Five Days In Sharm: Sinai Divers
Bustling centre is a bona fide dive training academy in Sharm centre
The training dive
The last Egyptian operator I visit in 2012 is a busy centre producing high numbers of qualified divers.
The final jaunt of Sharm El Sheikh 2012 begins unlike the other days, because of the close proximity of the centre – just a stone’s throw from my hotel. A prepatory phone call to Sinai Divers the night before ended with the advice: “you might as well walk, it’s only 5 minutes.” I’m not sure they realised I was bringing my own gear, but in any event being too miserly to hail a cab, I lug the dive gear in 40-degree heat. On arrival I am caked in sweat.
focus too much on technique and you forget to look around
The scene is one of pandemonium. Dozens of trainees are booking in, hiring and assembling kit, and generally faffing as only scuba divers can. Speaking to a couple of staff members it becomes clear I’ve been booked on a guided dive for beginners, rather than one for cert holders. Rather than kick up a stink (it’s not the British way) and in the interests of a bit of variety, this was a chance to see a centre put trainees through their paces. I was going to be a ‘mystery shopper’ for the day.
So taking notes as inconspicuously as possible, I watch our German guide Francine, who is in turn watching her students. Everyone kits up at their own pace, some faster than others. On park benches all around the dive centre instructors and students are running through pages of the PADI course manual or planning dives. Gradually everything quietens down as groups depart for the beach, leaving us practically the last to go.
Francine is very thorough with her briefing – arguably too thorough, for my impatient self anyway. Much of it relates to upgrading your dive package (“why not dive the Thistlegorm or Dunraven?”) as well as detailed accounts of how everything runs at Sinai Divers. You need to clip your tank in like this, or lie it down; wetsuits are rinsed off over here; the geography of the region is shaped like this: and so on. In such a fashion, the centre briefing lasts twenty minutes or more.
At last our time comes and on goes my rig, quick buddy check and we walk out of the centre, across the promenade and onto the private beach. Here the sparkling blue sea is perhaps only ten metres away.
The sand here – which is burning hot by 10 o’clock in the morning – is softer than that at yesterday’s entry point, and of the finest quality. The topography is of a gentle shelf, stretching out from zero sloping down to 15 or more metres, with deeper depths to be found further out into the bay.
Our group’s first order of business is a quick weight check (somebody is underweighted, aren’t they always), followed by a couple of skills. Three divers demonstrate mask-clearing to Francine, and then we can set off. I’m buddying up with our guide, while the others in the group pair up with each other for a trip around the bay.
Seen from this side of the bay and in contrast to yesterday’s concentrations of marine life, Naama seems strangely threadbare. True there are coral outcrops in places, and these are as lovely as anywhere. But the Eagle Ray hasn’t returned, and much of the bottom is sand with patches of seagrass. Only an occasional oasis of anemone and clownfish provide a break in the colour.
The pace at which the group moves feels a little on the fast side, particularly as the light at 15 metres is beautiful and ideal for photography. Despite my gestured attempts to point some of these things out the group has already pushed on, which isn’t a failing but is typical of everyone’s earliest forays under the sea: focus too much on the technique and you forget to look around.
Nonetheless there are opportunities to snap a few anemones, a sleeping Lionfish and some of the pretty reef fish milling about. A large Emperor Angelfish seems quite fixated on the ape with the camera (not sure why, he must see divers every day) and follows curiously for a while.
Guide Francine leads everyone in a giant horseshoe shape and gradually everyone begins to shallow up. The water is crystal clear today – clearer than the day before – and warm, too, at around 26 degrees. My new Fourth Element Thermocline has been a second skin this week, and wearing it has been absolutely brilliant… but that’s another story.
We’re almost the last ones back at Sinai Divers, which has once again become a beehive of activity. The courtyard in the shade is the nerve centre of operations for de-kit, wash and storage. Our group of eight divers gathers afterwards for Francine to talk the trainees through the rest of their week’s diving. Some are off on boats to Tiran tomorrow, others doing more skills in the pool, and working towards Open Water.
For me, this was a last dive in the Red Sea for 2012. I thank staff at Sinai, say our goodbyes, and with kit in hand exit the dive centre. Behind the flags are fluttering in the sea breeze.
Sinai Divers Naama Bay is located in the centre of the town, close to the Hilton and Novotel resorts. For more info, check out www.sinaidivers.com
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Dave and Lisa want to take you on a 21-day trip of a lifetime