I wake up in the early hours of the third day of our trip. We sailed all night, in some pretty rough seas, and now, 22 hours after beginning our journey south, we’ve arrived at our first destination. I yawn and stretch. I sleep beautifully on board ships, but this night was a bit too rough to be really conducive to a good night’s sleep. I woke up several times hovering mid-air, a few feet above my bunk. You know that scary feeling you get sometimes in your sleep, where you feel like you’re falling? It’s far scarier when you wake up to and find that you really are falling.
I head up to the salon and grab a coffee before heading out on deck. The temperature has jumped by almost 10F since leaving the north, and even in the early morning it’s warm, a harbinger of a hot day. I check my dive gear and head up to the top deck where a few of the other divers are waiting for the morning briefing. We dive a lot on these trips, so to cram them all in, and make time for surface intervals, we start before breakfast.
The briefing is short and sweet. Everyone on board is an experienced diver, so there’s no need for lengthy information. The crew does repeat the safety instructions, even though we’ve heard them so many times we could repeat them verbatim in our sleep (actually, naming the safety procedures wouldn’t be a bad tradeoff for a quick snooze right now). This morning we’re at St. John’s, a number of reefs somewhat removed from the mainland and the vacation destinations of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada. Divers are infrequent visitors here. Day boats can’t make it out this far, and liveaboards rarely venture this far away. We’re diving the reef called Small Gotta, a fairly large reef, in spite of its name, with a cave system starting at around 45 feet and moving deep into the reef.
From the moment my fins break the surface, the lure of traveling this far off the beaten path is obvious: the immediate impression of both the marine life and the health of the reef is that they’re far better than further up north. Between destructive fishing methods and thoughtless divers, coral reefs worldwide have seen much damage, but here they seem to have found a sanctuary. Not that there’s no sign of human activity, but there’s far less than other places I’ve been. We spend a few dives exploring the cave and the reef, and even manage to find a secondary, smaller cave system, one that our local guides didn’t know of. In spite of only being a day’s sail away from my usual haunts in the Red Sea, the water is noticeably warmer here, and I soon swap my 5 mm wetsuit for a 3 mm, and on a later dive, opt for board shorts and a neoprene top. The water temperature peaks at just below 90 degrees, and the temperature is consistent even down to 100 feet.
After the day’s dives and a hearty dinner, we’re sailing again. The wind has picked up, making for another rocky trip. We take to the lounge area on the top deck and have an end-of-day beer, clutching our bottles to prevent them from taking an unmanned trip over the side of the ship. Before heading to bed, I go to the dive deck and check my gear for the morning’s dive (I always prefer doing it in the evening, when I’m awake and less likely to make a mistake), and before I head for my bunk, I check my compass. Due south. We’re not there yet.