The fun they had at TEKCamp

An awesome week of meeting the best UK technical divers and learning from them

Diving in The Red Sea

Warm water, clear visibility makes for a great holiday!

Malinbeg Harbour

Often, the simplest local dives are the best.

REDTEC Part 3: SS Thistlegorm. That is all.

WAKEY, WAKEY!



I wasn't exactly 'eased' into day three of RedTec. I was abruptly awakened, greeted only by complete darkness and the frantic movement, of what I hoped was Wifebuddy, in the midst of an earthquake. 

A moment later my mind digested the information and remembered I was on a ship. This in turn allowed me to determine an earthquake was unlikely, and I was, in fact, experiencing a hurricane.


"What's happening? Where are the life jacket things? ... Shit; I paid no attention what so ever during the safety briefing ... we're going to die!"


As I slapped the walls in the looming darkness, somehow hoping a lifejacket was mysteriously hung there, I could hear Kerri in her own private hell. "Arghhhhh!" she cried, as the bed lunged up one more time, and then bounced down again.

"What's happened?" I called, frantically crawling about the bed with arms outstretched like a child playing 'pin the tail on the donkey.' "The Sprite bottle just hit me on the head!"





Then I could hear the sloshing of water. In the name of Christ; we were sinking.






All of a sudden the room was bathed in harsh light, there it was; the gates of heaven ... har! - all my debauchery, heavy metal, smoking, drinking, minor bouts of Satanism; and I was still getting to the pearly gates!




No; Kerri had found the light switch.




In proper light we assessed the situation a little more accurately; determining an earthquake and hurricane may have been a slight over reaction. Further analysis revealed it was choppy seas that caused all the crap we had left lying un-stowed, to migrate around the posh cabin.

Also, as we were on the outside of the ship, our door had been unfortunately placed in the path of surge, and a little water was lapping around the floor.



Crisis averted.









DIVE SITE: SS THISTLEGORM

At 5am, or some other beastly hour, I found myself donning my drysuit, twinset and 50% stage bottle, then leaping from the dive deck onto The SS Thistlegorm.



Not that The Thistelgorm needs an introduction, but for those who aren't familiar; it was a British armed merchant navy ship, built in 1940 and sunk on the 6th October 1941. She was bombed by a Heinkel He-111 aircraft, which dropped 2 bombs on hold 4, near the stern of the ship.


Hold 4 contained the majority of the ammunition which amplified the blast, sinking The Thistlegorm, leading to the loss of 4 sailors and 5 members of Royal Navy gun crew. (see wiki for more detail)



DIVE 1

In true fashion, Kerri had a dive plan penned for this dive before we even left Belfast; descended the shot line, we knew exactly where we going.

The enormity of the wreck was quite a shock. I knew it was big, but it was something else as the hull faded up from the soft blue of The Red Sea.





It was massive.





As per the plan, we followed the shot directly to the mooring point, mainly so we knew which one to ascend; The Thistlegorm is a popular site and ascending the wrong shot is a strong possibility. Once on the wreck, a quick sanity check and we were on our way.


The liveaboard had moored to the stern, so we descended to the sea bed and attempted to locate the giant prop. Within 4 mins of our big adventure we stumbled upon Jim Dowling and his group. Kerri signalled to me and I knew at once what she was thinking; “Bugger this – let’s follow Jim!

So, our 3 month prepared dive plan was binned, and we tailed The Dowling Party around the wreck. It was a phenomenal idea, and we wouldn't have had half the dive skulking around on our own.





Due to the moderate current Jim led us to one of the locomotives. The locomotive had been blown off the ship during the explosion; despite being welded to the deck. Seeing a train sitting upright on the sea bed was nutty, and the power of such a blast must have been ferocious to send a hulking mass of steel 30m from the deck.



The Dowling Party drifted back to wreck, encircled the rear guns, and made its way to the prop. Amazingly I didn't see the huge guns poking off the stern section. I do recall wondering why everyone had stopped at an apparent steel wall, but thought nothing of it.


I don't know how I didn't see them; Jim was completely disgusted. I blame him entirely, he's a crap guide - he needs one of those underwater shakers and a pointy stick; like a proper guide.



The prop was pretty much as expected; genormous. A little swim led us to the holds. I knew that penetration was common practice, and exits were riddled throughout, from the accelerating deterioration of the super structure. Entering the hold was simply awesome; I really felt like a technical diver. Nonsense, I know, but all of a sudden I felt I was doing something normal folks didn't get to do; ever.





Kerri was leading, so I followed her into a corridor, dropped down a level into hold 3 and through a hole in the bulkhead into hold 2. Hold 3 had originally contained coal, and was subsequently empty, but hold 2 was mind blowing. It was littered with welly boots, rifles, and finally motorbikes.


The bikes were fantastic. They leaned against each other in perfect rows; as if parked outside some underwater biker bar. What really got me were the tyres. I know rubber doesn't degenerate, but they looked fully inflated and ready to go; as were the tyres on the upturned trucks outside.



After far too long investigating the motorcycles, it was apparent The Dowling Party was leaving us behind; and that was the last place I wanted to be - navigating on my own. We caught up with Pat and Keith, who were in the process of considering penetrating the next hold.




I have to admit I felt a little apprehensive about delving any deeper, but at the same time was totally enthralled by the prospect, and more importantly; wasn't sure where else to go.

Clearly Pat and Keith shared the same thought process as they turned and exited from hold 2; having witnessed where Jim departed.


Back on the main deck the bright sunshine lit the wreck as if on dry land; you could see everything. We moved to the bow section and Kerri investigated another possibly penetration point; what is it with her wanting to go into dark overhead places?










As Wifebuddy peered into a doorway, a thumping big South African tech diver appeared; it was Pat. With Pat exiting, there was no way Kerri was getting in; Pat is a giant man, but more on that later.


Jim spied us and excitedly waved us over to the bow, taking the obligatory "Kate Winslet moment" photograph. Dutifully we took position, staring to the sea bed; it was a long way down and again the enormity of the ship became apparent once more.




As per usual our lack of gills terminated the dive, as turn pressure was reached. We followed Jim to the shot line; switched to 50% and initiated the decompression sequence. I wasn't convinced the shot was where it was on our descent, but placed full trust in the dodgy Brit, following The Dowling Party to the surface.



As we broke the surface it was clear it wasn't the same shot, arriving at the stern of the liveaboard. I bloody knew it. I guess it was all part of the master plan, we simply let go of the shot and drifted effortlessly go the stern and climbed aboard.


"Tea?"
"Yes please Samir!" 

... and then headed for breakfast, treated to Paul Toomer smearing egg over himself. “E-G-G…”



DIVE 2

Prior to dive 2 on The Thistlegorm, Wifebuddy and I conferred, deciding it was definitely advantageous to follow Jim.

We explained to Chief Dowling we would be following him about the wreck; "Cool" was the response, and we jumped in along with another couple Jim was guiding.







The plan was pretty much the same as the morning dive, minus the locomotive. We were totally happy with that; no doubt we had missed loads of cool stuff on the first dive anyway. We left the deco bottles behind, as the other couple weren't bringing any, and figured it would be more sensible to gas match and dive the same plan.






We made it to the big guns, again, and Jim made quite an exaggerated signal, ensuring I saw them. Yes, yes, Mr Dowling; I saw them, 2 big guns ... yeah, yeah.



They were awesome in all fairness.


It was especially interesting to learn from our dive guide, there had been no ammunition aboard The Thistlegorm for said big guns; rendering them useless during the attack.










Midway through hold 2, the wheels came off the party slightly. As Jim was pointing out a very cool nudiranch, one of the other divers in the group decided she wasn't particularly keen on the overhead environment after all; lost buoyancy, and basically wanted out.

It was a little fascinating to watch Jim suddenly 'switch on' to the matter in hand. He calmly signalled, to the increasingly agitated diver, to breathe slowly, then reached out his hands, and provided her with the stable platform every diver yearns for when things get a little edgy.




Crisis averted, the party exited into open water. Jim signalled he was terminating the dive with the other couple, and we should continue on alone. Unaffected we continued our dive, enjoying a little more of the big wreck.




I have to admit, after 60 mins I wished I’d brought my deco bottle after all. I'm not a fan of deco-ing on back gas, so with NDL maxed out; we headed to the shot and returned to The Blue Voyager.




OFF GAS

Lunchtime and we had already completed 2 fantastic dives on The Thistlegorm; it was phenomenal, and I couldn't wait to get back on her.

A serious amount of off-gassing was required before we could go diving again; so the group enjoyed lots of splendid food, purple juice, a clear sky and great company.


The diver that developed the issue in the hold apologised profusely for ruining our dive. To be honest, although we didn't get to penetrate hold 3 as planned, we weren't bothered. Once a diver isn't happy it's time to call the dive; them's the rules.

Both Kerri and I assured her we didn't mind, and hoped she was ok, and told her not to worry about it.





DIVE 3 - WHAT ARE YOU DOING TONIGHT?


Egypt got dark earlier than I expected, and it was soon apparent the next dive was going to be a night dive. Thankfully Paul Toomer announced he would be leading, encouraging us to join him and 5 others.


A dive with Paul Toomer, at night, on the SS Thistlegorm; oh hell yeah!




We had charged our primary lights, checked, then double checked our reserve lights and were set to go night diving.



We descended the stern shot line as before, and upon reaching the wreck Paul made an exaggerated OK signal with his light. Our team reciprocated and the dive commenced. I finned along with the procession of double tanked divers, chuckling as I recalled Achmed 'advising' us “No decompression, no penetration, and a maximum dive time of 45 mins.

I held that thought in my mind as we followed Toomer deep inside the wreck.



I know many divers that have penetrated The Thisetlegorm, and it has become par for the course on the safari boats; but I beg to differ that your average diver conducted a penetration quite like the one we did.

The chain of divers went: Paul, Dave, Me, Kerri, Laura, Geoff, Dimitris with Ben up the rear; and we delved deep into the Thistlegorm, lit only by 8 dive lights. My EOS really came to life!




I recognised some parts from the earlier dives, until we swam through a break in a bulkhead into the unknown. It was stimulation overload. We saw motorbikes, sidecars, rifles, boots, huge trucks, parts of aircraft and various other military paraphernalia.



After 20 minutes or so we ended up in a hold above rows of huge troop carrier type trucks. There was just enough room above the trucks and the roof of the hold to get a diver along, if in pretty much flat trim.








I recall at that point thinking; "Jesus, we're pretty far in here. I'm not sure I want to go much deeper." The problem with that thought process was, I couldn't find my way out; even if I did develop the testicles to leave on my own. I was at Toomer's mercy; I had no option but to continue following.


The Thistlegorm night dive became a little bit of an endurance test after that. I'm not a huge fan of long overheads, especially when I don't know where I’m going, or how to get out; add into the mix, I’m also a bit claustrophobic ... on land…




DON'T PANIC

I seemed to teeter somewhere between complete exhilaration, and absolute panic; for a further 35 mins.



It appeared Paul would not be content until we had seen every square inch of metal inside of the wreck.

Entry points became tighter, and tighter. I had to help Dave as his light cord got caught, when he squeezed his rebreather through a particularly tight spot.





The clincher came when I saw Paul up ahead detaching his bailout cylinder, and throw it through a 'hole' in the bulkhead. My eyes widened, and I heard my own voice through the regulator; "He can get fucked if he thinks I’m taking my kit off."

Thankfully I could fit through twinset and all; but was glad I didn't have a stage bottle with me.


A few more squeezes, ups, downs, rounds, throughs, and unders, we finally exited into open water.



I have to admit I was bloody glad, and it felt like a breath of fresh air as our technical squad finned past the blank stares of a recreational group on the main deck. It did feel pretty cool though.



We all centred on the shot line, Paul waved a big OK once more, and we ascended.



The night dive was a perfect way to end a phenomenal day on SS Thistlegorm. I could happily spend a week on that wreck. It was absolutely huge, and I’m sure I missed plenty of cool stuff; but I saw a bloody good proportion of it in 3 dives spanning 189 minutes.


WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT THEN?

Bobbing about on the surface Kerri gave an air-punch, “YES!” but, I think Paul summed it up best; a deep laugh and then his South African accent; "It's good eh?"




Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

REDTEC Part 2: Err, Erg and Egg



Waking up on a luxury yacht was rather cool. As I slid the door back on our posh cabin, I was greeted by blazing sunlight, enhanced as it bounced off the glossy white hull. It was 8am when Wifebuddy and I finally made our way down to the dining room for breakfast.

BREAKFAST

The dining room consisted of two large tables, one on each side, a lounge area, and a serving 'buffet style' table at the top. 



I'm pretty fussy when it comes to breakfast, I like a simple cereal or lots of fried, dead pig, coupled with soda and potato bread; but I know that's an Irish thing so wasn't expecting it. Wifebuddy also assured me that Egypt was a Muslim country and therefore would not be serving "swine." I find “swine” a very unfair term for bacon. 


Needless to say Kerri was correct one again; no pig. However there was plenty to choose from, and even I managed to construct a tidy breakfast from the fresh meats, cheeses, crepe pancakes and salad-y things on show.







Varieties of eggs were also on offer, the style of which was requested the night before; fried, poached, scrambled, omelette, Spanish omelette or boiled.

I especially enjoyed Paul Toomer meandering aimlessly around the room droning "E-G-G..." over and over again, in search of his '3 minute' boiled egg. He's not the sharpest in the morning. 


After breakfast, our group made our way to the sundeck for a briefing on the first dive. I was pretty excited by this point, and was totally ready to go scuba diving in The Red Sea.



SUN DECK

The sun deck was where we spent the majority of our 'spare time.' It had two tables, soft benches around the edge, and a couple of big green bean bags to lounge on. I was staggered as how smooth the decks were on the ship, bare foot was the law; but even my delicate man-feet were fine.

 
Kerri enjoying the sun deck



Yes, I’ve resorted to calling it a ship; it sounds rather grand - suits me better.





A small kitchen area was accessible 24/7. A large boiler provided boiling water for tea or coffee, mugs, cups, cutlery where all available, and two large juice dispensers were kept topped up all day. The juice was awesome; one was orange and the other was purple.


The purple stuff was just glorious; it was called Karkade or something. Personally I think it contained cocaine; no one appeared able to get enough of it. A small basket of chocolate biscuits miraculously remained full throughout the day as well.







After a few more glasses of cocaine juice, a dive briefing was called; we were finally about to go diving!



DIVE 1 - SHAAB EL ERG


The dive briefings were excellent. They were short, concise, and accurate; this allowed me to remember what was said. I have had so many "in depth" dive briefings; got in the water, looked at Wifebuddy and decided I didn't know anything about the site at all, mainly due to information overload.



Our first dive was to be on Shaab el Erg, from what I recall it meant "reef"; possibly. Ultimately it didn't really matter, as this was primarily a check dive.


In short, there were two reef bits; all we had to do was jump in, keep the rocky bit on our right shoulder, turn around at some point and go back to the ship.



Simple eh?



Finally we donned our twinsets, minus stages, and leapt from the dive deck at the rear of the ship.


It was a phenomenal feeling as the warm 23C water washed over my gloveless hands and hoodless head. I hadn't done a hot water dive in years; it was splendid. The visibility was cracking, probably 30m or so; although to be honest, when the vis is over the usual 1m we have at home, I have no concept. It was bloody good, put it that way.

courtesy Jim Dowling


With the dive briefing clear in our minds, we gently kicked and glided around the reef; I was relaxed instantly.


I gave Kerri an OK signal, which she dutifully returned, and we soon established we weren't really sure what to do on a check dive. I signalled a bubble check, we scanned each other; I had a leaking SPG, but I knew that already and wasn't hugely concerned.

I deployed and checked my primary light, Wifebuddy followed suit and we signalled OK again. I shrugged, Kerri shrugged, signalled ok and we simply kicked about the reef for another hour; "checking" our gear.



As we were cruised, all of a sudden a camera lens came over the top of my head and straight into my face. I thought, what in the name of fuck is going on here? - Some twat is trailing his camera around on some stupid, big telephone cord; he's swum over me and clocked me with his camera.


I drew my steak knife ready to kill...


The flash fired, I could hear laughing, followed by Jim Dowling's stupid face, grinning past a regulator; typical. I knew that was an indication of how my week would come to pass.


Jim Dowling's upside down photography

At that point we realised we hadn't a clue whereabouts we were, so thought it best to tag along with Jim; another thread that would reappear throughout the week. He snapped away with his camera and we investigated the local fishies.



We also bumped into Dan Burton of Diver fame (amongst others). He was on a strange rebreather-type thing and was placing a cylindrical-tube-contraption on various parts of the reef from time to time. I found out later it was a prototype 3D video camera he had personally designed a housing for; he's proper famous.

He was also leaking bubbles everywhere, and seemed no more concerned.

Kerri and her bunny ears - (c) Jim Dowling


We left Dan to it and began our ascent.


Kerri fired up an smb and left me far below, due to being slightly underweighted. I surfaced a minute or two behind, satisfied my 4Kg weight belt was adequate.


Amazingly we were pretty close to the ship, and could easily have finned over. The crew wouldn't have it, and commissioned the zodiac. They scooped Kerri into it, and towed me over to the main dive deck where I ascended the ladder; only to meet outstretched arms, as another crew member expertly doffed my fins and helped me aboard.

dive deck


As I waddled back to the bench and was helped out of my harness, I was immediately offered tea; "Yes please, white with one sugar Samir." That was the one and only time I had to tell the man how I took my tea; he merely asked confirmation therein.

I miss Samir.




We replaced the numbered disc back on the board (every diver had a unique number that had to be clipped onto a d-ring during the dive), and headed to the sun deck for more purple cocaine juice.








LUNCHTIME


The ship bell clanged three times signifying lunch, and the group assembled in the dining area for yet another fabulous meal. I really enjoyed the food, and can't stress enough how fantastic it was. Every meal was a delight.

What was more impressive was how the chef managed to create such culinary delights from the tiny little galley he worked in.





The large dining table arrangement really helped the social aspect of the trip. Everyone was very polite, handing down bread, passing the salt; all that good stuff, and conversations quickly ensued. It was a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere which only got better as the days progressed.





With full bellies, our bunch of tech divers resigned back to the gear deck to tinker with the kit once more. A few divers had to make some adjustments and I made an effort to fix my leaking SPG; failing miserably. There didn't appear to be any major issues, just a lot of double checking and tightening of bolts.



As the ship sailed to our next dive site, we enjoyed the sun and countless cups of juice, slowly getting to know our fellow guests; exchanging a few dive tales here and there of various ship wrecks we discovered. All lies of course.



DIVE 2 - THE GIANNIAS D


The bell clanged again, and I began to panic a little we would have to eat more food; then it transpired it was simply the role call for the next dive briefing. Obediently assembled, we learned about the Giannias D and the best way to dive the wreck.



The Ghiannias D was a Greek 1969 cargo ship approx 99.5m long. On the 19th April 1983 she crashed into the reef at Abu Nuhas whilst transporting a cargo of timber. She didn't sink immediately, allowing all the crew to be saved. Currently she rests in 27m of water listing at 45 degrees to her port side. The stern is the most interesting part of the wreck extending to within 6m of the surface.


Dry suits were donned once again, a routine already to beginning to formulate, we boarded the zodiacs and zipped out to the site. A classic reverse roll from the rhib put Kerri and I directly onto the wreck; nice driving guys.


The visibility really came into play. Our decent was very slow, as we simply stared in awe over the entire wreck in the clear water. Orientation was weird. As she was lying so far over to the side I found it strange to navigate around; I felt like I did the whole dive sideways.



Photo genius, Dan Burton, was snapping away with another huge camera contraption and grabbed us both as we investigated the port side. He signalled Kerri and I into various positions taking numerous photos. He asked Kerri to switch on her can light, but unfortunately it died.


POSTER BUOY


As a result of Kerri's light failure, she was shunned to the side and I became the sole object of Dan's desire. All my GUE-F training came into play, as I hovered amongst parts of the wreckage and coral formations.


I have to admit, I was enjoying the attention. I'm also curious if the pics even came out? (Edit - Dan???)


Whilst I was becoming the GUE poster boy, Kerri was desperately trying to get our attention as a Giant Moray Eel encircled Dan's feet. My modelling career ended as abruptly as it began, and Kerri started searching for the Moray.




IT'S A-MORAY!

Had I have known we were swimming through all sorts of tight passages in search of a big effin' eel, I wouldn't have bothered. I like Moray's and all that, but I have no desire to come face to face with one in a tiny corridor on a wreck 27m down.

searching for the Giant Moray Eel



As our NDL loomed we began ascending to the shallower levels of the wreck and played a little more with our new Canon S95 camera, which was working well, and not leaking.







At 68 mins we called the dive and enjoyed playing about on the big winch, which doubled as a safety stop.



True to the dive brief, we checked for zodiacs on the surface. No engine sounds dictated it was safe to surface and we were soon hauled aboard the inflatable.

The sea was a little choppy on the brief journey back to The Blue Voyager; which merely demonstrated the skill of the young lads crewing the rhib. Even I could tell they were cutting across at one angle, and then taking another trajectory to reach the main vessel. It was all quite impressive, allowing for a smooth journey.



Testament to this, was the fact Wifebuddy didn’t boke.



De-kitted, tea in hand, we had a quick debrief and attempted to determine why Kerri's light had died. Inspection of the battery quickly showed a wire detached from one of the terminals, thus cutting the power. Kerri went for a shower, as I, unsuccessfully, sought out a soldering iron.


Par for the course: no soldering iron was available, so, some clever wire stripping and gaffa tape solved the problem. The can light was back in business.



DINNER


Dinner times consisted of a 3 course meal, again maintaining the high standards we already expected. Soup of the day was a prequel to every main meal, and I have to say the daily soup variation became my favourite course.






Over dinner, the banter began as Tall Poomer began imitating my, incredibly refined, Belfast accent. The group were discussing gases for the next dive, and I merely requested 32% nitrox as opposed to air. Apparently "air" in Belfast speak became "EER" to the highly elocuted tattooed lout. So he continued to moan "E-R-R" over and over again...



The remainder of the table also found this very amusing. Idiots.



Dinner done, we retired to the sun deck; and it seemed rude not have a beer. I found the resident Sakara beer more than satisfactory, and supped away until we were requested in the ‘Sky Lounge’ for the dive briefing. The dive briefing was for the following day when we would be diving the legendary SS Thistlegorm.





I had been dying to dive The SS Thistlegorm for years, but disappointingly missed it on our last trip to Egypt. That would not be the case on RedTec, as we were scheduled to conduct 3 technical dives on her. I couldn't wait.


We figured it best to retire early to prepare for the pending 3 dives, and I sloped into dreamscapes of The Thistlegorm.

Sometime in the night, The Blue Voyager fired up her engines, and we began the overnight journey to the dive site.


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7

REDTEC Part 1: Monolithic Baby!


It was 18 months ago when Wifebuddy stated she had a surprise for me. Usually I’m quite sceptical about such declarations, as they are often code for; “The bin experiment in the kitchen needs dealt with…” or “My car isn’t working…” or the dreaded “I think we’re out of home heating oil…"


However, as I sat in feigned enthusiasm, I quickly learned I need not have worried;

“I’m taking you to Canada on a diving holiday!”

I was absolutely thrilled. I love cold water diving, and Newfoundland has some of the best.



What followed was about 3 months of you tube videos and Google searches for dive sites we would be investigating. Then the wheels fell off. It transpired that I am the only fan of cold water diving, and the trip was cancelled due to lack of interest. Arse.



Undeterred, Kerri quickly had a list of alternatives; a week in Egypt scuba diving the wrecks of The Red Sea was top of the list. This in turn led to the discovery of RedTec; a week long liveaboard consisting of 40m+ technical diving in conjunction with Paul Toomer’s Diving Matrix




Once again I was happy; we were still going tech diving, and I got to wear my drysuit after all.



Subsequently we got to chat to Paul Toomer at TekCamp 2011, which was fantastic as we got to explain our credentials, and determine if we were capable of the diving. Paul explained the plans for the trip, said we were at a perfect level, and should certainly come along to enjoy the festivities.



We booked the trip as soon as we got home from TekCamp.



BLUE O TWO


The trip was booked with Blue O Two; a UK based luxury liveaboard, and shore based dive Holiday Company. 


Well; Kerri booked it. It was fair to say that due to this being “my surprise,” I ensured I had absolutely nothing to do with the arrangements; Kerri prefers it that way … honest. 



Blue O Two arranged flights (from Gatwick), transfers to the boat and the Egyptian visa. I am reliably informed it was at that stage Wifebuddy booked our manifolded twinsets and stage bottles. 

My dear wife also had the foresight to book an extra “scuba bag”; which provided an extra 10kg of gear for a total fee of £30. An added bonus was Thomas Cook allow an extra 5kg on production of a valid PADI card; which meant we had 15kg. Hand luggage was restricted to 5kg.



All that was left was for us to book flights from Belfast to Gatwick. Again, the “scuba bag” was added at the additional cost of £50. Typical of airlines, continuity was lacking, and the bag was restricted to 10kg; but, as we were flying out with Easyjet we were privy to unlimited hand luggage.



PACKING

Packing 2 sets of technical dive gear into 5 bags, and remaining on weight, was quite the Daz Doorstep Challenge. One thing we quickly learned was ordinary suitcases were crap for dive trips; being too heavy.


In our wisdom we decided new bags should be purchased, immediately. 


Rather than buying “proper” dive bags; we decided on cheapo ebay pieces of crap weighing 600 grams each. Wifebuddy managed to pick up a reasonably well shaped 200litre bag for £20. I, on the other hand, ended up receiving the wrong item; even though I replicated Kerri’s order.



What I got was “The Monolith.” It was a piece of hideous. Rather than the desired semi-rigid 200l bag, I received a 300l flaccid, floppy nightmare.




It materialised that 2 adults with OCD really know how to pack dive kit, and here’s how we did it:


  • HOLD BAG 1: Kerri’s kit – backplate, wing, drysuit, boots, undersuit, can light battery, chargers, clothes, 2 masks, stage regs, toiletries. [19.2kg
  • HOLD BAG 2: The Monolith – My kit, backplate, wing, drysuit, boots, undersuit, can light battery, chargers, clothes, 2 masks, no toiletries. [20.4kg]
  • SCUBA BAG: 2 sets of fins, 4 spools, 4 smbs, 2 wetnotes, cutting devices, Kerri’s back up light, my stage regs, tools. [12.2kg
  • HAND LUGGAGE (x2): Main regs, computers, 2 back up lights, torch heads, analyser, camera, housing ipad, ipods. [11.2kg combined


Shifting the stage regs from the scuba bag to hand luggage, depending on what airline we were flying with, ensured we were bang on weight each time. I are genius.

Personally I wasn’t massively concerned about the hand luggage, but Kerri displayed various symptoms of apoplexy when I suggested we might be ok with 7kg each.



DEPARTING BELFAST


I finished night shift on the Thursday morning, went to bed for a few hours, was wakened at 2pm, instructed to load the Ford Boring with the bags, and then head to the airport.

We stopped en route at our local Frankie & Benny’s for lunch/dinner, at which point I decided I was most definitely on holiday and began drinking.




Before I knew it, I was staggering around Belfast International airport leaning heavily on a completely unmanageable trolley of dive kit. Security check done, we painlessly boarded our flight to Gatwick and I continued to enjoy overpriced beer.



attempting to manage The Monolith


ARRIVING GATWICK

Once on the mainland we located the bags, succeeded in securing yet another unmanageable trolley and aimlessly searched for the shuttle bus terminal to take us to Gatwick Travelodge.

That section was arguable the worst piece of travel history. By the time we found the bus thingy, I was feeling more sober than I would have liked; and it was absolutely freezing. We stood far too long on a bus that arrived, and promptly drove off without us.



Another hour followed.



We entertained ourselves by eavesdropping the arguments of an old married couple who were also waiting for the bus. It turned out it was the old man’s fault, as he had obviously booked them into a hotel with no bus service.

The woman was intent on complaining bitterly to the hotel once they got there, but figured she probably be dead by then; also the old man’s fault.


The bus reappeared, and complete panic ensued as I attempted to lift The Monolith, along with Kerri’s bag, plus the hand luggage. The gear was hauled, dragged, kicked onto the bus, the driver received a passive aggressive withering stare, and we collapsed into the seats for the 15min journey. 





Gatwick Airport to Gatwick Travelodge took 2.5 hours. I hate Gatwick; may it burn to the ground in the next riot.



TRAVELODGE

Kerri collected our keys for the room and the comedy commenced once again, as we attempted to manoeuvre the stupid floppy bags around the stupidly tiny corridors of the hotel.


Nothing was safe.




Other residents ran for cover as we trailed the bags into the lift, monopolising the only form of transport between the hotel floors. As expected, our room was at the furthest end of the hotel, resulting in extended traversing with the bags of doom.


Having collected a second fire extinguisher from the wall, Wifebuddy gave up; abandoning her big bag and heading for the room. Needless to say I was sent back to get it, once I got The Monolith situated.








The next morning the process was repeated; but in reverse. I was already VERY sick of The Monolith; and swore it would be burned upon returning home. In a vain attempt to remedy the extreme floppiness, I tightened a luggage strap around the length of the bag to ‘squash’ it into a more acceptable shape. It was a mess.

The "squashed" Monolith outside the Travelodge


Another wrestling match onto the shuttle bus, and we soon arrived at Gatwick Airport … again.



GATWICK AIPORT – THE DEPARTURE

On the third effort, I found the only manoeuvrable trolley in the world, loaded the bags and proceeded through the stringent security, finally making it to the departure lounge.

At last the excitement really began to kick in. RedTec had arrived, and we were about to board a plane and head for Egypt.



As we ogled the overhead TV, searching for our flight information; in that head back, open jawed moronic way tourists do, I felt a big arm engulf me. 


“Ahhhh! A big South African has me!”


The low rumbling laugh signified Mr Paul Toomer had found us.

Paul, Kerri and I at TekCamp 2011

We hadn’t seen Tall Poomer since TekCamp last year; group hugs and hearty handshakes followed. It was excellent to meet up again and we were soon deep in dive talk, right up until the flight departed.

At the gate we also got to meet a few of the other guests that would be aboard for the week, which was a nice ice breaker.



FLIGHT

The flight was pretty uneventful, although, as Blue O Two customers, we received a free onboard meal. This was an unexpected bonus, and I could feel the jealous stares from those without the boiled, fall apart, chicken(ish) delight I had in front of me.

The 5 hour flight went in pretty quickly, mainly due to the joys of the iPad; a read at Technical Diving Magazine, and a viewing of The Descent part 2.

It was quite enjoyable as our “neighbour” occasional glanced down at the tablet, only to see a bloodied woman forcing her thumbs into the eye sockets of a naked monster – what a great movie.





ARRIVAL IN EGYPT


Once in Egypt all we had to do was follow the bloke waving the Blue O Two placard. We joined the queue to receive our visa (pre-paid and all arranged by Blue O Two) which was simply stuck into our passport; then carried on with the crowd.

Baggage reclaim was the usual adventure of wrestling The Monolith from the conveyor belt, onto an un-manoeuvrable Egyptian trolley, and heading outside for the bus.




As we awaited the bus, the Blue O Two rep inquired which boat we were booked onto and allocated identifying ribbons accordingly. Bags on the bus, a delightfully short 15min journey to Hurghada pier
followed.



I KNOW YOU

The mood on the bus was awesome; everyone was super excited and the travel process had been dead easy, making the whole thing all the more enjoyable. The bus pulled up outside The Marriott Hotel, and we were instructed to leave our bags for the Blue Voyager crew to take care of. Splendid.


As I disembarked the bus I came face to face with a familiar, shaven headed fellow in a red shirt - How the hell did HE get here?

Stealthy bastard.

Yep, it was none other than Jim Dowling; the safety diver from TekCamp.



[edit – Jim is actually a Technical Diving Instructor based in Sharm El Sheik, and cave exploration pioneer, who I first encountered at TekCamp 2011 under the guise of safety diver. He is also a stealthy bastard, see this post]


As I stood, attempting to determine what “The GingĂ© One” was doing on my holiday, Tall Poomer and Kerri were giggling silly. It turned out the pair where in cahoots with the stealthy one and this was a prior arrangement everyone was privy too; bar me of course. Either way I was thrilled. (Little did I know more than a surprise visit was in store...)


Jim was great craic at TekCamp, and since then we had been in touch plenty via facebook etc. Things improved further when I asked was he hanging about for a drink, and he replied;

I’d like to bloody think so; I’m your guide for the week.

I was then even more confused; “What? … Like … on the boat?

No, from my house; yes on the boat you muppet!” – Or words to that effect.


On closer inspection the “red shirt” he was wearing had ‘JIM’ written on it (probably so he could tell it was his), and was further emblazoned with the RedTec logo. The trip had just improved somewhat; I knew he would make an adequate dive guide.



WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOAT – NOT!


Collectively the bus load of tech divers made their way the short distance down to The Blue Voyager. It was an amazing sight.

I’ve never done the liveaboard thing before and I was surprised how large the boat was, as it gleamed majestically in the moonlight. Delicately, Kerri and I walked the plank onto the dive deck; our kit following shortly after.



Once aboard we received a short, but concise introduction from Kevin, the Blue O Two dive guide, who then handed the guests over to Paul Toomer and he explained the logistics of the week.

It was really well organised, and everyone soon had a clear understanding of what to expect from the week, and how everything was going to work.



Paul gave an excellent introduction to himself, then Jim, clearly explaining their roles and how to verbalise any problems we may have. Introductions then fell onto the guests as Paul gave a quick rundown of each diver on the trip.


Despite getting a little stick for being GUE, I found this an excellent idea, as everyone got a good perspective on the level of divers onboard. As usual, Kerri and I were the least qualified and least experienced; but that was grand – we were there to build on it.









It was also clear, aside from 2 extended range divers, we were the only pair not qualified to dive Trimix. It wasn’t a massive concern, (we are limited to 45m), but we did feel a little left out when the gas planning began.



Gases were discussed and everyone agreed standard gases for the various dives, along with decompression gases. It was a brilliant move as it eradicated any gas blending problems that could have arisen later in the week.

Briefings completed we were treated to a fantastic meal on the boat, allocated a room (no.10), then Kerri and I set up our belongings for the weeks stay. By that stage I was hyped!



KIT CONFIGURATION

Post dinner, in typical tech diver fashion, the group began a 2 hour setup of kit.


Jim was especially useful at that point. Kerri’s tank bands were all over the place, and Jim practically stripped the thing down and started again in order to get it just where Kerri wanted. He even went as far as to swap out the bolts, as it protruded way more than necessary and looked like an entanglement waiting to happen.


The kitting up area looked awesome once all the twinsets and rebreathers were set up.

Open circuit kit

A load of JJ rebreathers


Every diver was allocated a ‘station’ where their twinset/rebreather would stay all week, including filling. Each station was twinned up with a deco bottle under the bench, alongside a crate for the peripherals. It was a simple an effective system.


PUB? 

Gear done, there was no other option than to go for a beer.


Obviously we had no money, so I nabbed Jim to determine if cash machines existed in Egypt. As expected I received the look of ‘really?’ followed by a more helpful response, and a kind offer of cash if needed.


It turned out The Marriott around the corner had a machine, I lifted some cash and we stopped at the first pub we came across and enjoyed a couple of Sakara beers. Some confusion over time difference led to a late departure from the pub at around 1am; however, that time is debatable.




By that stage Wifebuddy and I were completely shattered and retired to the boat; but the excitement barely faded as we drifted off to sleep in our posh cabin, on the gentle bobbing surge at the dock.



RedTec had begun.


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7