South Sudan Dives

Perceptory overload is not a phrase I care to utter often. But when you mix three species of shark, two species of ray, humphead parrotfish, and perfect visibility all in dive, one’s mind gets set upon by unheard of concentrations of neurotransmitters and it finds it difficult to cope. This was the very feeling I had two days before starting to write this article as our group discovered a plateau of immense beauty and what’s more, as far as we could tell, it had never been dived before.

As I write, everything is north – Red Sea diving-wise anyway. Even what most people consider south his still north. Reefs with names such as Elphinestone, Zabagad, St Johns are so far to the north they may as well be at the pole. Even the exceptional Sha’ab Rumi and Sanganeb are north. That’s because if you had a map of Sudan, found Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast and headed southwards you’d come to Suakin, now a ruined town, but once the area’s main trading port.

From here head almost directly east towards Saudi Arabia and if you have a good map it would show you where I sit and write these words – in a sheltered lagoon named Sha’ab Anbar 15 minutes west of the 38 degree East longitude line.

We are exploring; on a voyage to discover new Red Sea reefs, which in time I’m sure, will become the new Elphinestone, Zabagad, Brother Islands Sha’ab Rumi or Sanganeb. Starting from Port Sudan the ex-research vessel Ciprea turned south and navigated the narrow channel between the coast and a large heavily reefed and uncharted section of sea.

Looking at the Admiralty Chart, I saw great swathes outlined in blue with ‘Uncharted’ written ominously within. The chart itself is a mish mash of surveys from ‘Miscellaneous Soundings’, ‘US’ Government Charts’ and ‘Commercial Surveys’ all dating from 1859 to 1984, and most were completed at the start of the last century when a weighted line was the most accurate way of testing depth. Our Captain, luckily had been through these waters before and was accustomed to the ‘plot and guess’ navigation technique.