It’s great when you can combine two of your passions into one activity. Well I love vintage motorcycles and diving. What do you mean, incompatible? Not actually true. There is a dive site you can see 1940s Norton and BSA motorcycles, the wartime wreck of the British supply ship the Thistlegorm.
It set sail from Glasgow in 1941 with a cargo of war supplies including guns, munitions, two trains, Bedford trucks, motorcycles and Wellington boots. Due to a problem in the Suez Canal it had to wait at anchor near Ras Mohamed in the Red Sea. On 6th October 1941 she was spotted by two Heinkels who hit her with two bombs and down she went with the death of nine men. She lay there until she was discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the early 1950s. After some documenting she was pretty much forgotten until Sharm el Sheik became a dive destination in the 1990s.
Lying at 30 meters at the deepest, with a dirty great hole blown in the side of her making penetration easy, means she is fairly much the perfect diving wreck. Add to this the incredibly interesting cargo and you have what many consider to be the best wreck dive in the world.
I did my PADI Open Water in Sharm and had seen the signs at the dive center advertising the excursions to the Thistlegorm. It sounded like just the dive for me, motorcycles, guns, bombs, tanks and even trains, what more could I ask for? So when the other half suggested we got back to Sharm I was straight on the net to research the trip. I got in touch with Easy Divers who I had taken my OW with the year before and got into an email discussion about how best to handle it. At 30 meters, it is an advanced dive beyond my OW certificate. So Rhonda and Easy Diver very helpfully gave me three suggestions on how I could tackle it. Either do it as a personally guided dive, do it as a PADI Adventure Dive, or why not just take my Advanced OW with them and do it as two of the speciality dives for the course. When all said and done there wasn’t that much difference in the pricing of the all of them so I thought I may as well do the Advanced course and come away with a qualification for my money.
So over a few days I did the advanced course. As I had done only a few dives after my OW I think I tried the patience of Rhonda quite a lot and needed pretty much one on one attention. But she was great and by the third day she thought that I was ready to do the deep dive and wreck dive on the Thistlegorm.
On the day of the dive I got up at stupid o’clock and was picked up and taken to the docks to start the three hour (I think) trip out to the wreck. You can tell when you’ve arrived, there are more boats moored up than there were in the docks. It is a seriously popular dive site.
I had been assigned my own guide. That’s one of the great things about diving the Red Sea, the local staff costs are fairly low, so they have plenty of them to help you. One of the odd things he told me in the briefing was “don’t get distracted by the fauna. There are plenty of great fish down there, but you can see them anywhere around the Red Sea. Stay focused on the wreck itself, because this is the only place you can see that.” He also cautioned me about how strong the current can be on occasions. “As soon as you go in, grab the mooring line and we’ll go down holding that just in case.” And off we went …
Hit the water. Swam to the mooring line. Not too much current but certainly some. Get myself together and down we go. The guide kept stopping to check I was ok, no problems. I have never had a problem equalizing.
As we went down the line, the outline of the enormous wreck started to take shape. What a buzz. My first wreck dive and it was the Thistlegorm. The mooring rope was tethered to the highest point of the wreck itself. Probably not the best thing to do, but that’s the way they do it. That end of the wreck, the front, is sitting at about 16 meters, or at least the bits not busted off by dive boat mooring lines are. As is customary, the first dive was to explore the outside of the wreck. So off we went. I was awestruck. My head was swiveling like a,, well something that swivels a lot. There was so much to see and all of it incredibly new to me. We took a detour away from the wreck to swim round one of the railway locomotives, the one that was blow off the deck and sits away to the side on the bottom. Back to the wreck, heading down the port side. Marvel at the twisted steel plating where the bombs hit. Apparently there is an armored personnel carrier in there somewhere, but I have to admit that I was so caught up in the spectacle of it all that I don’t remember seeing it. I think I can just about make it out in some of the GoPro video I shot. And then we were at the bow looking at the massive propellers. The deepest part of the wreck, my gauge just about hitting 31 meters. Time for that classic selfie touching the prop. Have you really dived a wreck if you haven’t got a prop shot?
Returned back up the starboard side, arrived at the stern section and my guide signals me to see if I wanted to go inside a small section. I had previously told him that I had never dived in an enclosed space and wasn’t too sure how I would take to having something other than the surface over my head. But obviously high on narc (not really) I signaled back that I was OK with it and I would follow him in. Wow, that’s a bit weird. Yeah it’s dark. Yeah it’s weird with the trapped air above your head. And yeah if I had better buoyancy control perhaps I wouldn’t keep hearing clunks on the video play back every time my tank hit the overhead ceiling. Just a little penetration and then back out and time to go back up again. A nice slow, easy return to the surface making sure we did all the safety stops and more.
I was pumped. I couldn’t wait to get back down again. Especially knowing that this would be the penetration dive. But we had to stop for the surface interval and a spot of lunch. And then it was time and we were back in again. Again we went down the mooring line. This time we came off it and headed straight over the top of the wreck. Only on the Thistlegorm do you get stuck in a traffic jam. There was a line of other divers all waiting to get inside the wreck. So we bobbed about a bit and after a few minutes we got our chance and in we went. It’s all there, just like in the iconic photos you see in the books (it’s a thing some of us used to read before the Internet was invented) and on websites. The famous motorbikes stacked up in the back of Bedford lorries. The Lee Enfield rifles. The cases of munitions. And of course the massive pile of Wellington boots. On the one hand it is a really easy penetration. Massive swim through holes. But on the other hand there are also more challenging bits you can get involved in. I saw one diver wedge himself into the driving seat of a lorry for instance. As with anything good, the time flew by and aided by the fact that at that stage in my diving I was still a massive air guzzler, it was soon time to start our ascent.
It was a fantastic dive. I have dived a few places around the world now, but for me that is my stand out dive. I absolutely loved it. If you fancy doing the dive, then I would highly recommend getting in touch with Rhonda at Easy Divers and whatever your current standard of diving I am sure she would be able to get you down there safely one way or another.