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Top of Page Location: South safari from Hamata to St. Johns, Red Sea, Egypt
Top of Page Time: 8. - 15. April 2002
Top of Page Weather: Air 25-30°C / 77-86°F, rather cool at night (15°C / 59°F) and much too much humidity in the air (causing fog and dew !) to sleep on the sun deck.
The first 4 days were very windy and the sea was rough, after that it calmed down.
Top of Page Water: Temperature varying between 22,5°C / 71°F (Abu Galawa) und 24,3°C / 75°F (St. Johns), bring a semi dry suit and hood with you. Diving 3-4 times a day, we were freezing in spite of wearing custom made 5 and 7 mm wetsuits and hoods and we rarely held out longer than 1 our.
Visibility varying between 15m at Abu Galawa and St. Johns and 50m around Rocky Island.
Top of Page Boat: MY Miss Veena
Launched at Suez in March 2000 the Miss Veena was managed by Divers World in April 2002.
She is 34m long and 7,5m wide, has twin engines (maximum speed 16 knots), generators offering 220V for 24 hours and two water desalinators.
The dive deck, the huge saloon and a big bar are located on the main deck.
Stairs from the dive deck are leading to the shaded rear sun deck equipped with benches and tables. From here you can climb up a ladder to a second smaller sun deck and the bridge.
You'll find a stereo with CD player and tape deck (better bring your own music) in the saloon, as well as a TV and a VCR. You can watch your own underwater videos here or one of the few but good videos they have on board - but who wants to watch TV instead of diving ;-)
The board library offers some fish guides (English) and a few paperbacks, i.e. you'd better bring your own books.
The boat houses a maximum of 18 divers, we were only 14 and had lots of room. With exception of the dive deck, which is a bit narrow, 18 guests on board should be ok.
There are 8 twin berth cabins and 1 double cabin (with queen size bed) located on the sun deck.
In every cabin you'll find a small cupboard and a small chest of drawers. They are too small to store the average dive luggage and it is pretty crowded inside the cabins because there is no room for bigger dive bags.
The lower bed of the twin berth cabins is big enough to sleep 2 persons, i.e. we used the upper bed to store towels, bathing suits, ... .
Each cabin has individually controlled air conditioning (worked ok) and 3 portholes, which must be closed once the boat is moving, 2 euro power outlets and a small refrigerator.
The bathroom was very small, but clean and comfortable. The shower offered warm water for 24 hours. Each guest got a big towel and a bathrobe (XXL).
Air condition, compressor and generators were very quiet, the engines were a bit louder, especially when the captain started them at 4 o'clock in the morning.
Linen and towels were changed once, the cabin was cleaned every now and then but not every day (the boy probably didn't have enough room to move ;-).
It is possible to sleep at the sun deck, but you should bring a watertight sleeping bag with you around this time of the year, because it is still getting cold and wet during the night.
All meals were served as all you can eat buffet.
The food was delicious (fish, chicken, beef, pasta), lots of fresh fruits and enough salads and vegetables for vegetarians. In the afternoon they served cake or small pieces of pizza.
Tom was the only one suffering from digestion problems (probably not caused by the food but from enjoying too much duty free whisky one night).
Hot and cold water is available from a water dispenser located in the saloon. You'll also find instant coffee and tea bags in a near by cupboard.
There is a fridge in the bar, filled with soft drinks (Coke, Sprite 1$) and beer (Stella, Heineken, 1,50$). They keep a tally sheet and you simply pay your share before leaving the boat (cash only: €, $, SFR, British and Egyptian £)
Captain Said and his crew were extremely friendly and helpful.
Absolutely no smoking inside (saloon, bar and cabins), you'll find some ashtrays outside.
No shoes aboard (they are collected in the beginning and you'll get them back when you are leaving).
No wetsuits and dive gear in the saloon.
Overall Impression
We enjoyed or stay on board very much. The Miss Veena is a very good choice if you are looking for a new and spacious liveaboard with a very nice crew.
Top of Page Diving: Rules
On the first evening we were asked to enter our certification level, total number of dives and the date of the last dive into a form but nobody checked our dive log.
The first dive is an easy check dive without any exercises.
Divers choose their own buddies or groups. Nobody dives alone.
There was no time limit for daytime dives but we agreed upon a limit of 45 minutes for night dives (because of the limited burning time of the dive lights and the danger of drifting away in the dark).
We were told that the official depth limit in Egypt is 40 meters and the unofficial one is where the sharks are ;-)
We agreed upon 3 dives for the first and last days, otherwise 4 dives a day (if possible): Early morning, morning, afternoon, night.
The dive guide asked us on the first evening whether we preferred to eat before or after diving
They asked us, if their 12 l aluminium tanks were ok, and fetched some 15 l steel tanks from the nearby Hotel Zabargad (for free, because this was an ORCA trip and the hotel hosts an ORCA dive base) for those of us needing a bit more air.
All tanks have Din/Int valves, you won't need an adapter.
The Miss Veena offers nitrox diving (EAN 28, 32, 36), you simply tell them after a dive what kind of refill you'd prefer for the next one.
The ORCA travel assistant told us, that we had to book nitrox dives for the whole week (70€), which was not true in our case, because the Miss Veena offered single nitrox dives (5 €), but maybe it is true for other liveaboards operated by ORCA. Bad deal for us, because we wanted to use nitrox for afternoon and night dives only.
Rented Gear
You can book rented gear, like dive lights, in advance or tell them what you need upon arrival. The crew makes a short trip to the ORCA dive base and fetches everything you need. It is probably a good idea to book rental equipment in advance to make sure that the correct sizes are available.
We were diving with our own equipment but some fellow divers rented dive lights (Scubapro including batteries for 5 night dives).
UW Photo / Video
There are no extra fresh water tanks to test, clean and store photo and video equipment. We had to use the buckets for the masks and clean everything under the shower.
The crew was skilled and careful when they handed the cameras down into the water and back on board.
The shelf on the dive deck is much too small for underwater cameras. We stored our equipment in one of the buckets during the day and on a bench in the saloon after diving.
You have to bring your own connection cables to watch your digital photos or videos on TV. They do not offer E6 development.
First aid kit, medicines and oxygen were available and looked ok. Fortunately, we didn't need any of them.
Dive Deck
The dive deck is the single weak spot we found. It was already too small for 14 and with 18 guests, the dive guide and some crew members it will be absolutely crowded. The deck is separated into two levels divided by two small stairs. The upper level is the equipment area (very narrow), the lower level is the dive platform. You put on your gear on the upper level, go down one of the stairs and across the platform and either jump directly into the water or climb into one of the zodiacs. There are 3 ladders at the dive platform, making the Miss Veena easy to recognise from under water and allowing 3 divers to climb back on board at the same time.
There are 2 l-shaped benches in the middle of the equipment area. Everybody has to choose a bottle (fixed to the back of the bench and put his equipment box under the bench. You can leave your Jacket and regulator fixed to the tank for the whole week. They are using long hoses to refill the tanks after each dive.
There are lots of hangers for your wetsuits in two shaded areas on both sides of the equipment area and there is a shelf with many small compartments and some power outlets next to the door to the saloon. Good to charge dive lights and store dive computers, dry bathing suits and cigarettes.
There is a toilet and a hot shower at the equipment deck and two more hot freshwater showers on the dive platform. They have several buckets filled with fresh water for masks, computers and cameras but no tanks to rinse your equipment after diving. We simply took a long warm shower with our wetsuits and used the buckets or the washbasin to clean the rest.
The equipment platform was very crowded with 14 divers, I don't think this is going to work with 18 divers preparing at the same time. It is probably better to prepare in two groups.
The Miss Veena has 2 zodiacs, each for 8 to 10 divers. Depending on the dive site you start/end your dive with the zodiac or at the boat. As soon as the boat is moored the zodiacs are in the water, if somebody should drift away or not be able to dive or swim back to the boat.
Carry a neon red or orange safety buoy with you when diving, this will help the zodiac drivers to spot you against the sun or in rough water.
Dive Guide:
Our dive guide Medhat was perfect: friendly, funny and professional at the same time. He new all the dive sites very well, his briefings were perfect and his reef pictures were beautiful as well as accurate - we are still wondering whether he is somehow related to Picasso ;-). He even seems to be able to make appointments with hammerhead sharks, because we saw them whenever he told us to watch out for them. His only weakness is predicting the current for early morning dives - or maybe he just wanted us to workout before breakfast ?
Medhat speaks English and French fluently and some words in German, Dutch and Italian too.
After the check dive he decided that node of us needed a guide, so he joined the one or the other team or stayed on board.
One of his jobs was to give us a wakeup call for early morning dives around 5:30 in the morning. He was very persistent and none of us missed a dive, although some of us tried very hard to pretend that we didn't hear him ;-).
If a tour operator has several boats running, the dive guides sometimes will change boats, i.e. booking the Miss Veena doesn't mean that you are also booking Medhat.
Top of Page Dive Sites: From Fury Shoals to the reefs of St. Johns
The safari starts and ends at the jetty in Hamata. You'll always stop at dive sites like Abu Galawa, Shaab Maksur and Dolphin Reef (Sataya), then go southwards to the reefs of St. Johns, stay for 2 days and then return.
The Marine Parks (Daedalus, Rocky Island and Zabargad) are not part of a normal south safari to St. Johns ! If you want to dive there, you have to book a Marine Park safari.
Our Route (see Map)
April, 9:
Hamata » Gota Wadi Lahami » Dolphin Reef (Sataya)
April, 10:
Dolphin Reef (Sataya) » Rocky Island » Zabargad
April, 11:
Zabargad » Unnamed Dive Site » Gota El Sogaira (St. Johns) »
Abu Pasla (St. Johns)
April, 12:
Abu Pasla » Unnamed Dive Site » Shawareet Island (Mikauwa) »
Dolphin Reef (Sataya)
April, 13:
Dolphin Reef (Sataya)» Erg Abu Dyab » Shaab Mahsur (Maksur, Mansur) »
Abu Galawa Kabeir (Abu Galawa West, Abu Yacht)
April, 14:
Abu Galawa Kabeir » Abu Galawa Sogaier (Abu Galawa Soraya, Small Abu Galawa) » Hamata
Under Water:
The whole area offers very different kinds of dives, from spectacular drop offs to calm and beautiful coral gardens and from strong to not existing current. We saw sharks and other pelagic fish as well as reef fish and other small animals. The reefs are looking ok (no crowns of thorns) and they are inhabited by a huge variety of species. Many dive sites have canyons and small caves with beautiful light effects in the shallow area between 3 and 8 meters - exploring them is a perfect way to end your dive. The St. Johns area is very interesting for marine biologists and coral lovers. We've never seen so many different species of hard and soft corals when diving in the Red Sea. Unfortunately the visibility was rather poor and we had the impression that there were fewer fish than in the north. Maybe April is the wrong time of the year to dive there.
To be honest: I was a bit disappointed of the St. Johns area. Comparing it to places we dived on the same trip, like Rocky Island, Shaab Maksur and Dolphin Reef (Sataya), I wouldn't make the long trip to the south again. I'd stay around Hamata or book a Marine Park tour instead. The best place to see sharks (Gray Reefsharks, Hammerheads and even a Thresher Shark) is Rocky Island - where else ? We also saw Hammerhead Sharks while diving a really spectacular site called Erg Abu Dyab (located in Fury Shoals between Sataya and Abu Galawa).
Top of Page Flight: Munich <-> Marsa Alam with Condor
Condor service as usual. Nice movies (Harry Potter), friendly crew. On the flight back to Munich they had to stop serving lunch due to announced turbulences that fortunately didn't hit us as bad as they had feared.
Baggage Control
The Baggage control at Munich airport was unusually relaxed, they only checked the carry on luggage. Our dive lights travelled in our dive bags, which didn't interest them this time.
In Marsa Alam everything was X-rayed, but they were not interested in our dive lights (packed in the check in luggage again), PC or rechargeable batteries but checked my toilet bag instead.
Airport Marsa Alam
The immigration arrea is very small and narrow and they opened only one counter for our whole airplane. We were lucky to be in the first group to climb out of the plane, catched the first bus, had no queue at the ORCA counter, where we had to pay our visa, before we lined up at the immigration counter. After 10 Minutes we were already waiting at the baggage claim. It was no problem to get a trolly, there are enough and they are free of charge. Our unlucky fellow travelers had to wait for almost an hour, standing in a queue that reached out of the immigration hall and into the hot Egyption sun. Meanwhile there was chaos around the baggage claim, because the band was fully loaded with dive bags of people still standing outside in the sun and there was no room for the bags of those waiting around the baggage claim. Oh, by the way, our dive bags arrived with the last container, but at least we were waiting in the air conditioned arrival area. Welcome back in Egypt ;-)
The duty free shop, the bar and the souvenir shops were not yet opened in April 2002. There was only a small sales couter that ran out of sandwichs and water after 10 minutes.
Top of Page Transfer: Marsa Alam <-> Hamata
At the exit of the airport an ORCA travel guide checks your name and directs you to your bus at the parking area (in April 2002 Ernie Hooge from the ORCA dive base in Safaga was managing everything). You have to carry your bags to the bus where they are stored on the roof. Make sure they are properly fixed and then start fighting for a seat in the bus. If you have one, don't stand up again or it will be gone and you will have to sit on one of the tiny seats that are flapped in the aisle of the bus.
Our trip to Hamata took 3,5 hours, on the way back we had a faster bus, so we made it in 2,25 hours.
The busses were fully booked, including the small seats in the aisle. Carry on luggage and photo equipment had to be stored on the roof or on your lap :-(, it was terribly hot, crowded and uncomfortable !
They handed out small water bottles for all passengers on the way down to Hamata, but not on the way back to the airport. They usually stop once at the gas station in Marsa Alam or at one of the few hotels on the way.
To put it short, it was pure horror and we never want to endure that again ! Blame on ORCA, they used to handle things much better in Safaga.
Buy a bottle of Water and visit the restrooms at the airport. On the way back buy cigarettes, water, fruit and souvenirs if you happen to stop in Marsa Alam.
Top of Page Tour Operator: ORCA Reisen GmbH
We booked this trip like all of our recent trips to Egypt by simply calling ORCA by telephone.
The service was not as professional as it used to be (water temperature: don't know, 24h electricity: no idea, do we need an INT adapter: don't know, ...), but the rest of the booking procedure was ok, taking into account that we called them only 10 days before the trip started.
Our tickets and vouchers arrived in time, but it was necessary to fax the transfer voucher of our bank.
Concerning their service and advice we guess that we were a bit spoiled by the excellent service of Schöner Tauchen, where we booked our Pindito trip last year.
Right now (August 2002) ORCA does not offer the Miss Veena anymore
Right now (August 2002) the Miss Veena is offered by UK Tour Operators, like Red Sea Divers or Scuba Snacks, but this can change from week to week.
Top of Page Tips: Avoid booking the last cabin on a boat that is chartered for a group. You may be lucky but we've heard some sad stories about integration problems ;-)
It is usually possible to book a dive guide speaking your language.
If you want to dive at specific sites, you'd better inform the dive guide on the first evening. They will try to plan the route according to your wishes, if possible.
If the water is too cold for your wet suit, simply take a hot shower in full gear before diving ;-). Allows you to stay down 10 minutes longer before you start feeling cold.
Don't forget to pack a warm sweatshirt and a cap or headband. The wind is rather cold sometimes.
You don't need shoes aboard the Miss Veena, not even flip flops. Shoes can get wet during the trip from the jetty to the boat, don't put on your favourite ones.
Bring a small towel for face and hair, the only have big towels aboard the Miss Veena.
Even though the food is good: Bring some instant cappuccino, cookies, granola bars, small salamis, Nutella and rum or whisky from the duty free shop.
European dive guides are happy if you bring them some cheese, salami, Nutella, dark or sourdough bread and canned wheat beer. (If they don't like it, give it to Ernie, the local ORCA representative ;-)
In case of being hit by Pharaoh's revenge: Add Imodium and Elotrans to your first aid kit and drink as much as you can.
Tom is fighting his sea sickness with Japanese sushi ginger. It works for him and has no side effects. You can buy it in small packages in almost every Asian food store.
You don't have to book a full week of nitrox diving in advance, because it is possible to order single nitrox dives aboard the Miss Veena.
Transfer: Remember to bring your own beverages and keep in mind that there are no restrooms on the way to and from the airport.
Buy some food, beverages and souvenirs on your way back during the stop in Marsa Alam, as long as the airport shops are not opened yet (as in April 2002).
Top of Page Conclusion: Beautiful boat, great safari, nice crew !
We'd repeat a south safari aboard the Miss Veena anytime, but we'd prefer a later time of the year and would visit Rocky Island and Zabargad officially, skipping St. Johns instead.
Top of Page Literature: The Red Sea Dive Guide
Andrea Ghisotti, Alessandro Carletti
Abbeville Press 1999; ISBN: 0789203472
Diving Guide to the Red Sea Wrecks
Andrea Ghisotti, Kurt Amsler, Roberto Rinaldi, ...
Swan Hill Press 1996; ISBN 1853107840
Red Sea Reef Guide
Helmut Debelius
Hollywood Import & Export Inc.; ISBN: 3931702979
Nudibranchs and Sea Snails
Helmut Debelius
Hollywood Import & Export Inc.; ISBN 3931702987
Crustacea Guide Of The World
Helmut Debelius
Hollywood Import & Export Inc. 1999; ISBN 393170274X
Corals: A Quick Reference Guide
Julian Sprung
Ricordea Publishing 1999; ISBN 1883693098
Top of Page Links: Boat: Red Sea Divers: Miss Veena
Boat: Scuba Snacks: Miss Veena
Tour Operator: ORCA Reisen GmbH (German)
Tour Operator: Red Sea Divers (UK)
Tour Operator: Scuba Snacks (UK)
Red Sea: Red Sea Virtual Diving Center
Red Sea: Marsa Alam Dive Sites
Photo Gallery: Miss Veena 2002

© Sabine Noack and Thomas Hebel, April 2002.   Last update August 2002.