Foreword – Chris
12 UBUC’ers headed to Gozo, Malta for 10 days of fun in the sun. With no winds pretty much all week, 20m+ vis, and a great bunch of people, it was an awesome trip!
For anyone planning to go in the future:
We stayed at Dar Tan Sansun, which is located at Triq Sansun, Xewkija. The farmhouse could sleep 16 people, although there were only 12 of us. Note they run it as a sort of ‘hostel’ so there might be other people there if you don’t book the whole place out. There was a BBQ, pool, a stargazing place on the roof, and nice indoor and outdoor seating area.s Although it was pretty good, there did seem to be a bit too many rules for me. Possibly next time get somewhere by the sea, if possible!
We rented gear from Scuba Kings, Gozo (they offered quite a good deal on gear rental). Note that 15L (or bigger) are 1 euro extra per day. We dived indepentley, which means that there has to be at least one person who has dived in Gozo before, everyone must be at least Sports Diver and everyone should have depth progressed to 30m (which I found out last minute, cue a rushed Thursday evening trip down to Vobster).
We flew out of London Southend. Probably not the best idea but the flights were cheap and at the right times that I wanted (early outbound so there’s plenty of time to get over to Gozo and sort out stuff, and late on the return so that there’s time to get back to the airport on Malta from Gozo). Possibly look at Birmingham next time, it’s much closer and better transport links (we all had to drive or share lifts over to Gozo).
Day 0 – (‘Surface Swim’) Tim
Following an early wake up call for most, and some baggage faff for some (edit by Chris – Tim broke the baggage scanner by getting his bag wedged in the machine), we all made our flight and headed over to Gozo for our 10 day trip. After landing, we made our way to the ferry, and had a beer on the trip over to Gozo. We were met by Richie from Scuba Kings dive center, and he showed us to our (“deathtrap”) Maruti Jeeps and we headed up to the car rental place where we spent seemingly hours waiting to get insurance paperwork signed. The cars were also all rammed with luggage, so some people unfortunately had to hang out of the cars on the drive up…
After dropping off our luggage, we went to the dive center to fill out some more paperwork. There we also stopped off by a kiosk where we had some lunch (and found that they do some really nice pastizzi, vital information for future days). With a few more hours to burn, we decided to head down to the beach and relax for a bit. We ended up at Mgarr Ix-Xini, a local beach which was also a dive site we would do later in the week. We all went for a swim, and the more adventurous of us went cliff-jumping. At this point, we split up to buy groceries, see the house, and get Caroline (who we nearly forgot about, oops). After all of this, we finally had chance to relax in time for the next day’s diving.
Day 1 – (‘Slip ‘n Slide’) Imogen
We started our first day with a lie in and some mysterious Maltese pastries for breakfast. Following this, we drove down to the dive shop (where a sign assured us that “Diving is fun!”) and introduced ourselves to the owner. After taking care of the paperwork and a quick safety briefing, we were able to collect cylinders, load them into our Marutis and head to our first dive site: Xwenjni Bay.
Here we had a fairly uneventful check dive. Some buddy pairs went deeper, whilst others browsed the sea grass within the bay at around 12 metres.
The second dive of the day took place slightly further to the west of Xwenjni, at Reqqa Point. We entered the water via a ladder, and then swam along a wall where there were lots of Jacks hunting amongst shoals of fish. The dive was characterised by beautiful topography, great visibility and some intense thermoclines as we got down to 25-30 metres!
After returning our cylinders, we split up and some people went to LIDL to do the first food shop… several hours were spent trying to find everything. When we got home we were ready to make friends with the Maltese lager, ‘Cisk’, for the first time
Day 2 – Chris (‘Not Dad’)
The second day of diving in Gozo we headed to Xlendi Bay and Ras Il-Hobz. Xlendi Bay is a shallow tunnel through the headland followed by a pootle around. Most people dived through the tunnel and then back through, although Rocco and Tim decided they could go through the tunnel, around, through the tunnel again and then back through the tunnel once more. Good job on air, guys!
The second dive site we went to was Ras Il-Hobz, which is a pinnacle at the end of the Sewage Facilities. You have to ensure there’s no floaters before jumping in…
Although it might not be everyone’s favourite dive, I really enjoyed the site. There’s lots of life always around due to the small current that flows around the pinnacle, and lots of small fish being preyed upon by shoals of bigger fish (e.g. jacks and groupers). No barracuda this time, sadly!
Day 3 – (‘DJ’) Becky
The third day of diving. We arrived at the Blue Hole early to get to the best parking spaces for minimising the walk to the entry point. The site was where the Azure window used to be but sadly it fell down around a year ago. Probably more interesting to many, it is also where they filmed a certain wedding very early on in Game of Thrones.
Back to the diving. This was a site we visited a few times on the trip. It wasn’t the easiest to walk to in kit, and I’m sure there were a few slips on the way down… Imogen. Descending down was amazing. Sadly I didn’t experience going back up it on this dive, as Ben and I somehow missed the large, evident entry back into it. Although there was no longer the Window remaining, us divers were able to go down to look at the impressive rubble that was left.
Next stop was Cathedral Cave. Not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous swimming into darkness but surfacing in the cave was amazing. There’s a small crack between the rocks that slightly lit up the cave. It had a blue glow to it and all you could head was the sound of water.
We decided we could deal with 3 dives in one day, hoping the third could be a night dive. But it was still pretty early when we arrived at the site. It was where we had gone for a swim the first day. The first wave went, leaving me, Chris and Ben to dive later. Which was perfect because it meant that the sun was setting as we were down. Thankfully, we all spotted the octopus so no one missed out. I have never finished a dive in the dark before. It’s something different for sure, but also difficult to de kit in. Another bonus was that we didn’t have to cook. Got home and dinner was almost done. Sausages and mash!
Another great day of diving.
Day 4 – (‘Brownie’) Ben
Day 4 began with another early start for our second 3 dive day. Our first dive was at Dwerja (blue hole and coral garden) except this time we began in the inland sea, a lagoon separated from the sea by a headland cave. After a few slips and trips getting into the water (mostly from Imogen) we dived through the headland cave out to sea. Following the blue glow, we went through the tunnel with only the occasional boat passing overhead. At the mouth of the cave the depth dropped to 45m creating a great experience as the seafloor vanished from under you. Most divers then followed the wall to the left which took us back towards the remains of the Azure Window and the entrance to the Blue Hole. Hunting jacks and large groupers could be seen along the route as well. Most divers then chose to surface either through the Blue Hole or to take the crack in the rock into the coral gardens. This was a favourite of many dives on the trip.
Our second dive of the day was definitely our most polarising. Unlike the majority of dives we did the double arches were far from the entrance point on the coast, and with many of us not trusting ourselves to navigate to it correctly we decided to form a shoal. A relatively long surface swim took us almost above the arches. We then descended and headed through the twin arches in the rock that give the site its name before splitting off. A strong current meant a bit of effort was required to navigate the site. The site was one of the most lively that we visited with many big fish. Chris and I were definitely the luckiest in terms of wildlife, also seeing a huge free swimming mediterranean moray (Muraena helena), barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena) and cuttlefish (many other drivers complained about not being able to see much). Personally this was my favourite dive we did on the trip but most people wouldn’t agree.
The final dive of the day saw us go back to Reqqa for an evening dive. While most of us followed a similar plan as our previous dive there, Chris and Jack decided to have an exploratory dive in Billingshurst Cave. Billingshurst is the largest diveable cave in Gozo stretching back 60 metres. Our two most qualified divers went in in order to see if it was okay for the rest of us to dive the next day. The pitch black cave and the unknowns of the site led to Chris describing it as “the scaredest I’ve been in a very long time,” leaving most of us excited to explore the cave the next day.
Day 5 – Ollie (‘Not Faff King!’)
For our first dive we visited the picturesque Ta’Cenc. A short walk down some steep steps past a restaurant led us to a secluded and typically Mediterranean cove.
The dive was a pretty route around the headland to a small cave, notable for the fact that you could enter from the bottom, pootle around inside and then exit through another shallow point. My favourite bit of the dive though was exploring the cove more on our return, trying to use up our remaining air in the 2m depth (practically snorkelling!). The sun was shining directly overhead and the colours were lovely – there were some pretty fun rock formations and little swim-throughs to explore as well.
Our second dive was Billingshurst Cave. After Chris and Jack had scouted it out the day before, the rest of us were excited (and nervous!) to go in ourselves. The cave, though not particularly deep, takes you right into the bedrock below salt pans.
Rocky steps down the cliffs led to a ladder that was our entry point, but the sea was churning and getting worse even as we were getting kitted up. Once we had struggled in we descended as quickly as we could to get away from the choppy surface, and were greeted by dozens of jellyfish. The cave entrance was looming right next to us and so, torches on and dodging jellyfish as best as we could, we entered the abyss.
The cave was so large and dark that in the middle of it there was nothing for the light from our torches to reflect off, creating an eerie sense of just hanging in nothingness – at that point our torches were only really useful for seeing each other and any nearby jellyfish (there were still lots inside the cave). Looking a bit like a shot from a sci-fi film, we could just see the shining torches of three of the others in front of us on their way out surrounded by total darkness. Passing them we moved nearer to the walls of the cave, which gave us a bit more of a reference point. Once we reached the far end and turned back you could only see a faint blue glow from the entrance which we headed towards.
Back in relative normality outside the cave, we were able to relax a bit more and continued our dive round the wall of the headland to a more sheltered exit point. On the surface I think it’s safe to say we were all pretty in awe of the experience, it’s certainly not a dive I’ll be forgetting any time soon! As it was Caroline’s last day we took the opportunity to take a group photo – including our three 4x4s which we had developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with…
Day 6 – Chris (‘Standing in for Greg / Rocco’)
With the winds having sadly picked up for the first time in the week, I decided it would be best to stick to sites on the south coast, or very sheltered sites. By this time we had dived all of the sites on the south, so we decided to go dived Xlendi Bay and Tunnel. It was really quiet as most of the dive centers were at Mgarr ix-Xini doing PADI Instructor Exams. As before we headed out through the tunnel, but this time Becky and I headed back round the outside of the headland. Notable life on this dive included gunard, small barracuda, moray eels and a pipefish, which was a really impressive spot by Becky as it just looked like a piece of seagrass!
The second dive was at Catheral Cave, but this time we approached the cave from Ghasri Valley rather than the closer approach we did before, which makes it a completey different dive. Unfortunately due to the winds, all of the jellyfish in the world had been blown into Ghasri Valley. Or at least, it seemed that way. There were piles and piles of jellyfish everywhere, and we spent quite a lot of the dive dodging them, especially in the shallow parts of the dive. It was quite cool though to hear the waves crashing into Cathedral Cave when you surface inside it.
Lastly we decided to head back south again and dive Ras Il-Hobz. A few people decided they didn’t want to dive for a third dive (or were slightly ill) and so stayed back at the accommodation. This time we tried to start deeper and spend more time circling the bottom before slowly ascending up the pinnacle. I lead everyone out as a big group so that we all got to the pinnacle. Nothing fantastic to report on this dive, though as usual it was very scenic and relaxing, and there was plenty of life including jacks around.
Day 7 – Jack (‘Dad’)
So day 7 so was a day of two very different types of diving, in the morning the gang cut their teeth on the MV Karwela and in the afternoon, we all went for a third saunter around the Blue Hole area. One of the clutches on the red Maruti also went on the way to the first site…
Morning – the Karwela was a ferry launched as M/S Frisia II in 1957, then in 1977 she was re-named the MV Nordpaloma and transferred to Malta in 1986. She then sailed for Comino Marina LTD until around 2002 under her present name MV Karwela. The MV Karwela ferry measures 50m by 8.5m and was designed to carry up to 863 passengers, though I would have been a squeeze.
She lies in moderately deep water, with the deepest part in 40m, rising to 36m. The top of the wreck/reef is from 32-35m.
Some of the gang were not yet progressed to 35m under their Sports Diver qualification so this was an ideal opportunity to get that whilst diving with a more experienced diver. Jocelyn, Ollie, Tim and Simon managed to achieve this so well done to them, some even with minor penetration on the upper decks. Jack and Chris, with deeper qualification were able to get an albeit fleeting tour (for deco avoidance) to the lower decks for a few minutes before coming out of the wreck finding another pair and back up the small reef to prolong the dive.
Afternoon – After a longer surface interval due to the deeper diving the gang return to the Blue Hole area to descend once again into the hole. Most of this was like the previous days with an abundance of life, hunting jacks, scorpion fish etc, however it was also Imogen’s 100th dive! So of course, she had to do the obligatory naked dive and went in with Becky as her buddy.
Chris, Simon and Ben explored Croc Rock, which is a fun entry point involving basically a scramble down some very dodgy looking rocks. The dive site was quiet as no one else was there, and the wall was nice with lots of life but nothing they hadn’t seen before. There is a cave between the two mushroom rocks that they explored, but they shouuld have saved their air to explore Coral Cave, which is a much bigger cave located beneath the Coral Garden. Jack and Jocelyn explored Coral Cave, where they saw a diver wearing a skin coloured wetsuit… Unfortunately Imogen and Becky didn’t recognise them, so cue a very embarrasing moment with both buddy pairs hiding from each other on each side of the cave.
Day 8 – (‘Aftersun’) Simon
Our last day diving in sunny Gozo :’( saw us on two boat dives, the first of which we would explore the 52m long, 7m wide P31 wreck, an East-German Kondor I class patrol boat built in 1969 for mine sweeping duties later bought and sunk by the Malta Tourism Authority. Stunningly preserved at 19m, our divers wasted no time in getting to grips with some good ol’ wreck penetration. We weren’t the only ones who seemed to appreciate the history as plenty of aquatic life had made the wreck its home including a very friendly Moray eel.
For the final dive of the trip we explored the Santa Maria cave system, off the island of Comino. Featuring 30m of interconnected tunnels and caverns at a shallow 7m through the Isle’s headland. Our arrival off the anchor line was immediately greeted by a large shoal of fearless Bream acclimatised to the presence of divers due to regular feeding. After having biscuits with the fish and slapping a few high fives fin to hand, In the spirit of our last dive we “PADI shoaled it” through the system with a few tunnels proving quite the squeeze. With every nook and cranny thoroughly gazed upon and an intimate encounter with a bearded fireworm for Rocco Gozo’s diving was done. The last evening at the Villa was passed away with an enjoyable sunset lit sesh of Marco polo, CAH, BBQ, intensive sardine action and the (considerable) drinking of all remaining booze.
Day 9 – Jocelyn (‘Mum’)
Tuesday started slowly with a few sore heads after a lovely final evening in our house. We had been given strict marching instructions by the landlady for how we needed to leave the house when we checked out. With a generous hours extension to our check out time (11:00) the pressure was on to find and pack all our gear! I think most of us were wondering how it all fit on the way out?! With the sweeping done and laundry piled up, the Maruti Gypsys were loaded up for the final time.