The Dive Sites of the Red Sea by Guy Buckles
The Dive Sites of the Red Sea by Guy Buckles

A new book on the dive sites of the Red Sea looks beyond the northern zone to which most guides confine themselves
The Red Sea is more than 1000 miles long and encompasses far more than the shores of Israel, Jordan, the Sinai and the northern part of Egypt. It is therefore a pity that so many books that profess to be guides to diving in the Red Sea manage to avoid covering the major part of it.
Here is a refreshing change.
Guy Buckles impressed Nick Hanna, series consultant for the New Holland series of divers guides, with his efforts in producing The Dive Sites of Indonesia. So much so that, although I understand he had little prior knowledge of the area, Nick commissioned him to do the same thing for The Dive Sites of the Red Sea.
As a former Red Sea dive guide, I would have thought the whole project quite daunting. I believe it took Guy about a year to do the research. I dont know if he visited and assessed every site mentioned in person, but the result is quite convincing.
The book follows the proven formula developed for New Holland by Nick Hanna. The main body of the volume is taken up with dive sites listed in an orderly geographical manner. Starting with Israel and Jordan, it covers a small part of Saudi Arabia before going into detail about Egypt - which is broken into sections on north Sinai, south Sinai, Sharm El Sheikh to Hurghada, southern Egypt, and then the off-shore reefs and the deep south of Rocky Island and Zabargad.
Then come the Sudan and Eritrea. Sadly, the increasingly important and interesting coastal area of the Yemen seems to have been overlooked.
As with the other New Holland guidebooks, the sites are catalogued by name and rated with a system of stars (one to five) for both scuba and snorkelling potential. The usual series of symbols indicates whether the site can be dived from the shore or needs a boat, whether it is usually visited by liveaboards, whether it is suitable for scuba or snorkelling only, and whether it is suitable for all levels of diver. Information is clearly and concisely laid out to indicate location, type of access, average depth, maximum depth (somewhat difficult with some of the Sudanese wall dives!) and the average visibility. Then there is a general description of what a diver might expect to encounter both above and below the water. Chapters on general topics include an introduction to the area, travelling to and from it, and diving and snorkelling in the Red Sea. Each geographical section is prefaced with details of the people and their culture, climate, marine life, local conditions, access, operators, facilities, local etiquette and customs.
Then there are major features on what to pack, Egypts conservation groups, the wrecks of Gubal, Cousteaus Conshelf 1 Experiment (the remains of which can still be seen at Shaab Rumi), and animals that might hurt you.
I applaud Guy Buckles efforts. This is one of the most sensible and comprehensive guide-books to an area which is well served by volume if not in comprehensiveness. Naturally the author has concentrated on places that are popular now rather than those that might be popular in future, but it is good to know that there is still a lot of Red Sea in reserve.
If I have a quarrel, it is with the star-rating system. As I pointed out when I reviewed the first tranche of volumes in this expanding series, I believe some of the authors are less discerning than others and award the top rating of five stars too readily.
I can appreciate the problems of quantifying the quality of dive sites. Having obviously been thrilled by a great dive at Safaga, Mr Buckles awards it full marks. What then can he do later when confronted with the problem of awarding stars to a site like Dahrat Abid in the Suarkin islands off southern Sudan, but put it in the same top category, even though it probably rates 50 stars by comparison
Similarly, he gives five stars to a dive on the wreck of the ss Dunraven, a (literally) well-trodden dive site, and goes on to give the same to the ss Umbria outside Port Sudan, said by Hans Hass to be the best divers shipwreck in the world!
Some contemporary myths are also perpetuated. For example, the wreck of the so-called Sarah H on Shag Rock is actually the wreck of the ss Kingston, which went down in the 19th Century. An Israeli dive-boat skipper named it after his wife as a joke at the expense of Shlomo Cohen, when he was writing his own Red Sea guide. Regurgitating misinformation is the risk you run if you use a previous guide as a reference.
All that said, the popular Egyptian sites are well-covered. The photography by Alex Misiewicz is up to the same high standard as the rest of the series and the maps indicating the relative positions of the dive sites are graphic, clear and simple.
John Bantin

The Dive Sites of the Red Sea by Guy Buckles, New Holland (Publishers) Ltd, tel. 0171 258 1293. Softback £15.99