Jekyll & Hyde Dive in the Red Sea
Colona Dive Club has run dayboats and liveaboards in Egypt for years, and its latest base is the Magawish Village near Hurghada. Now it offers divers the chance to get a bit more technical and dive more as they might in the UK. John Liddiard spends a schizoid week learning more Divernet

HYDE HAS BEEN WAITING FOR HIS OPPORTUNITY, peering over Jekylls shoulder through countless warmwater trips, quietly biding his time.
     At the first glimpse into Colonas technical shed and its line of twinned grey cylinders with manifolds, Hyde makes his move, firmly pushing single-cylinder Jekyll into the background.
     Hyde isnt after anything too technical, just a chance to wear a twin-set and put it to good use, as he would on the average club dive at home. The next hour of fiddling, undoing bolts, rearranging regulator hoses andpositioning backplates and wings keeps Hyde happy and to the fore with little effort. None of this interests Jekyll, who dozes in Hydes subconscious.
     The pile of kit grows outside. Hyde appreciates the irony that all this technical equipment is moved the short distance from dive centre to boat by donkey cart. He doesnt really mind when Jekyll resurfaces briefly to scratch Roger the donkeys ear, then leaves it to Hyde to get their kit stowed on the boat.
     With a strong wind from the north-east, it seems that all the boats in Hurghada are sheltering behind Gota Abu Ramada. Neither Jekyll nor Hyde are excited by the idea of diver soup. Looking on the bright side, Jekyll remembers that last time here was good for photographs.
     Divers from the other boats are already down. Hyde suggests and Jekyll readily agrees that taking their time and being last into the water provides the best chance of getting it to themselves.
     It works out well for everyone. For 90 minutes, Hyde has a wonderful time fine-tuning weight, harness and where everything gets stashed on the twin-set. Jekyll uses a macro lens to take close-in portraits of all the pretty fish, with particular excitement raised by a cleaner wrasse wiggling in and out of the gills of a spotted sweetlips.
     Except for a couple of groups going the other way at the start of the dive, and the fish, the underwater part of Gota Abu Ramada is as close to deserted as it ever gets.
     Having used more than half of the twin-set at Gota Abu Ramada, Jekyll has less air to play with at El Twile. Hyde drifts off to sleep, while Jekyll splits the dive evenly between three of the smaller coral heads, patiently waiting for fish to get used to him, all the while cursing Hyde for tucking into the spicy chicken limbs at lunch.

Hyde gets narked
Below the police hut on Small Giftun, Hyde descends the wall to 55m, drifting south as the wall diverges from the shallow reef. The caves are further along than he remembers, sufficiently far that, in a narcotic fuzz, he begins to doubt their existence and wonders if there is anything else of interest on the reef this deep.
     Colonas technical manager Suzy is on hand to keep an eye on Hyde; Jekyll she trusts to look after himself.
     An overhang in one of the narrow buttresses shows a promising shadow. Swimming closer reveals a vertically oriented letterbox, perhaps 8m high and 2m wide, stretching a good 10m through the limestone to a blue window at the far end. Hyde is in like a terrier, then loiters in the tunnel.
     Emerging from the far end, Suzy points up the reef and Hyde reluctantly agrees, taking it easy and inserting a few random deep stops while his dive computer continues to accumulate decompression. Hydes bail-out tables would have brought him to the surface faster, but Jekyll complains that he wants the computer un-bent for the second dive.
     Hyde reluctantly concedes, sinking into the background and dreaming more technical dives as Jekyll enjoys stalking trumpetfish on their 3m stop, then continues for another 10 minutes added safety. Jekylls excuse is that he is looking for stonefish.
     There is only 60 bar left in the twin-set for a second dive at Banana Reef. Hyde blames Jekyll for those extra 10 minutes at Small Giftun. Jekyll nags Hyde to pack a decanting hose in the hand baggage next time Ð after all, its Hyde who likes extended diving on twin-sets. With his normal single-cylinder BC, Jekyll could simply have switched between dives.
     He cant conceal from Hyde that he is quite happy that a quarter of a twin-set forces them to stay shallow, where the waves are crashing and foaming across the back of the reef. All those fish sloshing in and out with the shallow surge get Jekyll thinking perhaps he and Hyde should invest in a video system.

A personality for all seasons
A few months previously, Hurghada gained a new wreck. The Red Sea Association sank the coaster Hebatt Allah as an artificial reef to the south of the Giftun Islands.
     Hyde is chomping at the bit. The wreck isnt officially open for diving yet, because the association wants to let some marine life get settled in before divers are let loose. Permission from the association has been sought and gained to dive the wreck, but the GPS numbers have not come through.
     Disappointed about the wreck, Hyde is consoled by a deep dive at Shark Point, off the plateau to the north of Abu Ramada. Hyde and Suzy divide their attention between the wall at 50m and the deep blue out and below, where sharks may be sighted.
     Even Jekyll helps out, dividing his attention between the blue and the depth reading on their dive computer.
     Its the perfect deep profile for a computer, slowly ascending as they drift beyond the plateau to the point at which the wall is straight up the side of Abu Ramada. Its a long shot, so Hyde isnt really surprised that no sharks are sighted.
     Marine life is actually more impressive on this stretch, away from the point of the plateau as the current picks up a little on the real wall. Hyde is impressed by big gorgonians stretching sporadically to the depths. Jekyll is more impressed as they shallow above 30m and the forest of gorgonians becomes denser, then gives way to hard corals, fire corals and vibrant soft corals.
     By 25m Jekyll is back in command, and is really enjoying himself. For sheer density and colour, there just isnt room for any more. This Red Sea reef is as good as it gets.
     Hyde keeps a sleepy eye trained into the blue, just in case the something big should swim past.

Neglected in the shallows
Some of Hydes technical cravings are satisfied later on the wreck of the Belina, a moderately sized steel coaster just along the beach from Colona. Its a wreck that many dive centres overlook, because inshore visibility is rarely as good as further out, and it is only 8m to the flat, sandy seabed. The forward mast stands clear of the water and the bow is only a couple of metres below.
     The only difficult thing about the dive is getting the boat close enough. Mooring ropes to a jungle of unused dive boats are tied off to the forward mast. Colonas boat approaches cautiously, weaving its way into the middle of the mooring area, 50m off the Belinas stern.
     Approaching the wreck along the seabed, Jekyll starts to pay more attention when he notices a massive shoal of yellowtail barracuda swirling above. From then on, its an even conflict with Hyde.
     Jekyll is fixated on the barracuda, studying the flow of the shoal on the shaded side of the wreck, anticipating where he can get closest with the right camera angles. Fully kitted with a redundant air supply, Hyde is just itching to explore inside.
     The main deck cabin stretches a good two-thirds of the length of the wreck, with a small well to the hold and forecastle forward of it. Passageways lead back above the engine to a well-lit space only partly divided by steel bulkheads, the wooden interior partitions having turned to dust. Yellow and red soft corals hang in rings along a row of empty portholes.

Hyde gets lucky
Another day starts with good news for Hyde, who remains firmly in control. The GPS co-ordinates for the Hebatt Allah have arrived.
     Suzy reserves one of Colonas boats with the best echo-sounder and Jekyll submits to the inevitable.
     The numbers turn out to be pretty good, with an obvious wreck on the echo-sounder. The Hebatt Allah lies bow to the north-west, upright and intact, rising some 10m from a 45m seabed. The surrounding seabed is a sparse field of small coral heads.
     It had been planned to sink it 10m shallower, but it drifted while sinking slowly by the stern. Hyde dips to the seabed below the propeller. Striking stern first, the rudder has broken off and the propeller is bent forward. A small area of coral has been crushed into a pit where the stern hit, though overall there is very little collateral damage.
     When the wreck is officially opened for divers, the plan is to fix buoys into the seabed. Hyde approves of the fact that the wreck wont be pulled apart like the Thistlegorm. Jekyll is glad that the coral field around it wont be devastated.
     On the wreck, Jekyll briefly makes an appearance to comment on a shoal of fusiliers above the superstructure, then again when he finds a big star pufferfish at the bottom of the hold and a lionfish tucked up under the gunwales. Otherwise the Hebatt Allah hasnt had time to accumulate marine life, and exploring the structure is left to Hyde. Even Jekyll can agree that Hurghada has made a bold investment for the future.
     The anchor-line is jerking with the waves while oscillating through a 30 arc. The wind is unseasonably north-westerly. It is actually rougher in the normally sheltered area of the wreck site than outside the Giftun Islands.
     From 9m, Hyde releases a delayed SMB, not because he wants to drift but because with plenty of stops it is a lot more comfortable and safe than hanging onto the line, and requires less concentration than perfect neutral buoyancy. He spends the next 30 minutes and 10 minutes safety swimming gently, following the boats swim platform from side to side.

A worthy compromise
After two wrecks running, Hyde is on a winning streak and itching for more. He and Jekyll have previously dived the inshore wrecks El Menya and Excalibur, and the Shaab Abu Nuhas wrecks. To take advantage of the twin-set, Suzy suggests Shabrurh um Gamar, where there is a barge wrecked in 30 to 60m and, somewhat embarrassingly, the remains of the Colona IV liveaboard, which was swamped in 1995. Jekyll is pleased to hear that there were no casualties.
     The only thing the plan doesnt allow for is the wind, which blows stronger all the time. The long boat-ride to the unsheltered site at Shabrurh um Gamar wont be possible. Jekyll and Hyde argue it out and finally compromise, taking Colonas Dräger Dolphin rebreathers round some of the regular sites.
     Getting close to fish is Jekylls desire, but the Dolphin is technical enough to satisfy Hydes kit-fiddling habit, and he gets busy setting it up. On the wreck of the Belina again, diving that shallow with a 38% mix and a 10lpm jet will give half as many bubbles as open-circuit.
     Hyde does some calculations and sets the 7 litre jet, making the average bubbles in shallow water about one third those of an open-circuit rig. The only way to reduce bubbles further safely with a semi-closed rebreather would be to use a richer mix.
     Jekyll gets closer on one side of the shoal of barracuda and Suzy gets closer on the other, but not quite close enough to make a real difference.
     The rebreather helps more on the wall at the north of Abu Ramada. Jekyll made a special request to return there, having enjoyed himself so much a few days previously. At 20m, the trickle from the Dräger exhaust is negligible, and the clouds of anthias dont care anyway. Jekyll just hovers next to a pretty section of wall, and is soon surrounded.
     It all finishes as it started, with Jekyll and Hyde drifting south happily together along the north-east side of the reef at Gota Abu Ramada, among the sweetlips and other brightly coloured residents.



Spotted
Spotted sweetlips with golden butterflyfish at Gota Abu Ramada.
Decompressing
Decompressing at Small Giftun
In
In the caves at Small Giftun
Fusiliers
Fusiliers above the stern of the Hebatt Allah
An
An enormous shoal of yellowtail barracuda clouds the starboard side of the Belina. Both Jekyll and Hyde are satisfied.
Beneath
Beneath the stern of the Belina

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Fly to Hurghada from Gatwick or Manchester with Air Atlanta or Excel Airways.
DIVING: Colona Dive Club is at the Magawish Resort to the south of Hurghada. There is a free pickup bus from other hotels and the town (www.colona.com/ hurghada).
ACCOMODATION: Book a package with the flight, or arrange it independently online.
COST: In addition to a regular day-boat dive (42), twin-set rental is£12 a day. Dräger Dolphin with nitrox 32 costs£30 plus£10/kg for scrubber material. A dedicated technical boat trip is an extra£50 (technical air/ nitrox) or£60 (trimix), with twin-set, stage cylinders, air and nitrox. Helium is priced at£0.07/litre.
FURTHER INFORMATION: 020 7493 5283, www.touregypt.net


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