THE RED SEA has so much to offer divers, whether in the form of its amazing diversity of fish life, pristine reef system or exciting wrecks.
Many of us have dived the well-known sites on scuba, and have many a dive tale to share with each other, but how many of us have dived them on a closed-circuit rebreather (CCR)?
I’ve just been to Sharm el Sheikh to see just how useful or otherwise it is to use a rebreather on such dives – and how practical a CCR would be on a mixed-occupancy dive-boat (rebreather and open-circuit divers).
I packed my dive-bag with just a wetsuit, mask and fins, and travelled light, with just 15kg of equipment and clothing, and my camera equipment as my hand luggage. Why lug all my kit including CCR around if I could hire it on arrival?
I was heading for Camel Dive Club, one of the first and foremost dive facilities to set up in Na’ama Bay.
Last year Camel invested in new CCR equipment so that seasoned divers could hire, or be trained to use, a choice of APD, Hollis, Poseidon or JJ units, opening up more opportunities for diving holiday-makers.
I met Dave Griffiths, Camel’s in-house technical instructor and instructor-trainer, and he took me round the tech toy room to choose my preferred model. As I am qualified to dive only on the Inspiration and Dräger, I chose the APD Vision as a familiar and trusted unit.
I had ben diving Sharm regularly for 25 years, but nearly all my dives had been on open-circuit. This time my 10-day trip would be split between conventional scuba and rebreather diving.
That evening at the dive centre I met Catherine Bates, Camel’s other tech instructor and my CCR guide. I prepped my unit and set up my 5-litre stage bottle. There were three other rebreather divers present, one on a Vision, and two on Hollis Explorers, so we were teamed up to dive as a big group.

WHAT BETTER WAY to start the trip than on the Thistlegorm! I had dived the wreck more than 50 times over the years, so knew it well. We left the dock at 4am, and were first at the site.
Most of my previous dives had been conducted using 12-litre tanks containing nitrox 32. The gas was the perfect mix to conduct a 32m dive, but the limiting factor was always the gas supply, which allowed us to only make 45-50-minute dives. Fine as far as it goes, but that doesn’t give you much time to spend at depth or inside the wreck for photography or deep exploration.
The boat was full of open-circuit divers as well as our team, so there was little space to move. But with good organisation on the part of the divemaster movement around the back deck seemed easy enough for both groups.
We were planning only two dives that day, and each time were able to get in on the first wave, allowing us to make longer dives, at around 75 minutes.
Gearing up on a rebreather does take longer, and does involve pre-breathing the unit and doing a number of important checks before the dive. These all take time, and cannot be rushed. Simple mistakes can be big problems later.
The Thistlegorm seems to be the perfect rebreather dive, and many who have dived the site this way will probably agree with me. The wreck has “Sunk for CCR Divers” status, allowing divers to conduct no-stop diving from 13-35m, and allows CCR divers to make 75-120-minute no-stop dives with a bit of simple planning.
To make such dives on open-circuit would involve double tanks, and carrying additional stage bottles of alternative nitrox mixtures.
We made our way down the line, and landed on the break. Conditions were clear, so we decided to head first to the train out on the sand at 33m.
A brief circuit around it was enough, so we explored the patchy reef nearby to see if any goodies had been dropped by divers above, then headed back to the main wreck site to investigate the break zone.
Cath took us inside, and we did the grand tour around the trucks and motorcycles. The inside of the wreck is coated in a layer of silt and debris, which can be hazardous when moved.
Rebreathers are by far the best way to dive inside any overhead environment, as they leave no trail. Bubbles are extremely destructive, dislodging roof debris and leaving air-pockets in the wreckage, which over time can damage the site.

WE MADE OUR WAY back through the wreckage and spiralled up through the deck level, finally arriving on the main deck amidships.
In the cargo hold, schools of fish swirled among the vehicles. I prepped my camera, thinking that this was an ideal opportunity to get some great shots of the fish swirling above me.
Rebreathers are usually the best way to get totally immersed in schooling fish to capture that decisive moment. But on this occasion a jack came in from out of the blue, and the fish took off frantically in all directions!
We had been down for 50 minutes, with plenty of no-stop time left on our computers. We ran to 75 minutes but could easily have continued for two hours with no decompression penalties.
Our bubble-blowing dive buddies were back on the deck 30 minutes earlier, and were setting up their second tanks, looking cold after diving the 21°C Red Sea water. We parked up our rebreathers and that was it. No changing tanks – ready to dive again!
Many dive-boats in the Red Sea don’t cater for proper ways of tying off CCR units, and this was the case on our boat. This led me to having to tie my unit to a single tank with a piece of rope. OK for flat waters, but for rough seas not ideal.
Most boats should provide good staps, not just a bench with a cylinder-sized hole in, which drives me crazy.
After the two dives we all felt clear- headed and warm. The rebreather really helps when diving in the winter months in the Red Sea. I had made this dive on scuba on a number of occasions, and always felt cold and fatigued after a couple of dives. Breathing warm gases from a CCR makes a big difference.
The rest of the week I made a number of dives using both rebreather and OC in the same locations, but the perfect dive for comparison was Ras Mohammed.
The plan for the first dive was to jump in at Anemone Garden, then drift round to Yolanda Reef. Our planned bottom time was 90 minutes, with the open-circuit divers following us 15 minutes after our descent. I was diving with Michela Colella, another resident Camel instructor.
We spent our first 15 minutes swimming in silence and enjoying the reef, watching the clownfish darting in and out of the stinging tentacles, and the rest of the reef bustling with energy in the morning sunlight.
Then the second wave of divers appeared, with an explosion of noisy bubbles. All you could hear was the air billowing out of theirs regs, like puffing steam trains.

THE DIVERS CONTINUED along the reef, leaving us back in total silence. We dropped to 30m and continued along the reef until we reached the crossover point.
This swim takes just a few minutes, but leads you across a piece of blue water with no reference to the bottom. As I looked down, all I could see was a flickering and flashes of scales, as schools of tuna glided along the wall.
We got back onto the main wall on Shark Reef and continued along it at 30m. Then I dropped down to 40m for a photo opportunity of a lionfish hovering over a coral head, with Michela posing for me as the fish sat there motionless.
As I looked up I could see silhouettes of divers lined along the wall, with streams of bubbles trailing out of them. In our almost silent world all I could hear was the solenoid clicking off, and the general crackling reef noises in the background.
We moved back up the wall and joined our group at 20m. We were starting to feel a slight downcurrent coming out from the Saddle, so we swam cross-current and tucked in behind the coral heads covered in swaying colourful corals.
We arrived at the wreckage of the Yolanda as, above us, we could see our OC divers surfacing. We still had another 15 minutes to go, so we explored the shallow aquarium reef and the amazing array of fish patrolling it.

I DID THIS DIVE AGAIN a few days later on open-circuit, and the factor was always gas supply for some divers in the group. Some had to ascend earlier than the rest – not a huge deal, but this is of course where rebreathers shine.
Ras Mohammed is one of the busiest sites in Egypt, so it can get congested with divers, most of whom follow the same dive plan day-in, day-out. Our method of breathing allowed us to keep away from the rest of the divers, and to enjoy clear dive-sites almost wherever
we went.
This is a matter of profile flexibility. I did most of my rebreather dives between 15-40m, and the OC dives at 15-30m.
“Interest in rebreathers has increased, with the APD Vision still being the most popular unit to be used for rental and training, but the Hollis Explorer is now becoming popular for sport diving,” said Dave Griffiths, confirming what I was expecting to hear from him.
The recreational CCR market is still in its infancy, but from what Dave says I reckon we will be seeing a lot more rebreathers on dive-boats in future. CCR and OC can co-exist comfortably!
For divers seeking holiday fun, try the Hollis Explorer. I was able to get one dive on the unit, and could see how good it could be for filming and for travel. And if you want to explore deeper into the blue, any of the other units can be used.
The northern Red Sea has so much to offer, and rebreathers provide a great way to see it in a new light.

FACTFILE GETTING THERE Direct Flights from Gatwick with Easy Jet, Monarch and Thompson.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Camel offers a professional 5* Padi facility and technical diving centre. It also offers accommodation in its spacious 4* hotel, with restaurant, www.cameldive.com
WHEN TO GO Divers can visit Sharm at any time but for those who prefer warmer water but without sweltering heat, September-November is ideal.
CURRENCY Egyptian Pounds. With the weak euro, euros seem the best currency to carry at present.
PRICES Camel offers online deals, and its weekly packages can range between 336-457 euros for a five-night stay with five days’ guided dives, including free nitrox. Its CCR hire starts at 35 euros for a Hollis Explorer or 50 euros for an APD Vision, JJ or Poseidon MkV1.
VISITOR INFORMATION www.egypt.travel