This should whet your appetite for diving in Malta! Simon Jones, a qualified diving instructor, is still in awe of life below Malta’s waves even after 20 years’ diving off these shores. His first summer dive – the ‘shakedown’ – is welcomed by a sea teeming with life.
I’d been looking forward to this dive all week, the first of the summer and only my second dive this year. My first was in April. Now, four months down the line, the rocky foreshore in front of my favourite dive centre is already packed with tanned kids. And it’s only 8am!
The weather forecasts all agree on a north-westerly force 3 to 4, so my buddies and I decide Wied Iz-Zurrieq would be ideal for a ‘shakedown’ dive – where you make sure you’ve got the right amount of weight after shedding six millimetres of winter wetsuit, checking your regulator works as it should and so on.
A quick glance at the bottom confirms that the visibility is good at around 15 metres. It should get better as we leave the bay and head out over the sand. Once everyone is in the water, masks adjusted and watches set, I give the sign to descend and we glide gently down to the bottom.
Wied Iz-Zurrieq (Wied is Maltese for valley) in the south of Malta, starts off as a narrow chasm at the bottom and gradually widens out into a little harbour where fishermen moor their boats in the summer. It’s also the departure point for the popular Blue Grotto boat tours so one of the characteristics of a dive here is the constant drone of the “fregatini” transporting tourists back and forth.
At the harbour mouth, the rocky bottom drops from about 12 to 17 metres and gives way to sand. Once out there, it’s like another world. The bright white sand does wonders for the visibility and the drone of the boats fades away as they hug the shoreline to the east. The sea is an incredible shade of blue and shafts of sunlight stab through the surface giving the scene a surreal, quasi-religious ambience.
The sand is busy with lots of Trill (Red Mullet) flicking away at it feeding. Bulging eyes and a large, pug like mouth sticking out of the sand give away a Tracna (Weever Fish) and a metre or so above the bottom, small Kahli (Saddled Bream) and Sparli (Sea Bream) swim around seemingly aimlessly. To the left a pair of Pagell (Red Snapper) swim past, aloof in demeanour but for their eyes swivelling around to keep us in view. Above us scores of Cawl (Damsel Fish) are held in stark silhouette by the shimmering surface of the sea.
A glance at my dive computer informs me that we’re at 33 metres but with water this calm and clear, it feels like much less than that. We’re in a sandy patch surrounded by Posidonia (Sea Grass) and directly in front of us, the bottom gradually drops away into the blue. Quickly, we huddle to check our remaining air supply and then head off to the West towards the wreck of the Um El Faroud.
This is another beautiful dive but it isn’t in our dive plan today so I’ll document it in another post. Just as the wreck’s outline looms out of the blue, we turn north and start back to the shore. At this point we’re about a hundred metres to the west of the harbour mouth and the rocky cliff descends straight down to about 7 metres below the surface before sloping to 10/15 metres then dropping off to a sandy bottom at 27 metres.
The edge of the drop off is teeming with Cawl and Sardines and these are favoured food both for the school of Barracudas which hang out around the wreck of the Faroud and for the pelagic Accijol (Amberjacks) which swim in close to the shore to feed.
Today is a good day; we barely make it to the top of the drop off before two young Amberjacks flash past us, straight through the school of sardines. They circle them repeatedly, seemingly herding them into a tight shoal before dashing into their midst and picking their victims out at random. After a good ten minutes of hanging, neutrally buoyant, in the blue enjoying the spectacle, we notice a solitary barracuda on patrol. It hugs the shoreline, its slim outline masked by the rush of the waves breaking on the cliff face as, ignoring the Amberjacks’ antics, it makes its way past unhurried.
Finally, the first of the group signals that they’re on their last fifty bar and it’s time to head back. We cut across the harbour mouth, the drone of the boats above reminding us not to ascend until we reach the opposite shore. We then hug the shoreline at three metres all the way in to the slipway where we carefully ascend to the surface before crawling out of the water and trudging back to the vehicles.
All that’s left now is to get out of our gear and troop into one of the many bars in Wied Iz-Zurrieq to rehydrate with a lager and a hobza (Maltese bread with tuna, capers and tomatoes). It’s going to be a great summer!
Photo: Dragan Donkov