The scribbled numbers in my diving log book – 28m, 26°c, 20m – tell a typical tale of an Advanced Open Water student’s descent into the famous Blue Hole. 28 metres was our maximum depth, as we sank into the Gulf of Aqaba down a snug crack in the coral called The Bells. The second and third numbers confirm that the water was as warm (26°c) and clear (20 metres visibility) as a swimming pool.
But those numbers can’t explain what makes ‘The Bells to Blue Hole’ dive so dramatic, or why divers pilgrimage to this site from the nearby resorts of Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and Taba in droves. Maybe my memories of the most enigmatic dive site on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula fill in the gaps.
Nervous novice divers (like me) kit up on mats in front of the ‘Hole’, mulling over everything they’ve heard about this famous and sadly infamous place. Bottoming out at 130 metres below the surface, it is one of the most famous Blue Holes (a vertical cave or sink hole) in the world. Dubbed the ‘Divers Cemetery’, it has also claimed the lives of over forty people; some of whom tried and failed to swim through a tunnel called ‘The Arch’ at 52 metres down. Safe, sensible recreational divers who stay within the limits of their training, however, have nothing to fear.
The eerily dark chasm in the coral reef is 150 metres round (in a very rough circle) and it lies in the shadow of stark golden mountains, next to a row of sun loungers. It’s hard not to pine for those loungers as you squeeze into a wetsuit and trudge off in the sweltering heat to ‘The Bells’ entry point, hauling a tank of air on your back. During the trudge you come face to face with a wall of memorial plaques dedicated to those claimed by the Blue Hole. It’s a sombre sight that makes some first-timers question their sanity all over again.
But there’s no going back now. Pranging your tank with a painful clang is inevitable as you crouch down to enter what looks like an innocent little rock pool, but is actually the opening of a 28 metre deep coral chimney. After a minute or so of controlled descent you’ll pop out at the bottom of it like a sub-aqua Santa Claus, facing the big blue open ocean
Then, like an astronaut in a conga line, you’ll drift effortlessly along a sheer wall of coral that plunges below you into oblivion. The current will carry you towards the Blue Hole and over the brightly coloured corals that thrive on ‘The Saddle’, into the inky blue chasm itself.
Well as close as you’ll get to it in reality. As you swim into the middle of the Blue Hole, watch the free divers in action. They propel themselves down to depth and back up to the surface using tail-flicks from their mono-finned feet and just a single breath of air. The Blue Hole is used for free diving training and competitions, and seeing these mermen and maids in action is an inspiring sight.
Do you have similar memories of Egypt’s Blue Hole?
Posted : Friday, December 10th, 2010 at 13:11
Kelly Pipes is a writer and editor who has worked in travel and travel publishing for the last ten years, and has enjoyed every single minute of it. Alongside other projects she shares off-beat travel news and authentic travel experiences on her own blog, Sandwagon.