Appeared in DIVER July 2008

Tug of love
This
This wreck had been undisturbed for more than 25 years.

It wasnt so much the tugboat wreck as the 100m-deep solo experience that made this Hurghada dive a moving experience for Darek Sepiolo

MOST DIVERS ARE FAMILIAR with the popular diving destination Hurghada. Those who havent been will probably go some day. Thousands of enthusiasts visit its local reefs every day, so can this place have any secrets left
Apparently, yes, but to enjoy the undiscovered side of Hurghada, advanced diving skills are required.
Take Abu Ramada, one of Hurghadas most popular sites. In the northern part of the reef is the rarely visited Shark Point. A gently sloping plateau starts at 30m, gradually falling to 45-50m, but to get here you need to swim for about 15 minutes, often against strong currents. Theres little possibility of diving here if you hold only a recreational diving licence.
At the end of the plateau, youll see a different Hurghada. Beautiful lush corals sway in the strong underwater currents, and huge schools of fish circulate above the fantastic scenery. That 15 minutes seems to take you into an alternative reality, and after this first dive of our trip, we realised that Hurghada could keep surprising us over and over again.
Deep diving is a haunting experience. The opportunity to see at first hand sites generally considered inaccessible is sufficient reward for the difficulties of training and long hours of decompression.
Depth alone has never had any allure for me. There must be something fascinating on the seabed to intrigue me.
So the story of a mysterious tugboat wreck, lying at 100m on the reefs of Shaab Rur Umm Qammar, caught my imagination. The lack of any documentation or photographs only fuelled my interest.
The only source of information was Kimmo Hagman, who runs the Colona dive centre and liveaboard operation. Apparently a large tugboat used for towing oil platforms, US Gulf Oils Gulf Fleet 31, had sunk in the early 1980s after hitting the reefs.
The wreck was apparently left lying at the surface in the first weeks after the incident. It was said to have caused considerable damage to the reefs, and there are dark rumours about how and why it finally sank. Was it pushed

AFTER A FEW DAYS spent getting accustomed to longer and deeper dives, we decided to reconnoitre the Tag Boat, as it is commonly called. We intended to descend to 80m in the hope of seeing it from above. Our team of four had long planning discussions and, on Kimmos advice, we set off at dawn.
We were to be dropped on a steep wall extending more than 100m down. Next to it on the sandy seabed we expected to find the wreck - but instead of a wall, we saw a gently falling slope.
After 15 minutes spent trying to locate the wall, we returned towards the reef and surfaced, feeling rather low. However, we decided to return to the site, this time with Kimmo as our guide.
It would be our last chance of finding the wreck on this trip, so we made an elaborate plan to dive to 100m.
Unfortunately, this fell apart when we returned to the dive centre to find that Kimmo would be unable to join us with his rebreather.

IT TURNED OUT TO BE a matter of me diving alone or else giving up on this last chance. I decided to go ahead.
I had a double amount of all the critical gases deployed in seven cylinders, which should give me the comfort of a safe, deep dive.
Carrying all those tanks, I couldnt take a single step forward. Crew-members had to give me a shove off the side, and I dropped like a stone.
At 5m, my support checked for any gas leakage. I looked into the navy-blue depths and started my descent.
This time we had chosen the correct site, and I followed the steep wall down. Kimmo had suggested that the boat drop me ahead of the wreck so that I would have time to swim towards it with the reef to my right.
In three minutes I was at 80m and in semi-darkness, but there was no reason to worry. The equipment was working perfectly and the topography matched Kimmos description.
I swam on, patiently searching for a wreck silhouette. The zone of darkness has something unique about it - its the thrill of being part of an inaccessible world, being left to your own devices and the all-pervading tranquillity pouring out of the deep blue.
Six minutes in, on the edge of the field of visibility I noticed something resembling the contour of a ships hull, though it could have been another rock formation deceiving my eyes. But no, in front of me lay a 40m-long wreck.
The initial emotion and feeling of triumph was soon replaced by cold calculation and preparations for a photo session.
Thanks to two VR3 dive computers, I could match profiles to the requirements of the changing situation.
To be honest, the wreck was not spectacular. What made it special was its location.
Before my eyes was a low board with numerous tyres attached, then a flat deck. At first it was difficult to distinguish between the bow and the stern section. The wreck lay perpendicular to the reef on the sand, its highest points, beside the wall, at 85m. The bow lay at 100m, further down the gently sloping seabed.
Going deeper, I encountered a flight of steps leading to the bridge. A row of hollow windows filled with impenetrable darkness was a daunting sight. Even the lights of the flash couldnt dispel it.
A few metres below, I spotted a windlass on the foredeck. I took some more shots of the preserved details.
Just behind the bridge were two twin containers, probably the crews quarters. The deck extended further, and at the end of it was a small crane.
One last look at the wreck fading into the darkness and it was time to begin the tedious process of resurfacing and decompression.
The failure of the first dive and the necessity of having to dive again solo made this dive one of my most emotional underwater experiences.
My thanks to Dorota, Czerny and everyone from Colona.


Prepared
Prepared for a visit 100m down.
With
With seven cylinders on, a firm shove was required to get underway.
Bow
Bow section of the Gulf Fleet 31.