ITS ALWAYS GOOD TO START a trip with a wreck or two, and Brian Goldthorpe, my host and local manager for a tour of Gran Canaria, is treating me to just that.
While Brian runs the Davy Jones dive centre in Arinaga, today we are diving with Buceo Canarias in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Most dive centres from the south and west of the island use Buceo Canariass RIB when they are diving in the Las Palmas area.

LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA
The port at Las Palmas is the busiest in the Canary Islands, handling imports and transhipment at the crossroads between the north-south and east-west shipping routes of the Atlantic. It is hardly surprising that there are wrecks in the vicinity.
Dive-centre owner Gorka Guitierrez points the RIB south for the 20-minute ride out to the Arona. Gorka makes an easy job of dropping anchor on the bow of the wreck, assisted by GPS, echo-sounder and transits.
Its much easier than navigating the complicated road system into the marina area, though once there, Buceo Canarias is easy to find on the front, with its big window display of dive kit.
Its a good job Brian was driving; left to my own devices in a rental car I could have gone round in circles for hours.
The Aronas hull is pretty much intact, on its starboard side in 35m, with tall goalpost masts between pairs of holds hanging out across the sand. Each mast spans a deck-house, with railings at the edge and winch gear above.
A shoal of barracuda hangs off the wreck, just about in line with the cross-pieces of the goalposts, no doubt grabbing lunch from the much larger clouds of sardines and damselfish closer to the hull.
The Arona sank after an engine-room fire in 1972, and the superstructure above the diesel engine lies peeled off by gravity, and broken on the sand. The big rockers and springs at the top of the engine draw me in easily. Much of the engine-room is exposed, with no need to get into an overhead environment.
Aft of the engine-room is one more small hold with attendant goalpost mast, then we are round the stern to the rudder and propeller-shaft. The missing propeller is the only sign of commercial salvage.
Back towards the bow, Gorka diverts to make sure that the anchor is clear of the wreck, while Brian draws my attention to the port side of the hull. Small yellow gorgonians are striving to become a forest. A gang of jacks is curious, but not curious enough to come close.
The journey out to the Arona had been comfortable, but with the wind and waves our return to Las Palmas is considerably wetter, as the RIB breaks the waves and throws spray across the deck. We dont go into the harbour, just rest up in the shelter of the outer wall to eat lunch and warm up in the sun.
From there it is only a few hundred metres to the Kalais. Visibility on this wreck is considerably less than on the Arona, attributed to the nearby construction of a new breakwater and land reclamation.
With steep hills backing the shoreline, it is easier to find land by filling in from the shallow shoreline. Harbour extensions in the past have actually buried wrecks, or effectively moved them from outside to inside the harbour area.
The Kalais sank at anchor in 1978, fully laden with bagged cement. At 110m long, it is the largest of Gran Canarias wrecks, standing upright in 33m, though by staying on deck with a short diversion into the engine-room, my dive reaches a maximum of 26m.
There are some breaks in the hull forward, but the superstructure aft is considerably more intact than the Aronas, and much longer and wider.
I follow Gorka through a nice drop into the engine-room and alongside the head of the engine, then turn back to where Brian is pointing out a set of gauges on the forward bulkhead.
The cabins aft of the engine-room have merged into a single large area where wooden partitions have rotted away. Either that, or the captain enjoyed a palatial view from his bath-tub.
Both wrecks are nicely illustrated in the guide-book Descubre Gran Canaria Bajo del Mar. The text is triplicated in Spanish, English and German - its nice to benefit from someone elses wreck tours.
Brian introduces me to Arturo Boya Lopez from Oceanografica, publisher of the book and a suite of marine-life guides for the Canaries and eastern Atlantic. Most of the wreck illustrations were created from video surveys, but the illustration for one cave site called for a far more involved approach.
I dont have the opportunity to dive at La Cathedral on this trip, but from the illustration it looks interesting.
For this maze of caves and canyons, Arturos team constructed a model which they then photographed. The artist worked from the photos to create the published illustration.

PUERTO DE MOGAN
The map of Gran Canaria is almost circular, and for the next day I am 180° away from Las Palmas, with Canary Diving at Mogan. Like most dive centres here, it picks up from all over the southern end of the island.
Staying at the Gloria Palace above San Agustin, I am second on todays route, with a 40-minute ride to Mogan in a minibus driven by instructor Shaun. Boss Jerry OConnor prepares the RIB as we change and rig kit, just along from the Yellow Submarine berth.
The UK is snowbound, and a couple of days ago I was lucky to get out of Heathrow. The freak weather extends as far south as the Canary Islands.
Brian had shown me a local paper with pictures of mountain roads in the centre of Gran Canaria closed by snow. We dont see any at sea level, and only the odd light shower of rain, but there is plenty of wind, and the sea looks grim.

THE WRECKS WE WILL VISIT are just outside, sunk specially for the Yellow Submarine tours. Jerry persuades a couple of inexperienced divers to delay their diving. They can come back in a day or two when the sea improves.
He wants them to enjoy their dives.
He then nips out in the RIB to drop a shotline on the steel fishing boat Cermona II, before coming back to run us fully kitted divers out to the wreck. It must be rough outside, because Jerrys dog Max is wearing his life jacket.
Its not actually that rough. I wouldnt want to suffer a long journey crashing through wind and spray, but the only difficult bit on the surface is getting back into the boat as its blown away faster than I can swim.
Under water, the surge reaches down to the seabed at 20m, picking up sand so that the vis is considerably less than the clear blue Canary norm.
The wreck turns out to be pleasingly larger than expected. After playing about beneath the keel and propeller guard, Shaun and I swim through the wheelhouse and cabin behind, scaring off the usual clouds of damselfish.
Right at the stern, big trumpetfish hang almost vertical beneath the trawl gallows. They must think I cant see them if they are upright in the water, unlike the roncadores by the bow and barracuda further out, which are reliably horizontal.
There is another swim-through from the hold to a hatch just behind the forecastle, but we leave this for Dave from Dive Academy, who is teaching a wreck speciality with some line-laying.
Dive Academy is one of several dive centres that take boat spaces from Canary Diving to visit Mogan wrecks.
We use a similar procedure to dive the Alagranza, another steel fishing-boat. Jerry had warned me this was more broken, but again I ampleasantly surprised.
There is enough structure for a short swim through the wheelhouse, though with the reduced visibility, things like anemones and arrow crabs are of more interest closer to the broken bow.

A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER I AM with Canary Diving again. The sea has calmed, and Jerry takes us along the coast to a site known simply as the Artificial Reef, or Biotopos.
This is a university project that sank various structures in 20m on a flat sandy seabed, to see which would be preferred by various marine life.
As usual, there is a big shoal of roncadores and another of barracuda, which I am busy creeping up on when Shaun shakes his rattle to show me an angel shark, the first of the trip, cruising past in the other direction.
Angel sharks and rays are usually plentiful at this time of year, but for me they are scarce.
We head inshore for a second dive at Posito Blanco reef, a low lava flow undercut to give small overhangs and cracks that critters such as octopuses and moray eels just love to inhabit, with the obligatory roncadores hovering above one end.
On the journey back to Mogan, Jerry points out the location of the Meteor II, the Russian hydrofoil wreck I had enjoyed with Dive Academy last time I was in Gran Canaria.
Unfortunately it was badly broken by a storm, and is no longer intact.
Jerry also names each resort town as we pass them. Big cliffs extend from the southern tip of the island all the way along the west coast, so the towns are nicely isolated from each other, climbing the sides of the few river valleys that cut through the rocks to the shoreline, each with its own character.
Back outside Mogan, we stop for a quick dive on the Cermona II. Perhaps the visibility has improved It hasnt settled much, but I do get to see the Yellow Submarine as it whirs past in the distance.
The Six Nations Rugby is kicking off, and being from Ireland Jerry knows just the Irish pub in which to watch the opening game. Most of the crowd celebrates as Ireland beats France.

AERO CLUB
Rugby is an alien concept to Eric from Nordic Diving, who collects me from the Gloria Palace.
Nordic Diving is of course run by Scandinavians, and I would have thought that formalised combat followed by large amounts of beer would have appealed to the Vikings.
Nordic Diving is at the back of the Aero Club airfield just north of Playa del Ingles. Its easy enough to find, because a big red aeroplane parked outside is clearly visible from the main road. The logo is a Moose Crossing road sign, with added scuba gear.
Divers are given whatever rental gear they need, then we hitch a trailer full of cylinders and weights behind the 4x4 and head for Arinaga and down a rocky track to the marine reserve.

EL CABRON, LISTED AS A Site of Special Scientific Interest by the EU in 2001, is one of three reserves in the Canary Islands. Boats and fishing are prohibited, and divers reap the benefits.
When I toured all seven Canary Islands (Whirlwind Canaries, August 2005) it was one of the most prolific dive sites of the trip, so Im looking forward to getting to know it better.
El Cabron translates as the Bastard, and this could easily come from the main entry and exit point.
A rocky flat leads out to a funnelling gully known as the Washtub, where waves build and surge, pulling divers off their feet and either spitting them back out or sucking them in - usually the opposite of what you want to do.
It isnt really that bad. Our two dive guides are experienced in the conditions and steady us through the worst parts. The entry is really no worse than many UK shore dive-sites on a blustery day. If it were not for having both hands full of camera, I could have handled it without assistance.
Out of the Washtub, the surge disappears. After the entry I want to test my camera and have a target at once in a pair of cuttlefish on the pebbles.
Our objective for the dive is a tunnel through the end of the lava flow at just past 20m, then a cave a little way back on the far side. Between the two is a decorated Christmas tree, still upright and intact six weeks after the festivities.
We return across the top of the reef. The Table is a good shallow dive site in itself, often used as a training spot.
Its a sunny day, but a cold wind is whipping along the shoreline. Out of the water, I peel the top half of my 7mm wetsuit off and wrap up in dry clothes.
I also pull my hat on and apply sun block. The Canaries are on the same latitude as Florida and Egypt, so while its a bit chilly in the wind, I dont want inadvertently to get fried.
For a second dive, we head out across the Table to join the wall just on from where we had left it on the first dive.
A few rocky teeth separated from the wall form a broken amphitheatre inhabited by roncadores. There have been big shoals at most sites, but this one is enormous, and has been here as long as anyone can remember. With all that lunch on tap, a fair-sized shoal of barracuda hovers above the wall.

ARINAGA
I conclude my tour of Gran Canaria by returning to the Davy Jones dive centre in Arinaga with Brian Goldthorpe. Having co-ordinated everything between the dive centres in Gran Canaria and taken me to Las Palmas to dive with Buceo Canarias, I am finally diving with Brian on his home patch, in the El Cabron marine reserve.
Davy Jones does visit other sites around the island, but its so close to the reserve that we can change in the comfort of the dive centre, and use one of Brians special tat minibuses for the five minutes each way to El Cabron, then travel back wet to get changed in the dive centre, warm up and have a hot drink between dives. Brian has much nicer minibuses for longer trips.
This proximity proves fortuitous when I knock my camera housing while entering the Washtub. It doesnt break, but a few spots of water get in and we can return to the dive centre, clean and dry the housing, check the catches, put it back together and then try again.
El Cabron encompasses a wide range of dive sites, and for a change we head for Ponta de la Sal, in the opposite direction from the main reef. I can already visualise the dive, because Brian uses a 3D model sculpted on the back wall of the dive centre for briefings.
Our journey to the point is briefly interrupted to say hello to an octopus. The wall then breaks into a slope where we venture out on the sand to look for sting rays and angel sharks.
This spot is generally good, but today we have no luck.
Brian has a few years of data on sightings he has been collecting on behalf of the local university, and at this time of year they are usually easy to find. Perhaps the recent storm drove them into deeper water, and they are taking their time to return.
The big objective for the dive is a pair of yellow gorgonians off the point at 30m. A moderate current is working against us, though this is why the gorgonians are there.
Brian had mentioned a forest of smaller gorgonians on the wall just around the point, but with the diversion to look for rays and sharks its time to head back, taking in patches of anemones and sponges that we had ignored on the way out.

BACK AT THE DIVE CENTRE, I FIT a macro lens, and can use the wi-fi connection to check my email. Some other dive centres also offer this, but this is the only time I have been back at a centre between dives.
For our second dive the tide has dropped, making entry easier. We head across the sand to find a scrap of net, but the resident seahorse eludes us. Some days it hides in the middle of the ball of netting where no one can find it.
Never mind, I have plenty to keep me happy with anemones, shrimps, flounders, a very well-camouflaged octopus and more cuttlefish, or possibly the same cuttlefish I had seen when diving with Nordic Divers.
In between, its fun to catch up with all the regular fish I had not taken much notice of so far - the painted combers, lizardfish, filefish, bream, parrotfish and wrasse. Quite a few of the parrotfish have parasites at the sides of their heads.
My flight is the following afternoon, so I get a bonus morning dive.
Brian had hoped to drive to the north-west corner of the island to dive at Sardina, but the north wind puts a spanner in the works. I am quite content to get another dive at El Cabron.
This time we head across the Table to the Big Cave, about twice the size of the cave I had seen previously.
A cute hermit crab diverts my attention on the way there, then a scorpionfish and a few more lizardfish.
In the cave, the bonus is a slipper lobster clinging to the wall halfway back. Then, in a small alcove right at the back among the shrimps, Brian points out Canarian lobsters, an endemic species about the size of a squat lobster.
The dive just keeps getting better when, nearer the mouth of the cave, we find a forkbeard, a bit like a ling with a double barbel beneath its chin.
Brian spots a stargazer buried in the sand just outside the cave, and a sea hare on the way home.

BACK AT DAVY JONES, I wash out the kit. Iberia had wanted to charge me 150 euros each way for a divers allowance, so I had kept my baggage with camera kit and wetsuit inside the normal 23kg by borrowing fins, boots, regulator and BC from Brian, taking it all with me to the other dive centres.
To finish the week, we all get together for dinner at the Aero Club. In Canarian style, the menu is magnificent on meat.
I opt for a mixed grill, hoping to get a bit of everything. Instead, I am served almost a complete meal of everything.
Perhaps that sums up the diving, though a meal of tapas from earlier in the week could be a more appropriate analogy. Great variety, and a taster of everything I like. Especially the dates wrapped in bacon.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: John Liddiard flew with Iberia from Heathrow via Madrid. www.iberia.com. Budget and charter flights are available from many UK regional airports.
DIVING: Arinaga: Davy Jones Diving, www.davyjonesdiving.com. Mogan: Canary Diving Adventures, www.canary-diving.com. Aero Club Playa del Ingles: Nordic Divers, www.nordicdivers.com. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Buceo Canarias, www.buceocanarias.com.
ACCOMMODATION: La Manga - Las Gaviotas Hotel, +34 902 223 321. Mazarron - La Meseguera Hotel, +34 968 594 154
WHEN TO GO: Diving is available year round, the coldest water temperature being 18°C in winter. Larger marine life such as angel sharks and sting rays are seasonal.
DIVING SUITABLE FOR: Mostly easy and shallow, but plenty to interest more experienced divers.
PRICES: Scheduled flights cost about £300; less for charter and discount flights. Package holidays with flights and accommodation cost £350 or so. A 10-dive package costs about 250 euros, car rental from 90 euros.
TOURIST INFORMATION: Spanish Tourist Office, 020 7486 8077, www.spain.info/uk. Diving and marine life guide books from Oceanografica, www.oceanografica.com.