THE SOUND OF CHILDREN’S LAUGHTER hung in the air – giggling, oohs and aahs, occasional squeals of surprise and delight – and then, suddenly, it was quiet. The joyous sounds of the youngsters had been replaced by the wind-ruffling palm fronds and the water fizzing as bubbles broke the swimming pool’s rippled surface.
I had joined in for a kiddies-only Discover Scuba Diving session at the hotel’s spacious swimming-pool. Beneath the surface the kids were being well looked after, instructor
Jörg keeping a sharp eye on everyone and supervising games with submersible toys.
The children were wide-eyed with excitement as they took in this new experience. All of them, without exception, had taken to diving like ducklings to water. Their small BCs and undersized tanks looked enormous on their frames, their regulators seemed huge against their tiny faces and their masks made them all look goggle-eyed, but despite their alien appearance there was no mistaking the swagger of achievement as they finished the session and reluctantly exited the water.
Their parents were beaming with pride as they wrapped their little cherubs up in soft, fluffy towels.
These young ones represent the future of our sport, and I was proud to be able to share the first tentative steps on their diving journey.

I WAS IN FUERTEVENTURA, the oldest of the Canary Islands, dating back 20 million years and born by fire during volcanic eruptions.
Nowadays the island enjoys a more tranquil existence and has become a hotspot for mainly European family holiday-makers who come to enjoy the sun, the beaches and watersports.
Translated from the Spanish, Fuerteventura means “strong winds”. Which is apt, because the island is subjected to swift air movement across the Atlantic from the coast of Africa.
The winds that blow from the Sahara are hot but the cooler waters of the Atlantic reduce the high temperatures, keeping the climate on the island pleasant and stable through the year. As a result, Fuerteventura is also referred to as “the Island of Eternal Spring”.
My base for a week’s stay here was at the beautifully landscaped Aldiana Hotel, set on top of a rocky plateau at the end of the 12-mile sand beach at Jandia in the south of the island. Well-maintained gardens full of colourful blooms set against an endless blue sky above the azure waters with their white-capped waves certainly imparted a feeling of springtime.
The on-site German-run Werner Lau dive centre was my host for this trip. Manager Markus Hoefert, who had greeted me at Puerto del Rosaria international airport after a pleasantly short flight from the UK, has been plying his trade since 1999 and had worked as an instructor in the Maldives and Egypt before arriving at Jandia to take over at the Aldiana centre.
“Its been a bit windy recently,” was Markus’s opening sentence. “I hope we can find some sheltered spots to dive, and maybe some decent visibility.”
I was soon to realise that he wasn’t kidding. As we drove south along the coast road, the sea was awash with white foam, relentless waves crashing onto the rocky shore and sandy beaches.
Not a good sign for anyone but surfers or kite-boarders, who would be in their element.
We met at the dive centre in the afternoon following the kids’ DSD session and loaded our gear into vans. After a short drive to the port at Morro Jable to board the dive centre’s inflatable we headed out of the harbour – and into the teeth of a gale.
Markus tried valiantly to negotiate the 3m waves as they hit us head-on. To his credit he quickly called the dive on our intended site as untenable, and headed for the shelter of the harbour wall.
I loosened my white-knuckled grip on the boat’s handrail and breathed a discreet sigh of relief as we tied up in calmer water.
Massive interlocking concrete blocks resembling playing pieces from a game of jacks towered above and below us, forming the breakwater and, I hoped, sanctuary for marine life. The depth here was 8-10m but I couldn’t see the sandy seabed until it was only 2m away because the water was full of suspended sand particles, reducing the visibility and making photography challenging at best.
Undaunted, we made our way around the maze of concrete, finding shoals of blue perch and silver bream ghosting in and out of the gloom.
Groups of goatfish huddled around the base of the wall and looked a little startled as we approached, lifting off the seabed in unison to seek cover in the nooks and crannies of their man-made home. In contrast, a shoal of Atlantic damselfish mobbed Markus as he scratched the surface of a concrete block.
Bold and inquisitive ornate wrasse joined in, pushing to the front of the group and looking to capitalise on easy pickings as Markus dislodged trapped morsels with his fingers.
The water temperature was a chilly 19°C, and I was glad that on this occasion I had anticipated the conditions correctly and was diving in a drysuit and hood.
The experience reminded me of summer around the UK’s south coast, so I felt totally at home.

THE FOLLOWING DAY, holidaying divers from the Aldiana and other local hotels joined us. As the day’s briefing was being delivered I peered over the hotel’s boundary wall and out to sea.
The surface was being whipped into an endless mass of whitecaps, and even the windsurfers were struggling to stay upright. I suspected that we were in for another challenging day’s diving.
But as we exited the shelter of the harbour and headed north to our chosen site at Large Moray Reef, the earlier strong winds dropped to a mere breeze, and 10 minutes later and a few hundred metres offshore from the Jandia lighthouse we were securely tied in to permanent moorings.
From the surface we could see that the water was thick with suspended matter. The dive had coincided with an outgoing tide carrying with it fine sand and debris from 12 miles of weather-beaten beach.
I swam to the shotline and dumped air from my BC. The visibility was poor and getting worse the deeper we went. Near the seabed the thick suspended sediment cut out most of the ambient light, and I was having trouble seeing my fin-tips, let alone the topography.
Large trumpetfish popped in and out of our visible range, accompanied by painted comber and silver sharp-snout sea bream, their flanks reflecting the light from our lamps and making them glow eerily in the pea-soup conditions.
The sediment had carpeted the seabed and gathered in thick clumps around rocky outcrops. I was trying desperately to photograph a beautiful purple flabellina nudibranch laying eggs when, from below, my camera was wrenched from my hands.
Shocked, I looked for the culprit. A large octopus had its suckers firmly stuck to my housing and was attempting to abscond with my expensive hardware. A tug-of-war ensued, creating a thick cloud of detritus around us.
The battle was totally one-sided and lasted only a handful of seconds. I held my retrieved camera aloft in triumph as the massive mollusc with delusions of grandeur retreated into its lair, defeated.
The strong winds returned, putting an end to hopes of an afternoon dive, so instead I explored the coast near the hotel. I was amazed to see chipmunks scurrying around the lava rocks.
These small rodents, also known as Barbary ground squirrels, were introduced to Fuerteventura from North Africa, where they were kept as household pets in the 1960s.
The entertaining animals escaped into the wild and the population has thrived, especially having no natural predators.
I spent an hour or so photographing individuals – they are almost tame and come very close, looking for the free hand-outs only tourists deliver.
One even sat on my knee with its front legs outstretched, comically begging for food.
My prayers for the winds to dissipate were answered only near the end of the week-long trip. Markus had arranged for an early-morning dive to coincide with an incoming tide in the hope that we could enjoy clear underwater conditions, and this tactic proved to be spot-on as we returned to Large Moray Reef to find that the vis had risen to well over 20m.
I could now see what we had missed on the previous dives. There, sitting as bold as brass outside its home, was the opportunistic camera thief, tentacles curled around its body and seeming to eye with regret the swag it had missed out on during our last encounter.
I didn’t make the same mistake twice, and kept my distance as I captured its likeness on my memory card. It seemed to enjoy the session, allowing Markus to pose close behind it.
Moving on to explore the reef fully, we found a large shoal of striped grunts circling en masse over the deeper water. Silver-sided sardines could be seen tightly packed in the distance.
The reef is man-made and consists of concrete structures set on top of compacted sand shelves and overgrown with sponges and hydroids over time.
The area attracts large numbers of fish, from bright red and yellow parrotfish to gold and blue damsels. I found an area of sand that was home to hundreds of garden eels, their bodies extended as they swayed in the gentle current, waiting for a passing meal.
Big grouper and painted comber were ever-present along with the huge trumpetfish I had only managed to glimpse on our previous visits. I was now seeing the dive-site at its best, but was wondering why the reef was named after moray eels, as I had seen only one small white-eyed specimen. I was assured that a number of varieties of these predatory eels are commonly encountered there.
After an extended surface interval we moved to the adjacent site of Small Moray Reef. The topography was similar to that of its larger brother but it had more pronounced shelves, with white tube anemones and bright red starfish dotted around them.
A big Atlantic sting ray glided past us and over a pair of white-eyed moray eels peeking out from under rocks as it hunted the sand flats for its lunch.
A large octopus appeared, free-swimming across the sandy seabed.
Was this the same guy who had tried so hard to mug me earlier in the week, or was it just another member of its criminal fraternity

BACK ON THE SURFACE, I noticed a number of fishing-boats in the distance, their nets deployed in hopes of plundering the vast shoals of sardines that are commonplace here.
The local fishermen have an agreement with the dive centres and don’t fish over the designated sites. I was pleasantly surprised to see how prolific the dive-sites were in terms of marine life as a consequence.
Dolphins and whales are commonly found in the open ocean around Fuerteventura, and Werner Lau Aldiana Tauchen offers afternoon boat trips and the chance of an encounter with these amazing cetaceans.
Markus’s experience in running these trips has resulted in an impressive success rate, and he is helped by his staff who, armed with powerful binoculars, look out for tell-tale signs of activity, such as flocks of seabirds swooping for baitfish forced to the surface by the hunting marine mammals.
The rough seas had put the trips on hold all week, but today we could take advantage of the respite in the wind.
Families from the Aldiana and adjacent hotels joined us as we powered out to sea. Within an hour the boat was surrounded by spinner dolphins, surfing the wake or riding the bow waves.
The youngsters on board couldn’t hide their excitement as my week ended, as it had started, with the sound of children’s laughter.
Fuerteventura is a good destination for families, because there is plenty for everyone to enjoy. Yes, it can be windy, but not all the time. The dives are best done on an incoming tide, especially adjacent to the beaches.
There are some wrecks dotted around the island, too, and if the conditions are favourable I’m told they’re worth a visit.
If you do find that your planned dives are blown-out, you could always try your hand at windsurfing or kite-boarding instead or, for the less adventurous, there’s the ever-reliable sunshine to enjoy on this island of eternal spring.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Nigel Wade flew from Gatwick to Puerto del Rosaria taking advantage of easyJet’s 20kg hold baggage allowance but no weight restrictions (only dimensions) on
the cabin bag.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Werner Lau Aldiana Tauchen, www.wernerlau.com. Nitrox is free for qualified divers. Nigel stayed at the Aldiana Fuerteventura, www.aldiana.de
WHEN TO GO Year-round, with air temperatures averaging 22°C in winter and 28° in summer. Water temperatures average 18°C in winter up to 22°C at the tail-end of summer.
MONEY Euros
LANGUAGE Spanish, but English widely spoken.
PRICES Return flights from the UK from £205. Aldiana Fuerteventura from £1193 for two sharing on an all-inclusive basis. Werner Lau Aldiana Tauchen offers a six-dive package for 170 euros. All-inclusive packages with accommodation and basic flight options can be booked through Thomas Cook, from Hotel Club Jandia Princess (from £507pp) to Iberostar Playa Gravitos (from £681pp), www.thomascook.com
TOURIST INFORMATION www.turismodecanarias.com