Mike visited:

» Thailand
» Myanmar (Burma)
» Laos
» Cambodia
» Vietnam
» India
» Nepal
» Egypt
» Jordan
» Uganda
» Tanzania
» Malawi
» Mozambique
» Swaziland
» South Africa

View a map of his route.

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Diving Dahab in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula

Something was terribly wrong. I'd tapped a little air into my BCD (buoyancy control device) and, somehow, the valve was now stuck open, over inflating the BCD (which you wear like a vest), sending me on a panicky bullet train to the surface. I pulled frantically at the BCD's release valve. Nothing happened. Air began screaming out of a valve behind my head. It sounded like a person shouting. I continued to rocket upward. I turned myself upside down and kicked frantically, slowing my ascent slightly. Far below, my divemaster buddy and two girls from Newcastle looked up at me. I popped up on the surface a few seconds later. Air continued to blast out of the valve behind me.

I'd ascended 15 meters in less than 20 seconds. That isn't good. If I'd been deeper, I may have bought myself an express ticket to the decompression chamber in nearby Sharm el-Sheikh. Or worse.

As it was, I was uneasy, my dive ended prematurely, and I had a new anxiety to add to my underwater repertoire. But I wasn't going to let a dangerous equipment malfunction undermine my desire to see the world below Egypt. I began an advanced dive course the next morning.

instructor and students
Advanced Open Water Certification
Keen to do some deep dives, I enrolled in a two-day PADI Advanced Open Water course. This course takes you down to 30 meters under the close supervision of a licensed instructor.

Being 30m below the surface is like being 10 stories down; if anything goes wrong at that depth, it's extremely serious. Also, after 25m most divers feel the effects of nitrogen narcosis, a state of intoxication caused by excess nitrogen in the blood.

How Narced Are You?
I did my first deep dive at a site known as the Canyon. Entering the water from the shore, we snorkeled over a reef and then dropped down to 22m. This put us at the edge of the Canyon, which is a wide fissure in the coral floor where you can drop down an additional 10 meters.

Wael pets a moray
A huge moray eel sat in the coral at the lip of the canyon. My instructor Wael (pronounced "while") swam over to the beast, reached out, and began stroking it under the chin like you'd stroke a cat. The moray clearly enjoyed this. Watching the hideous creature writhe in pleasure and sort of grin greatly eased my anxiety about diving deep.

The descent into the canyon was pleasant. I hovered above the big crack in the coral, tapped some air out of my (new) BCD, and floated down to 30m in a horizontal position. I felt utterly free. Better still was the view from the bottom. Watching the silhouetted forms of my dive companions glide down amidst a flurry of air bubbles filled me with intense, unadulterated elation.

Yep, I was narced out of my mind.

Earlier, Wael conducted a test to measure my mental response time. On a plastic slate, he'd drawn the numbers 1 through 20 in a random order and had me locate and point to them in consecutive order. On the surface, I'd completed the exercise in a none-too-snappy 35 seconds; at the bottom of the Canyon, I clocked in at a dopey 45.

giant white spotted pufferfish
Care to Supersize Your Marine Life?
From the bottom of the canyon we ascended through an enclosed tunnel to a cramped cave known as the Fishbowl. Hundreds of inch-long, translucent glass fish crowded the water. Directly outside the Fishbowl the water was equally congested with goldfish and small blue fish that shimmered in the refracted sunlight.

Fish in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aquaba seem to be much larger than their counterparts in the rest of the world. Huge groupers dwarfed me as they lumbered past; puffer fish the size of Mini Coopers hid beneath table corals and giant clams. Even the sea slugs swell to enormous proportions.

Deep Black Sea
lionfish at night
My course curriculum also included a night dive, a concept which has always given me the creeps. Night dives were an option after my first class in Thailand, but I'd kindly refused; the thought of taking a giant stride off the back of a boat into pitch black water holds very little appeal for me.

But most dives off Dahab are shore dives, where you suit up on the beach and walk right into the water. The shore dive factor removed some terror from the equation. Also, Wael inspired confidence. And I didn't have much choice – either I did the night dive or I didn't get the certification.

We suited up, tested our lights, and walked into the water just after nightfall. My classmates and I were nervous.

"Okay, everybody ready?" Wael asked as we were about to descend.

We gave him the ‘okay' sign.

"You sure?"

We nodded.

"Michael, Toby – you guys have your snorkels in. You might breathe easier through your regulators."

Oh yeah.

Spanish dancer at night
Under the water, I realized I had nothing to fear. I was familiar with the site. My light illuminated my surroundings remarkably well. Moreover, the darkness was almost comforting. The limited field of vision provided by the light encouraged me to look more closely at what I could see, and I picked up details I'd never before noticed.

The marine life was extraordinarily active. Lionfish patrolled the sandy bottoms, an irate octopus glared up at our lights, a huge Spanish Dancer (a red, slug-like creature) wriggled across a coral pinnacle.

Toward the end of the dive we even turned our lights off and hovered in blackness. Then suddenly: sparks. Wael was agitating the water in front of him, forcing positive and negative ions to collide and glow phosphorescent (or something like that). We all began churning the water in front of us, creating galaxies of fading stars against a black water sky.

the Blue Hole from above
The Blue Hole
The most infamous dive site in Dahab is known as the Blue Hole. Located just a meter offshore, the Blue Hole is a crater in the coral floor that's as big around as a baseball diamond and over 100m deep. Considered by many to be the most deadly dive site in the world, the blue hole has claimed over 120 lives since it was discovered in 1962.

My classmates and I entered the water to the north of the Hole in a narrow crack in the coral known as the Bells. We immediately descended to the bottom of the fissure, into the open water, 30m below the surface. This was just my second deep dive; I worked hard to control my buoyancy and keep my cool.

On one side of me, a towering wall of brilliantly-colored coral marked the coastline. On the other side was a vast, empty expanse of clear, deep blue water – the abyss.

the wall and the abyss
We swam along the coral wall toward the Blue Hole. I tried to focus on the fish and the coral, but the abyss demanded my attention. Beautiful and terrible, the vast expanse of empty open water filled me with a peculiar dread. I wasn't afraid of what could be "out there"; I was disturbed by a feeling the water evoked. It made me feel miniscule.

After 20 minutes at 20m along the wall, we ascended to seven meters and swam over a coral ridge into the Blue Hole. Before the dive we'd agreed to swim across the Hole dead-center, and as we did so the crater walls and other frames of reference fell from view.

At around 55m in depth the Blue Hole merges with a cave known as the Archway that leads to the outside sea. Using a special formula of air designed for deep dives, experienced technical divers can successfully reach the arch, swim 26m through the cave, emerge into the open sea, and ascend to the surface. It's also possible (and considerably more dangerous) to perform the dive on regular air in multi-tank, staged dives.

memorial stone near the Blue Hole
Most people who die in the Blue Hole attempt to reach the open sea with improper equipment. Others succumb to narcosis or confusion while simply experimenting with depth. More disturbingly, some individuals appear to have made it out into the open sea and then descended even further. Nitrogen narcosis can make a person do very strange things. The abyss can be fatally seductive.

Deep, empty blue surrounded me as I swam across the surface of the Blue Hole. Sunlight reached down in dancing, splintering shafts. Mesmerized, I stared down at the light. I felt surreally calm. After a while, the light appeared to be coming up out of the hole. The depths beckoned me. I began to feel like I was up for going just a little deeper, if only to see where that light was coming from.

Fortunately, that wasn't an option. I was attached to Wael, breathing off his alternate air source. Spooked by the void and the thrill of my second deep dive, I'd consumed most of my own air before we'd even reached the Blue Hole.

It's Getting Better All the Time
it's all good
I received my Advanced Certificate later that day - in spite of my need to "buddy breathe" in the Blue Hole. And in spite of the dread I felt in the abyss, I returned to the Hole. The void was still chilling, still freakishly enticing, but it didn't have such a severe impact on me. I stayed down for 57 minutes and still had air when I surfaced.

The next day, during a shallower dive, I had a total bottom time of 67 minutes, shattering my previous record.

The incident with the malfunctioning BCD no longer troubles me. In fact, it's made me a stronger diver. I'm better prepared for emergency situations now, and I know how to react better during them. And in the case of deep dives, that knowledge may make the difference between entering the abyss forever and living to dive another day.

What do you think?

  • Ever gone deep?
  • Ever face the abyss?
  • What’s the best dive site in the world?
Posted on June 16, 2003 09:26 AM


Comments (post your own below)

positive and negative ions? Phosphorescence? Not quite, dude. It's Bioluminescence. Amazing stuff, eh?

"Bioluminescence is simply light produced by a chemical reaction which originates in an organism." Check out the Bioluminescence Web Site

Posted by: SchmankBomb on June 16, 2003 10:21 AM

Misfunctioning diving equipment! That sends chills down my spine. Thanks for another great mini-adventure to start my Monday.


Posted by: Hans on June 16, 2003 10:29 AM

Great Blog! I have been following you since January 2003.
Great underwater shots from Thailand and Egypt.
If you ever get the chance, dive in Maui. You will be floored by all the sea life. Whales, sharks and incredible coral.
Thanks for letting me share your adventure.

Posted by: Frank on June 16, 2003 11:26 AM

I don't want to come off like a dive snob, but I was more scared about the fact that you used your dive master's octopus than the fact that your bc flipped out. Buddy breathing is something you should only do in the case of an emergency not becuase you want to max out your bottom time. Wael should have known this and made you and a buddy head for surface when your pressure got low. Most dive accidents happen when people disregard the rules of safe diving. In the future, I'd hope you realize this and choose to cut your dive short and try it again another day rather than risk your own safety.

That said, the pictures look great.

As for top dive sites, I've been to a bunch of them and for my money Richeleiu Rock between the Similian and Surin Islands of Thailand stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Anyhow travel well and be safe.

Posted by: Mipetcole on June 16, 2003 01:34 PM

Really enjoying your blog!
In answer to your questions:
3)Saba in the Caribbean

Posted by: Peter on June 16, 2003 04:40 PM

I saw lion fish at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium recently. Must be great to see them in their own digs. Great adventure you're having. Great site!

Posted by: Robert Novickas on June 16, 2003 04:40 PM

The Blue Hole off Belize contains hundreds of bull sharks and underwater stalactites and stalagmites!!

The reef life in PNG Walindi, west new britain, in 87 was the best i've ever seen. . .and sadly, will EVER see (because of the worldwide dieoffs)

Posted by: Ed Miller on June 17, 2003 10:08 AM

How did you take the underwater photos? You should do a little rundown on your equipment when you're not risking your life.

Posted by: Chuck on June 17, 2003 03:41 PM

Great Site!
Great diving story.

Love the pics.

Be safe!

Posted by: Brian on June 17, 2003 05:40 PM

The only diving I have done was mere snorkeling in the Caribbean, at St. Lucia. But, it was very inspiring to swim in the center of a school of fish. I would love to do a real dive someday.

Posted by: Caleb on June 20, 2003 12:22 AM

got no time to update the "Here's a map of the route he's taken." - eh? can't blame u though - what with so much adventure, who's got the time to update the silly map!

Posted by: Joy B on June 23, 2003 01:38 PM

This site is great, the photos are beautiful, the travelouge's are interesting and not too long. I have been reading it for a few months. I love it. Thanks.

Posted by: Joe on June 24, 2003 07:58 AM

For what it's worth, I failed my open water course at Hurghada because I used up the tank too quickly. Maybe it was bad karma for doing it at Hurghada...hands down the most charm free of the Red Sea resorts. Glad to see you had fun underwater in the good ole "Bahr-al-Ahmar". Hopefully, you'll have also partaken of some of the surface "distractions" available to you in Dahab.

Posted by: hK on June 26, 2003 10:40 AM


First, great site buddy. Will keep on following you....

Glad to see you're still alive. I will not comment any further on the diving in Dahab ;-(

The waters are good though ;-)

HK: you can NOT fail a dive course because you use too much air. You've been suckered. For what it's worth.... I am an instructor myself.

To answer your 3 questions:
1) Yes (trimix)
2) Yes (trimix)
3) Don't know yet ;-) Every site has something...

Grtz Johan/BJ

Posted by: Johan van Dijk on June 30, 2003 02:06 AM

Hey Joy B.

Here's the updated map of the route I've taken.

Posted by: mike on June 30, 2003 10:28 AM

Hey Chuck!

Here's the long-overdue rundown on the equipment I'm carrying.

Posted by: mike on July 1, 2003 10:20 AM

Thank u Mike! one suggestion though - changing the legend for blue lines from 'sea travel' to 'water travel' will be appropriate - no?

Posted by: Joy B on July 3, 2003 11:55 AM

Congratulations!, a great-great site really...
I'm planning my 7-months India & Southeast Asia journey right now, starting next December, extremely enthusiastic about that.
But I heard you`re also thinking of a "southamerican" episode..?
I'm living in Barcelona now but I'm from Argentina and will be back there soon -after my asian tour, probably-, so anything I could be helpful with for your plans, you know, you have your "Buenos Aires's Contact" already, count on it!
Good luck!

Posted by: Natalia on July 5, 2003 06:07 AM


I know this is a long shot,but I was wondering if anyone reading this site had been in the Dahab area in 1995,round about June time.My brother and three other divers disappeared in the area,and it is thought they were diving in or around the Blue Hole or the Canyon.The only evidence found was all his diving equipment lying on the beach,but there was no other trace of him or his friends.Many investigations were launched,but due to the nature of the Egyptians and their authorities,answers were never found.It could of been an accident,but neither I nor my parents can ever really rest until we come across the truth.His name was David Warner,and he was working in the Lagoona Dive Club for a while with his girlfriend (Lisa Thompson) and two German divers who also disappeared.David was Scottish,about 5'10'' tall,had long sun bleached hair at the time and dark brown eyes.He was very friendly with a lot of the locals,and bedouins.I had also been in the area a month before the accident,so am fairlu familiar with it.Investigations still continue,but obviously after so long,anything seems futile.
If anyone can tell me any information,no matter how small,I would be dearly grateful.My e-mail address is [email protected]

Posted by: Rob Warner on July 15, 2003 09:03 AM

- "Fish in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aquaba tend to be much larger than their counterparts in the rest of the world.". How do you know ? You have only been diving in Koh Tao and Dahab. Wrong statement.
- "the Blue Hole is a crater in the coral floor [...] and almost 60m deep". Then I'm wondering how people can dive 120m there... are they digging in the coral ? You are obviously confused with the arch depth.
- "The incident with the malfunctioning BCD no longer troubles me. In fact, it's made me a stronger diver. I'm better prepared for emergency situations now, and I know how to react better during them". Really, what would you do next time ?
- etc etc etc...

All in all, you have great journalistic talents with an awesome aptitude to write a load of wrong in a dramatic way. That is entertaining at least. Please make an effort to write true info

Posted by: leaw on August 3, 2003 10:05 PM


» How do you know where I've been diving? Were you with me each time? If so, you've forgotten the Cayman Islands, Mexico, and Vietnam.

That said, I don't want to come off as an authority on the size of marine life; I've revised the entry so it reads "Fish in the Gulf seem to be much larger..."

» Thanks for pointing out my error regarding the depth of the Blue Hole. I've made the correction in the story. (Here are some maps of the Blue Hole.)

» If my inflator hose was stuck and over inflating the BCD I'd try to detach it and then achieve neutral buoyancy before I reached the surface.

I value your comments, Leaw, but your tone strikes me as angry and excitable. Take it easy. This project is meant to be fun.

Posted by: mike on August 4, 2003 04:56 AM

Mike.. what an amazing journey you have had so far! The site is a great way of sharing your adventure, and I am glad to have learnt about it.

I have wanted to dive for a few years, but recently have become really serious about it, and have looked at a lot of the sites around, but with the variety available it is hard to know where to go.

I came across your site while searching Dahab, a site I have had recommended to me. I want to do my Open Water and Advanced course in one trip - can you suggest where is best to go - safety and quality of the dive ?

I am from Zimbabwe but am currently living in Ireland.

Thanks for any help you can give..

Posted by: Neil Gatward on August 8, 2003 08:41 AM

WOW!! Thank you so much for your view on the Blue Hole & The Canyon. I too landed in Dahab and found myself doing my 'Advanced Course' and stumbling across your story here was just like reliving it myself - Narced in the Canyon for my first ever deep dive. In awe of the Abyss from Bells to Blue Hole. The night diving first a little scary then oh so relaxing, calming and addictive. So often I have tried to share my experience in words with people and here you have it typed word for word. Thank you for sharing your adventures and allowing me to relive some of my own.

Posted by: Sandra Parish on November 8, 2003 03:21 AM

I have to say that as an instructor who just recently got out of diving and teaching in Dahab, your story just re-inforces what I have been telling people ever since...DO NOT DIVE IN DAHAB. It is THE most dangerous place I have EVER dived in 20 years!! The equipment is extremely dangerous, the local DM's and instructors are almost universally both ill-trained and irresponsible. The Red Sea is beautifull but Dahab is NOT the place to learn to dive! Your DM, who'm I know personally, should have aborted the dive and not continued with you atached to him. Alternate Air Source procedures are EMERGENCY procedures designed to give you a way to terminate the dive, not continue it. I could go on forever about diving in Dahab, but I'll leave it at that...for now.

Posted by: Alex King on December 24, 2003 08:48 AM

Great story!

I had the opportunity to dive Dahab in June of 2000. I cant imagine anything better. Just like swimming in an aquarium. The Red Sea may not be a place for beginers, but I would reccomend it to anyone. I too did a buddy breathe with my guide when I sucked up most of my air. He handed me his octopuss when my air ran low... not out, just low. Without that I would have missed so much. He took us on several dives that trip, and each was better than the last. Thanks for bringing back memories of a fantastic vacation.

If you have not been diving in the Red Sea, you have not been diving. =)

Posted by: Ryan on January 3, 2004 05:37 AM

Dahab was my first diving holiday ever. I stayed at the Coral Coast Hotel. The diving was absolutley amazing!!!!!!!. I am definitley going back next year to re-live the excitement. My fav dive was the dump because i did it at night as part of my advanced open water cource. It opened up a whole new world to diving. My instructer was amazing, Ritchard Moncad. I felt so safe with him. Thanks to him i homed my skills to a reasonable standard. I would say to anyone to try it once!!

Thanks for letting me rember the quality times had when i went.


Posted by: Keith Winhall on February 26, 2004 05:26 AM

I'm thinking of diving with in Dahab- i've heard that they are quite a proffesional bunch, with good kit etc. Has anyone dived in Dahab with them before? I keep hearing scare stories, and I am hesitating going- no point killing myself!
If anyone has dived with them in Dahab, please let me know, and give me a brief synopsis- dodgy geezers or not dodgy geezers.

Posted by: james on August 4, 2004 05:43 AM

Yikes! I have booked my open water PADI course at Poseidon in Dahab. Now I read an instructor saying don't learn to dive there! I'm incredibly worried now - should I cancel? Is it simply too dangerous for total beginners to learn there?

Posted by: Julie on October 12, 2004 09:24 AM

Message for firstly Julie,
Who is it seems is worried about diving in Dahab with Poseidon Dive Club.
I run Reef 2000 dive club, also in Dahab and I have no hesitation in alaying your fears regarding this club and many others in Dahab including mine.
The 'instructor's comments' sickened me.
The standards of most clubs in Dahab are in fact higher than anywhere I have ever been in over 12 years of Diving. There are a few small clubs that let the side down as there are in most resorts.
There are also misinformed instructors who don't have a clue what they are talking about.
Please e-mail Poseidon and ask to speak to Ed, Simon or Paul. All of whom will put your fears to rest.
Enjoy your holiday.
Dave Elgin

Posted by: Dave Elgin on November 13, 2004 08:15 AM

Message for Julie -
I do hope that you've not cancelled your diving holiday in Dahab. I've just come back from there, having spent two weeks doing my PADI and then Advanced Open Water with Reef 2000 - whose standards were very high, and whose instructors & Dive Masters were excellent. I then went on to add several 'fun' dives to my experience, learning more from the staff's experience and local knowledge. I'd have no hesitation in recommending Dahab to people - I'm already planning my next trip, going back to Reef 2000 to do my Nitrox and night diving.

Also, I was speaking with Dave Elgin yesterday, just before I left to come back to the UK - and I can vouch for the total professionalism and commitment to high standards that he and his whole staff have.

Don't cancel, do go - it's a great place to learn.


Posted by: Carol Moonlight on November 15, 2004 09:08 AM

I am back from Dahab with my PADI Open Water certificate. It was great,only wish I had had time to do the Advanced course.
Poseidon was a great dive centre and I would recommend it to anyone. Our instructor, Mel, was fantastic, a truly great teacher. Unfortunately, she's off back to her home in Australia, via Thailand, so we were lucky to be her last group of beginners.
Cheers for the advice everyone.
Saving up for the next dive trip!

Posted by: Julie on November 16, 2004 09:16 AM

Comments closed.


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