Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Wonders Of The Red Sea and Finding Nemo

After three years of scuba diving mainly in Scotland, The Boy and I decided it was time to treat ourselves to a diving holiday in warmer water where we didn't need to wear a drysuit.  In November, we had the opportunity to go diving in the Red Sea on the Tiger Lily live-aboard boat.  The trip was organised by Martin at Ace Divers (web site through Flowers of Sinai. We flew to Sharm El Sheikh and had a short mini-bus ride from there to the harbour where the Tiger Lily was waiting for us.

We were scheduled to do four dives each day: one before breakfast, two during the day and a night dive.  The first thing I noticed was that, diving in a wetsuit, I felt almost liberated - no drysuit, no thermals, no drysuit hose, no hood, no gloves.  I felt like I had forgotten something when I was kitted up, waiting to do my giant stride into the water, but I had everything I needed.  The second thing I noticed was the almost endless visibility.  It felt like I could see for miles in clear, blue, warm ocean.  Bliss!

Tiger Lily visited a few sites in the vicinity of Sharm El Sheikh (in the red box around Sharm below):

We started at a couple of dive sites near Sharm El Sheikh, namely Ras Katy and Ras Umm Sid, then headed towards the Gulf of Aqaba and dived the four reefs - Jackson, Gordon, Thomas and Woodhouse - in the Strait of Tiran.

There was an incredible amount to see.  The aquatic life was phenomenal - rays, giant moray eels, puffer fish, squid, cuttlefish, lionfish (which freaked me out on night dives as they are attracted by the light from your torch) and all sorts of other fish from the tiniest Anthea fish to huge Groupers and Barracuda.

Here's giant Moray eel coming out of it's hiding place for a look around:

I was delighted to find that Nemo and his relatives (aka Anemone Fish or Clown Fish) are alive and well and thriving in the Red Sea.  We first encountered them on Jackson Reef:

After the reefs in the Strait of Tiran we headed back towards Sharm to reach the Ras Mohammed National Park, stopping at Temple for a night dive on the way.  We met our first cuttlefish there.  We started the next day with a dive around Shark and Yolanda reefs which have some ship wreckage scattered around them.  That marked the start of our wreck dives.

The first wreck was the Dunraven where The Boy managed to drop his GoPro.  Thankfully he managed to find it again so no harm done.  Next we dived the Marcus which has a cargo of Italian tiles.  We finished the day with a night dive around Sha'ab Abu Nuhas reef.  It was The Boy's 300th dive and a little squid made it memorable by panicking and taking off like a rocket, inking all the way.

We had a full day of wrecks the following day - the Carnatic, the Ghiannis D, the Ulysses and the Barge at Gobal Island for our night dive.  We had our first distant sighting of dophins at Gobal Island.  Some of the wrecks were absolutely full of fish.  Believe it or not, The Boy is at the other side of this wall of Glassfish.  If you look hard you can just see part of his mask:

The wall opens up and there he is:

The next morning, our pre-breakfast dive was around Bluff Point.  We were taking our time, waking up gently when, all of a sudden, something big started to appear in the distance...... and we all got excited when we realised it was a pod of dolphins:

I was too excited to get decent photos but The Boy managed to film them.  They appeared from nowhere, swam around us for a couple of minutes then vanished into the blue.  Amazing!  That's me with the bright pink fins in the video.

Below is the view we had from the rib on our way back to Tiger Lily from a late afternoon dive with the sun setting on the Loullia wreck.  We had been diving at the opposite side of Gordon Reef.

We dived the wrecks of the Kingston and the Thistlegorm on our way back to Sharm.  The Thistlegorm is a very big wreck and we did three dives on her as there is so much to see.  Our very last dive was at Small Crack, for which we discarded out wetsuits for a team photo (which I will add when I find it).  We said goodbye to all our new friends, including this ray:

All in all, a wonderful holiday and an awesome experience.  The crew on Tiger Lily were fantastic and looked after us all really well, especially Kareem, our scuba diving guide for the week.  Thanks for a great time.

As a wee p.s., I read a book for the second time after my trip to the Red Sea, not something I do often but it had a lot more meaning for me after visiting the Red Sea.  The Boy reminded me about it on the flight home.  It used to only be available in Kindle format but is now available in print for those who prefer it.  It's an enlightening read.  It's called Lost Wife, Saw Barracuda by John Kean.

Friday, 4 January 2013

A Ring For Jackie

Here is my first blog of 2013.  I was kind of busy at the end of 2012.  I had a request to make a ring so I set about it just before Christmas.  The first thing to do was to size it correctly so I measured Jackie's finger and determined he was a size G.  That was the easy part.  I was making the ring from metal clay, which shrinks by 8-9% when it is fired in a kiln so the ring has to be made bigger to allow for shrinkage.  I keep a log of everything I make so that I can learn from experience.  As you can see from my calculations below, a size K was about the perfect size to shrink to a G.

And here is the 'before' photo.  This is the piece of silver clay that I used to make the ring.  it doesn't look like much does it?  It looks more like a piece of chewing gum than anything related to silver but this will be transformed into a Fine Silver (99.9% silver) ring.

First the clay has to be kneaded and softened, taking care not to dry it out in the process.  Even the heat from your hands can be enough to dry it out so it's usually kneaded inside a piece of cling film.  Once it was softened it was time to shape it.  For a textured ring, I would roll it out with a tiny plastic roller and use a texture mat to give it a pattern.  This time I wanted a smooth ring with a groove so I decided to use a mould.  I used plastic moulding material that is softened by hot water and a bamboo knitting needle to create a rounded ring mould then let it cool down to harden.

When the mould had hardened I removed the knitting needle then coated the surface lightly with olive oil to prevent the clay from sticking.  I rolled the clay into a snake shape and pressed it firmly into the mould.  After a couple of minutes, I carefully prised it out of the mould and laid it carefully on my cutting tile where I used a very sharp blade to carefully cut off any excess clay.  Next, I wrapped a ring paper around my ring mandrel and marked it where it was size K.  The next step is the tricky one.  This is where I had to drape my tiny clay snake round the ring paper and carefully turn the mandrel until the two ends overlapped then cut through the two layers where I wanted the ends of the ring to join.  I got there in the end and carefully removed the ring, still on the paper, so that it could dry.

Next is the time consuming part - waiting for it to dry then sanding and shaping it, inspecting for dents, cracks, etc. and fixing them, waiting for it to dry again and then repeating the process until it looks the way it should.  The clay is very delicate in this state so great care has to be taken not to break it or it's back to the drawing board.  After a few days of this routine it was almost ready to fire in the kiln but there was one more thing I needed to do.  The ring was supposed to have a groove all the way round so I carefully marked the location of the groove with a pencil.  I used a very fine, sharp sculpting tool to start off the groove then made it wider and deeper with a diamond file.  I fetched my kiln, set it up put the ring on a piece of firing blanket on the shelf and switched it on.  Silver clay needs to be fired at a minimum temperature of 650 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes so I'd to wait just over 20 minutes for the kiln to reach temperature then start timing it.  Here is the 'cooked' ring.

Yes, I know.  It doesn't look a whole lot different from the uncooked version you saw a couple of paragraphs ago.  To begin the transformation it needs to be brushed first with a brass wire brush.  This results in a matt / satin silver finish.  I gave the inside of the ring a gentle rub with some very fine sandpaper then checked it with the ring guage.  Size G  - perfect!  I started to polish it inside and out using a metal burnisher to bring it to a glossy shine and here is the finished article: