|Aboard the Dream Island|
We drove to the designated meeting point at a highway gas station on the south end of town to wait for the rest of the tour group that was coming down from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). We got there around 6:10 pm for a 6:15 pm meet-up. We parked between the off-ramp and the highway so we could see their "red bus with German writing on it" and pull out behind them. They had called on our way in and said that they should be here in 15 min. With that much time to spare, Greg darted across the highway off-ramp to find a bathroom. Yeah, that's right. A Saudi highway truck stop bathroom, for when you've really gotta go. While we were waiting, we also got blocked in by two or three vehicles, so we re-positioned our car so that we were actually sitting on the side of the off-ramp (behind several other vehicles doing the same).
|Gas stations look the same pretty much everywhere|
Day 1: Friday
Today is the first day on the water. Greg's alarm was set for 5:20 am, but the call to prayer came on at 5:14. Breakfast was a simple buffet, and the girls loved having Nutella on their pancakes. We were aboard the "Dream Island" right around 7:00 am.
|Leaving the resort, heading for the boat|
|All kitted out|
|Our boat is behind this futuristic looking vessel.|
As whale sharks feed in the morning, we were told to have our gear ready to go just in case we came upon some activity as we headed out to the reef.
|Chillin' in the salon|
about whale sharks and the aggregations (groups) in the Red Sea. Our tour operators, Alex and Jesse, and several other staff are mostly PhD students or graduates affiliated with KAUST and focused their studies on either whale sharks or marine life. The lead researcher was the azure-haired PhD student named Royale. She had some pretty awesome whale shark patterned swim gear, and one of the guides also had a whale shark patterned head band.
|Our ecotour operators: Red Sea Safaris|
|Examining the sea life on the research station mooring lines|
|This little guy is a frog fish|
The sun started to come out, and our kids got hot. Too hot. The combination of wearing a wetsuit out of the water since 7 am, under an increasingly warm sun, while experiencing a slight chop on the water ultimately made our younger daughter nauseous and she threw up in the salon. We missed the sensor data download because I was cleaning up vomit. Fortunately, it worked out far better than when her grandfather got seasick during our dive trip to Yanbu this time last year. Since the reefs the whale sharks hang out at are a little deep, we went to a shallower reef to snorkel. Fortunately, the kids felt better now that we they were out of their wetsuits so it was fun for everyone.
|Big smiles from waving at all the fish|
The reef was near a small, deserted island. The snorkelers went out first, followed by the divers.
|I think it was between 10-30 feet deep in most areas of the reef.|
|Kacey free-diving to get some good photos.|
|Blue spotted ray hiding from the tourists|
|The moon hit his eye like a big pizza pie (that's a moray)|
|It's like a little tree on a hill|
|Our view for lunch|
|Drying off under the Saudi sun after lunch.|
|A bad day on the water is better than a good day in the office.|
Day 2: Saturday
Somehow, we overslept. Greg woke up first at 5:40am. Fortunately, we still didn't have to be at the boat until 7 am, so there was still enough time for a somewhat leisurely breakfast in our swimgear. We had to check in with Coast Guard again, but this time all the paperwork was in order and we were on our way to whale shark reef around 7:40.
|Leaving the marina where fishermen were already at work|
A bit later, we were joined by a large pod of dolphins (~10+) on our bow. They seemed like they would stay nearby, so we got in the zodiacs to go swim with them...but they disappeared. We came back in after 10-15 min of looking.
|Wild dolphins up close|
We pulled up beside fairly shallow reef and boarded a zodiac to bring us in even closer.
|You know it's shallow when it's that light blue color|
|Another blue spotted ray|
|Yeah, that's shallow|
|The reef is teeming with life|
Just after 4pm, a reef manta ray surfaced right next to the boat. In the commotion to run out and see it, the popcorn got spilled all over the floor. The kids had fun cleaning that up. As the daylight was starting to run out, we turned back towards the marina to call it a day. On the way back in to port, we were escorted by a rather large pod of dolphins. We even saw one that was almost in the harbor, which is kind of rare.
|A pod of dolphins|
|Our dolphin escort into port|
|Sunset on the Red Sea|
We were back at the resort around 6pm. We had already packed must of our stuff into the car, so we were on the road home at 7 pm after showing and eating a quick dinner. The two and half hour drive home was uneventful, except for a checkpoint south of Jeddah that was backed up. We picked the far right lane, and it turned out that of the three lanes, only one had an officer checking paperwork. It might have been prayer time, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was normally understaffed. He was in the middle lane, so we breezed through the checkpoint without being checked.
One last note: We used a GoPro Session (aka Hero 4) for many of the underwater photos you see here. It worked great! It has photo options for single and burst, and video options for time lapse and continuous video so it really just came down to what made the most sense to use. In fact, many of the pictures above are stills pulled from video we took underwater (specifically, the one of the mooring splashing into the water). I think we could have gone with a Session Hero5 and had the option to have 4K video and internal stabilizing, but for our purposes snorkeling, what we had worked great for what we were doing. However, the waterproof Session cube is only rated to ~10m, so and real diving will need to get something like the rectangular Hero 5 Black with a waterproof case as a second video camera. And as long as I'm talking about the gear, GoPro cameras need the Micro SD card to be at least a Class 10 (it will have a #10 inside a C printed on the card) or preferably a class 1 or 3 (a"U" with a 1 or 3 inside) for faster transfer rates. The Session came with a very small 16 GB card that quickly filled up while Greg was practicing for the trip, but it can take cards up to 128 GB, which is what we upgraded to for our weekend trip and it was more than enough
- Diving the Red Sea at Yanbu, Saudi Arabia
- Diving the Red Sea at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
- See more posts from our Assignment to Jeddah
- More posts from: Saudi Arabia
- Our Foreign Service Experience
- More posts about diving