Malta 2011

Ah British water. Itís cold, itís dark and contrary to popular belief, itís awesome to dive in. However one does find his mind wondering on a rainy day at Stoney, of a place with sea so clear you can sit on the sandy bottom and stare up at the sun from 30 metres. Where you only need to wear a t-shirt and board shorts before kitting up and when you get out of the water, the only exposure risk is too much sun. Sounds good doesnít it? Well this is where our regular Malta trip comes in. The opportunity for every SHUSAC diver to dust off those hardly used wetsuits and allows the body to stock up on that vital Vitamin D.

This year started off with the usual but always interesting drive to Manchester airport. Once there, the was the added fun of checking in all the equipment and making sure certain people hadnít packed lead weight in their luggage again (because he has a mental age much lower than the rest of us, Jonoís name will not me mentioned). Once the marathon of checking in over 20 people and doing a headcount to make sure nobody went on with the luggage, we headed to the departure lounge where we were briefed on the awards that were up for grabs this year. Finally we all got on the plane on time and headed to the sunny island of Malta. We finally landed at around 04:30 Malta time and headed to the apartments. Suffice to say, it was a quiet trip as most people were shattered and we were due to be up and diving again in a few hours!!

Day 1 - Anchor Bay

The first days diving was to take place at Anchor Bay because its shallow and a great place for weight checks and getting used to the very salty Mediterranean sea water. Itís also one of my favourite dives as there is always something to see and there is also an awesome set of caves to explore. After being at this site many times before, I had never actually managed to find and explore these caves before and I was determined to do so this year. I briefed my buddy, Charlotte, on what we planned to do today to make sure she was on board and we set off by jumping off the jetty. As we were lucky to only be diving in a 2 today, we took an easy swim following the wall along until we found the cave opening. I did another check with Charlotte, dug out my torch, and in to the unknown we went. Expecting pitch black, it was pleasant to find the most incredible blue glow inside as we followed the cave in. I then noticed a light up a head and thought my light was reflecting off something and curiosity got the better of me.

As it turns out it was Dave with his group and they had noticed my torch and wondered who it was. When me and Charlotte finally surfaced inside the cave my language became rather colourful in awe of the cave to much amusement of the others. As a group we further explored some of the inner caves then headed back to the jetty where we exited and dried off.

Day 2 - Cirkewwa

On day 2 we did our first wreck for those who were qualified enough and were willing to do an early start. The P29 is an old East German Navy minesweeper that was commissioned into the Maltese navy for local patrolling duties before being decommissioned and sunk as an artificial reef in 2007. Itís a great wreck for beginners and I have dived it every year Iíve been to Malta since its sinking and itís interesting to see how Mother Nature is claiming the wreck. The other 2 dives of the day were the Cirkewwa Arches and the Lady Madonna. Both are great dives and both allow you to get a tantalising glimpse of the Rosi if you are lucky. Itís possibly the most famous wreck in Malta!!


Day 3 - Fort St Elmo

The third day was spent diving around St Elmos fort in the centre of the capital city Valetta. Both dives are fairly shallow and another great place to look for the smaller creatures around the island. The best dive has to be the bow section of the HMS Maori. She was a WWII British Destroyer that was sunk at her moorings in the Great Harbour during an air raid in 1944. She was raised by the admiralty due to the disruption she was causing to shipping and then scuttled just off St Elmo but her stern sunk into deeper water during the tow from the Great Harbour. Whatís left of her now is a beautiful artificial reef with her 2 main gun mountings clearly visible and a few great swim throughs if the winter storms havenít filled them with sand.

Day 4 - The Rosi, Ghar Lapsi & the Blue Grotto

Day 4 was spread over multiple sites with the first dive of the day being an early one on the Rosi for the more experienced divers. The Rosi is a tugboat that was sunk as an artificial reef down at 35m. She has aged so well that itís incredibly rare (actually, more like impossible) not to see anything on or around her. One of the first places to look is the toilet on her starboard side, just behind the wheelhouse. A local Moray has taken up residence in the bowl and can sometimes be seen with his head poking out (but not always so be careful if posing for those funny camera shots!!) As the Rosi was prepared as an artificial reef she was also made accessible for divers and has many swim thoughs and a great experience for new divers who are feeling more adventurous.

With the early dive out of the way we headed off to the next site, Ghar Lapsi. The site we dived was called finger reef and is accessed by an incredibly steep slope which a vehicle fully loaded vehicle with dive kit would easily get down, but wouldnít get up again!! Thankfully we had many bodies in order to carry down all that kit!! The reef itself can be accessed in 2 ways but both of them have to go through a small cove that is usually packed with locals in the summer. The first route is by swimming out of the cove and around, the second and more fun way is out through a cave system in the cove. The cave system, in my opinion, is the highlight of this dive however some experience of diving in an enclosed environment and good buoyancy is recommended.

The last dive of the day was an evening dive at the blue grotto. This is another site that is popular with the locals and tourists who go to the blue grotto cave via small boat so during the day so there is some overhead boat traffic. However this site is a great place to dive with small caves just outside the cove along the wall and loads of marine life during the evening and night, especially cuttlefish and octopus after the sun has fallen below the horizon.

Day 5 - Gozo

Gozo was the next dayís diving location which means an early start for everyone (and dragging some people out of bed is easier than others). Even though it was still early, most people were either worshiping the sun or hiding from it while waiting for the ferry. The funniest thing was that we didnít all get on the same one and it took some time to notice half the group had buggered off on the earlier ferry!! Finally we all reunited on the other side and headed to the other side of the island to carry out my 2 favourite dives in Malta, the Inland Sea and the Blue Hole.

The first dive of the day is the more easily accessible inland sea. It was created by waves that managed to puncture a hole in the cliff that eventually eroded out a small bay while leaving the cliff intact. During the height of summer this place is like a Mediterranean sweat lodge and for this reason, its best to either kit up in the shallow water or put on your wetsuit and soak in the water for a bit. Personally I prefer the latter as it keeps you cool and covered. I donít care who you are, even the hardest of sun worshipers will burn here quicker than Usain Bolt can run the 200m (I use 200m as itís a more reasonable time. He runs the 100m under 10 seconds and If you burn that quick, I suggest moving to Antarctica). Anyway, back to diving. The site has boat traffic in the form of motorised row boats that go overhead. At one point swimming through the tunnel there is only 2 metres of clearance between them and you. If they do manage to get you, theyíll likely get your tank and knacker their prop. You can then angrily surface and tip the boat and have a go at them for scuffing your custom paint job. Only joking, if you stay to the left of the tunnel (on the way out) youíre perfectly safe. From here you drop rapidly until you follow the tunnel down to a depth of 25m where you reach the drop off. We usually head off the drop off and follow the wall around for a bit before turning back. You used to be able to swim from the inland sea round under the azure window and come out at the blue grotto if you were semi aquatic and didnít use much air (there are some of us who are technically an extra cylinder when we dive as they actually can fill a half full cylinder on a dive, Mr Leivers is one such creature) however this is no longer recommended due to the instability of the azure window after some heavy storms.

And for the last dive of the day, the Blue Hole. Itís basically a big blue tube that drops down to 15m with an awesome cave underneath, all created by wave action. However get to it, you must have spent at least 2 weeks with mountain goats before attempting the climb with kit on (trust me itís easier with it on than trying to carry it)and once youíre there, you need to make sure you can spot it as the surrounding water is barely ankle deep. Once in though, itís an amazing dive. Drop down and have a look in the cave then you can head out and then follow the wall on the left and head up a rock chimney, affectionately known as ďThe CrackĒ, which then emerges in to the ďCoral GardensĒ. You then come out the other side of the blue hole when you exit. As always, the journey home is a mad rush to get back, de-kit and go out for some grub and a few ice cold beers!!

Day 6 - The 2 Tugs

This dive is the last ďquick dipĒ before getting back to the apartments to hastily chuck everything in a bag, stamp on it a few times to make it fit and wonder how much extra weight you are taking home in salt water, and then head off to the airport to fly home to ďsunnyĒ Blighty. Itís a good little dive to wrap up on actually, a few little (ok, not that little)tug boats to nose around if you can find them (my compass lies) and the reef and sandy bottom is a good place to spot little rays and pick up cool looking ďmother of pearlĒ shells and the odd crab carapace. Be careful though, until they dry theyíre pretty soft and I havenít managed to get the buggers safely to sure yet without them turning to dust in my hands.


Anyway thatís a brief (yes, brief) breakdown on the events of Malta 2011. If you think I type a lot, you should hear me talk. I never shut up!!


Jamie Gwozdzicki, Sports Diver



Updates

We've had a very successful intake this year, with around 20 new divers being trained and a hanful of divers who area already qualified joining.

We're off to the Farnes at the end of November to see the seals. Wish us luck!

For more information visit the contact us page!


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