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Northern Safaris

The Red Sea is a real playground for divers who discover the wonders of the underwater world - and keep coming back for more. And it's not just a question of budget, although it's true that you can get a week in Egypt, flights included, for less than a weekend in the south of France. After trying daily diving, many people are tempted by the adventure of a liveaboard- a sure-fire recipe for a happy diver!


Do you have the soul of a scrap metal merchant? If so, a northern safari and the wrecks in the Gubal Strait will definitely appeal to you. There are two options:

-    the north safari - lots of wrecks included
-    the mixed safari - wrecks and drop-offs
No route is guaranteed, though, as plans may change depending on the weather, the sea… and also the level of the divers. An Open Water certification and a minimum of 30 dives is recommended, and Advanced Open Water for the wreck of the Rosalie Moller.

Rosalie Moller
 
The wreck is on the edge of a bay formed by three islands, among them Gubal and Tawina, in the Gubal strait. This ship was originally called Francis. It was built in Glasgow by Barclay Curle and Co, and was launched in January 1910 -108.2 metres by 16 metres and weighing 3960 tons. In March 1931, the ship was sold to the Moller company, and was renamed… Rosalie Moller.

The German secret services discovered by accident that a troop transporter, the Reine Marie, was to pass through the Suez canal, carrying 1200 British marines to reinforce the allied positions in North Africa.  The Germans dispatched bombers, who found and sank the Thistlegorm at 1:30 on the 6th October 1941. The munitions on board caused an enormous explosion, and in its light the German pilots saw the Rosalie Moller. They returned to bombard the second ship until it sank at 1:30 on the 8th October. Two members of the crew were lost.

Thistlegorm

The Thistlegorm was sunk in Sha'ab Ali, in the Gulf of Suez. This armed cargo ship was flying the British flag and was involved in the allied offensive by the 8th Army against Rommel. Like the Rosalie Moller, the Thistlegorm had sailed around Africa and had stopped at Aden. Afterwards, it started sailing north through the Red Sea. It was bombed by the Germans on 6th October 1941, killing 9 of the 49 crew. The stern broke off following the explosion of the cargo of munitions, and the ship now rests on its starboard side. The Thistlegorm carried a cargo of armoured carriers, BSA motorcycle, jeeps, 20 trucks, wagons, aircraft sections, radio equipment and a consignment of Wellington boots!

Sha'ab el Erg - Gota

Situated north of Hurghada, roughly half way between the islands of Shedwan and Umm Gamar; roughly two hours travel from Hurghada. This site is an essential part of the circuit for north and mixed safaris operating in the Gubal strait. Sha'ab el Erg is huge. It is the shape of a giant sabre pointing east-west.  There is a small satellite reef called Gota at the far end. Expect to find a strong current passing between Sha'ab el Erg and Gota. This site is popular because it is on the same route as Abu Nuhas, where the Giannis D and the Carnatic ran aground.

The entry point is in 15 metres of water, at the north of the reef. Find the reef slope and keep it on your left hand side. At 8 metres, coral cover is poor: nothing to get excited about here. Eventually you arrive at the channel, about 30 metres wide, between Sha'ab el Erg and Gota. Once through, the scene comes alive. The Gota side is covered with superb corals - table corals as big as… satellite dishes! Blue coral, barbiers, fusiliers - it's amazing! The point of this trip? To explore the north and south-west faces of Gota - a site where you often see dolphins. They come to tease the back of the boat: get in the water and play with them- they don't expect anything else.

Gota Abu Ramada

This island is situated to the south of Hurghada, south-west of the island of Abu Ramada and east of Magawish. Usually an easy dive with little or no current.  The tidal range is about 1 metre. It is very different to more remote sites, which are subject to strong currents, and there are five well sheltered moorings. There is a superb reef to a depth of 15m, and all the creatures of the Red Sea can be found here. The best places to visit? Two coral blocks in the north, a small reef to the west and three small pinnacles to the east. Often lots of divers are being dropped from safari boats at the north blocks.

All the way along the reef you can see snappers, sweetlips, and occasionally a whitetip shark. The east side of Gota truly deserves its nickname of “Aquarium.” Towards the south, the coral becomes denser - large stands of massive porites, with crocodile fish where the coral meets the sand, and large schools of bannerfish, butterflyfish and yellowfin barracuda. A tip: the light is usually better on the east side in the morning and in the west in the afternoon.

H20 tells more…

The mixed and wreck safaris are an explosive mixture of reefs and wrecks. There are two departure ports - Safaga and Hurghada - and this may affect the itinerary.

The nicest reefs that may be included are: Blind Reef, Syoul Kebir, Sha'ag Rock, Gota Abu Ramada, Ulysses Rock and Sha'ab El Erg. Moving on to wrecks, there are: Dunraven, Carina, Thislegorm, Rosalie Moller, Carnatic, Giannis D, Chrisoula K and Seastar.

Please note that you are unlikely to visit all these sites on one trip - never mind, you will want to come back very soon!

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John Kean is author of 'SS Thistlegorm, The True Story of the Red Sea's Greatest Ship Wreck'. He is also a board member of Sharm El Sheikh's SSDM
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