Your first liveaboard
YOU’VE BOOKED YOUR WEEK OFF WORK, organised someone to feed the cat, cancelled the milk and you’re clutching your tickets in your sweaty, excited mitts. You’re going on your first liveaboard and you can’t wait!
The weeks of anticipation, the missing chunk from your bank account and the jealousy of buddies with nothing but a cold day in a quarry to look forward to, are all slowly coming together.
You’ve endured many a tall tale about numbers of dolphins spotted, engine-rooms penetrated and beers drunk on the sun-deck – this will be the trip of your life, and nothing had better spoil it!
BEFORE YOU GO
Check that your wetsuit fits, and remember that no one but you will find your plaintive cries about neoprene shrinking over winter that funny.
To overcome any girth-related embarrassment, do what we all do and suck in your gut until it is safely hidden behind your BC cummerbund – check that for fit too!
Straps are often overlooked by the excited diver, who may pack and repack several times but still miss the fact that a fin-strap is perilously close to snapping.
A lost fin will leave you swimming in circles. Then you have to borrow spares made from old bits of tyre that provide a level of cramp guaranteed to remind you of your mistake.
By the time you have been fitted with spare fins, the hammerheads will have scarpered. Your buddy may be annoyed about this!
Millions of years from now, visiting aliens will discover layers of rusted iron in the rocks and deduce that they were once ocean- going vessels. They will also discover a halo of fossilised plastic around them, but never deduce that this was once fins, straps, cameras and reels.
Check, check again, replace as necessary and take a few spares. A spare fin- or mask-strap will cost only a few pounds but might save a priceless dive.
Even more important is to keep your regs and BC serviced. At least once a year is ideal, but don’t wait until you’re on the boat to find that your first stage freeflows at the merest hint of water.
You don’t want to have to fork out for a rental that’s been around forever and is no doubt pink, with the style and breathing performance of a house-brick.
You may be diving to 30m and beyond without an independent air supply, and your regulator needs to perform as well in warm clear water as it does at Stoney Cove!
You’ve endured the airports, the plane and a frankly terrifying taxi-ride to the marina. Serious-looking men in uniform have giggled at your passport photograph, and people of various nationalities have kicked your bags hard – what made you put those “Fragile” stickers on them
On the first night on any liveaboard it’s tempting to introduce yourself to the bar, but bear in mind that a long flight without sleep, poor food and too much caffeine is not a mixture to be topped off with large amounts of alcohol.
Don’t get drunk; do get an early night, would be my advice. If you insist on being the life and soul of the party on the first night, bear in mind that you may regret it in the morning and will be a bit dehydrated – the coffees drunk to perk you up won’t rehydrate you.
On waking, preferably refreshed and hangover-free, you will get a briefing from the guides and no doubt enjoy a check-dive. This is where you will meet your buddy for the week (those travelling in a group can continue to enjoy/loathe diving with your usual buddies, whose qualities/failings they know and love/despise).
A good buddy can make a trip, and a bad one can ruin it. The best plan is to be as honest as possible with anyone with whom you are going to dive.
Discuss your aspirations for the trip, what you enjoy and what you don’t and your level of experience. There is little point partnering with someone who relishes deep wreck penetrations if you enjoy the pretty fish at the surface.
Before your first dive together, carry out a full buddy check and agree on hand signals and what you expect in case of an out-of-air situation. Divers rig their alternative air sources differently.
It’s also wise to discuss units; if you’re diving with someone from the States, for example, he or she may well be using PSI rather than bar.
The shared thrill of a great dive can bring two strangers to the point of friendship very quickly.
I’ve met some brilliant people on liveaboards and had some of my best dives with then-strangers who are now friends for life – people from different countries and continents with whom I can instantly pick up our friendship when we meet in far-flung places.
If your potential buddy has a large plastic travel case, a large camera probably lurks within it.
A dedicated underwater photographer as a buddy is something to reckon with. This might either be an opportunity for you to spend time with an expert and perhaps learn more about using the new compact you bought at the Dive Show, or to enjoy good diving in the company of a diver who will give you space and latitude to “do your own thing”.
A good laugh can be had when you tell them about the blacktip shark that drifted past as they were busy chasing yet another lionfish around a coral head, oblivious to everything but F-stops.
Cameras are great, but they can be a nuisance. Try not to show everyone on the dive deck your images after every dive. You won’t endear yourself to anyone when you show them the over-exposed turtle shot you’re so proud of – you know, the one that resulted in the turtle turning tail and legging it.
On the other hand, do check that your housing is watertight before you insert your camera. Sea water tends to turn electronics to brown goo, and again you won’t endear yourself to your fellow-liveaboarders if you spend the next few days moping about your dead camera and the shots you could have taken. More turtles may be spotted, however.
Your behaviour under water is also key to your relationship with your chums on board. Practical jokes absurdly funny in the wee small hours when you think them up are rarely amusing at 30m.
You must also listen to the dive briefings. If you miss the wreck or coral garden, this is not a time to start inventing underwater signs for “Where are we I thought you were listening, ‘cos I clearly wasn’t”.
Again you will disappoint your buddy - unless he or she is a photographer, of course, and has been looking at a nudibranch for the past 10 minutes unaware of any problem.
This brings us to experience.
DON’T LAY YOURSELF OPEN
On a liveaboard you will meet fellow-newbies and people who have been diving since BCs were called stab-jackets, and the whole range between.
Listening to the tales of the old salts is often worthwhile, but remember that on your part conversational opening gambits such as: “Well, as a Dive Master I think we should...” , or: “When I did my AI training in Thailand...” will only arouse the ire of the seasoned few.
From this point your opinion will be sought on every matter: “Cereal or toast this morning, what would a Dive Master do” you might be asked, and this line of questioning may be pursued to the bitter end of the holiday: “No idea whether I packed my luggage myself, mate – ask the Dive Master. Is this Gatwick”
Reticence is your best tactic. You don’t want to be the one who bangs on into the night about the history of the wrecks of such-and-such a place, only to find the chap you were addressing handing out signed copies of his book on the subject the next day.
Use your time aboard to develop your own experience, and think about undertaking a course during your trip. If you haven’t yet qualified as an enriched air diver, for example, do so now, or take part in a speciality training course such as wreck-, night- or deep-diving.
It’s good to have a “learning head” on occasionally. We all consider ourselves competent, but everyone needs to take time out to look at themselves and their diving and reflect on how they might be better and safer.
Developing your skills on a liveaboard also means that you get to dive more often with the guides – who will work very hard to ensure that you have some fantastic dives and get to see the sights!
If you can face a more demanding course, many boats are now geared up for tech-diving, and having your face in a manual might reduce the bar bill a bit.
Several operators can offer technical qualifications and even rebreather training – but you’ll need to confirm this on booking.
You want to get the best from your hard-earned and come back a better diver, but you also deserve some fun – which brings us to the subject of humour. No one will thank you for re-rendering Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch, or bask in your comedic glow as you reprise Peter Kay’s entire catalogue. A fresh audience will not find your comedy stylings any funnier than your partner and friends already don’t.
You may decide that your audience will consider your wit more agreeable with some alcoholic lubrication – which may be true, if they are matching you – but dehydration remains a bad thing when diving. Drink lots of water!
The first dive of the day is often the deepest, and the one that will increase your saturation the most, so if you overdid it the night before, indulge in a lie-in. Missing a dive should be seen as a sensible course of action.
Should you wish to get hammered, do so on the last night, when you can safely wake up with your trousers on your head and without fear of decompression illness (though you may wish you could die for other reasons).
A LASTING MEMORY
The key to a successful liveaboard experience is being safe. Your first liveaboard can be a life-changing experience that will leave you with lasting memories and friendships. Remember your training – even take a refresher if needs be – and listen to the guides, the crew and your fellow-divers.
You will hear tales of dive sites, dive centres, guides, characters and wrecks that will keep you wanting to come back for more. You will hear tall tales of ripping currents, huge fish and cavernous deeps, and the hole in your bank account will be justified and forgotten – because every minute will be worth it.
WRECK & FISH GEEKS
On every boat there will be one person who is getting their “geek on”. One brand is the wreckie, for whom reefs are merely playing with fish and a really nice place for someone to one day crash a boat into.
Wreck geeks can be very useful for guiding you through every intricate detail under water, but back in the dry they may continue to talk you through every intricate detail of the wreck.
Fish geeks are more likely to see wrecks as interesting places for fish to hide, so telling them about tonnage and cargo is like showing a card trick to a dog. Fish geeks get ludicrously happy about seeing things no one else will care about. Numbers of anthias are irrelevant – it’s where the lyretail anthias coexist with the Arabian anthias that gets them excited.
Fish geeks come complete with their copy of Debelius’s reef guide, but good ones will tell you which species have been renamed since it was published. Consider them harmless.
WHY A LIVEABOARD
Liveaboards easily beat day-boat diving. You’re pampered and cosseted, and able to fall asleep between meals and dives without the grind of getting up early to sit on a small cramped boat for hours in the sun.
A good liveaboard captain will moor up on a dive-site overnight to allow divers to explore it and be off before the day-boats arrive. Anyone who has dived the Thistlegorm from a day-boat and then compared it to a liveaboard experience will know what I mean.
Each and every dive is easier, less stressful and safer than from day-boats – and for some sites, a liveaboard is your only means of getting there. Pound for pound, a liveaboard is the all-round winner.
...OR TRY A MINI SAFARI!
INTENSIVE LIVEABOARD VOYAGES allow you to reach the places other divers can’t, and to fill your boots with diving.
They aren’t for everyone, of course. Many people crave more variety on a holiday, or have to think of non-diving family or friends – or worry about getting stuck in close quarters with a bunch of divers with whom they just don’t get on.
For those who want to get a taste of liveaboard life without the full commitment, or who simply prefer to balance their ocean-going activities with land-based chilling-out, the mini-safari seems to be a popular option these days – certainly in the easily accessible Red Sea.
UK tour operators can arrange a week’s holiday there that’s custom-made to give you a satisfying half-and-half experience.
In southern Egypt, a mini safari departing from the Red Sea port of Hamata is one option.
You can spend three nights on board the recently refurbished Blue Planet 1, with its eight twin-berth en-suite cabins, doing three or four dives a day at desirable sites such as Fury Shoal and St John’s.
The other four nights will be spent at the all-inclusive Lahami Azur resort, giving you three days each of daily boat and liveboard diving, a good combination for those who want to explore that much deeper south, but without spending a whole week at sea.
Whether booked through Regaldive or Oonasdivers these trips start at just under £1000 including flights to Marsa Alam (which is some distance to the north) and road transfers.
For Egypt’s northern Red Sea dive sites, the Freedom fleet provides visiting divers with even more flexibility. The latest addition is Freedom III, although it is in fact the fourth boat to join.
The flexibility comes in choice of departure days and duration of stays, because Freedom vessels can be booked for anything from one to seven nights.
This makes them suitable not only for divers who may not want to spend a whole week at sea, but those who might want to use regional departure airports.
For a longer trip, Tiran Straits, Ras Mohammed, Abu Nuhas and the Thistlegorm can all be covered. For 3/5-night voyages tour operator Oonasdivers recommends dropping Tiran from that itinerary and, if you go for the 2/3-night option, leaving out Abu Nuhas too.
A RIB is taken along for flexible access to sites, and you can expect up to four dives a day while you’re aboard. If joining a mini-safari aboard Freedom III,
your land-based accommodation would be at Sharks Bay Umbi Village, Sharm el Sheikh, which has its own jetty, dive centre, restaurant, Bedouin cafe and accommodation on site.
Prices for holidays including Freedom III mini safaris start from £890.
Regaldive’s northern mini-safari option, which it recommends for divers looking to build experience, comes with the addition of more boats to the King Snefro fleet. You spend three or four nights aboard a liveaboard and the rest of your week on land in Sharm or further north in Dahab or Nuweiba, with the option of day-boat diving.
The Sharm price, from £642pp, is for two sharing and includes flights, three nights’ full-board liveaboard accommodation and four nights’ stay at the Bay View Hotel on a B&B basis and transfers.
Prices are flexible, however, and based on choice of boat, the proportion of nights spent at sea/on land and whether or not day-boat diving is included.
Emperor Fleet has a new “taster safari” on offer, aboard its Platinum boat Elite. The Marsa Alam Mini Cruise out of Marsa Ghalib in southern Egypt takes in Abu Dabbab, Sha’ab Sharm and Sha’ab Marsa Alam.
Emperor recommends that guests have a minimum of 20 dives and Advanced OWD level, suggesting that Open Water divers can enjoy some of the dives or take their AOWD or a speciality course on board.
Elite is a 38m liveaboard carrying up to 24 guests in 11 twin-berth cabins and a double master suite, all with en suite, air con, flat-screen TV with media player and two towels per guest.
There is free wi-fi, and free wine is served with dinner. The liveaboard has two large RIBs, nitrox is provided and tech diving is available on request.
The mini-safari from 8-12 October costs 540 euros pp in a twin-berth cabin, with three days’ diving. Combine this with three nights’ half-board in the Resta Reef Hotel with two days’ diving and transfers for 180 euros pp for two sharing (transfers from Hurghada cost extra).
www.emperorfleet.com, www.oonasdivers.com, www.regaldive.co.uk
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