“Hey honey, how would you like to go diving in Malta?” came the shout from the office here at Mallory Towers. “Diving Malta? Yes, love to, but it’s ages since I was underwater.” Was my initial reply.
However, it sounded tempting, prompting me to continue, “What’s the dive specifics? I could arrange a refresher.”
Several emails, some research and quick, last-minute organising I was clutching return flight tickets.
Slightly over a week later and I’m bobbing about on the surface at Xlendi, on Gozo, all kitted up and ready to get wet. They say it’s like riding a bike, coming back quite easily. It comes back far easier when the previous week has been spent poring over old dive manuals! The homework paid off and it turned into a pleasant potter around the bay, while completing drills with Denis, our guide from Atlantis Dive Centre. Mask on, mask off, mask on and cleared. Regulator out and in and cleared. Weight check and we are all good to go.
Our first dive was rather spectacular, The Blue Hole; the famous Azure Window, one of Gozo (and Malta’s) most famous landmarks has recently collapsed into the sea! This is a disaster in terms of losing an iconic landmark, however, ironically, it’s made for a fabulous dive. It won’t last long though, so I count myself extremely fortunate to see it in all its glory. The dive is challenging if only because of the entry. Lugging over four stones of equipment across rocks, tends to cause profuse sweating, especially in 5mm thick wetsuits. It’s not my idea of a pleasant start to a dive but, adds some authenticity and if you want to make this spectacular dive, the effort cannot be avoided. It is worth every step.
Exploring another Mediterranean island: Corsica – Much More Than the GR20
Making the descent, the beautiful arch comes fully into view as you swim into the blue. It’s an impressive start to the dive, the bright blue shining through the arch makes light work of the depth, while you sink deeper and out into what is currently, uncharted territory. The collapse of the Azure Window has changed the underwater landscape in a dramatic fashion. Huge slabs of white limestone now form the scenery down here. Sea life hasn’t begun to make its home here yet.
A World Underwater
It is stark, bright and utterly out of synch with the rest of the underwater landscape, slabs of limestone rear up from the seabed, bigger than my house! The edges appear sharp, it will take time and the constant work of the ocean to round off the jagged edges. Slab after slab comes into view, I have no idea of the tonnage of rock that came down but it’s made a spectacular landscape, at least until Mother Nature does her work and claims it is as her own.
I was grinning from ear to ear when we returned to our little truck in the car park and after raiding the nearby cafe for burgers, which I think may have been inhaled, we kitted up for our next dive. That’s when I got cramp! Only in my fingers, but knowing my body well enough to realise that this is merely a warning shot. There was a good chance of getting cramp in major muscles should I continue. So, I called it, sorry folks, sitting this one out.
There is no point in putting yourself in a tricky spot underwater or putting others at risk. The others carried on, diving the Inland Sea. This is a lovely lagoon separated from the sea by an 80m long tunnel, it’s possible to access through this, or take a boat trip.
Peace and quiet on a French retreat: Ile d’Aix; A Little Peace of France
Dinner that night was nothing short of a gastronomic spectacle, which I shall report on in a later post. Restaurant Ta’ Philip was responsible for discussions on further weight shedding to compensate for his hospitality the next morning!
Off on a boat next. I love diving from a boat, they are incredibly easy to throw yourself off, and descending by an anchor rope attached to the target is fun. The P31, just off the island of Comino is a relatively shallow dive at only 18m so well with reach of PADI Open Water Divers. It was sunk specifically as an attraction for divers and to host marine life. It’s a great wreck to learn/train on as all the hatches and doors were removed as well as the oily bits. Access is great and there are always numerous exit points nearby. Denis led me through the ship as the others amused themselves by posing for “Titanic” style shots on the bow.
The ease of entry into the water was swiftly counterbalanced with the difficulty of getting back into the boat, which was pitching a several feet in the rough seas on our return. I have vivid memories of being smacked in the shins with the ladder pegs while listening to the colourful language of my colleague trying to scale the other ladder, while attempting not to laugh and breathing through a regulator.
Out of My Comfort Zone
Our second dive of the day was the Comino Caves. Cave diving hasn’t usually appealed in the past, being able to see the surface seems preferable, but where Denis led, I’m on his tail. Not prepared to allow his spare regulator out my sight in this environment, (although I was becoming more confident with the dive centre gear, preferring their regulator to my own). Some of the wriggle throughs are tight to say the least, and I was wary of whacking the tank off the overheads so a few belly crawls with hands were required.
Why would anyone choose to dive into such places? The views back through the entrances and the way the light hits the rocks in spectacular shafts is worth any amount of wriggling and scrambling!
Early explorations in Poitou-Charentes: Île de Ré – French Pleasure Island
Our last day of diving we had a decision to make; we needed to be back topside with sufficient time before flight time. It is not permitted to fly within 24 hours of diving, so we could do two short dives or one long one. We all opted for one long one. In 16-degree water, it means getting a little chilly towards the end of the dive, but it meant we could spend time exploring Cathedral Cave.
A Grand Finale
The final dive turned into an epic 72-minute dive into a stunning cave. Lit from below, surfacing in a cave that must be 40m across, with iridescent blue water and a hint of daylight from the end of the cave providing the air supply, allowing us to breathe. The five of us surfaced together, pausing momentarily, in a line, soaking in the scene, speechless.
Finally, someone uttered a single word……. “Wow!”
In three days, I had dived deeper than ever before, had navigated the inside a wreck for the first time, completed my first cave dive and witnessed some marvellous underwater scenery.
I’d like to thank Nic Sancho, from Malta Tourism for graciously hosting us and Mark “Crowley” Russell for his excellent underwater photography. I was concentrating on the diving rather than taking photos, and it’s great to have some images to show off, thanks buddy!
Denis Marin also deserves gratitude for not only being a great guide, but for helping with my gear, sciatica be gone! Atlantis Dive Centre for the tightest wetsuit ever! Unlimited air and other equipment. Ta’ Philip for trying his very best to sink us with food and wine. Finally, Brendan O”Reilly and Jane Doran just for being great trip buddies. Let’s do it again next year!
So, how was diving Malta?
Only one of the best experiences of my life!
Guest post by Alison Bailey
I started as a photographer at the tender age of three when my Dad gave me my first camera, a Kodak Brownie. I crawled around ‘taking pictures’ of everything, even though there wasn’t any film, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.
I’ve worked as a Lab Technician specialising in Pathology to the promised land of Olympus cameras, and even a spell in law enforcement. I’ve returned to my first love now however, focusing on wedding photography. I predominantly use digital today, but the traditionalist in me still loves film, and the skills required to develop it.
This diving expedition to Malta was organised and coordinated by Malta Tourism, I am grateful for the opportunity, but all opinions remain my own.
All images courtesy of Mark Crowley Russell, Dive Magazine