JUST WHERE IS THE FAMOUS Fifth Wreck at Abu Nuhas This question gets asked sooner or later on every Red Sea wreck trip, and there are quite a lot of those. It generally comes up around the time the boat arrives at Abu Nuhas, where there are four very decent wrecks to dive.
From south to north, which means the part of the reef nearest where the liveaboards moor to the farthest end, the wrecks are, in order, Giannis D, Carnatic, Chrisoula K and Kimon M, but people still want to know about the Other One.
Over the years, I’ve asked a good number of people about the Fifth Wreck, and have been given detailed directions to patches of empty seabed all along the face of Abu Nuhas, and even around the northern end, at depths ranging from 25 to 100m-plus. I’ve also been told categorically that there is no Fifth Wreck.
On the one hand, the idea of a Fifth Wreck is entirely plausible. Over the years a good number of ships have ended their careers on Abu Nuhas reef, which lies just centimetres below the surface of the Red Sea and can be almost invisible on a still day, when the surf doesn’t break along the exposed face.
Four of those vessels, at least, are still there, while others, like the San Juan, were re-floated and either sank elsewhere or were repaired and continued their careers.
On the other hand, given the number of divers in the area on any given day, and the sheer number of dives made here, the idea that there is something as large and clearly identifiable as a shipwreck still undiscovered is highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, the Fifth Wreck continues to live in rumour.

PART OF THE PROBLEM is the debate about the identity of the Tile Wreck, fuelled mostly by the set of bows on the reef beside the wreck. As ships have only one set of bows, catamarans excepted, doesn’t this mean that there was a second wreck bang alongside the first
In fact, the bows are simply the upper part of the bows of the Tile Wreck itself, which have become detached over the years and fallen over to lie alongside the wreck from which they came.
You can easily follow the anchor-chain back from the detached bows to the chain-locker on the wreck to confirm this, next time you dive there. We don’t need a second wreck, so a possibility for the Fifth Wreck has been eliminated.
Those rumours just won’t go away, however, and the lads from Newsea Divers in South Wales have been investigating the area for some time, and were up for a bit of wreck-hunting to finally lay the ghost.
Our original plan was a fingertip search of Abu Nuhas at 50m or so, starting astern of Giannis D and ending seaward of Kimon M, having covered the entire length of Abu Nuhas reef in the process, and marking the position of anything interesting for future investigation.
Then we had a better idea.
Side-scan sonar has been a mainstay of underwater location for years, ever since it first became available in primitive form during World War One, when it was called ASDIC.
Over time the technology has been refined, developed and simplified to the point at which a complete side-scan unit with towfish, electronic control box and the computer to view the results can be carried in your airline hand-luggage. Or could be, if the hand-luggage rules permitted it.
I had seen Aberdeen-based Tritech at the London International Dive Show, and gave it a call. It makes a unit called the Starfish 450F, which can be easily deployed from a small boat and will image down to 50m.
Even more important, as I had no prior experience of sonar use, and, as a bonus, am blessed with the computer aptitude of a breeze-block, I was assured that Tritech’s kit was plug’n’play, and so simple to use that a child could do it.
Maybe so, but I knew there wouldn’t be a child on the boat if it all went pear-shaped.
Anyway, the unit arrived, the software loaded onto the laptop like a dream, and everything was good to go.
Shame, then, that when we got to the Red Sea the weather was windy and the sea unsettled, with a pretty consistent 2m swell and a nasty chop besides.
Not ideal conditions for an activity involving small boats, sonar units running shallow, and computers, salt water and electronics being notoriously poor bedfellows.
With true British pluck, however, Peter and I determined to try the unit around the Rosalie Moller wreck to see how it all worked.
To keep the electronics out of the water on the bottom of the RIB, we used an upturned gear crate, placed the laptop and electronic control box in a thick plastic bag on top of it, and ran the sonar sweep with a towel over our heads in order to see the screen.
Hi-tech or what Bob Ballard, eat your heart out.
We even got results straightaway, though the sea conditions limited the resolution and made the pictures fuzzy with all the heaving up and down, making it hard to see any detail.
More important, we also learned that steering the RIB while watching the screen was challenging, making it easy to wander from the wreck; and that speed through the water was important.
Oh yes, and moments after the sonar went in the water we were being buzzed by a pod of inquisitive dolphins, possibly attracted by all the pinging.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES. EXCUSES, EXCUSES. We sounded like Formula One drivers explaining why they hadn’t done very well in the race when we climbed back aboard Whirlwind.
But at least we knew that the kit was working and was a piece of cake to use, even if we weren’t sure what we’d imaged. We were feeling quite confident as we headed across to Abu Nuhas.
When we got there, however, our hearts sank. The 2m swell around Rosalie Moller had become 3m waves breaking all along the face of the reef.
There was no way we could use the sonar in those conditions. The computer and control unit would have drowned in an instant, so we abandoned the idea and went diving.
Strangely, and uniquely in my experience, the underwater conditions were very different from those above the surface. When we dived Giannis D we had next to no surge, which is unusual even on a calm day, never mind a day with a 3m swell.
On Chrisoula K there was so little water movement that we could hang in 3m off its bows and take time examining both the wreck and the detached piece of bow beside it, and on Carnatic the water was still and the vis crystal.
Best of all, when we surfaced from Carnatic the sea had suddenly gone flat-calm and the wind had died completely.
Most places around the world have a joke that goes something like “If you don’t like the weather here, just wait 10 minutes”, but the weather in the Red Sea really can change in the snap of your fingers.
Out of nowhere, we had been given those rare conditions when the sea becomes oily-smooth and the motionless air becomes hot and humid.

OUT CAME THE SONAR. We didn’t want to waste what could be our only chance. We knew it would be dark soon, that the skipper wouldn’t want his RIB out on the face of Abu Nuhas after nightfall, and that the wind could pick back up as suddenly as it had dropped.
Building on our Rosalie Moller experience, Peter took control of the towfish cable and communication with our boatman, Ehab, while I ducked under the towel to watch the screen and point out our course. We headed north, parallel to the reef and about 40m out, moving a little above walking pace.
Within seconds we had good images, and continued for the full face of the reef, then hung a wide U-turn, went a bit further to seaward and made another pass to the south.
The result was a clear sonar trace showing the four known wrecks in some detail, but nothing else of any size. So there is no Fifth Wreck on the face of Abu Nuhas at sport-diving depth.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there is no other wreck. The Starfish unit images down to 50m, so there may well be something deeper, or there could be something elsewhere on the reef, but, as suddenly as it had dropped away the wind was back, and that was that.
It was as though the weather gods had allowed us a single, brief opportunity before resuming normal meteorological service. We had the start of an answer.

The sonar unit was a Starfish 450F from Tritech International, www.tritech. co.uk. It sells complete units for £2300, and also hires them out.