National Geographic : 1993 Nov
RED SEA The reefs of the Red Sea are as deadly as they are rich. Shab Abu Nuhas arches off the northern end of Gubal Island like a hidden claw. At its base, 110 feet down, lies the 300-foot-long hulk of the Royal Mail Steamer Carnatic,her iron hull encrusted with hard corals (below). In September 1869, shortly before the Suez Canal opened, the Carnaticsailed from the port of Suez carrying 230 passengers. After she ran aground, the passengers voted to stay aboard until help arrived. On the morning of the second day, the ship broke in two, and 27 passengers and crew members drowned. Farther south, two islands called The Brothers loomed like tan mushrooms on the horizon. We dived beside a reef built in wedding-cake tiers. It seemed an eclectic modern painting: Shallows veiled with orange anthias, Picasso trigger fish with wedge-shaped heads and mouths like jet-engine intakes, and cornet fish, silver pipes with opal eyes looking like exiles from a Mondrian masterpiece. In an especially animated corner of the canvas two unicorn fish performed a courtship ballet, the male raising his pectoral fins as he circled the female. As we pressed southward in the Red Sea, the water warmed and lost that blue perfection I'd seen in the north. Off Masamirit Islet I spotted my first orange butterfly fish, a visitor from the still distant Indian Ocean. After a rough pas sage that precluded any diving, I marveled at a forest of algae that grew like poplar trees from a reef off Jabal Zuqar Island. Soon we sailed through the strait of Bab al Mandab, the Red Sea's southern gate. It was the realization of a dream: to sail the length of this unique desert sea, a place that seems to protect-even to enshrine-the life of the reefs.
1993 Nov 30