificent underwater realm had fared after all these years at the hands of these ‘marauding tourists’. Were all the rumours of wholesale destruction true? Would returning to our once-favourite dive area be a move we would regret for the rest of our days? Nostalgia can be such a cruel emotion!
With two days of diving ahead, we were fortunate enough to be able to join a special trip north to the wreck of the Rosalie Moller, which we had never dived before. (I know, I know BUT we used to dive the Thistlegorm wreck back in 1993. Surely that goes some way to balance our credibility, right?). The Rosalie Moller is a wonderful wreck, almost perfectly intact and reminded us a lot of the Thistlegorm of twenty years ago. Just that bit deeper, mind you, which has helped to keep her in a great state of preservation but also making for an ever-so-slightly too short dive when done as a recreational profile if I am being honest. On our way home that day we vowed to return to dive the ‘Rosie’ at the earliest opportunity but not before having some extra training from Cat at Tekstreme so we could safely get more bottom time around (and inside?) the wreck.
On the second day we were able to head up to Carless Reef. We were blessed with exceptional conditions for April, as a rule a month of blowy weather. That day though we awoke to flat seas and not a breath of wind! Carless had always been my favourite Hurghada site. However, last time I dived here it had been the victim of a mass attack by Crown of Thorns starfish and it’s fair to say that it was in a pitiful condition with dead, grey coral for as far as the eye could see. At the time it broke my heart. I knew that Carless has been shut down for a few years before being reopened to divers but I was still filled with trepidation about what I would find. I fully expected the reef to be a pale shadow of its former glory. No pressure, then.
WOW, did I get a surprise! I simply couldn’t believe it; Carless Reef was just as beautiful as I remembered it. There were my great big free-swimming morays...the ‘ergs’ covered in anthias…the schools of banner fish…the pristine fields of table coral. On that one dive I was taken back twenty years. I am still pinching myself. This was a very personal dive for me and I’m not too shy to tell you that it brought a sizeable lump to my throat.
Those who know me know I take pride in my integrity, so trust me when I tell you how lovely Carless Reef looks in 2013. I myself can’t believe it. After all, twenty years is a long time and a lot of divers. I should give full credit to HEPCA and the Egyptian Government as it’s their efforts to fix moorings at the reefs and enforce responsible fishing and tourism practices that have sustained Carless Reef, so that I and many others are able to continue marvelling at its wonders to this day and hopefully for many years to come.
Our last dive was at Shaab Pinky on the north end of Big Giftun Island, a site we’d never previously dived but these days one of Emperor’s more visited dive sites. A shallow reef encrusted in coral and inhabited by octopus (not one, but two), a giant Napoleon, more giant morays, crocodile fish and schools of fusiliers bustling by on their way to somewhere important; a delicious dessert following the Carless main course.
Our return trip to the Red Sea was totally turned on its head. “Poor old Hurghada”, which we assumed had its best days behind it, turned out to be a major highlight of our diving and definitely provided our biggest smile and teariest eye. And yes, we WILL be back there soon. The hotel was comfortable and great value, the food was delicious, the après-dive beers at Friends Bar icy cold and the flight access convenient. And, of course, Emperor Divers’ service was its usual professional and welcoming self. Sure, Hurghada is a bigger town these days with more tourists but, you know, I’m there for the magic of the underwater world and when the diving is that good, that’s definitely OK by me.