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Get wrecked in Malta

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Malta offers a huge variety of wreck dives from tugs and patrol boats to WWII submarines and fighter aircraft. But with only 7-days available, where did I start? My grand plan was to begin with the popular choices and then move on to the more acquired tastes. Altogether I dived my way through 11 different wrecks at depths varying from 15 to 65 metres. Equipment and gas configurations changed dive by dive from single Nitrox 12’s to Trimix twins and sidemounts. I even squeezed in an Inspiration CCR day.

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Malta is the undisputed wreck capital of Europe. Low cost flights and extremely competitive accommodation/dive packages makes the archipelago an attractive destination for Brit divers. There are more than 23 different wrecks available and a good majority are shore dives. I wanted to sample the popular sites at Cirkewwa Point and Wied iz Zurrieq as well as get a feel for the deeper offshore wrecks. I teamed up with serious Dave from Maltaqua, based at St Pauls Bay. Dave Colquhoun was the most experienced Instructor on the cards. He had been working in Malta for the past 7 years and knew his way around the roads and the dive sites extremely well. As usual the weather conditions were up and down so we re-assessed our plans on a daily basis. If it was too rough for the offshore stuff we would change tack and focus more on the protected harbour wrecks.

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Cirkewwa Point has to be the busiest site in Malta. It’s not unusual to find a dozen or more dive vans parked up along the roadside. There are 2 superb wrecks, an archway and a wall dive on offer. Entries and Exits are relatively easy and there are no long walks back to the car park. Wise Dave had suggested an early start to beat the crowds. I’m sure Malta’s roads had got bumpier (or was it just the trucks hard suspension)? Drinking while on the move is not recommended. I lost most of my milkshake down the front of my t-shirt. Dave said that before the Pope’s recent visit ground workers had hastily repaired the roads but only on the prearranged route to and from the airport. It was hilarious to see one side of the road with smooth new tarmac and the other side still full of pot holes.

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p29-smallDave had chosen the more challenging giant stride entry off the concrete slipway rather than the easier wade in/wade out route. It was a good metre or two drop so I managed to pull off a triple salko followed by a double piked back somersault before hitting the water. We headed for the P29 Patrol Boat (also known as the A125) sunk as an artificial reef on the 14th Aug 2007. The 51 metre long wreck lies upright in around 35 metres of water. Before the dive Dave had asked some of the other local Instructors what the conditions were like. They warned us of a reasonably uncomfortable inshore current. It was really nice to see a friendly rapport between ‘rival’ centres.

I tried to take a photograph of the bow but the current had already switched direction and was now moving across the wreck. We made our way back along the deck to the bridge area. All the instrumentation panels had been pillaged. Dials, knob etc prised off. I really couldn’t understand the mentality of some divers. Later on I made a visit to the Cassar shipyard, home of the P30 (A124) sister ship. Climbing onto the bridge and going into the crew quarters, mess room, toilet etc was a real treat and gave me a totally different perspective.

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DSC_0120-smallAfter tea and pastries we ventured over to the neighbouring MV Rozi, a 40 metre long Tugboat sitting upright at a maximum depth of 35 metres. The Rozi was sunk in 1992 as a Submarine tourist attraction but the company went bust a few years later. We made a quick detour to look at the big anchor and then headed for the Tugboat. Both of the Cirkewwa wrecks are a few minutes swim away from the entry point. There seemed to be far more fish life about. I was literally shooing bream and Chromis out the way to take a picture. Now there’s a first, I actually had too many fish in the frame. We followed the same routine, head for the bow and then the wheelhouse. The ships wheel and support pillar had long gone. A floor mounted bracket with 8 protruding screw threads was all that remained. Dave had said there was a big resident Moray so we searched the hold and around the reef floor by the stern but it was nowhere to be seen.

Our wreck binge continued at the small fishing village of Wied iz Zurrieq. In 1998 the 110 metre long container ship Um El Faroud was sunk as another artificial reef project. The wreck is lying upright just a few hundred metres outside the small inlet at a maximum depth of 36 metres. We kitted up on the roadside next to the cafe and then walked down a concrete pathway to the little inlet. The sea looked calm and inviting. A bunch of kids were jumping and splashing around by entry/exit ladder. We came back to the site 2 days later and conditions had changed dramatically with huge waves pounding over the sea wall. I had to dodge a number of swinging concrete blocks as I made my descent. Dave said that the weighty blocks held down the mooring lines. Instead of the using the more conventional vertical moorings the boatmen had strung them in lines across the inlet. Some clumsy divers had even head butted the concrete blocks square on.

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faroud-smallDave had his own set of underwater marks to follow. Head out towards the old diving helmet plinth then follow the sand patch that looks like Casper the ghost. The prop makes an awesome wide angle shot, the oranges and reds really stood out on a blue background. Around 30-40 good sized Barracuda were milling around the stern deck. I finned past the bridge area and had a good look where the ship had ‘snapped’ in half. We decided to turn back and penetrate the bridge area. Dave coming up the stairwell made a good picture. The banister looked very similar to the one I had at home. We ascended up the funnel and then finned back to shore. Naturalist Dave stopped to show me a Seahorse camouflaged in the grass. Just to keep it even I found another Seahorse less than a metre away. The walk back up the slope was a real buttock clenching experience. Sometimes shore diving can be really hard work.

Long range forecasts predicted strong winds in a matter of days. While the going was good we jumped on a boat and headed out to HMS Stubborn P238, a 70 metre long S-Class Submarine sunk as a sonar target on the 30th April 1946. I wanted to get the best visibility for pictures so asked the other divers if we could be first down the line. Dave said there was rarely a current but when I reached 40 metres I could see the shot weight dragging along the seabed and rapidly heading away from the wreck. It was 50/50 decision whether to fin like crazy or abort. We only had a limited time at 55 metres and most of our gas would go just trying to reach the hull. When I spoke to Dave later he also had similar thoughts. I left the line and finned towards the dark shadow in the distance. It took us 5 long minutes but we eventually got to the Conning Tower. I managed to fire off a few pictures at an open hatchway before heading off towards the bow torpedo tubes. In no time at all we were drifting in the blue searching for the bouncing shotline. None of the other divers had reached the Submarine. As I climbed back on the boat I was acutely aware of 6 pairs of burning eyes staring right at me. I was quick to point out that I hadn’t dragged the shot line off the wreck, it wasn’t my fault, honest!

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Plane wrecks are a big favourite of mine so I was really looking forward to seeing the Blenheim Bomber at a depth of 43 metres. The plane was shot down by Italian fighters on the 13th December 1941. We had a long drive over to the bay at Marsascala but once we had reached the jetty it was just a short 10 minute boat ride to the dive site. Chloe Gambin had volunteered to ‘model’ for me and it was nice to see a happy smiling face instead of Mr Serious staring back through my viewfinder.

To be honest the plane was far more broken up than I had expected and I was a quite disappointed. Dave said a lot of the deterioration had been caused by trophy hunters and boats dropping anchors or shotweights directly onto the wreckage. I still managed to get a nice picture of Chloe by the radial engine with propeller.

mosquito3-smallmosquito2-smallOur Boat Skipper, Pierre Spiteri, was on friendly terms with local fishermen. Whenever their nets snagged on an unknown object he would be given the co-ordinates. This had recently come up trumps with an exciting new aeroplane find at a depth of 41 metres. Pierre agreed to take us to the secret site which happened to be reasonably close to the Blenheim Bomber. I was first down the line and spotted two engines sitting side by side. One engine still had its propeller. In between there was a twisted metal framework and mass of cables but no real superstructure. I had quick scout around the debris field and there was a metal box and a cowling about 10 metres away but nothing substantial. Dave thought it could be a German JU-88 bomber, but the other divers thought otherwise. They popped into the Aviation Museum at Ta’Qali and had a chat with Frederick Galea. Frederick looked back through old newspaper clippings and found a story about a De Havilland Mosquito that crash landed off Delimara Point on the 28th March 1949. This was probably why there was no superstructure left. Mosquito’s were mostly made of wood so it must have disintegrated. He also told them the site was first discovered in 1993 by Calypso Dive Club but the co-ordinates had been lost.

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Lugging heavy twinsets around in a 2-metre high swell wasn’t exactly comfortable, but I was desperate for a dive on Le Polynesien. Dave and I were the only divers on Pierre’s boat which suited me fine. We were also the only 2 divers on the wreck which seemed ominous. Dave said the site was susceptible to strong currents and he wasn’t joking. I was holding on for dear life all the way down to the bow at 55 metres. Le Polynesien is a massive wreck. It would take more than a single dive to explore the 152 metre long French built passenger liner. On the 10th August 1918 she was hit by a torpedo and sank with the loss of 10 lives. I wanted to get a photo of the deck gun so Pierre suggested a visit to the bow. He actually managed to drop the shot within 10 metres of our target. The deck gun, thick with encrustation, was almost unrecognisable. I tried to get a picture on a blue background so it actually highlighted a gun shape. I also tried to get a photo of the anchor hanging from the port side but the current was far too strong.  At least I had briefly experienced the wreck. Dave said that one unlucky lady had been cancelled 3 times due to adverse weather or strong currents.

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mauri-smallThe water changed colour from deep blue to murky green inside Valetta harbour. But even though it was blowing a hoolie we still managed to keep on diving. Energetic Dave had arranged 3 more wreck dives starting off with the WWII Destroyer, HMS Maori. During an air raid in 1942 she suffered a direct hit to her engine room and sank. The ship was lifted and moved to her final resting place in 1945. Most of the wreck is now buried under tons of silt. Only the bridge area remains in view. The bow gun mount is still visible and I also found some old shells half buried underneath a rusty steel plate. There are some nice swim throughs but the structure didn’t look particularly sound. At a maximum depth of 15 metres this is a perfect wreck for less experienced divers. We even found an Octopus and a Gurnard milling about in the rocks.

There was far too much to explore in just 7-days. I had only sampled a quick ‘taster’ of Malta’s wreck diving delights. I sat down with Dave before every dive and asked him to highlight 3 or 4 key areas where I could at least get one reasonable photograph. A lot of our dives were sub 30 metres so we had to consider time limitations. One of the other divers who visited the Aviation Museum was told by Frederick Galea about another aeroplane wreck that was virtually intact and as of yet un-dived at 55 metres. Watch out Malta, I’ll be back….

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

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New academic study to confirm rehabilitative benefits of Scuba Diving

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A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise.

IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore.

The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).

Richard Cullen, Chairman of Deptherapy commented: “This evidence-based study demonstrates yet again the value of scuba diving and, in particular, the support provided by Deptherapy to severely traumatised people within the Armed Forces community. We await the publication of the detailed findings which we anticipate will be of considerable interest to all organisations who seek to assist in the rehabilitation of veterans through sporting activity, as well as the Scuba Diving world.”

Team Deptherapy returned to the UK last week from their first training expedition since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A small group of six veterans travelled with the Deptherapy Instructor Team to the charity’s international base at Roots Red Sea to undertake practical Scuba Diving training in the clear, warm waters of the Red Sea.

Joining Team Deptherapy for the first time was 20 year old paraplegic Corey Goodson who had this to say: “I have been made aware of a new academic study about the benefits of Deptherapy. Last week I learned to scuba dive properly with Deptherapy, a huge achievement for someone with paraplegia. Deptherapy doesn’t judge your injury, whether that be physical or psychological; it looks beyond, and it sees the person inside. That person is who they work with, and the Deptherapy programme encourages you to see your fellow beneficiaries in the same light. More important than the sense of achievement during the training, was the support, care, encouragement and love the team showed me. I have found a new family in Deptherapy. I am home now but the support, friendship and banter continue; it is motivating and empowering, it gives me a deep sense of wellness and worth. I look forward to continuing my rehabilitative journey with Deptherapy.”

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

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 6

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 6 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Thursday has dawned and it is down to the House Reef with an outgoing tide that is approaching slack so we can get in the water straight away.   Lots of chat about last night’s RAID O2 Provider session with Moudi.  Oatsie is talking about sidemounts and marine biology, Swars is looking forward to his first sidemount session this afternoon.

Moudi is supported by Oatsie this morning and doing some more skill work with Keiron.

Moudi running the guys through the RAID O2 Administrator Course

Corey was asking last night about what it is like at 30 metres, so I have decided that with Michael and Swars we will take him to 30 metres.  We are going to run a narcosis exercise so out comes the slate with the numbers 1 – 25 randomly placed in squares.  Corey’s task, in the dive centre, is as quickly as possible to touch each number in sequence.  He does it pretty quickly and Michael briefs him that he will need to do the same exercise at 30 metres.

Michael briefs the dive and we set off down the beach.  Corey has improved beyond measure and he is becoming a pleasure to dive with.  So we are off to follow the South reef to 30 metres where we will complete the second part of the exercise.

At 30 metres Michael hands Corey the slate; there is a considerable difference in the time to complete the exercise at the surface and at 30 metres.  There are lots of mitigating factors in how quickly you can identify the numbers and explaining a slower time at 30 metres than at the surface does not mean an individual is suffering from narcosis.  Identifying random numbers, if you run the exercise at the surface, several times with an individual over a number of hours can result in wide variations in the time taken to complete the exercise.

We finish the dive with Corey smiling from ear to ear and we have a discussion about depth and air consumption.  The second dive of the morning is a fun dive, then it is lunch in the beach restaurant.  After the burgers I am sure we will need to look at our weighting before the afternoon’s dive.

We will need to look at weighting after this lunch!

Corey and Keiron have got into the habit of recording their dives online using the RAID online log book which is a tremendous facility and as the instructor I can access that data.

Moudi and Keiron are going for a fun dive as are Corey, Oatsie, Michael and myself. Swars is getting kitted up for the first experience of sidemount with Guy Henderson.

Swars getting to grips with his sidemount cylinders

People often look at the relationships that exist between the dive team and our beneficiaries and try to extrapolate a similar relationship to disabled students they might have.  Our relationships are built up over a period of time, in some cases over many years.  We also provide 24/7 support and have chat groups etc on social media; we also meet up socially when we can.  It is somewhat different than a individual coming in to a dive centre and saying ‘I want to dive’. Your relationship is likely to be the same as any other student, you will teach them, they might stay with the dive centre or like many that will go on holiday to do some diving, you might never see them again.

Our main aim is to create a family atmosphere for our programme members, one where they feel secure and they are able to discuss freely with the team and fellow beneficiaries their feelings and needs.

Few dive centres are charities, and owners might want to consider costs of running a course for someone with a disability that might take more than the standard four pool sessions etc.  You may find the number of sessions and the staffing levels have to increase.  Many dive centres, because of their size and turnover are exempt from providing accessibility.  How will this affect someone who is a wheelchair user?  Can they gain access to the dive centre, the classroom, the toilet?  What are the changing facilities, can they get wheelchair access to the pool?

Lots of things to think about.

Roots’ beautiful reef

The reef is beautiful, so much aquatic life and the corals look splendid, especially the pinnacles.

A good day’s diving, Swars has really enjoyed his sidemount.

Lovely way to relax in the evening with the Roots BBQ, a fitting end to a great day.

Last day tomorrow and our final blog!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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