Benefitting from the nutrient-rich currents that rupture the sometimes-calm Erythraean waters, the Brothers Islands offer some of the Red Sea’s most spectacular diving. Take shelter from the tide in some of the most intriguing wrecks and get ready to drift within this blue abundance.
AFTER six years of almost only diving from RIBs and spreading my clothes around my house, villa, or hotel room, I’d decided it was time to see if I’d enjoy a week on a boat with a bunch of strangers. As a frequent solo traveller, I wondered whether the close confines of a cabin with a random snorer would see me sleeping on the deck by the second night. The allure of remote dive sites, unreachable by day boat, was strong enough for me to give it a go.
About 68 kilometres off the Egyptian coast, the Brothers Islands rise up from the floor of the Red Sea, 800 metres below, forming two small flat tabletops, surrounded by steeply sloping fringing reefs. The larger of the two seamounts, the cunningly named Big Brother, is approximately 300 metres long. It’s one kilometre from its sibling, has a lighthouse, a 12-man army garrison, and would be a great location for a back-to-basics series of the reality TV show of the same name. With the Brothers having the only reefs around, and being washed by strong, nutrient-rich currents, I was attracted by their reported combination of soft corals, pelagics, and sharks – not to mention two good-condition wrecks.
Covering six metres of the eight-metres width of the MY Blue Pearl, the mid-ship dining area had an open plan affair adjoining the lounge that led onto the outdoor dive prep area at the stern.
My fellow shipmates, all liveaboard veterans and mostly return customers, were an eclectic, if slightly Germanic bunch: a German-Dutch couple; two German father-and-son combos; an Austrian quartet made up of a father, his son, the son’s wife and a friend. The 12th man was James, a middle-aged, Libyan-based Scottish teacher, and naturally, my buddy.
I awoke to the sound of water lapping gently on the hull below my open cabin portholes, the early-morning light peeping in. From the deck, Big Brother and its Victorian lighthouse took on a red-brown hue as we boarded two RIBs and headed to the northern tip of the island. The legendary currents appeared absent from the surface, but we did a negative buoyancy entry and went straight down to 10 metres, meeting up above the beginning of the wreck of the SS Numidia, claimed to be one of the best wrecks in the Red Sea. She certainly looked huge and in good condition, given she had spent more than a century exposed in her current-washed resting place.
Built in Glasgow in 1901, the 140-metre long, 6,400-ton Numidia was on her voyage out of Liverpool bound for Calcutta with 7,000 tons of railway and general cargo when in the early hours of July 20, Big Brother’s lighthouse was sighted off the port bow and the captain ordered a slight change of course to continue south passing alongside the island before retiring to his cabin. Fortunately for us, his orders were misinterpreted and the ship ploughed straight into the northern tip of the island. No lives were lost, and much of the cargo was salvaged, but the ship went down, her keel digging into a rocky ledge. Now, she sits on a steep slope, her bow melded into the top of the reef, her stern some 72 metres below.
Descending to join the group, going close to the wreck, I saw it was covered in soft corals and awash with burgundy and white striped Red Sea anthias and lionfish, accustomed to strong currents, sheltering inside. On this day, there was no need, with no current and good visibility; conditions were ideal and we spent the whole dive there, ascending past some coral-encrusted rolling stock bogies at 10 meres, before being picked up by the RIBs and taken back for breakfast.
After catching a few rays on the sun deck, Pia and Mimo said it was time for a shark hunt on the southern plateau. As we were moored off the southern tip and in the absence of current, we would giant-stride off the rear deck and return to the boat at the end. Starting at a depth of 20 metres and sloping down to 40 metres, the plateau is a hotspot for thresher sharks. As we reached 25 metres, Mimo’s arm shot out, finger extended towards the unmistakable scythe-like tail of a thresher shark swimming through a school of fusiliers.
It stayed within view for a couple of minutes before we lost it. We hung around 28 metres as long as our 30 percent nitrox mix would allow us, spotting a distant thresher twice more, before ascending to the top of the reef and chilling out with the sohal surgeonfish.