A gap in the Red Sea
You can dive in Egypt repeatedly and still not get round to visiting all its celebrated sites. An invitation to join a liveaboard exploring some southern classics appealed to John Liddiard, so here we go - if its Tuesday, it must be Daedalus... Divernet

I HAVE BEEN TO THE RED SEA MANY TIMES, but there are some well-known dive sites I have never visited. Among these, right out in the middle, are the two islands of the Brothers, then, further to the south, the reef at Daedalus. So when tour operator Sportif offers me the opportunity to join a liveaboard with an itinerary described as Simply the Best, I dont take long to make up my mind.
Its the sort of manic fit as varied and as much top stuff into whatever time is available plan that I would have devised myself; the Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone, except that being on the best liveaboard takes the manic aspect out of joining it all together.
It takes all of a fraction of a second for the opportunity to get from my ears to my brain, then a little bit more to get the word yes out of my mouth.
The new airport and marina at Marsa Alam removes the other potentially manic elements from the trip. No longer is there an hours late-night transfer by minibus from the airport at Hurghada. No longer do I have to wade out from a beach to load my bags onto a wet tender to transfer to a boat anchored further offshore.
From the airport, it is only 10 minutes by minibus to the Marsa Ghalib marina. Then it is simply a matter of picking out the Emperor Fraser from a host of other boats backed up to the quay and busy loading divers.

Big Brother
We arrive at Big Brother in time for a late dive the following afternoon, having spent the bulk of the day catching up on sleep.
The buddy pairs sort themselves out.
I stick with Erol, a Dutchman with a video camera. I dived with him on the warm-up dive at Ras Trombi.
We seem to have similar objectives for the dives, namely chance encounters with the big stuff that hangs out by reefs in the middle of nowhere.
We loop deep over the south plateau, passing one of the resident Napoleon wrasse on the way. Its a long shot to see grey reef or thresher sharks, and Im not really surprised when none are sighted.
Even so, such a dive plan is never wasted, because after spending time deep in the blue we can still enjoy the shallow coral wall and whatever that brings. This afternoon it brings a very co-operative turtle, happy to keep on munching on a particularly tasty clump of green soft coral while we take turns to move in close with our cameras.
A full day of dives at various points on Big Brother continues in similar style. There are no sharks, but more Napoleons. The turtle is still hanging about, jack and tuna are cruising along the reef and a tightly packed shoal of silversides is in the shallows just along from the lighthouse jetty.
We also cover the wrecks of the Aida and Numidia at the north-west corner of the reef, dives to which I had been particularly looking forward.
The 6339 ton steamship Numidia struck Big Brother in 1901, on only her second voyage from England to India via the Suez Canal. The smaller 1428 ton Aida actually sank twice. The first time was in 1941 further north in the Gulf of Suez, when she was a victim of the same German air attack that sank the Rosalie Möller.
The Aida was run into shallow water and subsequently re-floated. Then, in 1957, she struck the reef while manoeuvring to land troops and supplies on Big Brother.
My buddy with the video camera is less interested in wrecks than me, so he hangs out in the blue while I explore.
I almost regret the free nitrox that Emperor is providing. Both wrecks continue quite a bit deeper than I can go on a 30% mix. I say almost regret, because without the nitrox I doubt whether I would have been able to get the dives in to see both wrecks.
I can understand why technical trips to The Brothers with rebreathers are a growing trend.

Little Brother
Just a day and a bit of the dive-eat-dive-eat-dive-eat-dive-eat-sleep schedule, and I am already exhausted. I sleep
on through the early crossing to Little Brother, made in the twilight before sunrise. The crew have Emperor Fraser efficiently moored at the sheltered southern tip in time for the wake-up call to dive.
For the first couple of dives, the tenders drop us at the point where the current is breaking to the north of Little Brother. A deep shelf is a known big fish cleaning station and a single grey reef shark is in for the full valet treatment.
The shark may have been there all morning, but it is not until our second dive that I manage to get enough time in the right place to simply sit and watch and get a feel for his behaviour.
However, when those with video cameras reach a pause, I hold my breath and time a single close pass to catch the shark as it circles. Just
a single shot, then a few more of the barracuda stacked and waiting their turn in the queue.
I spend the remaining dives on Little Brother by a forest of gorgonians at the south-east corner. Grey reef sharks are often in the distance, but never close enough for me to attempt another photograph. A small shoal of barracuda are much more co-operative, as are a Napoleon wrasse and countless reef fish.

Daedalus Reef
The word is that the eastern side of Daedalus is the best place to spot hammerhead sharks, where they come up from the cooler, deeper water to attend a cleaning station.
Earlier in the day we tried drifting along this side of the reef without results. Several boatloads of divers are all following the same idea, and while it may be the best spot on the right day, at the moment there are just too many here for a good result.
A couple of oceanic whitetip sharks have been spotted off the moorings and some divers are already on the reef inside the boats. It has attractions, but is still potentially crowded. I prefer to dive away from the crowds, even if by reputation I am not in the best place.
No one seems to be heading for the western side of the reef, so four of us elect to get dropped off in that direction and drift back. The wall is vibrant with all the usual hard and soft corals, but I pay the expected spectacle little regard, instead drifting with it at the limit of visibility and gazing into the blue.
It takes patience, perseverance, and plenty of blind luck. For the first 20 minutes or more, all we get is distant sightings of tuna, jack, barracuda and absolutely no other divers.
At least that part works, but it is not until the current carries us out beyond the moored boats that a long shot turns into a success, and a curious oceanic whitetip makes a pass.
I pop my delayed SMB, soon hearing the reassuring buzz of one of the tenders following us. I feel safe to continue drifting in the blue, though I am not sure how safe my SMB is, as the shark is showing it a lot of interest.
Now we have three oceanic whitetips and their attendant pilotfish gliding around us, circling out of sight and always making the distant part of their approach from downcurrent, then turning for a less predictable approach once they are easily within sight.
Having such a memorable dive puts me in two states of mind for subsequent dives. Part of me is thinking that everything from now on will be an anti-climax. On the other hand, I have a result. I have some good pictures of oceanic whitetips and the pressure is off.
I just relax and enjoy some good-quality reef, still keeping an eye out into the blue in case something should swim past, but spreading my attention more evenly with the corals and reef fish.

Elphinstone
After a day and a half at Daedalus, the Emperor Fraser arrives at Elphinstone just as all the other boats are packing up for the evening. We get the south plateau and the wall to ourselves.
Stories from the other boats are that sharks have been about at Elphinstone all day, with the oceanic whitetips biting at SMBs and even snorkellers being chased from the water.
Sharks may have been out beyond the limit of visibility in the falling light levels, but I will never know. The whole group looks very relaxed in the water.
Although we have another half-day of diving ahead of us, it feels like a wind-down dive. In the dark shadow of the wall, featherstars and basketstars are beginning to unravel themselves.
Perhaps it is just dusk diving that chills everyone out.
We surface into fading light. On earlier dives the big name Fraser painted on the keel had been useful to distinguish the boat to which to return. Now it is redundant, as ours is the only one here.
By the time were inshore to our overnight mooring, other boats already have divers down for a night dive. Monster dive lights bring swathes of the reef beneath us into virtual daylight.
We have better things to do. Its the last night on board. Its barbecue night and its the start of Ramadan.
Divers and crew all have something to celebrate, though no one celebrates too heavily. The kind of dedicated divers attracted to this trip are saving themselves for the next mornings dives.

Marsa Abu Dabab
We have a choice for our final dives - back out to Elphinstone or along the coast to Marsa Abu Dabab, home of Denis the dugong. The vote is unanimous for the sea grass and Denis, even though the dive guides give our chances as less than 50-50.
Swimming a search pattern across the plain of sea grass shows up an interesting difference in diver training. Those of us with a BSAC background seem to have an intuitive grasp of assembling into a search line, gravitating to the ends to keep the search tidy.
A convergence of divers to the middle of the line soon changes any semblance of a tidy line into a rabble as we descend on Gary the guitar shark, then the line spreads again and resumes the search.
It must have been Deniss day off, because neither our group nor any of the other boats divers get a sighting.
Yet none of us is that disappointed. Instead of Denis we find Big Tina, the biggest and fattest turtle I have ever seen, complete with her own collection of remoras and pilot fish.
Tina is working her way along the seabed, munching the grass and paying little heed to divers. After a week of liveaboard diving we function well as a group, taking turns to come in close with cameras ranging from pocket digital to monster video systems.
We all take care not to box the turtle in or stress her. Tina gives us the eye every now and then before going back to munching (see Fun In the Grass elsewhere in this issue).
Back at Marsa Ghalib, the last night and decompression day are in the Coral Beach Hotel alongside the marina.
Again were lucky, managing to check in before a big rush arrives. With no diving in the morning, its a chance for a real last-night party. Then, while everyone else stays by the pool, I take a trip north to the boatyard at Safaga.
There I meet Mike Braun, Emperors General Manager, who shows me round the new boats under construction.
Nearing completion are Elite and Superior. At 128ft they are 30ft longer than Fraser and wider in the beam.
Also close to completion are the steel-hulled Tranquility and Serenity, a pair of 140ft Italian-designed motor yachts, built in Safaga and fitted out as diving liveaboards. All four boats are planned to operate with the same number of passengers as Fraser, keeping a few berths spare.
In another part of the yard, basic construction has just started on four 148ft catamaran hulls, two of which are planned as diving liveaboards and two to operate general cruises.
Fraser had been plenty big enough, so what is Emperor doing with all this extra space The strategy is similar across both the wooden and steel hulls. There are more compressors, nitrox systems, more water-makers, bigger freezers and fuel tanks and a far longer range. The electronics in the wheel-houses are fit for the Starship Enterprise.
There are bigger dive decks, bigger en-suite bathrooms, more camera facilities and more space for passengers split across three or four lounges. There are even Jacuzzis on the upper deck and computer systems tied in to the Internet. Bring your own Notebook along and there is a wireless network.
Do we need the Internet afloat Mike explains that it is a spin-off from a system Emperor is installing to help manage and monitor the boats from its office ashore. Once the comms systems are installed, its easy enough to make it available to customers.
Some divers will want to check up on the businesses they are supposed to be getting away from when on holiday. With the explosion of digital cameras, others will want to upload their photos.
John Bantin has already used such a facility to report on the sinking of Coral Queen. I ponder the prospect of some time in the future having to deliver the content of Diver in real time - from the boat, as it happens. Scary thought.



A
A dense shoal of silversides at Big Brother.
The
The engine from the wreck of the Aida rests on top of the reef.
Barracuda
Barracuda out in force at Little Brother
Napoleon
Napoleon wrasse at Daedalus
Blue-spotted
Blue-spotted ray at Marsa Abu Dabab
It
Its the picture they all wanted - an oceanic white tip shark with divers at Daedalus.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Charter flights to Marsa Alam leave weekly from Gatwick and Manchester airports.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Emperor Fraser is part of the Emperor Fleet, www.emperordivers.com.You can book through Dive Sportif, 01273 844919, www.sportif-uk.com. On dry land John Liddiard stayed at the Coral Beach Hotel, www.millenniumhotels.com
WHEN TO GO:Any time
COSTS: Flights, transfers, liveaboard accommodation, diving and a night at the Coral Beach cost£858 per person. Other boats in the Emperor Fleet cost from£780 to£934
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.touregypt.net