Diving Disaster on the Thistlegorm

I haven’t even found the pyramids yet, and today I already seem to have an evil-eye curse above my hut that would make the nastiest of mummies jealous.

As mentioned below, I went on my live-aboard, 90-euro, three-dive extravaganza of the SS Thistlegorm outside, then penetrate the wreck with torches, then Ras Mohammed Marine Park just outside of Sharm el Sheikh.

Just having those two sites in your dive logbook is enough to earn mucho respect from divemasters all over the world. The Red Sea is some of the finest diving in the world. I gave it my best shot, but looks like I will be postponing those log entries…

Here’s why:

Things were going fine, I slept a few hours on the boat in my own cabin which turned out to be complete luxury compared to other dive boats. I ate a good, free breakfast, then started preparing my equipment for the dive. Sure, it has been a few months since my last dive, but everything came back to me fairly quickly. I assembled my gear and was ready to go as our Arab divemaster was telling us to step it up and get in the water.

That’s when the trouble started.

I bent over to put my tank on and the bloody thing fell off the wooden bench and hit the ground with a clank and explosion of air that got everyone’s attention on board. People were buzzing around the overcrowded deck like insects, so I am not sure if it was my fault or not, but I learned in the Army that you are accountable for your equipment regardless. Aside from being pretty damn embarrassing, I broke a hose off the top which I am sure will not be cheap. The crew did a good job and rushed over to change it for me so that I could still make the dive. They put a new piece on, and then as I turned my air back on, my regulator went bad. I listened as loads of air screeched out of the mouthpiece on the surface. Air is very valuable when you find yourself 30 metres under water! And the fun ends for you and your buddy when you start to get low.

Again, the staff corrected my equipment malfunction, and by this time my entire team as well as the divemaster were already in the water waiting for me. I jumped in quickly, and before I could even inflate my BCD or situate myself, my divemaster (he was also my divebuddy) was halfway down the rope to the shipwreck. I had no time to equalize my ears, situate my buoyancy, or clear the spit in my mask which keeps it from fogging up.

This guy — our leader — was on a mission to see the shipwreck, with or without us. I forced my ears to equalize which is painful, stupid, and not good, as I pulled myself in the very strong current down the rope to the wreck. The current was so strong in places that I was stretched out like superman as I descended, rather than going feet first.

For the first time ever in my diving, I felt a small panic come on as I was using unfamiliar and broken equipment, I had a divemaster that didnt give a sh*t, and I started the dive at 180 BAR which is about 20 – 30 points lower than what you hope for in a cylinder of air. I knew that I would run out before everyone else. Diving is a relatively safe sport, but at that depth there is not as much margin for mistakes. Each time you are taking your life into your own hands. Going back to the surface quickly is not an option, so you have to stay cool and think, solve issues underwater, otherwise you can really injure yourself.

I fought through the fear psychologically and managed to get control of my breathing and calm myself, then catch up with my “buddy.” Our only interaction was when I tapped him once at 30 meters to tell him that I had 50 BAR of air left, which is when you would normally start up to do a safety stop to avoid getting decompression sickness.

He nodded, and then we proceeded around the wreck, and even went inside for a short part of it. As I was climbing through a hole, I banged my tank on the rusty metal and was having horrible visions of busting another hose off at 30 meters when I was already low on air.

I managed to get to the rope and fight the nasty current to hold on through the three-minute safety stop, then finished the dive just above 10 BAR. Not bad, considering my depth and the amount of air I had started with, but still lower than most people are comfortable with. I found out on the boat, that my good friend from Mexico, Camilo, had actually run out of air and had been sharing with his buddy at 30 meters (100 feet deep and not a happy place unless things are going correctly) for the last 10 minutes! With Simon’s calmness and slow breathing, they managed to make it through the safety stop before Simon ran out himself.

A good divemaster would have never allowed that to happen in my opinion. To take a break from my griping, I did see some cool things. There were tanks on the ship, huge shells, and ammunition scattered around on the bottom.
I crawled onto the boat, exhausted, ears hurting, and blood oozing out of my nose. Not a bad deal for the $119 I paid. 🙂 After two hours of surface time to get some nitrogen out of our blood, I decided that I would make up for the first dive with a perfect second dive. This dive would be far more dangerous, as most of the time would be spent inside the wreck, consuming air quickly at 30 meters, and no option to go up because many places you have to go in as a single file to fit. It is dark enough on the inside that we were issued expensive diving torches for light, something you do not want to lose!

I was the first to have my equipment on, tested, (I checked everything 10 times) and I was standing by the ramp before the divemaster was even ready. I was feeling 100 percent gung ho and would prove to myself and my team that I was still a good diver….

Then it happened again.

I was first in the water, and began down the rope. Around 10 meters, my *$#@! weight belt broke off! I watched in disbelief as it dropped like a rock (It was 8 kilos/16+ pounds of lead) onto the shipwreck below. It could have easily knocked another diver unconscious and therefore killed them had it hit someone.

I shot up like a piece of cork before I could even reach the button to let air out of my BCD. If I had been deeper when it happened and I had surfaced like that, I would probably not be sitting here typing this tonight. I climbed up onto the boat cursing in every language I know any of, and the awesome crew constructed me another belt in minutes. I re-entered the water and of course had no prayer of finding my divemaster or team, so I began down the rope on my own.

To hell with it, I would go into the ship alone, there were plenty of other divers from other boats around if something happened. I got down about half of the way and my ears stopped cooperating. I could not equalize my left ear to save my life, and as I tried harder and harder, my mask began to fill with blood from my nose again. Maybe it was a sinus issue, or maybe injury from the first dive. I just observed the wreck from the top until I could not longer see out of my mask, then I decided to abort and went back to the boat alone — defeated.

I have never had such misfortune diving (or in any undertaking for that matter) and at such a critical time (best diving spot in the world). I did not even attempt the third dive; I knew that I was beat. My chi is so bad from all of this, that I am considering a move from Dahab to start fresh somewhere.

Oh well, there is always still climbing to be done in the desert not far from here!

Greg Rodgers

About Greg Rodgers

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3 Responses to “Diving Disaster on the Thistlegorm”



  1. hey im using ur story for a book im making. can i please have ur name,age and wher your from? thanks.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Remembering Dahab part 2, and chao Egypt! » TravelBlog Archive » Just strolling around… - November 18, 2006

    […] Back at the surface I was glad of being able to breath freely, and Camilo thanked me. Then I saw Greg, or at least half of his face, his mask was filled with blood!!, he had had some problems as well as you can read carefully on his blog. […]

  2. Shark Attack!!!! » TravelBlog Archive » Vagabonding begins! - December 7, 2006

    […] They are pretty much all friendly and harmless, unlike the image of sharks that Hollywood has created for us. I cannot wait to get in the water with these guys! In Thailand, I was able to swim with Black Tip reef sharks, about 6 feet long, and a very large leopard shark. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I will probably explode when I see a hammerhead under water. They usually hang out around 15M, so it will be an easy dive (unlike my Thistlegorm disaster). I am hoping that this will repair my scuba memories of Egypt and be something to remember. […]

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