Day Two : Gozo 2008

18 09 2008

Another day, another dive..

Fully sustained with Fruit n Fibre, we’re off early to a dive I’ve never done before. Bilingshurst Cave, reportedly named after the BSAC club who ‘discovered’ it.

Since completing my full cave cert, it’s something I’ve become more and more interested in, so for me, this is going to be THE dive of the trip. The night before I’m tingling with anticipation pestering all those who’ve done it before with questions about depth, length, topology, squeezes, fixed lines, airbells etc but nothing is ever as good as the real thing.

Access to Billingshurst is near the ‘Washing Machine’ entrance for Double-Arches and Reqqa Point. You drive past Reqqa on the way to Cathedral Cave and park off the road inbetween the salt pans.

Kitting up in the early morning heat is fun as usual. Water temperature at the surface is 27 deg c but drops quite sharply about 22-25 metres to 21 deg c so I’m wearing a 5mm semi-dry. Even in the height of summer.. A bit hot on the surface, but not too bad..

The entrance to Bilingshurst is a 6ft giant stride into the sea – there is no way back out at this point so now is the time to check and triple check you have everything you need.

Contemplating the jump into Billingshurst

We’re in the water now and dropping fast toward the submerged entrance, 8 divers are ahead of us, we’re the last, but this gives an eerie view of their torches shining like light sabres in the gloom.. I love that view !

We drop to 30m and slowly enter the cave, over on the right is a fixed line. Not the sort I’m used to seeing in training caves but a sort of languid attempt at a main-line obviously broken and knotted again and again.. Which gets me thinking about the reported surge in the cave. The sea outside is like glass so no worries on that score today, however in the sandy sea bed there are large ridges across the width of the cave which point to surge action. A sea cave is not the place to be during bad surge.. You’d be as able to control yourself as a fly in a flushing toilet !

..more Billingshurst

We follow the mainline in and I shine my torch around trying to absorb as much of the topology and structure of the cave itself. The mainline veers over to the left but I don’t follow it, I can still see the exit so decide to to a bit of investigation off the mainline. There is a large boulder structure which appears to be the end of the cave. I rise up to follow the boulders to their completion when I get frantic torch signal from my buddy.

Dropping to see what the problem is, my buddy signals for an exit, something is wrong. Not with kit, they’re just not happy.

Not much you can do at that point.. There is an adage in diving (I think it comes from tech diving, but is applicable anywhere) that goes something like this.. “Anyone can abort the dive, at any time, for any reason”. This idea intends to ensure that whatever the dive teams skill levels or mixes, no-one will feel they should continue because they have to.

We turn for the exit and I am convinced that cannot be the end of the cave, but there is nothing I can do about it. We’re diving on single tanks, I have no form of redundancy with me and leaving my buddy to exit alone is equally unfair on them. There are others in the group, but I believe you should be true to your responsibilities when diving. If you agree to buddy dive then you complete the dive as a buddy pair. I don’t, however, have any issue solo-diving. In fact, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that it’s better to buddy dive as a team of solo-divers, able to function alone or as a team but not reliant on one another for anything.

More on that topic later..

View from the back of Billingshurst

So, we exit the cave and turn right. I know in my heart I have not done with Billingshurst, she holds a little more for me to explore, one day I will dive her alone.

Turning right takes us past Shrimps Cave (a little mushroom shaped cave at 27m with blind shrimp, alas, not to be dived this holiday) and on to Reqqa Point (pronounced – according to the locals – “reh-ah” which makes it sound like it’s being spoken by an eastender) which is the main exit for this dive..

however..

..the ladder that used to be there, not for the first time, is missing so we double back into the next cove and exit on the rocks..

Easier said than done. The waves are enough to cause exiting a struggle (especially with precious camera gear) and we have to choose our spots carefully.

I de-kit, feeling a little cheated.. In defiance of my failure to complete the cave I engage in some tomb-stoning.. I use that term because it has grabbed media attention recently, in my younger days we would have called it ‘jumping-in’.. i.e. throwing oneself off a perfectly serviceable rock ledge into the less than welcoming sea. It’s a 25 foot jump into the sea and an exit through the unforgiving surge. The first jump goes without hitch. If I believed in God I’d think he was telling me something at this point.. Jumping again, I broke my new RalfTech mask (free with a Dive subscription – but annoying non-the-less) when jumping in and then, when exiting, I lost a fin, which took me considerable effort to retrieve leaving me with cuts to my hands and rips in my wet suit.

I chose to go for lunch at this point.

After a Gozitan salad involving strip-skin-from-roof-of-mouth cheese, anchovies, tuna and couple of ice-teas we’re back in the saddle to get wet.

We decide to go to Crocodile Rock, which is a small reef that protrudes above the surface south west of the Blue Hole..

Threading through the tourist throngs at the Blue Hole we survey the entry point and dive site. A ‘discussion’ ensues about which rock is exactly Crocodile Rock and which one is Fungus Rock (so named because of a little known fungus that grow son there – apparently).. We decide to dive the one directly ahead of us which the masses choose to call Crocodile Rock – I wasn’t so sure. Mainly ‘cos I thought Crocodile Rock was supposed to look like a crocodile’s head emerging from the water.. This one looked like a rock !

Having kitted up in the shade of the nearby ice-cream truck we made our way down to the entry point over the razor sharp rocks. It’s worth pointing out at this point that razor-sharp rocky entries are common in Malta – if you’re not nimble on your feet it can get a little hairy.

Once again, this is a committed entry, 8 feet between you and the water really isn’t much but it makes quite a splash. If you forget something (i.e. weight belt) you have a long surface swim round to an exit at the Blue Hole.

Rounding Big Bear

Descending to the blue, I get a great view of the rock we’re going to dive. My new fish-eye lens gives great views of the rolling sea-scape ahead.

We round the rock at 20m with the rock on our left shoulder and I spy a cave below me. We descend into the cave but are disappointed to find that it really isn’t that big. My buddy kills some time photographing goat fish while I seek out shrimp in the nooks and crannies.

When we finally exit, the masses (6 other divers) have departed and left us to it. We exit from the cave and turn right back to retrace our steps round the rock heading in the direction of the Blue Hole.

The swim from the cave towards the Blue Hole has two components which merit a mention..

  • The reef walls are vertical down to approximately 60m and are carpeted with the standard red and green soft lichen growth
  • There wasn’t a huge amount of fish life, at least not on the day I was there.

Regardding the fish-life comment, I’d have to underline that I (and others) felt that on this trip the fish life had reduced in it’s abundance since the last time we were there 2 years ago.. I have no evidence to back up that assertion, it is merely a personal observation.

Two-thirds of the way between the cave and Blue Hole at 16m there is a small gash in the rock which expands to become a human sized tube. It is possible to swim through this tube and ascend into an area called the Coral Garden. The tube is known as the Chimney. It is possible to exit the dive from here. On this occasion we chose to continue on to the Blue Hole and exit there as normal.

When comparing notes with a local dive guide over a beer that evening, I discover that my doubts about the rock we dived were substantiated.. According to him, we’d dived ‘Big Bear’ and Rogers’ Cave.

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