Nigel Cass from Regaldive recently enjoyed an exciting Sudan liveaboard trip aboard Royal Evolution. Here is Nigel’s trip report sharing some of the many highlights from what sounds like a simply fabulous trip…
I had wanted to do this trip for years, but the timing was never quite right. Therefore when my partner and I finally booked our 14-night trip, the prospect of diving unchartered or rarely dived sites in Sudan, finally seeing hammerhead sharks, visiting the wreck of the Umbria, Cousteau’s Conshelf II underwater project and Sanganeb lighthouse kept me in daydreams for months.
The day finally arrived and we set off early (very early!) from our home in Derby to Gatwick. Never a pleasant journey, but we gritted our teeth and kept all thoughts positive with talk of the impending trip.
Following an uneventful flight to Marsa Alam airport we were transferred to Marina Lodge, where we would spend our first night before boarding the mighty Royal Evolution the following evening. During the evening we met up with some other Brits who had flown in on the same flight and shared a few beers and some banter about everyone’s salty diving tales.
The following day was spent mooching around Port Ghalib, just passing the time until we would be collected by the Royal Evolution team and transferred to the boat.
Boarding the boat was a little more complicated than the usual liveaboard process on account of the boat leaving Egyptian waters. Therefore, guests couldn’t initially put anything in their cabins, as we needed to take everything through the customs office at the port and have our passports stamped. Because of the speed that officialdom moves in certain parts of the world there was a lot of hanging around while we waited until the Customs Officials arrived and were ready to process our departures. The waiting time was spent by chatting to the other guests and Dive Guides, and finalising the admin for the trip, including paying for the Sudanese visa and fuel supplement.
The Officials finally arrived and 24 tired guests marched single file to the customs office and took it in turns to push their luggage through the detectors, have their passport stamped and then drag it all back to the boat. Where, at last we could unpack, set up our dive gear and look forward to the trip ahead…
Apart from a handful of Brits, the guests came from Europe, the US and Russia; all with a good level of diving ability and experience.
The first day we moored at St Johns (still in Egyptian waters) and split into three groups (one group per Dive Guide) and did two checkout dives. It wasn’t Sudan yet, but at least we were all diving, and it gave us a chance to make any last minute adjustments to our setups and get the measure of the other divers in our group.
Two dives down and it was time to leave Egyptian waters and head for Sudan. Because of the distance involved, it meant sailing for the rest of the day and overnight, before passing into Sudanese waters early the following morning.
I remember waking up the following day and heading up to the top deck to see what Sudan looked like. A beautiful day greeted me with a stunning view of crystal clear waters with the occasional reef kissing the surface.
We soon passed a larger reef with some small fishing boats nearby and the rusting hulk of a ship that had inadvertently sailed too close. There was plenty of talk amongst us all about finally being in Sudanese waters and what to expect from the trip. Next stop was Port Sudan for more Customs admin before the trip really started…
My expectations and the reality of Port Sudan couldn’t have been further apart. I expected a shack office, a few boats moored up and a couple of Officials with guns. The reality is that Port Sudan can be seen from miles away, looming in the distance, with supply roads and infrastructure running along the coastline long before we arrived at the port.
Before the boat finally moored up in the area reserved for smaller marine vessels, we passed huge dry docks, cranes, container ships, a power plant and warehouses stretching our as far as the eye can see.
Finally mooring up, we waited for the Sudanese Officials to board the boat and stamp our passports. The boat refuelled and we all took the opportunity to take photos from the boat (we are not allowed on land) and watch as the life of Port Sudan passed by. We saw a modern infrastructure, brand new buildings and roads, modern cars and locals watching us with the same level of curiosity and fascination as we were watching them.
Once the boat was fully fuelled and all passports were stamped it was time to kit up for our first dive in Sudan: the wreck of the Umbria, lying just outside Port Sudan.
The Umbria was a WWII Italian transport vessel that was scuppered at the outset of the war by the Captain in order to prevent its cargo from falling into Allied hands. Despite the natural deterioration of the ship and its cargo, it is relatively intact, unlike the Thistlegorm which has fallen victim to far too many divers visiting it down the years.
In the holds divers can see piles of bullets, shells, bomb-making equipment, hundreds of wine bottles (sadly all empty!) and even three Fiat cars. We did two dives on the Umbria, one in the afternoon and a particularly memorable one at dusk that gave the boat a spectacular ghostly silhouette in the gloom.
Excitement onboard was high as we all discussed our experience of the wreck, shared photos and looked forward to the next 11 days diving in Sudan…
There would be far more diving adventures over the next 11 days, and it would take just as long in describing how simply astonishing the dives were. However, to give you a flavour of how stunning the diving in Sudan is, here are some of my highlights:
My first experience of seeing a hammerhead shark was a huge let down. I had dreamed of diving with hammerhead sharks for years, and when the moment finally came it was a solitary shark. Sure, I was excited, but I felt short changed. Where were the schools that I had dreamed about? On the following dive my question was answered: we hit 30m, came off the reef and looked out into the blue. The Dive Guide started signalling hammerheads and we were joined by a huge school of hammerhead sharks: above us, below us, in the distance, right next to us: they were everywhere. We were all trying to look in every direction at once. When we got back on board my partner said it had been raining hammerhead sharks. We all knew what she meant. We dived with huge schools of hammerheads on many other occasions during the trip, and never got tired of it. Surely it’s impossible to tire of diving with huge schools of hammerheads?
At the end of an afternoon dive we were joined at the back of the boat by a dozen silky sharks. These inquisitive sharks kept swimming off and then back again, checking the divers out. Even more surreal was the night dive at the same site: a bit spooky as the silkies appeared out of the darkness as the torch beam hit them.
The self-obsessed turtle that swam right up to a diver’s camera as he was filming her. Whichever way he turned she turned with him, making sure that she could still see her reflection in the camera lens.
A night dive on Conshelf II – the underwater structures built by Jacques Cousteau in order to test how living under pressure affects humans. Diving around SCUBA history felt like we were diving in the footsteps (finsteps? finkicks?) of giants.
Visiting the massive lighthouse at Sanganeb that dominates the skyline for miles. It’s quite an ascent to the top, but the views were stunning and well worth the effort. The colours of the reef were breathtaking.
At this point I should give an honourable mention and huge thanks to the Dive Guides and Crew: all of whom went beyond the call of duty to make the trip a memorable one. Their knowledge, attention to detail, sense of fun, level of service, and kindness created the mood on the boat which we all benefited from as divers and guests.
The food was delicious and plentiful, with three main meals each day, plus tasty snacks waiting for us when we returned from the mid-afternoon dive. A bottle of red wine was provided for each table for the evening meal, with some of us (ahem!) benefitting from our neighbours not liking red wine. I’m not a huge fan, but was happy to compromise…
A delicious last night meal and celebrations were followed by the trip video: Roberto – one of the Dive Guides and resident videographer – took turns to dive with each of the three groups during the trip and compiled footage for each group to take home (supplements apply). So we all gathered together in the lounge to watch each group’s movie and share in the banter of some of the funnier moments.
It all finished far too soon back at Port Ghalib the following morning, when we passed through Egyptian customs once more, before returning to our hotel for the day to relax and buy some souvenirs, before flying out that evening.
There was so much more that happened, so much more to tell, but if you really want to find out more about Royal Evolution and Sudan do give Nigel a call, or better still book a trip to go yourself. What are you waiting for?
Nigel enjoyed a liveaboard trip aboard Royal Evolution, a 39m vessel designed by divers, for divers. Royal Evolution was the first boat with permission to operate this itinerary to Sudan departing from Egypt. An extremely stable vessel, Royal Evolution is well equipped for the distance.
This high level of comfort, combined with access to the best that the Red Sea has to offer, makes this a compelling choice for divers. Royal Evolution offers roomy sun decks with plenty of space and choice of seating for relaxing, in or out of the sun.
To find out more, call the Regaldive team on 01353 659999 or visit Royal Evolution.
This article was originally published by Scubaverse