Sharm El Sheikh Dive Sites; The whole area is of uplifted coral, so all sites are close to shore as the coral starts at the waters edge. This means the shore reef extends 10-30 meters out at about 1 meter depth. The reef then drops vertically creating the typical walls of the area. These drop offs range from 10-800 meters. Care needs to be taken in crossing the reef if diving by shore and control of depth is needed during the dive.
With very deep water the possibility of strong currents is present. These can occur at any headland called “Ras” in Arabic, Ras Mohamed being a very good example of this. The narrowing of the Gulf of Aqaba at the site of Tiran island creates a funnel effect and is prone to strong currents caused by tidal action. This produces strong currents in the sites called the Straits of Tiran.
The dive sites go from the Straits of Tiran in the north to Ras Mohammed in the south. With Shab Ali and the Thistlegorm wreck round in the Gulf of Suez. Your first days diving will be on 2 of the sites between Ras Nasrani and The Temple. These sites have the same corals and fish life and are much better to acclimatize to the area than the extremes of the area which have a potential for strong currents and very deep water.
Jackson Reef: This is the most northerly reef in the Straits. The dives are usually conducted from the moorings on the south side which is sheltered from the main swell and currents. The boats moor up in a lull spot of the current where the wall is 40 something meters. After descending down the wall to your planned depth the dive is to the south western corner, keeping the reef on the right. Towards the corner the reef levels out to a gentle slope from about 6m with the corals in this area being some of the best in the area. It is around here that the current can pick up very strong so care is required as you have to be able to get back to the boat.
On the way back, which is done in shallow water, there are many inlets into the reef which are full of soft corals, making an excellent place to conduct the safety stop.
This site can also be done as a drift dive heading from the mooring towards the east with the reef on the left where it is mostly wall diving with excellent corals. This can get to be a high speed drift at times and care must be taken if the surface conditions are rough as the boat will have difficulty doing the pick ups.
Woodhouse reef: is the longest reef of the four in the straits and is dived as a drift dive usually from south to north. Jumping at the southern part of the reef is a wall to about 30m. It is worth looking onto the sand patches below to try and spot sleeping sharks. The coral covers all the way from the surface down the wall which becomes more of a slope as the dive progresses. Half way through the dive there is a canyon going along the reef at about 25m which spreads out into a coral garden with sand alleys. This is usually where the current starts to pick up. If the conditions on the west side of the reef are rough the dive has to be ended at the end of the coral garden, which is usually reached after about 50 minutes. If weather conditions allow it is sometimes possible to continue the dive beyond this point. Where the reef leaves the surface and funnels down towards Jackson reef. This area is referred to as the washing machine due to the VERY strong currents going in all directions.
Thomas reef: is the smallest reef in the Straits, but also one of the most popular. The dive is governed by the weather conditions as the western side is often impossible to pick divers up from. The dive is done as a drift dive with potentially strong currents on the southern and northern ends of the reef. The ends are vertical walls with a large plateau at about 25m on the south eastern side. This plateau often has sleeping sharks on the sand patches and the coral has a fence of Gorgonia fans at the end. After the Gorgonia fans the reef returns to a wall before coming to the corner of the reef, watch the currents. If conditions allow it is possible to go round to the other side of the reef which is a wall disappearing into the depths.
Gordon reef: which is the southerly reef of the four has a different topography from the others. This site has both a shallow plateau area and drop offs, and can be done as a mooring dive or a drift. On the northern edge of the reef is the remains of the wreck Lovilla which has been on top of the reef for a long time. It only remains there by habit as most of the hull has corroded away (everybody is waiting for it to go down so we can dive the wreck). The currents on the south edge of Gordon is rarely strong but be aware for it as it can cut across the plateau.
The boats moor up on the southern plateau in about 8m of water. The dives are usually conducted from the mooring and heading in a easterly direction to the drop off which starts at about 16m (worth keeping an eye out into the blue here !). From the drop off heading north following the edge is a small garden eel area along with coral encrusted drums. At the turn round point of the dive plan you ascend to about 8m and follow the reef back to the boat on the plateau area.
If this is done as a drift dive the boat drops you at the mooring and will pick up on the northern edge. This follows the same area as a mooring dive but then continues along the drop off which turns more into a plateau as it reaches the corner. This is a regular for the sharks and can be a VERY high speed drift.
Lagoona: is the reef just offshore of the island of Tiran. This site has more anemones and clown fish than any other area. This site is also famous for being the location where the Cunard liner went aground resulting in a fine by the Egyptian government of about $20 Million. The area that it hit has no coral remaining though the reef is slowly recovering. The dive is now usually conducted south of the impact area.
The dive is done from by the southern point of the reef, where often sharks sleep on the plateau, and then drift gently along heading north. There are large table corals and patches of anemones all along the slope.
Ras Nasrani: This is the most northerly dive site on the mainland that is dived regularly. (There is another site north of this, Ras Gamilla, but this can only be dived in very calm conditions).
This site can be done as a drift dive or a mooring dive, depends on the currents. The location of the mooring is in the area of transition of the topography. To the south of the mooring the site is a wall dive and to the north it flattens out onto a plateau as the site goes round the corner. This is where the current can get very strong.
If done as a mooring dive it is worth having a look on the plateau either at the start or the end of the dive as there are some large Gorgonia Fan corals there, but watch the current as you will have to fight it to get back to the boat. So don’t go to far that way.
Ras Bob: This dive site is just south of Ras Nasrani and can be done either as a mooring dive or as a drift dive towards Ras Nasrani. Around the dive site there are large coral heads with sand gulleys heading to the wall. The wall drops to 20 something meters with a eel garden at the bottom. For those from the UK that remember the C&G building society advert of the kid diving to the pearl. Part of this advert was filmed at this site. The site is named after Bob Johnson, who worked in the Sharm area as a dive guide for many years from the 80’s and 90’s
White knight: One of the main features of White knight is the canyon which starts in a inlet in the shore reef at a depth of around 8m. There is either the main entrance or a little swim through to the canyon. For those that are qualified there is a cave on the right hand side at 18m but lights and line required as the bottom can get stirred up.
Coming out of the canyon and heading North is a eel garden, which is nice to watch for a while, as long as nobody has gone before and scared them into their holes because then you are just looking at a sand patch. Coming out of the canyon and heading south is a gentle slope of reef with a upturned hull wreck of one of the dive boats that sank in 94.
Sharks Bay: is one of the few sites that is open for shore diving and is very easy to enter the water here from the shore. As this is one of the few natural beaches in the area the sand follows into the water giving a gradual slope to descend down. For those planning a Deep dive Specialty course there is a canyon starting at 18m which continues down to the depths. For those planning a course dive or a nice gentle dive this is a good site as to the south there is a sandy road with coral on each side at a depth of 14m. To the north there is sand gullies in between solid reef slope. In both directions there is a lot of life in the shallows and being in a bay there is not usually any current.
One draw back with the site is, being in a valley the wind can blow down to the beach, bringing with it plastic bags and rubbish which at times collects in the water by the entrance.
Far Gardens: as the name suggests, is the northerly end of the Gardens Bay. It can be dived as a mooring dive or a drift. There is not usually much current at the mooring, but on approaching the end of the bay it is possible to hover there and watch the reef go by. The mooring is on the slope of the reef in about 18m, which is close to the shore, as the reef drops away quickly. The slope goes down a long way so the first part of the dive is conducted on the slope. It is not until you turn around to return towards the boat when you come up to about 10m does the reef level out. This site has got to be the most popular site in the area for spotting Manta Rays. For some reason they like the area from Far Gardens to Ras Nasrani. (The most I have counted at once is 9 !!)
Middle Gardens: is an excellent second dive, it is a large bay with no current and a large shallow area starting at about 7m and flat before sloping down. Apart from one large sand patch and a few smaller ones the whole area is covered in corals. Due to the size of this site there are many places to moor up on. It is an ideal site to have a relaxing cruise over the reef with a chance to see if anything is cruising by in the blue. As every so often this site can surprise you with a sighting of huge turtles, whale sharks or mantas.
The Near Gardens: is the dive site nearest to Nama Bay, being about 10minutes by boat and on the point between Nama Bay and Gardens Bay. Being a headland it probably has an arabic name of ‘Ras’ something or other, but being a headland it is prone to have some current and deep water. The current is not usually strong and the dive is normally done as a mooring dive or can be combined as a drift from Middle Gardens. Near Gardens is the main site at which night dives can be conducted. This is an opportunity to see this site in its true colours.
Note: This site is very popular with the snorkeling and glass bottom boats. So care is required when diving shallow as the boat skippers do not pay much attention to divers
The Tower dive site is one of the few sites that can be reached from the shore as well as from the boat. Entry from the shore is in a big U shaped gap in the reef which gives you the opportunity to do a giant stride from the shore reef into over 100m of water ! and then descending in the U shape down to the planned depth before coming out onto the slope of the reef. From the boat the dive starts from the outside of the U and follows the reef along as a drift dive, not because of any current, just that it is impossible for the boat to moor up on a wall. Once on the dive it follows a typical topography of the area with a 10m wall leading into a 45º slope with coral heads. From the boat is is possible to reach the dive site of Sodfa with its fan corals and coral garden before finishing the dive. If dived from shore the U shape makes for easy navigation as it is difficult to miss a vertical wall 15m across.
Amphora: as the name suggests has a few large broken amphora’s half buried at 28m in amongst the coral heads. These used to contain mercury many years ago and reports have been made of sightings of small amounts left. This site is not dived very often recently as most dive guides don’t know the site and the amphora’s are hard to find. Apart from the amphora the reef is a wall to 10m followed by a gentle slope covered in corals.
Turtle Bay: tends to blend in with the dive site named Paradise as both are done as drift dives in the same area. The current in the area is not usually very strong making these sites a pleasant gentle drift along the reef. The reef is a 10m wall leading to a slope of about 45º with coral heads covered in delicate soft fan corals.
Ras um Sidd: is a main headland of the area, having the lighthouse situated on top of the cliff. The headland in conjunction with the deep water found on the corner means currents are regular here. This dive is usually done as a mooring dive, so returning to the boat and not getting caught up in the current is important. The boat moors in around 20m of water which is close to the shore reef. The shore reef drops down from the surface to 20 something meters and towards the corner the wall gets deeper, so don’t follow the bottom ! On the corner, if the current allows, there is a wall of Gorgonia fan corals covering a large area and are the main feature of the site but with the deep water there is also a chance to see pelagic fish life hanging around in the current. There is also a swim through cavern starting at 6m which comes out on the shore reef at 1m, but I will let you find that for yourself !
The Temple: is a group of coral heads in a row coming up from a depth of 12 to 20m if viewed in the right position and using your imagination they look like columns of a temple. On the in shore side there are sandy patches at about 8m with loads of inlets into the shore reefs. The coral heads themselves are about 2m apart allowing you to swim between them and a couple of them have swim through routes.
The site is not as peaceful as it was. There are now hotels on the cliff and they all have paths down to the beach where they have LOUD speakers for the animation team. The cliffs echo the sound out over to the dive site.
Ras Cathy: is a good combination dive. There is a shallow area which is ideal for sorting out any buoyancy practice and getting the weights right, also useful for doing the safety stops. In the shallows are coral heads coming to within a couple of meters of the surface which are full of life as well as sandy patches with eel grass.
A little bit further out the reef drops down on a 45º slope to the depths allowing the divers to follow the reef towards the plateau on the corner. The currents on the corner are not usually strong but any diver going to the corner needs to watch the air supply as it can be quite a swim back at 18m before the reef starts to shallow out.
Ras Mohammed: This is the peninsula on the southern tip of the Sinai and is unique with its very deep waters heading vertically down from the shore reef top of 1 m. Being the first land the water reaches the currents here are unpredictable and can be VERY strong. This can make for some exciting drift dives for the experienced diver.
The site of Sharks Reef and Yolanda Reef are very popular, forcing the National Park to put in a rota system, these sites are the most southerly sites possible with very deep water.
If you can cope with the summer heat this site is spectacular from mid June to mid August then the fish are mating. Grouping together in large schools out in the deep water. You need an elastic band just to stop your bottom jaw from dropping !!
Dunraven: This wreck of a British Steamer is on the Southern edge of Sha’ab Mahmoud which is also known as Beacon Rock as the wreck is directly below the South Cardinal beacon. It is about another hour boat ride past Ras Mohammed and is prone to the weather conditions. Once at the reef there is some protection from the waves but it can still be a little rough.
The Dunraven was built in 1873 in Newcastle and hit the reef in 1876. It has sunk in 30 meters of water right next to the reef wall and is completely upside down in two sections. The length is about 80m and it’s about 10m wide
The stern section is in about 29m to the sand and is open in places for those qualified to enter. This leads to a swim through by the side of the ship’s boiler and out where the wreck has broken in half. The exit being usually filled with glass fish in their thousands.
The bow section is in shallower water with loads of places to stick your head into, but nowhere to get in. After the bow section the dive is usually done by fining over the hull which is covered in coral and then moving onto the reef wall and the shallows to finish the dive.
The Thistlegorm: was built in 1940 as a merchant vessel being 126m long and 17.5m wide it was commandeered by the navy during the World War II. In October 1941 the vessel had made its way round Africa and into the Red Sea. Loaded down with supplies destined for North Africa. It anchored in the holding area before moving towards the Suez Canal. The anchorage is 5 miles wide between the Sinai Peninsula and the reef ‘Shab Ali’ where the sea bottom is flat at around 30m.
In the early hours of the 6th October two German bombers from Crete found her and other vessels anchored there. The bombs landed in number four hold, which contained ammunition, ripping the stern section off and folding some of the deck back on itself. The ship went down and landed upright.
The wreck was first dived by Cousteau in the 50’s. However its position was not rediscovered until the early 90’s. Since then it has become one of the best wrecks to dive. The holds are open and easily accessed showing the full range of cargo carried. Like trucks, motorbikes, plane wings and engines, trains and tenders, Wellington boots and waders!!, ammunition, armoured vehicles.
The wreck is exposed to the tidal currents and the prevailing winds, which can make this dive inaccessible at times. These conditions and the depth of the dive means that this is only open to experienced divers.
This trip is done as a very early start of 04:15 as the journey is about 4 hours. This gives enough time to do 2 dives on the wreck and return by 18:00
Safety stops are compulsory on these dives and careful monitoring of air supply and no decompression limit are essential. (Medical facilities are 4 hours away!!)