I HAVE DIVED IN CROATIA before, but always in the south, around Dubrovnik and within a couple of hours’ drive from there. It’s a corner of the Mediterranean to which I could easily get attached.
Croatia spans some 400 miles from north to south, comparable to England. With all its islands, I suspect there may be a similar amount of coastline, despite all the land-facing borders. We all know how much the landscape and variety of diving varies along our home coastline, so does Croatia have similar variation
I get the chance to find out with an invitation to visit Losinj (pronounced “losheen”), an island off the north of the country.
September is my favourite month to visit the Mediterranean. School holidays are over and flights are cheap. There is still plenty of sunshine, but the air is cooling a little.
In the eastern Mediterranean, these benefits must be weighed against the erratic arrival of the Bora, a cold seasonal wind from the north.
I can tell that it has arrived on our ferry-crossing. It isn’t enough to rock the boat, but once the sun has set I wouldn’t want to stand outside for long.
The Bora is strong enough to limit the first day of diving to Krivka, a training site 15 minutes round the corner from the Diver Croatia centre at Cikat Bay in Male Losinj.
We get there via a long diversion in the other direction, initially heading for a cave by the island of Susak, but turned round by a rough sea.

KRIVKA IS USUALLY a training site, but as we venture deeper it becomes a reasonably nice dive. Nothing spectacular, but a reef that leads out to a section of wall with some overhangs, small gorgonians, and a crab that launches itself at me, flailing wildly as I line it up for a photograph.
I get out of the way and it continues flailing as it drops past the second thermocline at 30m. Serves it right. Having already been through that thermocline, I’m not inclined to follow it back down there.
That’s the other thing about the Adriatic and Mediterranean at this time of year – big thermoclines.
The shallow water is toasty, then it drops a couple of degrees at about 15m, then a few more at 30m. On some dives the thermocline is so sharp that you can put your hand through it.
Dive centre manager Igor reckons the Bora will drop off in a couple of days, with a return to warm air and gentle breezes from the south.
A dive centre run by Igor is reason enough to visit Male Losinj, even without the diving and the beautiful forest park that spans the peninsula.
The centre has a fast hardboat and uses it to cherry-pick the best dive-sites over a big area. After a day restricted to exploring ashore, a 90-minute ride from Male Losinj to the island of Premuda stretches to almost two hours.
Everywhere that has big underwater caves seems to have a Cathedral. There are so many that I looked up the origin of the word “cathedral” in case it meant “cave”. Sadly it doesn’t – it means “church where the bishop sits”.
Our captain ties the boat off to a buoy above the shallow reef, and we descend through a hole in the roof of a pretty convincing Cathedral Cave, stretching out 90m with a bend at the end to the reef wall. Inside it is never quite dark, because shafts of sunlight sparkle through holes in the roof.
On a real cathedral this would be where someone had nicked the lead – here it is where erosion has opened cracks in the limestone.
Exiting the cave, we are only out on the wall at 25m briefly before turning back into a smaller cave that turns upwards into a chimney.

THE THIRD AND FOURTH CAVES are a fair swim along the wall and over a corner of the reef. They could easily provide a separate dive.
Dive guide Brahimir refers to the last cave as the Siphon, as it’s a narrow line-ahead tunnel of that shape. I would call it the Dragon’s Throat, because a line of rocks on the shallow reef above resemble a row of giant teeth.
That makes the narrow top of the siphon the Dragon’s Tonsils. But perhaps that would be confusing in Croatian, as Dragan is a common male first name, the equivalent of Charles.
We cover all four caves in one very long dive and head to Premuda’s harbour for lunch. There is a nice shaded café there but it stops serving lunches in September, so Igor has organised packed lunches of bread, cheese and cured meats.
I think he was surprised that we didn’t sign up for any of the more sophisticated choices, but this is my favourite kind of Mediterranean food.
Just outside Premuda, the boat anchors on one side of a shallow pass between two small islands.
We swim partly submerged across the saddle and drop over the Masarine wall. The current from the east is strong enough to feed a sizeable population of pink gorgonians (actually coloured biscuit-brown) and some big shoals of fish out in the blue.

WITH SEA CONDITIONS steadily improving, we head round the tip of Losinj and out to the island of Unije and the Tihany wreck. The boat anchors on top of a flat 5m reef and the wreck is over the side at the bottom of the wall.
The current is ripping across the seagrass from the north. Whether it’s water pushed about by the Bora, or tidal, as we have a full moon, it’s sufficiently strong that the dive is aborted before we can drop over the wall.
Another long boat-ride takes us to the island of Susak for plan B, at the Secca Margarina canyon. The dive begins with another big wall of gorgonians and sponges, then turns into a canyon that funnels up to the shallow reef.
Current and gorgonians seem to be a common feature of the deeper walls. Is it because the dive centre is cherry-picking the right sites, or is this a characteristic difference between the diving here and further south A few days’ diving are not enough to draw a conclusion.
At the bottom of the canyon are iron anchors, stone blocks and piles of tiles from a ship once stranded on the reef.
It was either a wooden wreck that has been dispersed, or was recovered after lightening the load, because there are no other signs of wreckage.
Again this develops into two, then three sites in one, as the shallow end of the canyon leads into some overhanging Swiss-cheese holes followed by pits and tight crevices in the shallow reef above.
A memorial set in the reef is to Kark Csaszar, a popular local diving instructor who died from a heart attack while under water.
The small town by the harbour on Susak is, like Premuda, slowing down for autumn and winter. Some cafes are open and I wash down my lunch with an enormous ice-cream while watching a kite-surfer streak across the shallows.
What goes around eventually comes around, and we finish the day at Srakane, the small cave I missed on my first day here. While big caves are awe-inspiring, the smaller ones are often easier to photograph because you can get enough of them into the frame.
I take this to an extreme, with some colourful scenes looking through hollowed-out rocks outside the cave.
It’s too small to swim through, but just right with the forced perspective of a wide-angle lens.
The wreck of the Tihany also comes around again. The Bora has dropped off, the weather is set fair for a few days and Igor has been ironing the sea flat.
At Unije, without the wind the current is negligible, but it’s several hours later in the day, so we may have chanced on slack water. Brahimir is away, so I make my way to the wall following instructions from our captain, and head on down to the wreck.
The point at which to descend the wall is marked by a ring bolt in the rock, once a mooring, and the Tihany’s bow is 15 or 20m further down.
I zoom along the slightly shallower port side to the stern, and then off over the silty slope at 35m. Before our aborted dive a day ago, Brahimir had informed me that a more ancient wreck with a cargo of amphorae could be found about 15m off the stern of the Tihany.
Below the second thermocline the water is chilly and vis down to just a few metres. I venture as far as I dare without risking losing the Tihany, then turn back to enjoy the wreck I know is there.

THE 200-TON STEAMSHIP was built by Stabilimento Tecnico of Trieste in 1908, then chartered by the Austro-Hungarian Navy during WW1.
On 12 February, 1917, she ran aground on Skoljik, near Unije. Attempts to re-float her simply pulled her off the reef, and the wreck slipped down the wall to rest in 35m, its top just beyond 25m.
From the stern the propeller has been salvaged, but a spare stands at the forward end of the aft hold. Past the back of this hold, but still inside the hull, an unusual point of interest is a brick oven that has fallen through where the aft deck supporting it has rotted away.
Moving forward, the remains of the triple-expansion engine are exposed and, at the bow, in addition to the usual fittings, a nice pair of boat-derricks dangle over the starboard side.
Perhaps they were swung out by the crew after striking the reef.
With a cargo of coal and oil for the navy, perhaps the Tihany was supplying the battleship St Istavan, famously torpedoed eight miles from Premuda by Italian torpedo-boats on 10 June, 1918 and now lying inverted in 66m.
Diver Croatia has the facilities to support technical trips. A technical group from Germany is due a few weeks after my visit, says Igor.
From Bavaria or Austria it makes a lot of sense, because you can drive here in a day and bring all the heavy kit you need with you. It gives me another reason to return to Croatia.

DALMATIAN COASTLINE
“Dalmatian Coastline” is now a term used to describe chains of long thin islands running parallel to the shore. Geologically these are formed from ranges of mountains and valleys subsequently flooded by a rising sea level.
Islands are typically mountainous, with steep shorelines, and the surrounding sea is filled with reefs rising out of nowhere to catch unwary shipping.

BORA
The Bora is a katabatic north and north-east wind, caused by air cooling over eastern Europe and Russia falling and flowing out across the Eastern Mediterranean.
It starts sporadically in autumn and builds through winter as the continental landmass cools.
Croatia’s coastal mountains give rise to some of the strongest Bora winds, as the cold air funnels through the valleys. In December 1998 a gust was measured at 154mph. In February 2012 it brought air cold enough to freeze the shoreline of the Mediterranean at Senj, about 22 miles from Male Losinj.

LOSINJ
Male Losinj, or “Small Losinj” was the offshoot of the town of Veli Losinj, which is now considerably smaller than its sibling. Losinj is the name of the island on which the towns are located. Veli and then Male Losinj became established as shipbuilding centres, and home to dynasties of seafarers and merchants.
Some of the wealthiest built homes on the shoreline of Cikat Bay, where the Bellevue Hotel is now conveniently located, just five minutes’ walk from Diver Croatia.
In 1890 the Austro-Hungarian government, prompted by Professor Ambroz Haracic, named the towns an official spa resort for their pleasant climate, sea air and the big variety of herbs and plants growing on the island.
A forest was planted that now spans the peninsula and gives shade to the waterside pathways and hiking trails.

APOXIOMEN STATUE
In 1996, Belgian diver Rene Wouters stumbled across a statue in 45m off Vele Orjule by
Losinj island.
It was a bronze apoxiomen, a young male athlete scraping the dust and oil from his body, dating from 200 BC.
The statue has since been recovered, preserved and restored. It is now touring various international museums while a permanent home is prepared in Male Losinj.
A full-size model of the statue, as found on the seabed, is displayed at the Tower Museum in Veli Losinj.
FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Croatia Airlines flies to Rijeka from Heathrow. Car and ferry transfer to Losinj takes about two hours.
DIVING Diver Croatia, www.diver.hr
ACCOMMODATION The Bellvue Hotel is closest to the dive centre. Losinj Hotels & Villas operates a number of other hotels nearby, including specialist family hotels and ranging up to 5*. A regular shuttle-bus service runs between all the hotels and town centres, www.losinj-hotels.com
WHEN TO GO Preferably summer.
MONEY Croatian kunar (HRK), roughly 10 to the pound, but euros widely accepted.
PRICES Return flights vary through the season, typically about 300 euros and 70 euros for an additional dive-bag of up to 32kg. Six nights in a double room at the 3* Bellvue costs 2500-5000 HRK, depending on season. A day diving with Diver Croatia costs 79 euros.
FURTHER INFORMATION www.croatia.hr