My name is Carole, I have been diving for 18 years and I’ve been a PADI Instructor for 17 of them. Today I am the Technical Manager at Fantasea Divers, responsible for overseeing the dive operation and working with Chris Harding, who together with Ema Louis is a partner at Coral Hotel & Fantasea Dive Center, located 90km North of Sharm el Sheikh.
Like me, when asked what inspired them to start diving, many divers of my generation relate their thirst for the underwater realm to that of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, who in his time was a trailblazer and conservationist for the underwater world and its inhabitants.
When the time was right and an opportunity arose to realize one of my dreams, I learnt to dive. Little did I know, way back then, it was just the start of the journey I was to undertake after completing the PADI Open Water Course with James & Mac at Barracuda Dive Centre in Hurghada.
That said I was absolutely not prepared for the tedious & boring hours of theory we had to sit through in the classroom. I really wondered what the hell I was doing when out of the window all I could see were other tourists around the pool enjoying themselves knocking back the Stella……… but when the time came & we were jumping off a boat into the clear blue waters of the Red Sea I was instantly hooked – I loved it and could definitely see myself living this life.
In fact on my return home I joined a dive club called Dive Force Marine and started working my way through the PADI courses up to Instructor. I experienced the delights of the popular UK training sites such as Stoney Cove, Swanage & Gildenburgh to name but a few. Every opportunity I got was spent under water. Within the year I was on my way to Malta with a bunch of other wannabe Instructors under the tutelage of PADI Course Director Gary Mawson and his entourage of IDC Staff.
Soon after I successfully passed the IDC IE, the company I was working for was relocating and I was given two options – I could continue with the rat race, or alternatively accept voluntary redundancy and a wad of cash; a no-brainer really! My dream was coming true and without hesitation I took the wad, tied up loose ends and flew back to Egypt, a place that has felt like home like no other.
I arrived in Dahab in March 1994 quite by chance. I originally went back to Hurghada to look for work, but it was their winter season and most places were fully staffed and wanted German speaking Instructors. Having spent a couple of years in Germany with the army I only knew the most important phrases that mattered to me, ‘zwei bier bitte’, ‘ein kaffee bitte’ & my all time favorite used at Macdonalds in Paderborn, ‘keine zwiebel bitte’ – none of which was really going to get me far!
One evening, after consuming a large amount of the local brew in Peanuts bar in Hurghada, a plan was hatched to go to Sharm el Sheikh to look for work. Everything looks doable after a few bottles of the local brew! However the boat trip from Hurghada to Sharm the next day was not something I had prepared myself for.
The stomach-churning journey seemed to go on forever and the sea conditions only added to my discomfort. I was secretly thinking we are all going to die and at some point had wanted to. It was hellish with no shade, no loo & no refreshments. I had not given any thought to bringing water with me to offset the dehydration effects caused by the previous evening’s happy hour and I certainly wasn’t happy at that moment in time. Lesson’s 1 & 2 learned there and then! On arrival to Sharm I had had enough of it immediately and was talked into a taxi headed for some place called Dahab.
On arrival I honestly thought my new friends had stitched me up. I was shocked at the basic surroundings, unfamiliar food (turned out to be the best diet ever), funny smelling smoke that wafted out of the beach restaurants (I use the term ‘restaurants’ loosely there) and the communal feel of Dahab. I spent the first week sleeping in my wooly bear as the camp rooms did not provide any bedding and I didn’t know that Egypt like anywhere else, as it turns out, was really rather cold in the winter (I’m ex-army & a city girl at heart and had never travelled that far out of my comfort zone in those days – and yes, I roughed it whilst in the army on occasion, but at least they fed you & gave you a blanket and a pillow).
I got over my initial thought process of “What the bloody hell am I doing here” and knew I had to make the best of it. I had sold my home, most of my worldly possessions & against the advice of my family & friends said goodbye to everything that was familiar to me, so I got on with it and set about looking for work.
Dahab back then was a small fishing village populated mainly by the Bedouin and had only 8 Dive Centers, and it was a backpacker haven. The attraction for divers of course was not what was on the surface (stoneheads & hippies may beg to differ), but what awaited you underwater.
Even though I was a new Instructor, I had worked hard to become an experienced diver, so after a short interview I made my teaching debut at Adventure Dive Club, uniquely run by three Egyptian sisters who had a passion for diving & business. This Dive Center was situated next door to the well established Fantasea Divers, owned by my now good friend Chris Harding, it was there I met Ema who was working on the Dive Counter at the time and who was to become a lifelong friend. Both Dive Centers were located conveniently in front of the Lighthouse Reef, in a time when there was no restriction on how close the buildings could be to the sea.
When it came down to it camp life did not suit me at all and as luck would have it a couple of Instructors from Fantasea were leaving and I ended up renting their house on the beach within a compound owned by a Dutch Instructor, who at the time was the Manager at Fantasea Divers. Life was looking good.
For the next nine months the Lighthouse became my home and I got to know it extremely well. I taught so many Open Water & Advanced Courses back to back, mainly to backpackers of all nationalities. South Africans, Aussies & Kiwis were a dream to teach; they were born to be in the water. Spending so much time at the Lighthouse working gave me the passion to want to dive and explore all the other dive sites in Dahab during my precious leisure time.
So let me tell you about my beloved Lighthouse Reef. Firstly it is called the Lighthouse because during the Israeli occupation there was an actual Lighthouse structure there; after they left it was re-located further up the beach, and if you know where to look you can just about see the top of it as it reaches above the date palms that now surround it.
The Lighthouse Reef is as diverse as it is beautiful, as it offers many shallow & deep dives both to the North & South. Even though Dahab is renowned for its wind, one can dive at the Lighthouse reef at almost any time of the year, day or night, because of its sheltered position.
The Lighthouse dive site is suitable for beginners, experienced & more recently Technical Divers alike. The easy entry & exit hosts a gentle sloping bottom that leads to a subtle drop off. The first shelf is perfect for confined water and other training dives. Around the inner reef heading North you will find large coral pinnacles that loom from the sandy bottom @ 10m – 18m absolutely teaming with marine life. As one travels along the reef, large bright green cabbage corals can be seen sprouting from the seabed. An overhang juts out, which houses a bright a red sponge and a delicate fan coral, which is an absolute favourite hangout for Crocodile Fish & Blue Spotted Rays. Passing this, there are a couple of dead pinnacles to the left & right, leading to a saddle, which is best crossed at 16m. This area is rich in flora and fauna and looking carefully stone & scorpion fish can be identified blending in with their surroundings, ready to pounce on their prey. Napoleon fish and a Turtle can also sometimes be seen here. If there is a current present it feels like you’re flying over the saddle; coming back however requires some effort and good buoyancy control.
The deep dive to 30m is usually made on the outer East facing reef. By following the sloping bottom to the outer reef there is a sprawling mass of large coral pinnacles rich in marine life. One of the pinnacles has a little cave in it that you can easily sit in and watch the blue for passing Pelagic, including Mantas & Eagle Rays. Some people get a bit twitchy at the mention of sharks! Swim further on and you come to the bottom of the saddle where at 27m a large gorgonian fan coral can be found, however due to a very bad storm a few years ago it fell over. Efforts were made to re-position it. It is still there but no longer upright & majestic as it should be.
The Southern dives, deep or shallow, offer some of the most fascinating sightings of marine life you can imagine. These dives offer the same gentle sloping descent. There are a mass of manmade terracotta pots that have been sunk at 16m to deliberately add interest to the vast sandy bottom, which encourage coral to grow & marine life such as moray eels & octopus to inhabit. The sea grass that is prevalent in that area has recently seen a sea horse population boom, and it is not unusual to see turtles grazing there, or ghost pipe fish milling around. At 9m just past the confined area there used to be the remnants of an old jeep, encrusted with coral which was a haven for lion & stonefish, although sadly over the years this little gem has all but disintegrated, and only the chassis remains.
At 12m there is training area complete with varying sizes of triangles to help perfect buoyancy control. Further along you come to Banner Fish Bay, so named because of the masses of the like-named fish that hang there above the small coral blocks. Swimming at a right angle from this spot to about 30m you can find a large sandy ridge running East; this ridge was caused by a huge storm when its waters rushed down from the mountains and swept a few shops and a dive center into the sea. One of the shop’s that was swept away was a jewelers and legend has it that it’s gold lies there somewhere. Many years ago I was blessed to see two guitar sharks resting on the bottom there.
After leaving Adventure Dive Club it was time to dive with the big boys at Nesima, then a 5 Star IDC Center, where I would put my knowledge & experience of the Lighthouse and other dive sites around Dahab to good use and make new friends for life.
Today Dahab has changed enormously from when I first arrived here. There are now over 50 Dive Centers along the coastline of Dahab. The Bedouin & Egyptian now work side by side, and there are good restaurants offering everything from Italian to Sushi. The infrastructure built over the last ten years provides a more comfortable lifestyle. There are still a few camps left and back packers still come, but not in the numbers that they used to. These days most tourists prefer a package holiday as more and more families are venturing here & taking the plunge at the Lighthouse.
Don’t just dream it, Do it! Has always been my mantra. The risks one takes to achieve the dreams held dear can pay off if you can take the rough with the smooth, and don’t get bent out of shape should the internet go down for more than an hour! There’s always the Lighthouse Reef.
The Lighthouse Reef holds many good memories for me and to this day I still love to dive there, given any opportunity.
Diving with… Ana and Miguel, Siladen Resort & Spa, Indonesia
In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…
Ana and Miguel
What is the name of your business?
Siladen Resort & Spa
What is your role within the business?
Co owners and General Managers
How long has the business operated for?
Almost 20 years.
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
Miguel has dived since 1993 and Ana has dived since 2002. We are both Open Water Scuba Instructors.
What is your favorite type of diving?
We love all dive types, especially wall diving for the wonderful corals and looking out into the blue wondering what other animals will come up next. But as an UW photographer and videographer we both love critter hunting in the sandy slopes. We are both very fond of night dives as we always find interesting animals and different behaviour.
If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?
We have a wonderful location in the heart of Bunaken National Park and we have an amazing team that provides the best service to each guest. We are a fun dive resort; we constantly strive to be as sustainable as possible and safety is our number one priority. If you like sea turtles and beautiful coral reefs you cannot miss this area for diving or snorkelling.
What is your favorite dive in your location and why?
If we have to choose one wall we would say Mandolin as it has beautiful and healthy corals with a wonderful and shallow reef top. We love to search for turtles in the overhangs, look for long nose hawkfish in the black coral bushes, admire the schooling snappers, and spend a long safety stop on the coral gardens on the top that are full of anthias. For critter hunting and night dives we both love Bolung. Here we can find frogfish, ghostpipefishes and nudibranchs, plus at night we often find decorator crabs, octopus and even stargazers on its white sandy slope.
What types of diving are available in your location?
There are very shallow coral reefs surrounding all five islands within Bunaken National Parkpark — beyond the shallow reef, the seabed drops away very quickly, forming the beautiful walls that Bunaken is famed for. Many of these walls are vertical with huge caverns and overhangs, however some are more gentle slopes that allow more reef building corals to form. On the North Sulawesi mainland there are black sand sites that allow amazing muck diving. Close by, we also have white sand sites, which offer some beautiful coral reefs and gentle slopes. There is even a fairly intact (entirely sponge encrusted) wreck within easy access of the resort.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
Working together in a dive resort that welcomes divers and snorkellers from around the world and sharing with them our passion for diving, snorkeling and uw photography and video is a great pleasure. Besides we have the privilege to dive and snorkel at world class sites every week.
What is your favorite underwater creature?
We both love cephalopods in general for their intelligence, capacity to camouflage, change colors and patterns…. We are fortunate enough to have many encounters with cephalopods in this area, from the tiny bobtail squid to the wonderful broadclub cuttlefish, the flamboyant cuttlefish, squids and Ana even filmed reef octopus mating. We could watch cephalopods for ever. And although we see them often, Ana has a soft spot for turtles.
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
The biggest problem we all face as divers and nature lovers is climate change and pollution. We need to work on these issues locally but even more importantly we need to address these issues worldwide.
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
Yes, we clean our beach daily and we organise very frequent island clean-ups. Not only do we clean this area, but we also separate the garbage trying to send as much as we possibly can to be recycled. We often have activities together with local school children to help bring awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution. We reduce our single plastic use as much as possible and all our vegetables and fruit peel leftovers are composted. We also protect the nests of turtles that hatch on our beach.
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
We are partnering with Coral Eye Resort in Bangka Island so that guests can have the best service in the best areas of North Sulawesi. We are getting one more boat; we want to make sure our boats are never crowded, besides we keep working to maintain and improve all our facilities.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
The industry is doing well and I am happy to see that there are more and more avid snorkellers and not only scuba divers. We would like to see more ocean protection worldwide to ensure the future generations get to enjoy the beautiful reef corals and marine life around the world.
Finally, what would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
We give you a chance to explore some of the best snorkelling and diving sites in the world while providing you with comfortable accommodation, wonderful food and the best service. Staying in Siladen Resort & Spa you can do up to four dives or snorkelling sessions every day with very experienced guides, while staying in a safe and comfortable resort that aims to provide the best service to each guest.
Where can our visitors find out more about your business?
Visit our website www.siladen.com, find us on Instagram and Facebook (Siladen Resort & Spa) and contact us:
WA +62 811 44300641
Into the Blue – Part Two
By now, you will have hopefully read the first blog from my recent trip to the Red Sea with The Scuba Place on M/Y Big Blue. If you haven’t, you can find the link to the blog here.
I’ve been diving since 2011, although I didn’t get really serious about diving until 2013. In the November of that year I joined Scuba School on a trip to Sharm El Sheikh to complete my Advanced Open Water course. That was the first time I heard about the famous SS Thistlegorm and its cult status in the wreck diving world. Unfortunately, as I, along with a lot of the group were novice divers, and so we were unable to dive it on that 2013 trip, along with a lot of the other famous wrecks from the North. Little did I know, I wouldn’t return to the Northern Red Sea until this trip in September 2022 with The Scuba Place. The wrecks remained mysterious all those years but I was soon getting the full experience. After the first two and a half days exploring the amazing reefs, it was time to break my Thistlegorm virginity and get the true “lust for rust” experience of the Northern itinerary.
As we moored up at the SS Thistlegorm for the afternoon dive, I got a strange sense of anticipation run through my body. More so than at any other specific dive site. Strange really, as I don’t normally get excited about wreck diving, but here was a site that I’d heard so much about but was still so mysterious. I’d always thought it was a difficult dive and had a slight fear of it, as I wasn’t allowed to do it all those years back. Then, after watching a 20 minute film explaining the story of the wreck and listening to the stories of survivors,. I knew it was a site that demanded respect. As Mo went through the dive briefing, I quickly realised it seemed a lot more simple than I had in mind. I then became more excited than fearful as me and my dive buddy went through our plan.
There was an eerie feeling as we submerged below the gentle swell. The visibility was a lot more milky compared to the clear blue I was used to in the Red Sea. However, the wreck soon came into view as we dropped down the shot line. The first thing that struck me and in my opinion just made the wreck extra special, was the life on it.
Instantly, crocodile fish and scorpion fish were spotted resting on the wreck, as we made our way to the anti-aircraft gun on the stern. I made a quick visit to take some photos before we turned back and penetrated the wreck for the first time. A surreal experience but the numerous glassfish and lionfish at the entry point kept me entertained before seeing the remnants of yesteryear. The different vehicles that still keep their place in the decks are the main highlight, but it was the boots that struck a chord with me: signs of the human lives that were present on the fateful day the bomb hit. I got a real buzz from my first time on the Thistlegorm, with a school of batfish greeting us on our safety stop finishing off the adventure. John and I ascended from a great dive with a high five, knowing I’d fulfilled a special memory.
I enjoyed three more dives on the Thistlegorm, giving me chance to explore a little more and see a little more life. Some cool nudibranch and a cuttlefish making their home inside the wreck added to the array of life I’d already seen. It was the night dive that truly hit the marine life spot. It really came to life at night and I soon lost count of the amount of scorpionfish I saw. The contrast of the dark and wreck against the blue spotted stingrays made their colours really pop as around six or seven were spotted. Eels, lionfish and crocodilefish making up the rest of the weird and wonderful sights on the wreck at night. Amazing memories from my first time exploring the Thistlegorm that will last forever.
After the two morning dives on the Thistlegorm, we headed off to the Barge wreck site for an afternoon and night dive. It’s not much of a wreck when you compare it to the others on the trip. It lies like a flat platform on the seabed with some sides rising out from the reef providing extra space for coral growth and marine life to enjoy. While it doesn’t provide a real wreck fix with penetration, it is a haven for marine life, littered with all types of hard and soft corals. Look closely and the Barge is a great spot for the weird and wonderful. The numerous nudibranch and grey moray eels provided my macro fix on the night dives, while the occasional buzz from huge hunting giant trevally provided the entertainment. A nice contrast of wrecks before moving on to Abu Nuhas.
Abu Nuhas is a really unique place. Its submerged reef has been bad luck for five passing ships, with five cargo shipwrecks lining its northern slopes. While it was more than unfortunate for some, the wrecks have provided fortune for those looking for a wreck diving haven. Our day consisted of diving three of the wrecks – The Carnatic, Giannis D and Marcus/Chrisoula K in that order.
Going into the trip, it was the Giannis D that I was most keen to dive. I’d always admired the wide angle stern shots I’d seen over the years, with it staying pretty much intact and creating a dramatic image as it lies on its side. It was a fantastic dive with some interesting and easy penetration; I also took some shots of the stern in all its glory. A huge grouper sitting inside the wreck provided the wildlife fix, as it floated with ease looking out into the blue from an opening on the wreck. I think it was the Carnatic that stole the show personally though. Her open windows out to the blue that are covered in soft coral were unique, and glassfish dancing in formation inside mesmerised into a truly memorable dive. The Marcus provided the adventure as penetration was a little more difficult to work my way through the wreck.
The day at Abu Nuhas was the best of the trip for me and that wasn’t solely because of the wrecks….. YES!! Once again it was marine life that had me screaming with joy underwater and a buzz through my body like no other. FINALLY!!!!! After 9 years of taking photos underwater, I was able to share the water with dolphins (bottlenose in this instance) and shoot them in all their glory.
Our journey to and from the wrecks on each dive took us through the channel on the ribs, where dolphins were seen on every pass playing in the slight waves. After the second dive, the guides asked if we wanted to try to snorkel with them. It was a resounding yes and as the speedboat whipped up a wave storm, the dolphins headed to the surface to play. I dropped in with no elegance at all, as my excitement took over. I was wondering whether they would stay once we entered, but how they stayed and played was beyond anything I could imagine. Bringing seaweed to us and then, with a flick of their tails, speeding off after teasing with a slow approach. There were nine in total and they even came by to show off the baby of the group. It was definitely up there as one of my greatest moments in the water.
We finished the liveaboard trip with three more amazing reef dives, with the highlight being a small cave full of glassfish and MANY lionfish. I entered to take photos of the glassfish before the lionfish started to sneak out of every crevice and reveal themselves from their camouflaged rest spots.
It got a little hairy but made for a truly interesting moment to finish the week on Big Blue. The fun wasn’t done though, as John eluded to the fact that I was on the same late flight as them on the Saturday and asked if I’d like to join his group for a night at Roots Red Sea. Sounds like a good plan!! Also, if we got there in time, a night dive on the house reef that’s a haven for the weird and wonderful would be on offer. What an amazing surprise end to the trip at an amazing dive resort: secluded, with a beautiful desert backdrop, sitting just metres from the sea. Thankfully, we made it for a night dive and it was as incredible as John said it would be. Reef squid, numerous cuttlefish, a bouncing stonefish jumping over sea moths AND a dwarf lionfish made this one of the best night dives ever, and a perfect end dive to a perfect trip. A final day of relaxation at Roots pool and enjoying the beautiful food finished it in style.
For more information about diving on Big Blue:
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