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Scuba Diving in the Red Sea
Dive Site: Bluff Point / Gubal Barge
Location: 27°40'07"N; 33°48'32"E
Description: Reef / wreck
Depth: 14 metres (46 feet)
Visibility: 30 metres (100 feet)
Bluff point is a steep wall dive that follows the coastline. There are plenty of small passages and inlets in the rock that hide away life. The reef is full of glassfish, butterflyfish, crocodilefish and a flat-headed scorpionfish. The wreck itself isn't much to look at, but it serves as an attraction for sealife. Keep an eye out for turtles.
Bluff Point / Barge Resources
Bluff Point is one of the most popular night dive spots for almost all safari
boats coming from the South to stop at before crossing the Straits of Gubal and
heading further north to Sha’ab Ali and the S.S. Thistlegorm. Located on
the east of Gubal Island, Bluff Point is secluded from the surface conditions
and allows boats to moor in preparation for an early start across the Straights,
or a quick attempt at the crossing when the weather breaks. When I guided safari
boats here in the mid 1990’s the crossing was one of the highlights of my
week due to its rough conditions. This is of course not to everyone’s taste,
but if you do get sick on the crossing it will only take around two hours and once
across you will recover quickly in the seclusion of Sha’ab Ali. Diving the
Thistlegorm is worth it! Make no mistake though this crossing can be rough and
not being in the habit of missing out on diving the Thistlegorm I often forced
the Egyptian Captains to make the crossing, making for a rough ride. During one
crossing the fridge launched itself across the main saloon after breaking free
of its mounts. For anyone doing a North Safari from Hurghada you are likely to
moor at Bluff Point and cross from here, however the weather is not always rough
and you might bypass Bluff Point if the sea is calm. As a word of precaution (and
in case your guides omit to tell you) make sure you close your cabin portholes
and secure your belongs well – including your dive gear on the back of the
One disadvantage of Bluff Point is that being an ideal place to wait to cross
the Straights is gets busy - very busy! Once the safari boats are moored
they tend not to want to move until they leave for the crossing and this does
limit you to diving the Gubal Barge (as if diving anywhere in the Red Sea is limiting!!!).
If you fancy pushing your dive guide into giving you some more adventurous dives
(and especially if you arrive early at the site with plenty of daylight left)
then ask about diving Big Gubal Island. Located about 10 mins boat ride to the
SW of Bluff Point it is a deeper sloping wall dive with a lovely eel garden at
around the 22m mark (see dive site directory's write-up on this dive site). Another
alternative (which will usually require you to go by boat tender) is the wreck
of the Ulysses located around the SE tip of Bluff Point. This doesn't require
the main boat to be moved once moored for the night. When your guide tells you
this requires calm weather it's true. Not because of surface conditions,
but because of the current. Bluff Point rests right at the side of the Gubal Straights
and the north to south current can be horrendous. The Gubal Barge tends to be
protected from this, but once round the corner the current runs. The Ulysses is
pretty smashed up and starts just below the surface and slopes down to around
15m. It's a nice dive and you can still see the boilers. You can also use
Bluff Point as an overnight stay point before heading around to the other side
of Big Gubal and the S.S Rosalie Muller (sister ship of the S.S Thistlegorm).
So onto the Barge itself. I really like this dive. As I mentioned earlier it
gets really busy and the way around this is to ask your dive guide if you can
do a daylight dive or even a dusk dive as soon as you arrive and then a late night
dive (say 8-9pm). You don't need to go deeper than 14m here, so take the
opportunity of getting an extra dive in. Basically by asking to dive as soon as you
get here and doing a daylight dive, you can miss out on the hoards of divers that
descend on the barge after dark. You'll get to orient yourself to the site
in daylight and see a whole host of different marine life. This way you can do
another (extra) dive after dark, but leave it later than is usual (get a decent
surface interval) meaning that other divers will be out of the water and already
having a beer. Boats often tie themselves directly onto it and then the guides
claim this as pole position, as their divers can descend the ropes without having
to worry about navigating to the barge. What this actually means is that the guide
doesn't have to do the dive and finishes early for the day. Worse still
is that the barge has literally been pulled to bits over the last 10 years. A
common mistake here is to actually limit yourself just to the barge; there
is a lot to see on the coral bottom too (although there is also a lot of rubbish).
Drop in away from the barge and spend at least 10 - 15 minutes getting there.
Once your dive guide has briefed you as to which direction the barge is in (it
will be either East or West) head down the shallow slope to 14m and then head
in the appropriate direction. If you are deeper than 15m you might miss the barge.
If you are getting shallower you are heading North towards the island and if you
are getting deeper than you are heading away from the island and the boats - it's that simple. Watch the currents, even in and around the barge.
The map here on dive site directory I drew back in the mid 1990's and
last time a dived at Gubal in 2002 it had changed dramatically. Whilst you can
still see the outline of the barge the sides have caved in and what was a reasonably
complete structure is now in pieces. What is left however is still home to some
interesting marine life. It is common to see octopus here, especially at night,
and with a dive torch you have the added advantage of seeing these wonderful creatures
changing colour to their environment. A giant moray also used to live here and
watch out for the lionfish that frequent the site. Lionfish are attracted to light
and hunt nocturnally, so if one comes towards you simply turn your light to your
chest and move away. If the barge has too many divers for comfort or if the current
was heading in the same direction as you when you dived towards the barge (i.e.
you will be finning back against it), head back early to your boat and give yourself
lots of return dive time and spend it on the coral bottom.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor
An eerie black coloured barge with a dusty dark bottom, not fascinating by itself but turn the lights off and add in a whole host of stinging, dangerous and occasionally skittish night creatures. That sums up this great night dive. If you are looking for something completely different and very rewarding, on a night dive that shouldn't be there then this is it. A small wreck festooned with stinging creatures of the night, large overgrown moray eels and a very colourful collection of smaller interesting creatures.
Someone once said to me about this night dive that they didn't see much; then every other diver on the liveaboard boat came up exclaiming how wonderful the dive was! The secret of this night dive is to take it slowly and carefully, looking at all the coral heads and the barge area. Things are very camouflaged and can only be often spotted by the smallest of movements.
The Gubal Barge is a small open black hull some 35m long, now collapsed in places, with dark dusty sand in its bottom. It is frequented by most of the Egyptian liveaboard boats making the northern itinerary runs, either from Sharm el Sheikh or Hurghada. It is believed to be a vessel sunk during the Arab-Israeli war, and rests on a gradually sloping coral garden, in 15m of water and famed for night dives, the last dive of the day. At a constant depth of 15m, Nitrox gas is best as the no-decompression limits can be reached quickly without thinking!
The barge is located on the south side of Big Gubal Island, north of Hurghada, were fishing and liveaboard boats moor up for the night in this sheltered spot. It is an anomaly, just a shell of wreckage with nothing else around except a coral garden that has seen better days; it shouldn't exist as a superb dive site but does. This is in the main due to its location, right where boats moor. These boats like to throw biological waste over the side and have done so for many years, hence the scavengers.
You could say that the local fishing & diving communities have a symbiotic relationship with the marine creatures below. These creatures decide to stick around to be photographed and gawked at if they are occasionally thrown titbits. The marine life is wild and not deliberately fed, but coincidental.
We've moored up right over the top of it before now with our bright halogen lights piercing the water, and if we can't get this prime spot it means a small swim. It is great diving directly under your boat or a boat with lights on, a certain surreal atmosphere ensues very much like a full moonlit night. The dive is 15m but in this type of lighting feels much deeper. On a one dive we moored some 100m away and performed an underwater swim there and back interesting for the navigation needs to be good especially if you're counting boats from the underneath!
The big advantage was that it gave us extra coral to pick our way over. The hinterland between is alive with all manner of night creatures. For the photographers with digital cameras it meant more "targets" on the return and usually for film cameras like me 2 shots remained! As it can be quite popular with divers, there are always a few who have less consideration for other divers and marine life alike. These tend to poke their cheap cameras at everything that moves, chase marine life and bump into other divers, whilst shining their torches in your face! These types are best avoided and usually the dive guide will time your group's dive with the exit of other boat groups.
One dive we made I remember distinctly as our group came over to the barge 30 divers from two boats were all over it, torches and strobes flashing wildly everywhere, divers in singles or pairs milling around in disarray. Morays & scorpionfish were darting around, fish jumping wildly out of the way, whilst these "divers" encroached on their space. We waited in the coral heads outside of the barge away from them until they all went some 5-10 minutes later. After our time in and around the barge we gradually trickled back in small groups leaving just four of us 70 minutes "downrange". As we started back a coral ridge became silhouetted with torches flashing wildly over it, like something out of the 1950's movie of War of the Worlds. The divers holding them flew past and we thought it a shame for the poor creatures we'd just left behind. On another occasion the dive was so good 3 of us decided to go back in at 11pm, and 66 minutes later came out after being awestruck by the large octopus and the group of squid we'd seen!
The corals around the barge are home to just as many scavengers inside. Small morays cling to their holes, but occasionally a flash of black in the torch beam reveals a large 3m long free swimming one. Dorid nudibranchs with their yellow white and black lines are vivid in the lights now shining on them. Quite often lionfish follow your torch beams around waiting for an easy meal. Small fish flash by in the torchlight, trying to avoid detection. Small hermit crabs fall over their shells as they scuttle away, their long arm dragging behind them in the white coral sand. Anemone crabs stare up at you and if you are really lucky a Spanish Dancer nudibranch may make an appearance. It's more like a moving 10cm bright red tongue, with a series of frills on one end and two small horns (rhinophores) on the other. Occasionally small shrimps can be seen riding them.
A dark shape looms, that of the barge and tucked into its outside hull base two boxer shrimps jostle or perhaps box for position, their red and white arms just waiting to pounce. Along the outer hull sides several splurges of colour are those from the soft teddy bear corals, at night the already rich red and purple colours are accentuated by the feeding polyps. Look more closely and the white forms of ghost crabs can be seen crawling over them.
We've arrived at the bow of the barge and jump in to its interior. Bits of rubbish lies scattered, detritus from passing boats now making good cover for creatures. On the top of the hulk's hull sides the remaining pieces of gunwhales allow the odd deep red coloured clam to cling to, its saw tooth "mouth" looks more like something out of the film Chukkie.
You have to be careful and pick your way very gingerly as the metal seen ahead has just twitched slightly. The 50cm long large scaled scorpionfish has camouflaged itself so well the metal and creature have merged but now it spreads its pectoral fins laterally; the dorsal spines rise, not a happy bunny. An attempt to photograph results in a large space hop over and to the outside of the hull.
Never mind, there are plenty more here and like the remainder of the barge it's chocked full of things that want to sting! Lionfish are all over the place, usually the larger varieties stay outside in the corals heads, beautifully bedecked in frills and coloured with mixture of white and red. The smaller varieties prefer the confines of the hulk, and are mostly stripes of red and deep red, with smaller feather flukes.
A piece of metal against the wreck provides an interesting hiding place for a large moray, he's over fed and called George. About a metre away on the floor another moray, oops no it's the same one. There is usually another moray around, no doubt related but as the centre of the wreck is reached a fantastic sight beholds as a very large shoal of fish, possibly bream sweep this way and that. The torchlight cuts the shoal but they reform just outside the wreck and sweep back in. The lights from the boat above make them congregate and their silvery bodies flash in this artificial moonlight. At the stern several plates have fallen, and more scorpionfish attempt to keep camouflage, but something long and sandy grey catches the eye, its two black eyes have gold coloured tassels dangling from the upper lid. This looks like an elongated scorpionfish, but its head gives its name, a crocodilefish. Sometimes quite skittish, but on occasion are willing to have their photograph taken.
Swimming out of the wreck a small pink moray and an octopus are spotted, but it's time to return as we're now pretty hungry and ready for the evening meal. But wait, more crocodilefish and something unusually interesting a large triton shell "foot". This latter creature is in decline and is the natural predator of the Crown of Thorns starfish, which a few years ago decimated several dive sites in the region by eating all the coral. Arriving under the boat, another pile of lionfish roam in the half-light and shadows, whilst several small squid are metres below the surface, attracted by the lights as are the very silvery and thin needlefish, which skim under the surface. Ascending, a large salp colony, a free-floating hydroid, passes by its translucent body of connecting cylinders each containing a small orange organ. A fitting end to a great dive!
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