IMAGINE A PLACE that’s like the British countryside on a warm summer’s day, with blue skies,
green fields, forests and mountain roads, but with scuba-diving conditions sometimes reminiscent of the tropics.
The Bulgarian Black Sea coast would be full of diving surprises – but first, I had to get there.
Getting out of Egypt with a touring bike was indeed the mammoth task we anticipated, because of the unrest in Syria and Libya. All over the region were bikers with unfinished trips either waiting to get home from the Middle East or Africa, or just itching to make a start from Europe.
Despite the rumours, there were no ferries operating trips between Egypt and Turkey, or even close to it; just trade boats for commercial vehicles.
During the long wait, my fellow-biker Yann had become involved in the Save the Legend event to raise awareness for protecting the Thistlegorm ship wreck.
This is a TV documentary project that involves freediving on the famous wreck to remind people that preservation as much as diving is still high on the agenda (www.savethelegend.com).
Much to his disappointment, Yann would miss the main leg of the Coloured Seas Trip. It was a big loss, but Yann’s huge input as designer of the trip and rider in the Egyptian Red Sea section helped provide the working formula for its continuation, even on a solo basis.
However, I had never gone further than 370 miles on a single stretch by myself. Another 6200 miles lay ahead!
It would be interesting.

I PICKED UP A GOOD STILLS CAMERA, and Yann handed over the four Go-Pro Hero head-mounted videocams that we used on the motorbikes and under water. I went out in Cairo streets to play with them and take some test footage.
An hour later, I was in handcuffs and being interviewed by the intelligence police on suspicion of spying!
A local man had seen me outside and, perhaps being overly paranoid in this post-revolutionary era, had decided that a foreigner with a tiny video camera on the streets of Egypt could only be involved in high-level espionage.
The head of intelligence read the police report, inspected my footage of a desert road and a motorbike, and shook his head. “You’ve been watching too many movies,” he told the international spy-catcher. “Now go away and leave this man alone.”
With time pressing on, my old friend Ahmed Saleh in Maadi Cairo helped me to arrange for a carpenter (an ex-coffin-maker) to build a wooden crate suitable for air-freighting a motorbike.
The drawings were made and an order given. Then the carpenter’s assistant rang the next morning, announcing that his boss had dropped dead overnight. Were these all signs
Another search yielded Samy, who knocked up a new crate in less than 24 hours.
Also in Maadi lived the motorcycle trainer and dive club operator Hans-Heinz Dilthey, a legend among the biking community in Germany, where he ran a riding school and is now owner of Coraya Divers in Marsa Alam.
Hans supervised the crate-packing and securing the bike and diving equipment for export. He also provided much last-minute training and advice for long-distance riding, with such useful tips as “always look well ahead of you on the road”. Nothing wrong with simple, and it works!
The cargo flights with Egypt Air had been knocked back twice over two weeks. Cairo Freight Systems, a very useful forwarding company, managed to complete the paperwork and book the crate on a Turkish Airlines Flight. That was it! I would finally leave in a few days.
Ahmed, a Harley-Davidson rider and former member of the Red Sea Search & Rescue organisation, arranged for me to meet up with the Arabian Knights Riders Club of Cairo, another in a growing list of Middle East bike clubs enjoying the popularity of custom bike ownership.
Many had Harleys, too, and Friday afternoons was the popular day for a cruise around Cairo’s quiet streets, or a burst out of town towards Ain Sukhna.

THE BIKE, DIVE GEAR and tough wooden crate hit the scales of the Cairo cargo village at exactly 399kg.
On a weight and volume basis, I was charged for 500kg.
It all came to exactly 1000 euros, which had to be a result for one of the rare few touring bikes to make it out of the Middle East into Europe for a trip continuation.
Among my luggage was enough dive kit for a four-tank tech rig in ice-cold water. O’Three, Apeks and Sub Gear had provided equipment for the trip. All of it had to fit on the bike – somewhere!
I arrived in Turkey. The Turkish Airlines cargo village was closed at weekends for my type of customs clearance. Another delay and two more days than planned in Istanbul, where
at least I had the chance to swap stories with the CBF Riders Club of Turkey.
It has 1800 members, nearly all of whom rode Hondas.
I joined them for their Sunday meeting where Emre, of the Turkish Airlines Export Department, and
friends were planning a big biking tour of Greece during August.
My KTM 990 Adventure S Dakar was eventually delivered to me the following afternoon on a fork-lift truck in the massive Customs clearing hall at the cargo terminal. There wasn’t a scratch on it and everything was in place; super stuff (thanks, Hans-Heinz)!
It took three hours to reassemble everything and pack the bike for the long stretch ahead. I shook hands with the airport staff, and then put the key in the ignition to start it. Nothing!
The master fuse had blown. A trip to a nearby motorcycle shop to buy two new ones and then fix the problem delayed my departure by another two hours.
At 11pm the bike was ready. The trip had already suffered many delays and setbacks, not to mention several big changes. With little diving or biking in the past few weeks, and the Russian visa approaching its expiry date, it was vital to get away as soon as possible.

I RODE TOWARDS THE BULGARIAN BORDER over 150 miles away. I didn’t care that travelling at night meant missing the Turkish countryside.
Sitting on the bike, I felt as if I was doing a monumental deco stop, off-gassing all those weeks of international administrative procedures.
These first few miles were more than just another stretch of road; the second leg of the Coloured Seas Trip had really begun, and it felt great to be steering it in the right direction again.
I needed to get back in the water, too. Diving bikers had become airport bikers, and a decent dive was well overdue.
There were no hotels or campsites for me at Kirkareli, the last big town before the Bulgarian border. I would cross in the morning, after some rest.
I slept on the ground at the edge of a petrol station, using the bike and dive luggage as a windshield. Not quite the Four Seasons.
It’s not every day that a border control officer sees an Austrian bike with Egyptian number plates, loaded with scuba equipment and ridden by a Brit!
My paperwork was all in order, but it didn’t help that my Sinai plate had the number 4567, which looked like one I’d made it up myself. A shrug of the shoulders, a reluctant stamp or two, and I crossed from Turkey to Bulgaria in less than 40 minutes.
Next stop was Varna, via Burgas in Bulgaria, where I was to meet Scott Garthley, owner and manager of Black Sea Scuba (www.blackseascuba.com).
This had been the first dive centre to show interest in accommodating the diving on the Coloured Seas Trip, more than two years ago.

I PULLED INTO THE RESORT AREA of Varna at 2pm later that day, exhausted. Scott saw the big O’Three drysuit bag on the back of my KTM bike. “You won’t need that just yet,” he said. “It was 30°C in the sea this morning.”
His 4x4ful of Norwegian open-water students were nodding and smiling in agreement – the first of many surprises that the Bulgarian Black Sea would hold.
Perhaps its name suggests that the Black Sea has a dark side or simply isn’t considered a diving destination. Blue, Red, White… lovely!
But the Black Sea is far from black, and here in Varna is a turquoise, bluish colour with rolling white waves landing on fine white sandy beaches. Scott has studied ancient and modern history and has amassed a great deal of research on these waters and their many shipwrecks.
“Black” comes from descriptions by mariners of the storms that would whip up in no time. The very clear water reflecting off the dark clouds appeared black. The same happens in the Red Sea, where I have worked for 14 years, when on the rare occasion you get heavy rainclouds over Sharms waters.
It’s just that with the climate in Bulgaria and surrounding countries, it happens more often.
The Black Sea has thousands of shipwrecks. Many are the result of storms, but in WW2 the Germans sank much of their Black Sea fleet to stop the Russians landing in Varna. If you want lots of wrecks, you normally have to dive in the rougher waters that sank them.
Luckily, it’s not always rough and, as with Sharm, there is a collection of dive-sites for different weather conditions. Marine life includes seahorses, crabs and the occasional seal.
Some Black Sea dive centres cater only for tourist intro dives and beginner courses, while others organise guided activities for advanced divers visiting from abroad.
Varna is home to several resort complexes, the largest being Golden Sands. I rode around it when I arrived as though I was in a modern Spanish holiday town.
The main diving season runs from May to October, but Black Sea Scuba is open year-round. The 3mm shorties get stored away in winter, and out come the drysuits and thermals for temperatures dropping to as low as 3°C. I would never have believed it was possible to experience a 27°C temperature spread.
There are some local wreck dives, such as the Russian submarine SH211, a torpedo-boat, and a cargo ship named the Regele Carol, built in Glasgow in 1898. In WW2 the sub sank the Regele Carol. The wounded vessel managed to radio in an air strike from Varna before it sank. The aircraft bombed the SH211, which also went to a watery grave.
Another popular wreck for divers near Varna is the private passenger jet of the ex-communist president of Bulgaria. It was sunk for divers, and lies in 18m.
Many of the wrecks including the subs have good features and detail, and divers can swim around conning-towers, props and through aircraft-engine cowlings.
After such painstaking research, Scott has kept the wreck co-ordinates for his guests only.

I JOINED A GROUP OF STUDENTS in the shallow bay of Karnevo, as conditions in the open sea were still lively. Later, dive-buddy Angle and I went outside the surrounding stone barriers to get chucked about a bit by the waves. The surge occurs only in the shallows, and visibility improves when it calms. Ranges can be from 2-15m.
Todays was the first proper Black Sea dive of the trip. We drove by Land Rover to the very picturesque and busy beach of Kaliakra, ancient capital of Bulgaria.
The sun beat down and again the water was 28°C; just a 3mm suit was needed, to keep the seaweed out. It was a simple entry into waist-high water, and then a short swim to the middle of the bay, where we descended.
The inland Black Sea has virtually no tide, and the currents were not strong.
At depth, the light-green water and bottom composition of sand, rocks and seaweed made it feel like UK diving, especially when we saw a few crabs, mussels and barnacles around the concrete breakwaters.
There were also small seahorses but the larger marine life was further out, and better viewed in calmer conditions when greater visibility opens up.
We surfaced once outside in the open sea, and I was surprised to find that we were in Shark Observatory in Sinai’s Ras Mohammed. The rock formation looked identical! The rolling 2m swell and light chop were easily manageable, and it was no effort getting back inside the bay.
Scott, who had been visiting this site for six years, decided that today was the day to fall flat on his face in full scuba gear, knock himself out and break his nose. It all happened in a split-second.
He got to his feet, bleeding heavily, and headed to the first-aid kit, where he seemed to perform a mini-operation using the passenger wing-mirror.
Normally it would be my job to provide first aid to an injured co-diver, but this ex-military and frontline war veteran had probably patched up more wounds than a ringside boxing coach.
Still, the cracking sound as he straightened out his nose again with his own fingers made me wince a bit!

THE ROMANIAN BORDER is only an hour’s ride away. Shortly, I have to leave and head for the Ukraine for the long push north. The remainder of the Black Sea diving in Crimea will now have to be on the way back down.
It’s still warm enough in the Arctic Circle and the bike is running well; I had it serviced yesterday in Varna.
It’s time for the big one now. More next month.