Malta June 2023 – Trip Report

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. 

Andy, Jeff, Val, Sue, Lucky, Kate, Chris, Major, Gary, Jay at the Long Room

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!

Chris and Ildikó being
‘instructed’ by Saffa and Alan
Major on the Rozy
Lucky and Jeff

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.

Santa Marina Caves

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.

Andy on the P29

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!

House Reef Litter Pickers

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.

Kate and Gary on the P31

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.

Jeff on the Bristol Beaufighter

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.

The Major in trim or recovering the shot as he called it
Jeff and Lucky on the Bristol Beaufighter

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.

Lucky at Kristu tal-Baħħara

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.

Surface break at Cirkewwa

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.

Jeff, Jay, Andy, Gary, Steve, Kevin, Major, Chris, Lucky
Gail, Nadine, Kate

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!

Chris Mills

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