Part 6 of Liveaboard Series – Aug 16, 2016 – Elphinstone and Marsa Trompy
“If you hear the ship’s bell and your hair is dry, then it is time for a briefing. If you hear the ship’s bell and your hair is wet, then it is time for food,” our dive guide Hani told us at the beginning of the trip.
Well for the last few dives, we have been going incognito without the bell for dive briefings and sneaking out earlier than the other dive boats to get the site to ourselves. However, we always have the bell for food. Like Pavlovian dogs in the classic psychological experiment that conditioned the sound of the bell to food so the dogs would start drooling when they heard a ring, I have gotten to the point where I start getting hungry even when I hear the other boats’ bells!
Our lives are falling into a rhythm. On our 5th day of diving today, my body naturally wakes up at around 5am even before the wake-up knock on our doors. We dive, then we eat, and then we sleep. Our days start early but by 9:30am, we have already had a dive briefing for our 1st dive, did an hour long dive, had breakfast and already took a 1.5hr long nap and just getting up for our 2nd dive briefing. After the second dive is lunch and another nap, maybe this time on the couches of the sundeck and then our 3rd dive in the afternoon. After the 3rd dive is 4pm snack and then always this slightly awkward time where we nap and then wake up for dinner rather than another dive. After dinner, we sit around a little bit but then by 8:30-9pm, we are yawning and starting to head to our cabins to sleep. We sleep a lot and just wake up for diving and food. Our lives revolve around our time in the water.
Today, our watery setting is the famous Elphinstone Reef, about 30km offshore from the town of Marsa Alam. Elphinstone is perhaps the most famous dive site in the southern Red Sea for Egypt with its beautiful pristine coral and is one of the closest places to shore to look for sharks. It also has a deadly history as divers have drifted off into the current never to be seen again. Consequently, like the other sites visited on this tour, divers need at least 50 logged dives before they can come to Elphinstone. It is a small reef and unlike the Brothers or Daedalus which have islands above the water, Elphinstone is completely submerged in the water. Consequently, the wind and current often really affects the water here. Personally, I found the Brothers Islands a couple days ago the worst for current and wind but the strong wind today at Elphinstone kept the day excursion zodiacs from Marsa Alam on shore, leaving the whole reef to just us and one other liveaboard boat.
We jumped into the northern plateau and was lucky to see a hammerhead shark. We also saw a hawksbill sea turtle, beautiful fan coral and another gorgeous wall dive along the steep sides of the reef. When I was first looking for a liveaboard trip in the Red Sea, I was flexible on the tour but wanted to definitely visit Elphinstone. Ever since I first came to Egypt to dive about 8 years ago now, I had heard about Elphinstone and said that once I reached 50 dives, I would return to dive it. Well, Daedelus Reef was the undisputed climax of the trip and was an amazing wow but still Elphinstone was amazing. After the excitement of the schools of oceanic whitetips, spotting the rare and elusive thresher shark and diving with hammerheads all around us, big moray eels, napoleon wrass fish that is bigger than I am and diving with two big mantas swimming all around us, Elphinstone was an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful coral and the smaller things in life. We found nudibranches, about index finger long and two small fingers wide oceanic flatworms that come in brilliant psychedelic colours and small flat-nose hawkfish in the beautiful fan coral.
After a couple dives at Elphinstone, we moved closer to the shore in preparation for the long boat ride back to Hurghada. On the way to Marsa Trompy, just north of Port Ghalib, we saw a whale shark in the water from the boat! In contrast to the steep wall dives where I really need to be mindful of my depth as it is easy to start floating down towards something in the depths, Marsa Trompy is a delightful and relaxing reef dive on the shore. The bottom was 12-16m depth, the water was warm and since it was shallow, it was also well lit with sunlight. My buddy and I spent around 75 minutes diving along the reef checking out all of the life on the coral. I felt like I saw over a third of the fish from the Red Sea Fish Guidebook on this once dive! There were lots of lion fish – both common and clearfin, colourful little damsel fish flitting above hard corals, graceful and big batfish, a variety of trigger fish including the colourful picasofish, goatfish dug through the sand with their front two whiskers to see what tasty treats would be revealed, a big porcupine pufferfish hid in a niche in the coral, moral eels poked their heads out snarling at all the fish (and divers) passing by, blue spotted stingrays glided and a hawksbill sea turtle chilled out in the sand.
At once point, there was a black fish highway. When we were swimming out along the reef towards the open ocean, we passed over the heavy traffic of small black fish heading from the coral into the blue and it was still going strong when we were heading back to the boat. Where were the fish all going? Where were they coming from? How is there so many little black fish? The flow of fish was constant and the stream of little black fish was a scenic counterpoint to the schools of yellow tail fusiliers.