June 19, 2017

Malta and Diving

On the advice of our awesome dive instructor in Thailand, we built in some time for a visit to Malta on the European leg of the sabbatical.  Shore diving?  (No need to get on a boat, just go straight in and start your dive.)  Sign us up!

The cliffs just drop into the sea creating great walls and dive sites.
Maltese is a living language.  Spoken by 520,000 people. Related to Sicilian, Arabic, Italian, English, and more.  With its own alphabet.  I mean, how can you not fall in love with these linguistic survivors of all of the various conquering invaders?

Maltese sampler (with chicken fingers for E): delicious bread,
pickled cheese, sausage, dried tomatoes in oil, olives,
capers, and bigilla.
Listening and watching our Maltese native dive team leaders interact with the local world was fascinating.  Easily 50% of the people we saw and interacted with in Mellieha were not Maltese.  But, this place has such an easy-going inclusive vibe that it didn't seem weird at all that the locals all preferred to speak to one another in Maltese, and did so while switching into and back from English at will.

View from the restaurant across the street from the dive shop.

Essentially, Malta was one of the best parts of our European leg of travel.  We came to dive, and we did.  6 dives in 3 days over a variety of sites.  We also fit in a couple of lazy beach/pool days.  It was amazing, and a nice slow easy luxurious stop after some of the more adventurous travel in Southern Italy and Sicily. 

Sunset view at dinner one night.
I struggled with air management for the first dive because I thought I needed 8Kg of weight.  When we let the air out on our descent, I dropped like a rock.  This seriously freaked me out.  I had obviously gotten the weight wrong, but I felt obligated to tough it out, which I did, but I was kicking quite a bit to avoid sinking and sucking air like a runner on land who isn't remotely concerned about saving air plus I was inflating my BCD and letting out air for buoyancy control way too much -- in other words, I was a scuba mess.  I let our instructor know about my air consumption rate as soon as I could, signaling 150 on the way out to the wreck after just a few minutes because I knew I was struggling and I was not going to be able to make a full dive, and I wanted her to have as much time as possible to plan.  Thankfully, she was awesome.  She turned the dive when I hit 100bars, did a safety stop, let me ascend, did a buoyancy check and told me to remove 4 Kg, and then sent me and the poor master diver trainee to supervise me on our way to the shore while the rest of the crew went out for another 15 minutes to another site.  The dive master trainee asked why she turned the dive and she said, "She hit 100."  He made a face and she later told me that I'd gone through the tank faster than anyone she'd ever seen (she's done 700+ dives).  Apparently, most people bail when things are uncomfortable (like way too much weight) instead of belligerently staying below and poorly managing their oxygen.

The next dive with 4Kg was perfect.  What a difference proper weighting makes!

Hike in to the blue hole shore entry:
Sometimes shore diving requires a bit of a scramble in full diving kit to get down to the water.
The next day, at the end of the most amazing but long and deep dive with a different instructor I'd bled a tank down to 30Bar, which meant the tank was super buoyant and I was severely *under* weighted and my dive buddy (E) plus the instructor had to physically hold me down at 5m for my safety stop, because otherwise I would float up.  In fairness, everyone else in the group had 15L tanks and they'd given me a 12L tank (let's just call a spade a spade and say they gave me a girl tank).  The buoyancy of the almost empty tank meant that I couldn't stay down, but I'm guessing if I had a proper dude tank on the same dive, there wouldn't have been a problem.

Views from the diveshop van, on our way to the dive site.
The next dive, with all of us on 12L tanks, and me back on 8Kg of weight at the advice of the instructor who'd held me down, I struggled with the sinking and BCD management, so, like the first dive, I ripped through my air, but not quite as badly, and no safety stop issues arose.  We still had to turn the dive due to my air consumption (you never want to be the person who turns the dive!) and I exited with 15Bar, which is *way* too low.  After chatting about it, the instructor and I agreed that I'd go out the next day with 6Kg on my belt, but he'd carry a spare 1Kg to give me at the end to counteract a low tank at the safety stop.

Thankfully, 6Kg on the belt with this kit worked perfectly ('cause my instructor gave away my spare 1Kg he promised to hold to another diver before we even got in the water...). 

The inland sea entry pool on Gozo:
swim through the tunnel (deep below the boats) and out to sea.
The last day, we took the ferry to Gozo (the middle-sized island of Malta).  First, we dived the inland sea, which is a pool of seawater that reaches the sea via a tunnel through a cliff.  Looking up to see boat propellers making lots of bubbles and listening to the buzz of their engines while 10-25 meters below them was quite the experience.

The blue hole with the former azure window in the back
(the left column and top are now on the bottom of the sea)
The second dive was down the blue hole, and around the site of the former famous arch, which, unfortunately, fell into the sea last winter -- we just missed it!  Actually, the boulders on the seafloor from the fallen arch make for a very interesting dive site, it's just not as beautiful of a view from land anymore.  This dive was definitely the most technically demanding dive I'd ever done, with the tunnel descent down the hole, an upward swim through a small vertical chimney from 18m up to 4m or so, and a cave exploration with torches. 

The peaceful sound of nothing but your own breathing and the bubbles you exhale coupled with buoyant weightlessness is definitely addicting.  Plus fish and other sea life are so cool!

Bragioli (aka Beef Olives) -- delicious maltese specialty of
thin beef wrapped around sausage in a tomato caper sauce.
Diving in Malta was wonderful.  We very much enjoyed the relaxed international vibe and spending three consecutive days doing such physical work (between getting kitted up, getting in and out of the water, the heat loss in the water, the actual dives, and getting out of the kit, we went to bed pleasantly exhausted each day).

I'm still learning, but I'm definitely over the initial scuba hump, and I'm so glad I pushed through.  I've got 15 open water dives in my dive log, and I can't wait to add more.  Also, the scuba community is full of the friendliest and most fascinating people.  Almost all of the dive instructors we've met have completely rebooted their lives to enable themselves to dive full time.  They come from all over the world and all types of previous careers and situations and the only thing they have in common is they love to dive and they are happy and grateful to get to do it for a living.  It's very inspiring to be surrounded by such positive, happy, and self-actualized people.


Cathryn said...

I cannot fathom scuba diving. I can barely handle snorkeling, I don't know how you manage your heart rate and breathing for scuba. Super impressed.

bt said...

@Cathryn: as this post attests, I'm definitely still in the learning stages of managing both -- it's a process. But really, once you get used to it, it's very peaceful. You just float along in the water even with the fish or starfish or whatever else you are looking at, no effort required to stay at their level once you've got your buoyancy balanced. It's actually much more peaceful than snorkeling, in my opinion. If you are in choppy water or go deep accidentally and don't fully clear your snorkel you can inhale water whereas your scuba regulator is nothing but pure air ('til it's gone).