Knutsford SAC Visit Palau, Sardinia by Robert Ward
Setting off from Manchester, the eight of us from Knutsford Sub-Aqua Club were looking forward to a week in the sun and diving in the Marine Park of La Maddalena and Lavezzi, Sardinia. We had dived in Croatia the previous two years and had heard that Sardinia was certainly worth visiting.
Booking the trip ourselves with a budget flight and self catering accommodation recommended by Nautilus Dive Centre, we picked up a couple of cars from Olbia after the short flight and drove North to Palau. Walkie talkies had been purchased to save on mobile phone bills so, with the Sat Nav up front, it was just a case of following the instructions from the lead car. Not just endless fun, the walkie-talkies were a good investment for a group of friends who regularly holiday together and whose navigation is sometimes a bit doubtful!
Palau is a small town, uncommercialised and full of character with small streets and a wide variety of restaurants and bars. We had contacted Nautilus Dive Centre in Palau when booking the trip and they had sorted out the accommodation for us and we were not disappointed. Clean, bright and welcoming, our host, Frederico, gave us a tour of the apartments, in sign language as his English is not too good and our Italian even worse and where, from the first floor, we had a view of the sea where we would be diving in the morning. Nautilus Dive Centre had left some mesh bags for our kit to be stowed away in with a message saying they would collect them in the morning. If this was to be a taste of things to come then it was going to be a great week.
Waking up to a hot sunny morning, Nautilus arrived to take our kit to the boat for us, and after Italian coffee and croissants, which became a regular feature of our mornings, we headed down to the jetty. There we met our Boat Captain, Vinny and Stephanie from Nautilus along with our Dive Guides, Rob, Leo and Patrick – he wasn’t French – just from Paris! Even though we thought the weather was perfect, Vinny said that it was not as good as it should be – it was more like their November.
Our kit had already been set up and the six of us who were divers were ready to go along with a couple of other divers on the boat. Things didn’t start well – we are sports divers, dive leaders and advanced divers so when one of us put their semi dry on back to front and then father and daughter got theirs muddled up and ended up wearing each others – perhaps Vinny thought he had a strange bunch here. Quick change and our first dive to see what Sardinia waters are like. No disappointment here either – visibility about 25metres, warm water – about 22 degrees, plenty of life around and stunning scenery. Surface intervals included fruit tea and pastries whilst our dive guides changed our tanks. This was going to be luxury!
The week’s diving was some of the best in the Med - walls, drop offs, wrecks, swim throughs, passages, sandy bottoms, rocky cliffs – all with an abundance of marine life. A huge variety of nudibranchs in rainbow colours became an obsession for a couple of us plus rays, eels and all the usual suspects. At Grouper City, the groupers almost pose for the photographs. They used to be fed by divers, but this has, quite rightly, been banned. Consequently, however, they are curious of visitors to their underwater home and provide the opportunity to observe these huge fish that are usually shy at close quarters. We spent most of the dive just sitting on the bottom with them. The Angelika wreck was a cargo ship sunk in 1982 and has plenty of entry and exits for wreck explorers and ideal for beginners who want to experience this. The opportunities for stunning photographic shots with sunlight pouring in are amazing. Spargiotello Gorge had spectacular walls with sea fans, gorgonians and scorpion fishes.
Washington Rock has the granite walls so typical of this part of Sardinia with shoals of barracuda hovering. Be prepared for the odd thermocline though! Most of us were wearing 5mm or 7mm semi dry suits which were perfect for these conditions.
We did two dives every morning returning to Palau around lunchtime which was great for our two non diving partners as it gave us the afternoon each day to see part of the Island. The granite scenery is stunning, the food fabulous and the Sardinian people warm and welcoming. On the last full day with no diving, we caught the ferry across to La Maddalena – an unspoilt island and a drive around the coastal road and across to Caprera rounded off the week. We fitted in a cultural visit to the home of Garibaldi - well worth a visit.
It was a fabulous week and Nautilus are one of the best dive operations we have encountered. We would have no hesitation in recommending them to divers of all abilities. Between us, we have been to the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, the Caribbean and the Med so that is praise indeed. The kit was stowed correctly and the boat had a good ladder with always a helping hand for weight belts and fins. Vinny and Stephanie are efficient, knowledgeable and know how to look after a group of divers on holiday – no lugging of kit, no changing tanks – it is all done for you. Pure luxury! The most we did was to take our cameras and torches off the boat for charging overnight. After the diving was over, Vinny delivered our kit back to our apartments, freshly rinsed and ready to dry for packing.
This is diving made easy and if this can be done abroad then why are some of our UK operators not doing it? This is the question we kept asking ourselves. The diving was not expensive and yet we had a Boat Captain and three guides with no more than ten divers on the boat at any time and we were looked after from start to finish. As the saying goes – we’ll be back!