Eddie and the Irish team wanted to dive wrecks. Day One, however, and we had a problem. Two more divers were due to join our group, but their flight had been delayed by 24 hours, so we needed to stay local to pick them up on arrival.A number of tour operators offer wreck specials, or a group can arrange a specialist itinerary. Panorama Sharm, run by Oonasdivers (01323 648924, www.oonasdivers.com) offers specialist wreck weeks. The cost of Mike Wards trip including flights was£915.
Come the revolution, comrade, airlines will be the first against the wall enjoying a last cigarette.
Anyway, should we dive some of the most vibrant, healthy and spectacular reefs in the world, bursting with colourful, diverse and interesting marine life, or a load of old tanks shoved off a cliff onto a bare rock face in the aftermath of the Six Day War
No contest. Eddie and his team didnt even understand the question. The tanks it was.
These were my kind of people!
The site is just north of the Travco Marina in Sharm el Sheikh, embarkation point for thousands of liveaboard divers every year. On the shore just around the first headland, almost hidden by a huge boulder, is an intact Bren-carrier.
Almost a dozen more lie under water immediately below, tangled around the decayed remains of mid-sized trucks and tumbling to a sandy seabed at 35m. At the bottom stands a final, lone carrier.
pile of junk
In 1967 the Egyptian government closed the Straits of Tiran to shipping. The Israeli government thought about this, decided that it didnt like the idea of routeing all its shipping through the Med, and started the Six Day War, at the end of which it controlled the Sinai peninsula and so the Straits of Tiran.
When the Israelis handed the Sinai back after the Camp David Agreement, they decided not to bother driving a variety of worn-out vehicles home, and bulldozed them off the nearest cliff instead, creating a nice little dive-site for hardcore wreckies. Non-wreckies would probably call it a pile of junk.
We collected our wayward pair of divers that evening, and at 5 oclock the following morning headed out to the Dunraven at Beacon Rock, then crossed to Abu Nuhas.
The familiar wrecks here are the Giannis D and Carnatic, both of which we dived (rude not to) but there are two more wrecks further along the face of the reef. Third along is the Tile Wreck, so-called for its cargo. The local dive guides know it as Chrisoula K, but it seems more likely that it was the Marcus.
Regardless of the name, this wreck makes a cracking dive.
Its around 320ft long, and near as dammit intact. The stern has fallen over to starboard and its easy to get deep inside, though all you get for the effort is an empty steel room.
From the stern forward, the ship is a mixture of sort-of-intact and sort-of-collapsed sections.
The deeper within the wreck you can penetrate, the more intact it is, with the engine-room in superb condition. It offers a glimpse of blue sea through the propshaft tunnel, but getting there involves a twisting, winding dive down collapsed walkways and sagging decks. Everywhere on the wreck are tiles, great pallet-loads of them, all intact, enough tiles for acres of flooring and guarded by uniformed security staff. Theyre lionfish, really.
One of them strutted its stuff for the camera, giving me right profile, full-face and left profile, like an extra having ID shots taken in the background of every American cop show youve ever seen.
The bows are in just 3m of water, and patrolled by the employees of a different and far more upmarket security company. Well, they have smarter uniforms, those Arabian surgeonfish.
Fidelma, named for an Irish princess, reckoned this the best dive so far.
The following morning, we went all the way along the reef to the Unknown Wreck at the far north-eastern tip. This one is almost never dived. Sayed had dived it only half a dozen times, and he owns the Panorama Sharm and has lived aboard her for six years. You can tell that the owner lives on board, too, because this boat is seriously good.
The Unknown Wreck has even more possible names than Chrisoula K. It is probably the Kimon M but could be the Seastar, the Marcus, the Olden or something else entirely. Whatever its called, it makes a great dive. The stern is intact, though canted over to lie on its starboard side, like the rest of the wreck.
Forward of the stern section, the hull becomes increasingly damaged as you swim forward, and the bows are gone completely.
Everywhere the hull is broken. As the current surges and whirls around the tip of the reef the structure sways gently. The cargo, 4500 tons of bagged lentils, has long gone and the steel is rotting and sagging towards final, inevitable collapse. Like my waistline.
The Irish team were wreck ferrets to a man (and woman) and had a grand time swimming through the open spaces that were left.
The engine-room was penetrable without much of a squeeze, though at least one guide-book describes the removal of the engine through a hole cut in the hull.
There are some great views from within the hull, the deep blue of the sea framed by the jagged edges of broken steel plate. Much of the ancillary equipment is in full view, tipped over at a crazy angle but intact, and one of the masts seems to reach out a long finger to the seabed.
Keith, the token Englishman aboard, liked this wreck a lot.
The trip from Abu Nuhas to the bay south of Bluff Point on Gobal Island was a short toddle after lunch, giving us just enough time for a bit of a nap before heading around the point to the Ulysses, wrecked in 1887 so very reminiscent of both the Carnatic and Dunraven.
The hull was open, the metal frames from which the vessel was built making hard geometric shapes against the blue of the sea and the curves of the reef, and home to untold numbers of sergeant-majors. It was July, so their eggs made bright purple patches on the iron. The fish warned divers off getting too close.
The following morning, the team were up early. Well, as early as they could manage. Not morning people, you see. Little Mohammed, boat-handler, sorted that out with the help of Bob Marley on the cabin deck speakers.
It was time to dive the Rosalie Moller. Built in Glasgow in 1910, this vessel tramped her way around the globe for the next three decades, until she was requisitioned by an Admiralty hurriedly preparing for a war it was desperately unready to fight.
The Royal Navy was having a tough time in the Mediterranean. Early successes had given way to the desperate evacuation of British troops from Greece and Crete. More than 70,000 were saved, but at dreadful cost to the Navy. Half of its ships were crippled or sunk in a few days of action.
In North Africa, a combined German and Italian force under Rommel had pushed deep inside Egypt, leaving Tobruk isolated and besieged in British hands on the coast. Malta was still held by the British, and would never fall thanks to the courageous efforts of islanders and service personnel alike, but it was critically short of food, and the Navy had to deliver supplies both there and to Tobruk.
Modern naval ships were oil-powered. There were plenty of older ships thatdepended on coal, though it was in short supply. In July 1941 the Rosalie Moller was overhauled, loaded with almost 5000 tons of best Welsh coal, and sent off to Alexandria, eventually dropping anchor in good holding ground to the west of Gobal Island.
An old lady by then, she had made the trip at just 4 knots, too slow to join a convoy. She arrived on 6 October, the day Thistlegorm was sunk.
Two nights later, it was the Rosalie Mollers turn. Heinkel bombers from Crete flew to the merchant anchorages at the mouth of the Gulf of Suez and dropped a single bomb on her starboard quarter, ripping a huge vertical gash in her side. The Red Sea waters flowed in, and she settled to the bottom of the channel. Three men died that night.
The rest were landed ashore in Suez. In accordance with standard practice, their pay was stopped and they had to find their own way home. It wasnt uncommon for a merchant seaman to have a ship sunk beneath him, find a berth aboard another vessel, and have that ship sunk as well. A greater proportion of merchant seamen died in WW2 than in any of the armed services.
Rosalie Moller was forgotten almost before she hit the bottom, and todays divers are the better for it. The wreck sits perfectly upright in 42m. The gash in its side is an ugly scar, the wooden decks have long rotted away, and the funnel has fallen to port. Otherwise it is intact.
Hand-rails still surround the decks. The concrete blocks added over the bridge for extra protection are still there, and a pan stands on the galley stove. Intact portholes are everywhere.
Visibility here is less good than in other parts of the Red Sea, at 10-15m, and from a distance the whole wreck seems to shimmer and move in the water. As you get closer, the shimmer resolves into thousands of glassfish. They cover the wreck and make it impossible to photograph anything. I needed a buddy with a JCB to shovel the beggars out of the way, and I didnt have one!
The two masts are in place, and the usual plan is to descend on one of them, explore the aft or forward part of the ship and ascend the same or the other mast. The decks are at 35m, and the mast tops at 19m, ideal for a first deep stop.
The rule is no-deco, so bottom times are inevitably short. After just over half an hour including stops, I was climbing back aboard with 100 bar.
I reckon the Rosalie Moller is a better dive than the Thistlegorm. The Irish team loved it and so did Maggie, token Scot and closet fish-fancier.
On the way back we stopped off at the Kingston on Shag Rock, then moored up on the Thistlegorm for a night dive.
We were lucky enough to have this famous and usually diver-wreathed wreck all to ourselves. Its dour steel plates ignited in a blaze of life and colour in the beams of our torches, and we even got to say hello to the turtle that sleeps in number 2 hold. We dived the wreck three more times the next day, but it wasnt enough.
Some of the wrecks in the northern Red Sea are as familiar to British divers as wrecks back home, but plenty arent. You just need to book the right trip.
The tiles that give the wreck its nickname
Exploring a Bren-gun carrier near Travco Marina in Sharm
Stern of the Unknown Wreck (probably the Kimon M)
The forward part of the wreck - the bow itself has gone
On the aft section of the Rosalie Moller
The profusion of glassfish everywhere make it difficult to photograph the wreck!