Malta - Diving in Gozo by Dave Wilson, Mel Ford & Andy Martin
The club 'big trip' this year made a change from the norm and headed away from the usual cold water and often inhospitable weather haunts of Scotland and headed to warmer climes - the Maltese Island of Gozo.
Instead of woolly hats it was baseball caps and knotted hankies (we are British after all).
However, old habits die-hard and the party elected to take dry suits. The group met a month before the trip to have a diving medical, as the Maltese government requires this for the issue of a local diving permit. The medicals can be arranged out on the island but can take time to arrange. To everybody's surprise we were all given a clean bill of health and the local medical referee kindly donated part of his fee to club funds. Thanks to Dr X.
Day1 - Travel
D-day arrives and divers converge on Terry's house from the four corners of Northampton. We were picked up by a minibus and trailer (kindly organised by Dave Flower) and arrived at Gatwick for midday.
Luckily no one had to pay excess baggage at the checkin - much to the celebration of those who were over weight, and much to the chagrin of those who had meticulously weighed every item to get under the posted limit. Stress's hand luggage alone was approaching the weight of some of the main luggage. John checked in his luggage held together with string praying that it arrived in one piece or at least several pieces in the same place. Certain other people thought they could get away with the limit if they wore most of their dive kit on the flight. It doesn't work that way... However, at least nobody attempted to wear a drysuit for the flight!
Thirsty divers descended on the duty free shops to stock up on (not very) cheap booze. The budding shutterbugs bought film and compared photo speeds. The flight left on time. Arrived at the villa to find it securely locked. As Stress was not present and his buddy was a little slow off the mark they ended up sharing their first night together in the same bed. What a beautiful couple they made.
Day 2 - Shake down / Orientation
The group walked to the Dive Centre to pick up three hire jeeps and complete all the paper work. Then cylinders and weights were collected and the divers set out to find a suitable first dive site.
Some members of the party had not been in the water for over four months so a shake down dive was made to ensure all people were correctly weighted and their kit was fully functional.
Dive No.1 - TA-CENC
A shallow dive to along the wall of a shallow rocky inlet - two caves were located along its length. The first cave was by far the more interesting. The cave went in a long way and no one actually managed to find its end. The party was not equipped for such a dive and the fact that one or two of the larger members of the party got stuck in the narrow sections limited penetration.
Day 3 - Guided Dives
Dive No. 2 - Guided dive on REQQA POINT
This proved to be a very high entry. The entry was a giant stride entry or, as some of the divers thought, a leap of blind faith off a cliff face some 5m high. The only member of the party who had the sense not to throw themselves off the precipice was Junior, who scrambled down the rocks to an easier entry point. It seemed the more experienced divers had more of an issue with the height (possibly past experience), whereas the younger (more able bodied??) divers simple threw themselves off the cliff with abandon. The water was also full of Jellyfish which the guide said would not be there. He also said they would not sting. He lied on both counts. Only two members of the party did not get stung and Chris sported a second chin all week, caused by the swelling.
However, the dive was good with giant boulders and some impressive rock faces to swim along. At the end of the dive there was a pleasant chimney to swim up, from about 20m to an exit at about 12m.
Dive No. 3 - INLAND SEA to the BLUE HOLE
The afternoon's diving consisted of the Inland Sea leading around to the Blue Hole and cave. It was a good chance to practise finning technique.
The Guide, Dan in Mel's words "was wonderful". He took the time to show us a lot of dive sites, including the entry and exit points which meant that we could confidently dive unguided for the rest of the week.
Day 4 - At last - no more hiking to the dive site...
Some of the party were already suffering from carrying their equipment across the land and felt that they needed the comfort of falling off a boat fully kitted, as opposed to a mountain marathon before (and after) every dive.
Dive No. 4 - THE TUNNEL
The skipper gave a very good brief about the dive and how to do it. We did it the opposite way to the guidebook suggestion and after completing it we still think this was the easier way - as you could not miss the tunnel entrance. Note: Junior and Mel could not find it. To be fair though, once you were down on the reef it was harder to find as there were many depressions on the coral, only one of which was the actual entrance. The exit was at 24m, again hidden behind boulders.
The skipper asked one person to jump in and secure the boat - Stress was volunteered. Stress' attempt at duck diving down to a chain on the seabed about 4m down in his suit with no weights (he was going to take them but was told he did not need them) provided a good laugh for all spectators as he did his impression of a paddle steamer. Terry also jumped in and found the water in his words "bracing" but did not take his fins. Between the two of them they still managed to louse up the whole exercise.
Dive No. 5 - CAVES
After lunch (and a kip) we did a cave dive. Although everyone was buddied up there were many opportunities for group photos with the fish that had been attracted by the bread we took down with us. Stress turned into a sub-aquatic David Bailey and shot 72 frames of someone else's camera, and still did not get a shot of the elusive Pete Baker.
Day 5 - Hurrah - a sunken wreck! Now we're talking!
Dive No. 6 - XLENDI Wreck Dive.
The only bit of rusty metal on the trip. This is an upturned roll-on-roll-off ferry at 40-45m. It is a nice easy dive and a good introduction to entering wrecks with its easy openings. Being a RORO, there are large entrances at either end, leading to a cavernous hold that is long and clear of debris. It was felt on the whole that more time should have been spent on the outside swimming into and out of the wreck, exploring the twin propellers and variety of fish life. Generally a good (if slightly bland) dive, although some had a bit of a surface swim as they could not find the exit point.
On the way back, after Mel had demonstrated that she could do a much better three point turn that Lordy, Junior decided that he had enough of eating "foreign tackle" and stopped at MacDonald's for a happy meal, he returned a much happier chappy.
DIVE No. 7- NIGHT DIVE
Another first for a few people. We sent Lordy, Junior and Pete in during the afternoon to do reconnoitre for us so we all knew the evenings plan. It was a nice 9m dive with plenty of sea life to be seen including an octopus. Stress also taught us three valuable lessons,
1) Make sure your torch is done up tightly,
2) Make sure your back-up torch works,
3) Don't (even accidentally) throw the expensive torch belonging to the person who is mending your own torch off a balcony!
Also, everybody learnt that if you don't come back after the time stated in the plan you get a rollicking from Terry no matter how experienced you are!
Day 7 - yet more diving
As it was nearing the end of the holiday Terry decided to make two of the new sports divers do some work and plan a dive. Everyone was keen to go back to the Inland Sea and Coral gardens so we chose to do this again but as two dives rather that one.
Dive #9 - CORAL GARDEN
We put most of the divers in the water straight away, leaving two as shore cover who would get in as soon as the first two got out. There was another group of divers nearby who got out just before we went in. The rumour that went round the diving area like wildfire was that one of them had seen a Great White shark in the water. There was obviously some concern from the Maltese Navy, as a fast patrol boat with a gun was despatched to make it safe to dive again (!). An enjoyable dive, and everyone was hoping to catch site of a Great White, and hoping even more to be in a position to tell others about it later.
Dive #10 - INLAND SEA
The Inland Sea is a medium sized bay with a tunnel that leads out to sea. Previously we had all gone to the left at the end of the tunnel so some of the group chose to go to the right this time as there was supposed to be a cave there. Either they weren't finning hard enough or the map was misleading, as they never found it! It could be that the entrance is relatively deep, and being towards the end of the dive, it would have made for some deco penalties to try and reach it. Chris decided to make Stress's life more interesting by loosing not one but both fins at the same time at 30m, mid water with a drop off to 45m.
Day 7 - You guessed it - even more diving!
The last day's diving, since we had all proved ourselves Terry let the newly qualified Sports Divers buddy up together to plan the final dive. We chose to dive the site we had been blown out on, on the first day. Luckily it was much better. A great dive was had by all, some even managed to get out bang on the exit point.
As it was the last night everyone let their hair down (well those that had some.) The old blokes proved that still had it in them by all climbing to the top of the chrome pole in the bar. Stress found a potent alcoholic drink that could be set on fire before drinking. In doing so he also lost some eyebrows! As this was an Internet bar some of the guys took this opportunity to check their e-mails and surf for the latest developments in diving kit (well, it'd been a while apparently)!
Day 8 - Oh, damn - no more diving then?
This was the least pleasurable day, and nobody was happy about returning to Blightly and work. We returned on the ferry early and took a bus into Valletta so that we could do some sight seeing. Some of the older members of the party whiled away their time shopping, while the younger more cultural of the group decided to take a tour of the history of Malta.
Gozo provided a week's entertaining dive. On balance we wouldn't do it again any time soon, because we've done it. That's not to say the diving is not excellent - it is - but after a week of cherry picking the best dives you get the feeling you're already starting to repeat yourself. Possibly an improvement would be split the trip into some time on Malta, and the rest on Gozo.
South Northants Branch: www.snbsac.org