Last month the folks from Blesma headed out to the Red Sea for a week of fun on Mistral.  A mix of new divers and seasoned instructors got down to the serious business of having a laugh underwater!  A huge thanks to the team, and especially John and Bob who organized the trip and to Stuart, who sent us this great trip report.

Scuba Travel, Mistral, Red Sea,Blesma

“As I arrive at the Gatwick Worth hotel I am looking forward to meeting some old friends from previous Blesma diving events. Also a little apprehensive about how well the guys I taught in the pool a few weeks ago at the RE barracks in Fleet will perform.  As soon as I get into the hotel lobby I see Tim Palmer who has been on Blesma trips before and returned for more!  I soon clock a few more familiar faces and am greeted by smiles all round.  More and more people arrive and as my students get there it seems I am not the only apprehensive one although the overall mood is one of excitement.

That evening over a meal I get to know more of the group that I will be sharing a liveaboard dive boat with.  I sit opposite a Royal Marine called Vince and take an instant like to him.  Not just because he is a fellow booty but he has a similar sense of humour to me too!  We are issued our BLESMA t-shirt that we will travel in (only one this year due to cutbacks) and Bob checks, yet again that everyone has their passport.  Surely nobody will forget something as important as a passport would they??

The following morning we jump in taxis and make the two-minute journey to the airport sporting out new t-shirts.  As we snake along back and forward through the check-in queue someone issues the usual joke of “I bought the wrong passport!”  Only this time it’s not a joke!  Rob McCartney has somehow managed to bring his son’s passport rather than his own just to keep the admin team (Bob) on his toes.  The military instinct of “Adapt, Improvise and Overcome” kicks in and we say our goodbyes to Rob while promising to send him a postcard.  Bob rather sportingly arranges a later flight for him allowing time for family members to rush Rob’s passport to him for the following morning.  The rest of rather sportingly take the piss.  Gotta love the camaraderie. 

After a rather uneventful flight into Sharm el Sheikh followed by a rather uneventful coach ride to the docks the Blesma gang arrived at a new measure of what the Egyptians manage to keep a straight face and call security.  Like a scene from Dad’s Army, we are all herded off the bus into the scanner room with our hand luggage to walk through an airport-style scanner and metal detector that looked like eBay had just delivered it.  Unsurprisingly, as each person went through with metal legs and various attachments said scanner bleeped.  What was more surprising was the fact that this bleeping only served to keep the operator slightly less sleepy!  Once we and our bags were scanned we walk back next to the queue of people waiting to go in with nothing between us.  I get back onto the bus feeling much safer for the security check we have all gone through. (Well those that actually got off the bus to be checked at least!)

Back on the bus for a 30 second trip over to the boat then back of the bus.  The boat crew start unloading our bags for us and getting them on to the boat, displaying the level of service we can expect to receive for the next week.  While this is happening we all board the boat called MV Mistral and are issued with a glass of fruit juice.  My first impression of the boat and its crew is a good one.  This boat will be home for the next six days so I find a cabin to share with John Strutt, my fellow instructor.  

Our first dive site is just a short sail from the harbour with a nice sandy bottom and not too deep.  Perfect for the skills the new guys will have to repeat from the pool sessions.  For the more experienced divers, there are some very nice coral reefs with plenty of colourful fish to go and see.  The newbies show that my apprehension about how well they do was misplaced.  They perform fantastically on the first day and I am pleased they have remembered all that we have taught them.  At the end of the day, we are joined by our late arrival, complete with his own passport.  Everyone is very pleased that Rob has now joined our group again and our new addition to the instructor team, endeavours to get him caught up with the rest of the guys who are training.  I had only recently met Tim, but it is immediately obvious he is an excellent instructor and a very nice guy, despite being cursed with the ginger gene.

We soon settle into the routine of getting up early, dive, breakfast, rest, dive, lunch, rest, dive, dinner, rest and then for those who want to do one there is a night dive.  Four dives a day is a lot and more physically demanding then many realise.  A few guys manage to do every single dive available while most sit one or two out to top up suntans.  It is a holiday (Rehab trip) after all!  Some rather foolishly decide to catch a Z’s in the lounge, making them perfect targets for marker pen moustaches.  Jamie somehow manages to wake up with one. (I have no idea how!! Honestly!!)  He vows to get me back! 

As the week goes on the more experienced Blesma guys buddy up with the recently qualified ones to help them gain some experience.  Everyone gets along well as a team and the inevitable banter continues.  About halfway through the week after a couple of dives near a shallow lagoon, we decide to conduct an underwater sporting activity.  The game involves a sub-aqua Frisbee called an aqua disc and some marker buoys as goals.  Each team has to touch the Frisbee onto their opponents’ goal to score, however, once you are holding the Frisbee you must remain stationary.   Progress is made by passing to your teammates.  It’s a bit like netball only with more water and fewer miniskirts!  The event was great fun and brilliant for team building despite the inferences that there may have been a small amount of cheating!  One of the recently qualified guys remarked how only a few days ago he was still learning and now had the confidence to replace his mask and regulator underwater without worrying when some people on the opposing team may or may not have cheated!  The newbies had certainly gained a lot of confidence and skill already! 

While refereeing the game it was hard not to notice that people were swimming up behind me and hitting me on the head!  During a brief moment at the surface, I mention this to Doug and state my suspicions that this may be an orchestrated plan.  He laughs and claims he knows nothing about it as he ducks back under the water.  I suspect that he is lying like a cheap NAAFI watch.  After the dive, it all becomes clear the Jamie has kept his vow in style!  I have fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book and what’s more   is that the photographic evidence was there before I even got into the water.

Later on in the week, we give the Blesma guys some more training which will increase their confidence underwater.  One of the elements of this involves navigating underwater with a compass.  Ryan, who I am convinced would not have stood on a landmine if it were not for his size 14 feet, is navigating a 30 metre square with his compass.  As he is swimming along staring intently at the needle a curious dolphin swims in from of him to see what he is up to.  The ever aware Ryan spotted it as it was about 3 feet in front of him!  I was reminded of how well sound travels in water as Ryan, now convinced that he has seen a large shark, is swearing through his regulator.  At this point, I am glad I am wearing a wet suit rather than a dry suit as I laugh so hard I actually urinate!

With the skills for the dive completed we spend the next 40 minutes or so swimming around with the pod of dolphins, who are bemused at why we use a compass rather than sonar-like them.

To list every dive in detail would take more time than I care to spend writing and more likely more than most would like to spend reading but there are a few that deserve a mention.  For me, these tend to be the wreck dives. Among the most famous is that of the SS Thistlegorm.  Like most dive sites in the Red Sea, this is a place where the only thing you take is pictures and the only thing you leave is bubbles.  Nine people lost their lives on this ship on 6th October 1941 when she was bombed by two German Heinkel He III Bombers.  The reverence shown by our group upon receiving this news during the briefing is humbling and I am very proud to be included in that group.  Another great wreck is that of the Chrisoula K.  This is less famous than the SS Thistlegorm and as a result does not receive the same amount of visitors.  We were lucky enough to have this wreck all to ourselves as there were no other dive boats there.  Once again we were visited by curious dolphins as we explored in and around the wreck.

Overall the Blesma trip was a complete success and there have been huge amounts of positive feedback from those who came.  The statement at the end of the video produced by John sums up the trip and the ethos of it very well.

From the 16th to 22nd of October, 18 members of BLESMA showed attributes such as determination, commitment, teamwork and self-confidence.  Stories were swapped and experiences shared.  During the week 22 diving qualifications were achieved,335 dives completed and a total of 232 hours and 22 minutes completed underwater.  Most of all lasting friendships were formed through unity and shared challenges.”