Diving in the Sudan on MY Royal Emperor by Terry Hooper
Before I start to tell you about the diving there are a few things that you need to know before you consider a trip to the Sudan.
Entry visas are required by all nationalities to Egypt and Sudan. The cost of the Egyptian visas are included in the price of the trip. The Sudanese visa and Sudanese tax are not.
For Sudan you will need to send A4 photocopies or email scanned copies of your passport to your travel company at the time of booking so that they can arrange permission for you to travel prior to the issuing of visas. If you have evidence in your passport that you have been to Israel (including a Taba crossing) then you will not be issued a visa, so I guess that means you will not be allowed into the country. By the way the cost of the visa is 60 Euro per person and in addition to this you will have to pay a Sudanese tax of 145 Euro for one week or 187 Euro if you do a two week trip, again per person. Both fees are paid in Sudan
Getting there is the first issue for some people.
There is no direct flight from the UK to Sudan so you have to go via Cairo, which means flying from Manchester to London to catch the connecting flight to Cairo, where you will stay overnight. The following evening you will catch your flight from Cairo to Sudan. Once landing in Sudan you will be transferred by road to Port Sudan where you will board the Royal Emperor.
When you land in Cairo you are met by the local rep who sorts out your visa etc. Be prepared to be mithered on the way to the hotel. He was desperate to sell trips even though we were there for only half a day. He was charging £30 for a half day trip to the Pyramids. You can do it yourself for £6.
We stayed at the Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel on a B&B basis. The hotel was very clean and I couldn't fault the my room, however if you do go, make sure that you get a room facing the swimming pool as you will get a great view of the Pyramids and probably more important you will not hear the sounds of the Egyptians sounding their car horns all night and I mean all night.
Be prepared for 'BAKSHEESH', which means tipping, doesn't matter what anyone does they expect a tip. The trick is to carry small notes so you can tip little and often or if you are like me, don't tip unless they do something that deserves it.
The Royal Emperor can accommodate 16 guests. If you are travelling alone be prepared to get a little cosy with your cabin partner as the rooms are very small. Adequate but small.
This trip was the last trip of the season so the boat was looking a little jaded. So much so that the air-conditioning was broke. This meant that it could not be switched off, fine during the day, but it got cold at night.
Although the boat sleeps 16 guests the dining tables accommodate 12. This means that some of you will be eating at the coffee table.
The food was very poor. I have travelled to many places and never been ill. In fact I have just come back from a liveaboard to Egypt and the food was excellent. On this trip I was ill twice with diarrhoea and vomiting, fortunately for me it lasted only a day on each occasion. For some of the others it lasted a little longer. We were lucky that three of the guests were doctors, however they could only offer advice and even one of them got ill.
I nearly forgot to say that one of the Zodiacs kept breaking down and one of the cables snapped as they were launching the Zodiac, not a problem until you realise the Zodiac is two decks up. Fortunately nobody was injured and the Zodiac got away with a little dent in the engine cover.
Sounds like a pretty bad trip so far I can hear you saying. It does get better once the diving starts.
I would recommend doing the two week trip as this way you get to do both the Southern and Northern routes.
I ended up doing 32 dives in total. It would have been a few more however 'Pharaohs Revenge' put a stop to that. 22 out of the 32 dives were in excess of 30m and the other 10 were in excess of 40m. Why? because that's where the Hammerheads Sharks were.
Night dives are available on most nights if you wish. I did a couple; they were nothing special and nothing worth writing about.
The vast majority of the dives are done from the two Zodiacs. One of Zodiacs has larger tubes that are quite high and requires a bit of effort to pull you up. If you can't make it by yourself, it is not a problem as the crew will give you a hand. Once you have had the dive brief you kit up on board the Royal Emperor, step into the Zodiac and when you reach the dive site you enter the water via a roll back entry. When you are ready to exit you will de-kit in the water, hand your kit up then pull yourself up on the tubes into the Zodiac.
Southern Route Dives
South West Plateau, Sanganeb
As we hit the plateau the current was coming across it so we had to fin into it to travel across the plateau. If you went with the current the dive would be over in minutes as you would have been swept off the plateau and into the blue.
It was worth it as we saw three Grey Reef Sharks just cruising around, too many to count large Groupers chasing each other as May is their mating season and to top it off a large shoal of Black-fin Barracuda just hanging in the current.
At the end of the plateau you come to a wall and shelter from the current. This is where you get an abundance of all the small fish. An excellent dive.
Roll back entry from the Zodiac and a free descent to 35m in the blue. Three minutes before going into Deco the Hammerheads arrived, there must have been 20 plus and a reasonable size. Well time was up and I started my ascent towards the reef. At 20m a White Tip Reef Shark was resting on the sandy bottom and then I saw them, the dreaded Titan Trigger-fish all over the place. Fortunately it wasn't their breeding season and I made safely across the sandy bottom to the wall. It was full of life: Sweetlips, Trevallies, Fusiliers, Tuna and the biggest Barracuda I have ever seen.
This is the most northern reef of the Suakin Archipelago. This coral tower plunges down into the deep.
Again out in the blue at 40m we looked up and saw a large ball of Barracuda and then a single Hammerhead came and checked us out and as quick as it came it was gone. Maybe a minute or so past by and then a few more Hammerheads came and then more and more. As far as you could see there were Hammerheads. It is hard to say how many there were but I would say at least 60 and that is probably being conservative. It was like being back in the Galapagos, only warm water.
Well that is the first week over. Back to Port Sudan to re-fuel and stock up on supplies. If you passport arrives back in time you can stretch your legs on land in Port Sudan. Nothing much to see apart from people watching
Trip so far, excellent diving, plenty of life, shame about the boat. But the diving makes up for it.
Northern Route Dives
The Umbria is a 150m cargo-passenger ship that was scuttled in June 1940 just before the Italians joined the war. Its main cargo was 360,000 bombs, 60 boxes of detonators and incendiary devices along with building materials.
The Umbria is just out of Port Sudan, so I guess it will be dived on the week trip as apparently it is a famous Red Sea wreck. Unfortunately the visibility was awful due to a plankton bloom. This didn't stop us exploring it and for those who are interested, penetration is allowed, however I would suggest following the guide.
South Plateau, Sha'ab Rumi
The opening line in my log book is as follows: 'What a dive! How does it get any better?'
Grey Reef Shark heaven. We had at least eight of them just circling us for probably 20 minutes as we knelt on the sandy bottom. When we moved off to the point of the plateau there were more Grey Reef Sharks, Groupers, and Barracudas in fact there were so many fish it was impossible to remember them all. And to top it off the hard and soft coral was in fantastic condition.
Without doubt the best dive of the trip. So much so that we did it four times and on the second dive along with the Grey Reef Sharks etc. we got 20 plus Hammerhead Sharks. When my log book said, 'How does it get any better'? Well it did with the 20 plus Hammerheads turning up.
Pre-continent Sha'ab Rumi
This is the location where Jacques-yes Cousteau conducted one of his underwater experiments named Conshelf II. Unfortunately the living quarters have been removed and all that is left is the submarine hanger, a tool shed, a bit of the underwater aquarium and a couple of shark cages.
This visibility was crystal clear and although it didn't rate anywhere near the better dives of the trip, it is a must do as it was a part of diving history.
Blue Bell, Sha'ab Su'adi
This is another wreck dive. It was carrying a full load of Toyota vehicles some of which are scattered around. The Blue Bell is completely overturned on the seabed. At approximately 40m the wreck comes off the seabed and creates a swim-through. As you exit the swim-through you hit a vertical wall that brings you back up to 20m. Plenty of life. A better dive than the Umbria.
At around £2500 it is not a cheap trip.
If you want to see Pelagics then this is a good place to go, not so good if you are into small critters.
Would I recommend it? That is a hard one. For the diving definitely, it was fantastic. The boat you can put up with if you are not too fussy. The hassle of getting there is not really that bad. My only concern was the being ill on the boat and not just me a few of the 10 guests were ill. We put it down to the food as on one occasion only two of us ate the vegetable lasagne and both of us were ill.
The diving is deep for a single cylinder; fortunately I had already decided to dive on twins as it worked out cheaper hiring another 12ltr than hiring a 15ltr and taking my pony. You can dive shallow if you want to. If I had done that on this trip I wouldn't have seen as many Hammerheads.
It is not a place for people who don't like dealing with strong currents just as it is not a place for those of you who like looking for little critters. In the two weeks I found in total four nudibranches.