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Wining and Diving – Costa Brava, Spain

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


The Costa Brava is a hugely popular destination for those seeking sunshine, but it has much, much more to offer that just beaches and bars. One advantage to the huge number of tourists heading in this direction each year, is that the flights are competitively priced and go from all our major, and some smaller, airports. We had heard that there was some excellent diving around the Medes Islands and we got the opportunity to head to L’Estartit for a long weekend to check it out, as well as exploring the local region to sample its excellent food and wine. We flew into Girona, which is about an hour away from our coastal base and flew back to the UK from Barcelona, about 2 hours away from L’Estartit.

Our diving was to be based around a group of pinnacles called the Medes Islands. These can be reached by a very short boat ride from L’Estartit and are a series of weather-worn rocks rearing up out of the sea. The islands and the sea that surrounds them have been a marine reserve for over 30 years and the protected area immediately around the island excludes all fishing and hunting activities as well as throwing anchor. A much larger area, which is increasing in size all the time, has a series of further protections, to prevent any harmful fishing activities and preventing all but the handful of local line fishing boats from coming into this area at all. This protection, over a long period of time, has made these islands a mecca for divers.

The rock formations, when you go down to around 20m are covered in amazing gorgonian corals. Red, orange, yellow and pink corals cover the walls, anemones fight for space, so that dives are packed with colour. The fish life is also excellent. We encountered large octopus and grouper on all the dives. Schools of smaller fish patrol the shallows, barracuda form large schools and circle in the sunlight and blennies hide in every small hole that can be found. We also saw the biggest scorpionfish you are ever likely to see! On the short boat ride back to shore between dives, we encountered mola mola.

In our short stay, we got to visit 4 dive sites over 2 days of diving. Our first dive was actually on the main coastline rather than the Medes islands themselves. In flat calm water, basking in sunshine, we dropped down to find a series of overhangs, tunnels and caves to explore. Barracuda glinted in the sunlight near the surface and we were treated with an octopus poking out of a crevice on our slow descent. Closer inspection of the reef revealed both huge and tiny nudibanches, camouflaged scorpionfish and blennies hiding in every hole in the coral. It was a great dive, topped off by seeing a Mola mola, or sunfish, at the surface from the boat on our short journey back to harbour. After a bite to eat, we were back on a boat and heading for our first dive of the Medes Islands.

Les Farranelles is one of the smallest islands in the Medes Islands. The dive ranges in depth from around 8 to 40m. As you go deeper, you find more and more rock formation covered in amazing corals. Large grouper hang motionless in the water and even come up to divers to see what they are up to.  As you come up shallower, you can spend time looking for tiny critters on boulders closer to the surface. Moray Eels hide between the rocks, with their cleaner shrimp companions.

The next day we dived El Salpatxot, where a vital marine ecosystem of sea grass shelters juvenile fish. This dive site is on the largest of the islands and so can provide some shelter for divers in windy conditions. However, for us it was another perfect day, with visibility of about 15m, flat seas and the water temperature which suited our 5mm wetsuits well (around 21 degrees). Our final dive was to be one of the most famous dive sites in the area: Dolfi Sud (or Dolphin South). The site is named after a small statue of a dolphin that can be found at the entrance of one of the many caves that make up this dive site, one of which cuts right through the island from one side to the other. Grouper patrol the caverns that, at certain times of day, are flooded with sunlight. Conger eels lie tucked away in the caves too. It is a great site for those that like to explore.

Our diving over for this trip, we picked up our hire car and planned a route with the tourist board that would allow us visit some of the best, though not well-known, vineyards in the area and to be able to sample the fabulous local produce. This part of Spain is famous for olive oil and wine, as well as great food. We took our car up into the Roses region to sample some of what was on offer. Much of the area on land, as well as at sea, is nature reserve too, so the growers of olives and grapes follow a more traditional way of production, using organic methods and shunning heavy machinery. Our first stop was to a local co-operative, Empordalia, who work with local farmers to bring to market, the wines, olive oil and other local produce to sell in their shop and café. The wine, especially the sweet, red wine, and olive oil were wonderful and so we decided to bring some home with us (regardless of our tight weight limit on the plane!)

We then headed further towards the coast to visit a vineyard that was run by the granddaughter of the founder, Col de Roses. She whisked us into her 4×4 and said I have something to show you. She drove us through the stunning coutryside down to the coast, along smaller and smaller roads, until we were driving through the terraced national park along her vines. All this so that she could show us her sea view vines that get their cooling straight from the sea breezes. “You are divers” she said, “so am I – I thought you would like this!” We did. Up on the terrace, with got a chance to sample the wines and then, to our delight, she gave us 3 bottles to bring home and try in our own time (packing really was going to be a problem!)

Our final stop was to a gourmet restaurant, called Terranova, for lunch. This was to be no ordinary lunch, but a tasting menu, where food seemed to be never-ending, each small course being accompanied by a local wine (for Nick – who was not driving). We sat on the terrace, in dappled sunshine and loved every minute of it. Our tour was a perfect day trip from L’Estartit. The tourist board have created wine tours for all those that fancy a go at this and provide maps and recommendations to help you along.

As a final bonus, with our return flight from Barcelona, we got to do a quick day trip, taking in a leisurely walk up Las Ramblas, stumbling across a festival with human towers reaching scary heights with tiny children in crash helmets at the very top, jumping on a bus tour around this stunning city, all before heading to the airport and home.


Links

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Dive Training Blogs

What you need to know about SMBs!

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Ok, so not the most exciting of topics… but an important one nonetheless. Especially as many of us will be starting to enjoy the UK dive season and heading out to explore our beautiful coastline. Some of you may even be heading into the UK waters for the first time due to the travel restrictions… welcome, you will wish that you had done it sooner! 

Surface marker buoys. SMB’s are an invaluable piece of equipment. To demonstrate your position in the water, to fend off boats, to show off your buoyancy to your dive buddy when you can inflate it without moving an inch in the water… or to un-intentionally make your buddy laugh when you forget to attach your reel and send it up like a lost rocket… A must have skill and piece of equipment for all divers. But, how do you choose which one is right for you, and how do you use it correctly? 

Choosing a colour, we all know to look cool as a diver, its all about co-ordinating, but not so much with SMB’s I’m afraid. The standard colour is orange and is what you will typically see being used, and yellow due to it’s higher ability to be seen at night time is just for an emergency…. Not because it is your favourite colour…sorry yellow lovers! If you are wanting to personalise it though you could put your name down the SMB, that way the surface cover knows who it is underneath. 

Next, inflation. Here we have the option of open bottom or direct inflation. An open bottom means that you will need to use your alternate to inflate the SMB, direct inflation you would use your inflator hose. Either of these are sufficient and is generally down to preference. If you are not sure which you prefer, or how to use them, there is a course that you can take to learn all of the skills and offer some helpful tips of how to inflate it and control your buoyancy too. I happen to know an instructor that teaches it… so just drop me a message and I can help…!

So, we have the SMB, next we need a line or spool. So many decisions with a basic piece of kit! Most SMB’s will come with a line, which is great as you can use the equipment straight away. The only down side is, with gloves it can become annoying, especially if you are changing depths quite often as typical on a shore dive here. You may wish to look at a spool instead… They also come in more colours, and this time you can choose which ever you want… even yellow, result! 

Having got to the point of choosing you SMB and line/spool, where are we now going to keep it? Clipping it onto your BCD, keeping it in your pocket. Anywhere is sufficient as long as its easily accessible… like not in your car once you have entered the water…. So be sure to add you SMB to your buddy check! Happy diving! 


Find out more at www.duttonsdivers.com.

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DAN welcomes 2021 Research and Safety Interns

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Divers Alert Network® is excited to introduce five interns who will be working with the organization for the next few months to expand their knowledge of dive safety and research. After pausing the internship program last year, DAN is pleased to once again welcome young scholars pursuing their interests.

The DAN Internship Program was created more than 20 years ago to give qualified students valuable experience in dive safety research. While the program is still research-oriented, its scope has expanded over the years to include projects that focus on other facets of DAN’s mission to help divers in need of emergency medical assistance and to promote dive safety through education. These interns will spend several months at DAN headquarters in Durham, N.C., working with the Research and Safety Services departments on a variety of projects and research efforts.

Rhiannon Brenner graduated from UNC Wilmington with a degree in anthropology and minors in environmental science and international studies. She has been diving since she was 16, is a divemaster and is passionate about scuba and the environment. She is excited to be working with DAN Research to participate in studies with divers and to better our understanding of dive physiology.

Grant Dong is president of his dive club at the University of Maryland and a divemaster candidate. Grant just graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in physiology and neurobiology, and he is currently applying for medical school. During his time with DAN Research Grant hopes to merge his love of diving and passion for medicine.

Gabriel Graf is a rising sophomore at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and is pursuing a biochemistry degree with minors in ethics and data science. Gabe is an Eagle Scout and an active diver. Gabe will be an intern with DAN Research this summer and hopes to pursue graduate school to continue research in human genetics and synthetic biology.

Benjamin Kistler is studying biology at Indiana University Bloomington. He will graduate in the spring of 2022 and will begin medical school that fall. Ben is an advanced open water diver and has done academic research on cardiac and urinary point-of-care-ultrasounds. Ben, the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society-sponsored intern, will be working with DAN Research this summer as the Diver’s Health and Safety intern.

Christine Tamburri graduated in May 2020 from Penn State University with a degree in geosciences. During her undergraduate career she contributed to the expansion of the university’s scuba program and is passionate about using diving to further historical research in local communities. Christine was selected to work with DAN Safety Services last year, but as the program was canceled she’ll be completing her internship this summer.

“I’m always impressed by the accomplishments and professionalism of the interns that come spend time with us here at DAN,” said Bill Ziefle, DAN president and CEO. “This year’s group is already demonstrating impressive aptitude in the projects they’re involved with in DAN Research and DAN Safety Services. We’re glad they’re here!”

Join the DAN community or learn more at DAN.org.

Photo Caption: Clockwise from top right – Grant Dong, Christine Tamburri, Gabriel Graf, Rhiannon Brenner, Benjamin Kistler.

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Competitions

Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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