I’VE BEEN POPPING IN AND OUT OF CAVERNS all week, and in most of them it seems to be the rule that one large sting ray should be resting in the darkest corner.
Particulates dancing in these gloomy recesses make photographing the grey gentlemen tricky, but now I have found one out in the open, resting where the deck of a wreck meets the sand.
I move in close, and am so absorbed with the ray that I haven’t a clue whats going on behind me.
Eventually I turn to see whether the other divers are still there or have lost patience (who could blame them), and am surprised to see a submarine gliding by just a few metres from my fins.
Not just any submarine, but a yellow submarine. Narked at 20m
I’m slightly ashamed later of my instinctive reaction, which is to regard the sub less as a photo opportunity and more as an intrusion. Any illusion of intrepid wreck-diving has been shattered by the rows of occupants gazing out through the portholes.
This is, of course, a selfish response. It’s great that everyone can get a taste of the underwater world the easy way, and without a tourist sub plying its trade in southern Gran Canaria, the twin wrecks I have been enjoying might never have been sunk here. Anyway, I quickly turn back to the ray, and normal diving service is resumed.
When things started turning a bit sour for tourism in Egypt, I wondered which other year-round diving destinations within close range of the UK would move to capitalise on the opportunity. Business is business, and for many countries tourism means everything.
Nowhere within a five-hour flight range can offer diving to match that of the Red Sea, or the same value for money. However, if an alternative was needed, Spains Canary Islands seemed an obvious choice.
Situated on the other side of Africa, off the Western Saharan coast, these volcanic islands enjoy a balmy sub-tropical climate year-round, relatively warm waters and plenty of Atlantic/ Mediterranean life in them.
They’re on much the same latitude as Sharm, but flights from the UK take little more than four hours.
The Canaries don’t seem to have been pushing that hard to attract more divers, but the islands have always done well on visitor numbers anyway – they drew a record 12 million in 2011, mainly from the UK, Germany, Scandinavia and mainland Spain.
Gran Canaria is the third-largest of the 13 islands, and attracts more than 3 million of those tourists. Much of the island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and it is reckoned to offer not only the most varied climate but the best weather in the Canaries.
Las Palmas in the north is the Canaries’ co-capital. Head south from the nearby airport on a smart new road that cuts cleanly through the impressive mountains, and eventually you reach the port of Mogan.
I had been invited for a short visit by Gran Canaria Estacion Nautica, which promotes the whole panoply of water sports but had quickly accepted that it was only diving that interested me.
As it happens this nautical association shares a management team with Gran Canaria Spa, Wellness & Health, so the idea was that after diving I should be subjected to a variety of massages, wraps and thalasso treatments.
It was a tough call, and I’m no expert on the thousands of ways to be physically pampered, but I was up for it.

IN REALITY THE ONLY TOUGH call on the six-day trip came when getting in and out of the water on the first day.
It was a Saturday, and I had been driven up to the El Cabron Marine Reserve at Arinaga on the east coast by genial Jerry O’Connor of Canary Diving Adventures, based in Playa de Taurito in the bay next to Mogan.
We carried our gear in boxes down to the rocks overlooking the sea, kitted up and made our way over slippery boulders into the water.
The process was complicated by the fact that one of the Canaries’ many underwater photo competitions was in progress, with divers moving in and out of the water with some urgency.
I was all over the place every time I hit this rocky interface, but Gerry and his new German intern Katharina were on the case, and bundled me in and out like a cherished sack of spuds.
Was it worth it Just a bit. El Cabron (a Spanish word to use with care, by the way, as it has many meanings, few of them good) is a deservedly famous site, and Jerry had 15s available to ensure that we could spend as long as we fancied down there.
We headed south along the plateau, then descended to a white sandy seabed at 23m. I was surprised by the number of fish either probing or swarming above the algae-covered rocks – the brilliant red female and grey male European parrotfish, stripy marmor bream and bluefin damsels standing out.
Then you look up and see sardines, lots more bream and, every now and then, a few dozen striped barracuda needling through.
On the seabed swarmed a vast school of Gran Canaria’s signature roncadores, the yellow-finned silver grunt that gather at prime sites and around wrecks. Roncadores translates as “snorkellers” or “snorers”.
Keeping a hungry eye on the snorers were predatory comb grouper, typically dark green in colour.
It was a fascinating, constantly changing seascape. This is the Atlantic, not the place for corals, just rock draped in insubstantial pale green and pink algae. This may look like sea-fluff, but for the fish it’s like having a Nandos on every corner.
And with an assortment of arches, overhangs, ledges and caverns to explore we were constantly coming across interesting reef citizens, such as black or tiger moray eels being picked over by arrow crabs and white-banded cleaner shrimps, or solitary jewel anemones in startling oranges, yellows and pinks on cavern walls.

FIREWORMS WRIGGLED, lizardfish darted when disturbed, the ubiquitous trumpetfish glided nose-down in ones or twos (except in Trumpetfish Cavern, where they were living up to the name in numbers) and brilliantly coloured starfish and black sea urchins did zilch, at least to the eye of the impatient diver.
We couldn’t find Jerry’s blue lobster, but we did come across a stargazer, thanks to his powers of observation.
They’re not easy to spot, just two eyes and a grimace in the sand. I had seen them only in the Far East before, but I would see another, even grimmer-looking example on a later dive at a site west of Puerto Mogan with guide Max of Extra Divers. I was impressed that he didn’t try so much as to waft the sand off its body. Few guides can resist!
El Cabron made for a good day out by any standards, and the competing photographers, though we barely saw them under water at this extensive site, must have been filling their boots.
Jerry runs Canary Diving Adventures with equally amiable brother David and Max the dog, who was greeted warmly by every diver we met.
Visits to the twin wrecks near Mogan harbour came not only with Jerry on my last day (when the sub came by), but with Extra Divers, the dive centre at the Cordial Mogan Playa resort where I was staying. I did four dives with each outfit.
The Mogan wrecks were trawlers: the 40m Araganza, deliberately sunk some 20 years ago, lying on its side but broken back from the bow so that the trawl-winch becomes the primary focal point.
Sixty metres away across the sandy seabed, good visibility makes it easy to find the upright Cermona II, a 30m Dutch steel vessel sunk in 2002, pitched to starboard and a bit less intact now than in the dive-centre illustrations.
You can dive both wrecks together easily on one dive, and for artificial reefs they gave me a lot of fun. I kept finding new views and distractions, whether a fearless octopus posing on flattened wreckage, a blue moray stretching out in the open or a colourful grouper trying to be unobtrusive in a winch-frame.
Those huge yellow clouds of roncadores are rarely far away, and if you settle and scan the upper reaches you’ll see not only barracuda, bream and trumpetfish on patrol but tuna too.
Most of the other divers on the Extra Divers boat were German, a very friendly crowd, but when I overheard their briefing before our first visit to the wrecks I kept hearing the word “U-boot” and for a moment got excited.
When I received my personalised briefing in English, I realised that they were being advised to stay above the wreck if the yellow submarine came past.
As it happened Frank, one of the visiting divers, turned out to have commanded a real U-boat in the 1990s.
I dived with Frank and his son at a boulder site called Taibabales, alive with morays, colourful anemones, barracuda and trumpetfish as usual, plus the small red scorpionfish or rockfish that seem to enjoy the company of urchins and arrow crabs.
Taibabales was the second dive on the longest journey we made on Extra Divers’ boat, some 40 minutes’ cruise east of Mogan. Pasito Blanco is a well-known site, a large mushroom-shaped plateau in about 18m of water.
We swam around its rim to see what was occurring beneath the overhang.It was no surprise to be surrounded by roncadores on the sand but we also saw common sting rays, flounders and
a black and yellow tiger moray stretched full-length in an eel-shaped recess.
What, no angel sharks, you say Are the Canaries not always associated with these shark/ray crosses Not this time.

THE 4* CORDIAL MOGAN PLAYA RESORT is the sort of place I would happily recommend to friends. Big and sprawling, it was built on the site of botanical gardens so incorporates many old plantings – some 450 species.
The relatively low-rise buildings are spread out and interspersed with vegetation so that even with 500 rooms occupied it feels more like a pleasant village than a bustling tourist hotel.
The generous facilities, including the Inagua spa (thanks for the massage, as if the diving wasn’t relaxing enough) and buffet-style restaurants are outstanding.
Slip out of the back gate and it’s a short walk to pleasant Mogan harbour, with its beach, restaurants and bars.
What about the wellness I am now persuaded that this sort of thing goes well with diving. After all, you don’t want to go over-exerting yourself while off-gassing, do you
Combined with no-nitrox diving (they don’t see the point in Gran Canaria for a couple of 20m dives a day), fine food and a wellness session, I slept soundly at night in a dream duvet of roncadores.
Besides Spa Inagua, I sampled the Thalasso pool at the Gloria Palace Amadores Hotel, a vast indoor seawater pool where you splash around being bombarded with high-pressure jets of water from every angle, and come out feeling battered but invigorated, and on deco-day the Thalasso Experience Circuit at the opulent Lopesan Villa del Conde resort on the east coast.
This starts with a thalasso pool, then tempts you through various doors to a range of pleasurable experiences. It extended to an aloe vera wrap that left me feeling as shiny as a newborn.
I was still glowing pleasantly when I got back to Gatwick, not something I can usually say at the end of a dive trip.
This was pampering of a high order, but surprisingly you can spend a whole day there for 45 euros if you just want to do your own thing.
I also saw those wrecks again on deco day, and a lot of sardines racing past us as if their lives depended on it. I was in the yellow submarine at the time. Well, if you can’t beat them…

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Fly from London Gatwick with EasyJet, which offers a generous hand-luggage allowance.
DIVING Canary Diving Adventures, www.canary-diving.com. Extra Divers, www.extradivers-kanaren.com
ACCOMMODATION Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa, Puerto de Mogan, www.cordialresortholidays.com
WHEN TO GO Year-round. Water temperature can drop to 18°C in winter compared to 23°C in summer, but a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit should be OK. The south has a warmer, drier climate than the north, but average temperature is 25°C.
CURRENCY Euro.
HEALTH Two hyperbaric chambers, in Las Palmas and Puerto Rico, not far from Mogan. Spas: Thalasso Gloria Palace, www.gloriapalaceth.com. Lopesan Villa del Conde Corallium, www.lopesancorallium.com
PRICES Return flights with EasyJet from £150 (including 20kg hold baggage). Seven days’ half-board at the Cordial Mogan Playa, £1369 per room (two sharing). Ten dives with Extra Divers, 280 euros.
TOURIST INFORMATION www.estacionesnauticas.info, www.grancanariawellness.com