I HAVE BEEN FORTUNATE TO dive some of the most exotic and remote locations on the globe. Most of these trips have been on assignment or on expeditions. I often dreamt of bringing my family on location but it was not generally practical or possible.
So these experiences have been shared with my family only through postcard images, and my children have seen little of what I actually do in my unusual line of work as an underwater photographer.
I met my wife Caroline while studying photography at college.
She is an accomplished diver and worked many years ago as a divemaster and instructor. After having the children, family life took over and diving for Caroline was put on hold.
Her last dive had been 10 years ago, off a Devon beach when our son Christopher was 18 months old.
My children were always keen and confident swimmers and would often talk about the day they would dive as if it were a given. They had sampled snorkelling but as yet nowhere exotic.
PADI sets the age of the Junior Open Water Diver qualification at 10, and Christopher (now 11) was keen to give it a go. Annabel, nine, was not quite old enough but was really keen to do a Bubblemaker course.
So where should we go Although not technically outnumbered, family life has at times felt not dissimilar to that of TVs Brockmans. While the new generation have a way of letting you know what they think, feel and want in a way alien to me, I have developed enough as a father to know that if there is a choice involving the hard way or the easy, there is no contest.
I have never been afraid of roughing it while on an assignment, but if there was a more comfortable and peaceful option for the family I was open to it.
Caroline and I contemplated many dive locations and decided to choose the best possible closest to home. The worlds northernmost tropical body of water, the Red Sea, beckoned!

THE DIVE RESORTS HAD CHANGED considerably since our first dives there together in the late 1980s. Naama Bay, Sharm el Sheikh, had only one hotel and one dive shop then, and on our first visit we slept in grass huts on the beach.
On my more recent visits I had found both Sharm and Hurghada noisy and hectic. Looking for somewhere a little more peaceful, I was reminded by a friend of El Gouna, just 12 miles north of Hurghada.
El Gouna is a private resort on what is now being called the Red Sea Riviera. It was developed in the 1990s by Samih Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire who felt inspired to create a luxury resort complex in a labyrinth of sea lagoons.
Within the secure resort complex there are a number of hotels and villas from which to choose. The Mövenpick has a very good reputation and had the convenience of Euro-Divers PADI 5* diving facility on site.
Following what had seemed a long and particularly wet British winter we set off from Gatwick on a cold April morning, looking forward to the Egyptian warmth and sunshine.
It was a five-hour flight and we passed through Hurghada airport with relative ease. Euro-Divers was there to greet us and escort us to the hotel.
With two weeks booked there was no pressure to dive straight away, but Annabel was eager to start, so she undertook the Bubblemaker course on our first day. This introductory course familiarises children with scuba gear and allows them to find out what its like to breathe under water, under direct supervision.
A friendly instructor called Ahmed gave Annabel a simple poolside briefing, and then ran her through all the different pieces of equipment. She entered the water a little nervously, but determined.
I sat on the bottom of the pool and watched as she dropped to the tiled floor and looked towards Ahmed as he demonstrated some basic skills.
Her breathing wasn’t yet under control and she was none too happy with the idea of removing her regulator or filling her mask with water. She made a couple of ascents in protest, but was encouraged back down, and gradually relaxed.
Within the hour, she was able to complete the skills and explore the pool. Caroline was allowed to spend some extra time with her and they sat on the bottom, just breathing.
Annabel’s confidence increased, and she was soon grinning through her mouthpiece and making little heart signals. She was very excited and very proud of herself.
Amazing how breathing can calm the nerves and relax the mind!

THE FOLLOWING DAY, Christopher started his Junior Open Water course. He was introduced to Freddie and Patric, two French instructors who were friendly, easy-going and spoke fluent English.
Freddie supervised the first days training and then entertained us on the boat in the following days as divemaster – full of jokes and camaraderie, Patric was great fun, and had lots of experience teaching children with Club Med.
Christopher was in good hands, and in the following days was given the personal attention and patience that I believe is needed for children learning to dive.
Christopher coped pretty well with the theory. A year before (aged 10) and still at primary I think he might have struggled, but a year into secondary school he was able to absorb the information well.
The equipment and pool skills he managed as well as most adults, and my only concern was that, given the chance, he would have been happy to bypass much of the theory in his eagerness to get diving. It’s vital that children have a vigilant instructor and we were fortunate to have that – and particularly lucky that Christopher happened to be trained 1:1.

ON THE THIRD DAY he was to undertake his first open water dives. It would also be a special day for Caroline – her first time back in the sea for 10 years! Annabel was also very excited, as she was kitted up for her first snorkel on a coral reef.
We were taken to a local reef called Dolphin House, just 30 minutes from El Gouna and a perfect site for a first dive. We moored over white sandy shallows, just behind a beautiful coral garden. Christopher was slightly nervous, but set up his equipment with confidence.
After a briefing from Patric and a buddy-check they jumped in and made an easy descent to the sandy plateau beneath the boat. I watched from the side, and could see Christopher’s wide eyes as he gazed in awe at the reef and multitudes of fish, and pointed at schools of anthias as they swam in the gentle current around a coral head. I could sense his little heart racing as fish darted around him.
Once Christopher had done his first set of skills, he was taken on a tour of the reef. We decided to explore the shallow cuts in the lagoon. Christopher had a keen eye, and was soon pointing out blue-spotted rays, clownfish and even well-camouflaged crocodilefish.
As he grew more confident, he pulled out a small waterproof Panasonic Lumix from his BC and started to photograph some of the reef residents, as well as the beautiful pink soft coral as it waved in the gentle current.
After 50 minutes the dive had finished and Christopher, starting to feel a little chilly, surfaced with his instructor.

CAROLINE AND I chose to stay a little longer, scouting around close to the boat, and within a few minutes a school of dolphins appeared!
They circled, eying us closely. It was a special moment. We had seen dolphins many times from the surface, but in all our years of diving had swum with wild dolphins on only one other occasion. The reef had lived up to its name!
We watched in awe as the pod twisted and turned between us, dancing across the white sandy bottom. A few minutes later the dolphins were gone. Caroline really enjoyed her return to diving. She was extremely happy to see old friends, and doubly excited to be greeted by dolphins after her 10-year diving gap.
Annabel, meanwhile, had decided not to wait for us to go snorkelling and had joined a small group led by a lovely female divemaster.
We could hear her on the surface squawking and squeaking in excitement through her snorkel. She spotted, among many other things, a baby turtle!
We couldn’t have wished for more on our first day on the reef (Christopher might argue with that, as he was in mild grief at missing the pod of dolphins!).
His training continued to go well, and we swam alongside him on his remaining training dives. Each dive he spotted something new and could be heard chatting to himself as he interacted excitedly with the marine life.
He did well with all the skills and passed the course with relative ease. Annabel enjoyed her snorkelling exploits and demanded attention as she eagerly tried to point out every fish she saw (there were a lot of them).

WITH THE TRAINING COMPLETE and after a day off spent enjoying the good weather and the luxury of the Mövenpick, we returned for another days diving. Euro-Divers took us to one of its favourite dive-sites, Careless Reef.
The reef consists of two coral blocks that come up from 20m to just a few metres below the surface. The northern side slopes off quickly to the depths, and is known as a great dive for pelagics.
It was an adventurous dive for Christopher, because although he was to remain at a depth of 12m, the limit for JOWDs under 12, he would be diving in water that at 20m was a lot deeper. It was good experience for him to stay vigilant with his buoyancy and depth gauge.
The reef was covered in a beautiful array of hard corals. Between the coral blocks was a sandy bottom with a patchy coral garden covered in swaying soft corals. The site reminded me of Yolanda Reef in the shallows behind the Yolanda wreck at Ras Mohammed.
We passed over huge table corals teeming with life. The vis was crystal clear and the suns rays danced among the coral bommies. What a perfect dive!
During the surface interval, Caroline and I returned with the kids to the reef with our snorkelling gear. We all got kitted up, and Annabel and Christopher led the way to the top of the coral.
The sea was quite choppy and there was a bit of current but the children loved the challenge of swimming out in relatively deep water to find the reef.
The whole family enjoyed bobbing up and down, as we swam hand-in-hand like parachutists in freefall.
The children were as excited to be thrown around by the waves as they were to point out new fish. They didn’t appear perturbed by a few mouthfuls of water as the waves splashed over them.
In the days that followed, Caroline and the kids took a few days off diving, giving me the chance to do some wreck dives.
I managed to visit Abu Nuhas, the site of some of the best wreck dives in the Red Sea, made two good long dives on the Giannis D and the Carnatic, and still managed to get home by 4.30pm!
The site is just two hours from the resort on a regular day-boat. Euro-Divers offers a special RIB that runs trips to this site in just 45 minutes. If you want to dive the Rosalie Moller, that wreck is a similar distance from the resort. It usually runs a boat each week to both sites.
After a week of diving, I was really pleased with Euro-Divers’ great hospitality and service. Christopher enjoyed the whole experience, and said he wanted to be a diver when he was older. Annabel was hooked, too, and wants to come back when she is 11 to complete her JOWD course.
If you’re thinking about getting your children certified, I recommend using a reputable dive centre that has instructors experienced in teaching children. Naturally they need more guidance and, depending on the child, may need extra time and patience with both the theory and practical skills.
El Gouna has so much to offer, both as a resort and as a diving base. All the reefs and wrecks are close, offering a great variety of excellent dive-sites.
With fewer dive-boats than Hurghada, the local reefs are less crowded. It is also well worth considering if you prefer a relaxed, hassle-free destination.