NO-ONE KNOWS BETTER than me that combining a family holiday with diving can be difficult if you have small children, or a non-diving spouse.
You may go somewhere that appears to accommodate all needs, but the reality is that popping out for an hour to dive takes around three hours by the time youve prepared, had an hour under water, rinsed your kit and hung it up to dry.
Then there is the limitation imposed by choosing to dive close to where youre staying. Inevitably youll be restricted to local sites if youre shore-diving, and if you want to go by boat, thats half a day used up that your family would prefer that you spent with them.
You need to select your destination carefully, too.
The Hilton and Mövenpick hotels at Taba, in Egypts Gulf of Aqaba, can provide an all-inclusive holiday with plenty of fun for both adults and kids, and it has a few nice patches of reef just offshore.
Taba is close to Eilat in Israel, and during the early 1980s both became synonymous with Red Sea diving, although in fact the Gulf is a unique backwater of the Red Sea proper.
The diving is so easy that it gave warmwater diving a bad name among the rufty-tufty divers more used to diving in cold, turbulent home waters with bad visibility.

THE GULF OF AQABA IS A continuation of the African Rift Valley, with very deep water warmed by submarine volcanic fumaroles, or vents.
This allows it to support tropical marine life, despite its relatively northern latitude.
It is surrounded on each side by the mountainous deserts of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so there are no rivers to deliver sediment, which makes visibility under water uniquely clear. There is little tide, so currents are almost non-existent, and the adjacent mountains usually protect the surface of the sea from the prevailing wind. Small wonder it gave British divers the idea that all tropical diving was like being in a swimming pool.
Years ago, people used to fly to Eilat and motor down the coast by 4x4, shore-diving all the way.
Today, holidaymakers fly direct to Taba or the burgeoning resorts at Sharm el Sheikh, or they might stay at one of a few isolated purpose-built resorts.
Keen divers tend to head straight for Sharm, and apart from those technical divers who have set up halfway along the coast at Dahab, most of the coastline of the Sinai has become bypassed. Yet the diving is still there, as good as ever.
For the holidaymaker, Taba is geographically well-positioned for cultural trips to places such as the rock city of Petra in Jordan, to the Dead Sea, to Mount Sinai and St Catherines Monastery. There can be moving trips for Christians, Jews and Moslems alike to Jerusalem in Israel. My wife was keen to take advantage of day trips to all of these, while we stayed at Taba and managed to do a few dives too.
Under water, the area is famous for its giant frogfish. However, if you take a classic two-week summer break, even the most avid coral-reef macro photographer can get bored.
AquaSport operates a couple of day-boats that take people to other sites, though this means that the diver is missed by the family all day.
You may as well get hung for a sheep as for a lamb, so why not go one better
I traded my role as father and babysitter for a three-day trip aboard AquaSports liveaboard Coral Dreams, and set off to visit dive-sites I hadnt seen in a decade.
Coral Dreams is not a very big vessel as Egyptian liveaboards go, but it carries only 14 passengers so you get as much space as usual, including en-suite cabins.
Its certainly a lot more luxurious than the old method of travelling by road, diving from the shore and sleeping in the million-stars hotel that is a sleeping bag on a rocky beach.
With such a short charter, and the perishable nature of food supplies not a problem so close to his supply line, the chef had the opportunity to provide us with a great variety of food.
The boats compressors supply only straight air (nitrox has not caught on in Israel, from where most of the passengers on my trip came) but there is a RIB for diver pick-ups as on bigger boats, and a water-maker that provided endless fresh water for showering after every dive.

SO WHAT OF THE DIVE SITES Its ironic that while most of the coastline of Egypt is now very developed as the Red Sea Riviera, there are few points along the coast of the Sinai where the mountains do not drop abruptly into the sea. We were less remote in terms of miles, but we hardly saw another dive-boat during the trip, and it felt very remote indeed once we passed south of Nuweiba.
We headed south to Ras Mamlak, where we had fun with the resident green turtle and marvelled at numerous large scorpionfish in various colour schemes. The headland is served by a gentle push of water that encourages soft corals to flourish in colours that defy good taste.
I was gratified to see that all the reefs remained in pristine condition, apart from where we dived at a site at Dahab normally subject to heavy diver traffic.
In three days one typically does 11 dives, including two by night. We also dived at sites such as Abu Galum, Gabr el Bint and Shugairat.
The last has so much massed giant gorgonia in perfect health that it must rate as a unique site worldwide.
We saw large octopus mating, frogfish, cuttlefish and the gamut of Red Sea reef marine life. Our furthest point south became Bells Blue Hole at Dahab, where we dropped down a chimney and came out onto the reef wall at 30m, then swam along it with hundreds of metres of water below us. Its the next best thing to flying like a bird along a cliff but, of course, your buoyancy-control needs to be fine-tuned if youre to enjoy it fully.
Being on a liveaboard gave us the opportunity to get into the water at six oclock in the morning, before the day divers of Dahab were awake.

I WAS GRATIFIED TO BE GIVEN the opportunity to dive the Sinker at Nuweiba as our last, shallow dive on the way back north. Many years ago we used to carry out DIVER deepwater regulator comparison tests here, and we used the chain of the Sinker to give us a little comforting data in the blue water during our long ascents.
A mooring buoy put in for large vessels by the Israelis in the days when they occupied the Sinai, it is a huge metal sphere that floats connected via a chain to a large concrete block. The concrete block lies on the seabed at around 44m.
Unfortunately, the people charged with installing it thought that the seabed was only about 38m deep. This left the top of the mooring buoy floating at around 6m deep, which is ideal for those of us doing decompression stops after a long deep dive.
This is not the only reason to dive the Sinker, however. After 40 years in the sea, and positioned as it is at the current point of a small headland, it has become an isolated habitat for reef life. The chain is one big mass of crimson and scarlet soft corals, with attendant anthias massing round it all the way up from deep water.
The buoy itself is covered with hard and soft corals and sponges, and at times a veritable cloud of glassfish clusters round it. This draws in everything that predates on glassfish.
Once divers cluster round the buoy, all the fusiliers that gather deep below are drawn up by the sight of the exhaled bubbles. Its amazing to see a thousand fish swimming vertically up the coral-cluttered chain.
This is an isolated habitat in blue water that may become a little boring to the average open-water diver after 30 minutes, but its paradise for the underwater photographer, whose lights reveal everything in a blaze of colour.
The average memory-card will soon be filled with amazing images.

  FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Fly direct from London Gatwick to Taba.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Both the Hilton and Mövenpick resorts at Taba are fully inclusives. You can book diving packages with AquaSport in advance through Crusader Travel, www.crusadertravel.com, 020 8744 0474
MONEY: Egyptian Pound.
WHEN TO GO: Year-round. Summers are very hot. In winter the days are shorter and cooler.
FOR NON-DIVERS: Crusader Travel offers around 20 optional cultural trips from 70-234 euros, paid locally.
HEALTH: Nearby Eilat has full medical facilities.
PRICES: A two-week trip in summer based on two sharing at the 5* Taba Mövenpick Hotel costs from £979 per person all-inclusive. A 10-dive shore-based package costs £129. The Cruise & Stay option gives you four nights inclusive at the Mövenpick with two days shore diving and three nights full-board on Coral Dreams for £969 per person. Book before 1 Feb 2010 and you will receive a 10% discount.
TOURIST INFORMATION: 020 7493 5283, www.touregypt, www.cdws.travel