My son, Mark, and I enjoyed a 5 day trip to the Red Seaís Farasan Banks on December 19-23, 2007. An area made famous by Jock Cousteau in 1963 documentary, The Living Sea.
Only the last 4 years have Dream Divers luxury live-aboard dive boats made seeing this incredible area available to divers. The boats are well equipped for their purpose of diving but lack in many of the other things such as onboard entertainment ,other than a DVD player connected to a small TV. But the lack of distraction was a nice break from the busy modern world and was not really missed. (It was explained by the crew that only the DVD player and cheap CRT type TV tended to survive the humid conditions present on the boat; all the big flat screens and other entertainment electronics had a short lifespan based on their experience with them.)
However, you are there to dive and dive you will with the opportunity to make 4 dives per day, including one night dive. Diving starts before breakfast at around 8am, followed by relocating the boat and a second dive after breakfast. The third dive is usually around 3pm just before the sun gets too low to make diving at the depths too dark. There is a snack after this dive with dinner delayed until after the night dive which usually starts at 7pm.
This is the second trip to the Farason Banks we have made. Our first trip was two years ago shortly after my son was first certified as a diver and much has changed for the better in that time (at least on the boats.) Our first trip was a bit overcrowded with around 24 divers; this trip only had 17, which felt just about right for the boat size. Also our first trip was in August at the peak of the heat and humidity. December by far is a much better time to go with 85 degrees temperature during the day and 73 at night, plus a water temp between 84 and 86 it is as perfect as you could ask for. They still use the AC at night to make sleeping easier with the high humidity that comes as the temps drops, but it was not really a necessity. In August, spending any time out in the heat was carefully considered and avoided by all but the crew who being better acclimated tended to avoid the air conditioned cabins.
The meals are served in the main lounge buffet style and you quickly learn to be there when the food is served if you want any chance of getting full. This is a refreshing change from the standard overload of food that has become normal in peopleís life (at least mine anyway.) On board they donít like any waste and tended only to cook as much as they would be sure could be eaten. No one starved or had less than they really needed, but certainly the portions were not excessive for a group of divers making up to 4 dives a day and burning everything they could eat. Everyone was considerate and did not take more than their share. I really liked the opportunity to both lose weight and build up my strength diving. The diving took a toll that was clear on the divers as most spent all their time either sleeping or reading to rest up for the next dive. Considering the age of many of the divers they displayed amazing endurance during the trip.
Rather than resting, I tended to spend my time with the crew watching the way they handled the boat and discussing the merits of the various equipment with the coordinator, Eric, who managed all the boats in the fleet. I think we both recognized each other as sailors as we could easily walk about the boat no matter how rough the weather. We also both liked to stand while the boat is underway allowing our bodies to automatically adjust to the waves and trying our best not to hold on to anything unless absolutely necessary. The weather was remarkably calm overall having only one day of rough seas where we had to go into the teeth of it. I really enjoyed the rough seas with the bow breaking the waves and sending spray over the entire boat. Keeping sunglasses clean by ducking down just in time for the spray to pass over the splash guard at the helm on the bridge was a challenge and great fun. The captain kept a towel close by to wipe his face since he did not have the opportunity to duck being preoccupied with steering and easing the boat through the larger seas. I imagine the scene down below in the main lounge was a bit less happy with gear moving about the cabin, I was surprised to see how rearranged everything had gotten when I did come down after we had anchored. These rough seas only lasted about three hours on our trip between islands on the third day.
I guess I should comment on the diving since that is why we were there, at least partially. For me being out on the sea is just as great if not better than diving, but diving was nice as well. The corral is showing obvious signs of bleaching especially at the shallower areas of the reefs. The fish although abundant were much smaller than the time before just two years ago. Eric explained that the time of year has a lot to do with the size of the fish you see in the area. I guess the larger fish like it warm, or something and follow the warmer water south? The amount of corals and fish is still dazzling, although not as colorful as you would hope mostly due to the sun angle this time of year. Only the noon dive really had decent light, I should have taken a light with me on the morning and afternoon dives but it always slipped my mind when it came time to dive. Anyway, I will not waste a lot of time describing the diving, the pictures tell the story better than I can (These are the best 70 picture out of over 500 I took during the trip.)
I highly recommend every diver to make a trip to the Red Sea. You will not be disappointed.
We made our trip arrangements through Scuba Club Online who specializes in dealing with Expats in the country. Things to keep in mind when you go:
- Pack all your dive gear in one bag, and all your cloths and non-dive stuff in a separate bag. The dive bag will stay on deck and the other stuff will go down in your cabin; separating stuff after you are down in a dark cabin is difficult at best and you have little space to sort them out. Do it at home and know where everything is. This will make life easier and minimize your time below deck.
- Donít bring anything extra unless you absolutely have to. Keep the electronics at home especially if you come in the summer. The humidity with not treat them kindly.
- Bring a camera with an underwater housing; donít take the camera out of the cabin without it being in the housing or the humidity will destroy it; unless it is a fancy SLR with proper seals to protect itself.
- Bring a light and use it on the day dives; the colors will amaze you that come out in the presents of light.
- Bring easy on/off boat shoes like crocs to protect your feet and keep you from slipping on wet decks.
- Bring two towels, one for showering and one for diving.
- Bring two skins and switch them between dives so that you have a dry skin to put on. Wet dive skins are hard to put on and if not given enough time to dry, they really stink!
- Try not to hang your stuff in everyoneís way. The have hanging locations below on the main deck next to the dive tanks for hanging wet gear; use them. I really disliked the fact that people hung stuff all over the upper deck making the boat look like a laundry.
- I highly recommend that you wear a fast drying swim suit, speedo type, and where loose fitting shorts over them so not to offend anyone. This will allow you to quickly off the shorts and on the dive skin for each dive.
- Also I recommend wearing a rash guard type t-shit since water for washing is a bit short on board (they have to make it) you tend to be a bit salty most of the time, the rash guard will keep you from being uncomfortable and itchy.