Youd think it would be hard to lose a 142m-long diving attraction, but it can be done. John Bantin returns to Ibiza to find out how the western Med's own Zenobia is coming along
MODERN TRAVEL IS AMAZING, isnt it One Sunday evening, I was cruising the hot tarmac of the North Circular Road looking for an elusive uncongested route to Wembley Stadium and the Capital Radio Summer Ball.
The following morning, I was cruising the dark blue waters of the Mediterranean in the new RIB belonging to Punta Dive in Ibiza.
We were looking for another elusive object, the submerged buoy that marks the site of the modern wreck of the ro-ro ferry Don Pedro.
This feat was made possible thanks to a small-hours departure from Gatwick, and a two-hour flight with Easyjet to the Balearic island.
We couldnt find the buoy. The problem was that the GPS on this new boat did not have the wrecks position co-ordinates entered. The captain seemed surprised.
We gnarled old divers sneer at these electronic failings. In my day, wed have remembered the transits and found the location by eye, but these modern young seafarers dont know theyre born. Such are these modern aids to navigation; theyre wonderful until theres a snag.
It was the snag of a small rocky outcrop that proved the downfall of another navigator, three years earlier. Steering the regular truck and container service vessel to Barcelona out of Ibiza Towns harbour, the helmsman of the giant Don Pedro struck the rock.
The huge ship foundered and sank in less than half an hour, close by the busy shipping lane. Its not clear how this happened. Whether it had been steered the wrong side of a cardinal mark is still argued over. Luckily, no lives were lost.
The joint owners of Punta Dive, a Brit, an Aussie and an Italian, had invited me out from the UK to dive
the Don Pedro as soon as the authorities had given clearance to do so. That was around two years ago, but as it turned out they were slightly premature in offering the dives, because the site was a long boat-ride from their base at Cala Martina near Santa Eulalia.
Their dive boat was exceedingly fast but, alas, most of their typical client divers were not up to the stresses and strains of anything more than a few minutes of bumpy ride, such is the legacy of the vibrant nightclub scene on the island. We had enjoyed only a couple of opportunities to dive the wreck during my stay (An Ibiza Evening With Don Pedro, September 2008).
Now things were different. Punta Dive has expanded, and its fourth and newest dive shop is at Playa den Bossa, a busy resort with several excellent inclusive hotels and a small harbour. The new shop is also both handy for the airport and in sight of the position of the Don Pedro - or it would be, if the Don Pedro was afloat at the surface.
It is also only a quick lick away from several other good natural sites, and another Balearic island, Formentera, which has its own marine zone, and the wreckage of a disused fish-factory platform.
There are distinct cultural differences between the English and the Spanish. If you stop and ask direction in England, people will often claim that they dont know, simply because they cant be bothered to stop and explain.
In Spain, ask directions and a crowd will soon gather, all the members of which will claim they know the facts, but usually offer conflicting advice.
So it was, when our captain phoned a few local friends to get the GPS position. They couldnt all be right.
After an hour following misleading and fruitless information, we gave up and went to the fishing-factory platform at Formentera instead, intending to get the marks from the GPS on Punta Dives other boat later.
The fishing-factory platform makes
a great dive. Its rather like a small oil-rig that has collapsed, with plenty of structures lying at depths between 15m and 33m. Its full of fish. Magnificent Mediterranean scorpionfish lie about lethargically in pairs. Saddled bream loiter in tightly packed schools, and plenty of moray eels find refuge among the spars and girders.
We enjoyed a chaos of silver barracuda, swimming about madly in every other direction in the shallows, unlike those orderly schools you encounter in the tropics, and we had close on an hours dive there. But it wasnt the Don Pedro, and that was what I had come to dive.
SO IT WAS BACK TO A BEACH-SIDE restaurant for a light lunch of mejillones al vapor, pulpo Gallega and gambias al ajillo, and off to bed that afternoon to catch up on some mightily needed sleep at the Sirenis Hotel Goleta, before a fresh start at 7.30 the next morning.
The marker buoy, at 15m deep, is hard to see unless youre right over it. Even with the correct GPS co-ordinates, we took a little time locating the spot.
While we were looking, we were treated to the strange sight of a mother mallard duck swimming past, followed by a dozen ducklings, all paddling furiously. Thats not something you see often, out in the ocean.
Diego was my Cockney Italian dive buddy. He is disturbingly pretty for a man, and is now settled in Spain and working for Punta Dive as its star dive-guide. He went down and looped our dive-boats line through a shackle that connected to the sunken buoy, which was itself attached to the cable that led down to the wreck.
Once it was secured, we both headed downwards together through the clear blue water and into a gloomy green and cold layer, to where the gargantuan vessel lay forlornly on its side.
In America they sink old ships on purpose, but Im told that Greenpeace, slightly out of step with modern thinking about artificial reefs, had campaigned hard to get this wrecked vessel removed from the sea, despite
the enormous cost of having cleaned up the pollutants it had carried.
Ive seen what salvors leave behind. Instead of then being an interesting dive and a new habitat for marine life, the seabed would have been left covered in unwanted rubbish, and the shore would have become an unsightly scrapyard.
Instead, the Don Pedro is a spectacular sight for the adventurous scuba diver, and a welcome retreat
for animals that seek shelter.
These political difficulties have however meant that the local authorities in Ibiza have yet to realise that they have sitting on their underwater doorstep an economic asset as worthy as the wreck of the Zenobia outside Larnaca in Cyprus.
THERES A BUOYLINE ATTACHED at both bow and stern, but the cable from the submerged buoy we spotted was tied off near the bow of the wreck.
This resulted in a lengthy and tedious swim along the side of the hull of what had been a very big ship.
The Don Pedro has become heavily overgrown with weed since my last visit but, apart from the rails, this part is still rather featureless, with only the occasional colourful starfish.
We avoided swimming deeper along the deck, now at 90° to normal, because we wanted to conserve our bottom time and get some good photographs of those iconic and powerful propeller blades found at 37m deep.
This done, we made our way round the stern, past the massive rear access ramp and up a little onto the stairways that formerly led to different levels of the superstructure.
Remember, this wreck lies on its side. Rope work that had been in place had now fallen away. Deck paraphernalia had fallen over onto the walls.
As on the fish-factory platform, huge orange scorpionfish lay everywhere, and were reluctant to move even when confronted by startling air-bubbling visitors.
Two more dives followed, one more around the superstructure at the aft end of the wreck, including the radar towers and wheelhouse, and a third at the bow, dramatic with its bulbous leading keel, massive winches and huge anchors still in place.
The occasional conger eel popped its head out from where it was hiding during daylight hours to see who was disturbing its rest, and ubiquitous Mediterranean brown combers hung around aimlessly.
Diving the Don Pedro is very much like diving an undamaged wreck in British waters - except that you can see where you are and take in great views of the vessel, because the visibility, though not gin-clear, is good enough.
When your appetite for this is sated, there are plenty of rocky reefs around Playa den Bossa to dive. Just be sure not to wreck your boat on one. These sites provide good marine-life diving, with plenty of schools of saupe and bream in evidence. Octopus pose helpfully for underwater photographers, and there are loads of starfish and other invertebrates to catch the eye.
Given that you can sleep during the journey, the close proximity of the Balearic Islands to the UK combined with regular cheap flights makes a long week-ends diving a realistic proposition.
Its as convenient for those of us who live near airports as diving in the West Country or Scotland.
Punta Dive anticipates setting up PADI and IANTD technical diving courses imminently, and operating them through the winter period.
|GETTING THERE: Flights to Ibiza are provided by many inexpensive airlines, including RyanAir and Easyjet.|
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: John Bantin travelled at the invitation of Punta Dive, www.puntadive.com, and stayed at the Sirenis hotels Goleta and Siesta, www.sirenishotels.com. PuntaDive can advise on less expensive accommodation.
WHEN TO GO: Summer
PRICES: Flights from the UK with Easyjet cost around £190, with an additional 20kg sports-equipment bag. Accommodation at a 4-star hotel such as the all-inclusive Sirenis Goleta costs £50 per night, and a 10-dive package with PuntaDive costs £280, including free nitrox.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.tourspain.co.uk, www.ibiza.travel/en.