Trigger-happy

Apart from fending off a titan triggerfish and having to climb ladders unaided, Sharm el Sheikh could hardly have proved more relaxing for Lawrence Jones
Where to go - DIVER HOLIDAY GUIDE 2002     How to pick the perfect buddy      Free-wheeling in the Med      Sur lautre côte      Komodos the buzzword      Still a great barrier reef      Avoid the donkey work      Smiles in the Summer Isles      The joy of mobility


I had never seen a titan triggerfish before, let alone seen one attacking a fellow-diver. Swooping, twisting and turning with enviable ease, it made its flailing human target look comical. I started laughing, and by the time I had stopped, the diver had regained his composure and resumed his dive.

Looking round for the titan, I saw it homing in on me! Its toothy maw, threatening as a missiles nose cone, was closing in fast.

I had no chance of out-swimming the beast, so I braced for impact while stabbing the water between us with the large flashgun on my camera. This did the trick. Its frontal assault foiled, the triggerfish began to circle threateningly, searching for a better angle of attack. I took the chance to photograph it.

It then had a go at my fins, but thought better of enjoying another flashgun kiss. In any case, the current had moved me along, away from its territory, and another diver was moving in to become the focus for its attention.

I was diving around the reefs of Sharm el Sheikh. Like a popular market stall, Sharm is in danger of being overlooked these days by some holiday-shoppers, because they think its too crowded. Certainly the building of hotels continues apace, as developers rush to get in before a deadline which will see a freeze on the granting of building applications.

But Sharm has been somewhat less crowded since 11 September, and divers who do avoid the place are depriving themselves of some of the best stalls in the market.

I was staying at the Tropicana Tivoli, a complex arranged with quaint village-style randomness a little way out of Sharm, and all but surrounded by the sites of half-built hotels. Some of the rooms overlooked the swimming pool and bar, while others gave a view of irrigated gardens.

My first dive was on the pretty Temple Reef. The over-amplified voice of an Italian keep-fit lady from a nearby resort was drowned out as we headed down to the sandy bottom, and the ecclesiastical-looking mass that gives this site its name loomed out of the gloomy blue.
The other divers seemed magnetically attached to the seabed at around 15m, but I was drawn to the roof of the temple, replete with splendid stands of gorgonian coral, groupers and a pufferfish. The multifarious corals pulsated with life, as clouds of glassfish breathed in and out of the nooks and crannies. Bathed in a jacuzzi of bubbles from divers way below, where no coral lived, I found it a surreal experience.

This was a Neilson specialist sports holiday, and the company had everything well arranged. The week was spent diving from the two boats it charters in Sharm, the Blue Moon and the slightly larger Galaxy. The crews were playful and good fun to be with and the briefings thorough and professional.

The next day I was on a different dive boat, travelling to Ras Mohammed National Park. The high engine revs and constant radio traffic blaring on the top deck did little to soothe us, but the diving at Shark Reef was superb.

At Jackfish Alley we plunged into the midnight blue, near a drop-off. The caves here are easy to swim in and out of, and present dramatic rock shapes with shafts of sunlight within.

Out of the caves we swooped onto a plateau at between 15 and 25m. Standing proud of the bright sand, the coral outcrops are some of the liveliest Sharm has to offer. While another group of divers called us over to see the crocodilefish they had found, some of our group finned away to look at a nearby eel garden.
Surfacing from dives around here, it was sometimes hard to distinguish our own boat from the dozen or so similarly white-liveried patrolling dive vessels. However, each has its own horn, siren or klaxon call to acknowledge your OK signal, so they resemble mother ducks quacking around their broods as the divers bob to the surface.

The crew throw you a rope and pull you to a ladder. You do have to climb the ladder yourself, but as soon as you reach the deck they strip your cylinder off, leaving you to manage the 3m walk to your seat.

The dives offered east of Sharm are mostly around the Straits of Tiran. About an hour and a half out, the boat arrives at the four reefs of Gordon, Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson. There are nearly always currents around these shallow little islands, and because the diving is restricted to 30m you might well find yourself zig-zagging along the side in the lee.

It did sometimes feel as if our group was on some thalassic conveyor-belt, with other groups in front, behind, above and below. And some might find it tedious swimming over the same coral outcrops two or three times, a little shallower each time, but the corals are beautiful. Here too, you stand a good chance of seeing larger species, such as turtles or titan triggerfish!

Lunch is taken in some sheltered bay or blue lagoon, and you can snorkel over the shallow reefs near the mooring.

Regardless of the travel time to the dive sites, we always spent around eight hours a day on the dive boat, which represents a great deal of lounging in anyones book. Personal stereos and paperbacks were the order of the day.

Returning to the dock at around tea-time was always busy, and there were occasions when our boat would have no access to the jetty. We might have to wait 10 minutes or so before another craft would pull out after disgorging its divers and kit.

Naama Bay is cosmopolitan, with its many English-run bars, most of which have rooftop areas where you can drink with your friends while reclining on cushions or comfortable chairs. Street-market stalls and shops heave in the evenings, and some very good restaurants offer three-course meals for around &65533;15.

Sharm still offers world-class diving, and although dives are normally limited to 30m by the dive guides, the benefit is that, with computers and sensible procedures, the average reef dive can last around an hour.

I once heard someone say that diving is the equivalent of heavy work on land. Not here, it wasnt.

Divernet
the
the docks at Sharm el Sheikh can get crowded at the end of the day
diver
diver and gorgonian fan coral
For
For reef-diving enthusiasts there is always plenty to see around Sharm
Salad
Salad coral

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Weekly charter flights from London..
DIVING AND ACCOMMODATION: Neilson offers packages to Sharm el Sheikh with accommodation at the Tropicana Tivoli (cheapest option), Rosetta or five-star Sheraton hotels, 01273 626281, www.neilson.com. There are countless other options for Sharm and Red Sea holidays, check the Divernet directories.
WHEN TO GO: Any time, but remember that temperatures can exceed 40°C in summer, and drop to 20°C in winter.
WATER TEMPERATURE: Generally around 24°C.
MONEY: Credit cards, dollars, Egyptian pounds
DIVING SUITABLE FOR: Everyone.
FOR NON DIVERS: Watersports, cruises, camel and 4x4 safaris, horse-riding..
COST: The basic Neilson package, including flights to and from Gatwick, transfers and seven nights bed and breakfast, is £339. Diving costs £25 a day (10-day package £210). About £5 a day covers drinks and lunch on the boat, a visa costs £15 and the National Park fee when visiting Ras Mohammed is about £3.50 a day.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Egyptian Tourist Authority, 020 7493 5283, www.egypttourism.org


Where to go - DIVER HOLIDAY GUIDE 2002     How to pick the perfect buddy      Free-wheeling in the Med      Sur lautre côte      Komodos the buzzword      Still a great barrier reef      Avoid the donkey work      Smiles in the Summer Isles      The joy of mobility



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