A DIVE TOUR OF CYPRUS - or Mission Impossible Even I wasnt prepared for the manic itinerary that the Cyprus Dive Centre Association (CDCA) had arranged for me. Swept from east to west, sampling five resorts and 19 dive sites, I would soon begin to feel like the baton in a relay race, as I was passed from one dive centre to the next.
My whistlestop week started at Protaras, then jumped to Limassol, Paphos and Polis before ending up in Larnaca. Living out of a suitcase was never such an apt description.
It was all systems go the moment
I cleared customs at Larnaca Airport. Well, that was once Dora, from Easy Divers, had found her pick-up in the car park (in Doras defence, Im always forgetting where I park my car).
We blasted east along the A3 motorway, bound for Protaras and then infamous clubbing venue Ayia Napa.
I was hoping to catch one or two celebrity DJs later that evening, but my plans all went Pete Tong when Doras other half Joey made arrangements to meet me at 6.30 the next morning.
It was nearing the seasons end, but I expected Ayia Napa to be rampant with party-goers. Joey told me that there had been a big downturn in the UK market since Cyprus joined the European Union, with the consequent increase in prices discouraging the booze and beaches brigade. This year its been mainly Germans and Skandis, he said.
Our first shore dive was at Blue Lagoon. Joey introduced me to retired Brit Viv, my guide for the day. Cyprus brims with retired Brits, and Viv had moved to sunnier climes about a year ago, but said the inactivity had soon driven him crazy. So he got a part-time job as a guide at Joeys dive centre.
Viv led me around the dive site, taking me through a number of caves and swim-throughs. There were a few shoals of small fish and an octopus. We saw a moray eel, but it was lying dead on the seabed. I hoped this wasnt a bad omen.

AFTER A BRIEF INTERVAL, we crossed to Green Bay. The walk-in entry was nice and easy, and we followed the sandy contours out to a depth of about 10m. Viv started rubbing away with a pebble on the surface of a big rock he called the Fish Stone, and in moments we were engulfed in a fish frenzy.
Im sure there must have been some sneaky fish-feeding going on here, but it was nice to see so many fish all together at once.
Viv then gave me a tour of the Bay, with its recent acquisition, a No Parking signpost. There were also a few broken amphoras in the shallows, but nothing to write home about.
At the end of the day, Dora dropped me off at Larnaca, where Clive from Dive-In was waiting to drive me to my next destination.
Limassols urban sprawl covered the entire Akrotiri Bay coastline. It was very big and commercial, with plenty of bars, hotels, restaurants - and cats.
I was on the boat kitted up for my first dive well before most tourists had risen for breakfast. We had motored out to an area south of the two capes, Zengari and Gata. Our first and second dive, Bahamas and Big Country, featured similar topography of huge boulders covered in low-lying flora scattered with big black corals.
Kyriacos, the owner of Aloha Dive Centre, guided me around both sites. There were plenty of small fish darting about, and the scenery was well worth a viewing.
Our third site, Tombs, was much closer to the shoreline, and consisted mainly of two caves rising from 10m to within a few metres from the surface.
Cyprus is perfect for family divers, said Kyriacos. Most of the dive centres do morning dives so that afternoons can be spent relaxing with families.
Dive four, Fish Reserve, was my favourite. It was only shallow at 7m, but there was plenty of old wreckage to potter around, including the remains of a helicopter and an old truck. Saddled bream followed us everywhere.
Cara made the pictures a little more interesting, even though she wasnt wearing her own wetsuit. Why do instructors, who are supposed to be the role models for new divers, own the tattiest kit
I got back in time to spend a few minutes with Harry at the DDRC Recompression Chamber. This six-person computerised chamber, supported by DAN Europe, was well put together, and Harry knew his stuff.
He told me that he treated one case each month on average, and that the biggest problem was denial. No one wants to admit that they have a bend. The way my schedule was panning out, there was just a chance that I might raise the average number of treatments!
We headed next for Paphos, on the A5 motorway. More than 22,000 expats live in the busy suburbs of the town.
Mike, another retired Brit, managed the cosy dive centre at Coral Bay, and had organised a full days shore-diving for me.
Our first dive was at White River. It was only a few minutes drive from the centre, but the beachside gates were padlocked when we arrived. A nice restaurant overlooked the shoreline, but the owner wasnt friendly, and wouldnt unlock the gates for us, claiming that it was private property.
Not wanting to muck up Mikes plans, we clambered over sharp rocks to find an alternative entry point.
Some nice gullies and swim-throughs made it quite a fun dive, and we found some shoals of damselfish, one or two grouper and an octopus.
The whole experience was marred when a Cypriot fishing nearby insisted on showing us his prized catch - a dozen damselfish about 5cm long.
I dont understand the mentality of some people. What would he do with them There wasnt enough to make a single fishcake.
My second dive was at Pistol Bay, sometimes called Turtle Bay (after a rock that looks like a turtle sticking its head out of the water), but it was a little disappointing. The entry point was the most exciting part, making our way in full kit down a steepish path cut into the cliff-face, but apart from one nice swim-through, the site was uninteresting.
Fish were so scarce that I actually counted the number I saw on that 30-minute dive! This is a good site for training, said Mike.
Amphitheatre was only a stones throw away, but it was far better. There was more life, and even the underwater scenery was interesting. There were damselfish, bream and a number of lizardfish, and we also found an occupied triton shell, the molluscs black and yellow striped antennae flapping away furiously.
These are supposed to be the good guys - they eat crown-of-thorns starfish.
After a huge mid-afternoon meze, Mike drove me to the sleepy town of Polis. We climbed into the mountains, and I could see orchards and olive groves sprawled out in the valleys below.
The mountains were only 600m above sea level, but any divers travelling from Paphos to Polis should allow some extra off-gassing time before driving back.
Three years ago British couple Mark and Diane set up the Polis Diving Centre in the town square.
Polis is perfect for mingling with the locals and experiencing Cypriot culture. Local restaurant-owner Mikis had asked Mark and Diane to his daughters wedding, and I was also invited to this family occasion, attended by some 3000 people. Everyone had to donate at least 50 euros as a gift to the happy couple - not a bad start for the newly-weds!
I deal with BSAC and Mark does PADI - that way we keep out of each others hair, Diane told me.
The couple had organised a days diving on their boat Thunder Child. Mark said that most of the sites, except for St Georges Island, could also be shore dives, though some of the access points were a bit tricky.

AT ST GEORGES, we dropped down a near-vertical wall to 34m to find some nice-looking orange and yellow sponges and plenty of big grouper in the adjacent seagrass. The latter were very skittish, and I couldnt get closer than a few metres. They must have thought my camera was a speargun.
This was what I call a proper dive, with a nice deep bit followed by a shallowish reef to explore. We even found a sea hare, a big brown sea slug.
Diane mentioned a nice little site for amphoras called Fontana Amarosa, just along the coast. Back in the days of Alexander the Great, she said, the pots would be thrown into the sea as an offering to the gods.
We followed the line of the reef out to 11m depth, where Mark showed me an amphora, but although the neck and handles were clearly recognisable, I couldnt get the right angle for a decent photograph. There were plenty of small damselfish but nothing much bigger to see. Diane said it had been a lot worse a few years ago.

MARK MENTIONED A SHALLOW WRECK in the next bay, so after a few onboard snacks we headed for the site and what would be a nice little dive.
The Accelo was a small coaster that hit the rocks and sank in 1988. The wreck lies bow-on to shore at between 2 and 6m and is well broken up, but portholes and other brass fixtures were still strewn over the seabed. It was the perfect site for Discover Scuba or a first wreck dive, with low-lying wreckage and lots of fish.
Mark and Diane said that they offered a leisurely approach to diving, starting at around 9am and finishing around 3pm, though this can be tweaked to suit groups or individuals.
They are also laid-back about dive durations, allowing divers to spend up to 90 minutes submerged if air permits.
By mid-afternoon the wind and waves had picked up, but St Georges Bay was well protected. Mark guided me to a number of photogenic swim-throughs covered in orange and yellow sponges. There were plenty of small shoals of fish, and even the odd nudibranch.
As we headed back to the harbour, three turtles popped up on the surface. Mark said that there were sea-grass beds below at around 40m.
I didnt have time to investigate further but Im sure it was worth a dive.
Back in town, we just about had time for an all-day breakfast and one or two green teas (bottled Carlsberg) before I was whisked off to my next port of call, Larnaca.
Chris, the Operations Manager at Dive-In, had put together an itinerary sampling wrecks in Larnaca Bay. For most divers Cyprus means the Zenobia, otherwise known as the Z or Zen, and this famous site must be one of the worlds top 10 wreck dives.
It sank in 1980 with a full cargo including 104 articulated lorries and, at depths ranging from 16-44m, the wreck caters for all types of diver, from recreational to hardcore tech.
Scott, yet another retired Brit, guided me around the huge 165m ro-ro ferry. We began at the twin 4m-diameter props before crossing over the hull and working towards the bow. The Zen lies on its port side.
There are plenty of lorries still chained to the deck, and they are recognisable, not just lumps of rusty old metal.
Heaps of barracuda, damsels, bream and grouper also cruised through the debris.
Most divers are happy to stay outside the wreck but theres so much more to see inside. As a special treat, Scott gave me a tour of the upper cargo deck, where the PIE truck and truck 33 are the main highlights. The steering wheels and radiator badges had been plundered, but otherwise these are pretty well intact.
We probed even further through the upper accommodation and rest-rooms into the laundry room.
The washing-machine drums are instantly recognisable, and there are even a few bedsheets still floating about.
Dive-in has prepared 10 routes through the wreck, some more complicated and adventurous than others. We ended our dive in the restaurant, where the tartan carpet is in surprisingly good condition and there is even a drinks dispenser.
After a bacon-sandwich lunch stop (not in the Zens restaurant!), we planned to go even deeper inside. Scott guided me into the middle cargo deck, where there is a fork-lift truck, Bomag road-crushers and more articulated lorries. It was devoid of natural light or easy escape routes, and divers have to be in the right frame of mind for this type of deep wreck penetration (for the full story on this, see Tomb Raiders, December 2008).
My final dive was on the Alexander,
a small fishing trawler lying at 30m. I had time only for a short dive, so my observations were brief.
The wreck stands upright on the bottom, the bridge and foredeck easily accessible, but it had been stripped bare of anything interesting. I didnt get a chance to check if there was a prop or access to the engine-room. It was nice to see some triggerfish swimming around the mooring line on the ascent.

BY THE END OF THE SIXTH DAY, I had clocked up enough micro bubbles to fill a magnum of champagne. I was looking forward to my day of rest before the flight home, but no sooner had the first ice-cold beer touched my lips than I was brought back to reality.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation had two surprises it wanted to show me. It was exciting news for Cyprus - the CTO had been given the go-ahead to sink two shipwrecks.
The cargo vessel Demetrious II was perched on rocks just off the beach at Paphos. Apparently the skipper had lost his way and ran aground. The idea, to drag the wreck into deeper water, was supposedly the cheapest way to move the vessel which, judging by its size, could make a great artificial reef for divers to explore.
The second wreck was to be sunk in around 25m somewhere off Protaras, to allow both shore and boat dives. The Municipality of Paralimni had bought a 23m passenger ferry called the Liberty. Clive from Dive-In drove me back to Limassol, where she was lying at anchor, stripped ready for sinking and looking good for easy penetration dives.
Glafkos Cariolou of the CTO said licences had already been granted by the Fisheries Department to sink the two vessels, and it was just a matter of confirming the positions - a positive step forward for Cypruss aqua-tourism.
Glafkos also mentioned an ongoing university project to make a replica amphora reef and wooden shipwreck, and at Limassol the Fisheries Dept, with EU backing, planned to create an artificial reef from concrete blocks.
Divers would be allowed to visit both sites, but no fishing or spearguns would be allowed. I sensed some scepticism as to whether these projects would proceed as planned, but lets hope that they do.
Cyprus offers options to suit every taste. There are plenty of dive centres and sites for all experience levels, from novice up to hardcore tech, and a huge choice of accommodation set either in quiet countryside or lively resorts.
Cyprus really is Little Britain! Everyone speaks English, and they drive on the left - renting a car here is quite cheap and a good idea. Marine life was sporadic at times, but warm seas and good vis made up for the shortfalls.
If diving is about having fun, Cyprus comes up trumps on this score.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly from London, Birmingham or Manchester with Cyprus Airways, which offers an extra 20kg free baggage allowance for dive gear. Have your C-card to hand, www.cyprusairways.com.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Stuart dived with Easy Divers (Ayia Napa), www.ezdivers.com; Aloha Dive Centre (Limassol), www.alohadivers. com; Coral Bay Divers (Paphos) www.coralbaydivers.com; Polis Diving, www.polisdiving.com; and Dive-In (Larnaca), www.dive-in.com.cy. The Cyprus Dive Centre Association website www.dca-cy.com can help you select an authorised dive centre close to where you are staying. Check the tourist board website (below) for hotel/guesthouse information.
WHEN TO GO: Air temperatures range from 5°C in winter to 30°C in summer, the sea from 16-25°C. Vis is around 20m. Cyprus is deemed a year-round destination, though many restaurants and bars are seasonal. Flights and hotels are cheapest in spring and autumn.
MONEY: Euro since 2008.
PRICES: Budget flights from £30 (plus the usual extras), dives from 22 euros depending on location, B&B accommodation from 22 euros per night.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Cyprus Tourist Board, www.visitcyprus.com, 020 7569 8800