Written by Jim Tilston & Dave Simpson
Sep 23, 2002 at 12:00 AM
On 5 September 2002, after a year of planning and organising, fifteen of Pentland’s finest and one of Peebleshire’s (he must have slipped in somehow!) flew out of Glasgow Airport – destination Malta – for some sun and hopefully some good diving…………. oh and a little matter of a wedding! But more of that later.
After arrival and getting settled, the first morning was taken up with administration at the Maltaqua Dive School in St Paul’s Bay on the northwest of the island. It has to be said they were excellent – well organised, efficient and very helpful.
That afternoon five of the group elected to have the first dive of the holiday. We were taken by minibus to Marfa Point on the extreme northwest of the island to dive the sunken tugboat ‘Rozi’. The 40 metre long tug was purposely sunk for divers in 1991 and sits at a maximum depth of 36m. After kitting up and briefing from our guide, Jacqueline, it was into the water with a vengeance. As the land temperature was somewhere in the region of 30 degrees it was most welcome to hit the water. 3mm shorties were the order of the day, and no, we were never cold on any of the dives. The average water temperature at this time of year is 24/26 degrees.
After a descent to a midwater point of 15m on a bearing of 280 degrees, the ‘Rozi’ loomed out of the blue water ahead. Sitting upright on the seabed and in 15m+ viz. she is an impressive wreck to explore. The original lorry tyre fenders on the front remain intact, as do the heads and other bits and pieces. Marine life on the wreck included Seabream, Scorpionfish, Rainbow and Ocellated Wrasse and the ever present Bearded Fireworms. After circling the wreck a couple of times we started our ascent via the nearby reef. Here at 18 metres, sitting in a little cavity in the rock face is a statue of the Madonna – no, not the singer, the religious one. Thereafter, it was a slow return to the surface with the mandatory safety stop in the 5 metre range for a couple of minutes. All in all an excellent start to the holiday.
Next day was an early start as we all travelled across to the south of the island to dive at Wied iz Zurrieq near to the tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto. Two of the group who were not diving got themselves ready and acted as snorkel cover – thank you ladies – whilst the rest were split into groups of four or five with one Maltaqua ‘instructor’ per group. There was no rush for any of us, as we had to wait on Hugh, who at the last minute had decided in St Paul’s Bay to go for chocolate, only to get left behind. It wasn’t too bad as he did manage to thumb a lift from another dive group heading for the same destination.
Our group were to dive the wreck of the Um el Faroud, a massive tanker that once again had been purposely sunk upright to create a ‘natural’ reef for divers. Again a thorough briefing was provided and we entered to water by means of a jump entry, much to the annoyance of those fishing nearby. After following the reef out for some five minutes with the water getting progressively deeper, a giant shadow was cast, as the hull of the tanker came into view. It has to be said it’s nice to see the wrecks in this part of the world, as opposed to the Scottish version of bumping into them!
Graham, our guide, swam to the deepest point of the wreck at the propeller (33.5m) and took us through between it and the rudder. It was unbelievably massive, a real sight to behold. We moved from there up the port side and entered the ship through a hole cut specially to allow divers access. Whilst it was slightly gloomy inside a torch was not necessary although it did allow you to pick out some of the finer details. After exiting just below the bridge, it was a chance to look back and gaze head on at this magnificent wreck. The ‘No Smoking’ sign on the bridge seemed a bit ironic somehow. The enormity of everything on the wreck made quite an impression and will remain with us for very long time to come. Swimming back along the starboard side gave us the opportunity to admire the sea life. Again, a myriad of Mediterranean fish were swarming the wreck as we swam off to begin our ascent.
After a leisurely lunch with the other tourists it was off to the northeast of the island to Zonqor Point where we were to dive two sunken tugboats, the St Michael and the No. 10. This time, after the pre dive briefing it was agreed the whole group would dive both wrecks together, although slightly staggering the times of entry. This was an easy shore dive and someone had even been kind enough to lay ropes on the seabed attached to the tugs for dive groups to follow. Both tugs were sitting upright about 70 metres apart in 22m of water. As we approached the first tug the stern immediately became clear. Given the depth, we had plenty of time to nose about. The sea life was tremendous. Bill even managed to find a small octopus that had made its’ home in a small pipe. Try as we might it wasn’t for coming out to play. Once again the heads were intact but for some strange reason the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’ was lying on the seabed about 10 metres from the starboard side. Come to think on it, we never did get an explanation for that one!
The second tug was much smaller and after some time circling and poking and prodding it was time once again to leave for a very slow return to the surface via a shallow reef.
And so Day 2 was over. With everyone enjoying a full days diving, it was back to the apartments on the outskirts of St. Paul’s Bay.
On the Sunday there was no diving so everyone rushed off and did those touristy things that people do when on holiday. Most of the group it seems found their way to the capital of Malta – Valletta, where they were celebrating Victoria Day.
On the Monday, it was back to diving again and this time starting with the short ferry trip to the neighbouring island of Gozo. Most of us had heard of the Azure Window (or Blue Hole), and we were now about to experience it. This was to be followed in the afternoon by a dive in the Inland Sea. Both dives were simply breathtaking. The sheer magnificence of both sites is hard to put into words. Certainly that day in addition to the usual feast of marine life on offer in this part of the world, we were also privileged to see Grouper, some Amberjacks, Tuna, Sea Cucumber and Nudibranchs. On the ascent from the Blue Hole, the reef was like an underwater Scottish hillside, unbelievably green and lush.
Monday evening was an opportunity for a night dive. It was back to the ferry port yet again but this time to dive the reef at Marfa Point. We split into two groups and staggered our entry. Access was an easy walk in from the harbour wall. We dropped down the face of the reef to 18 metres to view the statue of the Madonna by night. What an experience! The fish are almost invisible until you shine a torch on them and then they take on all the colours of the rainbow.
Returning up the face of the reef we spent most of the dive at 8 to 12 metres. Octopuses were out to feed and easy to find. The fish were small but colourful and the noise from the various crustaceans sounded like an orchestra tuning up.Lots to see and hear – a most pleasant experience.
The Tuesday was the last day of diving for some of the group and whilst seven elected to dive ‘the bomber’ others made the return trip to dive the tugboat ‘Rozi’ once again.
The Bomber is in fact a Blenheim bomber sitting on the seabed at 42 metres and only can only be dived by boat. After an early start and a short boat trip we dropped down the shot line. The visibility was so good that the whole body of the aircraft was seen from 20 metres above it. The wings and engines are intact, the pilot’s seat is in situ and the fuselage is lying a few metres from the main section. There is very little fish life on the wreck but this is more than compensated for by the details of the engines and undercarriage. After a short 11 minutes on the seabed it was back to the shot line for a slow ascent and the mandatory stops en route.A superb dive and well worth the early start!
And so I take you back to that little matter of the wedding referred to earlier. Never one to be outdone, Mo had decided it was time to get married. As he said, ‘I’ve been asking Lisa for months to get married’ (or should that be the other way about?) and so it was finally arranged to take place on the Tuesday evening in Valletta, followed by a reception in the ancient capital of Malta, Medina. Well what a first class night it turned out to be. After the ceremony, with groom and best man in full highland gear, the group, by now, joined by Mike and Agnes (owners of Maltaqua), retired to the Bacchus restaurant in Medina. The setting was perfect, as was the meal that was laid on. There was only one minor matter and that was when Mo might bare his bum, as he is prone to do when wearing the kilt. Well sure enough it happened – an inquisitive Maltese waitress decided to ask Mo what a Scotsman wears under his kilt……………well he didn’t have to be asked twice and you can guess what happened next!
On the Wednesday morning, the last available time for diving, it was decided the group would dive the wreck of the HMS Maori located in Valletta Harbour.
The ship was launched in 1937 and served in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic and North Sea. She was sunk by German bombers in 1942 at the entrance to Dockyard Creek by a direct hit to the engine-room. The position of the wreck was considered a hazard to shipping so was raised and salvaged and then re-sunk in the present location below Fort Elmo on the other side of the harbour inlet. Unfortunately the ship broke up and only half of it remains. It is possible to enter the wreck and swim through the lower decks. There are still unexploded shells sticking out of the wreckage that are visible on the dive. This may not be the most spectacular dive or the deepest at 17 metres, but is still worth a visit and if you have never swum inside a wreck this one has a swim area about 4 metres wide and 1.5 metres high with light coming in from both ends.
And so the morning of the final day came and we prepared to leave. All agreed it had been a great week. The variety of things happening over the previous seven days meant that no one was idle. It was a week those who were there will not forget in hurry. Sun, sea, sand, sightseeing (can’t think of an appropriate ‘s’ for wedding), oh, and of course…………………scuba diving!
The group was – John & Sue Le Page, Jim & Carole Tilston, Mo &Lisa (now Mrs Mo), Hugh Fraser & Marion Brown, Dave Simpson, Bill Bowman, Alison Smith, Louise Thomson, Karen McPherson, Alan Lissimore, Kent Pickles and Keith Morris. Maltaqua can be contacted at Mosta Road, St Paul’s Bay, Island of Malta.www.maltaqua.com