eDiveSoftware blogs

Scuba diving in the Red Sea with a humpback whale (well...trying to at least)

In 2006 I took a holiday to my favourite place in the world. Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. I guess nearly all divers are aware of Sharm and a lot have been. If you haven't it's an amazing place and the diving is out of this world. It will totally spoil you but I wouldn't have missed my diving there for anything.

It was my third trip to Sharm and had been plentiful on the diving front. For this holiday I was diving with Oonas Dive Club and my wife and I were staying nearby. I'd done a lot of diving over the two weeks and this was going to be my last diving day of the trip.

We got up early and got all of the kit to the port. There are a couple of small ports near Sharm to head out diving from (Sharks Bay being the other main one). The port near Old Sharm can only be described as absolute chaos. I love it. I really enjoy totally chilling out on holiday but the bedlam here is all part of the fun. Hundreds of divers all heading out within a very short time frame. Fumes, jostling and dive kit all piled up.

Once you are on the boat with your kit and head off things go calm again. On this trip I went to have a chat with the captain who had been really good fun on the previous dives. We headed out of Sharm and went south towards Ras Mohammed marine park. About 20 minutes into the journey I jokingly said 'hey, this is my last days diving here for a while, can you organise something like a Whale Shark for us ?' We laughed and joked about what he could fix up for us. I think he would have genuinely tried, such was his enthusiasm to be nice.

As we talked I glanced out to the front of the boat and saw something break the water. Something big.

It caught everyone's attention. We couldn't work out what it was. After a few minutes we caught up and realised it was the tail of a humpback whale. It was a truly amazing sight. I've no idea how often a Humpback has been seen in the Red Sea, but one of the dive masters said it was incredibly rare and maybe 20 years since the last time one had been seen there.

We (and some other boats) followed the whale for a while. If I'm honest, we got a bit too close for comfort and had to ask the captains to back off a bit.

We followed the whale down the coast for a while. The whale followed the coast into a large bay called Marsa Bereika. We broke away from the whale and headed over to Ras Za'atar. Our dive master (Pete from Oonas) had an excellent idea. He suggested that if we were up for it we could kit up quickly and try and get in the water in a good place to hopefully see the whale go past us underwater. It was a hell of an opportunity. I knew everyone on the dive boat was qualified to Advanced Open Water or above so I knew we were all fine for this dive.

We made a very quick plan. It basically consisted of a 15-20m dive out in the blue and simply waiting. We had some contingency plans for being deeper and we were all happy with the plan. I was teamed up with a Welsh lad I'd dived with before. Rick was a PADI and BSAC instructor from near Cardiff. He was about as good a diving companion as you could want on holiday and we had had a top laugh for the two weeks diving.

Now, diving in the blue is quite an interesting way of diving. You have no reference points for your buoyancy. Below you, the water goes black (it's about 1km deep where we were). We were out of sight of the coast and it was totally blue all around. It's a bit riskier diving like this as you run a higher chance of sharks taking an interest (which I would have actually enjoyed if I'm honest).

We all hung around hoping that our timing and position was going to be bang on. As we waited a large ray came past gracefully. As I looked back I spotted one of our divers was gradually dropping. I don't know her name, but I soon realised that she seemed unaware of her descent (as was her boyfriend who was oblivious and not checking on her).

I turned to Rick and signalled that I was going to play fetch. I set off and he followed me.

I caught up with her at just beyond 35m. I realised that she wasn't wearing a dive computer but was relying on her boyfriend's Suunto. He had only just noticed her a good 20m further down than he expected. I made her aware I was there and signalled up. She looked quizzical. I showed her my dive computer which said 37m or so. She looked horrified. I held her hand and gradually started to ascend with her making it clear we were binning the dive. I knew I was fine for air, but didn't want to start re-planning my dive on the fly any more than I had to. I took control and brought her back up safely and slowly. Rick was nearby at all times ready to help if needed but leaving me to handle things.

We reached the others who had all become aware of me playing fetch. I think a lot of the others felt a little daunted at the lack of reference points so they decided to abandon the dive with us.

We ended the dive safely and unfortunately missed the whale by a few minutes. I don't have any regrets of that if I'm honest. I'm aiming on a much longer diving career and want to have plenty of time to dive with humpbacks again.

I spoke to the girl afterwards. She was very glad I'd gone after her. She hadn't realised her depth, had got distracted and had no reference point. While trying to sort things out, she's not kept an eye on her depth. As it turns out she had got an Advanced Open Water qualification, but had only been to the minimum she had needed to go to. This dive was way beyond what she was experienced at. It was well within my training, but there would have been a point where I wouldn't have felt comfortable going further after her.

Lesson learned. A few minutes speaking to the other divers (not just your buddy) to see what they are used to can pay dividends and would likely have altered our plan somewhat.

Ryan - One of the founders of eDiveSoftware Ltd

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