Five days in Sharm: Sharks Bay Umbi Village
Secluded hamlet shows off the sleepy side of Sharm
The warm-up dive
The secluded cove at Sharks Bay is the ideal place to discover the Red Sea.
Titus Salt built a West Yorkshire settlement to house workers at his nearby mill, and named the place Saltaire. To modern eyes, the name may be seen as rather self indulgent but since his workforce were starving and old Titus also included a post office, church and railway station, nobody complained.
a nice place to spend an afternoon
Meanwhile several thousand miles away from the industrial north of England a certain Mr Umbi, a Red Sea entrepreneur, named a village after himself. Located in the sleepy chine of Sharks Bay north of Sharm El Sheikh centre, Umbi Village doesn’t have a railway or post office – yet. But it’s a rather nice place to spend an afternoon. A beaming Mr Umbi’s picture hangs on the wall in the dive centre.
Sharks Bay is formed of a narrow valley, accessed by car from the main centre of Naama in about 15 minutes. Unlike the latter’s bustling sprawl, the natural topography limits development here and it has the feel of a Cornish fishing village… albeit one in a desert. With Bedouins.
I’m here courtesy of Eastbourne-based Oonasdivers. Dumping the kit bag, “is it normally as hot as this?” I wheeze. “No,” says centre manager Alex. “It’s the humidity that’s pushing the temperature up. Past 40 degrees today.” She used to work in neo-natal care she tells me, but found the sea too strong a draw, and loves it here. Alex talks fondly of the time she dived with Michael Schumacher, calling him ‘charming and funny, if competitive’. In the water, at least she could keep up with him.
For divers the sea is always a draw but on this particularly hot day, it’s less a choice and more of a necessity. Crystal blue and sparkling, it gently laps the reef. Apart from the buzz of the occasional passing speedboat, we’ve got the water almost to ourselves. It’s still early in the day, but Sharm feels quieter than my last visit two years previously.
Alex processes the paperwork and signs me in. Sadly her diving days are in the past, so I’ll be diving with Adel, a sun-worn fella with Bedouin looks and a friendly demeanour. He smokes cigarettes and looks on whilst I faff and rummage.
Access to the water is via one of those plastic jetties across the reef plate. We splash in amongst a series of pinnacles hosting a variety of Red Sea favourites. Parrotfish, Sergeant Majors, Fusiliers, Bannerfish… it’s a healthy looking ecosystem. The route takes us right across the mouth of Sharks Bay, dropping down to 10m to avoid the day boats that pick up and drop off here. On the other side of the Bay entrance is a great cleft running through the reef wall, and we fly over. The water is warm as a bath and gin-clear. Exultation.
There’s nothing worse than a guide who’s forever in your face, shaking a rattle and lording it over your dive. Thank Allah then that Adel is nothing of the sort: he points out a giant clam here, a huge chomping sea slug there, then quickly sits back. There’s 25 metres of visibility at least, almost no current and a barmy 29 degrees showing on the computer. Time for a victory roll and a thought for those back at home stuck behind desks.
After 40 minutes we shift up the gently sloping reef wall and begin the return journey. Corals run down to sand some twenty metres below, and as per Alex’s instruction I strain my eyes out into the blue in search of sharks – none today. No sharks in Sharks Bay, a job for the Trade Descriptions people… mutter mutter.
On the sandy shelf at about five metres is a group kneeling down. One points, the other mask-clears; it’s a group doing skills. With very few people about and the natural shelter of the cove it’d be the ideal place to train. I find out later that several dive centres feel the same way and bring their Open Water students down here.
Out of the water, the Umbi Village facilities include a deserted restaurant and dive shop, but from my vantage point not much else. Alex frowns at the euro-beat music thudding away from somewhere on the other side of the Bay, but otherwise it’s quiet. Tranquillity can be hard to find in Sharm El Sheikh, but it’s more likely here at least. There are actually resorts perched on the hills behind but they’re out of sight from the beach.
I saw no sharks, meaning Sharks Bay is a misnomer for one day; but it’s a lovely little spot for training or a warm up dive. Adel reappears in his clothes, and I leave him to return to the large Red Sea mural he’s painting. He certainly has plenty to inspire him.
British Diver’s dive at Sharks Bay Umbi Village was organised by Oonasdivers. The Bay was recently featured in BBC’s Horizon programme. You can read more at the Oonas website here.
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Dave and Lisa want to take you on a 21-day trip of a lifetime