Randy Belham
Randy Belham

Feb 09. 2 mins

Scuba Diving the S.S. Thistlegorm – An Essential Guide to the Red Sea’s Greatest Wreck

If you have ever dreamed of exploring the eerie underwater environment of a shipwreck, you can’t do much better than the SS Thistlegorm. The Thistlegorm lies in the Red Sea and is one of the most famous wreck diving sites in the world. It sank in 1941 whilst on its way to deliver much-needed supplies to Allied troops on the Suez Canal and for the next fourteen years, the wreckage lay undiscovered on the seabed. Today the remains of the Thistlegorm afford divers of all skill levels a fantastic opportunity to see at first-hand a fascinating piece of war history.

Reaching the Dive Site

The Thistlegorm attracts divers of all calibres. Some visit the wreck site as part of a day trip from the nearby resort of Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada, whereas others spend a week out there, enjoying a guided tour from the comfort of a ‘safari’ boat.

Best Time to Visit

You can visit the site of the SS Thistlegorm all year round. The weather in the area is always perfect for scuba diving. There is very little rain in this part of the world and conditions for diving are rarely anything other than optimum. Summers in the Red Sea, however, are exceptionally hot. This is great while you are in the water enjoying a balmy water temperature of 27C, but be careful you don’t frazzle on deck. In the winter, the air temperature is a lot more bearable, but the water temperature drops to a cool 20C.

Is Experience Necessary?

The SS Thistlegorm is not suited to beginner divers and if you want to explore the dark bowels of the ship you will need to have advanced certification. You are also advised to have additional skills in Deep Diving, Wreck Diving and Peak Performance Buoyancy. Recreational divers will have plenty of fun exploring the SS Thistlegorm, but if you really want to spend some quality time underwater, consider using nitrox or compression chambers to maximise the amount of time you can spend on the bottom.

What’s Down There?

There are three distinct areas of the SS Thistlegorm site you can explore:

Internal structure – Inside the cargo hold is where the most interesting things lie. Despite the fact the ship has been lying on the seabed for more than sixty years, its cargo is still in relatively good condition. Once you have found your way down here, you will see all kinds of interesting bits and pieces, including cars, motorcycles, rifles, live ammunition, and even Wellington boots. If you ascend from the hold, the decks are accessible. The bow of the ship is also a must-see.

External structure – It’s easy to pass through the external structure of the ship without paying it too much attention because the cargo hold will be your target, but take your time and meander if dive conditions allow. Just remember, the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm is fairly long and it is easy to return to the surface disappointed because you haven’t seen everything you wanted to see.

Outside perimeter – The area surrounding the wreck is also worthy of a look if you have the time. If you look close enough, you may see all sorts of odds and ends, including old pieces of machinery and ship parts. But you do need to be careful when diving away from the wreck because of tricky currents and the depths involved.

Guided Dives

For less experienced divers, a guided exploration of the wreck is the most sensible way to see the sights. If you dive the SS Thistlegorm as part of a tour, you will be tied to mooring lines held by a guide. These will help you to avoid problems caused by the strong currents common to the area.

Diving the SS Thistlegorm is something every scuba diver should find the time to do. It truly is one of most amazing experiences you will have as a diver, but remember that although the wreck is fascinating from a historical perspective, it is also the place where a lot of men died.

If you want to find out more information before you plan a trip to the Red Sea, check out the definitive guide to diving the Thistlegorm, written by John Kean, an experienced diver and expert on the subject.


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