I LEARNED TO DIVE IN 1979. In those days you and your companions would plan your dive meticulously, drawing out your dive profile with the help of your watch and depth gauge.
That was fine, because everyone either did it or talked about it, but if you were a girl you were expected to be tough and macho. There weren’t too many of us. Most women stayed on the beach and made the sandwiches. There was no one to carry a girl’s dive gear to the water, or help you with your weightbelt or any other such things.
Let me tell you, times have changed. In fact it’s a long time since I had to do any of these things without having help at hand.
My dear husband John first took on that role but, as he is now my loyal babysitter when I travel, I’ve learned to rely on my computer to manage my dives and others to monitor what I do on deck. I never mind asking for advice.
I’m now a primary-school teacher, and for the past couple of years I go diving with a girlfriend during the October half-term to chill and get away from it all.
The most recent half-term was no exception. It’s always a problem finding a destination that you can fit into a week, and the Egyptian Red Sea is an obvious choice. However, I’ve never been lucky with big-animal action on land-based holidays there, so it was suggested that we do a liveaboard safari that encompassed the northern area, to dive the wrecks and reefs. At least we knew that the offshore wrecks and reefs would be there when we were!

WE BOOKED on a long-established vessel with a good reputation and, after a few inevitable delays at the airport, finally made it to the boat, which was waiting for us in Sharm el Sheikh. It was around midnight.
We were greeted by the dive guides and crew, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready and willing to help, on deck. We sorted ourselves out and went to our spacious, comfortable cabin for some sleep, because next morning there would be no time for a lie-in.
The dive guide told us that the first dive was compulsory because it was a check-out one, so we listened as he led us through the dive plan, with beautiful illustrations of the type of dive site that was to be the norm for the rest of the week. With everything as expected, we went to prepare our diving equipment.
I found myself looking around for a friendly face to help me set it up. I’m quite capable of doing it myself, but as I pay a lot of money for manicures and am quite fond of my long finger-nails, I have become quite pathetic about doing things that might jeopardise them.
A nail breakage would be a disaster on a dive-boat, as there would be no way of fixing it. Believe me, feeble I am not – except when it comes to my nails.
John had supplied me with a regulator with a DIN fitting. I found it hard to fit to the tank, but help was at hand before I even started looking.
The crew, like so many today, were trained to be everywhere, without once getting in anyone’s way. They were efficient, knowledgeable, quick and, most of all, respectful, taking extreme care with the equipment.

EVERY THOUGHT WAS PRE-EMPTED, every whim taken care of. How far from the days of having to do it all yourself – nails or no nails.
Ours was not a new boat but it had been refitted recently. It was efficiently laid out, with plenty of space to get around on the dive deck. The tanks were filled in situ, and the box for the diving paraphernalia was located under the bench beneath the tank.
The camera table was small but tucked safely in a corner to avoid accidental damage to anyone’s equipment. The steps to the different decks were wide and provided little chance of falling when the seas were heavy. There was plenty of space to relax between dives, in or out of the sun.
Soon we were in the water. We followed the guide’s instructions and found that the dive site was exactly as he had described, and more. This was how the week progressed; dive after dive, and day after day.
I had last dived the wrecks in this part of the Red Sea in 1996, so the names were familiar even though the wrecks had all started to merge into one in my memory bank.
The dive briefings were always incredibly thorough and really valuable, especially for those guests who had either not done a wreck dive or were new to the whole Red Sea diving experience.
The Giannis D is a lovely wreck and straightforward to explore, although easy to get disorientated in, as it lies askew in the water.
It’s one of the most recent vessels to fall foul of the trap laid by the reef of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, and offers easy entry into the bridgehead, access into the engine-room and a swim around the captain’s quarters, before heading through and into the wheelhouse itself.
I remembered that the first time round I had felt quite anxious exploring inside this wreck, when my husband persuaded me to follow him. It had followed an unfortunate experience of disorientation in low visibility inside a wreck at Scapa Flow, when I got stuck.
This time I felt quite confident that I wasn’t going to get trapped anywhere, and was really able to enjoy the dive with my pal Karen, who is a very experienced diver in her own right.
This re-introduction to wreck-diving was followed the next day by visits to the Carnatic and Chrisoula K. There are lots of arguments about the true identity of the latter wreck, but as my husband had shown me pictures of the name Chrisoula K on its stern that he had taken in the 1980s, I was confident.
Its bow, which had then protruded from the water, has since slipped back down the reef. This wreck is more broken up than the Giannis D but it’s still possible to visit the workshop next to the engine-room and see the machinery, although now in less-than-perfect condition.
The Carnatic is a spectacular dive, a real combination of the idea of wrecks and reefs. It was an iron-built steam-sailing ship of P&O Lines that ran aground on top of the reef.
The passengers and crew had no option but to wait on board to be rescued until another P&O vessel passed close by a few days later.
Alas, in the meantime a storm blew up and the ship was tumbled off the reef with some loss of life among the crew.
It now lies at the bottom of the reef wall, like a forlorn and unwanted toy.
Of course, after more than 100 years all the considerable wooden parts have gone, but that Victorian cast iron survives and it’s fun to swim among the deck supports, inside the huge hull, scattering the hordes of golden glassfish and the evil-looking red-mouth groupers that prey on them.
We spent one night in the shelter of a bay at Bluff Point. Here you find what’s left of the wreck of the barge, with its numerous giant moray eels.
It’s a good place for an easy night dive.
We were looking forward to exploring the Thistlegorm, on the other side of the Gulf of Suez. The wreck lies upright on the seabed, famously filled with WW2 military equipment. You can swim in and out of the holds to view the treasure trove of lorries, motorbikes, guns, shells and one or two Bren-gun carriers.
When I first dived this wreck in 1993, its cargo was almost intact. Much of this has since been despoiled by the multitude of divers, and a lot of the top part has been ripped apart by thoughtlessly placed mooring lines, but it still offers a unique experience, and a glimpse of a wartime capsule.
The centre section where the German bomb struck the vessel was left a chaos of torn metal and a spaghetti-weave of cables. It’s now home to a large group of yellow and black bannerfish.

I COULD HAVE SPENT all week diving the Thistlegorm. There’s so much to see.
Not only that, but big schools of batfish and busily hunting jacks punctuate the midwater, and a large turtle has made the wreck its home, too. But we had only a week, so we pressed on.
By this point the guests were really at ease with one another, and the trip was becoming incredibly relaxed and enjoyable. I suggested to the crew that we might give a less-auspicious reef a miss and so get an extra dive at Ras Mohammed. They said that was fine if all the other passengers agreed with the idea, and they did.
We motored east towards that famous headland, and the lovely soft corals of the reefs of the Tiran Straits further north, stopping off at Beacon Rock to dive the Dunraven.
It’s not a very interesting wreck except that it has a batfish cleaning station at one end, and I enjoyed a close encounter with these daft fish.
We also dived the wreck of the Emperor Fraser, a former small liveaboard. What’s that all about It was entirely uninteresting and I suggest that if the opportunity arises, you give it a miss.
Then it was on to Shark and Yolanda Reefs at Ras Mohammed. Shark – what a great name for a dive site. The water is incredibly deep here. Keep an eye on your computer and don’t drop anything!
Once off the aft deck of our main vessel, it was a quick swim over to the wall, and we drifted along watching the world go by on the reef, which was covered with very healthy coral, supported by current that supplies a ready source of nutrients.
There is very little diver damage here, considering the number of people the reef entertains daily. There is always something to discover as you drift along with a torch, looking into the nooks and crannies.
Out in the blue, a mass of silvery barracuda lurked and some more athletic souls swam out to take their photographs.

THE YOLANDA WAS A FREIGHTER that hit the reef in the 1980s. It’s in very deep water now, but you can see where it used to be.
Turning a corner, you can see its cargo of sanitaryware laid out before you. Hover and watch the divers posing for photographs on the toilets!
There were blue-spotted rays out on the sand, sun-bathing and obviously accustomed to the commotion caused by air-bubbling divers.
Coral growth has covered the rusty metal of what were once steel shipping containers.
It’s shallow over the back-reef, and masses of surgeonfish kept us entertained as we eked out the last of our air. Then it was a quick ride back to the next meal in one of the ever-present RIBs that awaited us at the surface.
Diving in the Straits of Tiran is all about witnessing the typical Red Sea coral life, with its pastel colours of pinks and lime-greens and greys.
The prolific soft coral on these reefs should be observed in a state of relaxed contentment, as it moves in the slow current like a Mexican wave.
Stay still and enjoy the clownfish darting in and out of its anemone, daring you to come closer, or enjoy the perfectly formed fan corals standing proud of the rock.
I interrupted an octopus making his morning constitutional, climbing in stealthy fashion among the features of the reef, and he turned an angry red. They are such emotional creatures.
These dives give you the time to enjoy the delights of the Red Sea coral and the array of sea life both small and large, and to reflect on the week’s experiences.
You certainly get what you pay for in number and quality of wrecks and reefs.
What I especially like is the fact that, apart from an optional tip to the crew and the cost of alcoholic drinks, what you initially pay is what it costs, and it represents terrifically good value.
Finally, we had a day at a hotel in Sharm where Karen and I were pampered in the spa with everything we needed, including a massage and beauty therapy, to prepare us for the stress of getting back to work at home.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Flights to Sharm el Sheikh from Gatwick and Manchester. www.scubatravel.com.
WHEN TO GO: Any time. Winter days are shorter and nights are cool. Summer days are hot. Be prepared to wear anything from a 3mm wetsuit to a lightweight drysuit according to season
HEALTH & SAFETY: Sharm has a hospital and hyperbaric facilities. No special vaccinations are required. Divers are required to carry a lamp and surface-signalling device such as a flag or SMB.
PRICES: A typical week’s northern wreck and reef safari ranges from £800 to £1200
TOURIST INFORMATION: For a full list of legal diving operators and a blacklist of illegal diving operators in Egypt, visit www.cdws.travel