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The most chilled out diving in the Red Sea?

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Red Sea

While relaxing on the beach at Marsa Shagra recently it occurred to me that this was the fifth time I had visited this charming and relaxed dive destination. This is very unusual for me; with so many places to visit in the world, I rarely go back to the same place twice.

But Marsa Shagra is rather special. I always say that although it might not offer the very best diving in the Red Sea (for that you probably want to take one of the liveaboards to the offshore reefs), it certainly does offer the most chilled out.

Red Sea

Once you have checked in and been checked out by one of the dive guides, you are free to dive on the house reef any time you like. No need for a guide. So it is perfectly possible to find yourself and your buddy all alone on what must be one of the best preserved house reefs in Egypt.

Red Sea

Successive Egyptian governments have pressured the owners of the village to expand, but they have always resisted. The result is that the house reef is in excellent condition with fewer divers visiting it than might otherwise be the case. This ecological outlook (they describe themselves as an ‘Eco-village’) is evident throughout the operation – everyone there is concerned with the welfare of the reefs and marine life, which is a delight to see.

Another thing that makes Shagra an ideal venue is the range of diving available. As well as the house reef there are excursions by truck up and down the coast to visit numerous other shore diving sites. There are also speedboat dives out to sites offshore, including Elphinstone Reef, where it is possible to see large pelagics. While we were there, others (not us unfortunately) saw oceanic white tips and even a whale shark. We were lucky enough to see the mythical Dugong not far from Marsa Abu Dabab though, so we couldn’t complain.

Red SeaBooking onto dives seems complicated to begin with, but in reality is simple. Just go to the dive centre, check in on the computer screen and see what excursions are available for the following day – easy! Some dives require a minimum number for a trip to go ahead, but that is rarely a problem even when the village is quieter. On this visit I was in a small group of four. We all wanted to visit Abu Ghusun, a very pretty reef with one of the few wrecks in that part of the Red Sea. It’s a great dive, but many people seem to be put off by the hour-and-a-half drive involved. After three days of trying with no luck (just the four of us were booked on and the minimum required was ten), the dive manager took pity on us and agreed to run the trip for just us! That was a result, especially since it turned out to be my first dive of 2015 – and my 1000th dive to boot.

And that is one of the other special things about Marsa Shagra – the staff are truly excellent. Always friendly and helpful, they go a long way to making the experience as great as it is, be it the dive guides, admin folks or the catering staff.

Red SeaSpeaking of the catering, that is also excellent. When I first visited Marsa Shagra in 2003 there was a small Bedouin bar on top of a small hill where you could drink and relax. That has now been replaced by a restaurant where great food is served buffet style. The staff are very proud of the food that they serve. This was at no time more evident than on New Year’s Eve, when they put on an enormous and extravagant spread that was a sight to behold. Dinner was delayed for a good hour or so as no-one wanted to spoil all their hard work by eating it!

Red SeaThe Bedouin bar has now moved to the far end of the beach and is a great place to spend the evening relaxing and stargazing at the end of the day.

There is a choice of accommodation, once again to suit all tastes and pockets, ranging from simple but roomy tents through to en-suite guest houses with air conditioning. The bonus for those in the tents is that they are on the beach and look out onto the sea, so if you rise early you can watch the spectacular sunrises.

And as if all of this wasn’t enough, there are a number of other activities available, including a desert star gazing tour, camel and horse riding and quad biking (great fun on your off-gassing day).

Red SeaAfter a visit a few years ago I asked the group (about 15 of us that time) what they thought could be done to make the place any better. A lot of head scratching ensued. One person suggested it could be free (yeah, right), but really the only thing we could think of was that they could probably do a slightly better job of keeping people in the same group next to each other when they allocate lockers for your dive gear – but that is probably not down to them anyway, since some folks seem to ignore their allocated number and just go where they will. So, that was all we could come up with.

Red SeaHmm… maybe a few cushions to sit on when you go on day long truck dives… but now I’m just being picky.

So there you have it. The dive club that I belong to is already planning a visit to the Red Sea at the end of the UK dive season, so it’s very likely we’ll be visting Marsa Shagra again. As for me, I fully expect that I will be returning in the not too distant future. There are plenty of other places to visit in the world, that’s true; but once you find somewhere this special, you’ll be drawn back time and time again – it’s like visiting an old and much loved friend.

For More details for holidays to Marsa Shagra, contact Oonasdivers by calling +44 (0)1323 648924, email info@oonasdivers.com or visit www.oonasdivers.com/egypt/resorts.

Scubaverse.com has teamed up with Oonasdivers to give one of you the chance to win a dive holiday to one of the Red Sea’s other southern dive villages, Marsa Nakari. To enter this awesome competition, click here.

Nic Weeks is a BSAC Advanced Diver and Open Water Instructor with Holborn 0130 BSAC. He started diving in 1992 and has logged over 1,000 dives at locations all over the world.

Freediving Blogs

British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive

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British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.

Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.

Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.

Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.

At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.

Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.

He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.

Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy. 

‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure. 

‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave. 

‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.

Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.

A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.

Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.

His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.

Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.

Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’

Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.

Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.

Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.

The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.


All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Film Review: Thirteen Lives

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Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.

On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.

The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.

I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.

Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.

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