FOR THE FIRST TIME in my life I have won – yes, actually won – a free diving holiday, courtesy of Oonasdivers, staying in a tent at the Red Sea eco-resort of Marsa Nakari.
You can dive here year-round, but I have chosen early April, which is a couple of months earlier than I would normally travel to this part of the world.
It is dark now, and as I lie on my back listening to the waves gently lapping the shore, just a few feet from the luxury of the 7ft-wide, memory-foam bed in my “Royal Tent” (I paid for an upgrade), I can’t help thinking what little chance I would have in the event of a tsunami.
The roof and sides of the tent are billowing, in and out, with the strong wind outside, and I feel as if I am inside a giant lung.
I think about Colonel Gadaffi, who always preferred his tent to a hotel. However, this is an eco-resort promoting sustainable tourism and, as such, there are no en suite facilities in my tent, and it is a bit of a walk to the shared lavatory.
Hmmm, this is going to be fun in the middle of the night – might have to find an alternative use for my dome-port!
Outside, you can see almost every star in the galaxy, in stark contrast to London’s glowing canopy.
This relatively remote resort is built around a natural bay with superb fringing reefs on either side, making it a perfect shore-diving destination, while still being within easy reach of both Elphinstone and Dolphin House, one of the Red Sea’s most popular attractions and most important national parks.
The well-equipped dive centre, like my canvas-lung home, is mere feet from the water’s edge. Let the diving begin!

HOUSE REEF SOUTH provides the mandatory check-out dive. Because of the very strong wind the night before, the visibility is poor and leaves me with the feeling that the reef is rather dead.
Yet out of the gloom, our eagle-eyed guide manages to produce not one but a pair of robust ghost pipefish; a large moray; numerous, nervous blue-spotted rays; a clownfish anemone and a turtle. There is hope yet.
I have just made a remarkable discovery; just a few yards from my tent is a sort of three-sided wind-break. I thought it was shielding a bit of unfinished building work, or was perhaps a refuge for a night-watchman, but further investigation reveals a portable toilet from which, once comfortably seated, you have the finest view of the sea from the open, fourth side. Definitely a poo with a view!
The following morning, bright and early, and a 20-minute drive south, our group of 11 decamps to the water’s edge. The sea is like a mill-pond. In the hot sunshine, a heavily clad Bedouin woman lays out her jewellery stall on the beach. Behind us lies the desert.
We have been lured to El Foukery with the expectation of finding dugongs, but they haven’t been seen here for more than a month.
Setting out across the sea-grass, the preferred cuisine of our absent friends, I spot a guitar shark but I am unable to attract the attention of the guide, or indeed any of the other guests, despite screaming under water. Must bring a rattle next time!
We are led towards a maze of beautiful dappled-light caves and swim-throughs and an incredible psychedelic anemone.
On our second dive, on the northern reef at El Foukery, our guide keeps pointing to something at the surface that he insists I’d like to photograph, but I just can’t see it. I dismiss his urgent gesticulations with a wave of “oh, I’ve seen it all before”, and then I spot the squadron of squid, flashing red at the surface. There’s also a turtle, a porcupinefish and a pufferfish.
Back home we have another attempt at the northern house reef, the current having been too strong the day before.
I hadn’t bargained on how cold the water was going to be, at around 24°C, and the sun has thoughtlessly moved to the wrong position, placing everything in the shade. This is obviously going to be much better as a morning dive.
We find some lovely shallow caves, however, where all the elusive fish seem to be hiding. I gratefully hire an extra shortie wetsuit for the rest of the week.

IT’S MONDAY MORNING and we are heading out towards Habili Nakari, a submerged reef (habili is Arabic for a pregnant woman not yet at term – fancy having a word for that!).
Used to travelling fully kitted on a RIB, I am surprised to be made to take it all off again for the 10-minute ride.
A great shoal of bright blue fusiliers greets us on entry at this rarely visited site. The corals here are spectacular and pristine and the visibility superb.
Halfway around, after inspecting a pinnacle crowned with anthias, a giant school of chilled bannerfish hovers just above the seabed, always shifting at just the wrong angle for that perfect photograph. Within an hour, those of us still with air have circumnavigated the entire reef – a truly memorable dive.
After lunch, it’s back to the southern house reef again, on our doorstep and, in stark contrast to our first day, the murk has cleared dramatically. It’s as if we have discovered a new reef.
There is something here for everyone: shallow secret caves, swim-throughs, gardens, beautiful corals, many colourful clams and, up near the surface, shoals of sergeant-majors, big-eye, squirrelfish, yellow grunts and those aggressively territorial Arabian surgeonfish, thrusting menacingly.
Towards the end an electric ray ambles clumsily along (reminding me of a certain diver I know) and, intimidated by my presence, retreats to the nearest hidey-hole.
Later that evening, as I toddle back to my Gadaffi tent, after using up the remains of the duty-free wine with Gill, the wind has blown up and I’m grateful for the two warm blankets on my bed.
The next two diving days are wiped out by the wind, and the house reefs are closed. Great white waves are crashing over the outer reef.
Ah well, I see this as a rather rare and welcome opportunity to take a look at some of the images I’ve not had time to process on previous trips.
Marsa Nakari is a truly international dive destination that has been attracting people from all over Europe for the past 20 years. I am hugely entertained by a group of young Austrians on a biology field-trip, engrossed in some highly magnified micro-organism, pulsating on a screen.
What’s wrong with a bit of plankton Most of my non-diving friends think my passion for photographing fish is bizarre! There are also Dutch, French, Germans and a lone Hungarian, Tibor, who joins us for the rest of our diving.

IN THE LATE AFTERNOON of our third fallow day, a bit frustrated now by the lack of any diving activity, I decide to take a snorkel and see what’s going on; perhaps the current has settled a bit.
I manage to persuade the dive centre that it’s all OK again and it allows us to dive. Although there is still a rather strong current from the jetty to the reef, all that tough British diving experience comes into its own (what are your fins for). Once there, in the shelter of the reef, we are quite protected – and coming back requires no effort at all!
Vis is not great, however, and everything is covered, once again, in a fine layer of sand. But we do find two very co-operative turtles, a large moray and all our old blue spotty friends.
Next morning, although the sea appears much calmer, the strong under-currents prevail. However, we are determined to make the most of our last day, and aim to get four dives in.
The northern reef reveals a fine crop of anemones at about 12m. Tibor turns out to be quite a good model too, which is useful in the absence of any other fish.
On our last morning, as we are not flying for three more days and have missed so much, we decide to make one last dive at 7am – but it’s all a bit too much for Gill, who just can’t beat the current to the reef. So it’s just me and Tibor again.
Gill has lent him her new Canon compact in a Nauticam housing and he is very pleased indeed. It changes his approach to diving completely – it’s a pleasure to watch.
After our usual, and final, spicy foul (mashed beans) and falafel breakfast, we head north, by car, to Sahl Hasheesh, just south of Hurghada, and a couple of days’ boat-diving with friends.
Just below the Oberoi house reef, our drop-dead gorgeous Egyptian god of a dive-guide, Mostafa, leads us to a patch of seagrass – home of spiny seahorses.
And, as they seem to be putting “horse” into most things these days, we are then treated to a jaw-dropping display of horse-mackerel; swirling, diving, merging, dividing, just below the surface, all opening their mouths wide in unison.

THE LAST DAY OF ALL is by far the most entertaining. We are joined on our day-boat by two Egyptian couples, both on their honeymoons, and a brace of very large, bikini-clad Russian women, all of whom (except for the brides, who are covered from head to toe) are planning to snorkel.
Out of respect for the Egyptians, I think it only polite to don my excuse for a burkini; a purple and white Divegoddess flamesuit.
Our journey out to sea is choppy. Within 15 minutes, buckets of salt water are being sloshed across the dive-deck in a bid to remove the undigested stomach contents of all four women.
Moored up later for lunch, however, comes one of the best yet photo-ops; hundreds of sergeant-majors beneath the boat are making the most of our algae-covered hull, and perhaps a crumb or two from the crew!

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Easyjet flies to Marsa Alam for Marsa Nakari, though not every day. For more options, fly to Hurghada and transfer by road.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION At Marsa Nakari you can stay in tented or brick-built accommodation, www.oonasdivers.com. At Sahl Hasheesh, diving and self-catering accommodation were organised through Mostafa Allam, m.allam_diver@hotmail.com
WHEN TO GO Year round, though it is very hot in July and August. September and October are most popular.
CURRENCY Egyptian pounds or euros.
PRICES Oonasdivers can offer flights, transfers and seven nights all-inclusive (with soft drinks) at Marsa Nakari, with unlimited house-reef diving, from £595. Boat trips cost extra.
FURTHER INFORMATION www.egypt.travel