SOMEBODY ONCE SAID that life is like a box of chocolates. Malta offers a Quality Street of wreck-diving possibilities, from tugs and patrol boats to World War Two submarines and fighter aircraft. But with only a seven-day break available to me, where to start
My plan was to crunch through the favourites, and then chew on the more acquired tastes. I would scoff my way through 11 different wrecks, at depths varying from 15 to 65m.
As it turned out, equipment and gas configurations would change dive by dive, from single nitrox 12s to trimix twins and side-mounts. I even squeezed in an Inspiration rebreather one day.
Malta is the wreck capital of Europe. Low-cost flights and extremely competitive accommodation/dive packages make the archipelago an attractive destination for British divers.
Twice as many wrecks as I would have time to dive are marked, and a good majority of these are shore dives.
I wanted to sample the popular sites at Cirkewwa Point and Wied iz Zurrieq, as well as getting a feel for the deeper offshore wrecks. So I teamed up with Serious Dave from Maltaqua, based at St Paul’s Bay.
Dave Colquhoun has been working in Malta for the past seven years, and knows his way around both the roads and the dive sites extremely well.
As usual, the weather conditions were up and down, so we re-assessed our plans daily. If it was too rough for the offshore stuff, we would change tack and focus more on the protected harbour wrecks.
Cirkewwa Point has to be the busiest site in Malta. It’s not unusual to find a dozen or more dive vans parked up along the roadside. Two superb wrecks, an archway and a wall dive are on offer here, entries and exits are relatively easy and there are no long walks back to the car park.
Wise Dave suggested an early start to beat the crowds. I’m sure Malta’s roads have got bumpier, or was it just the truck’s hard suspension Drinking while on the move is not recommended – I lost most of my milkshake down the front of my T-shirt.
Dave said that before the Pope’s recent visit to the island, workers had hastily repaired the roads – but only on the prearranged route to and from the airport. It was hilarious to see one side of the road with smooth new tarmac, the other still full of pot-holes.
Dave had chosen the more challenging giant stride entry off the concrete slipway rather than the easier wade in/wade out route. It was a good 2m drop. I managed to pull off a triple salko followed by a double-piked back somersault before hitting the water.
We headed for the P29 patrol boat (also known as the A125), sunk as an artificial reef in 2007. The 51m wreck lies upright in around 35m.
Dave had asked some of the other local instructors what the conditions were like, and they had warned us of a reasonably uncomfortable inshore current. It was nice to see a friendly rapport between “rival” centres.
I tried to photograph the bow, but the current had already switched direction, and was now moving across the wreck. We made our way back along the deck to the bridge area.
All the instrumentation panels had been pillaged – dials, knobs and so on prised off. I just can’t understand the mentality of some divers.
Later, I visited the Cassar shipyard home of sister-ship the P30 (A124). Climbing onto the bridge and entering the crew quarters, mess-room, toilet etc gave me a totally different perspective.
After tea and pastries, we ventured over to the neighbouring mv Rozi, a 40m tugboat sitting upright at a maximum depth of 35m. The Rozi was sunk in 1992 as a tourist attraction, but the company that ran the submarine went bust a few years later.
We made a quick detour to look at the big anchor, then headed for the tug. Both of the Cirkewwa wrecks are a few minutes’ swim from the entry point, but there seemed to be far more fish life about here. I was shooing bream and chromis out of the way to take a picture – and having too many fish in the frame is a first for me.
We followed the same routine: head for the bow and then the wheelhouse. The ship’s wheel and support pillar had long gone, a floor-mounted bracket with four protruding screw threads all that remained. Dave had said that there was a big resident moray eel, so we searched the hold and around the reef floor by the stern, but it was not to be seen.
Our wreck binge continued at the small fishing village of Wied iz Zurrieq. In 1998, the 110m container ship Um El Faroud was sunk as another artificial reef project. The wreck lies upright just a few hundred metres outside the small inlet, at a maximum depth of 36m.
We kitted up on the roadside next to the café, and then walked down a concrete pathway to the little inlet. The sea looked calm and inviting. A bunch of kids were jumping and splashing around by the entry/exit ladder.

BACK AT THIS SITE two days later, conditions had changed dramatically, with huge waves pounding over the sea wall. I had to dodge a number of swinging concrete blocks as I made my descent.
Dave said that these weighty blocks, which held down the mooring lines, had been strung in lines across the inlet by boatmen, who preferred them to the more conventional vertical moorings.
Some clumsy divers had even collided with the concrete blocks square on.
Dave had his own set of underwater marks to follow: “Head out towards the old diving helmet plinth, then follow the sand patch that looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost…”
The prop makes an awesome wide-angle shot, its oranges and reds standing out against the blue background.
Thirty to forty good-sized barracuda were milling around the stern deck.
I finned past the bridge area and had a good look at the point at which the ship had “snapped” in half. Then we decided to turn back and penetrate the bridge area.
Dave coming up the stairwell made for a good picture – the banister looked very similar to the one in my own home.
We ascended up the funnel, and finned back to shore. Naturalist Dave stopped to show me a seahorse camouflaged in the grass. Just to keep it even, I found another seahorse, less than a metre away. The walk back up the slope was a real buttock-clenching experience. Sometimes shore-diving can be really hard work.
Long-range forecasts predicted strong winds in a matter of days. While the going was good, we jumped on a boat and headed out to HMS Stubborn P238, a 70m S-class submarine sunk as a sonar target in 1946.
I wanted the best visibility for pictures, so I asked the other divers if we could be first down the line. Dave said that there was rarely a current, but when I reached 40m I could see the shot weight dragging along the seabed, heading rapidly away from the wreck.
It was a 50/50 decision whether to fin like crazy or abort. We had only
a limited time at 55m, and most of our gas would go just trying to reach the hull. Dave later confirmed that he had had similar thoughts.
I left the line, and finned towards the dark shadow in the distance. It took us five long minutes, but we eventually reached the conning tower. I managed to fire off a few pictures at an open hatchway before heading off towards the bow torpedo tubes.
In no time we were drifting in the blue, searching for the bouncing shotline. None of the other divers had reached Stubborn.
As I climbed back on the boat, I was acutely aware of six pairs of eyes burning through me. I had to point out that I hadn’t dragged the shotline off the wreck – it wasn’t my fault, honest!
Plane wrecks are big favourites of mine, so I was looking forward to seeing the Blenheim bomber at a depth of 43m. The plane was shot down by Italian fighters in December, 1941.
We had a long drive over to the bay at Marsascala, but from the jetty it was only a 10-minute boat-ride to the dive site. Chloe Gambin had volunteered to “model” for me, and it was nice to see
a smiling face, instead of Mr Serious staring back through my viewfinder.
Disappointingly, the plane was far more broken up than I had expected. Dave told me that a lot of the deterioration had been caused by trophy-hunters, and by boats dropping anchors or shotweights directly onto the wreckage. I still managed to get a nice picture of Chloe by the radial engine with its propeller.
Our skipper, Pierre Spiteri, was friendly with the local fishermen. Whenever their nets snagged on an unknown object, they would give him the co-ordinates. This had recently
paid off with an exciting new aeroplane find at 41m (News, November).
Pierre agreed to take us to the secret site, which happened to be reasonably close to the Blenheim. First down the line, I spotted two engines sitting side by side, one still with its propeller. Between them was a twisted metal framework and mass of cables, but no real superstructure.
I had a quick scout around the debris field and saw a metal box and a cowling about 10m away, but nothing substantial. Dave thought it could be a Junkers Ju-88 bomber but the other divers, headed by Simon Lodge from Lodge Scuba in London, thought otherwise.
They popped into the Aviation Museum at Ta’Qali and had a chat with Frederick Galea. Frederick looked back through old newspaper clippings and found a story about a De Havilland Mosquito that crash-landed off Delimara Point on 28 March, 1949.
This would explain why there was no superstructure left. Mosquitos were made mostly of wood, so it must have disintegrated.
Frederick also said that the site was first discovered in 1993 by Calypso Dive Club.He said the co-ordinates had been lost, but that it had relocated the wreck the previous month.

LUGGING HEAVY TWIN-SETS around in a 2m-high swell wasn’t exactly comfortable, but I was desperate for a dive on Le Polynesien. Dave and I were the only divers on Pierre’s boat, which suited me fine. We were also the only two on the wreck. That seemed ominous.
Dave had said that the site was susceptible to strong currents, and he wasn’t joking. I was holding on for dear life all the way down to the bow at 55m.
Le Polynesien is a massive wreck. It would take more than a single dive to explore the 152m French-built liner. On 10 August, 1918, she was hit by a torpedo and sank, with the loss of 10 lives.
I wanted a photo of the deck-gun, so Pierre suggested a visit to the bow. He succeeded in dropping the shot within 10m of our target.
The deck-gun, thickly encrusted, was almost unrecognisable. I tried to use the blue background to bring out the gun shape, and also attempted to get a photo of the anchor hanging from the port side, but the current was far too strong.
At least I had briefly experienced the wreck. Dave said that one unlucky woman had had her dive cancelled three times because of adverse weather or strong currents.
The water shifted from deep blue to murky green inside Valletta harbour. But even though it was blowing a hoolie, we still managed to keep diving.
Energetic Dave had arranged three more wreck dives, starting off with the WW2 destroyer HMS Maori.
During an air raid in 1942, the Maori suffered a direct hit to her engine-room, and sank. The ship was lifted and moved to her final resting place in 1945.
Most of the wreck is now buried under tons of silt, with only the bridge area remaining in view. The bow gun-mount is still visible, and I also found some old shells half-buried beneath a rusty steel plate.
There are some nice swim-throughs, though the structure didn’t look that sound. At a maximum depth of 15m, this is a perfect wreck for less-experienced divers. We even found an octopus and a gurnard among the rocks.
I also dived the Imperial Eagle and harbour wrecks Margit (formerly known as Odile) and Carolita while in Malta, but there was far too much to explore in a mere seven days – this was just a taster.
I sat down with Dave before every dive and asked him to highlight three or four key areas where I could get at least one reasonable photograph. A lot of our dives were sub-30m, so we had to consider time limitations.
Simon Lodge mentioned that during his visit to the Aviation Museum, Frederick Galea had told him about another aircraft wreck that was virtually intact and as yet undived in 55m.
Watch out, Malta, I’ll be back…

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Air Malta, though it no longer offers divers an extra baggage allowance. Ryanair and Easyjet also offer budget flights
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Maltaqua has self-catering apartments, www.maltaqua.com
WHEN TO GO: Year-round, but best from April to October.
MONEY: Euro.
PRICES: Maltaqua offers a one-week package with six wreck dives, all road transport and accommodation for £260, and another for independent divers with tank hire, unlimited air fills, accommodation and airport transfers for £170.
TOURIST INFORMATION: www. visitmalta.com