THE COLOURED SEAS TRIP BEGAN with a simple text message that read: “Can you ride a bike I have a great idea.” I had wanted to make a long trip by motorcycle since I was four!
Later that evening, I listened to what was indeed a fantastic idea for an incredible journey; diving and biking the countries surrounding the Red, Black and White Seas from Egypt to Russia in the Arctic Circle.
Yann Vautrin, who came up with the idea, named it the Coloured Seas Trip. Had combining the sports of diving and biking been done before We didn’t think so.
We would need to perfect the art of crossing borders carrying almost everything needed to ride and dive in different environments: hot, cold, wet, dry, fast, slow, deep, shallow and, above all… long! The only extra items needed would be tanks and weights.
The trip would be made on two KTM 990 Adventure S 1000cc Dakar motorcycles, fully laden with enough dive gear to facilitate a four-tank tech-diving rig each.
Packed into panniers and large drysuit bags, our luggage weighed 55kg per bike. That was the first benefit… no airports, no excess luggage charges.
Yann, a diver and photographer, had the uncanny knack of selecting countries for the trip that would later fall victim to political unrest, almost in the exact order in which he wrote them down! Perhaps he had voodoo dolls of Egypt and Syria, the first two on the list.

I REMOVED ALL THE PINS from our planning office, but it was too late – Syria’s borders were not an option for the time being, and our preferred route to Turkey was closed. We would require boat or air freight to reach Istanbul from Egypt.
I had become a little fed up with people asking: “Is Egypt safe” Opinions were not always based on fact, so we decided to see for ourselves.
We redesigned the Middle Eastern leg of the trip and opted for a full 5000km tour of Egypt with diving in the Mediterranean (in the old Arabic world, this was also called the White Sea) and both sides of the Egyptian Red Sea.
After all, Egypt and the Red Sea are still the biggest draws for scuba divers, and they need to know if it’s still safe to go there or not.
It seemed appropriate to begin with a big dive, and the Thistlegorm wreck was the perfect choice.
We arrived at the Sinai Blues dive centre inside the Four Seasons hotel in Sharm el Sheikh to be greeted by a 500hp 8.5m RIB that would fly us to the wreck in a record-breaking 52 minutes.
Skipper and general manager Kelvin Deacon had cracked it previously in less than an hour, but today he broke his own record.
After three years’ planning, the Coloured Seas Trip had begun.
Next day we packed up the bikes and followed the hotel golf-cart that was laid on to escort us through the amazing gardens of the 5* hotel (perhaps they were worried about what we might do with our two off-road bikes!)
Each machine with rider and gear weighed nearly 350kg. We thundered along the 100km road to Dahab,
where we arrived at our next diving destination, and Poseidon Divers.
A small but fast day-boat ferried us out to the Lighthouse dive-site. Dahab is famous for its two big draws, the Canyon and the Blue Hole, but there are many other high-quality sites that day-trippers don’t always get to see.
The Lighthouse is near the windsurfing area, and has a very decent offering of marine life and coral.
It was windy, with a high swell, but this disappeared after a couple of metres’ descent, and during the dive the site’s peaceful and delightful appeal would help anyone forget about what was happening up top.
Leaving Dahab, we ran into the newly formed Egyptian Riders Club, and half a dozen of their amazing custom superbikes. Then we headed quickly along the Nuweiba road. We didn’t mind riding at night, but it’s slower, and you don’t get to see much of the spectacular Sinai landscape.
The Magana Camp provided a couple of beachfront huts and a huge Egyptian mixed grill. With a couple of cold beers we set about our daily task of writing the trip’s diary, and uploading Yann’s photography to our website.
Diving in the laidback town of Nuweiba took place through African Divers, with a visit near the MFO Camp at a site accessed across a sandy beach.
Guides in Nuweiba have an eye for picking out the detail, and Mahmoud didn’t miss a thing – frogfish, scorpionfish, stonefish or morays.
No boats here. Transportation was by 4x4 and trailer; a great way to experience the old way of life, and well-organised too. You can stay in a big hotel in Nuweiba or in one of the many seafront camps popular all over the Red Sea.
The road that runs through the middle of the Sinai from Nuweiba to the Suez Canal tunnel was known to be desolate, with little reason to stop other than to break down or re-fuel. Our fears proved ill-founded, as the entire main road had been resurfaced like a snooker table, and ran like a dream. There were straights that went for more than 8km without a kink.
The surrounding scenery in places resembled the surface of Mars and Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Now we were well and truly on the road in the middle of nowhere – great stuff!
We stayed in Port Tewfik near the Suez Canal, and watched the giant ships traversing the narrow waterway linking the Med to the Red Sea. We wouldn’t dive again until reaching Alexandria.

WE LEFT EARLY TO GET THROUGH the cities of El Ismaela and Port Said but then hit Damietta – and also a pedestrian, who jumped in front of Yann’s bike, ripping a pannier off the back and a bagful of dive gear.
A small crowd of 6587 gathered to see what had happened, but after a few minutes we discovered that the word “jaywalking” didn’t exist in the Egyptian vocabulary.
The police station in Damietta was a smart cream-coloured building, with ample accommodation for two Europeans and their touring bikes.
We were on our way after four hours, when the jaywalker returned from hospital having suffered only a bruising. No harm done. We signed a couple of papers and the only thing we hit again that evening was the road – quickly.
It’s difficult to say who took us to the sunken city of Alexandria.
We were shunted around so many times between individuals that we ended up paying a bloke on the waterfront 100 euros to take us on a fishing-boat out into the huge and ancient harbour area.
Few actually dive the sunken city regularly, and in this post-Mubarak era the rules were sketchy. We were told to stay quiet, cover the cameras and keep a low profile. According to a website, a more established way appeared to be through the Montaza Watersports Club.
Diving the sunken city was another long-held ambition and, for two Sharm diving instructors, represented a stark contrast to our familiar dive sites.
The myth was that the vis would be almost zero, and it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The reality was that only the first two metres was a browny-green colour, and I couldn’t see my computer display in the first few feet.
Then, a little further down the highly recommended shotline, a whole new world appeared. In fact it’s a very old world, dating from 365 AD, when a huge section of coastline subsided and fell several metres below the waterline. This was triggered by an earthquake in Crete.
We saw huge concrete pillars from ancient temples, giant slabs, statues and small sphinxes lying half buried in the sand. Most items were fully exposed, including amphora 1600 years old.
Later we dived on a WW2 Italian fighter plane in the shallow harbour area, but at only 4m deep the vis wasn’t great there.
Because of the exposed Med coastline around Alexandria, our guide Mohamed said that only around 250 days’ diving was possible in a year. So it’s difficult to book a “package” or guarantee a date – best to roll up and take your chances, but during a week’s stay it should be possible to get in a handful of dives.
It would take weeks to explore this area, which is estimated to contain more than 7000 ancient artefacts, and several shipwrecks.
Travelling along the Med coastal road we stopped for a brief respectful visit to the war memorials and WW2 museum of El Alamein. Then it was a 240km desert road burst to central Cairo.
No diving in the Nile, but during a ride through Giza the famous local horse-riders challenged us and our KTMs to a backstreet race alongside the perimeter fence of the Great Pyramid.
I think it ended in a draw!
The next diving destination was in Safaga, with Fred Lombard of Tom’s Diving House. We boarded a daily boat, Calypso, and headed straight for the Salem Express ferry, where we found almost perfect conditions, 30m vis and a pod of dolphins that swam right up to our lenses.

FRED AND YANN DISCUSSED a shipwreck lying nearby at Sha’ab Sheer, and we dropped in by RIB to take a look.
The wreck is named Al Kahfain, and sank in 2005. It was also upside-down, and appeared to be well over 100m long.
There were few interesting features to photograph, but the wreck’s huge size made the dive worthwhile.
We left immediately for Luxor, 240km away. The road was similar to that which ran through the Sinai, with more mountains, plains, winding bends through wadi systems and the occasional high winds, where we had to ride leaning at an angle to stay up.
We came across more members of the Egyptian Riders Club, and discovered that just a few kilometres away they were holding their regular Friday meeting.
We popped by to see their spectacular collection of bikes, including Honda, Ducati, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki Hayabuza and a massive 1800cc Harley, which they let me ride around the car park (I didn’t want to give it back!).
The Pyramids, the Karnak temple of Luxor and the Aswan dam contributed to the more cultural side of our Egyptian trip but it was sad to see such glorious attractions devoid of tourists in a country still offering a first-class service to anyone who wants it.
Were the people of Europe too influenced by news coverage of the Arab Spring The reality was very different. The biggest incident we witnessed was our own in the traffic of Damietta.

WE DIVED IN MARSA ALAM by kind invitation of Karim Noor, who ran a dive centre in Sharm 15 years ago. Keen to recreate the best of that golden era, he started up a diving facility at Deep South camp in the remote part of this beautiful wilderness way down in the southern Egyptian Red Sea.
Even with some development since the 1990s, it remains as peaceful and tranquil as it was when John Liddiard reported for DIVER from there in 2002.
About 85km out of “town” was Abu Ghusun. It’s not often that one can do a wreck dive from the shore, but here we visited a 66m wreck named the Hamada that hit the reef in the 1990s.
The water was noticeably warmer and the vis over 25m. Depth on the wreck reaches 18m and, despite receiving regular visits, it was beautifully covered in soft and hard coral, with many fine fixtures and detail remaining (more on this wreck in next month’s DIVER).
We had completed the southernmost part of our trip. It was now time to head north, and next stop would be at El Quseir, to visit Steve and Clare of Pharaoh Dive Club.
We rode into the “Roots Camp”, which we felt resembled the prison camp in Bridge Over The River Kwai, with tall bamboo towers and a big circular courtyard where you could imagine the troops gathering for morning drill.
Luckily, that was where the similarity ended, as the rooms were super-clean and well-equipped.
This popular type of accommodation helped us bridge the gap between the very basic camps and the big luxury hotels. Here you can get a bit of both.
El Quseir is not known as a leading diving destination, so it was surprising to discover so many good sites close to the main jetty area. One was a very decent wall dive not unlike the wall between the Bells and the Blue Hole in Dahab.
A little further away, we were taken to the biggest field of anemones and clownfish I had ever seen. Those familiar with Anemone City in Ras Mohammed will gasp when they learn that this one in El Quseir is 10 times the size.
The shallows are also very pretty, and in good conditions it’s also possible to dive around a cavern system. Hard corals at El Quseir sites were of exceptional quality and variety.
Diving there is carried out by all means possible – 4x4, RIB or day-boat. It’s a quiet town and remote, but like many operators in the south it attracts a loyal following of repeat guests in on the secrets of diving southern Egypt.
Another afternoon departure, and we arrived in Hurghada just in time to catch quiz night at the Viking Bar, where various Scandinavian and Russian dive staff attempted to answer questions such as “who shot Phil Mitchell in Eastenders”.
Accommodation was a real house this time, thanks to Anders Jalmsjo, who runs the Red Sea information website and wrote the Hurghada Reef Guide. He reckoned the safari business was mostly leading the way out of the tourist slump, but that other diving activities were slowly picking up.
Many of the dive staff agreed that, with fewer boats and divers in the water, in most areas the marine life had improved.

NEXT DAY WE RODE into a desert storm. The fierce winds slowed us to 45kmph and ate up fuel as we kept the revs high to stay in control of the heavy bikes, and we ran dry 30km before the next stop.
We managed to flag down three cars with just one thumb…surely a record. An hour later, we got the bikes going again and pushed on through the wind.
Our last diving stop in Egypt would be a very unlikely location at the foot of the Suez Canal, in a development called Stella Di Mare in Ain Sukhna. This resort was enormous, exceptionally well run and a simple concept of using water and limitless sunshine to create a 5* resort and golf course with a high-quality diving operation. Even the golf range was made of water, and the floating balls were scooped up by boat!
The Suez Canal entrance is a busy place, and because of the security attached to the shipping industry around this vital point special permission to dive is sometimes required by the coastguard.
We couldn’t obtain permission for the wrecks we wanted to visit that day, but we did get to dive on two local reef systems that offered a diversity of coral we hadn’t seen elsewhere in the Red Sea.
Some species such as a gorgonian flower are normally found only in the Mediterranean Sea, but then the outflow from the Suez Canal is connected to the Med 200km to the north. It makes for an interesting exchange of species.
There was little chance of being run over by the super-container ships passing nearby, but you could hear their big engines rolling over and echoing throughout the sites.
It was 1:30pm. Another day in Ain Suknha Riding bikes is in the blood, and the pool or golf course was no match for a high-speed blast along the Suez-Sharm road. This 450km stretch was the longest yet, but we hoped to make Sharm by 7.
We didn’t, but 9pm wasn’t bad, and the T2 bikers’ bar was still open when we glided into the car park.
And that was the Red Sea; 21 dives and nearly 5000km, all in just 17 days. The next leg would have to start from Turkey, as there were no land routes or ferries to take. It wouldn’t be without surprises, especially for Yann, who had a big one with mixed blessings.

Next month: read how a Cairo undertaker’s carpenter and Egypt Air Cargo helped save the day on the start of the next leg! More at