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Scuba Diving in the Red Sea
Dive Site: Kingston
Location: Shag Rock, 27°46'42"N; 33°52'36"E
Description: 18th Century steamship
Length: 80 metres (262 feet)
Depth: 20 metres maximum at the stern (65 feet)
Visibility: 20 - 30 metres (65 - 100 feet)
The wreck of the Kingston lies on the eastern side of the southern of two large pieces of reef which are known as Shag Rock. Shag Rock is the name of the southern reef; however in the absence of a name for the northern piece these two are often grouped as Shag Rock, part of the much larger reef system - Sha'ab Ali. Incidentally Shag Rock gets its name from the cormorants or "shags" which used to perch on an old light frame which was visible in the early 1990's on the southern reef. At very low tide these birds can still be seen sitting atop protruding bits of reef.
The Kingston is a very old wreck, built in the early 1870's and you will often here her referred to as the Sara H, or Sarah H. This label actually came about in the absence of correct identification in the late 1980's, early 1990's. One of the largest safari boats I used to see in this area in the early 90's was a dark blue vessel by the name of "Sea Surveyor". On board was a Dive Guide, Sarah Hillel and so the wreck was named after her.
The Kingston is a twin mast steamship, 80 metres in length with a beam of 10m and she ran into the reef at shag rock on Feb 22nd 1881. As with many of the wrecks in the Red Sea she did not sink immediately and it took 2 days for her to finally accept her fate before she settled upright in only 18m of water (at the stern) on the gently sloping reef wall.
The wreck is fairly intact, although her twin masts and funnel have long since gone. The prop makes for some great photographs with the sunlight penetrating the relatively shallow waters. Amidships there is a second prop which for some reason was being transported along with her cargo of coal. Despite her shallow location diving the Kingston can be challenging. Her position on the edge of the Gubal Straights means that the area can experience extremely strong currents. Dive boats will often moor around the southern side of Shag Rock after dropping divers to the north of the wreck. If the dive vessel has a tender (RIB) this can be used to ferry divers to the wreck site. If the current is running it will normally be north to south, so get your dive boat to drop you to the north of the actual wreck and then drift at a depth of about 15 metres onto the wreck. The belly of the wreck is very open and as the wreck lies perpendicular to the normal currents you can dive inside the wreck or along the starboard side and seek effective protection from the current - allowing plenty of time to explore. Then simply drift of the wreck and head south (reef to left shoulder) along the coral encrusted gentle slope. The stony corals here are stunning with layer upon layer of acropora table corals covering the southeast corner. The Kingston is an ideal second or third dive of the day, after a visit to the Thistlegorm and for those wreck enthusiasts there is also another shallow wreck - The Carina - located a short distance north, on the northern side of the second reef at Shag Rock.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor
I give this wreck 3 stars because although it is not intact, full of goodies or exciting in anyway, it is an absolutely beautiful dive. It is very shallow so the fish are brightly coloured and the photo opportunities are superb. It is full of thousands of glassfish and there are numerous sohal surgeonfish which try to chase you out of their territories. Look out for the barbs on the dorsal end of their lateral lines. I also saw large one spot snappers and loads of other fish in a memorable dive.
Steve Palmer, OWSI
Superb wreck, the stern hull of which is intact and the remainder forms one of the most beautiful corals gardens in the Northern Red Sea. Sometimes difficult to get on owing to very strong currents around which whip the diver along the towering corals gardens nearby. Once on the wreck, the diver is surrounded by a stunning coral garden and much of the wreck is now reef.
So near, yet so far, was what I was thinking back in March 2004 when our group had been dropped off from one of the leakiest phut-phut dingies I'd ever nearly sunk in! The sea was quite choppy at the time, and much of it was in the boat right up to the top of the crumpling pontoons as we cruised (perhaps the wrong word) lamely around the reef top from Beacon Rock where our liveaboard was moored. The Egyptian boat coxswain, or should I say submarine captain looked worriedly on imagining the engine to separate from the transom any minute and sink, leaving the boat to wander inanely. I shouldn't make light of it, as it wasn't funny until back on the boat!
Eventually we ended up at the site and he said go and on so doing our descent took us right down to within 10m of the starboard side of the wreck, at 10m deep. The trouble was all we could see was a side of the wreck and masses of soft teddy bear corals going crazy around us. This was due to the strong current being encountered across the wreck from port to starboard. We had therefore been dropped on the wrong side of the wreck or drifted across it on descent!
The rest of the party had already been whipped off, but buddy and I resolutely (or foolishly) stood fast against the current. We were finning but slowly being drawn away no matter what we did. Looking at each other, we just stopped finning and flew over the table corals to the steep towering reef wall nearby and that was that!
Until 2006... a bigger better liveaboard and a proper RIB, and two years later here we were again in flat mirror calm sea with no current. The descent was straight down to 18m off the stern port quarter of the Kingston wreck, a steel ship of the Victorian age. Here the corals garden is rich in corals which were thankfully still this time and being midday the light levels were superb.
Our buddy group of three sauntered around the stern area at 20m marvelling at the intact rudder and propeller, still unsalvaged, and the large sea fan attached with spiralling whip corals extending outwards. The remainder of the group swam over the wreck as we waited, eventually ascending the port side to 15m and over to what would have been the top deck. Only a couple of other divers remained. Flying off the top of the stern was a wondrous sight, with its beautiful curvature. The garden of hard corals glistened in the strong sunlight as we entered the latticework of cross beams to be met by a silver shoal of a myriad glassfish, flashing their bodies in unison. These swirled and caroused around us, parting as we went, only to meet up behind us somewhere. Eventually reaching amidships in this open wreck the main and donkey boiler stood proud at 9-12m, the spare propeller off to one side covered in hard corals, making it difficult to recognise at first.
Looking upwards, the underside of the sea was now a mirrored arch Snell's Window as we gently passed through an orange throng of anthias and onto the superb garden of terraced table corals around 12-15m, which stretched almost the surface. It was at this time a shape from surface swooped down upon us and revealed itself as a green sea turtle, come to investigate what all the bubbles were about. After figuring it was just another lot of divers, it decided to munch on some nearby teddy bear coral and ignore us completely!
Just shortly after we located some wreckage debris and probably the mast, which was very long and like everything else here, covered in healthy hard and soft corals. Even the reef ends to the sand gave way to hundreds of small coral outcrops. Purple teddy bear coral and masses of sea & gorgonian fans bore witness to the strong currents that can sometimes be encountered here (!).
The return journey took us most of the way back to the boat before being picked up by the RIB, however the coral garden along this vertical wall is some 20m high containing a vast array of colourful and entertaining fish, which included several big Napoleon wrasse, a few varieties of moray eels, and if you were lucky & eagle eyed, the odd scorpionfish. Lionfish were occasional, still resting from the previous nights feeding no doubt.
As with many of the dives here, Nitrox (enriched air) is ideal for these mid-range depths and it meant we could potter enjoying the best of the reef wall at 10-15m, pity we just didn't have a couple more tanks each!
The Kingston was at its best with strong currents starting 5 mins in. We were on wave 1 reaching the wreck, but succeeding divers missed it, being swept along the reef around to the north side (rather than previous write up, to the east).
The mast & crow's nest rests on the seabed at 13m, 5m south and makes for an interesting diversion before encountering some particularly aggressive (Sohal) surgeonfish having penchants for yellow - much to my amusement as my buddies mask was bombarded!
The long mast located further to the southeast, I was told this year belongs to another wreck. With the current this time from south to north, getting in the open wreck through the portside mid ships break is much more difficult as it flows over the starboard side where the boiler rests. You need to keep very low and tucked into the hull side before moving up, over, in and to the right to sternwards. Shelter must still be sought amongst remaining hull inner structures & spars.
Eventually "jumping" the wreck, the first part of the northern vertical wall is superb, graced with gardens of hard & soft corals. After 35 minutes sunlight and marine life largely disappear, on the northern lee wall, the top 5m with corals and fish. Below, more "shade loving" cave gorgonian fans & sea whips. The reef descends obliquely to ~40m bottoming out in a sand slope.
As the current slowed, suddenly passing 5m below at 15m, two white tips eyed us warily. This dive has everything, wreck, reef, drift dive and plenty of marine life! And most importantly, all divers must carry SMB and reel as the main boats are now moored around the far south side of the reef. We waited 25 minutes on the surface before being picked up, as journey times from one end to the other were quite long.
I was glad of my snorkel as the waves were quite high and it was necessary to ensure sufficient distance away from the reef top.
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