Mixed gas diving at the Red Sea
BTS-Europa, a wholesaler for technical diving equipment, organised for dealers from all over europe a week of tek-diving in egypt on board of the MV Tala. We were informed in advance, that we could test the latest products of DUI, Halcyon and X-Scooters. Scooters, double- and stagetanks are standard on bord of MV Tala, as a capable mixed gas filling station. The dives arepalnned and conducted following DIR standards, but divers from all different training agencies are welcome on bord.
The biggest task in advance was to get the own equipment to egypt. Because we got a new bag system from BTS for our personal use and an upgrade for the diving luggage, I could bring along even my 60kg of equipment.
After a noticeless flight, I was picked up at the airport by Stan and we went to the port, where MV Tala waited for us. I came together with the second group - the other dealers (from 10 different european nations) arrived during the rest of the day. After a short briefing about the do´s and don´ts on bord, we planned already the first dive. By going to the elphinstone reef, we would do a checkdive. After everybody checked his weights, the trim of "his" scooter and the rest of the equipment, the trimix-divers had the arch under the southern plateau of the elphinstone reef at the list.
While Faisal, the owner of MV Tala prepared the gases for the upcoming day, we prepared our personal equipment for the coming week.
First dive day - Elphinstone reef
We got up at around 08:00, since 02:00 we were heading south. After breakfast we got a detailled briefing for the upcoming dives and a teammaching. My buddy for the rest of week would be Miquel from Barcelona. Before the checkdive I mounted my camera to the scooter, put the trimweights out of the scooter to mach the buyoancy. The checkdive itself was short and I was happy with my weights and the scooter.
After lunch we went on, direction Elphinstone, where we arrived around 16:00. After a short briefing we geared up, because it would get dark soon. Miquel and me scooterd like most of the others down to the arch and enjoyed the scenery with a whole bunch of tech-divers with scooters were in and beside the arch. Using trimix, this dive is a real pleasure! We scootered then round the pillar of the arch and did our deco at the southern plateau. With a maximum depth of 58,9m we were after 45min back on bord of Tala. After everybody was out of the water we headed down south again.
Elphinstone reef - the arch
Second dive day - Shaab Maksour
The alarmclock rang at 06:00! A cup of tea, tanks checking and the first dive of the day at Shaab Maksour was at the list. We had the scooters and "flew" through the reef. The trimix from the day before was topped of and we had a light TMX 20/22 in our tanks. We went to a maxdepth of 48m and did a nice deco at the reef.
After the breakfast we did a detailled briefing for the next day. Mission was the wreck of the SS Maidan, a 152m cargoship with 8205 BRT, who hit the reef of Rocky Island on june 10th 1923 following a navigational mistake and sunk. Miquel and me would dive together with Palmira and Domingos, a couple from Portugal. The planned maxdepth for the dive should be 95m. The wreck itself reaches from 80m (upside stern) down to 115m, with the bow reaching over the edge of the dropoff. Each diver would carry beside his backgas a bottom-stage and 3 stages with decogas. We would do our decoplanning after the afternoondive.
This dive was a "monkey dive", which means only with suit, backplate, stage and scooter - without wing or backgas. Compared with the usual equipment we felt like at the playground! You are very maneuverable and can do for that all kind of moves. the depth was a maximum of 20m - like at the playground. After the dive and the following lunch we did our deco-planning. First we calculated our rock-bottom gas and calculated the dive with decoplanner. Then we planned the dive again with ratio-deco (deco on the fly) and agreed on a profile. For a planned average depth of 84m and a bottom time of 15min we would do 50min of deco and start with our deepstops at 63m.
In the afternoon we did a setup dive, to check with empty stages our buyoancy and the trim of the scooters. We practiced also changing stages and rotating them. This worked very well and we did also some video shots. After the dive all tanks were filled and the batteries charged for the next day. After that we had a good dinner. Because our team would be the first for tomorrow, we checked our gases before we went to bed, hardly awaiting the coming day.
SS Maidan - Rocky Island
At 06:00 somebody knocked on my cabin door - wake up service! I put on my jumpsuit and went to the diving platform. There was already a bit of a hurry - today would be the BIG dive! Breakfast was sceduled after our dive, so just a cup of tea and some bisquits for the stomach then checking of the gases and the scooter and mounting the camera. After the preparations were finished it dominated a concentrated atmosphere - no loud jokes or bustle. Everyone was focussed for the dive. The conditions were perfect. The conditions were perfect - no current, no waves. So we could pick up the stages in the water and as well the scooters. Then we did an equipment check and a safety check before the descent.
We started the descent with Nitrox 50 and switched at 21m to the bottom stage with Trimix 10/70. The stage with the deep deco gas 21/35 and the oxygen were clipped into the leash and got between the legs. After the switch to the bottom stage we did a short check with the buddy and we set the runtime to 0. At about 50m we reached the bottom and followed the slope downwards. At a depth of 60m we could see the first parts or wreckage and knew, that we were at the right way. After 6min of total divetime we saw the huge wreck looming out of the blue like a big wall. We were already at a depth of 80m and were heading straight to the area of engine room. Miquel lead us along the wreck to the deep part, while we scootered along the upper deck, because the wreck is partly broken and lies for some parts on its backboard side. We scootered to a maximum depth or 100m and then at the innerside of the hull (or what is left of it) back into direction of the stern. The hull is broken up on many parts and coverd with soft coral and whip corals. Before we reached the stern part of the wreck, my bottom stage was empty and I changed to my backgas. Rock bottom was 150bars, so we had still some time left. Back at the trigger we were heading for the stern. There we were waiting until we were all 4 together again and signalled for the ascent. We were now in minute 20 of the dive and had for our deko a runtime of 17min reached, a bit longer than planned. After 2min we reached our first deep stop at 63m. there we unclipped our 4 empty bottom stages and clipped them to a liftbag to surface them. At 60m we rotated our 21/35 stages for the coming gasswitch in front. From the switch at 57m to 30m we did a 1min stop every 3m. At 27m and 24m we did 2min. From the switch to the 21m stage on we did 5min every 3m. We sent a SMB from 21m to signal the surface, that we arriverd at the 21m stop and shortly after, we got a visit from the support team to check us if we were OK or if we needed help or gas. Because everything was fine, we made ourselves ready to pass our 57m stage to the support team. But before I could unclip my stage, I got wetnotes shown under my nose with the question:" Did you see the wreck?". My positive answer was followed by a big smile. So we passed our stages and went on with our deco. Because we exceeded our bottom time, we had to adjust our deco. We lengthend the Nitrox 50 stops to 5min each and the oxygen stop to 25min and finally 5min from 6m to the surface. The rest of the deco went flawlessly, but not boring, because we were at the reef of Rocky island. There are far worse places for a trimix wreckdive! After a total of 110min we were back at the surface behind the paltform of the MV Tala. Now was the time for laughing and jokes and we were happy about a good dive. The crew helped us to get out of the water and we were happy to get out of our suits. All together this was one of my best dives ever!
During the rest of the day we paused, while 2 more teams with totally 10 divers did the dive to the Maidan.
SS Maidan - The Wreck
Fourth dive day - Shaab Claudia
Again the day started at 06:00. Even before breakfast we jumped for a monkey dive into the water. What a difference to the last dive. Without backgas and only with one stage you are mobile and fast and its great fun to stick to the scooter. The second dive of the day was as well a monkey dive.
In the afternoon a scooter-seminar of X-Scooters, to learn detailled the steps for a annual service. Ben McGeever (Vice-President of X-Scooters) showed us the procedure and the most important points in detail. Everyone of us had the opportunity to work on a scooter and do the work by itself.
After that it was time again to plan the next dive. We would do a dive at the wreck of the Oyster, a safariboat, which rests at a depth between 75m and 85m.
Day 5 - Shaab Sharm - Oyster
After getting up at 06:15 we started slowly. Tea and bisquits, then checking of our gases. It took us a while to get to Shaab Sharm. As we finally arrived there, we put the stages and scooters into the two zodiacs. We put on our suits and picked up our rigs and went on board of the zodiacs. After a short ride we were at the point, where the Oyster hit the reef and sunk later on. We rolled into the water and the crew reached us the stages and scooter. We hat Trimix 12/60 as backgas, an 80cuft with Trimix 21/35 and 80cuft Nitrox 50 and a 40cuft with oxygen. As everybody was ready, we started! Descending with Nitrox 50 and at 21m gasswitch to the backgas. We pulled the trigger and went fast down to 60m. Just as the wreck came into sight,a white tip reef shark left the wreck. We were at less than 5min from the surface at the wreck of the Oyster, which lies nearly upright, with the stern facing downwards, at the reef. Some softcorals are already living on the wreck and a few fishes were around. We first went along the wreck from bow to stern to scooter then back to the maindeck. A short look inside, a push on the trigger and I was in the former saloon. Even here in the inside was a softcoral and a big red grouper came through one of the windows. We spent about 10min at the wreck and the time went like hell, then we ascended to 45m while we were doing our deep stops. We scootered then for some minutes along the reef until we came to a cave. Everyone of us had still enough gas left and so we went for a short visit. The cave itself reaches for about 75m into the reef and is not very spectacular, but worth a look. After this visit we ascended further and started our deco with Nitrox 50 at the plateau of the reef. Becuase of the fantastic reef the following hour of deco passed very fast. After 105min of total divetime we were happy out of the water. The dive itself went like planned and everybody had its fun.
In the afternoon we stopped for another dive at the Elphinstone reef. I quit this dive, because I didn´t want to do another dive after the deep one from the morning. This should be a mistake! Under the boat were 3 Longimanus sharks, looking for direct contact with the divers. Everyone in the water hat its great time and the filmers and photographers hat lots of opportunities for great shots.
The heading, which the captain took at the evening was exactly 0 degrees north, which means we were going to Brother Islands. We arrived around 22:00 at the Big Brother and the crew started to fill the rest of the helium. It was enough for 6 doubles with Trimix 21/35.
MV Oyster - Shaab Sharm
Dive day 5 - Brother Islands - Aida and Numidia
After getting up it was very busy. Everyone was preparing his own equipment and Faisal wanted to do a briefing with us. We put on our suits, put the stages and scooters on the Zodiacs and went on board. After a short ride we were above the wreck of the Aida, a supply vessel for the lighthouse on Big Brother, which was hit to the reef while unloading and rests now between 30m and 60m. We let ourselves fall into the water and after a short check we started. We scootered to Aida and enjoyed the wreck for some minutes and scootered through the cargo deck. After about 5min we went with the scooters to the Numidia. The Numidia was a british cargo ship, who had the bad luck, despite the then new lighthouse, of hitting the far end of the reef in 1901. She rests today between 80m and 20m with the stern downwards nearly vertically at the reef. Our gas didn´t get us down under the stern at 80m, but we had even so enough to see. We reached the area of the main mast at 58m and entered through one of the hatches the inside. Because the wreck rests almost vertically at the reef, we did our ascent at the way through the wreck and did even our first two deepstops inside the wreck. The rest of the deco was spent partly scootering along the reef until we arrived for the 6m stop underneath MV Tala. After a total time of 75min we got out of the water.
After the breakfast we went to Little Brother. As final dive was a monkey dive sceduled. With the scooter we did a the wohle round at Little Brother, while as well at the soutern plateau and at the nortern sharks were our companions. This dive was the perfect conclusion, before the long trip back to Hurghada came up.
Of course this week went by much too fast and it would have been much more interesting dives. The dives we did during this week were for some part very challenging and could oly be executed by a group of good divers. The use of standardized equipment, of standard gases, standard deco profiles and of course the support of the crew of MV Tala made these dives possible. The dives at the Maidan, the Oyster and the two wrecks at Big Brother (Aida and Numidia) were in that way only possible by the use of the scooters. The X-Scooters passed the rough use on board of a safariboat without a single failure and are now for years at service on board of MV Tala. Thanks to the discipine and the good training of all divers it was never a dangerous situation or even a case of DCS!
Finally I would like to thank by this way Thomas Dederichs and Richard Johannson of BTS, Ben McGeever of X-Scooters and Faisal Khalaf of Red Sea Explorers (MV Tala) for a perfect organisation and that this trip happend at all!