THE BEST NEAP TIDES of the year. So nicely neap that we can leave the harbour at a sensible time in the morning, having got out of bed after a full nights sleep spent in
a comfortable marina apartment just along from the harbourside cafe where we are meeting.
Once there, we have time for a leisurely breakfast. Already the sun is strong enough in a clear blue sky that the canopies over the outside seating area provide welcome shade.
The boat is only a short walk along the marina jetty. The water level is just right, so there are no steep ramps to descend.
The dive-boat is a big catamaran, a diver-lift at the back, a big island wheelhouse, plenty of deck space, inside and outside seating. To go with the blue sky the boat has a canopy stretched across the deck to provide more shade.
The dive-site is about an hour away at part throttle. It’s a comfortable journey time because it allows everyone to settle in, get their kit ready and enjoy the fresh air as we cut through
a sea with the barest of tiny waves and no spray.
Dives that are only 10 minutes from the harbour always feel a bit rushed.
On the way, we pause to check out a blip that shows on the sounder. Could this be another new wreck The skipper adds it to the plotter for later.

ARRIVING ABOVE OUR DESTINATION wreck, we take our time. The skipper criss-crosses a few times to check it on the sounder before the dive supervisor throws the shot, then criss-crosses a few more times to make sure it’s good.
We can see from the line that there is no current, and the visibility looks good. Even now, the tides are so neap that no one has to rush.
The catamaran hull is so stable that there is no rolling at all. Those who are normally vulnerable to seasickness have completely forgotten about it.
Divers can kit up at a leisurely pace in the usual mix of twin-sets, rebreathers and big single cylinders. It’s all so much more relaxed than needing to be lined up in full kit waiting to jump in as soon as the tide slackens.
After a great wreck dive we ascend the shotline and the water is warm enough that no one feels cold while decompressing. On the surface, the boat is waiting nearby, just far enough off that it isn’t crowding the shot.
In a minute or so the diver-lift has us back on board, comfortably seated on the kitting-up bench. Kit off and stowed, there is a choice of hot drinks, chilled water or cold drinks from the copious fridge.
The journey back to harbour is taken at an even more leisurely pace, as we sit about and enjoy the day. Everything has worked perfectly, we have had a good day out and now we have just the right amount of journey time to chill out and relax.
The tide is still level with the jetty, and we can simply step off the boat with no big ramps to climb.
For a late lunch there is a choice of waterfront cafes, some with live music, or a trip to the supermarket for fresh bread, cheese and cold meats, taken back to the apartment balcony in the marina. All washed down with a cold beer or a nice glass of wine.
To follow up, the ice-cream kiosks give portions that are big enough to quell even my appetite for ice-cream.
Yes, if certain lager commercials did UK wreck-diving, this is how they would do it. But then if a certain lager commercial actually did beer, it would be black and brewed in Dublin. And if you can’t bring the perfect day to UK wreck-diving, you can take UK wreck-diving to where it’s nearly always a perfect day.
Which is pretty much what wreck-diving enthusiast Stuart Miles did when he set up Kaycher Diving in Torrevieja, an hour or so south of Alicante in Spain.

IT ALL STARTED WHEN STUART decided to check out some of the wrecks while visiting his parents, who live in the area. Friends from his club joined the next trip, and recommended the diving to their friends. Then friends of friends went on a trip and spread the word.
Demand grew, and before he knew it Stuart had a diving business. “I didn’t set out to start a diving business, but as I went on it just seemed like the obvious thing to do,” he says.
So he got a small industrial unit, fitted compressors and a gas-blending system, and stocked up with a copious selection of all the kit and supplies UK divers like to use but with which they have problems travelling.
He teamed up with expat skipper Kevin to provide a dive-boat to UK standards. Volante is a 10m Blythe catamaran, shipped from the UK and fitted out over winter with everything a UK diver could want, from wide kitting-up benches to that diver-lift.
Stuart and Kevin have exported all the best parts of UK wreck-diving to Spain’s dependable, almost-desert climate, leaving the weather and tides at home.
My diving begins with a warm-up, a simple 30m no-stop dive on the well-broken and dispersed remains of a wooden-hulled trawler near the Tabarca island marine reserve. It’s not a dive Stuart recommends, just a location where I can settle down with the Evolution rebreather I have borrowed from Stuart’s colleague John Campbell.
Rebreather all checked out and weight spot on, the real diving begins with the 2317-ton Lilla. This steamship was built and operated as the Thordisa by Thomas Turnbull & Son of Whitby, used for the North Sea coal trade, then sold to Francesco Degrossi of Genoa
and renamed Lilla in 1913.
On 13 October, 1917, the Lilla was on route from the Clyde to Genoa and stopped to assist the torpedoed steamship Doris, only to receive its own torpedo from U35.
Already zoned out to the sedate pace of diving here, I am the last diver in. The top of the Lilla is just short of 40m, with the seabed at 45m or so.
Some dive centres dive the wreck from RIBs with single cylinders of air for relatively short dives. In typical Spanish style for naming wrecks, they call it El Carbonero after its cargo of coal.
I dived it that way for a short dive almost 10 years ago.
The shot is hooked across a bollard at the bow, making my dive plan a very leisurely out-and-back along the deck, dipping into the engine-room for a look at the triple-expansion engine.
I turn back past the skewed remains of the bridge and finish with a swim through the forecastle and up through
a hole next to the anchor-winch. Ascent is up the shotline, with just enough shallow current to keep us all lined up.

A DAY LATER WE CONTINUE with the story of U35 with a dive on the 3979-ton Doris, a few metres deeper and mostly upside-down. The seabed is at 46m with the keel at 40m, held up by the boilers and engine inside. In clean water I can see from the keel to the debris field off the starboard side.
The Doris was built in 1901 by Nicholas Odero & Co of Genoa, and operated at the time of her loss by Societa Commerciale Italiana di Navigazione, also of Genoa. She was the third ship sunk by U35 on 13 October, 1917, following the Alavi and Despina G Michalinos and before the Lilla.
The Alavi is on Stuart’s list of dives, but beyond 100m and deeper than I have any intention of ever going.
From 13 November, 1915, U35 was under the command of Kapitanleutnant Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière – top-scoring U-boat commander of WW1.
From 8 May, 1918, Arnauld de la Periere moved on to U139, and between the two commands he sank 193 merchant ships totalling 453,369 tons and two warships for another 2500 tons.
In terms of numbers and tonnage his tally has never been surpassed, so he remains the all-time top submarine ace.
He usually attacked on the surface using the 88mm deck-gun. Only 39 vessels were sunk by torpedo.
Shore-based as a rear admiral during WW2, Arnauld de la Perière died when his aircraft crashed on take-off at Le Bourget on 24 February, 1941.
Both the Lilla and Doris are south of Torrevieja. For our next dive we head north towards Tabarca island again, and the wreck of a 3332-ton steamship.
The Mardinian is one of Stuart’s favourites, intact and upright, rising from just past 55m to about 45m.
The ship was relatively new, built in 1913 by W Harkess & Son of Middlesbrough and owned by Ellerman Lines of Liverpool. She was torpedoed by U34 under Kapitanleutnant Johannes Klasing on 19 May, 1917.

I FIND IT QUITE RELAXING to dive a wreck with no need to sketch it. I am under no obligation to get round the entire wreck, and just follow my nose wherever is interesting.
In this case, even with a trimix diluent, I stay on the boat deck, where the key feature is the captain’s bathroom.
Normally in the Mediterranean, the clear blue water makes depth deceptively easy. It’s what makes the diving here so good for building up deeper experience, and such a convenient choice for instructors running technical courses.
Today we have a rarity, conditions not quite “perfect for UK wreck-diving”. The last rain of spring, before the summer drought, tipped it down a couple of weeks ago. Water from the Rio Segura has been spilling out of the estuary as brown murk that now forms a layer hugging the seabed up and down this stretch of the coast.
It still feels shallow and light for 50m, but the visibility at this depth is a murky 5m. This causes us to rethink the last wreck of my trip, planned to be the nearby 4576-ton Ville De Verdun, built by the North of Ireland Shipbuilding Co of Londonderry in 1917 and owned by the French Compagnie Havraise Péninsulaire De Navigation À Vapeur of Le Havre.
Ville De Verdun was another U34 victim, torpedoed on 6 February, 1918. This time U34 was commanded by Kapitanleutnant Wilhelm Canaris, who would later achieve fame as head of the Abwehr, German military intelligence.
Instead of diving the Ville De Verdun we head south and return to the Lilla, where the visibility is more dependable.
One of the other divers has a light-hearted whinge that the shot was alongside the bow again, and he had to pull the line in. I compliment Stuart on his accuracy at dropping the shot so that it wrapped round exactly the same bollard as last time.
While some of the divers are staying another day for an unknown wreck in 115m, for me all that is left is decompression day. Time to wander the town, visit the market, stroll the seafront and have a last ice-cream before the evening flight home.

Below: The tiny GoPro Hero3 is the start of a movement towards full recording of every dive.
Right and below: Divers are going to come to expect guaranteed encounters with specific wildlife – but not an aquarium-type experience.
Feed the world with giant sea vegetables Were struggling to regrow the coral thats been destroyed.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Daily flights to Alicante from many UK airports with budget airlines. Kaycher Diving provides transfers to Torrevieja.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Kaycher Diving, kaycherdiving.com
WHEN TO GO Summer
CURRENCY Euros.
PRICES Kaycher Diving charges £625 for five days of technical diving, including accommodation and cylinders. If you use its standard mixes, you pay only for the gas consumed. If a bail-out cylinder is returned full, you pay nothing for it.
FURTHER INFORMATION www.spain.info