Divernet


BOOKING A SPACE ON A LIVEABOARD BOAT with a group of people that you dont know can be fraught with risk. I do a lot of liveaboard trips, and non-diving friends often ask me what I would do if I found myself trapped on a boat for a week with people with whom I didnt get on.
Frankly its never happened, but then I suppose I am a well-travelled person without much in the way of inhibition, and certainly dont feel in any way insecure.
When invited by Oonasdivers to join a party of divers on an exclusive charter onboard mv Blue Seas from the Blue Planet fleet, for a trip around the St Johns area of southern Egypt, I assumed that it would be just another typical week of diving.
It was midsummer. The sun shone remorselessly, the sea was calm and the diving was good. Dolphins cavorted around the boat. Under water, the Napoleon wrasse, the moray eels,
the rays, the scorpionfish and the sharks turned up on cue, and the soft corals blossomed in a feeding frenzy.
Anemonefish busied themselves around their host anemones. Anthias fluttered around the coral heads. Bannerfish gathered in gangs. Octopus crept around the coral heads.
I shared the performance of one octopus with both Alan and Craig, who calmly waited on the sidelines with their cameras until I had finished doing my thing.
At Abu Marsa Dabab, two dugongs put their heads up above the surface to give us a tantalising glimpse from the boat, even though we never got to see them under water.
We had to content ourselves with half a dozen ancient green turtles, loaded down with big green remoras, as they grazed on the sea grass.
As I photographed one in extreme close-up, a second returned down beside it from the surface where it had taken a gulp of air. I was amused to see Debbie and Ben racing out of the gloom in hot pursuit, obviously unaware that this was not the only turtle in that particular bit of the sea.
The Blue Seas is spacious and luxurious, with a very helpful and friendly crew. As usual the food was excellent, and everyone got on extremely well.
Its a feature of diving that like-minded people can get together, and the non-competitive nature of the activity makes it a business with no winners or losers.
This particular group of passengers was drawn from the medical-care profession, IT, software-development and accountancy, with the odd painter-and-decorator, a policewoman and a restaurateur thrown in.
It could have been a typical BSAC club outing with a typical cross-section of people. However, Tobias and Birga (also known to the group as Two Beers and a Burger), the German couple who were the dive-guides on board, told me at the end of the trip that, for them, it had been an especially easy week.
They said that none of the divers had needed any special attention because they looked after each other so well. There was no angst between different factions within the passengers. No-one treated anyone elses space with disregard, nor were they careless with each others equipment.
Everyone listened to the briefings and acted on them. In fact, they were all good divers. If I was looking for an unusual or juicy story here, there was precious little to tell.
Of course, some of the divers found it a drag to do the early dives. There might have been more intimate buddy checks than normal.
The occasional O-ring would blow, precipitating howls of delight and comments about insufficient lubrication.
Once we were over the dive sites in one of the two RIBs, there were times when people had to get down quickly so as not to miss the spot. At other times, we jumped together from the platform at the back of the Blue Seas.
Charlie, the group organiser, was able to marshal everyone together when I wanted to get a seaward side shot of them doing a giant-stride entry together from the dive platform of the boat. Not only that, but he was able to get them together again for a re-shoot when I decided it would be better to photograph the scene with fewer people.
Under water, some occasionally got it wrong with localised currents. Jason, the big South African, and his buddy Steven once reported having to swim like buggery over the reef to join us.
Some divers enjoyed penetrating the narrow caverns in the reefs and passageways in the wreck of the Tienstin at Abu Galawa, whereas others would prefer to stay out in the blue.
Some were heavy breathers whereas Fiona and Peter, notably, would regularly manage 90 minutes and more of relaxed bottom-time.
Night dives were often conducted in threesomes. I noted that Joe occasionally looked very bored while he patiently waited for his buddy Andrew to capture each macro-moment on his digital camera. And I avoided photographing one passenger and his travelling companion because he told me his wife didnt know he was on the trip.
When it came to aft-deck protocols, each would help others with their suits, one pulling it off for the other. There was nothing strange in any of that.
What was strange was that I had packed a nice ball-gown and high-heel shoes in case there was a lot of partying, and found that neither was needed.
Gerhard made cocktails for us in the evening but it was quiet at night. I was kept awake only by the throbbing of the engines. If I had any preconceptions, they proved unfounded. And if anything went on, it was all very discreet.
The charter, you see, was for members of GLUG, which stands for the Gay & Lesbian Underwater Group, and I was the only straight in the village.
It was an enjoyable but otherwise routine Red Sea liveaboard trip.Â

John Bantin travelled at the invitation of Oonasdivers (01323 648924, www.oonasdivers.com), which caters for individual travelling divers as well as special-interest groups. Typical cost for a Red Sea one-week liveaboard package including flights is from£925. If you would like to join GLUG, visit www.glug.co.uk

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Blue
Blue Seas at dusk
bannerfish
bannerfish on the reef
a
Twelve
Twelve men in a boat
Female
Female Napoleon wrasse meets common octopus.