8th -15th May 2012
by Richard Booth
In search of a bit of spring sunshine we took up Steve Russell’s offer to visit and stay with him in Malta and explore some of the underwater sites that this island has to offer. The aim however was for our little group to be independent; we would hire cylinders and use our own transport. We would however be reliant on Steve’s local knowledge aided by Peter Lemon’s dive guidebook to underwater wonders that Malta has to offer.
After unpacking our kit we were faced with our first crisis: Richard had left his prescription mask behind in the UK! Fortunately Malta has numerous dive shops and after a few visits we eventually found a shop, which sold prescription masks with suitably powerful lenses and Richard was once again suitably equipped to view the underwater delights of Malta again.
First days diving was exploring the waters off Cirkewwa.
We entered the clear blue water and checked our buoyancy (for some of us it was still something of a miracle that their suits still fitted so long had it been since most of us had the chance to use them in warmer waters!) and explored the walls and overhangs to be found along this site. For the second dive of the day we ventured out to the underwater arch. This site is very scenic although slightly marred by a heavy cable, which was draped over the arch. Still it kept Peter happy as he used it as an improvised swing.
On the way back to the exit point we managed to locate the narrow tunnel that cuts through the rock. Richard entered first followed by a nervous Steve, not sure if the narrow tunnel had a suitable exit. Fortunately it did so two nice dives to start the trip.
Next morning we again returned again to Cirkewwa but this time headed out into deeper water to explore the wreck of the Rozi. This small vessel is intact and provides a great photographic subject. Originally built in Bristol in 1958, this small tugboat operated in UK waters until 1972 when she was sold to a Maltese company. In 1992 she was scuttled as an artificial reef in 1992 apparently as an attraction for a tourist submarine, which use to operate in this area.
The Rozi rests in 36 metres of water and is small enough to explore without running up big deco penalties. On the return swim back to the exit point we also took the opportunity to drop down and briefly visit and photograph the old scenic anchor that rests on the seabed a short distance from the Rozi.
Later that afternoon we headed across the island to Wied iz-Zurrieq. Here we met up with some of Steve’s diving pals and completed a nice scenic dive, notable on this occasion for numerous large sea hares that we found clinging to the steep reef edge.
Next morning we took the ferry across to Gozo and headed across this small island with the intention of diving the Inland Sea and the Blue Hole.
For the first dive we kitted up and headed out into the Inland Sea and pulling ourselves across the shallow bottom towards the tunnel entrance, here the water deepened and we descended down into clearer water, taking care to keep clear of the numerous trip boats that passed overhead. In the far distance the bright blue exit from the tunnel could be clearly seen contrasted brightly against the surrounding dark walls.
Passing through the exit we swam out into open waters taking time to search amongst the large boulders and along the outside cliff wall before returning back through the tunnel.
For the second dive we headed over to the car park closer to the Blue Hole, one of Gozo’s most iconic dives.
From here it proved quite a demanding ‘hike’ in full kit across the jagged rocky terrain to the circular shaped ‘pool’ known as the Blue Hole. It was with some relief that we dropped into the cool water and headed out through the opening into the open sea. Again underwater visibility proved to be excellent. We ventured across and under the huge arch known as the Azure Window. Looking up from the bottom through the clear water we could clearly see the arch towering above us, whilst scattered across the seabed we were surrounded by large chunks of shiny clean rock, debris from when large sections of the arch had recently collapsed into the sea as a result of violent winter storms. By common agreement an excellent days diving with five happy divers making the short ferry journey back to Malta.
Day four and the faithful five headed back to Wied iz-Zurrieq but this time with the intention of diving the wreck of the MV Um el Feroud.
This 3,147-ton vessel was built at Smith Dock & co ltd in Middlesbrough in 1969. Registered in Tripoli, Libya, the vessel was laid up in Malta for repair work in 1996, when an explosion and fire resulted in the deaths of 9 dockyard workers. Badly damaged she remained laid up for nearly three and a half years before making her final journey around to Wied iz-Zurrieq to be scuttled as an off shore dive attraction.
Again for this dive we met up with some of Steve’s diving cronies including local dive guide Bent Matusiak (sadly our visit did not coincide with one of his legendry BBQ’s). This excursion was to prove something of a wreck heaven, with some of the party enjoying two dives exploring this large shipwreck. In truth you could probably spend all week exploring this vast wreck and not see all of it. Fish life also proved interesting with a friendly John Dory encountered on the first dive close to the bow and a large shoal of barracuda hovering over the stern area.
Sunday morning dawned and we headed down to Cirkewwa harbour to join the Calypso Sub Aqua Club, a local BSAC branch for a boat dive on Fenney Rock, an imposing reef pinnacle that rises from the depths off Gozo.
This dive proved to be excellent scenic dive swimming around this large reef. We levelled off at 40 metres before making a gentle ascent back up to the shallows before completing our deco stops on the shallow plateau behind the rock.
Later that afternoon we headed over to Valletta harbour to dive the wreck of HMS Maori, a British destroyer sunk by enemy action in World War II. This 1,870-ton Tribal-class destroyer was launched in 1937 at Govan in Scotland. She saw action in Norway and was involved in the hunt for the German pocket battleship Bismarck. She was also involved in a number of Malta convoy runs. On the 12th February 1942 however, the Maoris’ luck finally ran out when she was bombed and sunk after taking a direct hit. She was subsequently partially salvaged and what remains of this wreck is to be found in relatively shallow water in St Elmo Bay.
Although this wreck is quite broken up, large parts of it remain making an interesting dive on a historic wreck site.
Next morning with a strong wind blowing we sought the relative shelter offered by Wied iz-Zurrieq. In truth most of the party were struggling a bit with the demands of a hard week of shore diving. With a rough sea we opted for a simple dive looking for macro subjects in the relative shelter offered by the harbour/gully of this small settlement.
Dave even managed to find another friendly John Dory who posed willingly on the dome of his camera housing!
Dive kit washed and hanged out to dry we took the opportunity to explore around some of the land sites that Malta has to offer, visiting the walled city of Mdina, as well as the aviation museum at Ta’Qali and the nearby glass factory.
It was four happy divers that boarded the flight for the return flight to the UK.
Many thanks to Steve Russell for his kind hospitality.
The grumpy dive team:
Steve Russell pic of steve in stocks