I started diving with the RAF whilst I was going through officer training at RAF College Cranwell. This was back in 1975: and they were the days of homemade wetsuits; no BCD, just a weight-belt; sometimes a lifejacket; and just Tables for planning and then diving the dive.
Anyway years move on and I eventually become a 2nd Class Diver and eventually after years of running various station sub aqua clubs. Later I was elected Chairman of the RAF Sub Aqua Association. In this position I had the privilege of monitoring and being involved with RAF and Joint Service expeditions. Fortunately this took me around the world.
Egypt and Sinai Peninsular
But stepping back to a day I will never forget, in a pleasant way I hasten to add. Back in 1982 I saw an advert about the formation of a Joint Services Expedition – CORAL DESERT. An expedition to the Red Sea in the Spring of 1983. This was to undertake oil spillage contamination at 3 areas: Hurghada, Quseir and Marsa Alam. Shell had had identified some issues across their oil rigs in the Red Sea. They were seeking UK Government support in analysing the problem. Also to identify if one actually existed.
Well cutting a long story very very short, some 12 military divers were selected to work alongside 3 marine biology specialist from York University to undertake a 6-week expedition totally self-supported in Egypt (and that actually meant tents on the beach, only generator power and rations and water provided by the Egyptian military). That’s another story in its own right. But the day in question involved 8 divers transiting in 2 Geminis out from a beach near Marsa Alam. Our destination was a coral bommie. A coral structures that can be as small as a beach-ball or as big as a car. This one was as big as a 40ft artic on the top and lying about 3 metres below the surface. Positioned adjacent to the Daedalus Reef about 15 miles off shore.
Somehow we nav’d onto it by dead reckoning from the beach, compass and watch – no GPS!
And were fortunate to find several families of different sharks – grey tip reef shark on one side and hammerhead on the other. It was a very pleasant couple of dives and as the afternoon drew on we set off for shore. We knew the compass direction obviously, but we deliberately headed a little to the South as it would be in the dark by the time we arrived back, so once finding the beach we could just transit North until we found our 2 vehicles.
Anyway about 45 mins into about an hour into a 2 hr transit and about 10 fins broke surface around our 2 Geminis – all hands and feet that had been trailing in the water were quickly withdrawn, until we realised they were Dolphin. At which point we all literally fell in with just mask fins and snorkel on. We then had nearly an hour of fun with these fantastic animals, before wearily climbing back on board and setting off for the shore. We then noticed we had 3 dolphins left who were swimming alongside the boats, and as we deviated off a course they wanted us to follow the lead dolphin would nudge the bows. When we deliberately went off course, he very forcefully started to bang the bows into the direction he wanted us to follow.
The unbelievable part was as we saw the beach in the gathering gloom, spot on the beam were our 2 vehicles: and as we say them and let out a whoop of delight and dare I say astonishment, the 3 dolphins leapt out of the water in formation and headed back out to sea. I will never forget that.
That’s me Jon Chitty.