Malta – Technical trip 2016
David and Callum from DSAC joined up with members of the Fife Renegades, Nick from Wales and Jeremy from England for a deep technical week in Malta based out of St Pauls bay and using TechWise Malta for boats, gases and any other equipment we didn’t bring with us, and we brought a lot!
In total with our added sports allowance, we had 65kg, rebreathers aren’t usually lightweight so some careful packing was required to get everything packed without going over the 20kg per bag max weight.
We arrived in Malta quite late after a 3.5 hour Ryanair flight and met up with Allan and the Techwise pickup truck in the car park, loaded up our bags and then dumped them all at TechWise HQ. The next morning was spent rebuilding all the rebreathers and making sure everything still worked. Once everything was rebuilt and checked everyone had a short dive in the Techwise house reef to make sure we were weighted properly and try out the bailout cylinders for trim.
Here is a summary of the equipment everyone was using going from left to right in the photograph above.
Callum Mckay – AP Classic Inspiration
David Millar – JJ CCR
Jeremy Wall – Open circuit (Twinset and stages)
Stewart Braisher – AP Classic Inspiration
Nick King – Sentinal
Andrew Knox – AP Vision Inspiration
Peter Keelan – AP Vision Inspiration
Steve Haddow – AP Vision Inspiration
Later on, after lunch, it was decided our first proper dive would be on the HMS Hellespont a WW2 wreck sunk in the Grand Harbour of Valletta during an air raid on 6/7th April 1942. After the war, as the harbour was being cleared, the wreck was lifted and scuttled off Rinella, 2 miles outside Grand Harbour, where she now lies. She sits upright on a sandy bottom with a maximum depth of 41 metres and a minimum depth of 35 metres. Hellespont was a steam-powered tug also known as the Paddle Steamer. She was 46 metres long, and the wreck is intact except for 15 metres of the bow section which was completely destroyed and is now missing from the wreck.
Our group had mixed opinions about this wreck, some thought it was pretty interesting once you were able to identify some of its workings but others thought it was a dull, boring wreck and only spent 15 minutes on it. You can’t please everyone!
Gozo ferry wrecks and the Inland sea
A few beers, some food and sleep later and we’re off to Gozo to dive the Inland sea. The short ferry crossing to Gozo was made a little less dull as a film crew was filming the captain and two tanned leggy girls wearing the shortest shorts ever pranced around.
The Inland sea is a small lagoon connected to the sea through a small opening/tunnel in the limestone cliffs. We didn’t pick the best day to dive the Inland sea as the wind had picked up and it was pretty choppy in the tunnel. The tunnel is used by fishermen and tourists on boat rides so once in the tunnel it’s not a great idea to surface but today only we were stupid enough to go inside. The surging current made the swim through the tunnel pretty hard work but as it gradually slopes down it gets easier and once you’re through and into the sea it gets very calm. This sea part of the dive is basically a big wall dive (50m) with lots of big boulders creating swim throughs.
Next up after some lunch at the Inland sea, we headed for the deliberately scuttled wrecks of the Karwela, Cominoland and Xlendi. We were told the Karwela was the most interesting and that the Xlendi was upside down and not worth doing so everyone decided to dive the Karwela (40m ish) . It’s a popular dive spot and we joined lots of other divers in the ample parking area. Rebreathers are heavy so the long walk down the steps to the entry point wearing a drysuit in the baking sun was not very enjoyable. Most of us kept the run times to about an hour and everyone reported a good dive. The Karwela is stripped bare but the engine room is pretty interesting and you’re able to swim around the engines and have a good nosey.
MV Le Polynesian
Finally, we get to dive the sort of wreck everyone came on the trip to do, the Polynesian! Le Polynesian is 150m long and was built for the shipping line La Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes at La Ciotat in France. Between 1891 and 1914 it operated over a number of routes covering the Far East, Australia and the French colonies. In 1914 she was taken on by the French Government as a troop transport ship and fitted with the deck guns which you can still see on the wreck today. On 10 August 1918, the Polynesian was attacked by UC22 and sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 10 lives.
Once the shot was placed everyone made their way down to the wreck which was hard work due to the strong currents which seem to disappear you pass the 20m mark. This wreck is huge and lies at an angle on its port side. It’s still full of cargo and plates and vases are scattered everywhere. One of the holds had hundreds of car and motorcycle tyres. We were told it’d be impossible to go from bow to stern in one dive so we did it just to prove them wrong. You would need a week on this wreck and many dives to explore it fully. On the way up a Brazilian diver decided to entertain everyone with his unusual DSMB deployment….
HMS Southwold – Bow & Imperial Eagle
HMS Southwold was a Type II British Hunt-class destroyer built for the Royal Navy during World War II. She served in the Mediterranean for a few months until she was sunk off Malta in March 1942.
The Bow of the Southwold is pretty broken up but there is still lots to see. Ammunition shells litter the seabed all around and a toilet block can be seen inside of the wreck.
A lot of our group chose to sit the Imperial eagle out as they thought it was a bit bland but a few of us still went in and it’s a great little wreck for penetration and everything is quite open. It lies not far from a huge underwater statue of Jesus Christ.
MV Le Polynesian (again)
So good we did it twice!
Um El Faroud
The Um El Faroud was a 10,000-ton Libyan-owned single screw motor tanker. Following a gas explosion during maintenance work in 1995, she was scuttled off the coast of Malta as an artificial reef and diving attraction.
Almost everyone on this trip had done the El Faroud before but five of us spent an hour on her having a good look around without the gas limits of open circuit. Getting through some of the narrow passageways and hatches was a bit of a challenge due to the bailout cylinders we were carrying but we still managed. It’s a fair swim out and back to the Faroud but your decompression stops can be done in the bay near the entrance point which is usually full of girls in bikinis having a swim, unaware of the bubbless perverts below.
HMS Southwold – Stern (75m)
We saved the best until last, the Stern section of the broken in two HMS Southwold was amazing. This excellent video by Steve Haddow of Shadow Marine gives you a great look at it and points out some of the best bits.
Thanks to Peter Keelan for organising the trip and to Lee Stevens from TechWise Malta for putting up with us for a week!