16 UBUC’ites headed off to Gozo (Malta) for 10 days of most excellent diving, food and fun. Here’s what we got up to…
Picture captions by Chris.
Day 1 (Chris) – Arrival
(Most) of us arrived at Gatwick having set off pretty early from our respective starts, so it was a pretty sleepy morning (aside from the couple of guys who hadn’t booked the same flights as us so were on different ones). All went smoothly – the flight, the transport across to Gozo (organised by the dive center, Scuba Kings), the ferry, meeting Richie at the other side and picking up the jeeps, and getting to the accommodation where the key was waiting in the door for us! We spent some time picking the rooms as there was a large variety, however I hope everyone had adequate sleeping arrangements.
The only thing that went slightly awry was spending too long at Lidl and not having enough time to cook, so pizzas were the meal of the evening! Of course, this would have been a little quicker had the oven actually been hot (we ended up cooking quite a few of them using the microwave-grill setting).
Lastly, I had to go pick up Will at silly-o-clock (almost midnight) as that’s the time he decided to show up…
Day 2 (Harry)
We arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed to the first dive site, Xwenji (pronounced “sha-way-ni”) Bay, for a check dive in our mostly broken knock-off Jeeps. The site was a picturesque scene with aquamarine waters and a microclimate that made us sweat like pigs. A quick scramble to get into the water later and we found ourselves in lovely 28-degree waters with a surprising amount of life. I saw the first octopus of the trip along with schools of wrasse and jacks.
After, we had lunch and went down the coast for a deeper dive at Reqqa (pronounced “reh-a”) Point. A lot of the new sports divers were itching to get some depth in and many went past 30 metres to be greeted with a phat thermocline. There was also a chimney in the cliffs which you could accent through from 20 to 6 metres. To top a lovely day off, Chris and Em made delicious Marrakech vegetable curry and we had some drinks in our pool.
Day 3 (Will)
Mgarr ix-Xini is a shore dive renowned for its easy access caves. The group arrived early on the morning of the third day. We parked on the beach with the beach café behind us. Unfortunately, the café didn’t serve cheesy chips.
After another classic Chris dive brief (which was anything but brief), the first round of divers were in the water. This left me and Chris to hold down the fort. After a few coffees I needed to relieve myself and the portaloos were all the way at the top of the hill (think Babbacombe), so I decided to relieve myself in the ocean.
While I was relieving myself, I caught a glimpse of a man in the back of our jeep amongst our bags. Wincing as I cut off mid flow, I charged over to see what the matter was. After talking him down from the jeep, semi-stolen bag in hand, he was fully revealed to me. A slug like man with dark piggy eyes, and the mottled, wrinkled skin of a someone who had seen beyond his fair share of sun.
His thick Maltese accent reverberated around the bay as we exchanged a game, set, and match of expletives. Quickly he realised who was in the wrong and skulked off back to his wife. She was almost as disappointed as me.
Chris and I had a great morning dive, with flounders and a stargazer.
Ras in-Hobz is a pinnacle dive bottoming out at about 30m. The entry was as choppy as a karate class. We entered by a questionably safe giant stride. Watching others smash their shins on the rocks made me very glad I bought travel insurance. After entering we descended the headland to 25m before crossing onto the pinnacle and helter-skeltering our way back up. We ended the dive with a slightly ropey blue water swim, before surfacing. The final surface swim was reminiscent of Chris’ dive brief (long…).
Day 4 (Em)
For another beautiful sunny day of diving, we headed for Blue Hole. We steadily made our way from the jeeps across the steep rocks, and waded towards the edge of the blue hole. With the water at knee depth, we sat on the edge of the hole, strapped on our fins, and watched our feet float above the deep dark drop below. Heading down into the hole, you pass an opening which reveals the cove outside. Once in the cove, at approximately 20 metres, you can see the remains of what used to be the Azure Window. We saw fireworms, parrot fish and plenty of cardinal fish with the occasional jack out hunting.
After that, we popped around the corner to Inland Sea and upon descending had to keep low to the seabed to avoid being run over by boats! Once we reached the other side of the tunnel, we circled back round and finished the dive surfacing again through the Blue Hole. A wonderful day of diving!
Day 5 (Ned)
Day 5 began with a few of our more adventurous divers taking a morning naked dive around Reqqa Bay. What the couples got up to only they can say of course!
For the rest of us, the day began in a not quite so relaxing manner…
After a long surface swim and attempting to locate double arch at Xwejni Bay, my buddy Vidar and I had begun turning back we bumped into Chris, Duncan, Will and Peiman, who showed us an easy way to navigate to the double arch: swim out until the highest point on Gozo (it has a Jesus statue on it) is in line with the first block of flats on the edge of the town, while swimming at 90 degrees out from the parking area, and then descend. Swim 20 meters forward and you’ll find yourself facing two huge arches of rock, one other the other.
Vidar and I only had enough no deco time for one loop through the arches, and then a relaxed swim back up, riding our no deco time.
The second dive of the day was a Borat accent great success! Rami and I buddied up for the Cathedral Cave dive. Diving down to enter, we surfaced inside the air pocket of a colossal cavern. I found a ledge I thought I could climb up, and so taking my gear off, I found a great make-shift diving platform.
When most of those of us on the trip were inside the cave, Ellie used her fancy camera to take photos of us all underwater with the “double ok” sign 👌.
Our next Cathedral cave venture included even more adventures…
Day 6 (Rami)
After a short drive across the island, we arrived at Xatt L-Ahmar. This site, already bustling with divers, was apparently one of Gozo’s finest; home to an array of wrecks, intentionally sunk for underwater tourism, I knew this dive would be memorable.
Shortly after reaching the desired buoy, Sam and I descended. Almost immediately, a massive shadow started appearing out of the blue. The Cominoland, a repurposed WWII minelayer, was unlike anything I’d seen before; a far cry from the fragmented, almost unrecognisable, wrecks I’d dived in the UK. At 34m we reached the stern of the boat, which was populated with tiny, purple nudibranchs and parrotfish. After a short tour, our no deco time ticking away, we swam back towards the reef, leaving the recently qualified DLs to continue exploring inside the Cominoland.
Back in the shallows, we saw something I’d long dreamed of… A large octopus, tucked away inside a crevice, was staring straight at me, its arms swirling around a starfish which it seemed to be eating. Our new molluscan friend, seemingly fascinated by us, unfurled one of its arms towards my hand, probing me with its innumerable suckers. Was it testing the texture of my flesh, hungry for a potential meal? Or was it a friendly gesture? I guess we’ll never know.
Later that day we arrived at Billinghurst cave. Just as awe inspiring as the wreck, this huge cavern was pitch black and spanned far further than the reach of my torch beam. Eyes glued to the walls, which were criss-crossed by countless crevices, we spotted shrimp and a moray eel, whose glare made it clear we were not welcome. On the way out, I saw something shifting under a rock near the mouth of the cave. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a grouper; its enormous gape ominous against the cave’s gothic backdrop.
Day 7 (Ellie)
We were up bright and early for an exciting day, boat day! The charter took us to the island of Comino for a couple of sites, first to a wreck – the P31, an old German minesweeper from the 60s. This was the only wreck of the trip accessible to the whole group, lying at 20 metres with great vis and plenty of penetration possible!
We stopped in a bay for a spot of lunch, snorkelling and jumping off the top deck of the boat. (This was a welcome reprieve after a rather choppy entry and exit from the P31). Next up were the Santa Maria Caves around the other size of Comino. But before navigating the caverns, gullies and beautiful swim throughs, the whole group stopped on the sandy bottom where a group of friendly saddled seabream were waiting to be fed cheesy biscuits! They devoured the cloud of biscuit from each of us – with the occasional nip on the fingers if you didn’t let go in time. The dive was full of fish life and the cave system was interesting to explore, even featuring a ‘zorro arch’.
After returning from the boat in the afternoon we got ourselves together and headed out for a wander at the tip of Xlendi bay, taking in the beautiful sunset and getting our group photos for the trip. We moved on to a delicious cocktail bar and then to a rooftop restaurant for some authentic (but very very late) Maltese dinner – everyone was almost napping in their pasta plates!
Day 8 (Bryony) – Double arch and Cathedral Cave Party
The last day of diving in Gozo had to finish on a high! Given the winds that were coming in, we decided to head back to a couple of our favourite dive sites from the week on the Nothern side of Gozo. In the morning, the group headed out to the double arches. For some, it was an opportunity to actually find the dive site after an unsuccessful attempt a few days before, but for others it was a chance to revisit, unfortunately no barracuda were sighted that time! For Ellie and Edu, it was their celebratory 100th dive, which they did naked. Not much interesting life was spotted but Ellie mentioned she saw a nudibranch!
While everyone else endured the longest surface swim ever out to descend onto the double arches, me and Will headed out to hunt for the tattiest souvenirs Marsalforn’s shops had to offer for the end of the week prize giving ceremony. The most coveted prize of the evening was a traditional Maltese folk singer doll with creepy blinking eyelids – awarded to the biggest pit rimmer of the week!
After leaving the double arch dive site and the carpark comparable to the devil’s armpit, we headed to Cathedral cave for our last dive. Duncan had the genius idea of bringing the inflatable unicorn ring into the cave with us for a cathedral cave party. Everyone then jumped on the idea and brought along a Cisk (Malta’s finest land only lager) and even a slice of Pizza for the final hurrah.
As a chaotic conga line, we followed Chris to Cathedral cave. Some of us spotted an Octopus and Patrick star himself hidden under the boulders that marked the entrance to the cave. Once inside, we surfaced. Edu de-kitted and found himself a perching spot in the cave. The unicorn was inflated, and we all chilled, enjoying a sea-chilled Cisk whilst singing renditions of smash mouth’s All Star – the acoustics were absolutely spot on.
After returning all the kit back to the dive shop that afternoon, we headed back to the villa to wolf down some curry, more Cisk, and the prize giving to round off what was an incredible week of diving!
Day 9 (Chris)
We took our time to wake up on the last day – there was no rush after the hectic week we’d had! After a good cleanup we decided to head into Victoria for lunch. We all found various eateries to eat at (some with better experiences than others…). By the time it was 2pm though, we were all very hot and longing to get back in the water. We headed back to Marsalforn where we threw ourselves in, much to everyone’s relief.
After the swim, Edu and I spotted some jetskis and so in the spirit of being on holiday, we both rented them and whizzed out of the harbour for 15 minutes of ‘WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’. Having never been on a jetski, OK, I get the appeal now. On the other hand, stay away from our divers!
After a lovely but late shakshouka from Harry and Georgia, we attempted to get any sleep possible as we had to get up at 4am, to drive down to the ferry, catch the ferry, take the bus over to MIA and finally get on the plane (all of us very sad that the holiday was over) and back!
Some other pics…