Malta - Calypso Diving by Darren and Amanda Astles
We had always hoped to get some diving in abroad once we were qualified as Ocean Divers and in early August, our qualifications duly achieved, we looked around for a suitable place to dive. We planned to leave the 3 children at home and therefore needed somewhere we could go for a week or less, in late September. One place that ticked every box was Calypso Diving in Gozo, Website as they could accommodate us and as a bonus were the only BSAC organisation on the island.
George, who runs the dive centre, arranged for us to be picked up at the airport, driven to the ferry, collected off the ferry and taken to our apartment, which he also arranged. This was all completed without a hitch as was the return journey a week later. We went self catering but there are many different places to eat in the town of Marsalforn and we ate at a different place every day. All in all, a very enjoyable week with excellent hosts who we would recommend without reservation. Now the diving.
Dive 1: 22m - 40minutes. Air 200 in. 25 out. We booked in the morning after arriving with the dive centre and had our qualification cards checked and then taken from us for the duration of the visit. Equipment was stored in a close by "lock-up", attached to the Calypso Hotel and we could leave our equipment here every day. There was an area for fresh water washing, drying, hanging and so on and it was a pleasant surprise that we wouldn't have to carry our gear back and forth from our apartment every day.
We duly went back at 1:15pm prompt (the dive vehicles or boats leave at 08:30am and 1:30pm prompt every day. Late and you miss out.) to find a number of divers dragging their equipment out of the lockup and preparing it. The first shock was being handed a 12 Ltr "dumpy" cylinder, which we had never come across before and the guides' raised eyebrow when we mentioned we had "a-clamp" regulators, which required inserts for the cylinders. We then were informed that we were "on the RIB" and I began to wish I had taken my Stugeron before leaving, but now it was too late...
So a little messing around with equipment and we joined a collection of Germans and English on the RIB. It was at this point that I welcomed the various opportunities we had had to dive from the RIB's back in England as otherwise this would have been quite a shock!
We weren't out at sea for long before we came to rest in a small inlet and the anchor was dropped. A detailed dive brief and then we quickly found ourselves as the only people left on the boat as all others, including the guides, had entered the water. We did a thorough buddy check with each other and then entered the water from opposite sides of the boat, meeting at the anchor rope with the rest of the dive. A few moments to catch our breath and the OK signal was given followed by the thumb down and we descended into the med for the first time. It is worthy of note here that at the buddy check my air was turned off! Although I had turned it on, the guide had turned it off again when passing it across the boat earlier.
The water was crystal clear and we could easily see the bottom some 25-30 metres below. We levelled out at about 20 metres (at that point the deepest we had ever been) and followed the guide who took us at a nice leisurely pace towards a reef and beyond it into a small cave. Amanda had told me she would never cave dive, but she was into the darkness behind the guide before I could react. We spent a few minutes looking around the cave and the creatures that lived within before exiting back into the electric blue of the sea.
Amanda descended down to about 25m after we exited the cave and were on our way back and the guide gave her a gentle tap on the shoulder to come back up to 20m. We then reached the opening to a larger cave and Amanda had to switch buddies from me to the guide as she was running low on air and was to return to the RIB. I was buddied with another, more experienced diver who then beckoned me to follow him into the cave and what followed was a number of brief underwater conversations where I was refusing to follow due to the fact that I had 50 Bar of air left and he was adamant that I should. In the end I mentally gave him 10 Bar and then I was gonna be off as I knew where the RIB was and the entrance to the cave could be navigated at 6m if need be. Off we went.
We entered the cave and my buddy signalled for us to go up. This came as another surprise as going up inside the cave actually meant I was getting further away from my exit. I checked air. 45 Bar. Up we went. Then to my utter surprise we surfaced inside the cave. I took out my regulator and inhaled deeply, a big smile on my face. My buddy made it clear that we could actually exit the cave by foot if need be and it was only a short 6m exit to the RIB, so either was possible. Even though I only had 50 Bar of air left he had thought it worthwhile to show me the cave and I have to say it was worth it.
I was just saying how impressive it was when he told me to turn around and the bright blue water, illuminated by the outside sunlight came into view. I dipped my head under and could see many divers finning around the cave, torches searching this way and that. I was awestruck. I have to say it is one of the most impressive sights I have ever had and we stayed lazing around on the surface for a couple of minutes before descending and making our way back to the RIB.
There was a ladder fixed at the rear of the RIB but I was happy to enter using the technique honed into me during my training and with a quick push down and fin upwards was in the RIB with an enormous grin. The cave was called "Cathedral Cave" and dive number 1 was complete. We didn't get to dive from the RIB again and I had survived without being seasick. Yay!
Dive 2: 24m - 41minutes. Air 200 in. 50 out. Reqqa Point. The next morning we were taken out by Mike (Senior English instructor) to a place nearby to the dive the previous day. All diving from now on ended up being shore dives and this was the first. The first shock was the number of divers at the site. We counted over 60! We had to kit up on flat rocks and then walk across very sharp rocks to the point of entry. A 1m high stride entry. This would be Amanda's first stride entry.
We duly entered the water and descended to 20m where we practised some buoyancy control and had a nice calm dive around the reef. At the end of the dive we had time to enter a small "chimney" cave where the entrance was at 18m, you ascended with just enough space for one diver, to 12m and then exited via a different opening. I followed Amanda around and it was another cracking dive.
We had to take our fins off in the water and then climb a metal ladder to exit. I also destroyed yet another mouthpiece by biting though the rubber, my fifth to date. After talking this through with some of the guides they suggested a "Jax" mouthpiece which was a rubber one that you heated up, bit on to mould to your teeth into and then cooled. I purchased one from the dive shop and have to say it has turned out to be a fantastic bit of kit which has made a huge difference to my diving as I am no longer worrying about my sharp teeth destroying the mouth piece. Despite the number of divers at the site, except for the queue to enter, it wasn't actually very busy at all in the water.
Dive 3: 11m - 59minutes. Air 200 in. 60 out. In the afternoon we dived an excellent site called "The Washing Machine" as the point of entry and exit could churn up quite badly. This was a very enjoyable dive as we saw an Eel, Octopus and Flying Gunards, which the guide said was the biggest he had ever seen. The exit was a nightmare though and we were bashed against the rocks quite badly collecting a number of cuts and bruises. Another 20 seconds would have seen the dive time break the 1 hour but we weren't really thinking about that at the time!
This was one of Amanda's favourite dives of the holiday due to the variety of sea life we encountered and the calmness of the main dive.
Dive 4: 25m - 45minutes. Air 210 in. 70 out. The Blue Hole. A collapsed cave where the roof has gone but the hole it has left behind allows you to enter the sea and drop down to 16m before finding the cave's "exit" and the entry to the main sea. The colours during this dive were just amazing. The blue of the hole as you descend, the exit and the sea beyond make this a truly mesmerising dive. 25m by now was a nice comfortable depth and we had a great dive. We went up through another "chimney" and came across some large Grouper fish at a slightly greater depth than us. A nice deco stop at 6m in the "hole" for 3 minutes was also becoming the normal procedure (well the deco stop was, doing it in the Blue hole wasn't!). We were utterly stunned by the sheer beauty of this dive and it is a vision that will last a lifetime.
Dive 5: 24m - 44minutes. Air 200 in. 70 out. Adjacent to the Blue Hole is the Inland Sea. A small inlet that is accessed by a long tunnel through the rock face. Boats provide trips from the small jetties and go out into the main sea though the tunnel and back again. We were to dive the tunnel and out into the open sea.
The first thing to notice was the bad visibility when we first descended and we joked that it was like being "back home" but once at depth (to avoid the many boats going overhead) we entered the tunnel and once again were left breathless by the sheer beauty of the blue from the far side of the tunnel where it met the open sea. The bottom of the tunnel was filled with a collection of boulders and pebbles at a depth of 25m and we finned out and along the rock walls before returning back. I spotted a fire worm and we also came across two divers where one was in some kind of distress. We stayed close by while they sorted themselves out (looked like a weight belt issue, they were not part of our party) and then continued on once they gave an OK. My computer also demanded a 4 minute stop at 6m, the first time I had seen it do this as it was normally 3 minutes.
Dive 6: 26m - 45minutes. Air 190 in. 60 out. We had planned to go back to the Blue Hole and dive another adjacent site called the Coral Cave, but the weather was turning and the Blue Hole itself had a 1m swell inside it so the dive leader decided that we would still enter at the Blue Hole but make our way in the opposite direction and exit at the safer and more sheltered Inland Sea. We also took the opportunity to explore a cave at the rear of the blue hole. This was a long dive requiring constant finning as we had quite a distance to cover. It was my first encounter with a tuna (wow! They are big!) and Amanda tried a 15 Ltr tank for the first time as she was consuming quite a lot of air on previous dives. In the afternoon we had to "sack" the dive because the weather left no real dive places on the whole island that were safe to dive.
Dive 7: 37m - 42minutes. Air 200 in. 60 out (15 Ltr). We had gone to the South of the island where the bad weather had subsided slightly and on this day this was the only place to dive so our early start meant we got to the site before most of the other dive centres. Amanda (wisely) decided to abort the dive as the entry was a stride entry (ish) while holding fins into what turned out to be a "moderately rough" sea. You then finned up in the water and to give you an idea of what it was like I consumed 20 Bar of air just finning up and surface swimming to the descent point. Getting out was spent waiting in a "queue" at 3m to exit via a steel ladder fixed to the rocks. Removing fins while being constantly thrown against sharp rocks was not something I wanted to repeat any time soon and I also aborted the afternoon dive as it had become even rougher by then. But first, the morning (and last) dive.
I was told we would be diving the newly sunk 56m ferry ship, the MV Karwela that lay at about 28m at its shallowest point. The dive guide (one we hadn't dived with before) promptly descended to 35m while I was still at 4m clearing my ears and when I finally "caught" him up, I experienced my first ever, real "nark". Bang on 35m, Nitrogen Narcosis, as explained to me and first sampled in the 50m "pot dive" back in the Wirral, hit me again. However, training is good. Experience and training are even better and I suspect had I not have experienced this in the "pot" I may have acted differently. What I did do was inhale to bring myself up to 34m and the 'nark vanished. I dropped again to 35m and it came back. Good. I was now in possession of the information I needed to continue. I descended to 37m and it stayed so I came back to 34m and stayed there or above for the remainder of the dive. We sat on the VW Beetle that someone has dropped onto the back of the ship, entered the wreck, went up and down stairs, into rooms, sat on the bridge and even sat on the masts outside. I encountered mask squeeze and did a number of mask clearances at depth. We didn't stay at depth for long and I passed some Norwegian divers we had met on the way up where we spent some time looking around a nearby reef which gave us a natural deco and a number of encounters with Eels. I had taken Amanda's 15 Ltr so had enough air and as mentioned the exit was rather brutal.
This was without doubt my most challenging dive of the holiday. I was relaxed during the whole event, pleased to have dived the wreck and, although not pleased to have got 'narked, I was pleased with my reaction to it. I had gone beyond (far beyond) my qualification depth but felt comfortable with it and had coped with the differences this had posed. It wasn't a habit I intended to form, depth like that in 3m visibility in the UK would be a completely different proposition and I have a long way to go with training and experience but I couldn't have been better prepared than I was.
All in all we have experienced some quite amazing dives and despite being people who don't tend to revisit the same place twice, there are many places we didn't get to dive so another visit to Malta and/or Gozo just might be on the cards.