After a long photo editing session, I often find myself scouring Google Earth late into the night. I am mildly obsessed with trying to find new places and locations to shoot in Saudi Arabia. Last year, my Google Earth wanderings brought me to the Al Fahad Shipwreck located south of Jeddah. The word ‘shipwreck’ carries romantic connotations of adventure and exploration and secrets locked deep under the sea. But, Al Fahad is no secret. In fact, a Google Map search of Al Fahad will bring it right up - along with a handful of selfies from the wreck that squats just off shore. The boat, originally called the MV Free Enterprise III, was built in 1966 in the Netherlands, sold in 1986 to an Egyptian company that renamed it Al Fahad, and the vessel foundered in 2004 due to engine problems. Since then it has slowly decayed in the Red Sea while fish and marine life have found sanctuary in its damaged quarters.
The drive to Al Fahad amplified the usual anticipation of exploring the unknown. Just south of Jeddah the street lights disappear and the path darkens; the apartments and office buildings slowly fade away and a large wall of black swallows the road just beyond the reach of the headlights. I turned the music off and embraced the quiet. My plan was to reach Al Fahad just before sunrise and, for some reason, even though I knew other people had been there and the GPS was clearly showing roads straight out to the thing - I had this sense of foreboding. There is something about driving to a shipwreck at 4am that feels haunting. Would there be other people out there? How low would the tide be? Would I be able to walk right out to it? Swim out to it? Climb aboard? Would it finally tip all the way over while I was standing there watching it? No one actually died when the ship hit bottom, but I still had that feeling like I was approaching a graveyard.
Just after 5am the call to prayer broke the silence, and my thoughts.. An hour later the first hints of daylight began to creep over the horizon. The black skies slowly giving way to the first deep blues of sunrise, soft pinks quickly following. I turned off the highway and started down a paved road that eventually crumbled away into hard packed dirt. I peered into the darkness as the Red Sea drew closer and strained my eyes to find the wreck. I approached slowly. The dirt road disappeared and a maze of tire tracks zigzagged through the crusty sand leading to the water's edge. The Al Fahad came into view just before sunrise as a ball of mushy grey sinking into soft aqua blues. I slowed to a crawl and turned off my headlights and my eyes adjusted to the ambient light, and that’s when I realized I was definitely not alone. Not at all. It turns out the ghosts of Al Fahad are alive and well.