THE SUMMER HAS FINALLY ARRIVED, and I’m raring to dive. With too few dives done over the winter months, I want to get tech-dive-ready for the summer.
I take the opportunity to join Paul Toomer from the training organisation Diving Matrix on blue o two’s blue Voyager liveaboard for one of their RedTec weeks, in the Straits of Tiran.
The trip is tailored for divers ranging from those with extended-range/nitrox qualifications through to experienced technical divers, Unlike standard charters, this trip aims to get to sites that are dived only infrequently.
Guests can expect to dive between 30-70m depending on experience, with two dives planned for each day.
This will be enough for most of us, as by the end of each day we are likely to have clocked up more than 200 minutes in the water.
RedTec charters bring together like-minded divers and give them the chance to talk tech, from kit to tables.
Particularly useful is the ever-present chance to pick Paul’s brain, because he has a wealth of tech-diving knowledge. He has been offering specialist dive trips to the Red Sea, Malta and the Galapagos for some years and with their growing popularity he hopes to bring in more destinations.
We kick off with a check-dive at Poseidon Reef, just outside Hurghada, where dive teams do a quick shakedown for trimming and bubble leaks. This allows everyone to fine-tune their equipment before we start to make more serious dives.
Paul carries out bail-out drills and shutdown skills with students finishing off their normoxic rebreather courses.
We then head over to the Giannis D wreck, arriving an hour before dusk, and prepare for an evening dive.
I have made many dives on the wreck, but this is the first time I have taken the plunge at this time of day. The port side is beautifully lit, dappled late-afternoon light dancing across the darkening hull.
I am planning a timed exposure on the stern, and waiting for the decisive moment. The sun is setting rapidly.
Then, in the corner of my eye, I see a swarm of alien-like divers swimming into the frame, illuminating the seabed with their torches. I watch them as they head off into the darkness of the hull, sculling lightly in unison.
I look up to see their miniature silhouettes hanging across the mooring line as they make their final deco stops.
We work our way back up the mast and complete our own first deco of the trip in near-darkness.

THAT NIGHT WE moor just behind the reef, and early next morning pull anchor and head off to the Thistlegorm site.
We’re woken at first light by a tap on the door from crewman Somia. Hot teas and coffees are served. What a great way to prep for a first dive!
Kevin, the liveaboard’s dive guide, keeps the briefing to the point, because vessels are starting to appear on the horizon. We want to have the wreck for ourselves before the day-boats arrive.
Equipped with my Buddy Classic Inspiration rebreather, I team up with a small group of divers using JJ-CCRs.
We are tied off at the stern, next to the guns. We carry out a tour aft, and drop down to the spectacular props. A resident crocodilefish lies tucked up under the rudder.
The wreck is teeming with life, with schools of jack scouting the perimeter looking out for small snacks.
Our first penetration is through the break into the aft hold, gliding over the BSA motorcycles into the midships hold.
From out of the blackness Paul appears, leading a squadron of black JJ rebreathers, flashing head-up displays and highly visible green handsets.
I haven’t been on the wreck for two years, and notice how fast the hull and artifacts are deteriorating. This is more visible on the rolling-stock in the bow hold, as the wreck superstructure is rapidly collapsing.

IT’S THE FIRST TIME I have made such a long dive on the Thistlegorm on my rebreather, but with no pressure from the divemaster to be back at the surface, why not
We make our way around, spiralling up from one level to the next, till we reach the bridge area at 15m. After 90 minutes, we’re clear of all stops.
We spend the last 20 in shallow parts of the break, surrounded by schools of glassfish swaying in the safety of the hull.
After the sites visited regularly by dive-boats, it’s now time to plan some more challenging dives. The following day we head up to Jackson Reef. Local tech instructor Jim Dowling joins the boat to give advice, and briefs us on the Canyon dive.
After a short trip out on the RIB, we’re dropped on the edge of the reef and rapidly descend to 35m, where the crack of the canyon appears. The opening is a few metres wide at the top, but widens out as you drop inside it.
We follow in single file down to 50m, gazing down to where the canyon drops off to 90m and beyond.
The scene is calm and peaceful, but as we emerge the current picks up, so we hug in close to the reef as we make our way back up to our first stop.
We drift along the reef, watching the schooling jacks holding their station effortlessly in the blue. The team drifts to the corner of the northernmost end of Jackson Reef, where we tuck into a small cutback in the reef during deco.
That evening Paul runs some mini-tech workshops, particularly useful for the newbie techies. He spends a couple of hours helping them to reconfigure their equipment to get the best out of it.
The following day we plan to dive one of the most inaccessible wrecks in Tiran Straits, a prospect that gets a lot of the hardcore wreckies extremely excited.
It’s our first trimix dive, and with so many divers on the boat, gas-mixing looks likely to be a logistical nightmare, but the gas team has it nailed to perfection. They are briefed, and within a few hours the mixes are delivered.
The Lara sits on Jackson’s northern tip. She hit the reef in 1981 following a navigation error, but in the 1980s was systematically stripped for scrap. During this process things went awry, and the stern section fell off the reef and slid down it to a plateau at 70m.
The highest part of the wreck is at 45m, with other bits sitting in 80m. Thesite is rarely dived because of the unpredictable currents and choppy seas.
DM Jim has made numerous dives on the site, and considers the challenge worthwhile – especially as, on this occasion, the sea state is flat calm, with only a slight surface current.
We are dropped in just upcurrent of the site and descend quickly to 50m. But we can make out the wreck only eight minutes into the dive.
From out of the blue the large superstructure stands proud on a section of hull-plating. It is covered in forests of soft coral, waving in the current.
I reach the propeller, but my buddy has, unfortunately, swum off elsewhere, so I fail to get the classic prop shot with a diver I was wanting.
We ascend the mast, joining some of the other team at its top at 45m. Just above the wreck, a large debris-field trail of twisted metal is strewn across the reef, remnants of the salvage operation.
We leave the wreck and drift along the sloping reef to a point at which it is covered in huge whip corals that dance in the current. We have only 40 minutes of stops, giving us time to enjoy the reef as we drift along in the current.
One of the most spectacular dives on the trip is at Eel Garden Canyon just off Shark Observatory. The site, relatively unknown to most dive-boats, is usually dived only by guides running tech courses from Sharm el Sheikh.
Hard to find, it can be located only by using land transits and a short bounce dive by the divemaster for confirmation.
We go in two waves, scuba team first followed by the rebreather team, dropping onto a marker and descending to the mouth of the canyon at 35m.
The canyon opening is spectacular. It rises from the seabed to a crack 15m from the surface. We follow the large gash cut back into the reef and then a dark passage, before ducking under an overhang to enter a short tunnel.

AS WE EXIT THE TUNNEL, we come into another room with small passages running off in many different directions.
The view above is crystal clear, with shafts of light breaking through the top of the canyon and glittering on the sandy seabed.
We explore some of the small passages running off into the reef, many of which turn out to be dead ends.
After 35 minutes the group makes its way back out onto the reef to decompress under an SMB.
It’s been five years since I last visited the Rosalie Moller wreck, one of my favourite sites in the region, but earlier visits were on single tanks. Being a little deeper than the Thistlegorm, it’s ideal for rebreathers. Vis is usually poor in this location but it does offer the chance to make some serious penetrations.
I join Paul’s group, and as we drop down the shot the site looms from the silty gloom. Below us is the gaping hole where a bomb went off during the sinking of the ship.
Paul leads us into the aft hold, and we scull into the darkness. Inside is thick, fine silt, so we glide carefully through the hull, taking care not to kick it up for our buddies behind.
The darkness is pierced by a beam of light from above, as the sun hits the top of the boilers in the engine-room.
Paul and his buddy Karl tie off a line, drop their stage bottles on the boiler, enter a narrow stairwell and head into the depths of the engine-room.
After a short time, two rust-covered divers wriggle their way back up the stairwell to join the group.
As we move onto the main deck, Paul leads us through the engineers’ accommodation, visiting the galley where pots still lie on the stove.
The open passageway is interesting to swim through, with cabins either side and broken relics untouched for decades lying in the silt.
With silt suspended in the water, the atmosphere at the bow as I sit a few metres off it is quite eerie.

BLUE O TWO HAS SECURED a reputation for service on its liveaboards, as is proved on our penultimate night on board. The food has been excellent all week, but from the galley comes a large turkey with all the trimmings, fit for a banquet – not something I have seen on a safari boat before.
Our final dive takes us to the Hebat Allah, just an hour from Hurghada. The 44m cargo ship sits in 46m, with the mast coming up to just 15m. It sank in 2004, so sports little growth as yet, but it has become an excellent site for sheltering fish.
The wreck was originally going to be sunk for recreational divers in 30m, but during the towing the team charged with the sinking decided to do so in deeper water, to restrict access to more experienced divers.

WE DROP DOWN THE MOORING LINE, and at just 10m can discern the shape of the wreck. With no current, and 25m vis, we freefall into the main cargo hold midships, and swim around in a huge rectangular clearing, taking care not to kick up the silt.
The Hebat Allah sits upright, but has little to penetrate. There is a small compartment in the bow without much to see, but the main bridge area is well worth a look.
Divers can swim through easily, touring the living quarters before a fun excursion up the stairwell to the bridge.
The group makes its way up the mast, where new corals are appearing and lionfish prey on stray fry. We spend the last half-hour decompressing in a large school of moon jellyfish, dodging as they drift past us in the current.
After each dive of the trip there was a buzz on the back deck, and plenty of smiles and excitement.
Whatever the level of expertise, from the beginners to a couple in their 70s diving rebreathers, and from as far afield as South Africa, guests seemed to be getting the most out of each dive in terms of bottom times and depth.
Having dived the Red Sea over 22 years, it was exhilarating to visit some new sites. The highlight for me was Eel Garden Canyon, because it was a pleasure to visit a site so untouched, even though so close to Ras Mohammed.
I look forward to returning to the Sinai to explore other lesser-known sites – as long as the local divemasters will share them with me!
With excess baggage costs becoming more of a problem, blue o two can arrange any technical dive gear you need for the charter, including CCR tanks and stage regs. All mix gases and Sofnolime are available, but must be prebooked.

The next RedTec charter is on 7 December and costs £949. For more information go to www.blueotwo.com or www.divingmatrix.co.uk

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