Interview speakers 2024

Liveaboard diving on the Red Sea? How?

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

Photos Anke, text: René Lipmann

Anke Westerlaken has done well, she has turned her diving hobby into her life and is often away from home. She works as a cruise director on safari boats and organizes liveaboard trips on the Red Sea. What is her daily life like on board?

When and how did you become a diver?

It all started after a fantastic holiday at the Red Sea, where I went snorkeling with my boyfriend at the time. The sea, the boat and especially the coral and the fish made a huge impression on us. When we got back to the Netherlands, we of course told everyone about our fantastic adventure. This also applies to Tjaarda, who immediately responded to our enthusiasm by asking 'but why don't you go diving?' Gosh, we and I had never thought about that! Once the question was asked, the rest followed automatically and we became divers in 1999. The boyfriend is now passé and diving turns out to be my great love. 

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

The diving bug really caught you, you even started your own diving center?

Once I started, the possibilities seemed endless. I not only like diving, but especially the variety. So many things to learn in so many different areas, really fantastic. That's how I developed into an instructor and later even an Instructor Trainer. Not a separate goal, but a milestone that I achieved through continued development. At that time I was teaching at a diving club in Friesland and I really enjoyed that. It took up quite a bit of my free time and I also did it with a lot of love. But of course the diving club had its own wishes in terms of diving training to be given and mine grew a little further. So I decided to set up a specialty diving school, Duikschool We had no facilities of our own, no shop and no classroom and we didn't want that at all. We organized training courses on request and on location, preferably in a place where my students have not yet been and together with people they do not yet know. So go on an adventure for a day and then do fun things with fun people, that was the idea. 

In 2003 you went on a liveaboard in Egypt to the Brothers Islands for the first time. Did you like diving and life on board?

Not long before I had gone diving in the Red Sea with a day boat and I already loved it. During one of those days a huge ship passed by. I bawled my eyes out. When I asked the crew what that was they said liveaboard. I had no idea what that was, but it was clear that it caught my attention. After a short time I booked my first trip. What a tremendous experience that was. My world opened up and I was amazed. I loved being on board. The diving was intense, but fantastic and all in all a great adventure. Since then I have only done liveaboard diving holidays until I finally got the opportunity to work on such a beautiful yacht. 

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

When I call 'yum yum orange', will you respond? 

Hahaha, that's a nice question! Yes, that became my nickname during my first liveaboard trip. One of the other guests had a diving magazine with him and it contained an article called Jumm Jumm Yellow and it was about the fact that sharks cannot see all colors, but that yellow is visible and they notice it. When I went for my first dive on board I put on my bright orange suit and apparently it was so eye-catching that they started calling me Jumm-Jumm-Orange. Once we were diving in the Brother Islands, some guests also said that I kept having a shark following me. Well, I was an Advanced diver and still quite wet behind the ears and was quite impressed with everything. Even though I kept quiet when they were joking with 'jumm-jumm', I still somehow cared about it. On one of the last dives that trip, I descended at one point because I saw something special on the wall below me. As I descended I looked at the blue water and a huge thresher shark came towards me. At that time it was still thought that these elegant animals could be dangerous for divers, so that made me a bit nervous. 

After the dive I learned that the animal had been swimming behind me from a distance for all dives on the Brothers. The suit could possibly have been the cause. So those jokes from my fellow travelers were based on more truth than I initially realized. Fortunately, the close encounter was fantastic and it now appears that this shark species is completely 'harmless' for us. In fact, as a rule they are very scared and do not often come close. So it was a wonderful gift.

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

What's so great about a liveaboard?

What I personally love is life on board, fun diving for a week with a group of people. You have your own cabin on board, so all amenities are provided. You only build your own set once and they refill your bottle every time for the rest of the week. And every dive is just a few steps away from where you put on your kit. I also really appreciate zodiacs. Not only because they can drop you off anywhere, but also pick you up. How nice is that! That's all, besides the fact that you go to locations where the day boats cannot or find it difficult to reach. You can dive three to four times a day and of course the reefs and wildlife underwater are much better and often much larger. In short, what's not to like about the liveaboard? 

You are now an experienced Cruise Director, what does this position entail?

On the liveaboard we actually have different operations. Namely the boat that sails at sea, the hotel that provides the rooms and food and then of course the diving operation. These three elements are offered in combination and they must flow seamlessly together on board. As a Cruise Director you are the guest care manager on board and you not only ensure that everything fits together and runs on time. You deal with the special wishes of your customers, adjust the trip where weather and circumstances dictate or the guests wish it and you of course organize and arrange the diving operation. Depending on where you are in the world, additional matters may arise. Such as picking up guests from the airport or keeping track of the complete inventory of the boat, bunkering water and fuel. It is a comprehensive job that of course includes diving. 

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

A number of liveaboards have recently sunk in Egypt. Can you tell us something about the causes?

There have indeed been some nasty unfortunate moments with some boats. Such as a fire, where the guests had to abandon ship. A ship that capsized and another that accidentally hit a reef due to shifting winds during the night. 

First of all, it is good to realize that the liveaboard industry in Egypt is enormous. Perhaps the largest worldwide. The fact that an incident takes place is of course terrible for those involved. The chance of it happening is still very small. Even smaller than being struck by lightning. 

It is also important that you realize that the sea is immense and strong. That she shows enormously beautiful things, but sometimes also takes them mercilessly. Nothing can match that force, although you can of course deal with it in a good way. 

In addition, many ships make many trips week after week and then things break. I hope you understand that electricity and water do not mix well and therefore increase the risk of fire. Where people work, mistakes are sometimes made and that can sometimes cost a fortune. As far as I'm concerned, there are no clear general reasons. Of course, every accident has its cause, but I do not have the impression that safety is not good. Although that does not mean that you can automatically assume that everything is fine. My advice; Book with reputable companies and be well informed.

Is there sufficient attention to safety?

That of course depends on the operator and what they consider important. Unfortunately, there is no international standard that boats must meet. However, there are also regulations in Egypt that boats must adhere to. For example, everyone needs licenses, there is a permission for the trip, the ship is checked periodically, the organization is also checked by the government and the like. More and more guidelines and controls are being introduced. These are developed, implemented and monitored in Egypt by the Ministry of Tourism, CDWS (Chamber of Diving & Water Sports) and the coast guard. If you, as a traveler, want more clarity in advance, please ask the travel organization you book with. Ask what resources are on board, whether a muster exercise is being held and the like. 

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

As a diver and passenger, can I prepare for a liveaboard at home? 

What a good question. Yes, of course you can prepare. By reading the itinerary and making sure you have all the necessary equipment. Also consider special location-dependent things such as a deco buoy, a reef hook or a nudi pointer. 

You will also need a number of things: Your diving certificates and logbook. A medical certificate, for example that of DAN. Also note that in some cases you will need a doctor's note. Travel and cancellation insurance plus diving insurance.

Make sure that you have sufficient experience for the trip in question and, above all, that you are adequately trained to do the dives they organize. Have you not dived for more than 6 months and are you not yet that experienced? Then do a refresher at a diving center in the Netherlands before the diving trip. Or travel a few days early and prepare your trip by diving with a local dive center before boarding. That is highly recommended, because it gives you the opportunity to properly test your equipment. Another tip I have is; please use lanyards for your lights and cameras. Attach this to your BCD and not to your wrist, so you are much less likely to lose it. 

If you are sensitive to seasickness, take medication with you from home. Start a day before boarding and continue swallowing. The tablets in question are not miracle pills. The active substance needs time to build up in your body. An alternative are those small plasters that you stick behind your ear... and no, you can never get those locally. Start on time and avoid seasickness. Also take some extra cash with you. You never know whether you can pay with PIN everywhere and it is always useful to have some cash with you. 

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

Which route in Egypt should I not miss, which is your personal favorite? North or South?

I'd say try them all haha. No, kidding aside, they are all really great, although they all offer something different. The north is particularly known for its wrecks, although there are also fantastically beautiful coral reefs. What is special about this trip are the beautiful stories about the ships, which are sometimes more than one hundred and forty years old. You can often dive through the wreck and you will be surrounded by lots of sea life. So even if you don't like wrecks, this is a really great trip. The maximum diving depth is thirty meters and the current is not too bad. Also very suitable for novice divers. 

Then you have the south with Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone. Together these reefs offer the opportunity to dive deeper, in potentially strong currents, in blue water with a chance of seeing sharks. That sounds really great and it is. Although this is a route for the slightly more experienced diver. Make sure you are comfortable in strong currents. Then the deep south, that is definitely my personal favorite. I love the variety of types of dives, from caves to blue water, night dives and much more. The only thing you won't do much on this trip is wreck diving, but you'll definitely know the rest. Enjoy biking over reefs, visiting small shallow caves, but also the chance of seeing larger game. Variety at its best and certainly my great love in the Red Sea. From St. Johns to Sataya, Daedalus, Rocky and Zabargad. Wow! 

Diver Anke Westerlaken
Diver Anke Westerlaken

You are one of the guest speakers at Duikvaker, what are you going to show us?

Ha! That is of course about diving from a liveaboard and everything you can expect from it. How are things going on board, how dives are organized and especially which trips are available. Of course, I am still preparing it and it may well be that it will take a slightly different twist. But I am really looking forward to seeing all my Dutch diving friends again and hope to meet you all at the Duikvaker.

ANKE to beach FILE

Anke Westerlaken

Anke travels and works on safari boats as a cruise director. Her field of work? Egypt, the Bahamas, Indonesia and the Maldives. She also organizes liveaboard trips herself, especially on the Red Sea, Maldives and Indonesia.

She loves being under and on the water. This way you discover fantastic sea life, meet new friends and learn to take better photos and films. Anke likes to share her diving adventures on her website. But also diving trips that you can participate in, photos and films that she has made, maps of diving locations that she has designed. She also tries to share some things that Anke has learned over the years on board various liveaboards.

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