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Blog: Deptherapy go wreck diving in Malta

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A Guest Blog from Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education Instructor Sharon El Shoura about the charity’s recent expedition to Malta…

Day one – Friday 3 September

Firstly just to explain what we do ….

We are a completely volunteer-led charity that seeks to rehabilitate injured troops, who have suffered life changing injuries, through the medium of scuba diving.

Our plan was to take eight beneficiaries to Malta to complete their RAID Advanced Wreck course.

So an early start for some to get to Heathrow for our previously agreed meeting time, with some of the beneficiaries travelling from various parts of the country starting out at 0100.

Thankfully we all made it in time, well most of us!  You know who you are!!

So Heathrow was very quiet and the transition through security was easy unless your name is Sean Martin, who had all the contents of his rucksack emptied and swabbed, including the inside of the dive log, obviously he is a bit dodgy looking 😉

So we loaded onto the very busy Air Malta flight, unable to book seats in advance we found ourselves scattered around the plane, service was very limited.

Arrival at Malta International Airport was a mixed experience for some. With the new requirements for COVID, our EU Passenger Locator forms were checked with the necessary COVID vaccination paperwork and we were sent through to a special screening area where it seemed that Sean’s look was still obviously a bit dodgy as he was taken into a separate room which ended being a case of mistaken identity!

So finally through to the warm, sticky atmosphere outside where we were met by drivers from the Dive Centre, Divewise and Tom Swarbrick who was already on the island.  We loaded up the equipment and the rest of us piled into the air-conditioned bus and off to the dive centre. About 20 minutes later we arrived at the dive centre in St Julian’s to a very warm welcome from Alan and Viv, who gave us a guided tour of the facilities, including the shore entry to the sea, just to wet our appetites for the morning dives! Then it was onto the paperwork and sorting out of kit, and then the bags returned to the truck and some chose to walk to our accommodation at Behotel, whilst others opted for the air conditioned bus again.

Check in was somewhat complicated due to a misunderstanding of the booking, but finally rooms allocated, we arranged to meet in the nearest hostelry to sample the night life.

Day two – Saturday 4 September

So after a very good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast at the hotel, we headed for the dive centre, which was about a 15 minute walk away.  On arrival we decided to do some line tying skills and some academic refreshers whilst the other guests at the hotel got off to their days diving.

THEN………….

Thunderstorms and rain with drops the size of golf balls descended on us, sent us running for cover with little success. It was like we had all been in for our first dive without actually getting in the water!

Not to be deterred it seemed like a perfect moment to take a group picture!

Team Deptherapy in Malta – September 2021

As the rain’s slowed and the thunder and lightening stopped we took the opportunity to get into the water at the shore, to check weights and equipment, with plans to practice using the blacked out masks and tying skills in the water.  Unfortunately the storm had stirred up the water so much it was like diving in a blacked out mask permanently; the visibility was very poor and the surge was pretty uncomfortable, but certainly had everyone using their navigation skills.  Everyone ended up back on the shore safe and richer for the experience, although sea sickness did hit a few because of the surge.

Day three – 5 September

So a slightly later start to the day allowed the dive centre to clear its other guests to various locations and then we were onto the buses and trucks with resident instructor/ trainer Joe Phillips to go dive in the Bay of St Elmo, which lies on the south side of the entrance to Marsamxett Harbour. From the bay the bastion walls are an impressive site, and also the location of some films: World War Z, Assassins Creed and American Assassin to name a few!

The bay is also popular with divers due to HMS Maori, which was a destroyer in the British fleet that was sunk in WW2.  HMS Maori lies in 14 metres of water approximately 250 metres from the shore, so our plan was to enter from the shore and descend, do our safety checks in the water and swim across to the wreck, and use the wreck to start expanding the skills of primary and secondary tie offs on the outside of the wreck, and following the line, adding wraps on the line, which show the direction of travel into or out of a wreck.  Then, we planned to follow the lines with blacked out masks.

So we split into two groups of four students and each buddy pair were tying off on two places outside of the wreck, then following the line and following with masks covered up.  We also practiced deploying SMBs mid water.  Whilst in the water it is essential that the teams understand the air consumption at different depths so we all performed a 10 minute swim at an agreed depth of 10 metres, recording the air used during the exercise so the divers could work out their individual Surface Air Consumption also known as their SAC rates.

Once we had completed these drills it was time to head back to the shore and change the tanks and spend time on the surface before going back in for Dive 2.

Tom completing a tie-off with a blacked-out mask

During Dive 2 the teams were then simulating their lost line drills and entanglement drills. The teams worked extremely well together, and when you consider that the majority of the teams have suffered from mental health issues due to their service, they all performed the skills with professionalism and no panic attacks. It was wonderful to watch them successfully complete the skills.

So diving done, back to the dive centre, wash out the kit and store away and back to our hotel to again get ready to sample the night life of St Julian’s.

Day four – 6 September

Overnight, there had been very unusual weather and Malta had experienced winds that had a negative impact on the diving, limiting the locations and of course we have to risk assess all of the entry and exits because of the injuries that some of the beneficiaries are carrying.

So although today was planned to go out on the boat, this just was not possible because of the winds and sea conditions, so after discussions and suggestions being made we headed out to Marsaskala to try and dive the P33 which was a former patrol boat that was scuttled at the end of July 2021, close to already existing tug boat wrecks.

This wreck was built in Germany in 1971/2 and is around 23 metres long and has a beam of 5 metres.  It sits in approximately 20 metres of water making it a great wreck for training on.  Unfortunately on arriving at the site, it became obvious that due to the entry and exit being at the bottom of a long walk down to stone steps that were being bashed with quite strong waves it was not safe to dive.  As always we have to consider the safety of all the beneficiaries.  Again after consultation with resident Instructor Joe, and Viv back at the dive centre, we headed off to the X127 wreck located in the harbour at Marsamxett. The X127 was built in 1915 and sunk in 1942; she lies upright on a slope with her bow at 5 metres, and the stern at 22 metres. The access to this wreck was a lot easier and the bay itself was sheltered from the winds, so diving went ahead. As the wreck was not possible to penetrate safely due to the large numbers of divers and the high level of silt, it was dived by the beneficiaries as a recreational dive, but of course never one to let an opportunity pass, we did extra drills experimenting with weights and more exercises with the SMBs.

Due to the poor weather, we decided to do two dives on the wreck and then we headed back to the dive centre to wash down and pack away the kit.

Jon exiting a wreck

Day five – 7 September

Unfortunately this day was completely ruined by the expected thunderstorms and predicted high winds, so diving was cancelled and most of us took to the pool area and spent the day relaxing.

Day six – 8 September

So today brought about slightly better weather, although still not able to dive on a boat, it was thought that maybe we could return to the P33 at Marsaskalla, but when we arrived the conditions were worse than when we first visited and again with the welfare of the group in mind, it was decided to move to a different location! So having Alan Whitehead owner of Divewise with us, off to Cirkewwa we went!

Cirkewwa is very popular with divers and has a couple of wrecks, swimthroughs and a patch of reef to explore.  Unfortunately due to the weather, many other dive centres had the same idea, and also as it was a public holiday in Malta, the queue to the ferry terminal which takes day trippers to Gozo was very, very long!  Once we arrived at the dive site, we carried out a risk assessment and decided it would be possible to dive the first wreck which was laying at 34 metres.  So continuing with the RAID Advanced Wreck course, we would be tying primary and secondary lines within the wreck and the students would be following in, and then simulating out of air scenarios and swimming out on long hoses, finding guidelines and following out of the wreck to the primary tie-offs.

Off we went out to the wreck P29 which appeared out of the gloom, and was actually very well preserved. She was a 52 metre patrol boat that was scuttled in 2007 and sits at 34 metres at the deepest point and approximately 12 metres at the highest point.  Covered in life, the P29 was a perfect wreck for the skills.

So after returning back to the shore, tanks changed and a good surface interval, the students were given the opportunity to explore the reef system themselves as qualified divers. So off they went and came back with different stories of their findings; two of them actually found the second wreck – the Rozi – further along the reef, and with some pretty impressive video to prove its existence.  The Rozi was a former tugboat of approximately 30 metres in length, laying upright with the bottom around 30 metres and the top around 20 metres.

All in all, despite the issues with the weather and the lack of boat diving, everyone was close to finishing their courses and had enjoyed their diving.

Practising diving with blacked-out masks

Day seven – 9 September

So our day started with the required visit to a COVID testing centre prior to our departure from Malta back to the UK. So off to the centre, everyone swabbed and then back to the dive centre. Due to our later flight time on Friday, it was possible to get in a couple of dives.  So it was organised that in our groups we would enter the water at the shore of the dive centre and swim out past the sea wall to meet the boat that would then take us out to Tug 2 in Sliema. She is around 30 metres and was sunk in June 2013 to form an artificial reef.  Tug 2 lies upright and has a variety of marine life on it with a maximum depth of 22 metres.  So it was time to finish up on the skills that needed to be checked off or repeated and then we headed back to the boat that took us back to the shore.  Then it was back up to the dive centre to rinse off and dry the equipment ready for packing.

We then all started to receive the COVID test results ready for our return journey back to the UK.

Day eight – 10 September

Our final day and after breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we made our way to the dive centre to pack the dive kit and head off to the airport. What an amazing week with an awesome group of beneficiaries, who certainly took up the mantra, Adapt and Overcome.  All of the students had the Ambition to succeed and certainly had the sense of Adventure and definitely the mental stimulus to Achieve their set goals for the week.

Thank you to Richard  Cullen who did an incredible job of organising the trip, Martin Weddell who as always provides the calm in the storm and guides the students to success, and finally thank you to all of the students / beneficiaries who gave their best to succeed and achieved.

Sharon El Shoura


For more information about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education visit www.deptherapy.co.uk.

Photos: Deptherapy / Martin Weddell

Deptherapy & Deptherapy Education is an English Charity registered with the Charity Commission. It seeks to rehabilitate UK Armed Service personnel and veterans who have suffered life changing mental and/or physical challenges through specially designed Scuba Diving Programmes. It also provides 24/7 support to Programme Members. Deptherapy is widely respected for changing the lives of those who come on the Programme. Many Programme Members have suffered limb loss and or acute mental illness. 80% of Programme Members suffer from PTSD or other acute forms of mental illness. The charity also provides education in adaptive Scuba Diving techniques to Dive Professionals. Find out more at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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Jeff chats to… Rich Somerset, Territory Director PADI EMEA (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Rich Somerset, Territory Director PADI EMEA Regional Support about Dive Project Cornwall and PADI’s conservation work.

Rich began diving as a teenager on the south coast of England. His university studies took him to the North of the UK and he developed a passion for cold water wreck diving in the frigid waters of Scotland. After finishing university, Rich became only the second person to be awarded the European Our World Underwater Rolex Scholarship. This experience allowed him to travel and develop training in a wide range of scuba related disciplines, including hyperbaric medicine, technical diving and marine conservation. Rich then worked as a PADI Instructor in Australia, Micronesia and the Caribbean before setting up and running dive centres in England.

A PADI Course Director and Instructor Examiner, Rich is now the Territory Director, leading a team of PADI staff supporting over 800 dive centres across the UK, Ireland, Maldives, France, Greece and Portugal.

Find out more at www.padi.com/padi-dive-centers/regional-support/emea and www.diveprojectcornwall.co.uk


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Dive Training Blogs

Sidemount: Not just for Technical Divers

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By Heather McCloskey

In the 1960’s, dry cave explorers in the UK became the first “sidemount divers” when they began clipping scuba cylinders to their caving harnesses as a means to cross sumps, or water-filled cave passages. Over the past 50 years, countless divers and equipment manufacturers have developed and refined sidemount diving and configurations through trial and error.

Today we see many technical divers in sidemount configuration and it remains especially popular with cave divers. There are clearly countless benefits of sidemount for technical diving, but did you know many of them cross over to recreational diving as well? Yep, that’s right: sidemount is not just for technical divers. In fact, I believe that everyone could benefit greatly from a technical sidemount course, even if they do not have an interest in technical diving.

Here’s why everyone should try sidemount diving:

STRENGTHEN DIVING FUNDAMENTALS & KNOWLEDGE

I think it is important to constantly learn new things. If you’re looking for a course with the potential to truly challenge you, reframe the way you think about diving, and improve your fundamental skills tenfold, look no further than a technical sidemount course.

In addition to teaching you how to safely dive in a new configuration, a technical sidemount course is like boot camp for your diving fundamentals: buoyancy, trim, and propulsion.

Even if you have good buoyancy control going into the course, a good instructor will push you to fine tune it even further. This will force you to extend your awareness and control of where you are in the water at all times, even when being distracted by problems.

You’ll work on propulsion techniques and likely focus more on how you’re kicking than you ever have before. Your instructor will help you perfect your frog kicks and helicopter turns, show you how to backfin effectively, and teach you special techniques for silty areas. After your sidemount course, you’ll know how to move through the water more gracefully and efficiently than you thought possible.

Furthermore, you’ll think about trim more than ever before and you’ll start to see how seemingly small things like the weight of your regulators and the buoyancy profile of your fins have huge impacts on a diver’s natural trim and you’ll learn how to effectively compensate for these things.

COMFORT & STREAMLINING

In sidemount, cylinders are mounted at your sides under your arms rather than on your back, giving you a much more streamlined profile. Even with two cylinders, propelling yourself through the water and maintaining proper trim feels much easier in sidemount than in single tank backmount.

If you have back or shoulder problems, you’ll likely find sidemount more comfortable in general because it allows more flexibility in those areas and the bulk of the weight is not on your spine.

During a proper sidemount course, you and your instructor will spend a lot of time adjusting your sidemount system to fit and function just right. You’ll also spend time trying to get properly trimmed and adjusting trim weight placement as needed. This part of the process may feel frustrating to some, but as soon as your system, weights, and trim are all right where they need to be you will realize it was well worth the trouble. When done properly, sidemount is an incredibly comfortable configuration to dive in.

REDUNDANCY & LESS RELIANCE ON BUDDY

One of the biggest benefits of sidemount is it offers true redundancy in case of a gas or regulator failure. When diving with two tanks in sidemount configuration you have two completely independent cylinders, first stages, and second stages. If one of these points fails, you have a backup.

In a proper sidemount course with a qualified instructor you will learn how to independently solve various equipment problems that could come up while diving. This training and configuration makes you more safe, more self-sufficient and less reliant on a buddy. Self-sufficiency is especially beneficial if you travel without a regular dive buddy and find yourself buddied up with strangers often. I’ll address more benefits of self-sufficiency, specifically solo-diver training, in a future post.

MORE GAS = LONGER DIVES

If you’re an air hog, or simply enjoy making long dives, sidemount configuration is a great way to carry more gas with you while staying streamlined. While diving twinset would be another way to have more gas, you may not be able to find twinset tanks at every single diving destination you visit. Another benefit of sidemount is that you do not need to hunt down special tanks to dive in sidemount configuration.

SIDEMOUNT TRAINING PREPARES YOU FOR THE FUTURE

If you don’t have interest in tech diving right now, that’s perfectly fine. However, training and experience diving in sidemount configuration will help you gain confidence and leave you well-prepared for any technical training that you may want to do in the future. And it may be just the thing that convinces you to try technical diving after all. 😉


To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

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