It's a year since my first open water dive, and I'm planning to reach 100 dives in that time. And doing three dives today will make that happen. On the way, there is fish feeding

and something hiding.

Posted Thu Feb 3 00:00:00 2011 Tags: dive

Two days of diving in Aqaba. And it's pretty good. There isn't much boat diving here at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, it's all from the shore. But the diving is excellent. It's rich with large creatures such as rays, eels, and octopus, which our divemaster duly molests.

There's even a mobile anti-aircraft gun under here.

The second day, we're on the wreck of a Lebanese cargo ship with an airspace in the hold. There are turtles.

Also, we do the "Saudi Border Wall" site, the only wall dive on the Aqaba shore. It's a sensitive site because, as the name suggests, it's close to the border. It's a good dive, the wall is deep and features huge cabbage corals.

When we get back up, we're greeted by a chap in camo uniform, bellowing at the sea in Arabic. It's fairly concerning, until we work out that he's got his own set of divers. They turn out to be firemen, practising using breathing equipment or putting out fires underwater or something.

Posted Tue Jan 25 00:00:00 2011 Tags: dive

Today we're heading north from Yanbu for some diving in the middle of nowhere. This stretch of coast is reportedly all good diving if you can get to the shore and march over the fringing reef. Lead by our boat driver from yesterday, we roll up at a stretch of coast accessible due to having a cement factory. There's a coastguard station nearby, so we rock up and do the needful.

And they turn us down. About a year ago, a couple of locals borrowed a mate's diving certification and went out with one tank and reg set between them. After they came back dead, the coastguard decided diving was too dangerous. They send us a mile or so down the coast, for safety's sake. The coast road is the traditional unsealed corrogated dirt track, fine for our DM's pickup, but not really suited to our conveyance, a Jaguar S-type R.

The trek out over the gnarly fringing reef with full gear on is hot and painful on the feet. It's a nice enough dive in the unspoilt water. Short on creatures, but it's pretty fun to know that we're probably the only people to have dived here, ever. We have a short surface interval before moving a little way down the coast for another go. Again, just a few larger fish in the clear water, but still a great opportunity to dive somewhere unique.

After we finish our dive, we turn north again to find a site for tomorrow's outing. We're interested in diving the Saudi side of the Gulf of Aqaba, and we have a tip for someone who can help us in Al Bad, which is right in the north. It's going to be a long drive, so we get cracking without too much delay.

By sunset, we've reached the town of Al Wajh, where we find bizarre bread-based local street food and spot a woman behind the wheel of a jeep.

The rest of the drive stretches on interminably under we get to Al Bad in the north of the country. I wake up as we're driving around the town in the middle of the night. It's becoming apparent that we've been given a bum steer - there's no sign of a hotel or a dive shop in the small town, and we reluctantly take the decision to journey on to the larger town of Haql.

Just outside of Haql, we come across a beach resort offering accommodation. It's after two in the morning when we finally get our heads down.

Posted Sat Jan 22 00:00:00 2011 Tags: dive

Friend Ollie has decided that it's time to leave the Kingdom, and furthermore that the only sensible way to do it is to drive to Finland. Naturally, I'm looking forward to see how that goes, so I'll be accompanying him as for as Amman. (Spoiler: it doesn't fall apart until after I've left the party).

The start of the trip is actually at a beach in Jeddah, for diving. At the end of the day, we get in the motor for the three hour drive to Yanbu where our hotel awaits.

Look, there's a reason the Mövenpick in Yanbu is mostly empty, and it's not the moat. The service here is horrible. They refuse to honour the deal we booked and fob us off with something substantially more expensive.

We've got a dive trip organised for the morrow (who'd have thought it?). The opening entertainment appears when we come across a barge. They're charged with laying a temporary buoy with no nav or depth sounder to position it. After our captain helps out, they drop it upside down. We grab it and right it by towing it around in circle for about ten minutes.

Dive one is at Caesarian Reef. The 26 degree water is properly chilly. It's a brutal bash into the current, giving us only 33 minutes of air. The water is clear, although the wildlife is elusive.

The wind and waves settle for dive two, which is more of a problem because doing less exercise means I start getting colder. The pinnacle isn't much to write home about, and by the end of the dive I'm vowing to invest in a wetsuit. The other diver here without one (and it's total coincedence he's a Scot) makes the same decision.

Our dive buddies for the day let us know of a restaurant, and we ask for the hotel's help to reach it. Sadly, they decide to mislead us about the distance and the cost of taxi there in a transparent move to keep our spending at the hotel. It's actually dead easy, and we're soon nomming on industrial-strength curry.

Posted Fri Jan 21 00:00:00 2011 Tags: dive

Another outing on Khalid's boat to do the wall dive. On the way out we stumble across a pod of at least 40 dolphins. They're a little wary of us as we jump in the water, staying a respectable distance beneath us. That all changes when Chris pops a freedive. The dolphins reevaluate our abilities in the water and scatter.

The diving at Rabigh is as spectacular as usual, the highlight is a cleaner wrasse taking exception to my personal hygiene and having a go at cleaning my leg.

Posted Fri Oct 29 00:00:00 2010 Tags: dive

Final day of diving, heading to Ras Mohammed. It's a slow start getting down to the boat and loading, so we're a little behind once we get underway. And a pause to watch dolphins doesn't help the schedule.

Finally, dive one on Jackfish Alley. My favorite sighting is a diver with a scooter, tank dangling from his front and very little else. Very lazy diving. I approve.

Dive two on Shark/Yolanda Reefs is a bit currenty, sometimes with us and sometimes exhaustingly against us. The water at the entry is so full of divers that I'm starting to feel blinded by bubbles. As the dive goes on, I have to stay alert to keep with the right set of divers.

Yolanda Reef is named after a wreck which went down carrying a cargo of toilets. Cue photographic hilarity.

The end of the dive takes in a small cave before we surface.

There's a dive three, but we don't join in because we're flying tomorrow - we're still just about the right side of the recommended degassing time. From the boat's point of view, the end of the dive is chaotic with four different groups popping up and having to wait while boats mill about and collect their respective parties.

Posted Mon Oct 25 00:00:00 2010 Tags: dive

Day two, featuring a trip out to Tiran. The Straits of Tiran are the narrowest part of the Gulf of Aqaba, with a series of reefs running down the middle. The northernmost is Gordon reef, which is the site of our first dive, a drift. It's nicely relaxed.

The second dive is on the southernmost reef, Jackson Reef. It features another long drift followed by a track back closer to the reef where the current is weaker. Finds include a couple of blue-spotted rays, attended by goat fish.

And finally, a night dive from the beach. I decide to give my camera a miss for this one, to give me one fewer thing to worry about. Naturally, the creatures take the opportunity to come out of the woodwork. We get a conger eel, a snake eel and an absolutely enormous moray. The lionfish are out and about, and make a habit of sneaking up behind me and scaring the crap out of me. There are a good selection of nudibranchs, and a couple of starfish, including a crown of thorns which I've never seen before. Really good dive. No photos.

Posted Sun Oct 24 00:00:00 2010 Tags: dive

It's been a few weeks since I had a holiday, so clearly it's time for the next one. I'm in Sharm el Sheikh thanks to the agreeably competent Saudi budget airline NAS Air. That meant a 5am kick-off yesterday, finally landing here shortly after 8, to discover the Novotel is less competent, and failed to send a taxi. Our newly arranged transport to the hotel stretches the definition of limo service to breaking point and beyond, and is notable largely for its demonstration of how much luggage you can fit on the roof of a Nova using only string and hope.

So today there's a 7:45 pickup for the dive centre, where we sort out hire kit. Then a bus down to the chaotic Naama Bay jetty where a stream of boats are jostling for position to tie up, take on tanks and punters, and get underway for today's destination. Our boat is the Kastan Sea, which is agreeably functional.

Because it's our first day, we're taken to "local sites" so the centre can evaluate our experience. The first is Ras Bob (famously used as the location for a building society advert in 1996). There's stunning visibility even just off the shore - up to 20m. Relatively shallow, with a crinky fringing reef featuring a short cave swimthrough. I end the dive after some malevolent reeflife stings the crap out of my leg.

Second is Ras Nasrani, just up the coast. It's equally nice if a little bit currenty. The water temperature here is about 29 degrees, so still no need for me to invest in a wetsuit.

Posted Sat Oct 23 00:00:00 2010 Tags: dive

Two dive outings this weekend. Yesterday was the turn of the small boat which takes about four people. Dive one on the Cement Wreck, one of the many victims of Jeddah's reef system. It's a 50 year old steam ship which went down carrying cement which has now solidified into what looks like a stack of slightly uncomfortable pillows.

The stern and prop are largely intact and make for an interesting swimthrough. Finds include a blue-spotted ray and a moray lurking in a pipe.

Dive two at Rose Reef, and our DM decides it's going to be a circumnavigation. The distance is about at the limit for one tank. Naturally we start into the current. By the halfway point we've been battling upcurrent all the way and tanks are starting to look low. Thankfully, it's all downcurrent from here and we drift slowly back to the boat with just about enough air.

The boat driver is a former Thuwal fisherman, and it's fairly evident that he enjoys having a new boat to play with. He doesn't mess about getting to his destination - just leaving the coastguard station he has the boat up to 33 knots before it's left the harbour.

So today we have another outing, this time on the Manta. We're starting, again, with the Cement Wreck.

At least in theory. What actually happens is that we get the briefing, jump in the water and spend 37 minutes diving on a non-descript reef which doean't contain a wreck. Asking a GPS later reveals that the boat driver put the boat in completely the wrong place.

So dive two is the second attempt at finding the wreck, and it goes a little better.

Posted Fri Oct 8 00:00:00 2010 Tags: dive

Another weekend of diving. Who could have predicted that?

On Thursday a small group of us heads back to Rabigh for another outing in Khalid's boat. Our first outing is the pinnacles site, a string of coral outcrops leading off a small reef. The coral is lovely - there are some spectacular fan corals - and the pinnacles support a wide array of reef fish and other sealife.

The second dive starts inauspicuously - I lose my mask and snorkel on entry, and I'm too inept to recover them quickly. We're at the wall site, so the bottom is a long way away and they sink without trace. I have to borrow Khalid's mask to continue the dive.

It's a pleasant enough outing, but it's annoying to lose what was a pretty well fitting mask. Apparently, the tell-tale sign of a regular diver is that they hate their mask, so I was pretty lucky to pick up a reasonable one first time. It's particularly bad timing because I'm off on a diving holiday in a few days.

On Friday I'm out again, on the KAUST boat. They have a fairly limited number of sites available to them, and their dives are a little short. My rented mask is annoyingly prone to fogging, so I end up having to keep enough water in it to wash the fog away.

Posted Fri Sep 3 00:00:00 2010 Tags: dive