The Scuba Place talks about why the Deep South itinerary on Big Blue is their favourite Red Sea Safari…. Do you agree?
RED SEA WALL TO WALL, BDE or SIMPLY THE BEST? Whatever name you know this itinerary by, we can attest they all make perfect sense.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, then here is a guide to what I consider to be the very best liveaboard reef itinerary there is in the Red Sea. And I say reef deliberately so as not to confuse those who like all things rusty underwater – this is all about pretty things and fish, not hunks of metal! Although… there is a little bit of that too!
Some operators refer to this trip as “Simply the Best’, and I totally get that. Some call it simply Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone, and I can’t argue with that either. Some call it Red Sea – Wall to Wall, and that makes perfect sense too.
What is safe to say is, whatever you or they call it, this itinerary totally rocks!
There aren’t many divers across the globe who don’t know how good the Red Sea is, and we here in the UK are spoilt rotten by the fact that it is a mere 5 and a bit hours away. The resorts of Dahab, Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam all offer really really good day boat diving, and the safaris are world class. The very best sites to dive are the offshore reefs where currents keep the corals super clean and healthy, and where the bigger animals come to feed and get cleaned – and the stars of these offshore reefs have to be The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone.
Elphinstone is the only reef that is reachable by day boat – there are super-fast RIBS from Marsa Abu Dabbab that will make this trip, and day boats from Port Ghalib also make this trip, a journey that takes approximately 2 hours. But if more big reef diving is your preference, then the only way to do this is on a liveaboard safari.
Elphinstone itself is pretty spectacular. Sha’ab Abu Hamra, its proper name, is a reef that sits just below the surface some 6 and a half miles out to sea from Abu Dabbab. Bizarrely, for such a spectacular dive, the reef is a mere 300m long and some 20m wide at the surface. Running North to South, with steps down to 42 and 40m at either end, the reef ‘grows’ as you descend. Below the lowest steps, the reef drops into the abyss – and allegedly, no one knows how deep the drop-off actually goes!
It is, however, the depth of this reef that makes it so healthy and populated – the up currents bring food from the depths, making the reef at Elphinstone a super-sized dining table if you like. The corals are spectacular – big as can be, the brightest of bright and variety of colours, and marine life swarms the reef. The schools of anthias here are second to none, and bannerfish, parrot fish, damsels and surgeon fish add to the party. Sponges and beautiful soft corals fill your view as you look at the reef.
It is also super important to keep an eye on the blue too – barracuda, tuna and trevally sweep by constantly. Turtles and Napoleon wrasse are also often found here, and both mantas and whalesharks come by, but it is the sharks that really are the draw here. White tip and grey reef sharks are commonly seen, but the highlights here have to be the Longimanus – Oceanic Whitetip – and the hammerhead sharks.
Our trip in May 2023 also delivered not one but two Thresher sharks on this dive site! We managed three drift dives – the expert zodiac crew dropping us off at the Northern point and meeting us at the Southern tip at the end of the dive on two of the three dives, letting us use the current to drift along at some speed and pop up an SMB at the end of the dive. Our third dive, the current had dropped to almost nothing, so we dropped down to the plateau at the southern end of the reef and hung around with a huge barracuda and a couple of Napoleon wrasse.
A good safari boat will give you a full day of diving here at Elphinstone, but it will be for one day at the beginning of the trip in all likelihood – there are no anchoring points here for overnight stays. An additional day might be available at the end of the trip if you are super unfortunate and the weather disrupts the other sites, but that isn’t that unlucky in my book
Next comes the dives at The Brothers. Big Brother and Little Brother sit approximately 35 miles off the mainland coast of Egypt – far enough to make them reachable only by safari boat. That is great news for divers on a liveaboard – no day boats! However, there can be lots of safari boats, but a good Captain and Dive Manager will work with the other boats to make sure there are as few divers as possible in the water at any time.
The local name for the Brothers is El Akhawein, and these two islands are reputed to be the very best dive destination in the Red Sea. They sit in a protected marine reserve, and like Elphinstone, there are no moorings here, so no night dives or overnight stays. Both islands are uninhabited, although there is an operational lighthouse on Big Brother.
There are also two wrecks on Big Brother – the Aida which sits between 15 and 45 metres on the Western side of the island, and the Numidia, sitting between 10 and 85 metres deep on the Northern side. Both are excellent wrecks and have been down long enough to be overgrown with corals and inhabited by marine life.
The Numidia wreckage breaks up the reef nicely and we found numerous huge, bearded scorpion fish and a handful of nudibranchs sitting on its superstructure, pipefish and again, large Napoleon wrasse, but seeing another thresher shark, closely followed by a large manta ray, was the highlight for me.
We crammed in four dives here – one on Little Brother, and three on the big sibling. They were all totally amazing – this has to be my very favourite spot in the Red Sea. Straight to the point – manta ray, thresher shark, grey reef shark, turtles, hordes of schooling fish and the most stunning soft corals ever. Loved it, loved it, loved it!
It was then on to Daedalus Reef. I have tried to get here on several occasions in the past but got beaten by the weather and other circumstances, but this time, with now flat calm seas, I knew we were going to get there! A long overnight sail against the wind had us arrive at about 0500 and then it was down to some serious deep sleep before waking for a day of diving.
Daedalus Reef, also known as Abu Kizan, is a pinnacle with a man-made island and lighthouse sitting atop. It can be found c.50 miles out to sea, due east of Marsa Alam and slap bang in between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Accessible only by liveaboard, this is a super-remote place and a protected marine park. This, combined with the flowing currents, make it incredibly populated and super-healthy.
Diving on the east side in the morning and the west side in the afternoon gives the very best light, and whilst we try to do this, all diving here is decided by the currents. The good news is, although no night dives are permitted, overnight stays are, and this means another day of diving is available! This was a no-brainer for us, the diving here is phenomenal.
As well as the now common abundance of incredible corals and reef inhabitants that we experienced on this trip, Daedalus is probably the best place in the Red Sea to see hammerhead sharks in big numbers, for they seem to school here. On this trip, we didn’t get to see schooling hammerheads, but we did get several individuals on each dive. We also saw another manta, plenty of trevally, a school of barracuda, a turtle or two and some of the healthiest corals ever. Other divers allegedly saw a whaleshark, but not us, sadly.
On top of that, the surface intervals here give you an opportunity to leave the safari boat and go on to the island, climb up the lighthouse where the views are amazing, and even buy a t-shirt from the ‘shop’ on the island.
I have dived the Red Sea for more than 15 years now, going at least twice a year, and that is a lot of diving. I love the amazing wrecks to the North, Rasmo and Tiran too, but honestly, for me, there is nothing like hitting these huge offshore reefs and experiencing their amazing offerings.
Thresher sharks? Mantas? Oceanic white tips? Hammerheads? Yes – and so much more – all in some of the healthiest and most beautiful coral environments there are.
Want to be blown away? Do this trip. Simply the Best works for me!
Our vessel for the week was the British-owned and operated Big Blue. At 42m, she is one of the larger boats in the fleet and sleeps up to 22 people, so there’s a lot of space on board. Smaller boats take more people, but we like space! We had twinset and sidemount divers with us, and no one was cramped on the dive deck. The food is great, and there is plenty of it; the crew are highly professional and fun, the air-conditioning works, and the cabins are plenty big enough. Beers are cheap, which helps, and mixers are free of charge should you bring some gin on board.
Big Blue does not mandate the number of dives you need to book a trip or set a minimum qualification other than Open Water (or equivalent), but what they do insist upon is that you have both a reel and SMB, and that you can use it properly. The check dive will involve everyone sending up an SMB, just to ensure a level of competence.
Key Facts :
- Getting there : EasyJet flies from Gatwick, Bristol and Manchester direct to Hurghada in just 5 hours. We were greeted by staff airside with our visa which is a great service! Saved us from queueing to purchase our visa. Once we had baggage in hand we loaded up for a quick 15 minutes to the marina.
- Air temperature : Varies from a low of 21°C in December January to 32°C in July August.
- Water temperature : 24-28°C. A 3-5mm full suit will suit most in the summer months.
- Visa requirement : for £30 we had a VIP visa service offered by Big Blue. We were met airside with our visa and avoided standing in the queue to purchase.
- Health protocols : You do not need to show a COVID vaccination certificate or negative COVID test to enter Egypt. Health officials may screen you for COVID symptoms on arrival. They may also randomly select travellers for rapid antigen testing.
- Currency : Egyptian pounds, Euros, British pounds are all accepted on board Big Blue.
- Electricity : 220V with 2 prong sockets. An extension lead is always a good idea.
- Internet and Wi-Fi : There is limited signal when out to sea. We did take along a dongle and purchased a sim card at the airport for £10 for 20G of data.
Price Guide: Expect from £1,650 per person with EasyJet flights based on two sharing a standard cabin for 7-night safari with NITROX included. Marine park and Port fees are also included but the Environmental tax of €70 will be collected on board. Bar bill and tips are extra.
Our Advice: If you haven’t been on Big Blue give it a try. It’s spacious and super comfortable and they have a relaxed attitude with an emphasis on diver safety. Half and full charters are available as well as individual spaces. We’d be happy to help your dive club charter a week!
Packing tips :
- Reef friendly sunscreen : The sun can be fierce on the water so come prepared!
- Reading material : Bring your Kindle loaded with a few books – remember wifi signal can be sketchy… or a few paperbacks… there’s a shelf in the salon for book sharing if you want to leave them behind.
And most importantly….
SMB and reel : and please make sure you know how to use it.
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Call us at 020 3515 9955 or email at email@example.com
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Get a FREE undersuit when you buy a trilaminate drysuit from Scubapro
IT’S TRILAMINATE TIME!
SCUBAPRO is launching its 2024 drysuit promotion:
With the purchase of a trilaminate drysuit EVERTECH DRY BREATHABLE or DEFINITION DRY, SCUBAPRO gives you the matching K2 EXTREME undersuit (GBP 345) for free.
If that’s not a reason to start drysuit diving, because in our climate it’s drysuit season all year round! So don’t miss out – the promotion is valid until May 31, 2024 at participating SCUBAPRO retailers and in participating regions.
All information at https://scubapro.johnsonoutdoors.com/eu/en-gb/free-k2.
Diving with Frogfish in Costa Rica: A Hidden Gem Underwater
In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Costa Rica, there’s a peculiar creature that often goes unnoticed but holds a special place in the hearts of divers: the frogfish. This enigmatic and somewhat odd-looking species is a master of camouflage and a marvel of marine life. Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is not just a dive; it’s an adventurous treasure hunt that rewards the patient and observant with unforgettable encounters. Let’s dive into the world of frogfish and discover what makes these creatures so fascinating and where you can find them in Costa Rica.
The Mystique of Frogfish
Frogfish belong to the family Antennariidae, a group of marine fish known for their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings. They can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, red, green, black, and white, and they often have unique spots and textures that mimic the coral and sponges around them. This camouflage isn’t just for show; it’s a critical survival tactic that helps them ambush prey and avoid predators.
One of the most remarkable features of the frogfish is its modified dorsal fin, which has evolved into a luring appendage called an esca. The frogfish uses this esca to mimic prey, such as small fish or crustaceans, enticing unsuspecting victims close enough to be engulfed by its surprisingly large mouth in a fraction of a second. This method of hunting is a fascinating spectacle that few divers forget once witnessed.
Where to Find Frogfish in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is dotted with dive sites that offer the chance to encounter these intriguing creatures. Bat Islands (Islas Murciélagos), Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas), and the area around the Gulf of Papagayo are renowned for their rich marine life, including frogfish. These sites vary in depth and conditions, catering to both novice and experienced divers.
The key to spotting frogfish is to dive with a knowledgeable guide who can point out these master camouflagers hiding in plain sight. They’re often found perched on rocky outcroppings, nestled within coral, or even hiding among debris, perfectly mimicking their surroundings.
Diving Tips for Spotting Frogfish
Go Slow: The secret to spotting frogfish is to move slowly and scan carefully. Their camouflage is so effective that they can be right in front of you without being noticed.
Look for Details: Pay attention to the small details. A slightly different texture or an out-of-place color can be the clue you need.
Dive with Local Experts: Local dive guides have an eagle eye for spotting wildlife, including frogfish. Their expertise can significantly increase your chances of an encounter.
Practice Buoyancy Control: Good buoyancy control is essential not just for safety and coral preservation but also for getting a closer look without disturbing these delicate creatures.
Be Patient: Patience is key. Frogfish aren’t known for their speed, and sometimes staying in one spot and observing can yield the best sightings.
Conservation and Respect
While the excitement of spotting a frogfish can be thrilling, it’s crucial to approach all marine life with respect and care. Maintain a safe distance, resist the urge to touch or provoke, and take only photos, leaving behind nothing but bubbles. Remember, the health of the reef and its inhabitants ensures future divers can enjoy these incredible encounters as much as you do.
Join the Adventure
Diving with frogfish in Costa Rica is just one of the many underwater adventures that await in this biodiverse paradise. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or taking your first plunge, the waters here offer an unparalleled experience filled with wonders at every turn. Beyond the thrill of the hunt for frogfish, you’ll be treated to a world teeming with incredible marine life, majestic rays, playful dolphins, and so much more.
So, gear up, dive in, and let the mysteries of Costa Rica’s underwater realm unfold before your eyes. With every dive, you’re not just exploring the ocean; you’re embarking on an adventure that highlights the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our marine ecosystems. And who knows? Your next dive might just be the one where you come face-to-face with the elusive and captivating frogfish. Join us at Rocket Frog Divers for the dive of a lifetime, where the marvels of the ocean are waiting to be discovered.
About the Author: Jonathan Rowe
Are you looking to make a splash online? As a seasoned diver and digital marketer, I specialize in crafting bespoke websites and innovative marketing strategies for dive shops worldwide. With my expertise, your business will not only be seen but also remembered.
From deep-sea to digital depths, I navigate the complex waters of web development and online marketing, ensuring your dive shop stands out in the vast ocean of the internet. Contact Scuba Dive Marketing for more information.
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