Djibouti 2009

feeding whalesharkI knew when we booked this trip that it would be a bit different from others we have done. “Djibouti, where’s that?” everyone asked. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Djibouti is on the East Coast of Africa, bordering Somalia to the South, Ethiopia to the West and Eritrea to the North with its East coast facing into the Gulf of Tadjoura. The country has a population the size of Sheffield and virtually no tourism. Our journey wasn’t straightforward with the original tour operator cancelling, a riot at Addis Ababa airport, a 12 hour delay and a chaotic arrival in Djibouti. However, that is another story and we eventually arrived at our boat for a 6 night stay.

The MY Deli is a Schooner – all wood, no plastic panels in sight, and with some love and care could have been quite glorious but was in fact very basic and unloved. We had done our research and knew not to expect the plush liveaboards of the Red Sea, therefore, it wasn’t a disappointment. The crew were great. Vincent is an excellent skipper and has a genuine desire to look after the Whale Sharks and the reef. The food, like the boat is rather basic but sufficient and plentiful and no dodgy tummies.

We awoke to a new day and ready to put our travels behind us. However, we were not so pleased to find that it was dark, raining and windy – in fact quite miserable. We were about 50 miles from one of the hottest driest places on earth (Lake Assal) and it was raining!! After breakfast we got our kit ready for our first Whale Shark encounter. Two ‘annexes’ with 6 snorkelers on each. We headed along the coast to Arta Beach. The coastline is barren with the exception of a cluster of buildings which reminded me of Nick’s X-Box game, ‘Call of Duty’, and the comparison was well founded as I will explain later.

The wind was strong and the swell about 4ft. The rain was stinging our faces. After half an hour up and down the coastline at Arta Beach, without spotting a single Whale Shark I was feeling despondent. Just as we were giving up hope we spotted one and all jumped in for our first glimpse. There she was, my first Whale Shark. She was beautiful, approx 4m long, gliding through the water just below the surface. There were 4 other snorkelers with me – but it didn’t spoil it too much, I had still seen her. We swam alongside her in awe. She was swimming quite fast and we managed to stay with her for a couple of minutes, and that was it, she was gone.

The annexe saw us dropping back and came to pick us up and soon we were speeding off again. We drove round ahead of the Whale Shark and were dropped in again. I was starting to understand how this worked. Soon there were cries of ‘Whale Shark’ from the boat as a couple more were spotted. Each one spotted meant less snorkelers racing after it. Some stayed at the surface for longer than others. Some were swimming faster than others. We hadn’t noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. We were all so engrossed with these beautiful creatures. On this first excursion I was lucky enough to see 5 Whale Sharks ranging from 4m to 7m in length.

The afternoon excursion started in the sunshine and with higher expectations having seen our first few Whale Sharks. We were not disappointed – numbers 6 to 10 arrived shortly after we got to the site. Numbers 10 to 20 over the next hour or so. It was truly wonderful as we got closer and closer to these magnificent creatures and spent more and more time alone with them. We started to identify individuals by size and markings. One tagged one, one with a bent dorsal fin, one with a fresh mark from a boat propeller, big spots/little spots, dark marks on the tail. Although I estimate that on this first day I had seen 20 individuals, it is very hard to tell as some returned time and again. I did have at least 50 encounters on this first day. This had far exceeded my expectations. There was so much excitement on the boat that evening – how could it possibly get better?

whalesharkHowever, it did get better. On day two there were just 4 of us aboard and the cry of ‘Requin Baleine’ (Whale Shark) from our boat handler saw all of us jump straight in. No sooner had we got in the water than another was spotted, and then another. We were all heading in different directions and I was on my own with a 7m Whale Shark. She was swimming very slowly. I had two in view at the same time, then three, four, five – in view at one time. We were surrounded. There were about 20 Whale Sharks all in this concentrated area and they were feeding, mouths open wide moving slowly through the water. I followed the 7m Whale Shark, from time to time another one or two passed by. She was swimming so slowly as she fed I was able to really study her. Her gills were opening and closing, I could see her underside clearly and the muscles moving as she fed. She was becoming more and more upright in the water, now almost vertical and she was turning in a slow circle. We had read about the Whale Sharks feeding in this manner and it was quite different to chasing after them. The four of us spent about 90 minutes in the water with the 20 or so feeding Whale Sharks before eventually heading back for a very late lunch.

Snorkeling with whalesharksThe first dive in the Gulf of Tadjoura really surprised me. The visibility wasn’t good at 10-15m, but I had expected this, it was Whale Shark season and there was a lot of plankton in the water. However, I was completely taken aback at the variety, colour and size of the coral. It was in excellent condition and the variety of fish on the reef was immense. The reports I had read had not prepared me for this and I believe they had completely understated its beauty. So few dive boats operate in Djibouti and it is completely unspoilt. From leaving harbour on Saturday morning and returning on Wednesday afternoon we saw only 3 other boats.

And so it continued. Each day two or 3 dives, each with vis up to 20m, each with beautiful Coral Gardens. I only wished I knew more about the types of Corals and Sponges to describe it better. I enjoyed every dive. The diving was very easy. All but one dive had no current. Maximum depth usually 25m but the majority of life was seen at 10m or less. For those that are really seeking the ‘big stuff’, Djibouti may be disappointing – apart from the Whale Sharks of course. Only 1 large Grey Reef Shark and some very large Grouper spotted all week. Surprisingly, no Manta Rays despite the abundance of plankton. For those who appreciate the diversity of a reef this is an excellent choice. A typical dive included Moray Eels, Lionfish, Blue Spotted Rays, Turtles, Nudibranchs, Napoleon Wrasse and occasionally Octopus, Eagle Rays and large Grouper.

Whaleshark photoThere were two dives that differed from the rest and are worth mentioning. The first was to ‘The Great Rift’ in Ghoubbet El Karab (The Devil’s Cauldron). I had seen this dive on the BBC ‘Oceans’ programme. The visibility was poor – about 3m, due to the Algae in the water. There was much less life at this location, but it was fascinating to see the point at 35m that the plates had started to part and to follow this up to about 25m where we were able to swim between Africa and Asia and touch both continents at the same time. The other dive was a wreck dive in the middle of the Gulf of Tadjoura at the Isles of Moucha. The wreck is a 135m Cargo Ship named the Ocean Reefer, lying on her side at 25m with the highest point at 10m. The vis here wasn’t too bad, although there was much more current and a rough ride out. Lots and lots of fish – schools of Mackerel and Trevally and an absolutely gigantic Grouper.

Amongst all of this tranquillity of beautiful coral reefs, majestic Whale Sharks and relaxing on the deck of the MY Deli in a sheltered cove there were occasional distractions. For example, mortar bombs, machine guns fire, fighter jets and helicopter gunships!! I was right to compare the cluster of buildings to ‘Call of Duty’ as they turned out to be the training camp for the French Foreign Legion and the bombs and gunfire came from there at fairly frequent intervals. I’m told the jets were an F16 being chased by a MiG and the helicopters were from the French military base nearby.

Would I recommend this trip? Yes definitely, to anyone with a desire to swim with Whale Sharks – this must be the best place on earth. Even on our short trip we have seen more than 50 individual Whale Sharks and had hundreds of encounters. I would also recommend the trip to anyone who wants to see (dive or snorkel) beautiful coral reef and the fish that live on the reef.

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Anglesey 2009

3569288833_b0ca7231a8With Divefest out of the way and minimal diving taking place I began to fear that the Anglesey weekend was about to go the same way looking at projected wind and rain forecasts. As it turned out my fears were ill founded and the weekend just got better as it progressed.

We all arrived at Menai Bridge during the course of Friday and settled into the hotel apart from Richard Jill and Bethany who camped up in the camper van in the car park. The group consisted of ten divers, Chris and Kerrie, Vicki and Paul, Dennis Pridmore, Henry Standing, Graham Bowsher, Jude, Richard and myself, John Beer.

The charter company we were using was Quest Diving with the boat being an ex fisheries protection vessel called Protector, skippered by Scott Waterman. Richard Graham and I had the opportunity to meet with him on the Friday evening prior to the diving. He promised to be and was a very able and accommodating skipper for this weekend.

The diving commenced with meeting on the quay side at 8.30 on Saturday morning to load our kit on the boat. Following a safety briefing we set sail up the straits to the north of the island toward our first dive site.

First dive was on a wreck believed to be the Mermaid or otherwise known as The Boiler Wreck. The remains of this vessel lies in 25 metres of water and is covered in soft corals and plumose anemones. The most significant feature is of course the boiler, which is hard to miss and was abundantly covered in corals and anemones. Second dive took us back in shore to Puffin Island inhabited by— Puffins and under the water seals. Diving here was quite shallow but the primary interest was of course the seals. For me this was the most magical encounter I have ever had with seals. Chris and I had had a few encounters at distance with these creatures. We entered a gully and a seal attacked our fins. I turned myself about and spent an engaging time with a seal right in my face with Chris just behind me busy snapping away on his camera.

Day two saw a rotation of diving buddies as we headed south down the straits towards our first dive of that day. This was the wreck of the Kimya which lay in fairly shallow water. The big plus was that it was mostly intact and very discernible as a wreck. Vis was reasonably good an d an excellent dive was had by all. Second dive was a scenic reef dive on Frenchman’s Rock.

Our final days diving took us out to the north of the island again to dive the Mona a small steamship that sank around 1916. The stern is still visible. However the bow has been covered over by sand with just a section of frame being visible along with a winch. Second dive took us back onto Puffin Island where some of us dived again with seals whilst others explored the reef to the west of the seal colony.

I for one thoroughly enjoyed this weekend and hoped everyone else did as well. The diving was a little different to what I had expected but no less enjoyable. The whole group gelled well both during diving and a group off piste

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New Year’s Day 2009

A cold plunge in the lake!

On New Years Day 2009, eight Oxford Branch members had a plunge into the cold waters of Hinksey Lake. It’s a tradition to dive in the lake on New Years Day although this was the first time Jacob and I had been in the water.

This year’s eight divers were Andy Pickering, Graham Bowsher, Vic Warner, John Waterhouse, Nick Allsworth and Bob Chick with Jacob and I snorkelling. A photographer from the Oxford Mail also came along to take some photographs to go into the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times newspapers.

When Jacob and I jumped in we realised that it was absolutely freezing as we only had wetsuits on while the other divers were wearing drysuits. The photographer took pictures of Jacob and I along with Nick dressed up in his Santa costume. Then Jacob and I got out while the other divers went for a dive in the lake.

Other members of Oxford Branch plus friends and family turned up to watch us dive. After the dive we went back to the clubhouse, got changed and had a snack.

Finally it was a freezing New Years Day in the lake but from my point of view I thought it was excellent. Thank you to the people who got the food ready and organised the dive.

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Scillies 2007


A wonderful week away….


On Saturday the 28th August last year a group 12 divers and 4 nondivers from the dive club jumped on a ferry to the Isles of Scilly 30 miles off the tip of Cornwall for a week of diving. The Scilly Isles are unique for diving as it has more wrecks per square mile than any other place in the world ranging from four 17th century British fleet ships which sank in 1707 right up to the Cita a container ship which sank in 1997. It is said that there are over a thousand ships wrecked around these islands.

The ferry trip was around three hours from Penzance to St Mary’s and can be a very lumpy crossing at times, but luck was on our side it was a smooth crossing. We arrived in St Mary’s mid afternoon on Saturday and had a short walk to our B and Bs. To start the trip off on a good footing we all meet in the evening for a meal and few sociable drinks. As the diving did not start until Monday we had a free day on Sunday to go and explore the Islands.


On the first day of diving we met up with our skipper Jo at the harbour and got started loading dive kit from the shipping container to the dive boat (Moon Shadow). We were then on our way to the first dive site of the Plymton and the Hathor

The first thing you notice when you land on the wreck at 24m is the 10-15m visibility down there, meaning you can get a clear picture of the wreck, making navigation a breeze. As Karen and I made our way down the wreck to 30m, it was hard to see at first where one ship ended and the other started. Once we got our bearings you could make out the bow of Hathor jutting out at 90 degrees to the Plymton. Our thoughts were if this was a taster of things to come we were in for a week of amazing diving, (which certainly turned out to be true).

The second dive of the day put us on a set of rocks that were supposed to be teaming with life. Unfortunately, the current was so strong it was sweeping us off the rocks out into open water, so along with ourselves many divers aborted soon after entering the water.

Over the next four days we dived a mix of shipwreck and scenic locations. One of the wreck dives we did was the Cita, which was the last ship to go down in the Scilly’s. The Cita was a large container-feeder ship that sank on 26th March 1997 after going ashore at full speed at 03.30am. All the crew were fast asleep and the vessel on automatic pilot with the radar alarm system switched off. The Cita is still largely complete and still has a good coating of paint on it.


For me the best dive of the week was the wreck of the Italia an Italian-registered 2,792-tonne armed steamship carrying coal from Cardiff to Toronto which drove ashore 11th May 1917 in dense fog during the same night that the SS Lady Charlotte was wrecked near Porth Hellick, St Mary’s 3 miles to the east. As the Italia drove ashore on Wingletang Ledge the inhabitants of St Agnes were unaware of the wreck, as the sound of escaping steam and her siren were thought to be coming from the Lady Charlotte wreck.. The Italia lies trapped in a sheltered, steep, sloping gully, her stern at 20m and the bow at 50m, myself and Andy swam the length of the ship. This ship looked like it had been ripped open down its centre line. The engine sat in the middle with conrods and crankshaft exposed. Further down the Italia at 43m is the bow light tower sat in the twisted metal untouched with the lantern still complete like someone had just placed it there.


The week wasn’t just about diving, in the evenings we met up for food and a spot of lighthearted socialising over a few drinks and food. All in all it was a fantastic trip with excellent diving, good weather and good group of people who all got on well. On behalf of all who went along I would like to thank Chris Stevens for organising such a great trip.

Stuart Bowsher

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