Saeed Rashid is blown away by the first-class luxury Red Sea liveaboard, Scuba Scene.
I first dived the Egyptian Red Sea in 1997 on a land-based holiday, diving with Divers Lodge out of the Intercontinental Hotel. Our accommodation wasn’t as fancy as the Intercontinental; it was just a small, cheap affair a few miles down the road, with very questionable food! Each morning we were picked up by a minibus and driven to the Intercontinental where we had to collect our dive gear from the small dive centre and carry it down the jetty to our day boat. We would then slowly steam out to our dive site where we would do a couple of dives before heading back and carrying, rinsing and returning all our gear to the dive centre ready to do it all again the next day. It was a right faff. I remember seeing larger boats and being told that they were floating hotels and dive centres rolled into one. People would board them, not get off for a week, and all you needed to do was step into your gear that was permanently set up and fall into the sea. As far as I was concerned, this sounded like pure luxury, and I told myself that this was the diving I wanted to do from then on. A couple of years later, after managing to save up the £500 it cost to stay on one of these amazing liveaboards, I made it – and have never looked back.
Since my first outing, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have stayed on many liveaboards all over the world, but the Red Sea is still one of the most important destinations. With literally hundreds of liveaboards operating throughout its varied waters, most divers I talk to book onto them regularly. As you can imagine, competition between boats is strong, and I had believed that the pinnacle of luxury already existed in the liveaboard world. Every year the food would get better, with some boats even having a dedicated pastry chef to give you your daily sweet treats. The crew would always be amazing, on hand to help at every moment and larger and larger inside spaces and cabins became more and more comfortable. In recent years, some boats even boasted Jacuzzi hot tubs for you to relax in at the end of a hard day’s diving. But on a recent trip, all my expectations were blown out of the water – there is a new boss in town, and her name is Scuba Scene.
Scuba Scene is managed by the incredible duo, Ahmed Fadel and Elke Bojanowski, who many of you will know from their days working for Blue O Two. Ahmed is a tech diving guru and his boats have always played host to some of the most intrepid deep divers in the world. Elke is the founder of Red Sea Sharks and the only scientist operating in the Red Sea studying oceanic white tips. Her knowledge of these amazing creatures is surpassed by none and her world-famous shark diving trips are a must for any shark lover. So, with these two in charge, you know that the boat is going to be good but Scuba Scene is even better!
I was lucky enough to be on probably the best northern Red Sea itinerary. North wrecks and Tiran, which takes in all the must-see spots, such as the Ras Mohammed marine park, Abu Nuhas and of course the old lady herself, the world famous SS Thislegorm. But I was most looking forward to diving the reefs of Tiran Island as I haven’t been there for many years. Laying just to the east of Sharm El Sheik, Tiran Island sits at the gateway to the Gulf of Aqaba, a deep water sea 180km long and 20km wide that’s in fact the northern tip of the Great Rift Valley that stretches 7000km all the way down to Mozambique. Although this area is easily reached by dayboat from the mainland, this incredibly rich and diverse stretch of water really needs to be visited by a liveaboard that gives you time to explore the four main reefs, Jackson, Gordon, Thomas and Woodhouse.
But before we got on the way, there were the all-important safety briefings. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that in recent years, there have been several boat incidents, and where in the past, I would often not pay full attention to the briefings, they have now become forefront in my mind. You would never know that Elke gives this briefing every week; it was informative, insightful, and even fun when we all had to try on our life jackets. That really is the best way to get someone to remember very important information. I know this is becoming a lot more standard these days, but it’s nice to see people using equipment instead of just being told about it. It was also clear why these demonstrations were really important, as several people had never put on a life jacket before.
A couple of guests requested a walk around to see some of the other safety equipment, and I tagged along. As well as the lifejackets, there are three 25-person lifeboats, and of course the two large speedboats we would be using for diving in the week, and with numerous flotation rings all over the boat, we were definitely covered in the unlikely case of an evacuation. Scuba Scene also has one of the most comprehensive firefighting systems I’ve ever seen. Smoke and heat alarms all over the boat feedback to a panel on the bridge, so if one is triggered, the captain can quickly see its location and inform the crew, who if needed can man one of the six fire hoses that cover every part of the vessel. It’s clear to see that a lot of thought has gone into the safety features onboard Scuba Scene, and I felt my trip’s safety was in great hands.
Our first days diving was, of course, a check dive to make sure we could all still go underwater safely. Often people dismiss these as uninteresting sites, but in my experience, these areas are dived much more often than other reefs and the marine life has gotten very used to us alien divers, meaning it’s possible to get much closer to the reef inhabitants than you would be able to at other locations. So next time don’t turn your nose up to the check dive – think of it as a great opportunity to meet your new fishy pals.
We were soon off to Tiran and the incredible diving there. As soon as I dropped in, I was reminded why I have always loved diving here. As I mentioned previously, the coral reefs of Tiran sit on the southern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba and are fed by the rich deep waters that surround it, meaning they always have abundant fish life and beautiful corals. Thick clouds of Anthias sweep back and forth over the reefs trying to hypnotise unsuspecting divers with their rhythmic movements. This beautiful and often overlooked orange fish is sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Red Sea and is one of my favourites; some say it used to be present in such large numbers the water would look red, hence the name, Red Sea.
While exploring the shallows with my buddy Elke, we came across one of the largest schools of masked butterfly fish we have ever seen. Often, these fish swim in pairs or sometimes in small groups, but this school of several hundred was a rare and beautiful sight that we enjoyed spending much of our dive with. Turning around and heading back towards the boat, it was lovely to see the large bright green lettuce corals which are abundant in the shallows, with gorgonian sea fans and soft corals liking the deeper walls and drop-offs. It’s always worth keeping an eye out in the blue here, as large pelagic fish will often be swimming by. I remember spotting a large school of massive yellowfin tuna here. Each fish must have been two and a half meters long; I have never seen tuna so big since. If you are lucky, hammerhead sharks can also be spotted in the area, especially around Jackson Reef. But as always, time underwater is never long enough and it’s time to surface. We are the only boat here, but even if we weren’t, it would be easy to spot our boat – underwater, her huge size makes her very recognisable.
Scuba Scene is no normal boat. We divers have some very specialised requirements and as you would expect, every part of this vessel has been designed with us in mind. When you step on board, you are presented with a vast teak dive platform with two full-size showers on either side, and not just shower hoses that drip water like you see on many other boats. Two rinse tanks right next to them allowing you to fully rinse your gear after each dive. . The kitting-up area is just above this, easily big enough to fit a maximum of 28 guests. Not that you would ever need to, as dives are always split into two groups, meaning there are never more than 14 guests getting ready at any one time, making this area feel absolutely vast. Just behind the dive deck is a camera room – yep, an actual camera room – with sloped cubbyholes so your gadgets don’t fall out if the boat rocks and charging points so everything is all in one place. As a photographer, this one feature on its own would guarantee my booking on this boat. For years I’ve had to take up valuable space in the saloon, getting funny looks from other guests for spreading all my camera gear around the seats and tables, but no longer; I now have my own space, and I am so happy.
Very often, sleeping accommodation on a liveaboard is below decks with the saloon above, but Scuba Scene has flipped the deck plan. This means there are no cabins below the waterline. Talking to some of the guests on the trip, this was one of the reasons they had booked, and had enabled some to experience the joy of a liveaboard for the first time because they never liked the idea of being ‘stuck down below’. This also means everyone is well away from the engine room and any noise, giving you a nice, peaceful sleep even when the boat is moving. Another unusual feature is that virtually all the cabins are the same, with twin beds that can easily be moved together to give a king-size double. A double bed, if available, was often something you had to pay a premium for, but not here. There are two cabins in the bow which have been designed as singles and where I stayed. Even as a single cabin it was still bigger than most other boats I have ever stayed on, with the same large ensuite bathroom with a lovely rainfall shower just as the rest of the rooms have. Gone are the small portholes, replaced with full-length panoramic tinted windows which are also used in the shower rooms, and it’s quite an experience showering while looking out at the fish on the coral reef you just dived. Don’t worry, there is a curtain for you to draw if there’s another boat alongside!
I know what you’re thinking – what if you wanted to get away from all the talk of diving (madness, I know)? Maybe watch a movie, or even have a quick game of Call of Duty? I’m pleased to say that Scuba Scene has you covered here as well. Tucked up at the bow is the boat’s very own cinema/games room, and not a pokey little cupboard either, but big enough to get everybody in. Although an amazing asset, this room was the one that was the least used on my trip and I had forgotten it even existed until the last night when I was challenged to a game of Mario Kart. Where this room could be very useful is if you had younger guests or a smaller group who wanted to do some bespoke training away from the main saloon so as not to disturb others.
What about the food you ask? I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a diving holiday and gone hungry. In fact, there is often so much food that I go home several kilos heavier than when I arrived, and nothing changes here. You literally want for nothing. Catering for a range of diets, steaks are cooked to your liking (and it really is some of the best steak I’ve eaten), but if you prefer a plant-based diet then you are absolutely taken care of just as well.
But I’ve left the icing on the cake until last. Scuba Scene has a swimming pool! Yeah, that’s right, it has an actual, real swimming pool. Okay, if I’m being honest, it’s a bit more of a splash pool, but it’s big enough to get a dozen of you in at the end of a hot day to cool off with an ice-cold Sakara Gold. This was a first for me, having been on dozens of boats with Jacuzzis which are great, but are not used as often as you would think, taking a long time to fill and only a few of you can fit in at a time (oh btw, Scuba Scene has one of these as well). This pool is filled with filtered seawater in a matter of minutes, meaning that whenever the boat is moored for a while the pool can be filled. Because of the nature of liveaboards, you don’t often get non-divers or divers who want a more relaxed holiday where they would maybe dive once and then sit around the pool. Well, we had exactly that on this trip, a non-diving partner who took the opportunity to occasionally snorkel and then indulge in the swimming pool. Talking to her at the end of the week, she said that the swimming pool made the trip very special and she didn’t feel left out from all the diving going on around her.
At 48.5m in length, Scuba Scene is one and a half metres under the legal length of a cruise ship, meaning she is probably the biggest liveaboard that anyone will ever build. As a cruise ship, vessels must conform to even stronger regulations, from permanent lifeboats hanging from davits to a much higher crew-to-guest ratio. All of these things would increase overheads and make the operation of these boats much less viable meaning we will probably never see super liveaboards cruising up and down the Red Sea.
The Scuba Scene website says, “M/Y Scuba Scene is spacious, functional and comfortable, with regards to the cabins as well as the public areas and the dive deck.” In my opinion, this is the most understated quote I have ever read. Scuba Scene is by far the most luxurious and well-equipped liveaboard I’ve ever been on. I love the boat so much I’m heading back next summer to run an underwater photography workshop on her – who’s with me?!?
To book a trip on Scuba Scene or a place on Saeed’s 2024 underwater photography workshop, visit https://oysterdiving.com/trip/scuba-scene-red-sea-egypt/.
The healing powers of adaptive diving
PADI highlights how scuba diving helps enrich and heal lives
This International Disabilities Day (3rd December) PADI is reminding the world of the healing aspects that the ocean (or any body of water) can provide and how important it is for helping those with physical or mental challenges improve their wellbeing. From simply being within close proximity of it or diving beneath the salty surface for an underwater adventure, the ocean has the power to heal.
Regardless of your age, ability, or even limitations, the ocean can benefit us physically, emotionally and even spiritually. This is why PADI is on a mission to make those benefits accessible to all, with their Adaptive Techniques Diving Course in the hope that all of humanity can experience the full transformational power of the ocean.
While many are more familiar with traditional therapies, diving, mermaiding or freediving, has changed the lives of those around the world by connecting with the water and enabled them to conquer mental or physical perceived limitations.
The PADI Adaptive Techniques Specialty course is unique in that it’s a pro-level specialty designed to educate and empower PADI Professionals who wish to make scuba and freediver training more accessible.
Through classroom, confined water and open water workshops, dive professionals further cultivate their ability to be student-centered and prescriptive in approach when adapting techniques to meet diver needs. This hands-on training increases awareness of differing abilities and explores adaptive teaching techniques to apply when training divers with physical and mental challenges. PADI Pros learn to adapt course content to accommodate virtually any student diver.
PADI Members Helping those with Disabilities
This International Disabilities Day PADI highlights a shining example of a member who is championing teaching those with disabilities how to dive.
DiveHeart Empowers Individuals Worldwide Through Adaptive Scuba Programmes
DiveHeart, a PADI Dive Centre founded by PADI Scuba Instructor Jim Elliott in 2001, continues to revolutionise the world of adaptive scuba. Using zero gravity and adaptive scuba, DiveHeart aims to instil confidence, foster independence, and elevate self-esteem among individuals facing physical and cognitive challenges.
DiveHeart has established Adaptive Scuba programmes across North America and the Caribbean and reaches global destinations including Malaysia, Australia, China, Israel, and the UK. Through a combination of donations, grants, and strategic partnerships, DiveHeart ensures inclusivity by providing services to children, veterans, individuals with ALS, autism, and others, irrespective of their abilities or financial means.
A significant milestone in DiveHeart’s journey was the hosting of the inaugural Adaptive Scuba Symposium in 2009, held at the prestigious Our World Underwater event in the Midwest. This pioneering symposium attracted a diverse array of experts, including researchers, physicians, professors, therapists, adaptive dive professionals, and participants from across the globe. The event delved into the current state and the future of adaptive scuba, scuba therapy, the adaptive scuba market, the latest in adaptive scuba training techniques and the latest in scuba therapy research.
At the forefront of adaptive scuba initiatives, DiveHeart offers specialised training courses for certified scuba divers to become adaptive dive buddies. Every diver with a disability is paired with two dive buddies to form a cohesive dive team, ensuring a safe and empowering experience.
DiveHeart further hosts regular pool diving programmes catering to divers of all skill levels nationwide and organises immersive week-long adaptive diving trips to ocean locations like Cozumel, Roatán, and others at least three times annually.
Jim Elliot, the Founder and President of DiveHeart, a scuba diving instructor since 1997, recognised the transformative potential of adaptive diving for individuals with physical disabilities. Witnessing firsthand the holistic benefits encompassing physical fitness, emotional well-being, and mental health, Elliot embarked on a mission to make scuba diving accessible and empowering for all.
DiveHeart remains committed to breaking barriers and creating opportunities for individuals facing challenges, enabling them to explore the vast wonders of the underwater world while unlocking their true potential. For more information on DiveHeart and its impactful initiatives, visit www.diveheart.org
People Who Have Healed from Diving
For people with disabilities—whether they use a wheelchair, have a sight impairment or a neurological condition like cerebral palsy—scuba diving can be a fun activity that offers freedom and mobility in the weightlessness of the water. PADI’s Adaptive Support Diver specialty is a course designed to teach friends and family adaptive techniques for diving with a buddy who has a disability. Many students take the course to support a particular person in their life, and the instructor can work with them on the specific skills they require.
Ryan Chen: Diving to Heal the Mind, Body and Spirit
Ryan is a PADI Open Water Scuba Diver who was in a tragic accident as a teenager that left him paralysed. He found healing and clarity through scuba diving with his dive buddy Kent Yoshimura – so much so that during one scuba diving trip he and Kent ended up creating their current company Neuro Gum – a collection of functional gum and mints that help you get energised, calm or focused that has now led him to be named on Forbes 30 under 30.
“Scuba diving was one of the ways I learned that I can do anything, I just have to do it differently,” Chen says, “Scuba diving is one of those things that can change your whole framework. There’s no cooler feeling than taking that first breath underwater. All of a sudden you have this superpower, to breathe underwater and explore.”
Scuba diving continues to be his physical and mental therapy he continually seeks out amidst his busy entrepreneurial life. Now, with Neuro a national success and leading wellness brand in the United States, Chen has kept up his diving, and remained close to PADI as an organisation. Neuro even has a collaboration with PADI’s coral reef restoration project coming up—a special pack of Neuro, with proceeds going to PADI’s non-profit foundation.
The life of a Great White Shark
The great white shark, known scientifically as Carcharodon carcharias, embodies the apex predator of the ocean. This majestic creature’s life is a testament to survival, adaptability, and the intricate balance of the marine ecosystem.
Born in the waters off coastal regions, a great white shark begins its life as a pup within the safety of nurseries, typically found in warm, shallow waters. The pups, measuring around 5 feet in length at birth, are immediately equipped with an innate instinct for survival.
As they grow, great whites embark on a journey, venturing into deeper and cooler waters, often covering vast distances across the ocean. These apex predators are perfectly adapted hunters, relying on their impressive senses to detect prey. Their acute sense of smell, aided by specialized sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini, helps detect the faintest traces of blood in the water from several miles away.
Feeding primarily on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals, great whites are known for their powerful jaws lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Their hunting techniques often involve stealth, utilizing their streamlined bodies to approach prey from below and striking with incredible speed and force.
Despite their fearsome reputation, great whites play a crucial role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. As top predators, they help regulate the population of prey species, preventing overpopulation that could disrupt the balance of the food chain.
Reproduction among great white sharks is a slow and careful process. Females reach sexual maturity between 12 and 18 years of age, while males mature earlier, around 9 to 10 years old. Mating occurs through complex courtship rituals, with females giving birth to a small number of live pups after a gestation period of about 12 to 18 months.
However, the life of a great white shark is not without challenges. Human activities, including overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction, pose significant threats to their population. Additionally, despite their formidable presence, great whites are vulnerable and face dangers from entanglement in fishing gear and accidental bycatch.
Despite these challenges, great white sharks continue to inspire awe and fascination among scientists and nature enthusiasts. Their presence in the ocean serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and interconnectedness of marine life, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures for future generations to admire and study.
Want to learn more about sharks? Visit The Shark Trust website: www.sharktrust.org
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