Trip Report Southern route Red Sea (St. John) on JP Marine June 2021

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Dan

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Just wanted to share a quick review of my week on the JP Marine, diving the southern route from Marsa Alam to St. John. I found very little info on the boat before my trip, so maybe this helps out somebody contemplating diving this boat. Liveaboard.com unfortunately heavily censors reviews on its site, so here is my unedited review of the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The good — the lead dive master, Peter, was excellent. He’s an Egyptian guide, and really enjoyed getting to know him. Super calm and competent, above and below the water. The rest of the Egyptian crew was very helpful, though spoke relatively little English. The food was really excellent home cooking, combination of Egyptian and Western food. On the southern route, we had a night dive every night, and often we were able to self-guide in buddy teams. When it was a guided dive, there was a legit need for a guide.

The bad — the owner of the boat is Russian, and the boat caters to a lot of Russian divers. On our outing, 17 of the 22 divers were Russian, and very few spoke English. Nothing wrong if you like Russians, but if you want more diversity among your fellow divers, you may want to consider another boat. The other thing is that the owner, Sergey, has a very strong and rather abrasive personality, and rubs a lot of people the wrong way. He was only on our boat the first day, but he frequently is on the boat the whole week, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed spending the week on the boat with him at all.

The other thing about the JP Marine is that the boat is showing its years. The A/C was spotty and weak, and the boat, while in working order, could really use an overhaul. Still, you get what you pay for.

The southern route to St Johns, to me, was not quite as interesting as the northern route from two years ago, as there were no wrecks, and the southern dive sites were pretty similar to each other. Still, it was great diving for $1,000 for the week, and unquestionably the highlight for me included seeing a Spanish dancer swimming in the water column on a night dive:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZD1Yg2jwbYXYpcwj7

I also really enjoyed this clownfish nursery:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Qb1BXEakZQ5QXUMT9

And the pinnacles in St John were quite spectacular:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/whUtWiEcyEPjBZcQA

As well as an encounter with a pod of dolphins:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/i7auTiDHjDQurXqH8

Nobody caught COVID on the boat, as far as I know, though many of the Russians were not vaccinated. (I had my double Moderna shots.).
Nobody wore masks the entire week.

Marsa Alam was a 3 hour drive from Luxor, where we had the Valley of the Kings to ourselves, as there were virtually no tourists. The drive from Marsa Alam to Cairo took 7 hours. Very few tourists in Cairo either. I spent about 10 minutes entirely alone with the Tut treasures in the Egyptian Museum, and had most other parts of the museum to myself. I enjoyed wondering around traditional markets in Cairo, with nobody paying me the slightest notice. And it’s eery being pretty much alone in the Giza pyramids!

https://photos.app.goo.gl/PohPxfCYEcemTut59

Happy to answer any questions …
What’s the ugly part?
 

SSC-uba

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I’m doing the Aggressor III back to back weeks 9/18-10/2. It goes to BDE first and then south to St John’s the following week. I have done both trips before separately and I like them both for different reasons. The colors and clarity of the south blew away the northern sites but the Pelagius up north were much more numerous.

$999/week. Hard to beat. Join us!

Looks like I will see you there Scott. Booked the Aggressor 2 for Sept 11 and the 3 for Sept 18.

Looks like my wife and I will be joining you on the Agressor III Sept 18 - 25
 

mises

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I’m doing the Aggressor III back to back weeks 9/18-10/2. It goes to BDE first and then south to St John’s the following week. I have done both trips before separately and I like them both for different reasons. The colors and clarity of the south blew away the northern sites but the Pelagius up north were much more numerous.

$999/week. Hard to beat. Join us!
Hey! Was considering doing a LOB with Agressor (2 or 3).
Have you gone diving with them in the Red Sea before?
Are the dives guided every dive?
If not, what are the dive conditions when unaccompanied?
Hows the safety, service, boat features (A/C working, clean, etc.)?
How’s the food? (people mention getting diarrhea in Egypt, is this a likely event on the boat)

How “difficult” is the diving in the North/South of the Red Sea? I see mentions of no minimum reqs, mentions of AOW for the depths, mentions of 50+ dives but, without having been in that region before, it’s hard for me to know what that translates to?

I have 65 dives in experience, 30 in SE Asia (Komodo NP, all over Thailand, Bali), 3 in Costa Rica, 2 in South Africa Cape Town (couldnt do more when COVID began :() and 30 in Ontario/Quebec dives in the fresh water St Lawrence river, great lakes and saltwater Escoumins. So these sites don’t worry me too much since I’ve had experience in strong currents, pretty tight spaces with <6 feet visibility, cold water dry suit diving, 130ft deep diving, etc.

However, my GF has ~20-30 dives in Thailand (similan islands) and South Africa (Cape Town & Sodwana Bay). Thus, I’m trying to go somewhere that does not overwhelm her (ripping current w self guided dives on a wall at 30-40m depth)
Also, what is “strong currents” in Red Sea in october?

Thanks!
 

Scott from LongIsland

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Hey! Was considering doing a LOB with Agressor (2 or 3).
Have you gone diving with them in the Red Sea before? - Yes, twice on the RSA I that sank
Are the dives guided every dive? In the south there was always a guide in the water but following them was optional if I recall correctly. I found the diving to be rather docile down south. On the BDE, we had to follow the guide and the currents were typically stronger, some quite strong but they were drift dives so just went with the flow. Not a dive for taking pictures though.

If not, what are the dive conditions when unaccompanied? - easy, not challenging at all, clear blue water as far as you can see and no current
Hows the safety, service, boat features (A/C working, clean, etc.)? - Well, the boat that i was on burned and sank. But aside from that all was peachy!
How’s the food? (people mention getting diarrhea in Egypt, is this a likely event on the boat) - The food was average. I don’t recall anyone getting sick. I have a sensitive stomach and I did not have any issues. Perhaps mild travelers stomach but nothing more. Bring an antiobiotic just in case.

How “difficult” is the diving in the North/South of the Red Sea? I see mentions of no minimum reqs, mentions of AOW for the depths, mentions of 50+ dives but, without having been in that region before, it’s hard for me to know what that translates to? South was easy, BDE was more challenging. I would not suggest it for beginner divers.

I have 65 dives in experience, 30 in SE Asia (Komodo NP, all over Thailand, Bali), 3 in Costa Rica, 2 in South Africa Cape Town (couldnt do more when COVID began :() and 30 in Ontario/Quebec dives in the fresh water St Lawrence river, great lakes and saltwater Escoumins. So these sites don’t worry me too much since I’ve had experience in strong currents, pretty tight spaces with <6 feet visibility, cold water dry suit diving, 130ft deep diving, etc.

However, my GF has ~20-30 dives in Thailand (similan islands) and South Africa (Cape Town & Sodwana Bay). Thus, I’m trying to go somewhere that does not overwhelm her (ripping current w self guided dives on a wall at 30-40m depth)
Also, what is “strong currents” in Red Sea in october? We did not run into particularly strong currents in October. We had stronger currents in May but others might be able to speak better to this.

Thanks!

See my notes above. Hope it helps a bit!
 

mises

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See my notes above. Hope it helps a bit!
Thanks that's very helpful!

Quick follow ups:
- you mention the South being very easy and BDE having more currents.
for some reason I assumed the "South LOB" were BDE.. but based on your comments that is not the case?

- "BDE is not for beginners"
What does beginner mean in this context for you? Based on my comment on our experience, would we be too beginner for that location? I'm asking because my perspective is pretty much everyone that doesn't have technical diving, GUE fundamental tech pass, hundreds of dives sound pretty beginner in the context of a Canadian up north. But beginner could also mean fresh OW cert or 10 dives AOW or <30 dives with only very easy dives with good vis and no currents. Do you have thoughts on this?


On the "Aggressor 1 burning and sinking" thing: xD
I hadn't realize their `1` had burned and sank.. Always have read that Aggressor ran a reputable operation of LOB and focused on qualified dive guides, safety protocols and high standards.. Am I mistaken on any of these points?
Since you are going back with them... I guess you liked it enough and you trust them more than that 1 major incident?
Any worries?


Really really appreciate all the help, thanks mate!
 

Christian

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Thanks that's very helpful!

Quick follow ups:
- you mention the South being very easy and BDE having more currents.
for some reason I assumed the "South LOB" were BDE.. but based on your comments that is not the case?

- "BDE is not for beginners"
What does beginner mean in this context for you? Based on my comment on our experience, would we be too beginner for that location? I'm asking because my perspective is pretty much everyone that doesn't have technical diving, GUE fundamental tech pass, hundreds of dives sound pretty beginner in the context of a Canadian up north. But beginner could also mean fresh OW cert or 10 dives AOW or <30 dives with only very easy dives with good vis and no currents. Do you have thoughts on this?


On the "Aggressor 1 burning and sinking" thing: xD
I hadn't realize their `1` had burned and sank.. Always have read that Aggressor ran a reputable operation of LOB and focused on qualified dive guides, safety protocols and high standards.. Am I mistaken on any of these points?
Since you are going back with them... I guess you liked it enough and you trust them more than that 1 major incident?
Any worries?


Really really appreciate all the help, thanks mate!

The "South" in the Egyptian Red Sea is normally Fury Shoal to St Johns. Between St Johns doen to Sha ab Abu Fendera is sometimes called the "Deep South". Brothers, Deadalus and Elphinstone are all further north, Brothers being the "northest", pretty much on the same latitude as Port Safaga. All of Egyptian Red Sea is northern Red Sea. BDE being pure off shore deep water reefs generally more demanding than St Johns, but can of course vary on a day to day basis.

Diving around BDE can be demanding with strong current, wind+choppy seas and then getting off and on dingy's in mentioned conditions, but most of the time it is not difficult diving. There are minimum requirements of Advanced OW or equvialent and 30 logged dives. Not always strictly enforced, but there for a reason.
 

moorish8idol

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This is an interesting review! I did the BDE trip with JP Marine back in August 2018 but looks like I neglected to share a trip report - I honestly thought I had! For the most part, it looks like not much has changed on this LOB. On my trip the Russian owner was not there (luckily, it seems) but about 6 of his Russian/Ukrainian "friends" were. They were a giant pain and were constantly trying to change the dive sites (to the chagrin of the dive guides who tried to explain why their preferred sites were not workable at the moment, such as things like "no light there right now") and the rest of the boat which was fed up with them but they were largely outnumbered by the rest of us so didn't often get their way. We also had a sizeable group of Turks (fun and nice people but mostly kept to themselves) and then a mix of fairly young (20s and 30s) European divers, both male and female.

Don't know if this has changed but my biggest gripe was the fact that they had only 2 dive masters for up to 24 divers. Especially with hectic currents on the BDE route (and the massive numbers of other LOBs on site), I found the group size was too large (also led to a lot of waiting around for people both pre-dive topside and in the water). Both DMs were Egyptian but I only found one of them to be good - the other one caused an incident where some of us were separated from the group in high currents because the DM (who was on the other panga with half of our dive group) changed the dive profile without telling the other half of us, jumped in without explanation and took off before the rest of us could catch up. After that I switched to the other group for the remainder of the time as I just didn't feel safe with him (his explanation to me was that I was an experienced diver and he felt I was fine! I was not an experienced diver of THAT site however and highly suspect he never noticed that he lost 4 people in the group - until we told him about it on the boat afterwards).

The boat was decent and spacious but as OP stated, a bit run-down. I was in a top-side cabin but the AC was shared with a second cabin (and controlled externally) so we had to come to a consensus on temperature which left my roommate sleeping outside as she was too cold (that being said, we had like 22 degree AC and it was literally 40 degrees outside). The door to our head also used to get stuck when shut so I got stuck in there several times throughout the week lol!

Best part of the boat was the excellent food - it was varied, fresh, local, amazing. The crew overall were excellent and friendly and helpful (I do speak some Arabic though so that helped me engage with everyone a bit better).

Last gripe was that our BDE ended up being a BD route only only. Halfway through the trip they broke it to us that they didn't really want to waste the fuel going down to Elphinstone and told us we would have to sacrifice time at Brothers (this was before the rules changed and you were still allowed to moor there overnight) and then put it to a vote amongst the dive guests. As expected it caused a giant fight between the guests and sowed a ton of discontentment!

However, we did get a lot of dives in over the week and were well fed, for the basement bargain price of 750euros. I wouldn't do it again (especially hearing about their current lack of COVID protocols) but for someone on a budget, this could be a great way to get a lot of Red Sea diving in (and to meet some fun people!), provided you prepare yourself for some of the negative points mentioned here.
 

chillyinCanada

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This is an interesting review! I did the BDE trip with JP Marine back in August 2018 but looks like I neglected to share a trip report - I honestly thought I had! For the most part, it looks like not much has changed on this LOB. On my trip the Russian owner was not there (luckily, it seems) but about 6 of his Russian/Ukrainian "friends" were. They were a giant pain and were constantly trying to change the dive sites (to the chagrin of the dive guides who tried to explain why their preferred sites were not workable at the moment, such as things like "no light there right now") and the rest of the boat which was fed up with them but they were largely outnumbered by the rest of us so didn't often get their way. We also had a sizeable group of Turks (fun and nice people but mostly kept to themselves) and then a mix of fairly young (20s and 30s) European divers, both male and female.

Don't know if this has changed but my biggest gripe was the fact that they had only 2 dive masters for up to 24 divers. Especially with hectic currents on the BDE route (and the massive numbers of other LOBs on site), I found the group size was too large (also led to a lot of waiting around for people both pre-dive topside and in the water). Both DMs were Egyptian but I only found one of them to be good - the other one caused an incident where some of us were separated from the group in high currents because the DM (who was on the other panga with half of our dive group) changed the dive profile without telling the other half of us, jumped in without explanation and took off before the rest of us could catch up. After that I switched to the other group for the remainder of the time as I just didn't feel safe with him (his explanation to me was that I was an experienced diver and he felt I was fine! I was not an experienced diver of THAT site however and highly suspect he never noticed that he lost 4 people in the group - until we told him about it on the boat afterwards).

The boat was decent and spacious but as OP stated, a bit run-down. I was in a top-side cabin but the AC was shared with a second cabin (and controlled externally) so we had to come to a consensus on temperature which left my roommate sleeping outside as she was too cold (that being said, we had like 22 degree AC and it was literally 40 degrees outside). The door to our head also used to get stuck when shut so I got stuck in there several times throughout the week lol!

Best part of the boat was the excellent food - it was varied, fresh, local, amazing. The crew overall were excellent and friendly and helpful (I do speak some Arabic though so that helped me engage with everyone a bit better).

Last gripe was that our BDE ended up being a BD route only only. Halfway through the trip they broke it to us that they didn't really want to waste the fuel going down to Elphinstone and told us we would have to sacrifice time at Brothers (this was before the rules changed and you were still allowed to moor there overnight) and then put it to a vote amongst the dive guests. As expected it caused a giant fight between the guests and sowed a ton of discontentment!

However, we did get a lot of dives in over the week and were well fed, for the basement bargain price of 750euros. I wouldn't do it again (especially hearing about their current lack of COVID protocols) but for someone on a budget, this could be a great way to get a lot of Red Sea diving in (and to meet some fun people!), provided you prepare yourself for some of the negative points mentioned here.

Sometimes the jui e just isn't worth the squeeze.

I'm glad that everyone seems to have been able to find enjoyment but boat, ownership and operation seems a PITA to me.
 
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