Posted by: Tommy | November 20, 2010

“There better be dolphins in bikinis swimming around the boat…”

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in

I’m writing this on Saturday, 3 days after writing the previous post, from the restaurant at Seven Heaven.  That’s right – I wrote that we were ready to leave and I’m writing again from the same table, 3 days later.  This is not a case of travel apathy- its too early for that.  It’s because we were presented with a special opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.  And it was worth it.

We have gone all-in on diving.  We spent Thursday getting certified for Nitrox – a blend of scuba air that is a higher concentration of oxygen than regular air.  It’s actually safer than normal air, as the chances of decompression sickness are decreased.  And you feel better after, as the build up of nitrogen in the bloodstream is decreased.  And most importantly, you can dive longer.  During our course, we took two hour-long dives, again with Mustafa.  These were the 2 best dives of the trip so far.  No objective, no skills to learn or demonstrate.  We could stay longer and see more because of the nitrox.  Just an amazing time.  We were so excited afterward, and so excited to have found a joint hobby (fantasy football just doesn’t do it for her) that we went out after the second dive and purchased a dive computer.

A dive computer looks like a giant watch, but actually tracks your depth and calculates the nitrogen buildup in your blood, which is pretty much the only thing that keeps you from living underwater, aside from the whole “running out of air” thing.

Anyway, we bought the dive computer and packed our bag for the special experience – the Friday trip to Thistlegorm.  The Thistlegorm was a British resupply ship during WWII that was hit by a single German bomb and went down in about 100 ft. of water off the coast of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in the Red Sea.  Now, Thistlegorm is known as one of the top 5 wreck divesites in the world. So we signed up and debited our “unique experiences” budget for the first time.

Unfortunately, the Thistlegorm is located about 3.5 hours by boat from Sharm El Sheikh – and we aren’t staying in Sharm El Sheikh.  Sadly, this meant that the trip started at 3:30 am for us – and led me to issue the proclamation that “There better be dolphin wearing bikinis and swimming laps around the boat for me to get up at 3am, or I’m not going to be happy with this trip.”  So we set the alarm for 3 am and were in the bus to Sharm by 3:30.  We arrived at the marina at 4:30 and were off by 5.  There were 6 divers from Seven Heaven going, so Mojo, our instructor for our Advanced class, was assigned to dive with our group as the leader.  Which was lucky, because before Mojo ran the dive center at Seven Heaven, he worked the Thistlegorm for 2 years and has over 200 dives there.  We were definitely in good, experienced hands and had a guide who could show us some secrets.

I slept most of the boatride out there, waking only for breakfast.  Upon arriving, we had only about 10 minutes to get all of our gear on before we were to be in the water.  We’d never dove off a boat before, which was a different experience.  It requires a lot more balance and precision than trying to do the same things from the unmoving sand.

When we got in the water and started descending, it became clear that this would be a different type of dive from the others we’d done.  There weren’t bright colors everywhere, not nearly as many colorful fish or other sea life.  But there were tanks, motorcycles and jeeps, plus boots, crates and other gear visible from above.  My favorite part was the giant anti-aircraft gun.

Thistlegorm anti-aircraft cannon

After the first dive, which toured the outside of the ship, we surfaced and discussed the second dive – which would take us inside the body of the ship.  The Thistlegorm had 2 levels of cargo holds and we’d get to go inside both of them and look around.  After the briefing, we only had about 5 minutes to strap our gear back on and it was back in the water, descending 100 ft. again to enter the lower level of the ship.  We swam single-file, with Anna right behind Mojo and me behind Anna, because of the narrow passages that exist below.  It was interesting to see that most of the cargo has not been disturbed for 70 years.  My favorite part was the rows and rows of motorcycles.  There must have been over 50 motorcycles, still very clearly identifiable, though crusted with 70 years of barnacles and other sea build up.

Motorcycles in the hold of Thistlegorm

While there wasn’t the same number of colorful fish to look at, the fish that were around Thistlegorm were a lot bigger, due to the distance from the wreck to the shore or a reef.  We saw some large tuna and several supersized versions of fish we could identify from swimming near the reefs.  The dive wasn’t as visually stimulating without all the multi-colored fish – everything was more monochrome – but the history behind the boat and the things we could see made for an interesting experience.  Anna likened it to diving in a haunted house – you know the 30+ crewmen all died in the boat and now you’re swimming through it, looking at their possessions, left in place for so long.

We surfaced after about 30 minutes and had lunch while moving the boat from Thistlegorm to Ras Mohammed National Park, a reef about an hour away.  We did our third and final dive of the day at Ras Mohammed and were back in a colorful reef.  We saw some crazy stuff.  I spotted a giant moray eel and a blue spotted eagle ray.  Mojo spotted a sea turtle for us, which was very exciting.  It was a great dive to end the day, fun and with some cool sights.

Blue-spotted Eagle ray

After surfacing, it was time to head back.  We were all spent from getting up early and diving all day, so everyone was languishing around the boat.  Anna and I were sitting on the upperdeck, looking at the horizon.  And then she spotted a dolphin jump.  We yelled to the captain, who started beeping his horn – used primarily as a dolphin caller, as far as we know.  As shouts of “Dolphin!” went out around the boat, everyone aboard climbed as far forward as they could to get a peek.  The guy leading the entire day stood “King-of-the-World” style with a huge smile on his face, laughing as the dolphins jumped around the boat.  For almost an hour, the group of 20 or so dolphins raced alongside our boat, jumping occasionally but mostly just darting in front of the boat in turns.  Anna and I were in the very front and got this shot of the dolphins below us.

No bikinis, but pretty cool.

Very satisfied with our day, we are ready to leave Dahab, happy with our 9 day stop and what will undoubtedly be a trip highlight.  We go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows – a 20 hour busride from Dahab to Aswan, Egypt.  We’re going to try and sleep for most of it.


  1. I am surprised and not surprised that Anna has learned to love diving. Not surprised because she took swimming lessons as a very young child, including in preschool at Happiness House. They had an indoor pool and every child took swimming lessons all winter long. They even had a swimming show. Anna loved it. Not surprised because she has confidence and a real sense of adventure and always has. But surprised because she likes to be in control of her environment like her mother does. I am so happy that she is able to do something so different and love it. What fun.

    Tommy you have been very supportive — I can tell. Kudos to you!!

    Sounds so amazing — especially the dolphins sans bikinis. It reminds me of the orca whale watching trip we took off of Telephone on Vancouver Island when Anna was smaller. For almost the entire five hours a pod of orcas (killer whales– think Shamu) circled our boat, jumped the wake and generally were playful and entertaining. It remains special to this day.

  2. Was an awesome adventure!

    Love, Aunt Sandy

  3. What fun! Don’t think I could do it though. I’m too much of a control freak and there is now way that I could have gone inside. But I have dreamed and thought of diving and just how amazing the underwater world is. I am so glad that you two experiened it — and that you both love it! I’m so very proud of you both.

    Maybe an underwater camera should be on your Christmas lists??

  4. Did I tell you that I completed a half-marathon?

  5. These are AMAZING experiences that you will talk about for the rest of your lives. As I’ve said before, you are SO brave & living life to the fullest! I’m SO very proud of you!

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