Five days in Sharm: Elite Diving
British feel marks out popular Red Sea operator
The boat dive
Sharks, yes; dolphins, maybe; but I didn’t expect to find Wales in the Red Sea.
It’s day two of five on my excursions with different operators in Sharm El Sheikh, and host is British owned Elite Diving.
Amidst the frenetic chaos of Sharm’s familiar Travco Marina, company boss Alun Evans hobbles up. He’s a cheery and well-built 55-year old, who explains his tender-looking ankle was injured in a rugby match earlier in the week. But it won’t keep him out of the water today.
Elite has an active social calendar
Originally hailing from Maesteg in the Welsh valleys, in his previous life Alun was a financial adviser. But he was also a keen UK diver, exploring sites around Pembrokeshire with his club, and from his own RIB. A move into the diving industry led to work in Egypt as a sole trader, with Elite Diving in operation since in 2005.
Today Alun runs the business with his wife Moyra and employs around 20 staff including instructors, guides and support crew. Despite ‘slowing down’ a bit, he still squeezes in about 500 dives himself annually and enjoys being in the water as much as ever. In common with many fellow Brits, he cites Red Sea classic wreck the Thistlegorm as his favourite dive site.
Sharm life may be very different to Valley life but you sense Alun hasn’t completely forgotten his roots. He’s a keen rugby fan (naturally) and founder member of the Sharm Sharks rugby team. I had no idea rugby was – or could be – played in Egypt, but apparently there are nine-odd teams in the country.
As Travco fades behind us, the dayboat Lido heads for the Gardens, a popular site northeast of Sharm centre. As well as the friendly crew there are aboard several families, a chap doing his Dive Master cert, plus several guides and instructors. And not forgetting of course Steve, my gently unassuming buddy for the day, who nonetheless has the appearance of a six-foot-five rugby forward.
Coral reefs that make up The Gardens sit just offshore from a private stretch of coastline, meaning access is purely by boat: this has the added benefit of a more pleasant way for guests to do as much lazy diving as possible. The site is actually four-in-one: Near Garden being the closest to Sharm El Sheikh, followed by Middle Garden and Far Garden. Just to confuse the issue, we’re diving at Fiddle Garden, which sits between Middle and Far (gettit?)
The group splashes in and gently explores the pinnacles at about 15 metres, with our guide pointing out a brilliantly camouflaged Stonefish crammed into the rocks. The eyes have to really strain to see it, since much of the creature’s back is peppered with algal growth and it has shoehorned itself in tightly to the surroundings. Colour-wise, this Stonefish is almost exactly rock coloured: later we see a second that is a pinkish-purple in colour. This, I’m told, is the animal’s real shade, and only revealed following a cleaning session. Athough knowing how venomous the Stonefish is (deadly), it must take a brave or foolhardy creature to sign up for the task.
Where it shows through, the seabed here is of soft white sand, interspersed with large reef formations and coral tufts. Schools of Red Sea favourites abound, in particular Fusiliers, Bannerfish and Sergeant Majors. Alun points out towards the blue as he spots a small Turtle lazily sauntering past.
Other sightings along the way include the ever-gasping Giant Moray, a small Pepper Moray under a rock, and schools of Goatfish. An amphora that was dumped on the seabed in the distant past has now grown into a strange coral formation. And Alun suddenly starts doing his Phantom Of the Opera impression, the signal we’ve reached a strange ‘organ pipe’ coral of unknown origin.
Elite offers a full range of PADI and BSAC courses, from Open Water up to Advanced levels. Customers looking for technical guides or tuition might be better served elsewhere, although Nitrox is available and recommended for a week of repeat diving.
Staffed by my fellow countrymen, and as a BSAC Dive Training centre, Elite Diving certainly has a British feel to it. The company welcomes divers from many countries of course, but Alun is keen on maintaining that ‘club atmosphere’ from days of old. Consequently Elite has an active social calendar and an emphasis on post-dive drinks together. It’s a good formula that translates into plenty of repeat customers.
Overall they’re a competent, fun and friendly bunch that must be doing something right – Sport Diver readers voted Elite their favourite Red Sea operator back in April of this year. Alun is on the ball, even if it is rugby-shaped.
British Diver’s day at The Gardens was with Elite Diving. Elite offers guided dives from £30 a day, or £250 for 7 nights B&B and five days diving. Check out the Elite Diving website for more info.
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