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Carry on Camel

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In my mind the combination of scuba diving and riding camels is like putting peanut butter and jelly in the same sandwich; they just don’t go together. I know that camels are called ships of the desert but that’s about the only ‘nautical’ similarity there is between the two! I’m not even sure that camels like getting wet, and when I suggested dunking a camel in the sea my Bedouin guide thought I was stark raving mad and started laughing at me.

My grand Egyptian plan was to get far away from the madding crowds and check out the sites rarely visited by other divers. Using a more traditional mode of transport seemed to fit in with my ‘getting back to basics’ theme, hence bring on the camels. Hayden Falloon, the owner of Black Rock Dive Centre in Dahab, suggested that I sign up for one of his special 2-day camel dive safaris (I think he regretted this later). This would begin with a dive at the world famous blue hole and then follow the coastline trail 10km’s north to the national park at Ras Abu Gulum. Hayden said “this is how Dahab used to be at the beginning. There are no crowded sites, it’s undiscovered diving”.

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Although I had visited Egypt many times before I had never quite got around to ‘driving’ a camel. Friends and colleagues had warned me about these smelly fly infested creatures that had a tendency to spit but my nose for adventure overrode all the negative vibes. I had visions of the movie classics ‘Carry on follow that Camel’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. I wondered which role would have best suited me?

Hayden forewarned me not to expect too much. Accommodation and toilet facilities would be very ‘basic’ and the food would be Bedouin style. Hayden also said I would sleep over at a place called the blue lagoon. Hayden had stayed there around 20-30 times in the past 10 years, so if Hayden said it was good enough for him then I’m sure it would be good enough for me. Even a fully domesticated Brit could withstand 2 days worth of roughing it, surely?

stu 20

The idiot abroad, Dave Brooks, had also signed up for the 2-day trip so at least there would be someone else going through the whole experience with me. Dave fancied himself as a ‘Lawrence’ type character which earned him the apt title ‘Dave of Dahab’.

Hayden had made all the prior arrangements so within a few hours of arriving at Sharm Airport we had packed up our bare essentials, which in my case basically comprised of a toothbrush and 2 pairs of clean underpants, and made tracks for the blue hole. Mamdouh Abdelhalim had been recruited as ‘camel leader’ for our epic adventure. Mamdouh was full of useful information about camels, Bedouins and all things Egyptian which I will slide into the story as and when appropriate.

The blue hole was not what I had expected. I had pictured a few camels and Bedouin tents set up by the water’s edge, not row upon row of white jeeps and 2 storey buildings. There were crowds of people everywhere, snorkelling, freediving, scuba diving, eating, drinking and just generally milling about. We kitted up by the water’s edge and then followed Mamdouh around the corner to the entry point known as bells. I briefly stopped at the ‘wall of death’ to read the memorials of divers who had lost their lives inside the hole. I didn’t realise there had been so many fatalities. Official numbers are quoted around the 40 mark but many think that the true tally is into 3 figures. A dive site called the arch seems to be the main culprit. The apex of the arch, which is basically a 25 metre long swim through, begins at about 54 – 56 metres and drops away to 100 plus metres. This is way beyond recreational limits and into the realms of tech diving (I managed to experience the dive for myself a few days after the camel safari with h2o divers, a professional technical diving outfit. There will be a full article on tech diving in the blue hole on Scubaverse.com soon).

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We queued up at the entry point, bells, which turned out to be a small crevice in the reef. Mamdouh suggested that we jump in and then put our fins on while bobbing about on the surface. I went head-first down the hole and came out at around 27 metres. Divers usually ‘clang’ their tanks on the sides of the hole which is how it got the name bells. While I was setting up a shot of Mamdouh coming out at the bottom a huge napoleon wrasse rocked up behind me. Mamdouh’s incessant screaming was enough to put me off my picture taking. We drifted along the wall peering under the ledges and overhangs. We reached ‘the saddle’ about 200 metres later and then crossed over into the blue hole itself. Unfortunately the milky conditions were far from ideal. At best the visibility topped 4 or 5 metres due to a freak algae bloom. I could just about make out the usual array of reef fish and hard corals and the shadowy outline of a giant grouper swimming below us.

Stu 5Our camels didn’t turn up until later in the afternoon. Dave had already tooled himself up with a Keffiyeh (head dress) and was eager to get going. Full dive gear including cylinders and weight belts were carefully loaded onto our rides. Mamdouh said that camels can carry loads of up to 300kg. Mounting a camel required some intense concentration. From a sitting down position the camel first came up on its hind legs and then its front legs. Grabbing the saddle horns for balance is a critical part of the ‘staying on’ process. There must have been a good 2 metres clearance from the ground. Mamdouh said wearing jeans and shoes would make the journey more comfortable. Plenty of sunscreen was also a must. Instead of using the stirrups I crossed my legs Bedouin style and held onto the rope attached to the camels head. The rolling motion took a while to get used to. How could these clumsy looking animals be so sure footed? The shoreline was precariously rocky. If I tumbled off there would be some serious damage. Mamdouh even pointed out a pile of camel bones at the base of the cliff we were climbing just to make me feel more at ease. Camels live for around 30 years and cost about 6,000 Egyptian pounds (£600 Sterling) to buy. They can last as long as 2 weeks without water and even taste good to eat. I could now see why camels were such a useful animal. Dave seemed to be having a few problems with steering his camel and ended up going off the track while mine decided to stop for a quick chew on a discarded bamboo stick. We had absolutely no control at all. After 2 hours of plodding along we caught site of our final destination, Ras Abu Gulum. When I dismounted the word ‘rawhide’ took on a whole new meaning. So this is how cowboys must have felt after a hard day in the saddle?

Stu 7Clear blue sky, rugged mountains and km upon km of deserted coastline; this definitely scored a 10 out of 10 on the scenic ‘wow factor’ and what a total contrast to the blue hole. Mamdouh said that our first dive site would be Daheila. We kitted up and waded straight into the water. I followed Dave and Mamdouh down to 25 metres. The corals were in pristine condition with plenty of fish activity from damsels to predatory jacks. But we were still suffering with poor visibility which, on a photography level, was seriously stressing me out. Macro shots were okay but wide angle was causing me big problems.

Our second dive site was located approx 1km north at a place called Al Garden or the rock. Walking over the slippery stones in full kit was a bit tricky, especially when the oncoming waves were knocking us off balance. We ducked down and followed the contours of the sandy slope to a depth of 20 metres. There were giant table corals and clumps of reef bursting with bright orange anthias, anemone fish, groupers and lionfish. Mamdouh’s favourite spot was a coral pinnacle full of juvenile trigger fish. In clear, calm conditions this would have been an awesome shore dive.

Stu 1Hayden described our accommodation as ‘rustic’. I guess that was a good word to use. I’m not sure what star rating I would give the place. It was basically a lean-too on the beach. But to be honest this just added to the atmosphere. The natural shallow lagoon was perfect for kite and wind surfing. Hayden said ‘there are no buildings around to cause any wind pollution’. I saw one lone kite surfer having a whale of a time. I wondered how long it would be before mass tourism found the blue lagoon? I sat chilling with Dave drinking a few beers and eating our spicy fish supper. The night sky was alive with so many shooting stars. The only artificial glow of lights was way off in the distance in the direction of Dahab.During the night I dreamt up an interesting idea for a picture. Why not get a camel to sit in the sea with a scuba diver posing in the saddle (well, it seemed like a good idea at the time). Using my wide angle dome port I could even try for a 50/50 above/below water shot. Dave from Dahab was willing to give it a try so we just needed to find a sacrificial camel. After greasing a Bedouin’s palm with a wad of Egyptian pounds we managed to persuade a camel to go into the water. But as I lined up for a picture the camel decided to offload a pile of poo which floated down in my direction. Obviously the shock of the cold water was enough to start off a chain reaction! In the camels defence it was only mid-April and the water temp was still a cool 21 – 22 degrees. I had all of 2 minutes to get my picture before the camel decided enough was enough and got up with Dave still holding on for dear life. We tried to get the camel back in the water but it just wasn’t having it.

Stu 16

Our initial plans were for 3 dives a day plus a night dive, but we decided to cut our trip short due to the adverse conditions. Instead of returning to the blue hole on camels we got a lift back in Hayden’s pick-up truck. To be honest I thought the camel ride was far more comfortable. Hayden’s pick-up really did take a heavy beating over the rough terrain. I definitely wouldn’t want to pay his next maintenance bill. I asked Dave what he thought about the safari and he said ‘It was an adventure. It was nothing like staying in a 5 star hotel, but that’s why you try out different things, to make life more interesting’. This was Dave’s first experience on a camel. He said “I was apprehensive at first. They seemed to have a mind of their own”. I asked Dave if he would go again and he said “Next time I would go later in the year when it’s a bit warmer”.

Stu 2I was still determined to get my camel picture, so a few days later I returned with Hayden and Nic from Black Rock diving to try again. This time we walked all the way from the blue hole to Ras Abu Gulum. Hayden’s breakneck pace was similar to a forced march in the French Foreign Legion. In the sweltering hot midday sun it was more a case of march or die! Hayden had recruited Bedouin rider Telal and his trusty steed Asfall, the coolest of all camels, for the photo shoot. This time I managed to get 4 x 5 minute sessions with Nic astride Asfall and was much happier with the pictures. Now I could understand why no one else had attempted this composition before.

Hayden said he organised camel dive safaris that went still further up the coast to Lagoona and beyond. Normally they lasted 2 days and 2 nights but this can be tailored to suit. I would recommend going slightly later in the season as April can still be quite chilly at night, especially when the wind blows. While Dave and I were shivering away our guide Mamdouh was tucked up snug and toasty inside his sleeping bag-  thanks for your concern Mamdouh!

Prices for Black Rock’s camel dive safari are approx 80 euro a day on top of the normal dive price. This includes all transfers, soft drinks, food, accommodation, camels and diving.

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

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Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!

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Yes, XDEEP have now officially called their excellent frameless mask the ‘Radical’, and in this week’s competition, we’ve got another one to give away!

The XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask is a large single lens dive mask with a soft silicone skirt and traditional strap. The frameless design brings the lens closer to your face so you get a wider FOV and less internal volume that you have to equalise and clear. The larger nose pocket makes the mask more comfortable and easier to equalise, even with thick gloves.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can find here), we reported that you can join Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world. But when can you join Reef-Word’s Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020?

Is it:

  • A) 3pm BST on Friday 23rd October 2020
  • B) 3pm BST on Saturday 24th October 2020
  • C) 3pm BST on Sunday 25th October 2020

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Nautilus Diving XDEEP Frameless Mask October 2020

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, employees of Nautilus Diving and their families, or XDEEP and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 02/11/20. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

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