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November 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Red Sea Aggressor, Egypt

big critters will give you bang for your buck

from the November, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

The wind blew in from the desert, and its sands settled in the sea. The Red Sea Aggressor rocked and wallowed through six-foot waves as we steamed between Marsa Shouna and Daedalus Reef. The Egyptian crew, sprawled on cushions in the salon and on the sun deck, slept soundly. The passengers -- two Aussies, four Yanks, two Spaniards and a Pole -- did not. Some wondered why their cabins did not look like the elegantly appointed habitats promised on the website. Others recognized the photos as being from a different Aggressor vessel. On the queensized bed in our upper-deck master suite, my partner and I took Dramamine and tried to sleep, waiting for the nine-hour passage to end.

Red Sea Aggressor, EgyptAt 6 a.m. the next morning, the group assembled for a continental breakfast of toast and sticky buns in the main deck's salon and blearily watched instructor Erin Spencer's briefing, with the reef depicted on a large flat screen monitor. "Last week, we had 15 hammerheads on this dive," she said in a noticeably British accent. "And the seas were flat." Mmm hmm.

The day before, I had assembled my gear before our checkout dives at Umm Ras. The crew had filled the aluminum 80s to 2800 psi with nitrox (32 percent) from long hoses attached to a compressor well away from any diesel fumes. They helped us divers into wetsuits, turned on our gas, then assisted each of us into the Zodiac. When we returned, they dipped our cameras into a dedicated rinse bucket, put our masks and fins back into the crates beneath our seats and rinsed our suits. After hot showers on the deck, we were handed warm towels and cold juice. Then it was a short cruise to another coastal reef, Marsa Shouna, for two afternoon dives and the only night dive of the trip. The water was green from the sand blowing off the desert, but the lettuce, honeycomb, fire and dome corals were vibrant and healthy. Blue-spine unicornfish, emperor angels and masked pufferfish shared space with dozens of striped butterflies.

Then off to Daedalus, a 500-yard-wide pinnacle crowned with a dilapidated lighthouse, 52 miles off the Egyptian coast. Its sheer walls descend 90 to 130 feet to a dropoff that plunges more than 1,500 feet down. Visibility on the lee side in the morning was well over 100 feet, but the seas were high. With nine divers, guide and driver crammed into a RIB powered by an 85-horsepower engine, the trip to the reef was a 30-minute ordeal as wave after wave slammed the nose of the crowded boat; it felt like the beach landing at Normandy. No one fed the fish but it was a relieved group that backrolled in and dropped to 50 feet, with instructor Mahmoud Abdela leading the way. I waited in the blue for the hammerheads of dawn. And waited. Maybe they didn't like the wind either. At 13 minutes, we headed toward the reef and descended to 85 feet, where a gentle current propelled us along the wall. The reef was solid coral, hard and soft, predominantly blue and yellow, with magenta and purple soft species here and there. A gray reef shark cruised below. Hordes of red fairy anthias and half-and-half chromis stayed close to the reef, while a Napoleon wrasse eyed me from two feet away. Below, a scalloped hammerhead heading into the current checked me out with one eye....

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