TRY TO IMAGINE THIS SCENE LAST SUMMER. Its the height of the season in the Red Sea and you have just had the most amazing weeks diving, on the liveaboard VIP One. Rob Breskal booked his group aboard the liveaboard VIP One (www.vipone.com) through Sinai Services (www.sinai-services.com). Packages can be organised in the UK through Tony Backhurst Scuba Travel, 0800 0728221, www.scuba.co.uk
The week could not have been better. Sixteen of your mates, lots of aprés-diving shenanigans, terrific food, no shortage of beer, a great crew and fantastic diving. The previous night the crew had organised a barbecue which was under the star-filled sky, the waves gently lapping the hull as we rested at anchor before our final days diving.
That night all the talk had been about the diving. Our group ranged from very experienced urinators (I discovered only on the trip that this was the Latin word for divers) to shiny, squeaky-clean new divers straight out of the box.
As the beers disappeared, we recounted the things that had happened over the week. We knew we had a day left, but we were happy, as we had achieved what we set out to do, which was to dive with the incredible hammerhead shark.
We talked about the silky shark we saw with schooling barracudas in the blue off Shark Reef at Ras Mohammed.
We remembered the sandbar shark that had been spotted off Ras Mo as well. But the hammerheads were the icing on the cake.
I was particularly happy because, having organised the trip for Brighton Dive Club, and encouraged people to sign up with the promise of going in search of schooling hammerheads, our expectations had been more than fulfilled.
I slipped off to sleep, but even in my dreams I couldnt have imagined what the two dives the next day would throw up.
The next morning, those of us who were up shook some life into the others and encouraged them to drink plenty of fluids. We slowly prepared for our dive. We had already done three dives here, but our luck had been so good that we just knew the hammerheads would show up for us.
We climbed into the two RIBs. The dive plan was the same as it had been the other times we had dived here: drive right around the back of Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran, to where the rusting remains of the wreck of the Lara sit on the reef, providing as good a marker as you will ever get for a dive.
It was about 8am, and the sea state was good. Normally the prevailing wind pushes down the Straits of Gubal onto the reefs of Tiran, kicking up the swell.
One of the good things about liveaboard diving is that the RIBs these vessels carry enable you to access sites on days when the big day -boats would find the swell too dangerous.
This morning, however, conditions were favourable, and as we neared the drop-off point we noticed another liveaboard coming from the opposite direction, disgorging divers some 100m away.
Divers are a strange bunch. We think that if we dont get in first well miss something. I find it hard not to think like this myself, so I grabbed my video-recorder and rolled in and down as quickly as possible with my buddy Luke, to grab some of the action.
We regrouped during our descent, and started to fin away from the reef into the blue to take up positions at around 20-25m. We all knew the brief. Patience. Lots of staring into the blue, all looking in different directions to cover the biggest area.
I had made sure that everyone had tank-clangers, so that the first to spot anything - and boy, is that a fiercely competed-for accolade! - could alert everyone else to whatever it was they had seen.
Well, we waited. And we waited. Five minutes passed, then 10, then 15. I looked around and could see that everyone was getting restless. I glanced at our guide, Snowy, and held my hands out as if to ask Well
At that moment came the excited sound of someone pinging their clanger against their tank. Im not sure who saw it first - it could have been Gorgeous Steve (think Gorgeous George in the film Snatch and youll have an idea who was scaring the sharks away) or it could have been Big Al - but as I turned I was treated to the sight of a 3m oceanic whitetip shark only a few metres away and heading towards me.
This beautiful shark, with its unmistakeable, massive rounded dorsal fins, turned away as we moved in its direction. The pilot fish that were accompanying it tried their best to keep up so that they could stay close to their big friend and ensure their safety.
As I fumbled with the standby switch for the camera, I gave chase, closely followed by the other 16 members of the newly formed Brighton Dive Club Shark Chasers - motto: No Caging, No Baiting, Just Chasing.
As any part-time videographers and photographers among you will know, when such an opportunity comes along, no matter how well you know your kit and how much you have planned what youre going to do if and when the situation arises, the incredible adrenalin kick that you get takes over.
As the several minutes of footage testify, we were treated to the shark gracefully and slowly snaking its way along on its journey. I say slowly, because it probably was for the shark, but as I finned as hard as I could to stay close to him, my legs burned and my chest fought to feed me enough air. I suppose thats what 400 million years of evolution does for you.
As I followed the shark, he started to ascend. I hoped that I was getting some good film as he became silhouetted against the suns rays penetrating the surface.
He then dived sharply and, as I took a cursory glance at my pressure gauge, I started to slow and film him disappearing into the depths.
As I watched him go, I noticed that some shapes were beginning to appear below me. Hammerheads! Loads of them!
I checked my air again, and pushed down to get among them. Who says that Sharm el Sheikh is all dived out! I filmed the weird-looking creatures until air and deco issues indicated that I should be bugging out. Wow, what a dive!
Back on the boat, Snowy got on the radio to the Red Sea Diving College centre and was joined in a chorus of Silky, sandbar, hammerheads, and an oceanic whitetip! Just to let those back on dry land know what they were missing.
As we went in for breakfast, I must admit I could easily have called it a day and searched out the last few beers. But there was one more, remote, possibility. In previous weeks there had been scattered sightings of one, two and sometimes three tiger sharks.
Seasoned visitors to this part of the Red Sea will know that this formidable predator is not often seen here. All of the sightings of which Snowy had heard had been around the reefs of Tiran, most of them with the tiger at the edges of visibility, cruising by.
This, according to The Shark Watchers Handbook, is quite common behaviour, although it adds that they may come in for a closer look. But we hadnt heard of any close encounters with the tiger sharks that were holidaying around the area.
Over toast, omelettes and cups of tea, we discussed which dive should be our last of this memorable trip.
Someone mentioned that if we motored back to the mainland and dived a sites on the way, we could be enjoying a beer in the Camel Bar much sooner. But another option was Gordon Reef, where one of the tiger sharks had been reported, out in the blue.
Gordon is no longer the best of sites. An attack by crown-of-thorns starfish a few years ago did considerable damage, and wreckage, including solidifying oil seeping from split drums, has done little to add to its charm. However, you never know what might make an appearance, and we decided to push our luck.
But we had no idea how soon things would start happening. As soon as our heads slipped under the surface, the clatter of tank bangers began, and my heart rate raced. I swung around and saw Alex and his girlfriend Nicky excitedly giving the sign for tiger shark, pointing in the direction in which it had last been seen.
Pulse rates went soaring as we strained our eyes to see if we could glimpse the tiger, but it was nowhere to be seen. Visibility was down to perhaps 20m, and as we all nervously glanced around this succeeded in making the experience that bit more exciting.
As we hung over the plateau at around 9m and continued to glance around us, I began to feel that I had missed the chance of seeing one of the most feared sharks in the world. After 15-20 minutes, I signalled to Snowy to lead off and go on with the dive.
The group led off along the edge of the drop-off, Luke and I bringing up the rear. Something made me turn around. Omigod! Coming towards me and only a few metres away was the biggest shark I had ever encountered.
As I tried to turn the camera on, I screamed in my reg to get Lukes attention, and tried not to take my eyes off the tiger. Luke joined the chase, and the shark, some 3.5 to 4m long, tilted on its side slightly and veered away from me. Its markings were unmistakeable, as were the large, soulless, jet black eyes.
I started to chase after the tiger shark, thinking only about getting a good film, but I was unsure whether anyone other than Luke had seen the shark. The tiger started to veer down the side of the reef into the gloom. As we reached about 30m, it gave a quick flick of its powerful tail and, as I tried to recover my breath, disappeared from view.
I stared after it for a few moments. As I turned back to the reef, I was met by all 16 Shark-Chasers, arms raised in triumph, bubbles streaming from regs as we hollered!
Back on the boat, the call went through to the dive centre, with Snowy holding the phone up so that everyone could enjoy the resounding chorus from the assembled Shark Chasers enjoying a beer on the back deck: Silky, sandbar, oceanic white tip, hammerheads and a great big f***** tiger shark!
After many trips to this part of the world, it was without doubt the best weeks diving I have ever had in the Red Sea. It was more than adequately summed up by Gorgeous Steve, when he said: Ive seen more bloody sharks than Ive had dives!