Skipper – Hugo Challis Deck hands – Robin and Julian
Well how time flies. No sooner had we stopped talking about our 2022 trip than the 2023 run down to Plymouth had come around again. So once again, twelve members from the branch loaded up their cars and vans and headed South for what was hopefully to be a memorable weekends diving. I state hopefully as the weather forecast was not good to say the very least! But that wasn’t the first of our problems. The drive down proved to be quite an ordeal. Well it was for some of us. The lucky ones that set off very early had a relatively pleasant journey down whereas those that left after 9am ended up having to endure a drive in excess of nine hours! No fun at all but we kept our spirits up and the banter in my car helped to make the journey bearable.
On my way down, I was in contact with James with regards to our planned itinerary. James and I had already agreed it the week previous but as we all know, it’s always weather dependent. It looked like we were going to get constant Force 4 Northerly winds gusting Force 5 all weekend. Well it is what it is and we would make the most of things.
This year, we were staying in the Mountbatten Centre as our usual home from home, the Boringdon Arms had closed its accommodation for refurbishment. We arrived at the MBC at approximately 6.30pm. No time to even unpack as we had to be at the Clovelly Bay Inn for 7pm for dinner which as ever, proved to be a lovely meal.
After our meal and a few beers, we all made our way back to the MBC to start getting kit ready for the following morning. It was to be an 8am meet at the boat for a 9am ‘ropes off’. The early start was so that we could get the cylinders sorted and the skippers boat briefing sorted. Kit preparation was a little bit different for some of us this year (Garry, Ray and I) as this was our first trip using our JJ rebreathers. In fact, half of the group were diving on rebreathers this time. How times change!
The kit and everyone are aboard. Just listening to the boat briefing from Robin before ropes off for the start of what will hopefully be another great weekend.
Saturday 26th August 2023 Dive No.1, S.S. Maine.
Just like the previous year, the Maine was to be our first dive of the weekend. Conditions as expected were a little ‘lumpy’ but not that bad that we were never going to dive! Kitting up was fun. The Maine is a ‘must do’ dive whenever you get a chance to do it. Once again, it didn’t disappoint!
The shot was dropped just at the boilers and we made our way down the line into what was probably some of the best viz we had experienced in recent years. It was easily 15mtrs and possibly even better closer to the bow area.
Just to make certain that the shot line could be found comfortably, some of the group attached strobes to it. It could certainly be seen from a good distance away.
Once we had managed to orientate ourselves, we made our way around and through the wreck. It was a really lovely dive. Especially inside which is easy to both enter and exit at multiple points and is a sheer joy to swim through. We also made a point of making sure that we saw the ladder that has now become the must have picture for all those diving with a camera.
Once we were all back on board Panther, hot drinks and pasties were prepared by the crew for lunch. And just how good do those pasties taste after an hour of being under the water.
Saturday 26th August 2023 Dive No. 2, S.S. Persier
Everybody was buzzing after such a cracking first dive and obviously looking forward to the next one. We made a change of plan earlier in the day due to the impending weather conditions and decided to do the Persier as our second dive. She is a wreck from the second world war having been torpedoed in 1945. This wreck is diveable at all states of the tide as well so is visited quite a lot. This was obviously the case on this particular day as a few boats were seen leaving the site as we approached it. The shot was deployed and it was soon time to kit up and get in.
We descended the shot line into what was disappointing viz when compared to the mornings dive. It was probably down to around six metres. As usual, we clipped our strobes on to the line, got our bearings and set off. The stern area of the wreck is well worth a visit as there’s lots to see including steering gear and rudder. We spent the majority of our dive on the aft section of the wreck as it is much the more interesting part of it. Deco obligations were building up for some so we headed back towards the shot line. This is when you appreciate the strobes being clipped on to it as it makes the line so much easier to find. We unclipped them on our way up and duly carried out all our deco requirements. We headed back for the MBC after a great days diving and all looking forward to a nice meal and a few beers. We usually only head over to the Barbican once per trip but the fact that we were staying at the MBC meant that we were very near the water taxi stop so took the opportunity to head over there to eat and take in the Saturday night atmosphere. We were booked into the Three Crowns for our meal. Disappointingly, we were told that the garden area was closed for dining. But the staff in there were brilliant and soon sorted out tables for twelve people all seated together. The food was once again very nice and the atmosphere was upbeat with everyone discussing the days diving and what we could look forward to for the next day.
The arrangements for Sunday had to be changed due to the weather forecast worsening, The original plan was to head out into Bigbury Bay once again but Whitsand Bay was forecast to have the better or should I say the less worse conditions so we just brought Mondays plan forward.
Sunday 27th August 2023 Dive No.3, S.S. Rosehill
It was an 8.30am start on the Sunday as no briefing was needed. We had a slightly more leisurely breakfast in the MBC and the beauty of staying here is that the moorings are right outside.
The forecasted winds were blowing as expected and we knew it would get ‘interesting’ once we got out into open water. But once we rounded Rame Head, it wasn’t too bad at all and we knew that we were going diving.
We had a little distraction on the way out though. Our wreck finder Ray had researched some more marks and Hugo had agreed that we had plenty of time to go and take a look at them. We checked the first of the two marks out on the way to the Rosehill. The idea was that if it looked worth it, we would send a diver in to go and take a look just as we had done the previous year. The echo sounder showed a distinctly diveable mark so the shot was deployed and Ray kitted up to go and take a look. He entered the water with us all hoping that he was going to find a new wreck. After twenty minutes he returned to deliver the bad news. The mark turned out to be a large rock pile. Sighs all around!
So on to the Rosehill it was to be. Not a bad back up dive when all is said and done.
There was already a boat on the wreck with a shot in place but their skipper assured us that his divers should all be on the line by now. So the skippers agreed a plan which was for Panther to move off some way and to gently lower our shot over the side in a very controlled manner. This was done very expertly in my opinion. I was to be the first one down out line and tasked with ensuring that our grapnel was secure in the wreck then to release an indicator to inform them that all was good. I completed this then ascended a few metres to attach my strobe which I did. Strobes are a good idea on this site as the viz is not particularly brilliant when compared to other areas. This is probably due to it being an old dumping ground. I then swam off a short distance and turned around to get my bearings while waiting for my buddies to join me. Imagine my surprise when I saw two strangers making their way up our shot line.
Once we were all together, we headed for the stern where there is still a gun to be seen as well as the engine, gearbox closer to the boilers. Its an easy enough job to follow the prop shaft to the stern. Making our way back to midships, we had more than enough time to go to the bow to take in the anchors. They are well worth seeing as they are massive. I was surprised how quickly we reached the bow as it usually seems to be a long swim out over deck plating.
We now turned back and headed for the boilers and the shot line. Well when we reached the boilers, there was no shot line to be found. There was probably at least eight divers swimming round in circles looking for it. So it was to be a DSMB deployment and ascent. Not an issue.
Once back on Panther, we learned that the other boat had recovered our shot line with our strobes still attached! I’ve still got no idea how that happened!
It turned out that our strobes got back to the MBC before us lol.
Sunday 27th August 2023 Dive No.4, Ray’s Wreck / Terry’s Tip
The intended second dive of the day was the mark that Ray had found the previous year. Unfortunately despite finding it, he never got to dive it in 2022.
There was a little buzz of anticipation on the boat as almost everyone likes to have a little mooch around. This site gets very silted up very quickly due to the nature of the dive. We all clipped our strobes on to the line on the way down but these actually proved quite difficult to find by the end of the dive due to the vastly reduced visibility. But no-one seemed to care and they were all having what appeared to be a great time. Some of us found the shot line and others deployed their DSMB’S.
There was plenty of chatter aboard the boat as our divers discussed their dive and what they had seen on it. The Congers on this site are massive and you can get up close to them. I think everyone was happy with how the day went and looking forward to enjoying a beer or two and enjoying dinner which was to be at a restaurant that we frequent every time we go to Plymouth which was Lacky’s Balti House.
But before dining, we had a bit of a sweat on to find a pub that had Sky Sports as Liverpool were playing Newcastle that afternoon and we had a fair few Reds in our group.
I had done some checking prior to heading down to Plymouth to find a pub close to where we were staying and thought I’d sorted it. Well it turned out that said pub had cancelled their Sky subscription. I did have a list of alternatives but unfortunately didn’t get to see the game myself. Thankfully some of the others did and were treated to a fantastic Liverpool comeback thanks to Darwin Nunez.
Just had to get that one in!
Monday 28th August 2023 Dive No.5, Fairylands Wall
We were back heading out towards Bigbury Bay for the last day of diving. We elected on doing a reef dive first so that we could get onto our last dive for slack water later. Fairylands is basically a wall dropping down to maybe twenty metres at most. It is full of nooks and crannies where you can find Lobster, Crayfish and various fish. It’s one of those dives where you can be rewarded if you are prepared to look closely. We ventured along the reef with it on our right hand shoulder. Visibility was amazingly good. Easily twenty metres! Especially at the area where the bottom was clear of any rock and weed and it was just bright golden sand which reflected the available light.
We kept a close eye on our bottom time on this dive as we were aware that we would be doing our deepest dive for our final dive of the weekend. Rather than staying down too long, we limited our dive time to forty five minutes. As a group, we all headed back for the shot line where we made our ascent.
Once we were all on board, Hugo took Panther into a fairly sheltered bay so that we could at least have our lunch and cuppa in relative calm water.
With lunch over, we headed back out but not to our intended final dive as Ray had another mark that he wanted to check out. Hugo eventually found the mark on the echo sounder and deployed the shot. Again, Ray kitted up and descended the shot line and we waited. He was under water a lot longer this time and we all thought that our last dive might be changed at the last minute. Ray eventually surfaced to report that the area contained some metal but it was not worth diving. This mark was thirty nine meters deep so that meant Ray missed out on our final dive of the weekend which was to be the wreck of the Marie. But he had dived it a few days earlier so was content to have missed out in order to do some exploration.
Monday 28th August 2023 Dive No.6, S.S. Marie
Well it was the final dive of our weekend and to be the deepest at forty metres, the new Sports Diver recreational depth which had recently been changed by the BSAC. One of our group was using it as his qualifying dive.
Hugo easily found the mark and sent the shot in. we all kitted up in good spirits as this is the newest mark within recreational limits in the Plymouth area. It had only been identified earlier this year by a team from In Deep.
We sent all the rebreather divers in first with the open circuit divers following ten minutes or so later.
Steve McElroy and I were the first divers down the line again. The viz was awesome! Fifteen to twenty metres! I quickly set the grapnel in place and we tied our strobes to the line. We now had a few minutes to have a quick look around before our OC buddies joined us. Once the did, we set off in different directions. Kat and I headed for the bow and we found the Admiralty anchors that we were looking for. Two main anchors and what I presume was the spare. We bumped into just about the entire group while on this dive. You could easily see divers in the distance. We headed back towards the stern and although this wreck is badly corroded and disappearing into the sea bed, it proved to still be an amazing dive. At depths over forty metres, deco starts to rack up pretty quickly. So with our agreed bottom time looming, we headed back to the shot line where we met Steve and Gail. We collected our strobes as per usual and made our ascent. The line was becoming very busy the shallower we got so I came off it and deployed my DSMB. My buddy Kat saw me do this and left the line to come and join me. I noticed that Steve and Gail did the same.
So, that was the end of the diving for this weekend and what a fantastic dive to end it on. It could not have gone better in all honesty!
All that was left for us to do was pack all of our kit and get it all off the boat once we had arrived back at the MBC then get ready for our final night out which was to be over on the Barbican once again. Just as we did last year, we booked the group into the Fisherman’s Arms for our final meal. The food here is just amazing and the beer isn’t all that bad either! We all caught the water taxi over and were made more than welcome by the staff at the Fisherman’s. If you read this and are ever down Plymouth way then you should make a point of booking in here. You will not regret it!
The atmosphere at the table was a really vibrant one. Firstly, the diving had gone well despite all of our reservations regarding the forecasted weather! The choice of where to dine each evening had worked well.
The only downside was not being able to finish the weekend off in the Minerva which is the oldest pub in Plymouth as it was closed apparently. Ah well, there’s always next year!
I would like to thank all of the group members for allowing me to use their pictures from the weekend and also for a really brilliant weekend.
The group members for this trip were as follows. Garry Bolland, Ray (The Baron) Cramer, Michele (Kat) Woodward, Alan (The Major) Jones, James Brandon, Steve & Gail McElroy, Andy Rath, Peter Beaver, Andy Parsons, Jeff Jones and myself.
Another great trip to Malta this year, organised by the Major and diving with Divewise / Techwise. This year’s trip was spread over ten days with the main group heading out on the Monday for a week whilst Steve and Gail came out the day after and the lucky few stayed for the full ten days. Most of the group were there for recreational diving with some wanting to do some deeper and longer dives and your truly booked on to do the IANTD Normox Trimix course.
Day one went off without a hitch until we arrived, the airport wasn’t too busy and the flight was on time. But we left Manchester in the middle of a heatwave and arrived in Malta to rain, wind and coolish temperatures! It was actually too rough to even get in on the hours reef for a shakedown dive so we just unpacked all our kit, did the paperwork and went off to try and check in. Well, everyone else did, I had to hang around and spend a couple of hours going through dry drills and kit checks with another student, Ildikó who was there doing a tech refresher and would be my buddy for the first few days of the course. It took a while for Saffa and then Alan to check everything, re-adjust a few things and then practice the drills we would need for the next day.
Back at the hotel we had finally been given our rooms so just about had enough time to unpack, have a quick shower then head out for some dinner. We all gathered at the Long Room where nearly everyone had their famous Caesar Salad. Still as good as ever, nice way to start the trip off. It was early to bed for most of us after the 2am start to catch the flight.
So, the first days diving involved the group heading off for a shakedown dive along the reefs at Cirkewwa, then heading out to the Rozy for the second dive. Meanwhile Myself and Ildikó were well and truly drilled by Alan and Saffa. Shutdowns, stage work, fining checks, no mask swims and more. Then, after a brief catch up on the surface, a dive off to the P29. Unfortunately, with the current being quite strong we had just about got in sight of the wreck when we had to turn round and head in. Stupidly, I’d only worn a thin base layer having misjudged the temperature in a drysuit so by the time we got out after well over ninety minutes I was freezing!
After heading back and washing the kit everyone headed back to their hotels apart from me and Ildikó. We had to sit through a video of more or less the whole dive being critiqued! Or basically pulled apart…. all part of the learning process !!
After getting back for half six just had time for a shower then we were off to make our table at the Avenue. Steve and Gail had arrived, so it was all twelve of us together for the first time. Unfortunately, it was a public holiday next day and the restaurant was overwhelmed. The service was terrible but fortunately the food was great but it did make for a long day.
Wednesday the weather finally improving, so everyone was going off on an old, converted fishing boat for a day’s diving to Comino…. apart from me and Ildikó. The boat trip sounded amazing; the first dive was to Santa Maria caves followed by a dive on the P29’s sister ship the P31. The pictures looked great, and everyone sounded like the had a really good dives. Meanwhile myself and Ildikó went back to Cirkewwa again with Alan to practice everything we had go wrong the day before! We just did the one dive on the P29 but it was ninety minutes and beside a few issues seemed to go quite well. Although the final twelve minutes of decco were painful as I was still freezing.
Once back and after sitting through another video of all our mistakes we were finally released to head off for a shower and dinner. The main group headed off to the Asian Kingdom for a Chinese Buffet but myself and Kate just went to the small Greek restaurant just round the corner from the hotel. It wasn’t very Greek but nice and reports back from the Chinese were very good.
The next day was like a military operation for poor Viv and the dive centre. They had a TDI instructor course being run by Mark Powell starting, which included Alan, us and a large party of eighteen from Edinburgh university.
So, they packed us all off to the Faroud as soon as possible to get us out the way. The main group all set off together and did two dives whilst myself and Ildikó went out for one long dive with Saffa and Mike. It’s always a great wreck to dive and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Our long dive was really good, got to see most of the wreck in one go which was great, as well as practicing dropping off and recovering the stages. But after ninety minutes I was freezing again! I warming up by grabbing an ice cream coffee (or two maybe) from the Blue Cave bar before we headed back to base.
We headed up for a beer from the usual bar by the Tulip then some of us headed back down to the centre to join in a litter pick on the house reef organised by Divewise. I gave up and borrowed a nice thick under suite from Viv and then we all headed in to see what we could find. After an hour, and feeling warmish for once, we came back with a surprisingly large pile of rubbish, mainly glass and plastic. Every bit helps!
Rather than head back for a shower, the litter pickers just headed straight for the Long Room and ordered dinner there and were joined at various times by the rest of the team.
The next morning we were all out together again, this time heading for Gozo and the inland sea. Ildikó had finished diving the day before and I was getting a two day break in the course. So, I joined up with Jeff and Dave to do one long dive from the inland sea with Nadine guiding whilst the rest of the group did one from the inland sea and one in the blue hole. The Major wasn’t keen on the walk to the blue hole so he dragged the long suffering Gary back into the inland sea on the second dive.
Everyone enjoyed their various dives and I was much more comfortable in the thick under suit, even after a two hour dive. Jeff had a lucky escape just at the end of the dive. His suit bottle had run out so he was relying on his wing to finish the dive and just as we surfaced in the inland sea the inflator fell apart! It’s a good job it had waited until then to fail!
After getting another ice cream coffee we headed back to the ferry and then back to base to wash up. It was getting on by then so we headed straight to the bar for a drink. We decided to split up for food with some wanting to get back for a shower and others wanting to go straight out. Gail managed to get a booking at the Gozitan for six so myself Kate, Jeff and Lucky joining her and Steve whilst the rest headed to the Long Room again.
The Gozitan was quite an experience. We all went for the tasting menu which was a combination of starters followed by a choice of main course. They stated bringing us starters at about eight and were still bringing them at ten by which time we were all stuffed. Which was when they brought out the main courses! Jeff’s face was a picture when he was presented with a huge plate of ribs after so much food. I think he managed one and the rest went in a doggy bag!
Saturday was a different as we were out on the Divewise rib. It wasn’t running right but was ok for short runs. The target was the Bristol Beaufighter which sits just off the coast outside the house reef. Saffa took us out in two waves, Myself, Jeff and Lucky first as we did a longer dive followed by the rest. It was a nice dive but it’s not a huge plane and so after swimming round it a few times it we had seen it all.
I just did the one dive and went back to spend the afternoon with Kate who was having a day off. The others went off on the rib again to dive on the Tug2. A shallower wreck, again just off the Divewise reef. Reports were that it was another good dive.
That night we were supposed to be meeting up a the dive centre again for Pizza with Alan and Viv but unfortunately it started raining again which washed that idea away. Myself and Kate headed back and managed to get a table at the avenue whilst the rest headed off for Chinese again.
Next day was the last full day for most of the team and a few had decided to take the day off to spend a bit of time with their respective better halves or just do a bit of sightseeing. Jeff was packing up as he was going home a day early. For the remaining hardcore group it was another boat dive, this time on the Imperial Eagle. Steve, Gail and Kate got a lift round to Quora on the rib whilst myself and Lucky drove round with Mike and a couple of other customers, Big Dave, here for his MOD3 and Carl, a Danish Sidemount diver.
I had a really nice chilled out dive with Lucky but pushed it a bit going off to see the statue on the reef so were last up and after quite a bit of decco were over the set time limit. Was expecting a roasting from our cox for the day, Saffa, but he must have been in a very good mood.
I was still getting wet so gave the afternoon a miss and went back in the van. The rest or the techies went off to Cirkewwa whilst Steve, Gail and Kate went off on the boat with Saffa to dive on the HMS Maori just off Valletta. Everyone except Big Dave said they really enjoyed the diving…. He was still having problems with his unit.
Before I got to head back to the hotel, Alan, who had given me endless stick over my attempts at dive planning, gave me the full theory session on how to plan a dive his way. Have to admit, it was absolutely brilliant, everything suddenly made sense with the planning as well as a lot of other stuff I’d been doing for a long time but just because Id been told that was the best way to do it without understanding why.
That evening, after just having time for a shower it was back out again as a group. As it was the last one for most we all got together to again at the Avenue. The service was back to normal, the food was great and it was a very pleasant evening.
So, on the Monday whilst most were heading home Kate and Jay set off for Comino on the boat again, this time with the big group from Edinburgh Uni. I was back on the course so set off for Gozo with Kevin who was going to be my instructor for the practice and sign off dives and Mark who was going to be safety diver.
We were diving the MT Hephaestus, the new wreck, sunk in August 2022. It was supposed to be another recreational wreck along with the three other boats sunk at Xatt l-Aħmar but ended up at almost 46m on the deck and worse a twenty minute swim off the shore.
Entry this time was from a cove further round the bay from the one used for the three main wrecks and was much easier. After a thorough briefing we set off. It actually took nearly half an hour to reach the wreck and was bleeding hard work keeping up with Kevin who has the frog kick you would expect from a semi pro downhill skier! After dropping off the stages there was just time for a quick swim round the wreck before collecting the stages and heading back up. I didn’t manage to get everything right but managed to do the needed stops and gas switches as well as acting as decco captain so was pretty happy.…and it was good enough to be allowed to go for the sign off dive.
Once we got back to base and cleaned up there was just time to sit through all the video footage of the dive then spend an hour with Kevin, this time planning the mixes and gas requirements for the sign off dive the next day.
That evening was Gail and Steve’s last so we met up with them and Jay for some food. We went back to the Greek round the corner from our hotel and had a nice but very long meal. Me and Steve had gone for the full mezes and the kitchen lost track halfway through and after a few moans to the staff finally got out of there at closing! Nice food but not sure I’d go back again.
There was just me a Jay left for the final day. Kate was having a day off. It was my signoff dive so got the gear together and checked the gas before heading off to Gozo again. This time with Kevin, Mark and big Dave…. Who was still having problems with his unit. Not great when your getting ready for a 100m diving course!
We were diving Raz il Hobz, a bay just north of the wrecks at Xatt l-Ahmar. The road down was terrible but the entry into the water much easier.
There wasn’t much to say about the dive, it was about getting the switches and timings right rather than seeing anything. From the shallows it drops down to a huge rock pillar which sits on a ledge at 40m then from there it was down a wall to our planned depth of 56m. From there it carries on to over 100m but that’s for another day.
Was concentrating so much on not forgetting anything and making the right switches at the right places I don’t remember seeing anything of interest. We joined up with Mark on the way back up who was waiting at 40m and acting as safety diver. Dave was supposed to be there too but had more problems with his unit and had bailed out rather than mess up my dive. Thanks Dave!
Apart from a couple of minor issues everything went ok and after a couple of drills whilst completing the decco it was back to base. Was hoping that was it, but no, there was an exam to do. Great.
I’d always thought the BSAC exams were terrible in the way they were written, but the IANTD ones take it to another level. I was pretty sure I’d failed and worse I’d have to wait until the next day for the results as Alan was tied up on his own course.
That evening we just went back to the Avenue again then early to bed, yet another long, long day.
That was it for the diving so just had a day wandering round Valletta the next day whilst Jay headed up to Mdina, the walled city. We got back to the dive centre in the early afternoon as I was convinced I’d have to take the exam again but by some miracle had passed. We had an hour to kill after packing all the kit so headed back to our new favourite café for lunch and a coffee. Dolce Sicilia, a Sicilian restaurant just up the road from the centre. Fantastic coffee, food and best of all, cannoli!
Once back, Kevin and Alan were free so I just had to sit through a video of the day before and get a debrief before they signed me off! Job done.
Kevin gave us a lift back to the hotel with all the bags and we set to work trying to fit everything back in. A late meal at another great find, Leyla, a Lebanese just five mins walk from the hotel, was probably the best food of the week. Will be back there again next year.
Next day Saffa picked us up from the hotel, then collected Mark, who was going home for a few days, and got us back to the airport in plenty of time for the flight. Which was delayed by an hour anyway.
So the end of another great week in Malta. As usual, Divewise / Techwise were fantastic. Couldn’t ask for a better dive centre. From my point of view the teaching and instructors were fantastic. The diving was good and the company was as good as it gets. Thanks to the Major for getting the ball rolling and organising it. Roll on next year!
Three club members, Terry Maloney, Ray Cramer and Garry Bolland have just successfully qualified as JJ CCR divers. They completed their training at Techwise in Malta under the supervision of Alan Whitehead. Well done guys!
Towards the end of 2022 Alistair Reynolds and The Major were cooking up a plan for an early trip abroad in 2023. Alistair suggested Cape Verde as an alternative to the Red Sea and the plan then came together. The idea of warm water diving and a top all-inclusive hotel persuaded a whole bunch of us to sign up and the deposits went in.
Unfortunately, Alistair had to pull out early in the new year due to health problems which was a real shame and then the week before we flew The Major was also had problems, finally pulling out the day before we flew on his doctor’s advice. Not a great way to start.
Anyway, after a fairly friendly five thirty start we headed to my all-time favourite airport, Manchester. However, this time I must admit, was amazed. The new T2 building was finally finished, and the parking and bag drop at the TUI desks went remarkably smoothly. Security followed which was again a shock, the staff were pleasant and helpful!!…. Twenty-minute queue and only another twenty to get through scanning, despite every tray being rejected, ironically, not because of the contents but due to dodgy barcodes on the trays.
The departure lounge was a disappointment, had set my heart on a full English but there were massive queues outside all the big bars. But, Surprisingly, managed to get a cheap breakfast from a taco bar! It was in a tray and came with a wrap instead of toast but was very nice all the same. We joined up with Dave and Kelly here then met up with Terry and Marg and Gary and Sue at the departure gate. No surprise that Mr Maloney had arrived in time to wander straight into the bar without queuing and get a full English.
Anyway, all onboard without too much fuss we settled down for the six-hour flight. Hadn’t been looking forward to this but it wasn’t too bad in the end, the plane was fairly comfortable and was sat with a really nice couple from Yorkshire so it was soon over. Cases collected we headed out to our coaches for the transfer. Just wish my huge diving bag had wheels…. The transfer was only about half an hour. Wasn’t sure what I was expecting of Sal, but the only word for it is barren. Where there were hotels there was greenery but everywhere else is sand and rock. No sign of people or the alleged 40,000 goats!
On arrival, have to say the hotel was impressive. The exceptionally well-travelled Marg had been before and described it as one of the best hotels she had ever stayed in, one of the main reasons for choosing this one. Check in took half an hour with what looked like three of four coaches all arriving at the same time, but the free glass of bubbles took the edge off. Was more than happy to let the porter take our bags to our room for a small tip, really should have got a bag with wheels!
The hotel was big but didn’t feel it with lots of separate accommodation blocks, all well spaced and a max of three stories and each surrounded by grass and palms. We were on the middle floor and was very impressed by the room. We had no sea view but a nice balcony, plenty of space, two double beds, nice bathroom with a huge walk-in shower and unexpectedly, free optics in the room. Whisky, gin, vodka and rum and a fridge full of free mixers and water! All included in the price…. this could be a messy holiday!
The bags arrived just after us so we just dumped everything, found our costumes and headed down to the pool for an hour or two. It was a bit cloudy but still pretty warm, especially compared to the UK. The pools were fantastic. Five in a row right next to the really impressive beach. Of the five pools, three were fifty-meter full width with two smaller bar pools in between. Pleasant temperature as well. Managed a couple of lengths but had forgotten my goggles in the rush to get down there. Still all very nice till I got out and sat down…. and started to get eaten alive. Had checked up on the Mozzy status before we came as they love me but didn’t find many mentions. But turned out that everywhere we went outside in the hotel there was every kind of biting thing.
Anyway, headed back to get washed up and meet up for dinner. We were eating in the main dining room first night. One of six separate restaurants on site. We met up in one of the many the lounge area for a drink first then headed over. It’s a massive area so found a table to seat eight then headed in for food. What a selection! Everything you can think of, fish, carvery, sushi, salad, pasta, local dishes and an amazing choice of deserts and puddings to follow…. as well as an exceptional choice of cheeses. Any though of taking it easy went straight out the window. Had to be careful with the wine as well. Once you said you wanted some they were round every time your glass looked low to top it up. After a wide-ranging choice of food and far too much afters we retired to the lounge again for a last drink then headed for bed. It had been a long day and we had a fairly early start.
So, diving day one had arrived. We met at the other main dining area by the pools for breakfast at half seven. This was the earliest to open and we were being picked up at ten past eight so didn’t give us much time. This was probably a good thing as the breakfast choice was also amazing. With great coffee too. We left Sue and Marg as they don’t dive and headed up to reception.
Was a bit nervous about the diving as I’d booked it and we’d paid up front. Choosing what looked like one of the bigger centres with the bigger boats. But luckily needn’t have worried. Their van was outside with what turned out to be our guide for the week, Eric, waiting to load our gear up for the five minute drive to the dive centre. Once there we met Romina, who I’d booked everything with and Fabrizio who run the centre together. We filled out the usual paperwork then got a briefing on the plan for loading up and launching. Which turned out to be very slick.
Mr Barlow, who had forgotten to bring any shorts or trunks despite his p.a. putting it on his list ran off to buy some from the small shop next door. Once he returned, we started getting our wetsuits on and packing everything else into net bags. This is when Dave realised his shorts were a bit tight and spoke with squeaky voice for the rest of the day.
The bags were loaded onto the van then we were driven the five minutes to the pier. From here we carried our bags to the end of the pier where the boat was waiting. The pier is amazing, lots of different traders and basically a fish market. Not for the squeamish. All sorts being fileted and gutted. But at least we knew the fish would be fresh for dinner!
The instructors passed all the bags down to the boat crew and we got on from the steps. The rib we were using was huge, 9.5m with twin 150hp engines and three bottle racks. The six of us were at the back with plenty of room with another four divers up front, with two guides and two crew. The captain Antonio turned out to be exceptional over the week. We had all the time we needed to put our gear together and get ready whilst he slowly made way out of the moored boats in the area. Once we were ready he put his foot down and we were at our first site five minutes later. Just offshore from our hotel!
Sites are chosen on the fly as the currents are really unpredictable round the bottom of the island. Our first one that day, The Three Grote’s turned out to be ok but many times during the week we had to change sites last minute because of the run. Anyway, Eric, our guide gave us a briefing on the site, a reef/wall, 20m max with three smallish caves. Nice way to start. We all got ready and managed to get in. It was only when you tried to roll in you realised just how big the tubes were on the rib. You had to shuffle right back before trying to roll off!
The dive turned out to be a leisurely swim along a reef wall about 10m high in places with great visibility At least 20m, probably a lot more. There was a huge quantity and variation of fish, most notably exceptionally large pipe fish which we’d never come across before. Up to a couple of feet long with two to three inch thick bodies. The fist of the three caves went in about three or four metres and was also teaming with fish, with some big shoals most noticeable out the way out. The second and third were a bit smaller but still full of life, with a large ray swimming round one of them…. very nice. The dive ended on a flattened wreck which just had a large boiler remaining, this was covered in large shoals really colourful fish. Nice way to finish.
Back on the surface, the boat was waiting, all we had to do was take off our wings and the crew lifted them onto the boat, along with cameras, lights and fins, then when we were ready just climb up the ladder. No way to get onto those tubes without a ladder!
There was then twenty minutes of sorting out kit and swapping cylinders for the second dive. After that we settled in for a ten minute ride over to site two. During the surface interval Eric filled us in on the next dive. This was to be a smallish and shallow wreck called the Santo Antao. She was 45m long and is now broken into roughly three parts, the middle being broken up but the two ends fairly intact.
Once in the water it was a really nice dive with great vis again. Plenty of time to swim around the wreck and poke into the various holes. The first thing we noticed were the puffer fish lying in the rocks and weed around the front section. Took a while to work out what you were looking at but then realised there were dozens…
Around the wreck there were again lots of shoals of fish, with a couple of rays, more of the huge pipe fish and a apparently a turtle at distance but I didn’t see that one. We spent a really enjoyable hour drifting round and taking it all in but by the end was glad to get up…. was starting to feel a bit chilly. It was around about 21 or 22 degrees for most of the dives but got a bit chilly if you weren’t fining a lot.
After climbing aboard again it was just a case of packing everything back into the net bags and stowing them in the front of the boat whilst the captain headed in slowly. At the pier the boat dropped us off at the beach, I guess for safety reasons. Eric had said it was only waist deep but as we found out it was a good six of seven feet and a bit of a swim back in. Not easy when you had undone your semi dry to your waist and it was now full of water! Once bailed out we met the crew back on the pier and found all our kit had already been brought up and loaded into handcarts along with all the cylinders and these were pushed back to the dive shop with us following.
At the shop all we had to do was wash the gear out, hang it up and get changed. The dive team there were going to look after it overnight, so we gratefully accepted the ride back to the hotel. Well, most of us, Gary wanted to get his steps in…
It was only half one when we got back, so we met up with some of the others for lunch in the pool restaurant to discuss the days diving and enjoy more of the fantastic food…. and cakes…. and a beer or two. The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling round the various pools. Enjoying a few lengths and trying not to get bitten.
We met up for the evening at the lounge again then headed over to the main restaurant. We had our usual table for eight and tried not to eat everything on the menu. Its really hard when there is no set menu and there is such a variety of amazing foods to choose from…..followed by an amazing choice of deserts. Anyway, after dinner and a couple of drinks back in the lounge we called it a day and headed back to the room.
Day two started like day one. A bit cloudy but still nice and warm and another big breakfast, just far too much choice! After being picked up again, at the shop we collected all our gear together got packed and walked down to the pier. No lift this time, had to work off all that food! Once on the boat again we headed out to see if our first site could be dived. We were hoping to dive Boris, the only real intact wreck around but unfortunately the current was too strong so we headed a bit further out to Choclassa.
This was another good dive, down a line from the boat to a plateau reef covered with all sorts of nooks and crannies and covered with all sorts of fish. The vis was even better than the day before. At the edge we dropped down further to about 30 metres to an amazing overhang, covered with bright yellow anemones and orange Soldier fish. We followed this round for some way through sholes of fish of all kind and poking into the many crevices. Great to see so much life on the reef and also amazing views out into the blue. Eventually we headed back up onto the top of the plateau and following Eric back up on a SMB.
Lovely dive but was glad to be heading back up as had started hitting deco after we dropped over the edge and still had four minutes by the time we got back to six metres. Once we were all up the boat came in a picked us up then headed off to the next site.
This turned out to be Caldaia, the boat whose boiler we finished on the day before. This was a very shallow dive, a max of 10 metres but in parts as little as three. Over an hour drifting slowly on the current and in the wave surge pottering round the reef. Lots of the fish we had seen before and some new ones to me, including a Scrawled Filefish. Even a small nurse shark hiding in a hole but must admit, I couldn’t really see it very well and didn’t want to put me had too far in to try and get a picture……
By the end I was really cold so glad to get back in the sun and head back to the beach. Kept my suit closed this time and got off the boat last so could at least stand up and keep my hat dry!
After collecting our gear, wandering back and washing up it was time to head back to the hotel for lunch and more food. Took it easy at lunch as Sue had kindly booked us all into the Steak House for dinner and I could only eat so much. We found a quiet spot by one of the quieter pools for the afternoon and managed to get twenty lengths in…. more to keep away from the biting things than the exercise. We decided it was time to head in to get ready when the bonkers bingo started at the bar pool nearby.
So, after a shower and a bit of a rest it was soon time to head down to the pool side restaurant again as this was where the Steakhouse was housed. Everyone seemed to really enjoy their meals, my fish was amazing…. as was the desert! The staff there were fantastic, managing to deliver a really nice three course meal for a hundred people, after a long day of breakfasts and dinners whilst smiling all the way through…..and we were only the first sitting, there was another group after us!
After a couple of drinks back in the bar we headed for bed, it had been another long but enjoyable day.
Day three started just like the others except the clouds had gone. Just big blue skies and another big breakfast.
After kitting up and loading onto the boat we headed out to the try and dive the Boris again. Today we were in luck apart from being joined by an annoying older British diver who had been everywhere, done everything and now wanted to join our group and tell us all about it. Unfortunately for Terry, as he looked the most experienced diver he latched himself onto him. Ah well.
Anyway, the Boris is a Russian trawler called Kwarcit that had been caught ferrying illegal immigrants from Senegal to Cape Verde and impounded. In 2006, not knowing what to do with it, the authorities sank it as an artificial reef. Its sits upright with a max depth of 30 metres.
We headed down the line, Mr Gungho obviously racing to be there first and nearly causing a problem as Kate and Dave had to take it slowly because of their ears.
The dive on the wreck was great. Its not massive, but is intact and whilst there were ways into the hold and bridge area there didn’t seem to be much to see more that could be seen from the entrance point. Needless to say someone had head inside straight away…. on his own. Ah well.
The whole wreck was covered in life. Rays, Jackfish crustations and some massive pipe fish. Even bigger than the ones we’d seen so far. There are supposed to be Frog fish and Nurse sharks but I did spot any. We did see some Nudibranchs but only with a magnifying glass…. yes we’re old people and Kate always takes one with her!
With the delays at the start getting down we were soon on our way up again… only managing half an hour before heading back up. Back in the boat we switched bottles, and Terry’s new best mate, having found out he was an instructor was trying to persuade him to sign off on some training! Cheeky git.
The second dive was to be Lost Anchor. This became a bit of a joke and it ended up being the second dive a few times and we’re fairly sure it’s just a different part of the second reef we had dived the day before. It was still a great dive, loads to see including a few rays, congers and a couple of nurse sharks, one about four or five feet long, hiding in the reef. Did see a turtle at distance but some of the others saw more and got a lot closer. Didn’t find the anchor though!
After getting back and washing up we were fortunate to find out Terry’s new mate couldn’t join us on our last two days diving as they were fully booked….. Ah well.
After another restrained lunch we headed back to the pool for the afternoon. This time I went for it and managed 40 lengths, unfortunately without sun cream so by bonkers bingo time my back was starting to get very red….. and I’d been bitten a lot more!
The evening meal this night was again thanks to Sue, who had booked us all into the Italian restaurant. Also, as the next day was Sunday and an enforced break day as all the dive centres were closed, meant we didn’t have to be too careful about how much we drank. The food in the Italian was exceptional, a really great buffet starter with all the usual suspects followed by a great choice of mains. Think the lasagne was the choice of most but I went with the fish again. All accompanied by goods wines and followed by more sweets and cheese.
Back in the lounge bar I discovered they had my favourite pastis so I had a few of them whist Terry, Marg and Kate got stuck into the Ballantine’s. Nice end to another day.
The next day it was nice to lie in for once. It was also another sunny cloudless day and already getting warm when we grabbed a late breakfast then decided to walk into Santa Maria, the local town. There’s really not a lot there, a couple of streets with small shops selling mainly very expensive clothes and the odd bar and café. We did get hustled into the local market which was a big mistake. Ended up paying way too much for a pile of junk just to get out! We found a supermarket of sorts, run by the obligatory Chinese bloke and got some evil smelling anti bug spray as well as some great knock off ray bans for five euros or a pile of Cape Verde Escudo’s. Of which I had plenty after using the very confusing cash machine in the hotel and ending up with £160’s worth!
Anyway, after that we headed back to get a coffee from the bar in the hotel before heading down for lunch. Whilst there we bumped into a very dirty looking Dave and Kelly who had just come back from a two hour buggy safari round the island. They had really enjoyed it but as there is manly rock, dust and sand outside the hotel grounds and the buggies didn’t have screens they looked like they had been sandblasted.
They went off to get cleaned up so we headed off for lunch then sat around the pool again for the afternoon. The bugs seemed to really like the bug spray so I got bitten some more and fell asleep long enough to get my front the same colour as my back.
That evening we were back to the main restaurant again which was no hardship. The food was amazing again, the only problem being trying not to eat all of it. The deserts were getting harder to resist and Gary looked to have developed an addiction to the flumps on offer in the kids section! So, after another nice meal we turned in fairly early again, but only after a quick round in the bar.
Monday we were back to the diving. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was warm again. After another big breakfast, Marcio collected us and we started kiting up. We had been trying to organise a night dive before the end of the week although Terry nearly did for the plans when he told Dave he wasn’t interested as there were too many sharks around at night! We eventually talked Dave round but we will still short as Gary wasn’t interested either. However it looked like a couple of the other customers diving this week were interested so we had our fingers crossed all day.
We were hoping to do Boris again as the first dive but when we got there the change in wind direction overnight meant the currents were too strong for most of the sites we had dived so far. Se we headed off round the bottom of the island and up the west coast some way to a reef / wall called Peridao. The dive was nice without being spectacular. There didn’t seem to be the same abundance of fish on this reef but there a couple of nice Morray but a bit disappointed not to see any of the promised turtles that are supposed to be resident. Still it was still a nice 45 minute dive with good vis.
For the second dive we again hoped to go back to one of the wrecks but it turned out Lost Anchor was the only choice due to the current. On the way back we were lucky enough to see a humpback whale breaching in the distance. Well, I could only see the spray but those with better eyes assured us it was a whale. The crew did try to get a bit closer but it was moving too fast, even with twin 150’s on the boat.
Back at Lost Anchor we spent another hour drifting and poking round on the reef. We found a couple more nurse sharks and a few rays and there were plenty of fish including an inquisitive puffer fish that followed us round for quite a while. This time we did see the Anchor, or what’s left of it… it was being used as the the mooring for the line that we were using and had a nice ray hiding underneath.
Back at the shop we sorted our kit out and got confirmation that the night dive was on! Fantastic. So we headed back to the hotel for a big lunch and few hours more hours in the sun. It really had got quite warm by now, pushing into the high twenties, very nice for March.
Marcio collected me, Kate, Dave and Kelly at five and after picking up another customer down the road headed back to the shop. Marcio was organising the night dive but Eric was coming with us as well. There was a much more detailed safety briefing for this dive as you would expect with everyone having to make sure all their torches were working well before we left the shop.
After this everything went ahead as it had during the day but the sunset was spectacular from the pier and from the boat. We got to the site, Pontinha, with plenty of time to spare before full night so the Captain could check on the current. Everything was good so we got a final brief and got ready to get in.
We had all done night dives before in at Capernwray but this was our first night dive at sea so there were plenty of nerves as we jumped in and headed down the line. It was completely different in the dark and as expected took a while to get ourselves organised and settle down. Everything looked far more vivid as you could only see what was in the torch beam. There were lots of fish we hadn’t seen during the day, a few lobster and what we think was a snake eel. It slithered out the sand and moved like a snake on the bottom but is apparently a fish.
Although it was just short of a fifty minute dive it was all over too quickly. Was amazing to see so many different fish compared to the day and to see so many of the day fish sleeping in the reef. Coming up to the surface was spectacular as well. Being off-shore with no light pollution the stars were stunning.
Back onboard everything was back to its normal efficient self and we were soon back at the pier to swim in. A nice touch was that Marcio stopped at a beach bar on the way back and bought us all a beer!
We were washed up and back at the hotel by about half nine so had plenty of time to drop the kit off and head to the restaurant to grab a late dinner then catch up with the others. The only downside to the night dive was that we missed out on a meal at the Japanese restaurant. From what the others said it was a really good with some great Wagyu steak. Ah well, that will have to wait for next time.
We had a quick drink then headed back to get a shower and try to get some sleep.
The last day started with clear skies again and warmer still. After another big breakfast and being collected again we got our gear together at the centre and headed off for the boat. We really wanted to do Boris again but again the current was too much so we headed back to the site of the night dive, Pontinha.
The dive went a bit deeper than we had the night before but there wasn’t really a lot to see. A couple of big moray and a couple of lobster but it really was quite sparce compared to other sites we had been too. … or maybe it was just we had done too many of the same kind of dive. We did find a largeish nurse shark but my gopro decided to freeze just before we found it. Typical.
During the surface break and on our way to the next site we were lucky enough to see another whale breaching. This time I was told it was a mother and calf but again, given the distance all I could see was the splash. We tried to get Eric to take us back to Santo Antao for the last dive but apparently the current wouldn’t have been good there so we were taken to Farol. This is another shallow dive which we were fairly sure was part of the lost anchor reef but nice all the same. There were again lots of cracks and gorges to investigate with lots of the local fish around. Some moray and ray but nothing new. We did spend some time poking round the flattened remains of a wreck but there was nothing, but the skeleton of the keel left to see.
And after another pleasant hour that was it, diving done. We had all chipped into a pot to leave a tip and decided that it would be nice to split it between the Captain and Eric. Fairly sure they would all pool all their tips anyway but want to show our appreciation of the great way we had been looked after on the boat and also by the way Eric especially had looked after us during the week. Really was a very well run centre with a very friendly and helpful team, wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to other divers.
Once we had all the kit back we spread most of the gear round the balcony to dry but following a tip from Mr Maloney we took our wetsuits down to the pool and hung them over loungers for the afternoon, turning every hour or so. Whilst they were cooking we spent a pleasant hour or two in the bar pool with Dave and Kelly, trying out some of the cocktails.
The last night was another trip to the main restaurant, which wasn’t a problem. We had our favourite table again and probably a bit too much food and definitely far too much desert then retired to the lounge for a few drinks to finish off a great week.
Next day started with an early breakfast followed by the usual game of Jenga, trying to get everything back in where is came from then heading down to reception to check out…. still wishing I’d got a dive bag with wheels. Was expecting more fuss but checkout was very quick so joined the others to wait for the coach. Ours was the last of three or four to arrive but first to get to the airport from some reason.
Unfortunately, this still put us at the back of a very, very long queue at the bag drop. Tui were obviously running on a skeleton crew and it took well over an hour to get to the drop. This went ok for us but Dave, Kelly and Gary had to get the a rep involved to get through without extra charges. The staff there didn’t seem to know about the extra 5kg allowance for divers. Next was the queue for security, which had just two scanners, one of which seemed to be permanently dedicated to wheelchair users and families with prams. This took another hour but fortunately neither of us were pinged for anything. Finally we joined the queue for passport control, which only took another ten minutes.
So, in the end we managed half an hour in duty free and had just grabbed a coffee when our flight got called. Typical. We rushed it down and joined the queue only to be left standing there for twenty minutes. After finally getting onto the runway we were then held up for another ten minutes waiting for a lift to load two wheelchair users onboard. Naturally, as soon as it did arrived both got up and walked up the steps under their own steam!
The flight back was on a 767 which I have to say, wasn’t very comfortable. Both overhead lockers by us were full of flight crew bags so ours had to go in the ones behind which just pushed the problem onwards down the plane. For a bigger plane there wasn’t much legroom and the seats were quite hard. We also had two larger girls sitting in front of us who bent the seats every time they moved.
The flight was right on time and the only delay came at Manchester airport as there were no steps ready. Bit annoying as we were right next to a walkway but that’s Manchester for you. Happily this meant the luggage was already on its way round when we got past passport control so we were soon ready to say our goodbyes head off home.
All in all, a great week with some really good company. Looking forward to the next one already.
The Major will be running a diving holiday from the Divewise Dive Centre, St Julian Bay, Malta between Monday, 5th. June and Thursday, 15th June 2023, that is a 10 day period and the idea is to give everyone as much freedom as possible to make whatever arrangements suit them. Therefore you can go for a week, a long weekend or the full ten days. The basic flight details for the Monday are on Easyjet, Flight number EZY 2273 departing at 0540 hours in the morning. The return leg a week the following Thursday is on Easyjet, Flight number EZY 2274, departing Malta at 1125 hours. In recent times we have chosen to stay at the Cavalieri Hotel which is no more than a 10 minute walk from the dive centre. This offers great accommodation and is suitable for families. Some punters have also chosen to book a package holiday through Love Travel that comes out at about £800 for the week including flights. This may be the best deal in town. However, there is a wide variety of accommodation close to the dive centre to suit all pockets ranging from hostels to five star hotels. So the main points are as follows:
It is suitable for all grades of divers from Ocean Diver to Technical Diver and all grades in-between. The diving really is excellent and in very clear water.
You can do as much or as little diving as you want, also non diving partners and children are perfectly welcome.
You are expected to book your own flights and accommodation (list of suitable hotels is available).
Alan will book the transfers for you and arrange the diving you want to do via Divewise.
Ray Cramer is organising a trip to Holyhead on August 12th / 13th 2023.
The primary dive site lies in a strong tidal flow, there is only one weekend is the first in 2023 with the low current flow (at slack) and a suitably long dive window to allow for two waves of 60 minutes maximum dive times, and that is in October, this weekend is a close second.
Options for dive sites include:
1: Depth 59m Length 85m Height 11m
2: Depth 50m Length 60m Height 5m
Location: The plan is to use the Holyhead slipway. A suitable small campsite could be Cae Ffynnon Caravan and Camping Site, Rhosgoch, Amlwch, Anglesey. LL66 0AB adjacent to the Ring pub.
Dates: August 12th 2023 (15:24) / August 13th 2023 (16:18)
This dive is suitable for technically qualified divers only.
Anyone interested should put their name down on the interest form on the club noticeboard.
Please Note: a place is not reserved until a deposit has been paid.
Ray Cramer is organising a trip to Abersoch on July 15th / 16th 2023.
The dive sites lie offshore in a medium strength tidal flow; this weekend is the first with the lowest current flow (at slack). Another consideration is the launch site – this need investigating since it may be that commercial (office times) are required to access the slipway at Abersoch.
Options for dive sites include:
1: Depth 55m Length 90m Height 9m
2: Depth 45m Length 80m Height 2m
Location: The plan is to use the Abersoch slipway.
Dates: July 15th 2023 (10:45) / July 16th 2023 (11:31)
This dive is suitable for Dive Leaders and above.
Anyone interested should put their name down on the interest form on the club noticeboard.
Please Note: a place is not reserved until a deposit has been paid. A campsite deposit may also be required when this is booked.
Ray Cramer is organising a trip to Fishguard on June 17th / 18th 2023.
The dive sites lie offshore in a medium strength tidal flow; this weekend is the first with the lowest current flow (at slack). Another consideration is the launch site – the high water times for Fishguard are early enough to allow for high water access to the slipway in the early morning, as the flooding high water later in the day will need to be utilized for the boat retrieval (due to the travel times to the dive sites)
Options for dive sites include:
1: Depth 49m Length 71m Height 10m
2: Depth 55m Length 71m Height 11m
Location: The plan is to use the Fishguard slipway.
Dates: June 17th 2023 (11:28) / June 18th 2023 (11:51)
This dive is suitable for Dive Leaders and above.
Anyone interested should put their name down on the interest form on the club noticeboard.
Please Note: a place is not reserved until a deposit has been paid. A campsite deposit may also be required when this is booked.
Ray Cramer is organising a trip to Holyhead on May 27th, 28th & 29th 2023.
The primary dive site lies in a strong tidal flow, this weekend is the first in 2023 with the lowest current flow (at slack) and a suitably long dive window to allow for two waves of 50 minutes maximum dive times.
Options for dive sites include:
1: Depth 38m Length 50m Height 3m
2: Depth 42m Length 45m Height 2.6m
3: Depth 42m Length 32m Height 2m
Location: The plan is to use the Holyhead slipway. A suitable small campsite could be Cae Ffynnon Caravan and Camping Site, Rhosgoch, Amlwch, Anglesey. LL66 0AB adjacent to the Ring pub.
Dates: May 27th 2023 (11:24), May 28th 2023 (12:27), May 29th 2023 (13:29)
This dive is suitable for Dive Leaders and above.
Anyone interested should put their name down on the interest form on the club noticeboard.
Please Note: a place is not reserved until a deposit has been paid.
Ray Cramer is organising a trip to Holyhead on 29th & 30th April 2023.
The primary dive site lies in a strong tidal flow, this weekend is the first in 2023 with the lowest current flow (at slack) and a suitably long dive window to allow for two waves of 50 minutes maximum dive times.
Options for dive sites include:
1: Depth 39m Length 32m Height 3.8m
2: Depth 37m Length 50m Height 5.5m
3: Depth 42m Length 34m Height 7m (Sank 1971)
Location: The plan is to use the Holyhead slipway. A suitable small campsite could be Cae Ffynnon Caravan and Camping Site, Rhosgoch, Amlwch, Anglesey. LL66 0AB adjacent to the Ring pub.
Dates: April 29th 2023 (13:16) / April 30th 2023 (14:20)
This dive is suitable for Dive Leaders and above. You must ensure that you are dive fit and ready for this early season dive.
Anyone interested should put their name down on the interest form on the club noticeboard.
Please Note: a place is not reserved until a deposit has been paid.
Branch 5 team: Tony Fitzpatrick (trip organiser), Ian Bennett, Graeme Cooper, Tony McFarlane, Andy Parsons, Dave Roberts, Jan Ryan, Chris Woolerton
Dive centre and accommodation A big thank you to Tony Fitzpatrick for organising a brilliant week of diving at Pissouri Bay Divers in Cyprus. Dive centre owner, Steve, is a total professional, who has an absolute love of diving. He and his team set up an excellent dive programme of wrecks, reefs and wildlife for us, and our group and Steve’s team were on the same wavelength from the outset, with banter and jokes flying from all sides. The dive centre is very well set up, with a shop, briefing room/workshop, kit washing/drying area and compressor.
Our accommodation, at Kotzias Apartments, was five minutes’ walk from the dive centre, and offered well maintained holiday apartments, with cooking facilities and balconies for drying off clothes and/or dive kit. (Though in fact, we were able to leave all our dive gear safely at the dive centre to dry out overnight.)
The Dives etc
Day 1, Saturday: Airport Reef
Two shakedown dives at Airport Reef opened proceedings. The site was a shore entry, located adjacent to Paphos airport. Irregular rocks, steeply shelving sand and unpredictable waves made the entry challenging. However, once in the water, a nice series of gullies led out to sea grass and sand, with a max depth of around 16 metres on both dives. There wasn’t much sea life to be found, apart from a few shoals of small fish. The exit was also hard work, even with fins off, and rocky potholes lurked under the waves, causing a few slips. Nevertheless, the dives were a nice reintroduction to warm water diving, with a sea temperature of around 27° C.
Day 2, Sunday: The Zenobia
The massive Zenobia vehicle ferry wreck is justifiably Cyprus’s best known dive site. Our group headed out early driving over to Larnaca to board the dive boat “Queen Zenobia” for two dips on the 172 metre long wreck. Depths on the wreck rang from 16 to 42 metres, with the ship sitting on its side, at 90° to the sea bed. To take account of NCD limits, diver grades and personal dive preferences, the group split into various configurations to examine the wreck’s exterior features, such as its lifeboats and deck winches, and penetrate the interior. Across the two
dives, we explored the accommodation area and swam through the Zenobia’s cavernous vehicle hold, with its cargo of over 100 lorries still chained to the now vertical decks.
Day 3, Monday: Jubilee Shoals
A short RHIB ride out of Pissouri (thanks to boat owner, Yiannis), took us to a fascinating area of pinnacles, walls and swim throughs, with depths ranging from around 10 metres, dropping off to what looked like around 60 metres or more. The group dived in two waves, with both groups covering the same plan. The site features an impressive 60 metre cave swim through, though the cave entrance, at around 36 metres, meant that not everyone did this one. However, on the second dive, we found a previously unknown cave and chimney, which gave a nice swim though, exiting vertically through the chimney. Another feature was the wing (or tail stabilizer?) from an RAF Canberra, which crashed on the shoals in 1954. Little seems to be known about the crash, or the location of any other wreckage, so there is scope for more exploratory dives. We also spotted first turtle of the trip at Jubilee Shoals, though unfortunately, it was not seen by everyone.
Day 4, Tuesday: Constandis and Lady Thetis (Limassol Wrecks)
These are two purpose-sunk wrecks, just out from Limassol. Steve enlisted the services of Limassol dive shop owner Marcel, who took us, plus a few more divers besides, on board his large RHIB for the short run out to the trawler, Constandis. The wreck sits upright, at around 24 metres depth to sea bed. Much of the machinery used for hauling in the nets is still in place, which makes the wreck’s exterior interesting. The interior is easily penetrated, with exits visible at all times. A resident grouper greeted the various divers as the descended down the line., and we spent an enjoyable dive swimming through the cabins and engine room.
After a short surface interval ashore, we headed out again, this time to the Lady Thetis, which sits upright in around 18 metre of water. Again, there were plenty of easy swim-throughs, and as well as more groupers. As on many local sites, lionfish have also taken up residence on the wreck. These were two very enjoyable dives, with plenty of opportunity to practise penetration skills.
Day 5, Wednesday: The Elpida and the Zenobia (second visit)
The day’s dives took us back to the Zenobia, again aboard the “Queen Zenobia” dive boat. But first, we dropped in on the wreck of the Elpida (Greek for Hope), a purpose-sunk 63 metre-long cargo vessel, which sits at a max depth of 28 metres, in effect forming an artificial reef. Arriving at the site, the wreck was clearly visible from the surface, with schools of fish finning over the vessel. As we dropped down the down the shot line, it was clear that this large wreck would give ample opportunity for penetration, but again with plenty of visible exits available at all times. The ship was sunk in 2019, but has already attracted a healthy population of marine life, which, combined with great visibility, made for an excellent dive.
After the Elpida, we moved on to revisit the Zenobia. This gave us a chance to explore some different locations on the wreck, or get a different view of familiar ones. Divers who had not penetrated the accommodation area on the previous dives were able to take this route, while another group dropped down to swim up inside the now vertical bridge section. But even after three dives on this trip, there is still plenty more to see on the Zenobia and a return visit is essential. Andy summed it up: “Highligh of the whole week, dropping through the bridge, mind blowing stuff. Thanks again to Tony for organising an awesome week.”
Day 6, Thursday: Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa (MUSAN) and Green Bay or exploration dive on Jubilee Shoals
This was our final day of diving, and we had a choice of scenic dives – one at Ayia Napa’s underwater sculpture park and a second at the Green Bay nature reserve – or a drift dive to explore more of Jubilee Shoals. Most of the group went for the MUSAN and Green Bay option, and the sculpture park lived up to its billing as a top site for photography, with the sculptures featuring a range of environmental themes. Green Bay presented turtles and cuttlefish, among other marine life.
The Jubilee Shoals group had a good drift dive along the main wall, dropping to around 30 metres to revisit the chimney swim though and take a closer look at the Canberra plane wreck. No further wreckage was spotted, and with the wish to avoid deco, there wasn’t the option to stay longer or look deeper. Steve from the dive centre is planning to explore further, so next time Branch 5 visit the site, more of the Canberra’s story might be know.
Thursday night: team dinner and sad news of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
With Thursday being our last diving day, we organised a night out with our group, the Pissouri Bay Divers team and several other divers who’d joined us on trips over the week. The evening was in full swing when phones began pinging and a nearby bar started playing the UK national anthem. Although not unexpected, the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing still came as a shock. Andy summed up everyone’s thoughts by proposing a toast to honour the late queen and the new king. The toast was gladly made by all present, British, Cypriot and other nationalities, which reflects the high regard in which Queen Elizabeth II is held across the world. She will be greatly missed.
Day 7, Friday: down-time
A late flight on Friday night allowed us to spend the day at the apartment complex’s pool and giving time to ensure that everyone’s no-fly restrictions had cleared. The final part of a highly enjoyable dive trip was for us all to drop back down to Pissouri Bay Divers to say our final goodbyes to Steve and his team, and discuss plans for a return trip next year.
We’d like to thank… As mentioned, Tony Fitzpartrick took the initiative to organise the trip, and spent much time exchanging emails with Steve to put together a comprehensive diving programme with sites and activities to suit all members of our group. Having dived with Pissouri Bay Divers before, Tony knew that Steve and his team would be a good fit for a Branch 5 group. Both Tony and Steve were also a great source of knowledge on which local bars and restaurants to visit, including “up the hill” in the charming old village of Pissouri. Thank you again to Tony for getting it all together for us and ensuring we had a great trip.
As a note on Pissouri Bay Divers, they are certified as both a BSAC Resort Centre and a PADI school, and have an extremely wide breadth of knowledge and experience. Steve and his team worked ceaselessly to make sure that everything ran smoothly for us, including sorting out a couple of glitches with kit (at no charge), and regularly ordered in a case of beer to assist with post-dive debriefs. A big thank you to Steve, Nikki, Mike, Holly and Emma.
We were also joined on most of our dives by some of Pissouri Bay Divers’ regular customers, who either live in Cyprus, or come out from the UK to dive with them every year. As you might expect, they are a great bunch of divers, so a big shout-out also goes to Jack, Shaun, Kathy, Daz (Darren) and Paul.
Photos courtesy of Jan, Dave, Andy, Ian, Tony and Graeme.
Another August Bank Holiday came round and once again, members of the branch loaded up their cars with dive kit and headed down to Devon for three days diving with In Deep. Unfortunately we numbered eleven for this trip as the twelfth man had to cancel at the very last minute. Sadly it was too late to replace him so as with all trips, he lost his money.
Our intended destination was as usual, the Boringdon Arms in the Turnchapel area of Plymouth. We all travelled down more in hope of diving all weekend as the weather forecast for the Sunday and Monday was for strong Easterly winds of Force 5 gusting to Force 6. Not ideal diving conditions! With the forecasted conditions in mind, James, our skipper for the weekend and I chatted on the Thursday to formulate a plan. I suggested that we head east towards Salcombe on the first day and dive the wrecks of the Maine and the Persier on our way back. And for the Sunday, we could then head for Whitsand Bay in the hope of getting some shelter off Rame Head. We could dive the Rosehill and follow that up with either the Scylla or James Eagan Layne. Also thrown into the mix for Sunday were two marks that our wreck finder extraordinaire Ray Cramer had come up with. James agreed that we could check the marks out as we travelled between the known wreck locations. He said that it was a good call and we should go with it but thought that we shouldn’t plan for the Monday as it was too early to make a call. We both agreed and the plan was good to go.
The drive down to Devon wasn’t too bad and most of us had arrived by about 4.00pm. There were a few stragglers as people didn’t finish work till late. So it was more like a retiree’s convention that afternoon ha ha. We were allocated our rooms and set about settling in before heading back down to the bar for a beer or two before going out later for our first evening meal. We were booked into the Clovelly Bay which has an excellent reputation as a gastro pub. The added benefit was that it was only fifty metres from the Boringdon Arms. Eight of us dined in the Clovelly and as ever, the food was excellent! The portions as ever, on the large side! I think everyone was taking it easy on the beer that night as it was an early start on the Saturday due to the tide times and the distance involved. We were scheduled to meet at the Mountbatten pontoon for approximately 7.00am with ‘ropes off’ at 7.45am. After the meal, we ambled back to the Boringdon for a quiet drink before retiring at an appropriate time. Steve and Gail had arrived just as we got back to our accommodation so we all sat out in the beer garden and had a couple of drinks. You have to be sociable after all! Most of the gang had retired to their rooms by 11pm due to the early start the following morning.
Saturday 27th August 2022 Dive No.1, S.S. Maine
So Saturday morning dawned and it was a lovely sunny day with just a hint of a gentle breeze. No hint of what had been forecast for the following day whatsoever thankfully. We headed off towards Salcombe and there was clearly high spirits amongst the gang. The Maine which is a first world war casualty of approximately 3600 tons that was lost when it was torpedoed by UC-17 in March 1917, is possibly the best dive within recreational limits in the Plymouth area. Once on site, James expertly dropped the shot in right on the stern of the wreck. Time to get suited and booted then and go diving. Most of us were in the water by 9.35am and the dive was on. The shot as promised was bang on the stern. We dropped towards the sea bed then into the wreck and slowly made our way forward through the rear holds towards the mid section of the wreck where the central engine room, fuel tanks and bridge would have been. This particular area is possibly the best part of the wreck and where the iconic vertical ladders can be seen. I think that there may only be the one on the starboard side left now. Once you exit this section of the wreck, you come to the forward holds and what is left of the bow. I tend not to go all the way to the bow but turn at hold one and make a return to the shot line at the stern. We made our way initially down the port side but cut across the wreck behind the boilers just to be able to enter the fuel tanks and take a last look at the ladder. It’s a fantastic atmosphere in this area of the wreck because you can still feel that you are in an overhead environment but there is a comfortable exit both in front and behind you.
Keeping an eye on time, gas and deco we started making our way back to the shot line. The visibility was excellent on the wreck. It was possibly close to ten meters so finding the shot line shouldn’t be too difficult and so it proved. It was just on the stern port side. Our group of four divers started their ascent. Garry, Kerry and Kat went up the line but I moved slightly off it as I wanted to test out the crack bottle on my DSMB as I had just repaired the valve and needed to check that all was well. There was the slightest of current and it only took the odd fin stroke to remain a couple of feet away from the group. With all of our decompression obligations completed, we surfaced and made an orderly queue on Seekers starboard side and waited our turn for the lift. So the first dive of the weekend was over and what a brilliant dive it had been. Perfect conditions and cracking viz. Bring on the Persier!
Saturday 27th August 2022 Dive No. 2, S.S. Persier
The Persier just like the Maine is another war wreck but this time from the second world war having been torpedoed in 1945 by UB-1017. She was a much larger ship than the Maine being approximately 5380 tons. Once on site, James dropped the shot in at the boilers (if memory serves me correctly). Possibly the best part of the wreck to dive is the stern section as the rudder and steering quadrant plus some chain can still be seen there. In fact, one half of the quadrant is sitting high above the wreck due to the wreck having collapsed sideways towards the seabed. Once down the shot line which was on the boilers, most of the group headed towards the stern as this is without doubt the better half of the wreck! Making our way aft, there is plenty to see in the way of winding gear etc but the best part of the dive is seeing the steering quadrant looming above you and the rudder and post lying on the sea bed. You can actually swim underneath parts of the steering mechanism!
We could clearly see where the shot line was as a number of us had clipped our strobes to it and it was lit up like a Christmas tree! The Nautilus strobe is an awesome piece of kit and well worth including in your dive gear in my opinion! We swam between the boilers now and headed for the bow. There is nowhere near as much to see on this side of the wreck but it’s still a great dive! I was hoping that we might just see a Monkfish here as they seem to be spotted here on a regular basis. Sadly, not on this dive! With our decompression obligation building and our gas supply reducing, we turned around and made our way back to the shot line. Again, we could clearly see our strobes glinting away so made our way towards them. We started our ascent. I collected my strobe on the way up. We met some of the group on the shot line at the decompression stop depth so we all had a bit of a signing conversation with lots of smiles and laughs thrown into the mix. After surfacing and de-kitting, we all enjoyed a drink and a nice hot pasty. What a cracking way to finish our first day off. Well the diving section of the day at least as we were all booked into the Royal Oak for a bar-b-q that evening.
We landed at Mountbatten pontoon, tidied our kit up and left the bulk of it on the boat, just taking things like masks, computers and torches back for washing and charging. We dropped all of our cylinders in for filling then headed back to the Boringdon Arms for a beer or two and a well deserved shower. We all then ambled down to the Royal Oak where the majority of us elected to have a Sirloin Steak burger. Others had Halloumi burger and Monkfish. So everyone was catered for. All this was enjoyed with a few beers. The weather was perfect that evening with lovely bright sunshine well into the evening. After our beers at the Royal Oak, we all strolled back to the Boringdon to partake of some of their delicious home-made desserts and a night cap or two of course! Some of the group retired early as they were knackered and the rest had a final drink or two before retiring. Shandy and water were high on the order list believe it or not! The general chat was obviously about the days diving and the diving still to come. All of this while keeping a close eye on the weather apps as we all knew that there was a strong easterly wind threatening to ruin the trip. That is diving I suppose!
Sunday 28th August 2022 Exploratory dive on an unknown mark.
Sunday dawned and it was a bright sunny day. The only issue is that we could feel the breeze stiffening. We couldn’t do anything about it except to hope that it wasn’t going to be too strong. We knew that we would get diving but the question was, where? Ropes off was a bit later today as obviously the later tide was taken into account plus the fact that our group were pretty slick getting their kit sorted.
There was a distinct buzz on board the boat on our way out to the dive sites as today was going to be our chance to investigate a couple of marks that our wreck finder extraordinaire Ray Cramer had found. We had previously lined up James our skipper about this and he was happy to take a look at them. The first mark was on the way out to the Rosehill. Ray supplied James with the Lat & Long co-ordinates and James went looking. It didn’t take him long to find the mark and a shot weight went over the side. We now needed someone to go and investigate what was lying at the bottom of the shot line. Steve McElroy was our volunteer. He prepped himself and took a marker down with him which he would release. It would then float to the surface to indicate that a wreck of some description had been found. Unfortunately, Steve never had the opportunity to release the marker as when he reported back to us after surfacing, all he found were a large pile of rocks. It still intrigues me how a pile of rocks can be found on the sea bed with nothing else around them. Just how did they get there? Excitement started to build as James found something on the echo sounder. So we now knew that there was something on the sea bed. All we had to do now was to dive it and hopefully identify it. Left. Our skipper James searching for the first of the marks given to him by Ray Cramer. Right. Steve McElroy returning after an exploratory dive on the first mark that Ray Cramer had identified as a potential wreck site.
Sunday 28th August 2022 Dive No.3, S.S. Rosehill.
Oh well that was the excitement over for a short while. There was still one more mark to hopefully investigate later in the day though. James recovered the shot weight and we moved on to the Rosehill. S.S. Rosehill was an armed merchant ship of approximately 2700 tons. She was torpedoed by U40 in September 1917. She is the only wreck in recreational depth around the Plymouth area that still has both her propeller and rudder in place. The bonus being that her stern gun is just a few metres away alongside the steering quadrant. A lot to see in a relatively small area! This wreck has a reputation of being hard to find but yet again, James proved what a good skipper he is and put the shot right on the boilers (note to Hugo, no pressure for next year lol). Everyone readied themselves and the pairs all entered the water a minute or two apart. The viz was ‘bitty’ but more than acceptable. The people who took strobes in clipped them onto the shot as we neared the boilers. We then descended further in order to identify where the bits of engine lay so that we could head to the stern first. Once we were oriented, we set off at a leisurely pace. We eventually picked up the prop shaft and although twisted a little, it led us to the stern. We all saw the prop, rudder and gun with a few pictures being taken in the process. Now it was time to head back to the boilers. But not to ascend! We were going to the bow as the anchors are still there to be seen and they are very impressive! Some chain and shackles are still in place as well so it is well worth making the effort to go and see them. You do pass over a lot of plating but it doesn’t take too long and the array of pink sea fans that you pass over help to make it an enjoyable swim. Once we had seen the anchor (I’m sure I’ve seen two in the past) it’s time to head back to the shot line. As in previous dives, there were a few Bass about and they looked to be actively hunting. Approaching the area of the boilers, we could see our strobes flashing away so it was an easy task to locate the shot line and start our ascent and collecting our strobes on the way up.
Sunday 28th August 2022 Exploratory dive on an unknown mark.
Conditions were just about perfect still despite the weather forecast promising differently so we made our way over to the area of Ray’s second mark and started the search for that. As expected, with the information that Ray supplied and James at the helm, a shape appeared on the echo sounder and it looked promising.
Well the buzz on the boat started all over again. Speculation as to what it could possibly be was causing a bit of a stir! James duly dropped the shot onto the mark and the it was down to find a volunteer to go and investigate what was down there. I waited for someone to offer and when nobody did, I said that I would do it. So I kitted up and gave the skipper a shout that I was ready. Just like Steve previously, I had a small float that I was to release if the mark proved to be worth making a dive on. So no pressure on me to make the call then!
Once I reached the bottom of the shot line it was obvious to see that it was a it was a man-made object. I clipped my strobe to the line then went to have a look around to try and make out what it was. There were loads of Conger eels about. Every possible nook and cranny had one in residence and the few that didn’t, had a lobster in. I swam around but there was no discernible wreckage to be seen. There was lots of debris though. I was aware that I couldn’t spend too long down there and even more aware that I had to make a decision. Do I send the float up or not? As it was obviously a man-made object, I released the float and made my way back to the shot line. I gathered my strobe and headed for the surface. When I actually did break the surface it felt as though I had a dozen pair of eyes all focused on me. As I stepped off the lift, I was asked what I thought. The first thing that came to mind was that it was ‘like the council tip’! This didn’t go down too well and I think that I dampened everyone’s spirits lol. The bottom line was when I was asked if I would dive it again. The answer to that was an unequivocal yes!
Sunday 28th August 2022 Dive No.4, unknown mark
That was enough for everyone to agree to dive it. So we all readied ourselves. James and I made certain that I had had sufficient surface interval before going back in and Kat and I were the last pair to enter the water. As on the previous dives, I clipped my strobe to the shot line along with the others that were already there. Our pair then set off to explore the area which wasn’t massive. The area was approximately fifty five metres long by eight meters wide. It was small enough to cover easily in one dive. What lay on the bottom was a tangled mass of metal and cables etcetera with no discernible wreck to speak of. A little bit of research later by Ray Cramer came up with a potential answer for that. A barge, EWT 263 that was being towed by the tug Britannia from Santander to Rotterdam on 17th October 1971 broke in half off Lizard Point. The stern section was towed into Falmouth and the bow section was believed to have been washed up somewhere between Hemmick Beach and Dodman Point. That maybe would explain the debris field but no wreck. The cargo may have been tipped out as she broke in half. All the same though, I had a feeling that everyone was enjoying their dive as I was getting plenty of okay signals from divers as we passed each other. The immediate area was quite silty so care had to be taken when moving around the wreckage so that the viz wasn’t destroyed. As being the last pair in, we ended up being the last pair out. This was mainly due to my decompression obligations. When we eventually got back on board, the buzz told its own story! Everyone that did this dive agreed that they it had been a good call to do so. I was certainly relieved to hear that!
I didn’t fancy getting hung from the yard arm or even keel hauled lol! So it was now time to head back to Mountbatten. As expected, it was a bit lumpy on the way back. It was particularly lumpy after we rounded Rame Head. A small price to pay for what had turned out to be an excellent days diving!After all the necessary kit had been sorted, cylinders booked in etcetera, we all headed back to base at the Boringdon. It was a lovely afternoon so most of us decided to have a celebratory beer or two in the sunshine to toast the successful day that we had had. The mood was definitely very upbeat! Having all showered and changed, we headed off to the restaurant that we were booked in to for our evening meal which was Lacky’s Balti House in Plymstock. We usually have our Indian meal on the last night but we found it necessary to change that so that we could fit in another new restaurant the fooling evening which would be our last night. It actually meant that Lacky’s didn’t have to open up especially for us on the Monday as they are generally closed. Everyone was looking forward to their meal as besides being hungry, the food is delicious here. It’s definitely a firm favourite of ours! We all enjoyed a really nice couple of hours here. It was fantastic atmosphere, great food, a few beers or wines and lots of discussion about the day that we had just had. The bonus was that we now knew that the winds that had been forecast for Monday were due to ease slightly so we would be able to get our third days diving in after all. That certainly helped to make the atmosphere a good one!
After the meal, we headed up to the Victoria Inn as we had been told that there was live music on. Unfortunately there wasn’t! It was Karaoke night so everyone developed a frog in the throat and retired gracefully (read sheepishly). We headed back for the Boringdon Arms as a few of the group fancied a dessert. We all strolled back and it was such a lovely evening that we decided to sit outside and have a chat about the days events, and the likelihood of what was to come for Monday. What can be better than sitting out on the terrace with your diving buddies and sharing a beer or two and enjoying the conversation? Life doesn’t get better in my opinion! Gradually though, tiredness started to come to us all and we called it a night. Sensible really as we were fairly sure that it was going to be a rough ride the following day!
Monday 29th August 2022
Monday dawned and it was sunny yet again and there didn’t appear to be too much wind blowing although it can be deceiving in Turnchapel as it’s quite secluded and sheltered. We could only hope. The weather apps showed that the winds had dropped slightly so it was looking promising. We headed off to Mountbatten with more anticipation now than we previously had. James met us and confirmed that we would be diving and that we were going with the original plan which was to head for Whitsand Bay and dive both the James Eagan Layne and HMS Scylla. Conditions on the way out were better than we could have even hoped for. It was going to be a good day!
Monday 29th August 2022 Dive No.5, James Eagan Layne
What more can be said about this dive? It’s such an iconic wreck and I personally never tire of diving it!
James dropped the shot just aft of the bow in the forward hold. We couldn’t have asked for better! We all dropped down the line a couple of minutes apart. I think that the majority of the pairs swam aft along the starboard side with the intention of returning up the port side of the wreck. This is not so much as a mooching dive but more an observation dive for me to see what you might recognise. There is lots of stuff that you don’t recognise but it’s nice to guess! If you time it correctly, you can comfortably swim the length of the wreck from bow to where the stern should have been and back within the limitations of the one hour for recreational dive. This is exactly what all the pairs did I think. We hadn’t put our strobes on the line as it was so bright so we just had to ascend the shot line and complete our decompression stops before surfacing to a nice sunny day. Well the wind hadn’t reached the strength that was predicted thankfully so James informed me that a return to the debris field was possible. I gave the group the option for the last dive of the weekend. We either dive HMS Scylla or what we believed to be what was left of EWT 263. The vote was almost one hundred per cent to go back to EWT 263! I’m sure that Ray was pleased that the group chose his mark over HMS Scylla. It made all his work seem worthwhile.
Monday 29th August 2022 Dive No.6, EWT 263 (possibly)
After a good surface interval, we readied ourselves for the last dive of the weekend. There was a definite buzz on the boat yet again! The shot had already been deployed so once the group were ready, James dropped our pairs in a couple of minutes apart as usual. It was great to see all the torch beams below us. It was more like a scene from a sci-fi film. I clipped my strobe onto the shot line and we set off around the debris field to see what we could see. As per the previous dive, there were plenty of congers about. One was even swimming in the open water. Presumably miffed that a group of divers had interrupted its day! Once again, this was a very enjoyable dive. Probably heightened by the anticipation of what you might see as much as anything. What there is a lot of on here is bottles of all shapes, colour and size. All the time I was wondering just how so many had got down there. Plus there is a mile or two of cable. I’m guessing the cargo on EWT 263 was destined for the rubbish dump. All too soon, the timers on our computers were telling us that it was time to leave. This is definitely not a dive that you want to end! But needs must! So we headed back for the shot line. As usual, I collected my strobe on the way up. We neared our stop depth and met up with some of the others who were just finishing their deco. Well that was another excellent dive and a great one to end the weekend on. After de-kitting, we mostly all had a nice cuppa and a hot pasty. They always taste so good after a dive! We headed back to Mountbatten now and were running into the wind so it got a little bumpy and quite wet. But that is all part of the fun of diving!
James had to moor Seeker further round at the yacht club. This made life a little easier getting all the kit off the boat but getting up to the cars was a chore (thanks Garry) as we were around low water now. With all the cars loaded, quite a few of the crew were heading for home immediately as they all had places to be early on Tuesday. So we were now down to five of us. We showered and changed quite quickly and headed off to the Fishermans Arms in the Barbican for a final meal. And what a meal. The food is delicious here! Suffice to say that I think that we will be returning in 2023. We had a really lovely couple of hours here. It is a great pub with excellent food, a fine selection of beer.
We just had one more pub to visit before heading back. Poor Garry had to pass up on going as he was feeling quite some pain in his back. We watched him take the water taxi then set off to find the Inn. Unfortunately when we did find it, it didn’t have live music on as we had hoped. In fact it was quite empty. But we didn’t care! It was a real old style pub and one that I daresay we will visit again at some point. It’s called the Minerva Inn and is the oldest pub in Plymouth and dates back to the 1500’s. You can just feel the atmosphere in here. Paul who was the barman when we were there gave us a potted history of the Inn. He told us about the press gangs that used it as their base, showed us the window that they watched the clientele through so that they could pick who they wanted and explained that the wooden wall opposite the bar was made from planking taken from some of the ships of the Spanish Armada. We didn’t disbelieve him. He also told us of the three ghosts that the Inn has. When we first arrived, we were given indelible markers with our first drinks and told to sign the ceiling. There is hardly a space available but we eventually managed to find one or two. Kat wrote a little tribute to a departed friend. All too soon though the time came to say good bye to the locals but promising to return as the last water taxi was scheduled to leave the Barbican at 10.15pm. We walked out of the pub but without any prompting, stopped and asked each other did we really want to leave. We all turned on our heels and went back. We just had to hope that we could get a taxi later as apparently they are hard to come by. Paul the barman sorted that out without a problem so we ordered another round and enjoyed the atmosphere, the company of the locals and the excellent music playing on the jukebox.
The Inn closed at 11.15pm and Paul waited with us until our taxi arrived. We got back to the Borringdon just in time to say goodnight to Greg the owner and to each other. We all had a little lie in the following morning as there was no massive rush to set off home. But home we had to head for. So we said farewell to each other and set off for Liverpool and Wirral.
I think that I can honestly say that it was possibly our best trip. The excitement of Ray’s new marks helped enormously in my opinion! No pressure but more required for next year Ray ha ha. But there were many factors that made it turn into such a great trip. Not least, the gang but our skipper James and his crew. So thank you all.
Special thanks to James Balouza our skipper and the deck hands Robin and Liz for ensuring that the weekend went well.
Thank you to Garry, Kat, Ray and Adey for the pictures that were used in this report.
So, the Major put out the word that he was going to Malta and everyone was welcome. Having not been abroad for a couple of years due to the dreaded Covid we jumped at the chance…. and so did a quite a few others.
Sean flew out first on the Thursday with Dara and the little guy, Shea, mixing diving with a family holiday. His weather reports were great and also no problems at the airport….. even better.
The rest of us set off early Friday in a two different groups. Kelly, who had no sleep after finishing work late, drove Me, Kate and Dave up in his truck, parking at the drop and go service by T3. Really impressed and will use again. A short bus rice to T1 and all good…. and that’s where it went to crap.
You will have to excuse my rants about Manchester Airport. It is without doubt, the worst airport I have ever had the misfortune to use and if there was any other option, I would go elsewhere. We’ve been to lots of airports in lots of countries over the years, from very small to very big, but non compare to the utter disorganisation and contempt that is shown to customers there.…. and that was before covid!
Easyjet advised arrival two and a half hours early, we were just short of three…. at 3.05am for a 5:55am flight. We got out the lift at the departure hall and had to join the sizeable carpark queue. No problem, we’ve got three hours and it was moving. An hour later we got inside and joined the bag drop queue, which was tolerable until the last 20 meters where it just became a scrum and a fight to get to the self-service bag drop machines and then out again to join another queue to drop the bags off. Another forty minutes gone and security still to go, was starting to get a bit twitchy now.
We then realised we were at the back of another massive queue just to get into the security hall. That did not move for ages then moved quickly until we were near the door…. and stopped….. typical. We did meet most of the others whilst passing along the ‘snake’, the Major, Gary, Sue, Jeff and Peter had arrived fifteen mins before us and that seemed to have bought them quite a lead.
Anyway, we finally got into the security hall to join another queue…. a very slow queue as there was only three open lanes out of about twenty….and only an hour to go. Very twitchy now. Nearly half an hour later they started pulling people out the queue who were going to miss flights, which thankfully included us. We were taken to another fast track channel only to be stopped by a moronic Asian girl with three carrier bags of liquid cosmetics arguing about taking them through….. duh.
Once we got her out the way it was the usual fight with the scanners, everything out of the bags and pockets into about ten different trays, trying to hold your pants up whist being scanned by hand even though you’ve just gone through a huge, very expensive looking, scanner. Then having a bag rejected because of a forgotten electrical item! Fortunately, another passenger had insisted on the manager coming over to get things moving and we persuaded him to push our bag through too.
So, we got through with about fifteen minutes left to take off, only to hear last call for us as the gate was closing…… wonderful…… we had to leg it through duty free and down to the Easyjet hall… to find our flight was right at the very end…. smashing…. I think we only made it as they didn’t want to delay the flight taking our suitcases off. We got our seats….. last ones on board.
Joke of an airport….. and end of rant.
After a thankfully normal flight we landed in Malta to thirty degrees and blue skies. After breezing through security and having retrieved our bags we were met outside by Steve (The General) and Howard from the Divewise team who had come to pick us up….. as well as Alan, the owner and another customer Steve who had both been on our flight as well.
Following a half hour drive we arrived at the Divewise center on the Westin Dragonara Complex in St Julian’s. The center is very well set up and managed by Alan’s better half, Viv, as well as a great team of very friendly and very competent staff, all I believe are instructors.
The first job, as usual with most centers, was to get a tote box and sort our dive gear out, fill out medical forms, make up weight belts and generally get ready for a shakedown dive. There we a few reprobates on our crew who had indulged on the way out so they were made to wait until the next morning for their shakedown dives.
There was a bit of a panic for me and Jeff when we were told that because of some of the answers on our medical forms we needed a medical sign off! Oh no! I had visions of sitting on the beach all week! But fortunately, this just involved walking five mins to a local chemist for a consult with a doctor. We did have to wait twenty mins as he was out on a call, but once back it was a five-minute check-up and thankfully everything ok for us both. Twenty well spent euros and we had our medical certificates. If only you could get that service in the UK!
Back at the center, we kitted up and after a short walk over to the beach we got in with our guide Nadine. She ran us through a few mask clearing / reg recovery drills and then it was off out of the enclosed shallow area and into the deeper water. It was a bit choppy so not easy getting across and out of the entrance but fine after taht. The house reef is a nice dive but the water was a bit cooler than expected so we were glad of our lava core tops under our wetsuits. After a very pleasant forty-minute dive it was back to the center to wash the kit and put it all away, ready for tomorrow.
We were all staying at different hotels so most of the others only had a short walk but of us were fifteen mins walk away at the Cavalieri Art Hotel so the General very kindly gave us a lift over with the suitcases. After a very smooth check-in and getting a really nice room with a balcony and sea view we unpacked and went for a quick swim in the hotel pool and the last of the afternoon sun.
That evening, after a bit of a wander round, we strolled over to meet up with the rest of the crew at Long Rooms, an Irish Bar in the middle of St Julian’s. Despite seeming to be in the middle of all the action it was a nice pub and served food, so we stayed there to eat. The food was fantastic and very cheap, so everyone was happy! I had a Maltese platter which I hadn’t realised was a sharing platter when I ordered, it was huge, but I did my best. After being up at 1am we were flagging so headed back to the hotel early, don’t think we saw much after nine o’clock…
The next day was very relaxed for those of us who had done a shakedown. We didn’t have to be there until 11am, so we had a leisurely breakfast with Dave and Kelly at the hotel before setting off. Have to say the breakfast buffet at the hotel was fantastic, pretty much everything you could want including freshly cooked omelets…. took some restraint that week as wetsuits don’t stretch that much!
The walk to the dive center was a bit up and down but wasn’t a problem, although did get a little sapping as the week went on as the temperature got up well into the mid-thirties after Tuesday.
When we arrived the errant crew had completed their shakedown dives so it was just a matter of testing the mixtures in the cylinders and loading up. everyone was diving on Nitrox for the week so the lead instructor for each day insisted of everyone testing their own gas and filling in log sheets. Nice to see this, gives you some reassurance of a well-run center. After loading the cylinders and dive boxes on to the two trucks it was off for the fifty-minute dive to Cirkewwa at the top of the island.
There is parking at Cirkewwa which seems to be set aside for dive companies use, and as usual there were plenty there. Not sure how true it is but there are apparently 60+ dive companies on the islands. Anyway, we parked up, got kitted up and then climbed in via the steps and pool called Suzie’s pool, halfway down the prom. Quite slippy on the last few steps and on the entry which gave the Major had a few problems with his bionic hip, but we got there in the end.
The target was the P29 Patrol boat, a 52m former patrol boat for the Malta Armed Forces. She was made safe for divers and the environment then intentionally scuttled in August 2007 as a dive site. She lies upright on a sandy bed, 37m at the bow. Unfortunately, she is also 150m offshore which is a bit of a swim.
Me and Kate had been Ocean Divers when we last came to Malta and hadn’t been allowed out to the P29 so we were really looking forward to this dive….. and it didn’t disappoint. Lisa and Alan (the Boss) were leading so we had to be on best behavior. We swam out at about 10-15m to conserve air but alsoto keep below the many jelly fish that were hanging around about 5m. So glad we had gloves and hoods on!
The vis was amazing, 30m+ and seeing the boat appear as we got closer was stunning. We landed on the deck and set off to swim round the superstructure. Needless to say, everyone scattered in different directions giving Alan and Lisa kittens trying to keep track of us all. With the swim and me only having 200 bar at the start we only really got time to swim around the upper deck once and then again 10m further up by the bridge before we had to turn round and start the swim back. I think about six of us headed back with Lisa with the rest, on twins and re-breathers, spending more time and coming back with Alan.
The swim back at 10m is a bit boring and disorientating at times. More than once during the week, because of the lack of reference I felt like I was sinking when actually rising. Really had to concentrate on the dive computer to maintain the right depth. Closer to shore we hit the reef which surrounds Cirkewwa, and it gets more interesting. Lots of sea grass and clouds of Damsel fish make for a really pretty last five minutes swim and then safety stop in a partially enclosed area with about 7m depth. Then it was out via the same staircase and time to pack up the truck. Really enjoyed the dive, but as always, it wasn’t long enough. Was surprised looking back at video later how many fish there were, I was so blown away with a wreck that actually looked like a boat that I hadn’t really taken them in.
Before setting off we grabbed some lunch from the amazing snack van in the car park. Run by a really nice that did some amazing food. Wraps were fantastic and he will heat them on a hotplate for you. After that, we set off back to wash the kit and head back to the hotel for the last hour of sun and a swim by the pool.
The hotel has a buoyed off area in the sea next to the pool area, so I thought I’d go and do a bit of open water swimming. I’d remembered by googles for once so jumped in and started swimming up and down. Unfortunately, I’d total forgotten about the jelly fish and after about ten minutes kicked right into one. I’ve had a few stings before but nothing like this, it was like being electrocuted. Managed to get back to the side and run it under hot water but nothing really helped and it ended up in big red welts. They took days to go down then came back after a week or so and itched for days. This seems to be a feature as a few others got stung and had similar effects. I’ve still got scars from it now so will be sticking to the hotel pool or wearing a wetsuit if I ever go back in there again.
By joint consent it was back to the long room for tea again that night. Chicken Caesar salad this time after recommendation from the night before and it was probably the best I’ve ever had. We were still tired so headed off early again, just dropping in at the ice cream shop on the way back….. just has to be done. Very nice it was too.
The next day was a full day with an 8:30 start at the dive center. The usual routine of testing the gas and packing the gear onto the trucks, then away for nine. Today we had the South African, Marinus, or Zafa as he was known driving our truck with Kevin the Swiss the lead instructor for the day driving the other. We were back to Cirkewwa again but for two dives this time.
The first was the tugboat Rozi, the smaller of the two wrecks there. She is still 35m long, complete, recognizable and sitting upright in about 34m to the sand. She was a working boat from the UK originally but like the P29 was scuttled as a diving attraction in 1992.
We went in off the dock by the carpark lighthouse this time, which is easier, but has a drop ranging from about six to ten feet depending on which part you jump from. This is a fair way kit on……. takes a long time from stepping off to hitting the water.
It was another 150m swim out, but was more prepared for it this time, took more time and arrived with a lot more air. Also, there is more of a swim over the reef on the way which was a bit more interesting.
The wreck again appeared in the distance, a complete boat sitting upright, even looked like a tug boat…. But even with the extra air there was only really time for a slow swim round the deck then another round the bridge before turning to head back in. Did notice the fish a lot more this time, hundreds of them, mainly damsel fish but some bigger stuff too.
Once back at the reef we took a lot more time swimming over it and even had time for one of the swim through vertical tubes in the reef before heading back along to Susie’s pool to get out.
Back on the shore it was straight over to the food van for another tasty hot wrap and a cup of tea before switching tanks and getting ready to head back out to the P29 again. It was a smaller group for the P29 as most of the group decided to take a tour of the reef and arches instead.
With getting more into the swing of the swim out was it a better position again when we got there. Instead of dropping straight to the deck we headed forward at about 15m and dropped down on the bow. The front gun is still in place and a great spot to investigate. Taking our time and coming up slowly and taking a good look round the bridge and radio masts before joining up with the rest for the swim back.
Another great day of diving. The vis was just as good as yesterday. Not sure exactly how far but could almost see the bow of the P29 from the stern and she’s over 50m long!
After getting back, washing kit and heading back to the hotel it was straight out to the pool for an hour again. Needed to cool down as it was way into the 30’s again. Dave and Kelly went for a snorkel in the sea pool but even wearing a mask and keeping a good watch out Kelly got stung on the arm by a jellyfish. Glad I stuck to the hotel pool.
That evening was a change of location. We arranged to meet at the Avenue, a sprawling restaurant that takes up a whole block, with five or six different rooms all decorated in different styles. I had the chicken kebabs which I can very much recommend. We again only had a couple of drinks there then headed back via the ice cream shop. Absolutely knackered with the heat and diving even though we were on nitrox. Some of the others headed back to the Long Room for a few more before turning in.
Next day was a change of site and another half eight start. Today we were heading out to the other side of the island, to Wied Iz-Zurrieq, a small village located just next to the famous Blue Grotto caves. The target being the wreck of the Um El-Faroud. This is a 110m long oil tanker that was badly damaged in an explosion whilst in Valletta’s Grand Harbour. She was too badly damaged to be repaired so was made safe and scuttled as a diver attraction. She sits upright in 38m, complete but split in two towards the bow and has opportunities for exploring inside.
Kevin was driving us this time and Alan brought the other half of the group. Fortunately, we managed to get parked right at the end of the road fairly close to the entry point as the hill is exceptionally steep and the main carpark is a good 500m further up!
We had to carry all the kit down the hill and steps for about 30m to a quay next to where all the tourist boats tie up. Hard going even in just the morning heat. After kitting up and being warned by Alan that we couldn’t go inside the wreck… spoil sport….. we took a stride entry then went straight down to 10m. This was needed as the tourist boats are constantly passing and don’t really watch out for divers….
The wreck is again 150m offshore so yet another swim. This one is completely in the blue so really quite disorientating. Good job Alan was leading the way to give a point of reference. The wreck is amazing when it appears. A huge ship and we arrived, pretty much over the stern. We started by heading straight down to the prop and rudder as they were still attached. Massive, and impressive to swim round….but not for long at that depth. We came up and swam along the main companion way and out onto the main part of the deck. It’s a huge ship so could only just make out the broken section in the distance but been told there was not much up there, so we just came up the superstructure to the upper companion way on the other far side.
Had a bit of a panic here as I lost Kate. I had thought we were going over the top and she though we were going straight on and whilst I was looking through a porthole she went. Had a search round but couldn’t see her so made my way up to the meeting point on the top of the superstructure. Nearly everyone else had gathered and Alan was swimming round constantly counting everyone and trying to keep track of us. He the shot off to chase Peter who had missed the bit of the brief about not going inside! Anyway, Kate appears a few minutes later and with Perter chased out the inside we set off back to the wall.
A long swim again and following a safety stop under the dock, popped back up with 50bar left. Perfect. Climbing out on the sea wall ladders was a bit of an effort as was lugging the empty cylinders back up the steps and road to swap over and carry back down. The only thing for it was to head to the café further up the road for a wrap and the most amazing iced café ice cream drink.
The second dive was back to the El-Faroud again. This time Alan said that if we all behaved and did what he told us he would take us for a tour through the superstructure and down to the engine room. The only instruction was to keep following the diver in front and not to head up the funnel when we turned from the engine room to the way out.
All went well, we followed each other in through a number of rooms then down a quite tight staircases and corridors to the engine room. Really was pretty cool. Did get myself caught on a bit of something sticking out the floor at one point which slowed me down for a few seconds till I managed to free it. Anyway, not sure who but led the way but caught up just in time to see a The Major, Peter and Kate heading up the funnel…. great. Couldn’t catch their attention and was about to follow when Alan appeared and pointed the way out…. in a way that didn’t suggest a discussion. I followed the rest out and up to the top of the superstructure to the meeting point and we were joined a few minutes later by Alan and the other three who had come out the top of the funnel….. cool really.
Following another swim back and safety top under the dock, poped up but only with 40bar this time….. not so perfect. Anyway, then there was just getting out and lugging all the kit back to the trucks and loading up for the trip back…… after another iced café ice cream thing of course.
After washing and packing gear away were informed it was and early start next morning as we were going to Gozo…. Needed to be ready to roll at eight.
Given the good food the night before most of us agreed to go back to the Avenue again. Gary had taken a day off to go sightseeing with Sue but joined up with us again. Dave and Kelly went off for a meal together at a Greek taverna. Sean, Dara and Shea had started earlier to make sure the little one was ready for bed on time and so were in a different room.
We were in the very formal wood paneled room sat at a huge dining table. All very impressive. Again, the food was great, I had a chicken Caesar salad, I think. Probably distracted with Gary’s immense Calzone! Never seen anything like it and although he did his very best it defeated him in the end.
The hard cases headed off to the Long Room for a nightcap but we headed back knowing there was an early start the next day….. and we needed an ice cream.
We were first down for breakfast at seven next morning for another really nice but quick breakfast before heading down to the diver center. We were there for half seven, had the cylinders tested and packed along with all the other gear bang on time. Off we went, heading for Cirkewwa again, but this time to grab the ferry. Mark was driving us, a customer really, but a regular visitor and also a dive instructor, following Ben in the front truck. We were lucky enough to drive right onto the ferry and after parking up, escaped the heat to the passenger compartment. The trip only takes about half an hour including docking at each end.
After a coffee we got back into the trucks and thankfully were out fairly quickly. It was so hot in the car deck. Anyway, five minutes into fifteen minute drive down to the site there was a minor disaster when Ben clipped a curb on a tight corner and the tyre exploded. No one hurt but the tyre and the wheel were done for. Everyone jumped out and set to trying to find the tools, jack and the spare wheel. This turned out to be under the van and the bolts were pretty seized. After a lot of effort Sean managed to get them moving but they then both eventually snapped off. Ah well, At least we had the wheel. Ten mins later we had the wheel changed and everything loaded up again and were off down the really narrow roads to Xatt l-Ahmar to dive on two of three wrecks that have been scuttled to create artificial reefs for divers.
There is a car park there but nothing else and it’s fair walk with all the kit down twenty meters of steps and across about a 100 meters of rock to reach the water entry point…. And in the mid-thirties. Gary and Perter did a great job of getting their kit and The Majors down there. Don’t think his bionic hip would have managed that.
The first wreck was to be the MV Karwela, a 50m long ex passenger ferry scuttled in 2006. She is intact and sitting on sand at 41m at the stern. It’s been stripped right out allowing divers to swim the full length on different decks. Big holes are cut in the sides for easy exits and there is a really nice staircase towards one end.
Once kitted up, entry was down some awkward ladders which wasn’t easy, then it was just down and yet another swim out at 10m. The swim out wasn’t quite as far this time but not really any reef to break up the blue. With the bottom being around 40m we stuck to swimming round the middle and upper decks. Not as many fish on this one but really nice swimming along looking out all the windows. The staircase was nice but didn’t fully appreciate it because of the direction we came at it. Would spend a bit more time there next time.
After a bit more swimming around, and all too quickly it was time to head back. Could probably have stayed a little bit longer but we were starting to run into decco and didn’t have that much gas left so headed back, better safe than out of gas. After a safety stop by the ladders it was an awkward climb out and then time to lug cylinders back up to the trucks and fresh ones back down.
After a good break and some sandwiches we had brought from the boat we kitted up again to head out to the MV Cominoland. A 35m long former cruise ship also sunk in 2006. She sits upright on sand with a max depth of 41m. Again, she has been stripped out completely to allow divers to swim along two of her decks.
This time we persuaded Ben to let us swim out on the surface to save gas before going down. Although it didn’t look far and there wasn’t much of a current it took a fair amount of time. Probably explaining most guides reluctance to surface swim to the wrecks.
Made a change going down the chain from the marker buoy and seeing the wreck appear from above. We swam the length of the middle deck and met Ben at the stern who pointed out some Nudibranch’s. Way to small for me to see but apparently very nice. After a swim along the top deck decco was again close so we headed back up to 10m and swam back in. A really nice wreck, not a lot of life but very scenic.
After the safety stop, climbing out and lugging the kit back to the trucks was glad of a rest whist we headed back to the ferry. Again, only a short wait and we were on and having a well-earned coffee in the onboard café…. Oh and getting a Gozo fridge magnet from the gift shop of course.
After the drive back and the washdown we joined the rest for a post dive drink at a bar outside the Majors hotel, the Vivaldi, before heading back to our hotel. Really were starting to feel the pace now. We met at the Long room again and decided to stay there for food, we had a table outside and were too tired to move really. Forced myself to eat another Maltese platter then we left everyone else to have more drinks whilst we headed to the ice-cream shop and the hotel.
The next day was another early start as we were going out on a boat for a change. Also, it was the Majors birthday….75! Viv had organised a cake so we embarrassed him a bit, well as much as you can, then left him to put his kit together. He and Gary were diving on twins this day as a warmup to get ready for a deep dive they had planned with Alan for the Friday. Sean wasn’t with us today as he was flying back the next day and was spending the day with the family.
Once the cylinders were analysed and everything was loaded up we set off for the twenty-minute drive to the quay at Qawra. Alan was leading the overall group with Ben and Joe driving the trucks. The surprise was that the boat was a large traditional fishing boat converted for diving and party trips. Very nice. We got everything we needed aboard and set off, starting to kit up on the way.
We were diving the Imperial Eagle, a 45m long ex ferry and cargo ship which lies about a mile off the quay on a sandy bed at a max depth of 45m with the main deck at 32m. She is another purpose sunk wreck, scuttled in 1999 as an artificial reef and as part of a marine conservation area. Also, off the bow of the ship is a large reef which has a large Statue of Christ a short swim into it.
Alan must have begun to trust us as Me, Kate, Dave, Kelly and Peter were left to our own devices whist he, Ben and Joe took Alan and Gary in along with Jeff and a couple of other customers doing technical courses.
There is a special buoy marking the wreck, and we were supposed to follow this down and head off on a baring from the block at the bottom to find the wreck. However, as we started going down we could see the wreck from about 15m down the chain! Absolutely amazing. We headed for the stern and swam along the full length of the deck which has been opened up to a long swim through. Really nice with plenty of fish along the way.
Once on the bow we headed off to find the statue. Bit nerve racking heading off into the blue at depth but it only took about five minute to spot it and swim over. At about four or five metres tall it’s quite impressive so we spent a while posing for photos before turning back for the wreck. As we got there, we only really had enough time for a quick look at the bridge before heading off to the chain to begin our assent. Fantastic heading up and seeing all the twin set and unit divers still swimming round…. only a bit jealous.
Back onboard we had just about sorted our kit out by the time the others started popping up. Took a bit to get the Major out as the ladder climb up to the boat was hard work but they managed it and we headed back to shore and then center.
For the afternoon it was just the five of us again, the rest taking time off after the morning dive. This time Alan was taking us off to the walls of Valletta to dive on a wreck that had been sunk during the war. HMS Maori was a British destroyer that took a direct hit to the engine room whilst moored there in 1942. She was eventually allowed to sink just of Fort St Elmo in about 15m of water. She has taken quite a battering over the years and there is now only a few recognisable bits left.
We had been warned to only bring essentials as the dive trucks were targets for the local lowlife so nothing should be left on show and there was no boot. After parking up at the side of the road entry was just climbing down a couple of steps and into the water. Nice, no big swim.
It was a very relaxed swim over the reef and at no more than 15m for the whole dive. Very nice after all the deeper stuff. The vis was a bit murky at only 10 to 15 meters…. wow, soon forget UK diving! There wasn’t really much of a boat to see, mostly chunks of plate with a few larger sections still visible. What looked like a gun at one point and part of the bridge you could swim through. But there was loads of life, lots of fish and quite a few octopus but they couldn’t be tempted out. Was really hoping to see one of the sea horses found there but no such luck. Alan did manage to drag us out after just short of an hour and took us on a scenic dive back taking in most of sights around the outskirts of Valletta. Very nice afternoon.
Once back we stopped for a quick one in the bar outside the Vivaldi again before heading back to get ready for the evening. Gary and worked with Viv to organise a well-known Indian called the Emperor of India, mainly for the Majors birthday and partly for us to say thanks to Viv and Alan for looking after us all week. The meal was really good, plenty of different curries and bread on offer. Sean, Dara and Shea had joined us for their last night and the little guy was good as gold. The Major got another cake, this time with a sparkler. Everyone was happy…. and we were very happy after an ice-cream on the way back.
So, the last day had come. The famous five were in a group together with the lovely Lisa driving and keeping us under control. We headed back to Cirkewwa for yet another go at the P29 and for a reef swim round the harbour later.
This time the P29 was absolutely covered in fish, big, little and shoals. No idea what most of them were but looked amazing. Lisa guided us down through the deck this time, along a couple of corridors and through a couple of rooms, really good. We then followed her through some of the superstructure and back out nearer the bridge. When we all re-grouped around the mast it was like an aquarium, so many fish. Superb diving.
After the obligatory wrap from the snack van it was back out for the last dive. Up and down the Cirkewwa reefs. There had been some very noticeable thermoclines during the week but once you pushed through you didn’t really notice the cold. Probably as most of the dives involved a good swim to warm up first. But we all noticed it on this last dive. Probably a mixture of fatigue catching up mixed with the leisurely pace. Lots to see on the reefs, plenty of fish, jellyfish and the odd octopus hiding in holes and lots of nice sea grass. Lisa took us through a couple of swim throughs and then onto the large arch. A great spot to swim round for photo opportunities. After this it was back along to Susie’s pool for a safety stop and to warm up.
That was the diving done. Just back to wash up all the kit and put it out to dry ready to be packed up later. We wandered up to the bar to meet up with the others, back and buzzing from diving the HMS Stubborn. A pretty much intact WW2 British submarine lying a couple of miles of Quwra on a sandy bottom and at 56m. Not a bad effort for a 75 year old…… with plenty of help from Gary I suspect.
Anyway, the last evening wasn’t as messy as it could have been after starting with two bottles of bubbly in the Major and Peters room. But we then we did follow it with a very civilized meal at the Avenue, in yet another room. The Calzone defeated Gary for a second time, and I had the chicken kebabs again…. very nice too. After a last drink at the Long Room, we called it quits and headed back via the ice-cream shop…. Good job it was the last night, the staff new us now!
Next morning the general picked us up from the hotel after breakfast and we played Jenga with all the dive gear trying to fit it back into the suitcases. Once done we said our goodbyes to the team and The General and Howard drove us back to the airport. After no more than fifteen minutes to drop the bags and then ten minutes through security (are you listening Manchester Airport!) we were ready for the flight home, after a bit of real duty free.
All in all, think everyone agreed, this was a really great trip. Really good diving, great dive centre and staff and best of all great company. Thanks to the Major for getting it all started and to everyone else for making it such an enjoyable trip. Roll on the next one…….
The crew, The Major, Gary and Sue Horsman, Peter Bever, Jeff Jones, Sean, Dara and Shea Cafferkey, Dave Barlow, Kelly Baird, Kate Mills and myself, Chris Mills.
If you’ve made it this far well done for putting up with my ramblings and hope its given you an insight into diving in Malta with Divewise.
Following on from this year’s successful trip to the Isle of Man diving out of Port St. Mary, I have reserved the corresponding weekend for next year (2023). The concept of the trip will be as was intended for the one this year whereby we take a group of our new relatively inexperienced divers and team them up with some of our more experienced divers and introduce them to a weekend of UK hard boat diving. So with this is mind, it wont be on a first come, first served basis but rather two lists which as allways will be on whoever puts their names down first.
Minimum number of dives post qualification will be six (quarry or sea)
Twelve divers maximum!
The cost of the trip is £255 per person which is for three days diving and three nights accommodation on a room only basis. Air and Nitrox fills will be extra. Air fills this year were £5.50 for a 15ltr cylinder.
A non-refundable deposit of £75 secures your place. If for whatever reason you have to cancel then the onus will be on you to arrange a replacement diver but I will assist on this as hopefully there will be a list of reserves.
Deposits will be refunded providing a replacement can be found.
You will have to book your own ferry crossing but will be shown how to do this if required. The ferry cost will be approx. £55 (2022 prices) return for a foot passenger. We will be met by Michelle and Steve on arrival in Douglass and transported to Port St. Mary. They will make the return journey after completion of diving on Monday 1st May.
If interested, please enter your name on the trip form posted on the club notice board. For any further details please contact Terry directly.
UPDATE: this trip is now full. Contact Terry for reserve positions.
The plan is to take both club boats and 12 divers to the Farne islands for a weekend or morning wreck diving and afternoon shallow scenic dives at Knivestone with the possibility of seals on board. The wrecks we will be focusing on are the Somali and Abessinia.
Fishguard : Platinum Jubilee Bank Holidays and weekend
Having planned ahead, examined the tidal options for possible locations, booked the campsite for the Queens Platinum Jubilee bank holiday and weekend well in advance (it was always going to be busy), organised crews for a club boat and the Majors, of course the worst threatens. The weather forecast is worsening with respect to wind. But we’re gassed up, ready and excited to explore three or four wrecks from Fishguard, South Wales.
The original plan included a new mark and two named charted marks, with a requirement for Dive Leader and above qualifications. The marks changed over time, as we replaced the known marks with a new one and a different, unnamed, one giving us expected depths of 32, 42, and 52m to the seabed. As planning progressed it became apparent that the shallowest mark had been known about and dived previously, but it was still new to us.
The new mark had only been in the public domain for a few years; at 42m the plan was to probably do that one twice. The deepest mark was last described in 1971 (prior to the latest survey in 2021) and was the furthest offshore; there were no hints of any diving activity – having looked at a survey image, it looked great and there was a named wreck mark, some miles away, which had no survey trace, ie it wasn’t where they thought it might be but it was the right size for this mark.
Travel down on Wednesday, with an early start to ensure that the boat could get past the swimming pool and gym cars! With four days diving everyone was traveling in their own vehicles and mostly with all their cylinders, with a mix of a rebreather, twinsets and 15’s, plus stages.
Our little spy (Garry Bolland, who went down a week early for a holiday) had been passing on titbits of info and the camp site was sounding great. A few miles away from the slipway, up narrow country lanes and the campsite driveway, we had to leave the boats near the site entrance.
The launching options had to be investigated when we got there – was the RNLI slipway private or not? A phone call had stated it wasn’t their slipway, although signage and personnel on site stated otherwise! It seemed to be out of bounds, so we were stuck with the Goodwick slip, which at least was practically brand new and double width although it dried at low tide. Car parking was excellent and cheap, with reserved spaces for vehicles and trailer too, although some spaces were being replaced with EV charging points.
Day 1 – 14 miles NE to the site of the SS Sutton (possibly). After a delayed start, the launchings went well, and we tootled off on a great sunny day with fine sea airs! Unfortunately, the lack of boat diving presented some rustiness amongst the crew – the shot was deployed without the buoy! Still, two boats, two shots so the club shot was deployed. Unfortunately, that rustiness struck again, and the boat drifted down onto the shot whilst the divers were getting kitted up, wrapped the line and needed some attention. As time was very pressing, we descended the shot only to find that it was no longer on the seabed. So, it was sent up with a lifting bag, and other divers descending keenly dropped off into a free water descent. Neither group found the wreck! The shot line was re-rigged and deployed to let the second wave have a go, which were successful in finding a wreck albeit in poor viz of less than 2m.
Scallops were seen although none were taken. Dolphins had been spotted too, from the boat. After some time taken with lunch and soup, the return to the harbour and slipway found it drying. So a wait ensued before the retrieval of both boats, utilising muscle power to push the trailers out as far as possible, and a (newly acquired) very long line to retrieve them.
Day 2 – a quick bimble around towards Strumble Head with a bit of breeze. Here, for the first time, we had difficulties with the slack dive time. Having found the mark (with some adjustments required to get a good echo sounder picture on the club boat) and deployed the shot you can imagine that we were not particularly delighted to see that the pressure on the buoy was increasing and indeed the buoy was getting lower in the water. So even as the first wave was preparing, we had to abort the dive, with a great team effort to recover the shot and line intact.
Evening meals were split between the pub option and a BBQ. Pub options were sometimes tricky, with no availability for walk in service. The BBQ was very pleasant using the sites’ equipment, although difficult to believe it was so late in the year, a chill breeze was blowing.
Day 3 – although the weather had been kinder to us than forecast, it blew up overnight and even plan B (from Milford Haven) was cancelled. However, the wind started to drop after lunch and Day 4 was on.
Day 4 – Back towards Strumble Head, two and a half hours earlier than the model showed. The mark was found and shotted, with a minor adjustment to place it bang on. Whilst preparing for as the first wave it was noticed that the current still seemed to be increasing. Terry and Garry went in first and place a strobe on the shot line, before exploring the stern section of the wreck, with its boiler, engine and propeller clearly visible in at least 6m viz. I dropped in with Dave Stead and found the bow and its Admiralty anchor on the seabed. Aware of the increasing current, I made this a short dive, with minimal decompression, surfaced up the shot line and the second wave of Steve Mac and Steve Baxter were dropped in. Everyone enjoyed the dive, with total times of 60 minutes each.
Thanks to the team who signed up for an adventurous dive trip to new marks over four days. We wouldn’t normally take quite so many dive cylinders with us, but with a bit of lending and borrowing it worked out well (except we never used it all!).
Team – Ray Cramer, Alan Jones, Gary Horstman, Dave Stead, Steve McElroy, Terry Maloney, Garry Bolland, Dave Smith, and last but not least Steve Baxter.
Isle of Man trip with Discover Diving, Port St. Mary Friday 29th April to Monday 2nd May 2022
So finally, the planned trip that was scheduled for May Bank Holiday 2020 with Discover Diving got underway. Only two years later than planned due to all the restrictions put into place due to the outbreak of Covid when it appeared that the whole world was put on hold. The idea behind this trip when it was first conceived was to take a group of newly qualified divers along with some more experienced members and give them an introduction to a weekend hard boat diving.
One change to our plans was that there was no early sailing on the day of departure so we had to catch the 7.30pm ferry from Liverpool to Douglas which meant that we would arrive in Douglas at 10.15pm. When we arrived in Douglas, Steve and Michelle from Discover Diving were waiting for us to transport us to our base for the weekend in Port St Mary. Our accommodation was on the top floor of their house cum dive shop cum bunkhouse. I’m sure the stairs are getting steeper or is it me and the rest of us for that matter just getting older lol? We had a little bit of form filling to do but nothing too complicated. We added our medical forms to the pile of completed forms and that was basically us for the night. I think that we all had one drink before retiring to our respective rooms which had already been allocated. Six gents in the large bedroom and four ladies in the smaller bedroom with one lucky couple getting their own double room. I don’t think many of us even remember putting their heads on their pillows that first night! Thankfully it wasn’t too early a start the next day.
Saturday morning dawned. The weather wasn’t as bad as we had feared it would be when we had checked the forecast before leaving Liverpool. Steve had said it would be fine and therefore it was time to get ready to go diving. A good few of us were up early especially our intrepid breakfast cookie Tony Smith who was aided during the weekend by Chris and Kate Mills. Tony does a fair bacon and sausage sandwich. After a leisurely breakfast, we all headed down to the shop. Now a word of warning to everyone. Be sure that you take everything you need when you go downstairs. You have been warned! Once we were all assembled by the minibus, we were shown the ropes by Michelle. Each diver was given a number from one to twelve at the start of the weekend. The twelve pairs of cylinders were also one to twelve so we all knew which cylinders were ours. A nice easy system to follow. There were also twelve bags of weights numbered the same way.
We loaded all the dive kit onto the new (for us) minibus that Steve and Michelle now own. Five divers were also loaded onto the bus and it headed off for the harbour where all the kit was unloaded so that the minibus could return to the shop to have all the cylinders loaded on board as well as the remaining divers. Once at the harbour, all the necessary kit plus one cylinder per diver was then loaded onto the boat. We would be returning to harbour after the first dive to change our cylinders. When we were all aboard, Michelle gave us a thorough boat briefing. Once this had been completed, we were left in the capable hands of our skipper Steve and his able assistant Kathryn for the day.
The first dive of the day was to be in Bay Fine. This is a scenic dive which included a wall. This dive was an easy meander along a wall which we kept on our right hand side but occasionally swimming away from it to head through gullies created by large rocks and boulders. There were plenty of Wrasse to be seen, the two dominant species being Cuckoo and Ballan, also Coalfish and Pollack plus myriads of juveniles of different species as well as various Starfish, Urchins, Lobsters and crabs. My buddy Hannah and I came across other buddy pairs during the dive and eventually bumped into her dad Shaun with Garry at the end of the dive. After forty minutes, both pairs decided to finish their dives and Garry and I deployed our DSMB’s and we all started our ascents. A three minute safety stop was completed before surfacing. When we were back on board, Kathryn served us tea, coffee and cake. What more could we ask for?
So our first dive was over and we headed back for harbour so that we could unload our used cylinders and pick the full ones up for the second dive.
The second dive of the day was to be a site named Garden Rock. The name came about as it’s a huge rock about the size of a bungalow, sitting on a sandy sea bed. There was a slight run which some of the less experienced divers weren’t too comfortable with but most of them still managed thirty five minutes or so. Once the dive was over, we headed back for the harbour. Steve informed everyone that kit such as suits, BC’s, wings etcetera could be left on board overnight and for us just to take what was necessary back to the flat. It was a very relaxed atmosphere that night. The beers and bottles of vino were opened and everyone congregated in the dining area for drinks (in moderation of course!) to chat about their day. Both the highlights and the lowlights were discussed as is usual. My lowlight was the fact that I had somehow managed to trap the cable from my thermo valve in my zip. I didn’t spot it so ended up doing the first dive getting gradually wetter and wetter and colder and colder. It was the first time that I had dived without my heated vest so hadn’t realised that this could happen. Serious schoolboy error that won’t ever be repeated! Until the next time lol! I still managed a forty five minute dive though. As for dinner that evening, some of us went to the Fish & Chip shop and some stayed in to enjoy a sumptuous cheese and chorizo sausage platter supplied by Shaun.
The cheese and sausage was supposed to be a pre dinner snack but by the time we had demolished it, some of us were too full to consider going out for any more food! We did however still have room for a drink or two so a bunch of us headed down the road to the local pub The Albert a couple. All in moderation as ever! So after a couple of drinks, most of us ambled back to our accommodation and bed. I’ll bet that quite a few of us don’t recall our heads hitting our pillows that night!
Sunday morning dawned and the weather was looking a little bit grim. The sea state wasn’t looking ideal and the rain was quite heavy.
Thankfully, we were scheduled to start an hour later than we did on Saturday so breakfast was a very leisurely affair. As promised, Tony who was ably assisted each day by either Chris or Kate supplied sausage and bacon butties for those who wanted them. Plus tea and coffee of course. We met Michelle and Steve down at the shop for 9.00am where we were given the dive details for the day. The schedule was to be a dive by the Calf of Man in the morning and then a dive on the wreck of the Citrine in the afternoon. But instead of loading the boat at Port St Mary, Steve would run around to Port Erin pick us up there. The same format as the previous day was put into action and all the cylinders and various items of equipment were loaded onto the minibus. Then it was off to Port Erin with about two thirds of the divers. The rest would follow on the second shuttle run along with the cylinders and kit.
The sea was considerably calmer here thankfully so we were all looking forward to our first dive without getting tossed about in the boat on the way to the dive site. There was a fair bit riding on this dive as prior to coming over to the island, Garry had given a ZOOM presentation on what the trip would be like. In his presentation, he had given a promise that we would see seals on this dive. After a lot of banter between Garry and Kate about the possibility of seeing seals, a small wager was set. As it turned out, Kate had never seen a seal while underwater before. So if no seals appeared then Garry would buy a round of drinks for the group. If the seals did make an appearance, then the group members would all buy him a drink. I’m sure that he appeared to be very nervous the closer we got to entering the water! The dive site was a boulder wall sloping down to about seventeen metres or so. The best plan on this dive in my experience is to pick you depth for the first half to three quarters of the dive then shallow up to about six meters or so and swim along above the kelp. The seals seem to like this depth plus they must feel a lot safer as they can hide in amongst the kelp if they feel threatened. We varied our depth between twelve and seventeen metres or so. One seal did join Tony and I but it didn’t stay long. It made me wonder at that point just how the others were getting on. Besides the seal, we did see lots of lobsters, various crabs and the usual fish suspects such as Coalfish and Pollack as well as Gobies, Blennies etcetera. Once back on board, all the talk was obviously about seal encounters. Who saw what? How many did you see? How long did they spend with you? And so on and so forth. Kate put Garry out of his misery by telling him that she and Chris saw quite a few seals. Another box ticked. And all celebrated with a nice brew and more lovely cake served up by our deck hand Squid.
We now headed back to Port Erin so that we could change our cylinders ready for our second dive. We had lunch while Endeavour was tied up. The weather had improved quite a lot from when we first set out in the morning. In fact, the sun had come out and a party atmosphere was developing shore side with music being played and lots happening on the beach. Our second dive of the day was to be on the wreck or more to the point what is left of the SS Citrine. She was originally a small cargo ship built in 1921. She ran aground in thick fog in March 1931. There were I believe only two survivors out of the crew of ten. The survivors scaled the cliff face after swimming to shore. No mean feat even on a clear day!
There is no shot line on the wreck. After dropping into the water, it’s a case of swimming down the kelp covered slope onto the wreck site. Tony, Garry and I reached the wreck at the stern. We had a look around here before slowly making our way forward. There are a good few prominent features to be see, the biggest being the single boiler. The engine is still in place also. There are also winches, chains and the spare propeller located at the bow. We didn’t see the spare propeller on our first visit to the bow but with plenty of gas and time to spare, we revisited it and found it quite easily. We all agree at this point to end the dive so all sent DSMB’s up making our three minute safety stop before surfacing. We were the last ones to surface after a fifty minute dive but the others were only just ahead of us.
We now steamed back to Port St Mary as the weather had improved even more and the sea had flattened out quite a lot. Once berthed, the usual cylinder unloading took place and we headed back to our accommodation and a nice hot shower. Oh and a pre shower beer lol.
That evening saw some of the group heading for the local Italian restaurant which is just up the road from the dive centre and others electing to get a meal from the Chinese takeaway which is even closer to the dive centre. After we had all dined, we met back at the accommodation and agreed to going for a couple of drinks down at the Albert Hotel.
We only had a couple because we were all aware that we had an early start the following morning which was to be our final days diving prior to heading back home. We met Steve, Michelle and Kathryn in the Albert and spent a pleasant evening chatting about guess what? Yes, diving! Why wouldn’t we?
Monday morning was an early start as we were aiming to catch the 3.30pm ferry back to Liverpool. We already knew the plan for the day as we had discussed it in the pub the night before. The first dive was to be in Castletown Bay with the second dive being the Sugarloaf Caves. The weather conditions for Monday were as expected. Nothing short of perfect! The sea was flat calm with no wind. Casteltown Bay was only a short run form Port St Mary. Once on site, Steve cut the engines and gave the divers a briefing. We were told that we would be dropping in on kelp but to head east and by doing so, we would make our way to the buoy in the middle of the bay. We descended on to kelp then followed our compass bearings and found the gulley’s that we were briefed about which led us into deeper water. The kelp eventually thinned out as we went deeper and the visibility was a good eight to ten meters. There was the usual compliment of fish and inverts to be seen. I tried my best to find Nudibranch’s but failed miserably. As Garry and I finned along, a singular seal joined us and checked us out. It didn’t stay around for long though and didn’t return so obviously we weren’t interesting enough! The highlights of the dive for me were the two Octopuses we spotted. Garry thought it might have been the same one but I was convinced that one was much bigger than the other. The first one squirted a lot of ink in order to confuse us whereas the second on just swam along and we followed it for quite some time. Poor Garry must have been well miffed as he elected not to take his camera in on this dive. Isn’t that always the case! We were starting to feel a little chilled on the dive and Garry indicated that he would prefer to end the dive to which I agreed. Once again, DSMB’s were deployed and we started our return.
The usual safety stop was completed before surfacing. It turned out that we were the last pair up. We secured our kit and enjoyed a nice cuppa and yes you’ve guessed cake as we headed back to Port St Mary so that we could change our cylinders and sort our kit out for our last dive of the weekend which was to be Sugarloaf Caves.
Once we had all changed our cylinders, Steve pointed Endeavour in the direction of the dive site and off we went. It actually isn’t too far from Port St Mary. The caves aren’t actually full caves except the first on which only has an entrance so it’s a case of swimming into it and turning back once you can go no further. The main one is more of a fissure in the rock but it certainly gives you the feel that it is a cave. If you look up though, you can see the surface. By the time we had reached the dive site, we had all had about one and a half hours surface interval or more so kitted up so that it would save any rushing later when we had to head back to Douglas to catch the ferry. We entered the water as a group and once we had descended, made our way towards the rock face and the first of the caves. There isn’t a lot of room at the far end of the first cave so everyone took things nice and slowly and allowed the pair in front of them sufficient time to reach the furthest point at the back and turn around before making their way into the dark. Once we had all taken a look around this cave, we made our way along the cliff face with it on our right hand side to look for the entrance to the main ‘cave’.
From memory, the opening was awkward to find due to the amount of kelp growth. We made one mistake before getting back on track and finding the opening which we couldn’t fail to find this time. There was nowhere near the amount of kelp growth around the entrance when compared to the last time we had dived it which had been four or five years previous to this trip. Everyone was aware that they should take their time swimming through here as this was the main part of the dive. They all seemed to be enjoying it!
There are not masses of life in the cave due to the reduced light levels but there is the odd anemone where some light hits the wall plus odd crabs and fish. There are a good few Gobies or Blennies if you care to look for them. Most of these are at the three entrance/exit points. Once we had exited the cave, we meandered our way through the large boulders that had some kelp growth on them but it couldn’t be described as a forest! We just followed the easiest way through. We were all hoping that the Guillemots etc would be in a feeding mood and think that our bubbles might have been prey fish. Sadly the birds weren’t in a feeding mood that particular day. We all completed approximately forty five minutes before each pair delayed one of their DSMB’s and started their ascent. So the final dive of the weekend was over and done with and the boat headed back for Port St Mary where the minibus was waiting with our dive bags on board. Once moored up, all kit and cylinders were unloaded and the packing commenced. Thankfully it was a nice day so that made the task much easier. When all the cylinders and dive bags had been loaded onto the bus, we headed back to the shop and accommodation to get a quick shower, change and a bite to eat if you wanted it. We stripped our beds and tidied the flat up as best as we possibly could. The rubbish and recyclable items were taken downstairs before we all headed into the shop to settle our outstanding bills. Michelle drove us into Douglas with the help of one of her friends who took three or four of our group in their car. We arrived at the ferry terminal in plenty of time so all that was left was to say our good byes and express our thanks for a great weekend and that hopefully it wouldn’t be too long before some or all of us were coming back again. Check in was empty thankfully so we went through the process which included sending all our heavy dive bags up the conveyor only to find that the bags wouldn’t fit through the opening at the top of the conveyor. Well by the time this was rectified, there was what can only be described as a fair sized queue behind us! I’m sure other passengers were cursing us. Eventually we boarded Manannan though and were treated to a perfect crossing. The sea was like glass for most of the way back to Liverpool. I took the time to finish off the dive logs on the way back so that I could get them to the Diving Officer as soon as possible. As we collected our bags, we all bade each other goodbye as there was no point hanging around because we were all heading off in different directions anyway. So the long awaited weekend was over. As the organiser, I just hoped that everyone enjoyed it and had lots of fun and laughs along the way. A really big thank you to Steve and Michelle @ Discover Diving for all their hard work in trying to ensure that we had a great trip. Also thanks to Kathryn and Squid for looking after us while we were on the boat. And a special thank you from me to Ethan for washing and drying my soaking wet under suit and base layers. And a final thank you from me the organiser to the group as you all helped to make it a really enjoyable trip!
Our chairman, along with Anthony Fitzpatrick kindly suggested and booked the campsite for the diving weekend with electric hook ups to make for more of a glamping than camping experience with some having very impressive blown up, beds. The main purpose of the trip was to give new trainees their first taste of sea diving off a boat and a shake down post covid for more experienced divers who wanted to refresh their skills.
The campsite at Pencraig was a great camp site with a café, shop, toilet, and shower block as well as the electric and water hook up for each spot. It was always going to be a busy weekend with a big boxing match and a derby also to be included in the itinerary of the diving weekend.
The weather forecast was good but some concerns about wind meant the Assistant Diving Officer had to check the sea each morning to confirm whether diving could go ahead. We’ were gassed up, ready and excited to explore a couple of wrecks called the SS Missouri and the Hermine.
The dives were relatively shallow at 12 to 13 metres and there was no guarantee as to what the visibility would be like.
Most Campers arrived on the Friday and once tents, campervans and caravans were all safely in place the group split into two, those who fancied a curry at the local curry house and those that wanted a pub lunch. A drink or two was had to wash down the food but then it was back to the campsite to get a good night’s sleep for the first of two planned dives on Saturday.
Everyone was up early and loaded the ribs with their cylinders, rebreathers and twinsets and although it was very windy at the campsite the sea was reported to be calm in the bay and the dive was given the go ahead. Both ribs were launched from the slipway, and we headed out.
The new trainees at that stage were still studying their Ocean Diver qualification and it was the first time they had been on a rib and out to sea. Nerves and excitement were high in equal measure and each trainee was paired up with a very experienced Diver as their buddy and assistance was given kitting up on the boat.
Our skilled boat captains got us safely over the wreck and the trainees went in with their buddies first so they didn’t have to sit getting nervous for too long. Helpfully the wreck had 3 visible markers which meant the divers could navigate down one of the three shot lines to ensure they landed directly onto the wreck. Once all trainees were safely heading down to the wreck it was then the turn of the more experienced divers to refresh their skills and hopefully enjoy getting back into the water.
The visibility at 12 to 13 meters wasn’t the best but you could still make out wildlife, parts of the wreck and have an enjoyable dive. Once all divers were safely back on the boat, we headed back to shore for a lunch break and to chat about the morning’s dive before heading back out again for the afternoon dive which was to dive the wreck Hermine.
The trip out was a lot longer on the rib and brought the boats close to rocky areas, so we had to rely on the boat captains experience to keep everyone safely away from the rocks and have a good dive. There was no shot line, on this wreck and it proved that a diver or two may not have been correctly weighted and the odd bit of lead had to be found to assist them. The visibility was not as good as it had been that morning, but all divers managed to get into the water for varying lengths of time.
Some enjoyed the dive; some felt the visibility wasn’t the best, but everyone still had fun. That was day one of diving done and it was back to the campsite for a little rest before a trip to the local pub to watch the big Tyson Fury fight.
Sunday saw us getting an extra hour to get ready before heading to the shore to launch the boats. As it was Derby Day it was decided we would only do one dive today and we all decided we wanted to dive the SS Missouri again from different shot lines to see other parts of the wreck.
The visibility was like the day before and those that dived all reported having a great time. A buddy pair reported seeing an octopus and got a great picture of a Nudibranch Facelina Auriculata as seen in the picture below.
After safely returning to shore and back to the campsite some had to leave for work the next day and those that stayed watched the derby in the local pub. With the majority of divers being reds the blue supporters left quickly after the first goal was scored. After a succesful result for the reds we headed back to the campsite for a few drinks and a reflection around the camp fire of the weekend and how much we had enjoyed it, we had an ealy night ready to pack and head home the next day.
A couple of members, Eddie Dorrian and Graeme Cooper also came along for the weekend to do a few shore dives, with Peter Beaver joining them on the Sunday and Graeme’s report of the diving is detailed below:
Diving on the Saturday, we chose Porth Dafarch. This was largely because we managed to get parking down on the slipway, which made for good shore access, with no need to carry weights and cylinders up and down the hill. We were also able to kit uo on the steps, directly by the beach.
The sea was a bit choppy because of a strong wind, and the waves stirring up the sand made the visability bad. We went out along the rocks on the east end of the bay then simply went across the bay (east to west), heading back in along the rocks. Max depth 5 metres, but a dive’s a dive.
We got a second dive in, which was better. The wind had dropped and the visability had improved. We pretty much repeated the first route, but went further out and deeper, exploring the rocky shoreline at the west end of the bay.
On the Sunday, Peter joined us, but after breakfast Eddie had to head home. Peter and I stayed with Port Dafarch for diving. We headed out long the bay’s east side, before heading further out along the west side rocks. Still not deep, (6 or 7 Metres), but far enough out to be among some nice tall kelp, with rocky gullies around the headland.
So a few good relaxed shore dives, plus the chance to catch up with other club members. Can’t claim that the dives were spectacular, but for me this type off accessible shore dive was useful for getting back into the sea after the winter and refreshing my diving skills.
Its safe to say that going away on club dives gives everyone a chance to get to know each other better, new and old members. Some members even just came for the weekend away and to enjoy the sights and didn’t dive. The feedback from the trainees who attended was that they had an amazing weekend not only diving, but getting out on the boat and getting to spend time laughing and joking with other more experienced divers and members and they picked up hints and tips that will be invaluable to their diving skills going forward. If you are new to diving and haven’t yet experienced a dive weekend away I would strongly encourage you to go for it, you wont regret it.
Trip members : David Edwards, Robbie Edwards, Martin Campbell, John Dunne, Sean Cafferkey, Ian Bennett, Dave Barlow, Kelly Baird, Faye-Louise Northam, Steve Baxter, Andy Parsons, Sue Kids, Pete Cheesewright, Alex Naylor, Mark Williams, Graeme Cooper, Eddie Dorrian, Peter Beaver, Phil Coggins, Angela Coggins.
Ray Cramer is planning a trip to Holyhead in August this year for technically qualified divers only.
This trip is to dive on a specific new mark which Ray has found. Reported length 24m, width 12m, height 10m. No magnetic data due to it not being deemed a wreck until post processing. Remnants of a keel and single boiler.
The site lies in a strong tidal flow. There are only five suitable weekends in 2022 with two diveable days for two waves of 60 minutes maximum dive times. Three are very early season, there is the planned weekend and a further weekend in September which could be used if the planned weekend is postponed.
The plan is to use Holyhead slipway. A weekend could be made of this, weather permitting. A suitable campsite could be Cae Ffynnon Caravan and Camping site, Rhosgoch, Amlwch.
Dates: August 20th and August 21st
Diving will be using the Majors boat and one of the club boats.
This dive is suitable for technically qualified divers only.
Anyone interested should contact Ray directly or put their name down on the interest sheet on the club noticeboard.