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Nick & Caroline meet Hesham Gabr – Founder of Camel Dive Club & Hotel

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Whilst on our recent trip to Sharm el Sheikh we got the chance to have lunch with Hesham Gabr, founder, owner and Managing Director at Camel Dive Club & Hotel. We chatted about the early days in Naama Bay, the success of Camel Dive Club, the current situation and his hopes for the future.

Hesham first came to Sharm el Sheikh in 1982, when he was just 22 years old. He had dropped out of his university course in Cairo after becoming disillusioned with life in the city, which was crowded, noisy & polluted. Instead, he dreamed of being one of the pioneers in developing the “unknown” Egypt – the Sinai Peninsula. He was lucky to have a friend with a geologist father, who travelled along the coast and had access to scuba diving equipment. Hesham’s first dive was done hanging onto his friends tank and buddy breathing from their only regulator – but he was hooked.

At first Hesham tried to buy a piece of land in Nuweiba, but this fell through. He returned to Sharm, donned a mask and snorkel to see what the reefs off Naama Bay had to offer, and decided to stay. At the time, there were only three, Israeli owned, dive centres in the region. He got a job filling tanks at one of them, working in exchange for learning to dive properly. In 1983, Hesham became a PADI diving instructor, and decided that he should also go back to university to finish his degree in Anthropology. He divided his time, using the midnight bus that ran from Sharm to Cairo, between his studies, and teaching his fellow students to dive.

In March 1986, Hesham Gabr successfully bought his plot of land in Naama Bay. His new diving centre was opened in December of that same year, but as the lawyers were finalising all the paperwork, they phoned Hesham to say that everything was in order apart from one thing – what was the name of this business going to be? Hesham had given no thought to this idea, and as he glanced out of the window, a lone camel wandered down the street past the new dive centre. That was it – “Call it Camel Dive Club,” and with that this historic scuba business was born.

In 1994 they started work on the hotel. The architects suggested knocking down the dive centre and building the new joint operation from scratch, but Hesham wanted to keep the centre and ordered them to build around the original site, so the stone walls you see today at the dive centre are still the originals. The hotel was finished in 1997. Now the Camel Dive Club and Hotel offers diving, hotel, food and, of course, the famous roof top bar where divers have always met to discuss their adventures over a cold beer.

The scuba diving business boomed in the 90s and continued to grow for another 20 years, seeing divers flocking here for the great diving, warm, all year round sunshine, clear blue waters and a vibrant social scene. However, with political changes and a terrible terrorist attack, numbers coming here have plummeted. If you look down the main streets, it is like a ghost town, but as we talked to Hesham about these troubled times, we were delighted to hear some optimism from him. Many divers are now returning, particularly with from mainland Europe as they are able to fly directly once again; they are returning to a destination they have always loved. Many have never stopped, with loyal Camel Dive Club customers finding a way to come visit throughout. But, flight capacities are limited and even when the UK finally does give Sharm airport the all clear, it will take some time for the travel companies to add flights onto their schedules. Hesham expects 2017 to be another tough year, but not quite as tough as the last two years. But, he has high hopes for 2018.

The positive news right now is that the dive sites are uncrowded, the reefs have been under less pressure and are, as a result, in spectacular health. In our next feature for Scubaverse we will talk about how you can get there right now, fully insured and with some great deals on offer.

www.cameldive.com

For more from Nick and Caroline, visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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Blogs

A Red Sea Scuba Scene (Part 2 of 2)

Sean Chinn

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The first two days of diving were amazing – I think you’ll agree after reading Part 1 of the blog HERE. We left the Brothers Islands setting sail for Daedalus – the southernmost point of our itinerary around 275km southeast of Hurghada. Conditions were perfect for our crossing and continued throughout our day at Daedalus for three dives. I was so excited for this site as it was the highlight on my previous trip and I’d also had word it was the hot spot for oceanic whitetips the last couple of months.

A feeding hawksbill turtle pays no attention to the divers on Daedalus.

We moored up by the lighthouse at the southern point of the island and was thankful to see there weren’t as many boats as at the Brothers. Our first dive was a rib dive to the North Point to drift out in the blue at around 25 metres+ in the hope of seeing scalloped hammerheads. I wasn’t expecting the same action as my previous trip with schools of around 20 hammerheads due to difference in the time of year and sure enough the action didn’t hit as big. We spotted a couple of lone hammerheads between the group deeper than 40 metres. After spending half the dive in the blue we came back to the stunning East wall with its amazing soft coral and small fish life. Towards the end of the dive we had an incredible encounter with a feeding hawksbill turtle that was completely comfortable with our presence as it fed on the soft coral. It’s always a pleasure seeing turtles.

Oceanic whitetip shark swimming under the sun at Daedalus.

Although we were on the rib once the dive was finished, the action wasn’t over. As we neared Scuba Scene we saw some commotion with other ribs in front stopping and looking in the water. Initially the rib skipper said it was a whale shark but as we neared we saw the unmistakeable dorsal fin of an oceanic whitetip shark break the surface. In fact, there were two of them and they were really excited. I lent over the side with my camera and got my best photos of them as one came to investigate bumping into the camera. This is what I love; this is what gets me excited and sure enough for the next two dives I decided to stay under our boat at around 5 metres for most of the dives. There were three in total around Daedalus and I had some incredible close-up encounters with them. This is what I was here for and I was so happy after our day at Daedalus with the oceanics.

Although the conditions at Daedalus were like glass, the weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the next two days and the decision was made to journey back north to Elphinstone instead of staying for another day at Daedalus. I was a little disappointed as it would mean missing out on some more great shark action. However, I missed out on Elphinstone on my last trip due to bad weather and was happy to get the chance to dive there finally.

Lionfish swimming amongst the stunning reef of South Plateau, Elphinstone.

Sure enough the winds picked up during the night and it was a lot more choppy when moored up at Elphinstone. With Scuba Scene’s size, it was very capable of dealing with rougher seas and we planned for a full day there. We had two morning dives before deciding to head inland as conditions worsened. My dive buddy and I stuck with the South Plateau for the two dives and both were stunning. The life on the plateau was amazing as lionfish were in abundance and while photographing them I got surprised by my very first torpedo ray. It was only a juvenile and what a cutie it was as it swam over my dome and turned just before it hit me and swam away. Two friendly hawksbills were again a highlight as they didn’t care for the divers exploring the plateau. While ANOTHER oceanic whitetip really made our trip to Elphinstone in bad weather worthwhile. FIVE different oceanics on the trip; I was happy to just get one but buzzing with the action at three different sites.

Colourful pyjama nudibranch on a night dive at Abu Dabab 3.

It wasn’t all bad leaving Elphinstone early as we managed to get an extra dive in with a night dive at Abu Dabab 3 after an afternoon dive there also. The afternoon dive was a highlight of the trip for me as I got to experience something different with a “cave” dive of sorts. My dive buddy sat the dive out but guide Adma Rashed was eager to get in as he loved exploring the caves. I was soon following him exploring a shallow cave system through the reef. As it happens, this was his first time exploring the whole way through the system and he was so happy after the dive. I’m no cave diver and have no interest in deep cave exploration but this was really fun and different to everything else on the trip. I’d certainly like to do more of this relaxed type of cave diving.

One of the many moray eels at Small Giftun Island.

The rest of the trip for the Thursday and half a day on the Friday was Red Sea reef heaven again. A night dive at Mangrove Bay provided a couple of cuttlefish (I love cuttlefish) and also my first time seeing a Spanish Dancer underwater. Although we tried the seagrass at Marsa Shona and saw a green sea turtle from the surface, we couldn’t find any underwater and soon left to explore the reef – an amazing reef full of blue spotted ribbontail rays to enjoy. We finished with two dives at the Police Station dive site around Small Giftun Island. The gorgonian fan corals were a beautiful sight but the highlight of diving here were the huge moray eels and, in particular, one huge free swimming moray that swam next to me for a brief period right at the end of my last dive.

WHAT A WEEK OF DIVING!!!! Thank you Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving.

Exploring a shallow cave system at Abu Dabab 3 was a real highlight.


Sean Chinn travelled as a guest of Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving. Scuba Scene is available to book exclusively through Oyster Diving. Please contact info@oysterdiving.com or call 0808 253 3370 to find out more or reserve your space!

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Blogs

A Red Sea Scuba Scene (Part 1 of 2)

Sean Chinn

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Hopefully by now you should have read my blog about life onboard Scuba Scene Liveaboard. If you haven’t then you can find it HERE. Now it’s time to find out about how my trip went underwater. I was lucky enough to join M/Y Scuba Scene for a ‘Shark Week’ special exploring the Southern Red Sea with a particular interest in finding sharks. While also enjoying informative presentations from biologist and Red Sea Sharks extraordinaire Elke Bojanowski. It’s been 7 years since my last trip to the Red Sea and on the same southern route as I completed this time around. I was so excited to finally get back and see how life in the Red Sea is doing after so many years.

A coral pinnacle in the Red Sea is awash with life full of colour.

The diving started with a full day at Gota Abu Ramada with the order of the day including two day dives and a night dive. I was buddied up with a fellow solo male traveller and we quickly worked out that we would take a relaxed approach to the diving week and take our time as a buddy pair without a guide. I was chomping at the bit to get in and see what I’d been missing all these years since my last Red Sea visit. After a quick weight check we were off exploring the beautiful clear waters. Wow!! I was back and in love. Visibility so clear it’s hard to believe you’re actually underwater and then there it was. A typical Red Sea pinnacle towering through the water; I made a beeline straight for it and the closer I got the more I remembered. This was the Red Sea, this is what has people flocking here in numbers to dive. Anthias dancing in unison around stunning coral formations saturated in colour while your typical venomous predators camouflage into the cracks as best they can. A scorpionfish caught my eye as it lay motionless amongst the coral.

Mountains of coral rise to the surface throughout the Red Sea.

It was so refreshing to be back amongst the stunning colours and finding all the beautiful marine life between the coral formations and sand. It wasn’t long before I found my favourite typical Red Sea critter relaxing on the sand. The beautiful bluespotted ribbontail ray is ever-present on the reefs around Egypt but I am always excited when I find one. The lionfish too, but again I’m always eager to photograph the beautiful colours they both provide amongst the reef. Two great dives were had reintroducing me to Red Sea life and a relaxed night dive full of life added to a great day. Two octopus and a cute little cuttlefish were the highlights making me wish I’d put my macro lens on for the dive. What a great start!

It was time!! Time for why we were there and why people choose a Southern Red Sea liveaboard. We headed south to the sea mounts that break up the open ocean, providing the perfect stop gap for large pelagics to make an appearance on their journey. Our first stop were the Brothers Islands, with ‘Little Brother’ being the starting point for the first two dives. There was a slight concern seeing the number of other liveaboard boats around but it’s understandable after a tough couple of years and suddenly people are able to travel easier, no doubt a rush to enjoy the underwater world again. It didn’t take away from the beauty of what the reef walls provide at Little Brother island. A sea of anthias to swim through against amazing soft coral formations and stunning vis made me a happy boy. I also spotted a grey reef shark cruising the reef below, while some guests onboard saw a distant thresher shark at the North Point cleaning station.

My first glimpse of an oceanic whitetip shark in the blue.

While all this action was great, it was the oceanic whitetip sharks I was on this trip to see. A shark that had eluded me so far but I knew in the winter it was a great time to see them on this itinerary. They were top of my bucket list for a shark to photograph that I hadn’t already, so I was itching to get my chance. Word started to spread between the first and second dive that one was patrolling between a couple of the liveaboards moored up a small distance from our position.

Our dive plan (my buddy and I) was to cruise the wall along the west point from the North to the boats moored at the South Plateau – in order to get under the boats and hope to find it. The anticipation surged through my body as I hit the first mooring line as we drifted into the blue under the boats. The minutes passed and I wondered if my air would last. Then boom!! A heart-stopping moment as I caught my first glimpse of this perfect pelagic shark. These are the moments I dive for as the adrenalin burst through my body and my excitement was uncontrollable, pointing and shouting excitedly to my buddy. It was a relaxed meeting with a couple of relatively close passes before our time was up. A great start to the big southern dive sites and a sign of things to come. We finished the day with one dive at Big Brother and the beautiful Numidia wreck full of life. A site that I loved the last time also.

A single anemone with Red Sea clownfish has attached itself to the wreck of the Numidia.


Sean Chinn travelled as a guest of Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving. Scuba Scene is available to book exclusively through Oyster Diving. Please contact info@oysterdiving.com or call 0808 253 3370 to find out more or reserve your space!

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