Divernet

Its a bit rough, but we should be able to dive in the shelter of the islands. We can go looking for the Beast, says Jeff Richardson, in his good Scottish accent.
     The Beast I query, thinking of the Loch Ness monster. What sort of beast
     Jeff clarifies: at Dicks Point there is a legendary huge and elusive grouper.
     He doesnt think it is the best dive site photographically if we dont get close to the Beast, but with a north-east wind blowing its our best option for diving in the Cala dHort Marine Nature Reserve.
     Its only a short boat ride from Sea Horse Scubas shop to the islands off the north-west corner of Ibiza. Were soon swimming across the corner of a rocky bay and round the point to the wall, where the Beast hides in the depths.
     On the way, I get to see why its called Dicks Point. As well as being named for a diver called Dick, there is a second meaning. Right at the point, a big rock stands erect. Its a 3m-wide and 7m-high Greek fertility statue.
     On the way, we chase a speckled moray. Then, beneath the rock, we find a pair of octopuses holding hands. Perhaps they believe in the symbolism.
     Past the point, the shoreline becomes a vertical wall to 35m or so. As with most places in the Mediterranean, the life on the exposed rocks is just green algae. To find some colour, I settle to looking beneath overhangs and under boulders
     There are a few small grouper, but no sign of the beast. Like Nessie, he must know when a photographer is on the prowl.

Late afternoon sees the wind settling, and were out in the boat again. At the southern tip of the island of Esparata, the deep water comes close inshore, with a dive site known simply as the Abyss.
     Its another spot for big groupers, though this time with plenty of other fish life in case they dont show.
     We spot a couple of groupers in the distance, but no real monsters. Im not that disappointed, as there are plenty of other fish to see and some big yellow nudibranchs. If Jeff hadnt told me about the groupers in advance, I would still have dived here.
     In many ways, Im glad the groupers are timid. Somewhat perversely, spearfishing is still allowed within the area of the marine reserve, so I dont blame the big fish for being cautious. Thats how they grew big.

I still havent caught up on sleep from an early flight the day before, so I go to bed early. I wake at 10.30pm to the sound of Supercalafrajalisticexpialidocious. My granny would have loved it. It isnt particularly loud, just something of which Im aware in the background.
     Im soon back to sleep. The last thing I remember is Julie Andrews continuing with A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down. I wake again later, and all is quiet. Some bars are open till the morning, but the outside music stops at midnight.
     We dont seem to be lucky with the weather. The unseasonable north-east wind has picked up again, and boat-diving is out. Jeff has a standby plan and we drive to the south side of the island and a tranquil, secluded cove at Cala Olivera. Its quite a contrast to the fully developed seaside of San Jose and San Antonio, with their lines of hotels and British pubs.
     The road is a dirt track. There are no shops or buildings. The hills behind the beach are covered in natural forest and a few very upmarket houses cling to a hillside down the coast. The weather is also a contrast. With a clear blue sky and no wind, its hard to believe its so stormy on the other coast.
     A few sun-worshippers arrive as we enter the water. I loathe surface swims, so we follow the reef out just below the surface. Its a good 10 minutes brisk finning to a complex of caves and arches at 20m. We then cross a valley of sand to a wall that leads out past the point to the south of the bay, punctuated by a double arch remarkably similar to Cathedral Rock at St Abbs. We explore the wall further than Jeff has investigated previously, before turning back to finish our dive with gauges reading zero.
     The beach has filled with sun-seekers enjoying the secluded peace. Further back, a masseur has set up shop in the shade next to Jeffs 4x4. He may have been used to peace and tranquillity while working on his naked customers, but have you ever known a group of divers to clear up in silence while walking on tiptoe We get shushed, accompanied by some forbidding looks.

With a free afternoon, and up to date on sleep, I have time to catch up on shopping. For lunch I buy a fresh French loaf and some Serrano ham. I also take advantage of the ridiculously cheap prices to stock up on sunglasses, which I am always breaking and needing to replace on diving trips.
     The remains of my small bar of travel soap have run out. I find a promising aisle in the supermarket, but there are no familiar brand names and I dont know what soap is in Spanish. I resort to prodding a likely-sized wrapper on the shelf - does it feel like soap I get a very odd look from the checkout assistant before realising that I am prodding a pack of sanitary towels. A shelf along and the next prod yields soap. Everyone here speaks some English, especially in the shops. Perhaps I should have asked.

With the wind veering further to the east, we head out to the sheltered western side of Bledes na Bosc, one of a chain of three rocky islands about as far from the mainland of Ibiza as you can get.
     The wall descends in pitches to an endless forest of red gorgonians at 35m. A strong thermocline yields an oily mixing effect in the water and it is getting on for 45m before it clears enough to take photographs.
     Looking below, the forest ends at a sandy seabed some 10m below. A gentle current runs to the east, easy enough to swim against, yet providing just enough flow to feed the luxuriant gorgonians.
     The wind veers far enough to the east to take the boat along the north coast to Islas Margaritas, a pair of vertical rocky islands with a natural arch big enough to take the boat through sideways. Looking up, there are rows of caves and tunnels in the rock face 10m above the sea, signs of an ancient change in sea level.
     Below the surface, the caves are even more impressive. The cave system starts at 20m beneath the smaller island and extends beneath the plateau, where the boat is anchored to emerge almost beneath the big arch.
     All the while it winds in and out of the rock, light entering through galleries in the wall and chimneys in the roof.
     Its a good dive already, but there is more to come. Next to the big arch is another submerged letterbox tunnel through the rock, the water surging through at just 3 to 5m below the surface. Small cup corals adorn the roof and a conger and a moray eel share a hole deep in the shadows.
     Further out, behind the bigger island, we swim through a submerged arch that extends from 5m below the surface to the seabed some 40m below. Its more than big enough to drive a double-decker bus through. Even in the excellent visibility, its just too big to fit into a photograph.

Further along the coast, we dive the only real wreck on this side of Ibiza, a well-broken steamship that was driven sideways into a rocky cove. Jeff calls it the Noshay K. Its Spanish for I havent a clue. Theres no wreck-diving culture here, so no-one is that bothered about history, size, names and all the details that us wreckaholics like to know.
     With a fair amount of wreckage on the rocks, the location is obvious. The deepest point is an up-ended boiler at 12m. Then, inshore, the propeller shaft lies in 8m parallel to the cliffs, a bronze propeller still attached to the stern. I was so shocked that I had to scratch at it with a rock to make sure it was really non-ferrous.
     Odd scraps are everywhere, getting denser in the shallower water and closer to the shoreline. We pass an iron spare propeller, then the propeller shaft breaks. Nearby, the trail resumes with a relatively intact triple-expansion engine protected by a rigid frame, lying on its side in 5m.
     Waves are funnelling into the bay and crashing above us, the water surging in and out with white foam reaching down.
     Millions of tiny silver fish mimic the clouds of surf. A huge shoal of jacks circles through the wreckage, standing by for a free lunch.
     Further forward, the wreck ends tight against the wall at the west of the bay. We look for the anchors without success; they are rumoured to be in the shallows, out of reach in the crashing surf.
     I switch out of wreck mode for a few minutes to examine the wall. It would make a nice shallow dive by itself, with lots of nooks and crannies to protect bits of marine life and provide a home for the rainbow wrasse flitting about.
     Its not a world-class wreck, yet I enjoy it and could easily spend longer than the 40 minutes I allow myself. The reason is to save some air in my second cylinder of the day for another set of caves.

A few miles further to the east, the Pillars of Hercules are a pair of buttresses in the cliff face marking the entrance to caves below. Just a few metres down, a tall narrow archway stretches to the seabed, rising inside the cliff to an air chamber with light streaming down from a window high above.
     Further back, a second chamber is dark, barely lit by the scattered light reaching in from the entrance. Its another of those magical experiences impossible to capture on camera - at least, not without very long exposure times. Maybe I should try diving with a tripod.
     Looking at the limestone cliff-face, there must be caves all along the coast. I ask Jeff, and he admits to not knowing. Despite living and diving in Ibiza for 15 years, he doesnt get time to go searching. With more than enough dives for a good weeks diving and some to spare, hes too busy guiding the known sites to explore.
     Nevertheless, every now and then a new site crops up, with rocks at the outside edge of the marine reserve past the gorgonian wall being top of his list of places to investigate.

For an evening out, Jeff takes me to see a different side of Ibiza. The capital is Eivissa, which is Ibiza in the Catalan language. High above the town, the old citadel dominates the approaches to the harbour, with thick stone walls, tall buildings and a maze of narrow alleyways. Beneath the citadel,the waterfront and town centre are a mix of wide plazas and narrow alleyways, designer shops, pavement cafes and bars. Its still aimed at tourists, but without losing its strong Spanish character.
     On the drive home, Jeff points out the famous nightclubs, out-of-town warehouses that in October have already closed down for the winter.
     As is so often the case, we have spent all week bypassing the most popular local dive site on the way to more distant locations. On my last day I make a point of diving the Haystack.
     Jeffs briefing is spot on. This turret of rock has the densest fish life of any of the weeks dive sites, including a fair variety of small grouper and a shoal of 50 or more barracuda. It also has a wreck: an old moped which a dive guide has placed on the seabed for comedy value.
     A few days after I get home, I see yet another reality TV show doing its best to convince us that Ibiza is full of clubbing, drunken, shagging British teenagers.
     The island will have a hard time getting away from that image. Yet I was well away from any of the clubs, and closer to diving that can hold its own with anywhere in the Mediterranean.
     According to the TV you wont find any virgin tourists in Ibiza; from my perspective as a diver, you might just find a virgin dive site.


wall
wall of red gorgonians at Bledes na Bosc
a
a moray eel
jacks
jacks
hand-holding
hand-holding octopuses
in
in the caves at ses Margalides
engine
engine on the wreck at Cala dEn Sardina
Divernet

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Cheap packages are available from any number of tour operators and they include charter flights and accommodation. Sea Horse Sub Aqua Centre can advise on the best times of year for a visit. From May this year, GB Airways is to start running direct flights from London four to five days a week.
DIVING: Sea Horse Sub Aqua Centre at Port des Torrent 0034 971 346 438, www.seahorsedivingibiza.com.
ACCOMMODATION: Apartments and holiday hotels are priced to meet various budgets. San Jose and San Antonio are both convenient for the dive centre. Further away and a rental car may come in useful..
WHEN TO GO : Diving is available all year round, though winter conditions are less predictable.
MONEY: Euro
COST: Diving costs 25 euros per dive, or 45 with full equipment rental. Multi-dive packages are available.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Balearic Islands tourist information 020 7467 5506, www.visitbalears.com.