Heading off for a diving trip to Malta I envisaged myself swimming ‘Man from Atlantis’ style through crystal clear waters surrounded by shoals of exotic fish writes Sean Wilton.
Yes I’d read the brochures describing the sun-drenched charms magnificent reefs and warm summer seas of Malta and it seemed like the perfect setting for my aquatic adventure. Malta’s unspoiled waters and rocky coastline with its many coves and grottos rich fauna and sealife has seen the tiny Mediterranean island become something of an essential destination for divers.
As I stepped off the plane at Malta Airport I felt an intense dry heat countered by a gentle cooling breeze — perfect conditions. My romantic ideas of underwater adventure would surely be realised here.
A 40-minute drive through sun drenched open roads and narrow winding sandy city streets and we arrived at our destination — The Crowne Plaza Hotel in the heart of Sleima Malta’s main coastal resort.
Staffed with friendly English-speaking locals the hotel is situated within a short walk of both the city centre and the beach.
After a quick recce and an enjoyable evening in the hotel bar I headed back to my room in the knowledge that I was not in Malta merely to relax — I was here to dive.
The following morning was spent exploring Sleima. Once a small fishing town a few miles from the capital Valletta it has developed into a bustling and fashionable area with many new hotels shops and restaurants. This large commercial area manages to retain a traditonal feel thanks to its traditional Maltese architecture.
In the afternoon our group of aspiring divers had a routine medical examination in preparation for our first dive the next day. Given the all-clear we were then allocated dive buddies and I was paired off with a fellow beginner.
On the day of the dive we drove to Cirkewwa on the north of the island where we caught the ferry to Gozo where it was impossible not to be impressed by the clarity and colour of the water around the island.
Before taking to the water we had wetsuits fins masks and tanks to negotiate. We were then taught a few simple hand signals followed by instruction in basic techniques for clearing our masks recovering our regulators (mouthpiece) and regulating our buoyancy jackets. Finally we took to the shallow coastal waters swimming around with our buoyancy jackets fully inflated while we practised breathing in and out through the mouthpiece.
Once everyone was confident we began to swim around using only our legs with arms by our sides. We also tried inflating and deflating our buoyancy jackets moving up and down as we swam.
Visibility was probably around 10 metres enough to see fish and other sealife below the surface. After about 20 minutes I was feeling confident and began to venture out of the group — until our instructor reeled me in signaling it was time return to shore. Very satisfied we returned to the hotel early that evening tired and ready for dinner. Another shower and it was down to the bar again to meet the group and discuss our progress over a few drinks.
Buoyed by our success under the sea we tackled the two-mile promenade walk to St Julian’s — another former fishing port which is now an extension of Sleima. A picturesque area St Julian’s offers plenty of charming restaurants and cafes many of which boast romantic open air dining. For the young at heart a short walk into adjacent Paceville rewards visitors with numerous bars discos and clubs as well as the Casino de Malte.
The seas around Malta are virtually tideless and currents are very rare in summer. So by our third and final dive of the trip my dive buddy and I were competent at the basics and were beginning to enjoy exploring our underwater surroundings.
Three dives just isn’t enough to make the most of the diving opportunities around Malta but the whole experience was simply fantastic so you can be sure I’ll be going back for more.
This is Lancashire (November 19, 2003)