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Scuba Diving in the Red Sea
Dive Site: Small Passage
Location: Sha’ab Mahmud, nr Ras Mohammed. 27°43'89"N; 34°05'91"E
Description: Reef / drift
Depth: 23 metres (75 feet)
Visibility: 40 metres (130 feet)
Northwest of the Dunraven there are two ergs with a small gap between them (hence 'Small Passage') that is filled and emptied by the tide creating good currents to drift on. The dive is very pretty, with plenty of soft corals, octopus and pelagics.
Located to the northwest of Beacon Rock and the wreck of the Dunraven the large
reef system known as Sha'ab Mahmud, which frames the west tip of the Sinai Peninsular
has a small break in it. There is a large sandy lagoon behind the main reef which
is often used for boats to moor up before making the trip back to Sharm el Shek
or in rough weather when other sites can't be dived. This also makes a good afternoon
dive site after one or two morning dives on the S.S Thistlegorm or a dive on the
Dunraven. There is a small break in the main reef system allowing tidal flow to
occur between the outside ocean and the inside lagoon. Depending on the time of
day you dive here will depend on the direction of tidal flow. Generally, in the
afternoon if the tide is high, the tide flows from the open ocean through the
small crack in the reef with varying degrees of ferocity and into the azure blue
lagoon. High tide is the time to dive. The boats will moor in the lagoon, whilst
the boat tender or RIB is then used to ferry divers out through the reef break
and to the northwest drop off point. It's often difficult for dive guides to gauge
the strength of the current - get it wrong and your dive could be over in ten
minutes, or you will be dropped far up the outer reef and have a long swim back.
To gauge if the later has occurred - as a general rule if you haven't found the
break in the reef after 30 minutes, then ascend to 6m and continue your dive at
this depth until through into the lagoon. It is also best not to dive too deep
down the slope as the passage starts at around 16m, so could also be missed. The
best idea is to simply ask another boat already there and who's divers have recently
dived what the current is doing.
Once dropped on the outside of the reef you can descend down a sloping reef wall to around 22m where the sandy bottom slopes downwards at a gentler angle. This 20-25m slope then provides a plateau along which to dive with your left shoulder to the reef. There are lots of small coral covered boulders which are home to blue octopus (if you manage to spot them). There are some nice table coral formations as well as shoals of goatfish and sweetlips. There are often blue spotted rays on the sand and although I have never seen them here, this site has all the right traits for leopard sharks. As you approach the break in the reef the bottom slopes up in a bell shape to form the entrance ramp - you will be at around 15-18m at this stage and the current will increase slightly. The entrance to the small passage hosts the best coral formations and a profusion of small fish life inhabits the entrance. Once you start your ascent up into the channel keep a good eye on your ascent rate. If the current is running it will pick up significantly and "suck" you through the reef at around 6m. Stick close to the sea floor and enjoy the ride. Once through you will find yourself in around 4m of water in the sand lagoon. There is little to see so you can make your ascent and then depending on where your boat has moored, either be picked up by the tender, surface swim back, or take a compass bearing, re-descend to 3m and make your way back as part of the dive.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor
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