Day One : Gozo 2008

17 09 2008

Funny what you forget..

I’ve been to Malta and Gozo now about 6 times in my life, mostly to go diving. I’m still surprised about the things I remember and even more surprised about the things I forget..

Like remembering how to get to certain places (aka man-nav) and what restaurants and bars are good.. Like forgetting the smells, the lilting maltese accents when speaking English, the curious use of horses in 200x, their unfaltering generosity and welcoming nature.. but worst of all I forgot that I really don’t like the process of getting to the dive sites..

Don’t misunderstand me.. The diving is great as always, beautiful blues, thermoclines, large rock structures that fell at some time in millennia past, which, if on land, we would call mountains; now I fly over them like a big (slow) bird..

Compared to liveaboard diving, however, it’s crap.

For those of you who’ve never done it.. liveaboard diving is the rolls-royce of diving and I guess I’ve got used to it.. Simply put, on a liveaboard everything is done for you. You kit up once, and then it stays in it’s own little slot, you simply have to put on your suit, slide into your rig and flop over the side.. Coming out it’s even better.. Fins off, hand em to the crew, climb the ladder and sink into your seat where the crew unbuckle your gear for you and hand you an orange juice.. job done.

Not in Malta !

Well actually, I’m in Gozo and whilst Malta is bad, Gozo is worse.. The roads have improved over time (specially since Lizzie Windsor came to visit). Gozitan roads and Japanese pickups are perrennial enemies.. like 8 year old boys left alone to play, eventually they end up arguing. Actually I think the Toyotas and Mitsubishi’s do pretty well considering the battering they get from the roads and the stuff they’re asked to carry. We’ve got 4 full sets of kit including lead and cameras along with 4 people and still our rental truck is game for a laugh.. Even since all it’s steering oil leaked out (definitely steering, we tasted it) it has been soldiering on. As long as it lasts the week I’ll be happy.

I digress..

Getting to a dive site can be an arduous process. We are diving under our own volition, so we get to pick and choose the dive sites ourselves and we don’t have to contend with mixed ability dive groups. Obviously everyone has to learn but it is a little annoying when a dive guide insists you turn back with 150 bar in your tank just because another of your party has hit 70 bar.

So, Day One in Gozo and I’ve not been for a couple of years – the question is, what dive site to do first.. simple I say lets do Inland Sea to Blue Hole. Starts and ends with awe inspiring underwater rock structures.

Inland sea was formed when a vertical fault line in the limestone sea wall finally gave way and slipped into the sea forming a gentle bay surrounded by rock except for a vertical crack that allows divers and boats to access the outside deep blue ocean.

Entering the water is a simple process, assuming you don’t slip on the slimy boat slip-way.. A small surface swim in the 2 metre bay over to the fissure (staying on the left to avoid the tourist sight-seers put-putting past in the crammed local boats) and you descend into some pretty uninspiring brown rock. If you persist though and swim over a few large boulders, eventually the sea floor falls away and things start to darken off. As it gets dark enough for you to need a torch you can see a blue tulip in the distance. Dropping down to about 16m the tulip gets larger and eventually becomes an overwhelming large blue void that fills your vision.

Max depth in this channel is 28m on the large pebbles. Not a huge amount of fish life here just the usual suspects, although large groupers have been seen on the sea-side of the fissure.

If you’re into silhouette photography then this dive will provide you with great opportunities to quench your thirst. If you have divers behind you (in summer it’s likely) take the time to turn around and enjoy the difference in shades between inside and outside and the boats above you zooming through the channel.

All too soon, the fissure opens out to open sea and you choose between right and left.. Right takes you to a cave (approx. 35 min from dive base) but lets leave that to another day.

Left is the most common way you will go. Divers starting off will likely go left and turn back to the inland sea at 100bar, if, however, your air consumption is up to it, you can swim all the way round to the blue hole. We chose to do this.

Having turned left from the fissure, on your right the reef drops away to 50m and then deeper (I assume). On your left is a wall rising all the way to the surface, covered in a mainly red and green soft leafy coral which carpets the entire maltese region. In amongst these soft folds you will find lobster, fireworm, scorpion fish and the usual selection of reef fish.

Continuing with the reef on your left shoulder the reef curves in to the left and you now have the choice to swim directly over to jump this gap or follow the wall in and out. I would recommend jumping the gap unless your air is VERY good. This time I was there, the reef growth appeared to be curtailed for some reason and what was there looked generally unhealthy – I couldn’t work out why.

Having jumped the gap, the wall resumes on your left and the sea bed rushes up to meet you, giving you a hard base of approx 26m. At this point you will reach another curve to the left in the reef wall, this disappears off into the blue and is the bottom of the Azure Window (a tourist attraction for the non-divers) above the surface. This means you have another choice, follow the reef wall and swim through the Azure Window or swim straight on to meet up with the reef and then follow it round to the left (this is the other leg of the Azure Window), you will end up in the same place.

Following the reef will eventually bring you to the famous Blue Hole. This is a feature created by the sea over millions of years. Approaching from the surface it looks like a round plunge pool with walls all the way down to it’s 18m base, however if you dive in, you will see an archway which exits to the outer sea. It this arch that you will approach on your left hand-side having either swum through the Azure Window or rounded the other leg.

Either way, now is a good time to check your air. If you have enough you can swim on past the arch and look for an entry to the chimney at 16m which exits into the Coral Garden at 5-6m. Alternatively you can enter the blue hole and start your ascent… or, like me, you can enter the blue hole and then immediately continue into the little cave at the bottom. Swim straight to the back, and turn around to look at all the divers doing safety stops, silhouetted against the blue of the sea..

Sadly, you will eventually have to ascend, there are plenty of things to see in the walls of the blue hole, despite the traffic it sees. In summer there are often swimmers on the surface who you can frighten with your remaining gas by purging your octopus under neath their feet !

All, in all, a great first dive on my return to Gozo.

Max depth, 29m, 220bar -> 30bar, 76 minute dive, EN32

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