A Day with Desert Sea Divers

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A few months ago, Ms. ActiveSteve and I signed up to take our PADI Open Water course, with the hope that when and if we visited Saudi Arabia, we may get a chance to do some scuba diving in the red sea while visiting Jeddah. Well, I’m extremely happy to report that we did indeed get that chance, and it was phenomenal. Of course, we have very little real world experience to compare it to, but that’s besides the point. After all, how many other people got the chance to dive the coral reefs of the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia this New Year’s eve? Well, by my count, maybe 8 other people. That’s it. In the whole world! So, understandably, we were pretty stoked about it. So leads to this blog post, which will shed a little light on this most excellent adventure that Jody and I got to share together 🙂 For maximal enjoyment, I should also recommend that you check out the pictures that I’ve posted from the day on flickr. Ironically, the camera screen conked out early in the day, and without a viewfinder some of the framing may have been off, but it still took pictures thankfully. Looks like it’s time to take ‘er in to the shop again!

I had spent part of the evening before talking with the manager of the dive shop trying to determine whether it would be better to go diving this day or on New Year’s day. In the end, he had charters going out on both days, and the charter we chose was a group of just Europeans (about 8 of them max). In the end, it was actually a flight crew from Swiss air, and there was only 4 divers and a couple snorkelers, so it was a nice cozy group. The other benefit of going this day was that we could fly back to Riyadh a day early, saving us a $400 hotel stay (rates went up $100 in the new year!).

The morning of the dive, we were up while it was still dark, and down to the breakfast buffet to fill our bellies before the trip to the marina. I got a call right before 8am telling me the driver would be picking us up at the front of the hotel soon. Sweet. The sky was starting to brighten up a bit now, and unfortunately, it looked like we’d be in for cloudy conditions. Not perfect for diving, but by no means terrible. It would just mean that the fish and coral colours might not ‘pop’ quite as much. However, as this was our first rec dive anyway, and given the location, we were hardly put off 🙂 The drive to the dive shop took quite a while, as they were located a bit out of town. Once there, we met our fellow divers, and got kitted out with all the gear we’d need. The full day of diving, including boat charter, divemaster, food, tanks, etc, came out to around $115CDN not too shabby.

Once on the boat, we started the trip out to the dive sites that we’d be exploring this day. On other days, the company will do 3 dive sites, but today, we were heading out to a set of reefs further out, so we’d only be making two dives. All told, it was a probably an hour and a half sailing to get to our first site. On our way, we prepped our gear and got familiar with what a dive boat is like. In short, nothing special. It’s just a wide open deck with lots of room for people to move gear around and get set up. No cabins or anything special. Just a small head at the bow of the ship belowdecks, and then the wheelhouse on the upper deck with some bench seating. We learned that the Swiss crew often do this while on layovers, and they were in turn interested to learn how we came to be here. I guess it’s somewhat of an oddity to meet any ‘tourists’ in Saudi.

Another great part about the trip out were the dolphins. At one point, were were totally surrounded by a large pod of bottlenose dolphins. We slowed down for a while, and they swam all around the boat jumping out of the water and racing along with us. When the captain sped back up again, I was completely surprised to see how fast they could swim. They kept up amazingly well for a long time. When we were finally too late for use, they entertained us by jumping off our wake for a bit longer. Very cool indeed. You can check out some videos of this I put up on flickr.

Once out at the dive site, we wasted no time in suiting up and starting our first dive. It had been a couple months since Jody and I did anything scuba-related, but we figured things out pretty quick. The dives would be done as a group with the divemaster leading us. First person low on air would dictate the turnaround. Unhappily for Jody, it was her both times, but not by much 🙂 She felf bad, but we had great dives and it’s common for us ‘newbies’ to breath a bit more than we need to, so no one was annoyed. Overall, the divemaster actually heaped some great praise on us. He was surprised that this was actually our first ever recreational dive, first ever boat dive, as well as deepest dives (we were at 60ft). He said we did really well, and that most times when he has beginners, there are a lot more problems. We just swam along with the group with no troubles, checking out all the cool marine life.

And speaking of marine life, we were certainly treated to a nice cross-section of what wonders the ocean has in her depths. It’s so amazing to imagine that 80% of the worlds’ surface is covered in water, and just how little we know about what lies in her depths. Of course, at 60 feet, we definitely know a lot about what is there, but for a new diver, it is quite a sight. We got to swim around beautiful delicate corals teeming with an abundance of life. Most of the fish are not even that afraid of people here, as there are so few divers. On the contrary, many of them are curious, and will swim all around you. For Christmas, Andrea and Patrick had given us some reference cards on the fish of the Red Sea, so I was swimming with one card in my hand, trying to identify all the fish, but there were just so many of them that I just gave up and enjoyed the ride.

After the first dive was over, we surfaced to the delicious sights and smells of a nice bbq’d chicken lunch being prepared by another staff member on the boat. As soon as we had submerged, they had gotten to work on lunch. Sweet timing. After each dive, you need to have a surface interval of at least an hour to allow the built up nitrogen to work its way a bit out of your system, so this is the perfect time to eat, fill out log books, and talk about the dive with the rest of the gang. This also gave us a chance to relocate to another dive site for our second dive. The second place wasn’t quite as deep, but equally as impressive. By the time we were done that dive, it was time to head back to Jeddah for the day. We’d had a great day out on the water, but it was time to get back to the rest of the family, and plan our ‘dry’ New Year’s Eve celebrations. However, I’ll save that for another post.

All in all, I can safely say that I’m 100% satisfied with my Red Sea diving experience. Desert Sea Divers was a top notch dive company, considering the fact that they don’t have a huge amount of tourism to draw from. The divemaster was very professional, always making sure we were all accounted for, as well as pointing out things for us to check out. Jody also concurred that she loved it, and even went so far as to thank me for convincing us to take the course and get certified before Saudi, as well as booking the dives. It’s safe to say we’ll be doing more diving in the future :-). However, I’ll endeavour not to have my beard. It wreaks havoc on the seal around my face, forcing water into my sinuses like nobody’s business! Till next tale, take care.

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