I was really thrilled when Go Freediving’s Founder and Head Instructor – Emma Farrell – announced that the next Go Freediving liveaboard would be in the Southern Red Sea, I had heard so many good things about it, the clarity of the water, the unspoilt coral reefs teeming with fish. We arrived at Marsa Alam airport and the list of good things grew longer: super-efficient delivery of luggage at the airport, straight through passport control and customs in no time at all, on to a coach and then arriving at the harbour almost before our guide had finished welcoming us.
We were greeted at the boat by our dive guides, Dickon “D” Smith and Adel El Baily and welcomed aboard the Hurricane. As with the boat we used in the North the Mistral, the Hurricane is beautifully fitted out with spacious comfortable cabins and communal areas. As a raging coffee addict the only downside for me of the Hurricane was the lack of espresso machine, but we had plenty of time once we had unloaded our gear and worked out where everything went, to have a wander around the harbour and buy anything that we had forgotten, or in my case, coffee; There was even a Costa coffee shop!
Once the necessities had been purchased we sat down with the dive guides for a quick briefing and discovered the only downside to the Southern Red Sea – if the wind is strong there is very little shelter. Not so much of an issue for scuba-diving but makes for very tricky freediving conditions, especially for beginners. Unusually we were in for three days of fairly windy weather so we had to do some careful planning to try to avoid the worst of it.
We usually start with our ‘confined water session’ in the Northern Red Sea on a shallow beach called Marsa Bareika so we were hoping to find somewhere with a similar profile, unfortunately weather conditions on day one were such that we were unable to moor that close to shore, so we started with an open water session on day one.
The dive guides and the captain worked really hard to find us a sheltered spot and we were lucky enough to have only a slightly choppy surface to contend with and all the students coped really well. Although the surface was a little rough, under the water proved to be everything the south had promised, amazing fish life and beautiful vibrant coral.
After a good first session in the water we were back out in time for lunch. The food on this trip was a real highlight. Scuba Travel have always done really well in catering for our ‘hippy’ freediving dietary requirements for lots of vegetables and less heavy fried food, but the quality of the food on this trip was even better than on the previous trips, which I hadn’t thought was possible.
After lunch we did a theory session and then back in the water for some more open water diving. On every trip there are a mix of abilities, from already qualified divers just looking to have fun and consolidate their skills, to people doing courses from beginner up to advanced level. With always plenty of freediving instructors on board, it means that even when ‘qualified’ divers are in the water they have an instructor on hand. The first few days are quite intense for those doing courses as time out of the water is taken up with theory, whilst those diving for fun can dive as much as they like. On the evening of the first day, it wasn’t until the boat started moving after supper that we realised how well the captain and dive guides had done in finding us shelter, we were in for a bit of a rough night with big swells during our crossing into open water and on to our dive site for the next morning, so it was early to bed in the hopes of getting some sleep between waves!
Day two we were back on our usual schedule with early morning yoga specifically tailored for the flexibility needed for freediving which incorporates lots of breathing exercises, then breakfast and a confined water session on a beautiful little coral island with white sandy beaches, clear turquoise water and an enormous turtle which we found whilst setting the lines for dynamic apnea. It was still a little windy but otherwise perfect for a couple of sessions on finning techniques and dynamic freediving. That evening conditions were a little calmer so we settled down inside the boat for a session of Yoga Nidra which is a form of guided meditation. It is perfect for the deep relaxation needed for freediving, particularly static freediving which is very much a mind game.
By day three the weather was much improved and we were back in the water for a couple of sessions of open water freediving. The huge advantage to learning to freedive over a week rather than the usual weekend course is that it allows people to progress at their own pace. Some people will adapt to freediving faster than others and it is often issues with equalisation that are a barrier to progress. Having a full week in which to learn gives plenty of time to perfect equalisation techniques and to learn to deal with depth.
By day four some students had finished the course requirements and were moving on to recreational freediving on nearby coral reefs while others were still working on the lines, either aiming to dive deeper or still working on technique but everyone stopped to swim with a young hawksbill turtle who had come to visit us on the nearby reef. That evening the weather was calm enough that we were back up on the top deck of the boat under a beautiful starlit sky doing yoga nidra. Everyone was tucked in under their duvets, the only sounds being Emma’s calming voice and the occasional snore.
Day five was dolphin day – we moored near Sattaya Reef which is a well known spot in which a large pod of spinner dolphins are often to be found seeking shelter. Spinner dolphins are known for being a bit more standoffish than the bottle-nosed dolphins that we had freedived with in the Northern Red Sea, so we didn’t really know what to expect. We had barely finished breakfast when the cry went up: ‘dolphins!’ There was then a frantic scramble to get kitted up and in the water as soon as possible so as not to miss a second of possible dolphin interaction. Although I always teach in bi-fins I knew from previous experience that the only way to stand a chance of keeping up with a dolphin’s cruising pace was to be in a monofin and that we would be moving a lot quicker than usual, so I threw on my Aquasphere freediving suit which I usually use for pool sessions and grabbed my monofin. The Aquasphere suit is really light and flexible but being only 2mm thick I would usually be too cold in it in open water, especially when teaching; however it was perfect for the much more energetic task of diving with dolphins. We hopped into the RIBs and headed after the dolphins.
When we got in the water I was astonished to see that we had found a huge pod of about 65 dolphins, ranging in age from very young baby dolphins who were carefully hidden in the middle of the group of adult dolphins and adolescent dolphins who were interested in nothing more than playing around. To start with the dolphins were appropriately wary and kept their distance, but curiosity soon got the better of them, especially the younger ones and we were soon right in the middle of them. It was just magical, particularly when some of the young dolphins decided I might be fun to play with and began buzzing past me and spiralling around me as I ascended back up from depth. We all crawled out of the water exhausted but thrilled by the amazing interactions we had experienced and everyone was chattering happily about dolphins for the rest of the day.
Day six was our final day in the water and by this time everyone was free to choose recreational freediving on the nearby coral reefs or working on the lines to head to greater depth. We found some nice spots to swim through gaps in the coral reef and there were plenty of vibrant corals and fish to admire. Before we knew it we were packing to leave and waving a fond farewell to the Hurricane and our fabulous dive guides, on our way back to the harbour some spinner dolphins came to play with the boat swell, leaping and spinning in our wake and blowing us trails of bubbles. I like to think it was our friends from the previous days blowing us fond farewell kisses and wishing us well on our journey home.
All Photos Courtesy Of and Copyright © Danny Spitz