DESCENDING TO THE TOP of the reef at 10m, I soon forgot the cold water as I immersed myself in the beauty of the reef and its marine life. So close to shore,
I was both surprised and enchanted to find colourful hard and soft corals of so many different kinds, extending almost to the sea-wall edging the road.
We swam slightly further away from the shore, where the reef gently sloped down until it met the edge of a wall that dropped to 40m. The visibility was around 20m as we swam along the edge of the wall, and the view was so spectacular and colourful that there was no need to go any deeper than around 22m.
Black coral, seafans and sponges vied with large, bright-green plate corals and leather coral. Anemones of different shapes and sizes housed Red Sea and two-band anemonefish by the dozens.
Huge numbers of anthias danced prettily above the reef, their bright orange and pink colours a lovely contrast with the deep blue of the sea.
A single lionfish prowled the edge of the reef, fins splayed, eyeing me warily. Towards the end of the dive, Yazan spotted a reef octopus hiding next to a sea urchin. Watching us warily, the octopus alternated between changing colour and texture until we moved away.
Our 50-minute dive passed like magic. It’s rare to find reefs that are so healthy and with such a variety of corals and marine life.
Looking through the cargo-hold to the pilot’s seat and the sea through the cockpit window.
Our second dive was on Aqaba’s original artificial-reef project, the Cedar Pride. Lying at 26m on the sandy bottom, it had settled at a 45° angle.
Over the years, the ship has been heavily colonised by soft and hard corals. Fish-life is abundant on the wreck and the surrounding reef.
I had heard that the wreck was full of small critters, and perfect for macro photography, so I spent the hour-long dive peering into nooks and crannies, finding several different species of blenny, shells, clouds of anthias, the ubiquitous anemones with families of clownfish and many fish species I had never seen before.
It is a very photogenic and beautiful wreck that can be explored at leisure in the calm conditions.
At long last, it was our turn to dive the Hercules. By now I had seen photos taken by other divers, although they told me that on the first day on which the safety-divers had given the go-ahead to dive they had had to contend with around 20 divers from different clubs and centres all diving at the same time.
As we moored on the fixed buoy above the plane, we could see its clear pale silhouette against the azure blue sea.
Any hopes of being the only divers on the wreck were dashed as we saw some 15 army divers kitting up on shore, from where the wreck was easily accessible. We decided to wait for them to complete their dive before going in.
Once the first diver came up, I asked Yazan whether the ladies could kit up before the Russians, as we would be that much quicker.
He agreed, and as I was ready before everyone else, he gave me the go-ahead to descend to the wreck, which was clearly visible at only 17m, and easy to navigate.
I descended beside the right wing. It was quite eerie and surreal to dive the plane I had watched sink three days earlier, sitting on its belly on the sand and seagrass as if waiting to take off.
For a few minutes at least, I was lucky enough to be the only diver on the wreck.