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Jonah
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Alison and I got back on Sunday night from a week on the liveaboard Cyclone  ( http://www.scuba.co.uk/Travel/Red_Sea/Liveaboard/Cyclone/Cyclone.htm ) doing a Northern Red Sea itinerary. It was my first liveaboard, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. As we found, the marketing blurb was a tiny bit exaggerated...

The Boat

Pretty big boat, with 20 passengers in ensuite twin cabins. These  were generally ok but not perfect (mouldy shower curtain etc - in a hotel I'd have complained, but on a boat you'd expect it I guess). The cabins on the lower deck were treated to diesel fumes when the boat was on the move, so fortunately there was no overnight sailing. The saloon and sundecks were nice and spacious. The dive decks got pretty crowded though, and were hardly 'vast' as the advertising claims.

There was a tv / cd / video / dvd setup in the saloon. Poor selection of cds though (the crew seemed obsessed with playing the same Shaggy cd over and over again - so I was very glad I took a few cds and dvds with me).

The catering deserves special mention - the chef was excellent. Being vegetarian I wasn't expecting much, but the variety and quality was terrific. I put on loads of weight


The equipment on the boat was so-so: the main problem was the compressor, which seemed a bit clapped out (had to be repaired just before we left port).  At least one of the cylinders had dodgy valves too. A couple of the other divers were using rental bcs and regs. These seemed fine and looked in good condition.

The People

Always a bit worrying to be stuck in a no-escape situation with strangers - what if you don't get on? Fortunately the other divers were all fine, and there was lots of good banter.

The Egyptian crew were great - really nice guys, very friendly and helpful, generally nice to be around (one in particular who entertained us with magic tricks). Lots of other nice touches - for instance, one day we got back from a dive to find our bedding had been very skillfully arranged into sculptures (we had a swan, other people had human figures wearing their sunglasses, hats etc).

There were two dive guides - Peter (English) and Sayd (Egyptian). Peter seemed to be the main man and did virtually all of the briefings. Clearly very knowledgeable and experienced (the dive briefings were excellent) but one got the impression he didn't enjoy the job very much - I don't think I saw him smile once, and he very rarely entered into conversation. However, whether he enjoyed his job or not, he was pretty good at it (as was Sayd) which is what counts I guess.

The Problems

Not all was perfect unfortunately. The main issue for me was cylinders. I'd pre-booked a 15L cylinder as my SAC is pretty high, and about 30% higher than Alison's. With her on a 12 and me on a 15 we're pretty well matched on when we need to end the dive. There was indeed a 15L available for me, and I did three dives with it on Day 1. However, when I was kitting up for the first dive on Day 2, I found there was only 50 bar in it. On querying this I was told that there was some kind of problem (never properly explained) that meant the 15L cylinders could not be filled. It was suggested there was a fault with the valve - but mysteriously, this fault affected the other three divers using 15L tanks as well. All of us had to use 12s for the rest of the trip, and were very unhappy about it, especially on the deeper dives. I found a couple of the dives pretty stressful - always checking gauges - and my buddy regularly had to come up with over 100 bar remaining. Not at all satisfactory. I was never told (despite asking)  what the problem was - my suspicion is that the compressor could not handle the larger volume or that the crew simply didn't want to take the extra time required for 15L fills. It seemed very odd that they managed to fill it 3 times on day 1, then never again.
There were other gas-related issues too: for instance one guy queried why he'd been given an air fill instead of nitrox (good thing he analysed it) and was told that 'for some reason the guys filled it with air, I don't know why'. I also regularly got short fills, under 200 bar  on a couple of occasions  (even after requesting good ones) while others on the boat were regularly getting 230+. This was the weakest aspect of the boat and crew. I wouldn't book on Cyclone again for this reason, unless my SAC was low enough to be sure of getting a decent  dive from a 12L cylinder pumped to 200.


The Diving

The diving was great, but considerably more challenging than I had expected in some respects. All my previous blue-water diving has been in really good conditions. Unfortunately, we had really rough weather on several days, which lead to some very bumpy crossings and pretty dangerous diving conditions - a lot of the diving was off the Zodiacs, which did not handle at all well in the 2M+ swell we had on occasions - some of the pickups were pretty scary. Conditions we (or at least I) wouldn't dive in at home. The worst was off Jackson reef, where conditions were too bad for the zodiac to approach Cyclone (waves were breaking over the dive deck) and we ended up having to swim for it. Not fun at all. We also encountered some pretty strong currents and washing-machine style surge that made stops interesting. I'd decided not to take a DSMB and reel, as I didn't expect to need one from what others had said. There were several occasions when I wished I had, and next time I'll be taking one (along with gloves for the wrecks and a pony, two other things I missed).

So - not the gentle bathwater bimbles I was expecting, and stressful at times, but we did do some great dives.


Day 1 - Ras Katy (checkout dive), then Stingray Station at the Alternatives (twice).

Day 2 - the Dunraven (very nice, better than I expected), then  a bumpy crossing to Abu Nuhas for the Giannis D (I missed this one due to seasickness), and the Carnatic (brilliant wreck).

Day 3 - was going to be another of the wrecks at Abu Nuhas but seas too rough so we did the Giannis D again (so I got to see it after all). Then off to Gubal Island - two drifts around Bluff Point. The second one was an abortive attempt to dive the Ulysses, which could not be found - again seas too heavy. Then a  night dive on wreck of barge in the bay, which was a lot like a UK day dive - didn't really need torches due to floodlights from Cyclone. Too much current and too many divers on this one, but still fun.

Day 4 - seas too rough to move, so another dive on the sheltered side of Gubal Island, a site called 'the Garden' - lovely gentle dive with acres of pristine coral. Probably best non-wreck dive of trip. Then a short trip to East Gubal island for a nice shallowish wall dive. In the afternoon the winds dropped enough to move on and it was off to the Thistlegorm. The first dive we did on it was a general tour of the exterior. NOT a letdown at all - just like the books and videos... Skipped the night dive on this one because of heavy seas (the boat broke its moorings that night), strong currents and bad viz.

Day 5 - Thistlegorm again first thing, not a bad way to wake up! Especially as we were the only boat on it and had the wreck to ourselves. Did the forward holds, captain's cabin and bridge - great dive. Had breakfast watching hordes of dayboats steaming towards us. Guess we were very lucky to be alone on the wreck. After breakfast, off to Ras Mohammed for Shark / Yolanda reef; then up to Tiran and Jacksons reef - my worst dive of the trip, didn't enjoy it at all for various reasons.

Day 6 - first dive was Woodhouse reef. I was expecting it to be a similar dive to Jackson, so almost didn't do it - glad we did though, as it was a good dive with almost no current. Second and final dive was Ras um Sid, back at Sharm - again a nice relaxing dive, good one to finish on. Finally, on the way back to dock, a pod of dolphins accompanied the boat for around half an hour. Nice way to finish the trip.

Day 7 involved sitting by a hotel pool until it was time to fly home, and Day 8 was a quick trip to Dover to catch the last of the Easter dives on Taurus and remind myself how cold the water was in the UK!

All in all, a very good week despite the various 'character building' incidents and adverse weather conditions. Now to start saving up for the next trip...

Photos to follow when I get time.

Tom
 

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Interesting report thanks!
I did the northern sea a couple of months ago(not liveaboard) we also had sculptures made of our bedding, swans etc and also noticed light air fills on 15 litres never above 200 which kind of defeats the object of having 15 ltr over 12 ! Towards the end of the trip I switched to 12s as I found I was diving with  air monsters!
Thistlegorm was my highlight of the trip , I'm glad I used a 15 for that as the majority of our group got sent up, and just a few of us with plenty of air was allowed to continue!
Steve
 

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Great report Tom!

We are off on a southern liveaboard in June and we have ordered a 15l for my hubbie but I hope we are more successful as like yourselves my air consumption is alot better and we will get alot more out of our dives if hubbie is on the larger tank!!!

You brought back some memories of the thistlegorm for me....although when we dived it we weren't as fortunate and there were about 20 boats moored there already! It would have been heaven to have been the only divers on there! I'm soooooo jealous!

Look forward to seeing your pic's...

Scubachick
 

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Interesting report, Tom. I would have complained about the mildewed shower curtains and diesel fumes. That kind of problem was common on liveaboards 10 years ago but standards have improved vastly since then and problems of that kind are not acceptable today. Glad you enjoyed the Thistlegorm and the Carnatic - a gorgeous wreck. As regards cylinders, I'd recommend anyone to rent a 15 litre on a Red Sea liveaboard trip, particularly in the south, where some of the dives are quite deep and currents can be strong. An example is the wonderful plateau at the north end of Elphinstone Reef, where you want to have enough gas for a good, long dive. Otherwise, you may miss the shark action and big pelargics.
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Tom

Sorry to hear about your problems, the weather no one has controls over that and I have also experienced some rough conditions, a couple of years ago I did a New Year trip and we were taken out to either the Carnatic or Giannis D (can't remember now) which in the zodiac and it almost completely filled with water in the conditions, quite funny at the time 6 fully kitted divers knee deep in water for some of the guys who didn't know they really thought it was going to sink.  

As for the problems with the boat, firstly I have never seen shower curtains on a liveaboard  
, as for the other issues I hope you complained and I assume you booked through Tony Backhurst.  When we had problems on a trip the previous year, same boat but there were some issues, little issues like there being no hot water, trivial some might think but in January after a night dive we were blooming freezing.  Anyway most people did complain and we got £100 of the next trip.  I also had problems with cylinders as I had ordered Nitrox tanks and they weren't available.

Anyway phone Tony and see what he has to say.  

Fiona
 

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V interesting report, as I'm intending to do a trip on cyclone later in the year. Surprised at the comments regarding peter though..... he was the guide on a trip on excel a couple of months ago and was very good value. Very, very dry sense of humour though, so probably easily misunderstood.....
 

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Nice report Tom, somewhat more detailed than my reports.
Shame about the conditions, all that way and seas worse than UK, still it will stand you in good stead over here I should imagine. The low fills or inability to fill the 15's is not acceptable, in effect you are being short changed, I'd complain to the operator and see what you get out of it, might get a discount for next time or a partial refund.

Take care
Matt
 

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Sorry you didn't appreciate my sense of humour! It did, does and will continue to be my best and worst point. As for enjoying the job, I would have to say that starting it was the best thing I ever did. Ending it was the second best. Ah happy days!
 

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Jonah
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Not such a small world really!

Welcome to YD Peter - hope you stick around, you'll have loads to contribute.

Hope you weren't offended by my comments, I didn't mean them as personal criticism. It's clear that you have a very dry sense of humour (which will be appreciated here!). Like I said I thought you were pretty good, and it can't be easy being faced with a different group of moaning divers each week.

Tom
 
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