Category Archives: Diving

Malta

A bit late for this one I know, but I’m writing it anyway, if only to keep my records up to date.

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Back through the mists of time, to a distant age called September, Lady Hughes and myself travelled to the sun-drenched island of Malta at the far end of the Mediterranean – is this poetic enough?

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As a keen diver I’ve always wanted to visit Malta as it’s a bit of a mecca for divers with all the wrecks and diving infrastructure. Apparently there’s something like 60 dive centres on the island and they get 35’000 divers visit each year.

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We stayed away from the crowds by staying at the Ramla Bay Hotel, near Mellieha. The hotel was lovely and they upgraded us to a panoramic room when they heard it was Clare’s 50th birthday – we didn’t mention that her birthday was actually six months earlier.

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The Ramla Bay Hotel is a family resort with several pools, restaurants, etc. which was fine. It did ruin the ambience slightly when we sat out on the balcony, with a bottle of red wine, some evenings to watch the sun go down, only to be bombarded with screams from the kids club and loud renditions of ‘the Wheels on the Bus’, – but live and let live eh.

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Highlights of the island were, the medieval citadel at Medina, the neighbouring island of Gozo and the capital Valletta.

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Valletta is still dominated by the medieval fortifications and is fascinating and beautiful. We visited the cathedral, the saluting battery, the palace and the armouries as well as walking most of the walls. Valletta’s had a very turbulent history from the Knights of St John fighting off Muslim invaders through to the Second World War where the Germans battered the island so much they were all awarded the George Cross for bravery.

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As for diving, Clare and myself dived twice at Cirkewwa, gentle reefs just near to the ferry terminal to Gozo and not far from our Hotel.  Clare had never really done any ‘proper’ sea dives and she loved it.

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As a Master Scuba Diver I was qualified to dive the Um El Faroud, which is the wreck of a huge tanker, sunk on purpose for divers. – Clare couldn’t as you have to be advanced or above. The tanker rests at about 36 metres and sits upright but split in two. The entry was a little rough but once we were in it was a very smooth descent down until the huge wreck emerged out of the gloom.

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Over two dives we swam through the blades of the massive propeller, explored the interior and were treated to the sight of a school of barracuda hovering over the stern.

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Our last day of diving was at the tiny island of Comino. Clare and I, and the other divers, were taken to the dive site by RIB which was almost worth the money in itself as we bounced through the waves like James Bond – well in my head anyway.

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Once there we dived through caves and reefs for our first dive, spotting lots of fish including a moray eel. For our second we dived a sunken patrol boat, which was great, with lots of life and great visibility.

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Malta is a fascinating island, with lovely people and a wonderful history. Some people love the place and we met several ex-pats (immigrants?)who had moved there from dear old blighty. Personally, I liked it, especially Valletta, but I wasn’t so blown away as to be desperate to get back. If I do go back it will probably be for the diving, which was excellent – special thanks to the team at Orangeshark H20 Diving who took care of us, I would heartily recommend them to anyone and would definitely use them again.

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Diving at Capernwray

 

For this week’s adventure we piled the diving gear into the car and set off for Capernwray Diving Centre near to England’s beautiful lake district.

Diving in the UK is not quite as easy as it is in the tropics. The changeable weather and northern latitude makes it a bit more complicated, with variable conditions and colder water needing kit that’s up to the challenge – Us British divers are a hardy breed indeed.

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That being said there is some beautiful diving in the waters around the British Isles, and I’d love to do more of it.

To make things a little bit easier, there are various dive centres around the country where you can practice your skills and have a lot of fun in a more controlled environment. Probably the best one near to us is Capernwray.

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As it’s August, the water was a balmy 20 degrees and being a Friday, the centre was quiet which meant the silt wasn’t all stirred up and the visibility was excellent – 8 to 12 metres, eat your heart out Bermuda!

Clare and myself were diving with friends, Mark and Sal, and both dives went well, lasting about an hour each. I’ve dived Capernwray many times now and I’ve taken lots of pictures and even a few videos, so I left the camera behind this time – except for a few snaps of us getting kitted up. But here’s some shots from previous trips and a video from my close friend Jack Custard.

The French may have Jacques Cousteau and coral reefs, but Lancashire’s got Jack Custard and sunken transit vans!

Enjoy,

Chris

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Long Weekend in Dublin

Last week it was my 45th birthday, so as a gift my brother Peter, and Sister Clare, chipped in for flights for the current Mrs Hughes and myself to go over to Ireland and spend the weekend with them.

After two hours of enforced shopping at Manchester Airport we were herded onto the Ryanair flight to Dublin. With a flight time of 35 minutes, we were barely in the air before it was announced that we were starting the approach to land. It seems we now live in an age where it’s quicker to fly hundreds of people across an expanse of sea to another country, than to check what’s in their shoes and bags.

Peter picked us up and after a couple of hours drinking tea and catching up at his, we all went off to the pub. I was on the Guinness (when in Rome) but Mrs Hughes asked for a fruit flavoured cider. When I asked the barman if he had any fruity ciders he looked at me as though I’d just asked him out for a date, shouting to Peter, “Where’d you get him from?

The lovely thing about visiting my family in Ireland, apart from how warm and friendly everyone is, is that it’s one of the few times Clare and I get to chill out and relax. We can stop and talk and recharge our batteries.

I only discovered the Irish side to my family a few years ago (I’ll save that story for another time) and we’ve been over to visit quite a few times since then, as well as an expedition to Australia to see two of my sisters. All I can say is how wonderful it’s been and how special they’ve all become to me, they don’t replace the family I grew up with, they are a great addition to them.

The next day we drank more tea and laughed and joked through the morning until Peter drove us to Howth for a walk round the harbour.

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Howth is a beautiful peninsular just north of Dublin with its own harbour and marina, famous for being the home of W. B. Yeats the poet. There’s lots of restaurants and lovely little market – listen to me, I’m starting to sound like a pensioner – anyway, the sun was shining and we enjoyed ourselves.

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Walking along the dockside, we took turns stopping Peter’s daughter, Layna, leaping off the edge into the sea and checked out the boats, we even saw a seal swimming lazily around the fishing boats looking for an easy meal.

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Howth has a scuba school and we popped in to ask about day trips. It turns out there’s a famous wreck not far away – we may be back soon with our kit.

Evening was a barbeque at Peter’s, with more of the family (John, Anne, Clare and Aunty Anne). Ger dispensed housing advice and we filled up on lots of meat and beer before Peter and I retired to the lounge to watch England get beaten by Italy – but still a great night.

Many thanks to Peter, Ger, Clare and everyone else for the perfect birthday present, I just hope we can return the favour soon.

Chris

Diving at Ecclestone Delph

After last weekend’s descent into old age, we decided to up the ante a bit this weekend with our first proper dive of the year (I’m not including Trefor Pier!).

So off up the M6 to Ecclestone Delphi dive centre.

We’ve dived here several times in the past and the visibility can vary depending on the weather and how busy it is. The hope was that by going on a weekday it’d be a bit quieter and less stirred up.

Other countries may have beautiful warm waters and shimmering coral reefs, Lancashire has Ecclestone Delphi, 10 degree water, 6 metre visibility and sunken transit vans. I made a video last year, as my alter ego – Jack Custard, to showcase the many underwater delights.

We had two good dives exploring the various wrecks and watching the fish, including some dazzling koi carp.

In Bermuda divers may jump in with just their shorts and a t-shirt on, but we had thermal undersuits, drysuits, gloves, hoods, thick socks and extra weights to make sure we could actually sink with all the kit on – such are the joys of British diving.

Still, the last dive we did meant extra underclothes, long-johns and fleece jumpers, so today felt vaguely tropical.

Chris

 

 

Almost Diving at Trefor Pier

The plan was to make our first dive of the year a simple, easy one at Trefor Pier in Wales.

That was the plan anyway.

I was diving with Mark Rogers and my wife Clare.  None of us had dived Trefor before but we’d spoken to people who had and it was a nice easy dive along the wall and then under the wooden pier where we were promised  lots of exciting wildlife including giant spider crabs – sounded ideal.

First test was the tide times.  To get into the water just before high tide we’d have to be there at approx.  8am .  Which meant setting the alarm to 5am so we could set off before 6am.

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No problem, got there dead on 8am and the weather and conditions looked great, relatively calm and sheltered with sunny blue skies.  Mark got there just after us and we started to kit up.

As we were getting ready a local asked us if we could attach a buoy to an old one just off the pier.  When we looked it was 30 meters away in the middle of nowhere.  He explained that they’d tried to do it themselves with a boat but they’d got tangled in nets and had to call out the lifeboat to rescue them.  Needless to say, we made our apologies and politely declined our chance to get lost in the Irish Sea dragging a bright orange buoy and chain with us.

Once in the water we soon realised that the visibility was not as good as we had hoped.  In fact it was virtually non-existent.  Probably less than 6 inches in reality (see the video below).  Hoping it would get better, we moved further along the wall but nothing improved.  Laughing that we’d have done better diving in a bath full of gravy granules we headed back.

I think I got down to an amazing depth of 4 inches.  Essentially we were the best equipped snorkelers in Wales as we simply surface swam along the wall and then back again.

I took some time to walk the beach and take a few shots but then we headed home.

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Trefor is still on my to-do list, but probably in Summer.

I made a short video of our ‘dive’ as my alter-ego Jack Custard (Lancashire’s answer to Jaques Cousteau) – enjoy.

Until next time fellow adventurers,

Chris