The Rozi tugboat wreck lies at Cirkewwa, near Maltas Gozo ferry terminal

Its 4pm, its a bit cooler, all the dive centre groups have left and were standing on the cliff looking down on the Blue Hole. I explain to the rest of the group that we kit up in the car park and plod gently down over the rocks to the water. I point out that these days its easy, with steps carved into the slopes and handrails on the most tricky descents, but they are not all convinced.

I promise them gin-clear water, a drop-off as far as they can see, a blue hole (of course), an arch and a chimney, perhaps octopus, eagle rays, giant grouper and tuna, but certainly huge schools of bream, jacks and anchovies.

I watch their faces as we slip in off the side of the Blue Hole and they look down. Yes, viz is as good as last year; yes, the fish are still here, though no big ones today; and, yes, they can see forever.

I have decided on a whistle-stop tour of all the main routes. After all, were here for a week and they can come back and mix and match their favourite bits later on. So, its down to the bottom of the Hole at 15m, and a right turn to take us under the Azure Arch.

I roll on my back and point up. The boys think Im playing but Michelle realises that its worth checking the view of the massive natural arch above the surface. We swim swiftly past all the freshly fallen boulders. Theres a wide ledge on the north side of the Arch at 25m, a good place to stop and watch a huge shoal of anchovies stream past.

The wall falls away to 60m and more here, and down at 45m the big groupers even further below us are still clearly visible. A full circuit of the Arch takes us back to the Blue Hole entrance. All eight of us still have plenty of air, so its time for part two, up the chimney.

We get to the narrow opening, and Im puzzled to see a look of apprehension on a couple of faces. Thinking about it, perhaps it does look a bit unlikely. But I set off, leaving them no alternative but to follow me up to the Japanese Gardens.

We have them to ourselves; there arent even any snorkellers. Wrasse are swarming in the warm shallow pools, and sponges and anemones glow jewel-like in the late afternoon sunshine. After 50 minutes we plod back up the hill, and before theyve got their kit off I can hear the others planning tomorrows route. But tomorrow, if the winds still from the South, well dive Reqqa Reef.

Were in Gozo, Im on my 13th annual pilgrimage and this year all the rest of our unaccompanied group are Gozo virgins.

Say youre diving in Gozo, and chances are that youll be met by blank stares. Add that its one of the Maltese islands and at least theyll know that its the Mediterranean, rather than southern India.

Its north of Malta (next stop Sicily) and reached by ferry or a dodgy ex-USSR helicopter. Its also tiny, with about 27 miles of coastline, a capital town called Victoria, 17 other villages, dozens of magnificent churches, a cathedral and a basilica.

But most of us know the Meds dead. All those articles say there are no fish left, so why bother Well, Gozo is only three hours fIying time from the UK; its an ex-colony, so everyone speaks English; theres a blue light outside the police station and red pillarboxes; and, most importantly, there are more shore dive-sites than youll cover in a weeks holiday.

Organise a day in a local boat and even more dive sites become accessible, and still every year someone tells me about a new one. The water is warm and very clear, and while Im still looking for the elusive seahorses, I have seen more octopuses on a single night dive here than I have managed to see anywhere else.
Back at the apartments we meet up with the rest of the group, 12 trainee Ocean and Sport Divers diving with Instructors at Calypso Dive Centre in Marsalforn. Theyve been to the Inland Sea, starting at the jetty in the shallow lagoon, and have descended through a narrow fissure and into a massive canyon which runs through the cliffs to the open sea.

The bottom slopes from 6-25m and the view out to sea is breathtaking. It must surely be the origin of the expression light at the end of the tunnel. Had they turned left and swum for about 10 minutes, they would have arrived at the Blue Hole.
To the right is a stunning wall and drop-off to 70m-plus, with two cracks smothered in sponges and corals, a macro-photographers dream.

On their way back up the canyon they had stopped on a 6m shelf and watched other divers below themsilhouetted against the intense azure blue of the open sea, or the cloudy green of the lagoon.

The two non-divers had snorkelled, then enjoyed coffee and almond cakes at the caf� beside the water.

The wind is still very light, so its an early start next morning to drive the 10 minutes to Reqqa (not pronounced wrecker but something like wre-a). We go over the salt pans on a track carved across the soft rock by generations of fishermen, and park in the relentless sunshine. Even this early, its baking hot.

Once again Im walking the group down to the waters edge. I can see that honestly, if I can do it, so can you lot is going to become my mantra for the week and I just tell them to take it slowly.

Of course, Im the only one to fall over, and struggling to my feet in full kit and facing downhill isnt easy. But it will be worth it is about to become my second phrase, and it is - we all jump off the right side of the point and drop to 25m. As we swim anti-clockwise along the wall, there are enough fish to keep the photographers happy and the rest enjoy the sensation of swimming through a mountain range.

Out on the saddle, some watch the last of the early-morning tunas doing breakfast, while others are at 45m looking for a mysterious bottle-shaped tunnel reputed to drop to 60m. They are unlucky - again. We could have continued to Billingshurst cave but I want to take the team up another chimney.

I havent told them about this in the briefing, so when we swim past the entry point there are some puzzled faces. Just round the corner at 17m theres a small cave, a tight chimney and an exit at 6m. Its the perfect way to end the dive, and back at the gully Stewart and Fraser man our rope, and haul us all back out.

The trainees have been to Mgarr-Ix-Xieni doing exercises, and have also managed to spot flying gurnards, octopuses, cuttlefish, pipefish and scorpionfish, but no seahorses. Its a sheltered fjord, at the bottom of a cliff. Nervous passengers hold on, eyes shut tight, or, better still, walk down the road.

The reward is a simple, shallow dive with lots of life, the perfect site for a night dive - especially if you ask the caf� to stay open for a post-dive barbecue. After 80 minutes under a full moon with the scorpionfish and a beautiful little white and turquoise octopus, nothing could be better.

Chartering a local boat is a chance for us all to dive together. There are plenty of boats, but check the lunch: some do salads, but Manolos mum prepares beef stew with rice.

Because of our various levels the Xlendi ro-ro wreck sunk in 1999 at 40m is off the list ( but its easily done as a shore dive from Xatt LAhmar). We decide on the tugboat Rozi, sunk in 1991 (actually lying off Malta but popular with Gozo-based divers). Its intact, upright and big enough for us all to explore, with the top of the wheelhouse at about 25m. Its perfect to photograph, full of fish and you can finish up on the 9m plateau looking for the double arch.

After lunch and snorkelling in the Blue Lagoon on Comino we could dive its caves, Lighthouse Point and another chimney, or Crystal Cave with its resident John Dorys.

We decide to go back to the Ghasri valley in Gozo. Cathedral Cave is accessible as a shore dive, but be prepared for more than 200 steps down the cliff and up again, or for a long snorkel. It appears to be a simple dive, the opening from 6-17m and a long lifeless tunnel.

Ten metres in, I signal to the others to ascend and we surface in an enormous cavern. Rays of light and fresh air stream in through cracks in the cliff side and top, and suddenly we can see why its called the Cathedral. We all inflate our BCs, remove our regs to check the echo, and decide that this is better than any flotation tank or rebirthing experience could ever be. We redescend and swim round the drop-off, but for some of us the pull of that wonderful cavern is too much, so we do it all again.

Everyone has enjoyed the day out, and we have still to dive the Twin Arches and other sites on the north coast, but then the wind comes up. We spend the next couple of days exploring options at the Blue Hole, and hunting the seahorses in Mgarr.

On the last day its flat, and the vote is for the Blue Hole and chimney. Today there are three giant grouper close by and, below us, a pair of eagle rays. Not bad for a cheap trip to the Med!

Inside
Inside Cathedral Cave
Octopuses
Octopuses are a common sight.
Entry
Entry and exit can be hard work at Reqqa Reef, but its well worthwhile.
Showing
Showing off its waterwings, a flying gurnard


FACTFILE

GETTING THERE:Air Malta, British Airways and GB Air fly from London Heathrow or Gatwick, and charters operate from most national and regional airports to Luqa International Airport on Malta.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION : Most dive centres are in the seaside village of Marsalforn. Calypso Dive Centre (www.calypsodivers.com) and Gozo Aqua Sports (www.gozoaquasports.com) are just two offering diving and accommodation packages as well as accompanied or unaccompanied diving. Dive centre packages often include vehicles, essential for unaccompanied divers. Driving is on the left.
WHEN TO GO : Year round, with summer air temperatures from 10-40°C. Water temperatures range from 12°C in February to 26°C in late summer.
PERMITS : All divers must have a valid medical certificate - self-certification is not accepted. Dive centres can arrange medicals for about £10. Unaccompanied divers must apply for a Maltese dive permit on arrival. This costs about £5 and you need to bring two passport-sized photos and your diving qualification card/logbook.
FOR NON-DIVERS : Beaches, walking, churches, the Citadel and museum in Victoria, boat trips, prehistoric temple remains in Xaghra, folk museum in Gharb.
MONEY : Maltese Lira until June 2004, then Euro (already widely accepted). There are plenty of hole-in-the-wall machines accepting all cards, and money-changing machines in Victoria and Marsalforn.

LANGUAGE : English is widely spoken in this former colony.
COST : A one-week unaccompanied package with transfers, accommodation, vehicle and unlimited shore diving (weights and air - no nitrox) is under £200 per person in a group of four with Calypso. Eight accompanied dives, accommodation and transfers cost around £175. Flights are from £140.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Malta Tourist Office (0207 292 4900, www.tourism.org.mt).