Home People Face to Face with… PETER COLLINGS

Face to Face with… PETER COLLINGS

Peter Collings is one of the most well-known faces in diving and a real-life wreck detective. Over the years he has logged more than 6000 dives all over the world, had more than 3000 photographs and 200 articles published in the press, and written eight books and three courses. Currently he leads specialist wreck safaris in the Red Sea and is putting together the final touches to a book on diving Egypt’s shipwrecks which will be published by RSDASS at the end of this year.

When did you start diving?

In 1970 - a wet suit cost £14! They were unlined so talcum powder was an essential part of your kit. I went “technical” a year later, shore diving over rocks with only booties was no fun… but with the addition of sandals I was the envy of all my buddies.

Can you remember your first wreck dive?

It was the Janet Clark - a small wreck at my local dive site in NE England. We swam through the rudderpost on three occasions before we realised where the wreck was.
Your work with shipwrecks is very well known, but how did it all start?

I first came here in 1979 as a young diver of only eight years experience hanging on the word of our BSAC expedition leaders. It was very different then! We took a bus from Cairo down to Sharm and relied on a local fisherman to show us some sights. He took us to Sanifir and Tiran.
He (Salem Mohamed) took us to a new wreck - the crossing was wild – but he wanted some tiles for his house. This was my first glimpse of Abu Nuhas- and the tile wreck!

Things got a little better by 1982. We only had to travel from Eilat by bus, but the border crossing was a nightmare. Still we were going out on Lady Jenny 3. The “we” being myself and my then photographic mentor Lawson Wood.

Was that when you found the Giannis D?

Yes! A very excited skipper, Jeremy McWilliams, woke us up at dawn on the 17th April. I was so excited at the sight of a ship sinking I forgot to set the auto focus on my camera, but Lawson got some great shots and we spent two days exploring the ship. We also dived on the Jolanda - with George, Mildred and Attilla - a pair of Napoleon wrasse and a friendly Angel fish. It was a great wreck.

When did the photography start?

Really it started on that trip - but when I got home I received news that I had won two international underwater photo competitions. That kick started a second career in writing and underwater photo journalism.

When did you first come to Hurghada?

1985. That was the first time I dived what we now know to be the Kingston and the Ulysses, although it would be several years (1993) before I identified them as the ships we know today.

When did you first dive the Thistlegorm?
Not until 1992. Few people seemed to know about her, but I suspect she had been dived even during the occupation. I chanced to comment about the wreck to a local operator and he had never heard of it, but a few months later I dived her as his guest. I read recently in a British diving magazine that it was re-discovered in 1993 by John Bantin. Sharmers know different!

How did wreck safaris come about?

It was the idea of Chris Scott who ran Discover Scuba in Sharm. By 1994 we had found and identified enough wrecks to put a week’s safari together.  From then on, teaching underwater photography took a backseat.

What do you consider the secret of your success?

I have a great team - both divers and non divers - who have helped with research both here and in Britain. Some of the team have completed more than 20 safaris with me, hunting and identifying wrecks, while others have provided great historical info.

Living in the northeast of England is a plus as so many of our wrecks were built there and this gives me the unique position of commuting between fieldwork and research. I like to think my work has encouraged tourism here and I recently received the Governor Generals Award.

How many of these wreck safaris have you led?

Over 500. The latest Gulf of Suez Expedition located and identified another three wrecks - an Egyptian freighter, the Aboudy, and an Egyptian survey vessel, the Bahr, and the WW2 tanker S.S. Scalaria. Several others that we have located are earmarked for survey on the next trip.
 
Have you other projects lined up?

There is still a lot to do here – Shadwan, for example, and we still have 30 more targets around the coast. Our Wreck Academy members are working with me on Sudan and Eritria, and we are also  looking into the Russian-Japanese war of 1904. Three new books are also nearing completion.

I would like to see a museum set up and some proper control over the retrieval of artefacts. Lessons should be learned from the pillaging of the Zealot. Those artefacts are now lost forever. If they cannot be left in situ they should be in a museum so all can share their value. No one would be allowed to treat the pyramids this way!

Peter Collings is a founder member of the Red Sea Wreck Academy which promotes the discovery, survey, conservation and protection of the wrecks of the Red Sea.

 

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