Sharm Diving Pioneer Rolf Schmidt Talks to DIVE Magazine
Rolf Schmidt and his wife, Petra Röglin, first came to the Sinai peninsula in 1974 as part of a tour with their local dive club, with little more than a VW combi packed with dive gear and a few tents.
The couple, originally from Germany, immediately fell in love with the area around Sharm El Sheikh and Ras Mohamed, and began the first scuba diving tours to the region in 1975, operating under the name Aquanauts Red Sea. Sinai was, at that time, under Israeli control after the six-day war of 1967, and although Israelis had begun developing the resort, there was little more than a handful of small hotels at the time, and dive excursions involved travelling by jeep and camping overnight in the desert.
By 1977, Rolf and Petra had established the first permanent diving centre in Sharm, where they remained until 1980 after the 1979 Camp David accords saw the Sinai peninsular returned to Egyptian control. After a short stint in the Philippines, they returned to Sharm in 1982, where they eventually opened the award-winning Sinai Divers in 1987, in the newly developed Ghazala hotel in Na'ama Bay. Their legendary liveaboard, Ghazala I, came into service shortly afterwards.
Today, Sinai Divers has centres in Dahab, Marsa Alam and Aqaba in Jordan, but, like many centres, they were badly hit by the various travel restrictions imposed on Sharm El Sheikh following the downing of a Russian airliner in 2015. Forced to close their Ghazala centre, the return of their German customer base a year later allowed them to re-open in partnership with Werner Lau, which was among the first of the big names to close their doors before tourists start returning.
With most European countries now flying to Sharm once more, business has returned to the resort, but the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office still maintains a travel advisory against 'all but essential travel by air' to Sharm airport, effectively preventing all direct flights to Sharm to and from the UK. With more experience in Sharm El Sheikh than almost anybody else, needless to say, Rolf has a great deal to say about the current state of affairs, and we managed to catch up with him at the recent Boot show in Düsseldorf.