Five Days In Sharm: Werner Lau
Technical courses taught right in the centre of Sharm
This small, friendly operator will appeal to those of a photographic or technical bent…
You’ll not be surprised to learn that Werner Lau was founded by a German, even if he was a travelling wine salesman. The lure of the sea was too strong and once Mr Lau had established himself in the dive centre business, his love of the Maldives, Indonesia and Red Sea led to outlets along those shores. Werner Lau Sharm El Sheikh sits on the south-westernmost tip of Naama Bay, just a stone’s throw from the small marina, and sharing a beach with Pacha, the nightclub hedonism people.
Naama Bay itself is a crescent of gently sloping yellow sand, enclosed on all sides by hotels, private beaches and restaurants. Such things draw people – lots of them, year-round – and outwardly the Bay looks an unlikely place to find unusual marine life.
Naama hosts a diverse marine ecosystem
But contrary to expectations the natural geography is well suited to hosting a diverse marine ecosystem. And it’s certainly an excellent place for training, with depths from 2- to 40-metres in sheltered conditions, plus easy water entry and access to the centre.
I’m greeted at Werner Lau by Susi Rumpel, a South African staff instructor of German descent, who inherited a love of diving from her father. Susi has been at Werner Lau for seven years, and spends her days guiding and instructing mainly German, Dutch and Danish guests. Today I’ve got her undivided attention since the centre is quiet.
“We’re one of the smaller outfits here,” Susi explains, “but a lot of our guests return time and again. With technical dive training, we also offer something a little different too.”
The tech stuff is the realm of a young Brit, David ‘Dinky’ Armstrong, who’s already at sea today somewhere teaching the finer arts of CCR use. WL’s full complement includes between 10 and 15 instructors, Assistant Operations Manager Alita (a fellow South African,) plus big boss Operations Manager Angel (“He’s Hungarian and his real name is unpronounceable.”)
Like most I’ve dipped my toe into Naama’s inviting waters more than once, but am always keen for more, so Susi and I gear up and walk down the beach. Egypt’s august sunshine has to be seen to be believed and we hurry past heat-weary holidaymakers, keen to cool off in the inviting blue water. Once in the snorkelers are quickly left floundering behind, for our descent into the bay.
You might imagine that with plenty of boat traffic, shallow water and relative lack of corals (Naama is mainly sandy bottom, with patches of seagrass) that creatures will consider it too claustrophobic to settle. Yet within minutes we’ve spotted an Eagle Ray gently flapping above the sands, long tail trailing whip-like behind. It’s true that large schools of fish stay out to sea, although there are Porcupinefish, Box Puffers, and schools of Bannerfish around. Susi tells me later that from time to time Mantas and Whale Sharks have also been spotted here, which would be staggering.
A Snake Blenny sticks out of a pipe on the seabed, shyly shrinking back in as I approach. We loop around some steel-framed ‘artworks’ in the middle of the bay, nowhere below about 15 metres in depth, and head back towards Werner Lau beach. To the left of our exit point is a pontoon decking area (possibly belonging to a restaurant). Susi leads underneath. Here we find baby Batfish, a Stonefish and several large Lionfish seemingly at rest horizontally. It’s a cracking little spot and great for photography. “Naama is a great place to practice underwater picture-taking, with shallow water, no currents and lots of light,” Susi confirms. There’s always a wide variety of subjects too, if you keep your eyes open.
So what of the future? Susi says the growing popularity of technical diving has already spread to the Red Sea and remains a huge area for investment. In this, the company is ahead of the curve. But with recent PADI rebreather courses created and increasing numbers of mixed gas divers passing through on holiday, it’s something the operators need to get a handle on. We Brits in particular are mentioned for driving technical demand.
For now, it’s business as usual catering to the holiday trade. My dive guide explains that divers are unofficially ‘graded’ when they arrive: a level is assigned on the judgement of staff, and not necessarily related to a guest’s actually experience or dive certification. This system is commonplace throughout Sharm, they tell me. A perfect opportunity to find out who the best divers are. Brits, surely? Susi and Alita chuckle, and think for a minute: “Maybe the Germans,” Alita finally answers, “although some of you British are good too.” Sounds like we have some work to do.
The Werner Lau dive centre in Sharm El Sheikh is located at the southern end of Naama Bay. Check out technical training, courses and dive guide prices on the website www.wernerlau.com
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