|CONNIE, A CANADIAN, WORKED IN THE CITY OF LONDON AND SPENT HER WEEKENDS AT HER HOUSE IN MAJORCA. Majorca (spelt Mallorca but pronounced My-yorka) is the major island in the Balearics. It is very accessible and, placed as it is in the centre of the western Mediterranean, ideal for weekenders who can afford the air-ticket every week. |
Most of us are more likely to consider it as a once-a-year holiday destination, but there is no denying that the two-hour flying time from London is very attractive, especially when you consider that most diving destinations are long-haul.
Connie liked to dive in Majorca, but when her local dive instructors boat sank, it looked as if she would be out of luck. In those days, dive centres were few and far between.
She solved the problem by buying the instructor a boat. It was a magnificently generous gesture. The boat was named Miss Connie.
Far away in Canada, the Spanish fishing fleet fell foul of the Canadian Navy when it tried to operate in protected waters. It was driven away. The Spanish government retaliated, but as it had little trade with that country, the best it could do was insist that any Canadian citizens entering Spain had a valid visa, issued by the Spanish embassy in Canada.
No big deal for most Canadians, but it really screwed up Connies arrangements. There was no way she could travel each weekend to Majorca via Canada, so she ended up selling her home there and making other plans. The boat was later sold, and after changing owners a couple of times ended up being operated by a new diving centre set up by two Brits and a Texan in Puerto Pollensa, a favourite resort of the British in the far north of the island. The outfit is called Scuba-Mallorca.
I had known Miss Connie since her launch and took pleasure in re-discovering her, albeit no longer pristine, taking out divers as she was always intended to do.
I too used to spend a lot of time in Majorca. In those far-off days, with few diving centres, I had to buy myself both a boat and compressor so that I could pursue my pastime. Even for private diving one needed to be loaded down with permits and licences - for diving, compressor operating, boat and coxn.
BACON AND EGGS
Times have changed. Nowadays there must be more than 20 centres offering diving at locations around the island, and much of this has been made possible since PADI became acceptable as a training agency in Spain.
Visiting a selection of these centres, I heard time and again from the owners and managers that they constantly surprised holiday-makers who were already certified divers but were unaware that it was possible to dive in Majorca.
And yet Majorca is an ideal place in which to go diving. The water of the western Mediterranean is deep and clear, there are few currents and negligible tides to concern you. In fact, I had quite forgotten just how easy the diving is there.
Germans seem to have taken over the south of Majorca, but the northern part of the island remains a bastion of the British holiday-maker. English is widely spoken, often with a regional accent, as so many of the local businesses are owned by Brits.
You can get traditional Majorcan food, but it is as easy to get a plate of British bacon, sausage, egg and beans, and all ingredients are said to be shipped in fresh from the UK.
The same can be said for the beer, of course, and at the time of writing the British pound was worth more than it had ever been against the Spanish peseta, so holidays in Spain are good value. Its undeniably an ideal holiday destination.
Puerto Pollensa is blessed with a bay that is protected from east and west by two long headlands that stretch for miles. The effect is to shelter the water from everything but a direct wind from the north. It really is a millpond most of the time, summer and winter.
During its first season in operation, Scuba-Mallorca has concentrated on the passing tourist trade - those divers on holiday with their families who didnt know it was possible to dive in Majorca. The other half of the business has consisted of the uninitiated enjoying Discover Scuba programmes, and the kind conditions make Majorca ideal for that, too.
However, unlike other dive centres which operate from May to September, Scuba-Mallorca intends to operate throughout the year. Its location allows that. Puerto Pollensa is ideal for any diver who wishes to dive in reliable conditions and train to higher levels of certification.
The partners in Scuba-Mallorca intend to market their facilities to British dive schools which can make use of calm sea conditions only two hours flying time from home. Already most of the visiting divers are as British as the staff.
The water temperature can drop as low as 18C in winter, which might make a drysuit a good idea, but I was there in September when the water was a refreshing 24 all the way down to 30m, where it began to get a bit chillier.
Scuba-Mallorca uses Miss Connie to take divers out in the morning for two dives, riding out the surface interval in an idyllic rocky cala (the Majorcan word for cove) while passengers take the opportunity to snorkel in the sunlit turquoise water.
Sometimes it can be so tranquil that groups of white-plumed egrets are seen hunting fish in the shallows. On other occasions, the peace is shattered by the noise coming from tourist boats loaded with scantily clad young revellers.
But thats Majorca. It offers something for everyone.
The dive sites are usually under steep cliffs which make home to gangs of Leonoras falcons, screeching and wheeling above you. Otherwise they are very quiet.
Very relaxing... very easy, were comments I constantly heard about the conditions from divers returning to the boat.
Under water the topography is dramatic and the visibility so clear you really can look up from 30m and see the cliff not only to the surface but stretching up against the blue sky beyond.
While diving I was able to watch the usual range of marine life that you might expect here. Big silver shoals of saddled bream and closely related common diplodocus hover glinting in the sunlight near rocks that are guarded by junior grouper, of the type that would grow to be enormous if only the local fishermen would leave them to do so.
Red mullet search the sand in hordes, feeling for suitable small animals with their long barbels. Thick-lipped grey mullet (no relation) browse the algae growing on the rocks, oblivious of the occasional scorpionfish that stays camouflaged as long as it keeps its nerve and remains stationary.
Moray eels seem to poke their dark heads from every crevice and are often caught out in the open, their yellow and brown speckled bodies snake-like and coiled, ready for a sudden dash for cover.
Assorted wrasse, rainbow and Turkish, hustle and bustle, searching out the recently laid eggs of chromis, the ubiquitous little black fish that seems to shoal in thousands. Out in the blue, barracuda cruise, along with solitary amberjack, while posses of bright orange cardinal fish skulk in small caves, waiting for the cover of night, and teams of larger corb do likewise in the more spacious caverns.
The walls of these caverns are covered in encrusting zoantharia, often golden-yellow, or sea squirts and anemones, while statuesque cerianthus wave their tentacles enticingly for a meal of any small animal fooled into investigating closely.
There must be around 30 different varieties of colourful nudibranch to be found here, and there are plenty of starfish decorating the rocks.
It isnt as colourful as life on a coral reef, and you need to get your eye in before you start to see everything, but its there, all the same.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Of course, there are shellfish too numerous to mention, but the sign of empty shells littering the rocks in neat clusters gives away the location of the cairns of the octopus, the animal that surely must be the star of the Mediterranean show.
In early summer you will see them out in the open everywhere, often mating. The male seduces the female with a tentacle specially adapted for the job. The penalty he pays is losing it to the ownership of his conquest.
Sometimes you will see male octopuses that have been out on the tiles and have no tentacles left, but they clearly later grow new ones to replace those lost in the battle of the sexes.
By midsummer, most of the females have retired to holes in the rocks, where they bury themselves with loose stones, lay their eggs and proceed to brood them by flushing fresh oxygenated water over them with their siphons.
During this time they cease to feed, so by the time the baby octopuses are hatched and join the planktonic soup, their mothers are exhausted and fall easy prey to moray eels, which would be easily seen off by a fit and well-fed octopus. This means that in late summer, most of the active octopuses you will see are either unmated females or males still looking for an opportunity.
Octopuses are very intelligent molluscs and are able to learn quickly. If you catch one out in the open and are gentle with it, it will soon cease to try to escape and actually start to investigate your person. Their intelligence is even more notable when you know that they can expect a life-span of only a couple of years.
Probably the most notable dive site regularly visited by divers from Miss Connie is the cave called Geronimo.
Only 18m or so at its deepest, its entrance stretches to within a couple of feet of the surface. It is of cathedral-like dimensions, with a clear surface.
In the mornings, when the sun is striking both the water and the cliff-face directly outside, you can float at the surface inside the cave and the effect is that of a beautiful underlit swimming pool, electric blue, lighting up the stalactites above your head.
Its quite romantic. I found myself in there with Gilli, one of the centres British girl dive guides and suggested that it was a good place for a shag.
No, its a cormorant, she replied. Its always in here. It seems to like it.
With that, the bird dived down from the ledge on the cave wall, where it was perched and gave us a perfect demonstration of breath-hold diving as it swam out into the sea. I never could remember the difference between a shag and a cormorant.
|A popular resort with Brits, Puerto Pollensa |
|after the dive - The grouper was this big! |
|rainbow and Turkish wrasse |
|barracuda out in force |
|a colourful Majorcan wall |
|hanging with the wrasse |
|jumping off Miss Connie |
|the intelligent but short-lived octopus |
|Puerto Pollensa harbour |
GETTING THERE: Palma de Mallorca airport is a thoroughly modern facility that receives flights year-round from all over Europe and the UK.
DIVING: John Bantin travelled with Scuba-Mallorca of Puerto Pollensa, 0034 971 868087,www.scubamallorca.com. Not all dive centres stay open throughout the year, so book your diving before you go.
WHEN TO GO: Majorca is known for its pleasant Mediterranean climate. The best weather is experienced between May and October but it can be very mild in daytime during the rest of the year.
ACCOMMODATION: Spain is a modern EU country and all levels of accommodation and food are provided. Check with your local travel agent.
CURRENCY: Part of Spain, the currency of Majorca is the Euro and the peseta.
LANGUAGE: Spanish, English.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Puerto Pollensa Tourist Office, 0034 971 534666