Friday, 30 October 2015

Gozo - 10th-17th October 2015

by Jane

Four of us (Chieko, Colin, Jane and Lee) went for a week’s diving in Gozo, the second island of Malta (well Lee was there just until the Wednesday) in mid-October. The weather was warm, and the sea sufficiently so to require only 5mm shorties.

We stayed in a basic B&B in the village/small town of Marsalforn on the north coast of Gozo, and dived with Gozo Aqua Sports. Our dive guide was mostly Matt. Apart from the sea life much of the interest is the fascinating rock formations found under water, creating natural gullies, chimneys, caves and arches.

For most of the week, dives were constrained by which way the wind was blowing, limiting the availability of sites. All the dives were shore dives, and the first was on the south coast at a place called Hondoq, a nice relaxing check dive, no deeper than 13m, mainly over sand and sea grass, most memorable for an excellent view of a small stingray burrowing for prey in the sand. This was followed by a dive which, while of a similar depth, was in a narrow inlet with cliffs either side. It was therefore a sort of wall dive but without the need to maintain a constant awareness of depth, and there were also a couple of small caves to explore.

The following day we were a little more ambitious and dived the top 25m of a pinnacle, with a large number of fish feeding on the algae and other encrustations on the pinnacle with jacks just of the site in the blue. The afternoon was the Inland Sea, one of the classic dives in Gozo. It is formed by the intrusion of the sea through a tunnel, creating a shallow lake which one crosses before submerging and swimming through the tunnel, taking care not to be run over by the boats taking the sightseers out to sea to see the Azure Window.

A wall dive with lots of incrustation and other life is found to the left of the exit, whereas to the right, as our brief foray showed, was much less interesting.

On the Tuesday we lost Matt, and Duncan took us out for the day. The first dive was the usual check out dive site for the centres based in Marsalforn, and which we had been unable to do on the first day because of the wind. Duncan had great pleasure in finding interesting things for us to look at and we had a very leisurely dive for over an hour including octopus, and an unusual scorpion fish generally found in deeper waters. 

Unfortunately I managed to kneel on a fireworm and felt unable to dive that afternoon.  Everyone else went off to Reqqa, another of the more celebrated dives, often with excellent wildlife to see. On the Wednesday Lee left us to make his way back to the UK, journeying back to the airport on the local public transport.

On the Thursday Chieko had a day of rest, and just Colin and myself (with Matt) revisited the Inland Sea, only to find that we couldn’t park, so went to the adjacent site of the Blue Hole which is a dive through a wide chimney, out at the bottom and an exploration of the cave behind, under the Azure Window, round the promontory and back through a very interesting narrow and bendy chimney into the coral garden before exiting on the other side of the Blue Hole, which for me was one of the best dives on this trip. The afternoon was a return trip to Xwenjni Bay by Marsalforn.

On the Friday Chieko managed to forget her booties in the morning, so just Colin and I repeated the Pinnacle dive of a few days earlier. We were accompanied by a German couple, one of whom managed to run out of air, despite Matt regularly checking our consumption, which curtailed the dive a bit. We then tried the neighbouring site in the afternoon, to which Chieko had walked during the morning dive and had found empty. However, by the time we arrived in the afternoon there seemed to be a conspiracy of white cars occupying all the parking spaces, with no sign of any divers! Therefore after a bit of a further drive around because of various problems relating to parking and other access issues the three of us revisited Hondoq, and found the stingray again.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Coron - 7th-8th October 2015

Travelling all that distance to Taiwan made it worthwhile taking a 2 hour, 20 minute flight to Manila for a week in the Philippines. Travelling down to Coron Town on the island of Busuanga, the plan was to do some dives on the many WWII wrecks in the surrounding waters. I booked these dives with Neptune Dive Centre ( I stayed at Jazmine’s Place ( which was cheap and OK, but there are probably better accommodation options available.

An early (7.30am) start on the Wednesday began with analysing and labelling our cylinders. Neptune have a good system – the dive leader (Tan, who is brilliant) made sure we had analysed and noted our % O2 and MOD ourselves, and had written these (with our names and dive number) on a yellow and green sticker on each cylinder. Neptune also kept a record of what % O2 we were using. Briefings before each dive were illustrated and very clear – they had to be, as we would be penetrating wrecks. Down at the harbour we boarded a bangka named Kuracha, which had plenty of space and cover, and 6 crew (including dive centre staff) for 5 customers – a ratio I’ve never seen before. There was a constant supply of soft drinks all day, and the boat had a head. I dived with Han and Keli, 2 excellent divers from China, and we were led by Tan. 2 other less experienced divers stayed at shallower depths with another instructor and didn’t enter the wrecks.

The first dive was the Akitsushima, an Imperial Japanese Navy seaplane tender sunk in 1944. This is some distance to the west of Coron Town. We reached depths of 32.6 metres and dived for 45 minutes, entering the wreck and passing through various parts of the interior. After lunch we dived the Okikawa Maru wreck (a Japanese oil tanker, 168 metres long, with several long purple-and-blue aeolid nudibranchs on the deck) for 56 minutes. We reached 24.7 metres. We finished the day on the Morazan Maru wreck, an English-built cargo and passenger ship where we moved through a couple of fairly narrow holes to see inside tiled shower rooms, cargo holds and other spaces.  We got back to the dive centre at about 6pm. All 3 dives today were great – although I’m not normally mad keen on wrecks (or entering them), these were impressive, relatively intact, supported a decent amount of wildlife, and – inside – were very atmospheric where the outside light entered via portholes and rusty openings. Visibility wasn’t fantastic – no more than 5 metres (I read later that this is due to local agricultural run-off), down to 2 metres inside parts of the wrecks. Other than close-ups, my photos didn’t turn out so good.

On my second and last day of diving I turned down an invitation to dive a wreck on the north side of Busuanga where apparently 20 metre visibility is guaranteed. The cost, early start, and jeepney journey across the island didn’t seem worth it for 2 dives. Instead I did another 3-dive daytrip on the south side of Busuanga, this time from the boat Dhel, a smaller (but big enough) bangka which took us to the Olympia Maru wreck. Unfortunately, although I had understood we would be diving on air today, nitrox was brought out to the boat, and yesterday’s analysing and labelling of cylinders wasn’t repeated due to there being a bit of a rush at the dive centre in the morning. I hadn’t analysed the gas myself, I wasn’t certain that the “36%” written on masking tape on my cylinder was accurate, and there was no analyser on the boat, so I proceeded with caution, and – with the agreement of the other diver who also had concerns about depth and penetration – stayed at depths shallower than the MOD for 36% O2. This meant we did not enter any wrecks today, which was fine, as there was plenty to see on the outside, including bat fish and many lion fish.

We then had the best lunch I have ever had on a dive boat – an amazing sweet potato curry cooked on board by the skipper.

The second dive of the day was on the wreck of the Kogyo Maru, a large supply vessel lying on its side. Of course, on the day that my camera battery had run out, photogenic wildlife was out in force, including 2 fat nudibranchs with purple, white and yellow bodies in a well-lit, accessible location with little current. Lion fish and scorpion fish were also seen. It was on the third dive of the day, however, that I really regretted not having a useable camera – on the “Coral Garden” drift dive along the southwest side of Lusong Island we saw a huge variety of coral, and at least 4 different species of nudibranch, in a variety of colours and shapes. Brilliant dive.

These 6 dives were very good, Tan was a particularly good dive leader, my rented dive kit was decent enough, the weather was fine, and water temperatures (mostly 29 degrees, up to 33 at the surface) were lovely. The dives plus kit hire and lunches cost me 9,000 pesos (£126). I’d come here again, and would dive with Neptune again, although a liveaboard may be a good idea, so we could access the further-out wrecks/reefs where visibility is apparently better. A dive on the Irako wreck, and dives on reefs where sharks have been seen, would also be good.

Taiwan - 26th September - 1st October 2015

Taiwan might not be an obvious choice for a dive holiday for Europeans, given what other dive destinations exist a similar distance away, but a little research confirmed it was worth travelling to the south of the island (after a brilliant 5-day mountain trek in the north) for some warm, colourful dives south of the Tropic of Cancer. We booked 6 days of diving with Sheffield expat Andy Gray (, who operates through Dive Pro ( in Houbihu in the Kenting National Park. We stayed in Dive Pro’s accommodation (basic, clean en-suite single rooms with AC and TV, but they also have a dorm) above the dive shop.

On our first day of diving we drove in the back of a pick-up truck the short distance to the harbour and boarded the Nanjing, a dive boat with plenty of space and cover. Andy was amiable and had the right attitude towards wildlife conservation. Dive Pro staff kindly did most of the shifting of kit for us, and cold water and snacks were available. After that good start, things didn’t go so well – there was no safety briefing before the dive, Andy drifted off at the start of the dive before we had completed our weight checks, and to join him we had to surface swim a considerable distance (without SMBs or our flagged boat nearby) across water being used for jetskiing and inflatable banana boat rides. Gareth from our group had trouble descending, and after Daniel rejoined him on the surface, they were picked up by another boat. It was only 20 minutes into the dive that I was asked where 2 of our group had gone.

Needless to say, words were had before the next dive, and although we still weren’t entirely convinced we were diving safely, the 4 other dives we did with Andy passed without incident, however after 1 dive there was a long wait for a pick-up, due to our boat attending to a group of freedivers some distance away. All these dives were from the Nanjing, and were scenic dives over corals and interesting rock formations. I don’t think I’ve seen such a wide variety of different types of coral on a single dive before. Moray eels, lion fish, clown fish and other critters were also seen. Visibility was good to excellent – up to 20 metres. Waters were 27 to 29 degrees.

Day 4 was blown out due to Typhoon Dujuan (aka Typhoon Jenny in the Philippines). Although we avoided the worst of the cyclone (it passed over the north part of Taiwan), it made the waters in the south too choppy to dive.

Andy was not available for the rest of the week, and we did our remaining 4 dives with Dive Pro’s Taiwanese staff (Mike, Rudy, Olga and others), who gave us illustrated briefings, and who were very good at pointing out features and creatures during the dives, including a tiny thing that resembled a scrap of seaweed (possibly a sargassum fish), 2 nudibranchs and many barracuda. These were all shore dives, one known locally as the “outlet”, where water used for cooling the nearby nuclear reactor is pumped out, resulting in visible thermoclines where the 30 degree water met the cooler (as low as 25 degree) sea water. The other dive site was the “feeding area”, so-called because many of the dive guides operating in the area unfortunately bring bread to attract fish with.

9 dives, 7 nights in a single room, kit hire and 3 lunches cost me NT$27,430 (about £553). Eating options in Houbihu are limited but not bad, and on some evenings we took a 20-minute taxi ride to Kenting Main Street, which is brilliantly hectic and brash, and worth a look. If you get blown out, there is the nuclear power station visitors’ centre and local fish market to visit, otherwise the massive Museum of Marine Biology (out of town – get there by taxi or bus) is recommended.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Bermondsey BSAC committee meeting - 10th September 2015 (abridged notes)

Bermondsey BSAC committee meeting, 10/09/2015
Venue: Sally and Clive’s
In attendance: Pat, Clive, Lee, Teresa, Ken, Victor, Sally, Ross, Colin
Apologies: Chris

Matters arising
  • No matters arising from last 2 meetings (other than those already on the agenda).

Grant funding
  • The application for grant funding, prepared by Sally, was discussed.

60th anniversary
  • Pat had received comments from 3 members regarding a possible 60th anniversary event. Nobody expressed interest in a black tie event.
  • Various ideas were discussed, bearing in mind the level of interest among members. Agreed that piggybacking onto a ball at the Clarendon Hotel (Blackheath) wouldn’t work. An event at a hired venue might cost over £1,000. Victor would prefer to mark the 60th anniversary by visiting 60 dive sites, posting a short history of the club on the website etc, rather than a specific event.
  • A combined 60th anniversary / summer social event was suggested. Ross offered his garden and basement. Agreed to do this in July on a non-diving weekend – Ross to advise what date would be best. Club to pay for food and drink (but attendees will be asked to pay a small sum). Alex to be asked to do food again.

  • No apparent progress has been made since the committee last discussed this matter.
  • Ken to work on this project. Timescale not currently known.

  • BSAC’s “Buddy Guard” policy and procedures have been published.
  • Committee noted that the club has to follow this policy.
  • Teresa recently prepared a letter to be given to parents/guardians of children and vulnerable people joining the club. Emily’s parents have been given the letter.
  • Parents/guardians are to be asked to accompany their child until he/she is poolside. Teresa to look into whether this needs to be mentioned in the letter to parents/guardians.

Snorkel training
  • Some members have expressed an interest in snorkel training.
  • Agreed to carry on offering the Dolphin Snorkeller course for a discounted fee of £10, without requiring BSAC or club membership.
  • Ken confirmed Dolphin Snorkeller students are still insured even if not a BSAC member.
  • Agreed to require full BSAC and club membership for Snorkel Diver course and above [post-meeting note: committee later agreed over email that a “Snorkelling Member” will be charged £26 per annum (or £2.50 per month) in club/pool fees, in addition to the £18.50 annual BSAC membership].
  • Noted that the club needs a snorkelling instructor. East Dulwich branch had planned training for this, but Teresa hasn’t heard any more from them.

Dive lists
  • 2016 dive list has been circulated, and needs to be posted on website.
  • Victor to circulate again, with a reminder of the club’s cancellation policy, and information regarding accommodation, transport and use of club kit. All new members will need to be informed of what is and isn’t organised by the club.
  • A new member had signed up for the September Weymouth trip, but was apparently not aware that the club does not normally organise accommodation. Agreed in this instance to not charge her if she does not attend Weymouth.

  • Xmas do will be on Wednesday 16th December. Victor has a venue in mind and will organise.
  • There will be no pool sessions on 16th, 23rd and 30th December 2015. Pool sessions will resume 6th January 2016. Ken to book pool accordingly.
  • Committee to give thought to who should receive the Barry Maisey award this year.

  • Ken has enquired about possible weekend pool sessions, but has received no response from Seven Islands.

Falmouth fills
  • Action related to the bad fills received on the recent Falmouth trip was discussed.

Other business
  • Clive and Sally recently attended an open day at RNLI’s Tower Lifeboat Station. RNLI can arrange a tour for up to 18 people in October or November. Agreed to do this.
  • Another dry dive (to 50 metres) is to be organised, probably over winter.
  • Ross noted that Greenwich Yacht Club would be open for London Open House Weekend.
  • Teresa suggested attending folk nights at the Ivy House, Nunhead.
  • Next meeting to be held on Monday 2nd November 2015.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Falmouth - 29th-31st August 2015

For the August bank holiday weekend we headed down to Falmouth, for what we hoped would be 3 days of diving from the boat Wave Chieftain, skippered by Nigel, launching from Mylor. All weekend we were entertained by a family of birds who had nested on the Wave Chieftain, the chicks coming out to sea with us, and mum and dad greeting us each time we returned to harbour. 

Saturday's diving was good enough - Hera wreck and Lath Rock, visibility not too special.

On Sunday we were out to sea (at the SS Carmarthen wreck site) and almost fully kitted up when most of us noticed our air had a strange odour - the smell of freshly manufactured garden hoses, kind of. We'd got these fills the previous afternoon from Seaways near Penryn. Needless to say we didn't dive that day.

On the Monday we dived the SS Carmarthen and the Volnay.

We stayed in various B&Bs in and around Falmouth. We had a decent feed at the historic Pandora Inn on one night.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Buckland - 16th August 2015

10 of us got in the water today, with another 2 staying dry on the surface. Training was delivered, shaking down was done, kit was tested, Jörn and Ishka attended with new baby Amelia, and Angela read the Financial Times while we dived. Another successful visit.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Budget training weekend – Swanage, 8th-9th August 2015

With its diving infrastructure and proximity to London, Swanage is a good place for a weekend of training, and for easy dives for newly-qualified divers. A 2-day, 4-dive trip was organised mainly for the benefit of newer members of the club who needed to tick off open water dives.

Lee, Clive, Sally, Colin, Sara, Victor, Willemien, Anne and Miro travelled down on the Friday, Georgi on Saturday morning. Most of us camped at Swanage Bijou Camping, which is a tidy, summer-only campsite within walking distance of the town centre. Staff at the campsite let us leave our tents pitched until Sunday afternoon, which meant we didn’t have to frantically decamp and pack away dew-damp tents early that morning.

Those of us carrying club kit went down to the pier early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to be there when the pier gates were opened at 7am. This is where Ross’s car (borrowed by Sally and Clive) and the van (rented by Victor) proved very useful – it meant we could get all the club kit down to the pier early, and – along with Lee, who also came down early – could kit-up together near the steps to the water. It also meant others could have a longer sleep at the campsite, and walk down to the pier later in the morning when it was time to dive.

Lee organised the dives. On Saturday we did a dive under Swanage pier in the morning, which allowed us to sort kit and get used to the water before the afternoon’s boat dive (Fleur de Lys - £20 per diver), which for some of us was our first ever dive in UK waters. On Sunday we did another boat dive (Valentine Tanks - £24) at 10.45am, followed by an afternoon pier dive. Waters were a very pleasant 17-18 degrees C, visibility was 5 metres under the pier and 5-10 metres on the boat dives, and a fair amount of wildlife was seen, including Leach’s spider crabs hiding in snakelocks anemones under the pier, conger eels at Valentine Tanks, large jellyfish seen during our safety stops, mermaids purses and tompot blennies. An additional trip to Kimmeridge Bay for snorkelling didn’t happen due to time constraints – a specific trip (or half a day of a future weekend visit) may need to be organised for that next time.

For food we went to a local chippy on Friday evening, booked and ate at La Trattoria on the Saturday (pretty good), had pasties for lunch, and visited a local caff for breakfasts. Some of us were slightly devastated to learn that Kaffee und Kuchen on High Street has closed down, but we tried to remember that cake is not the most important thing in life.

The weather was brilliant pretty much all weekend, although it got chilly at night in our tents. Some of us had slow journeys home on the Sunday. Sara’s guitar unfortunately remained unplayed all weekend, which only means there will be even more enthusiasm for her debut campsite performance next time. A lot of open water dives were ticked off over the weekend, which meant that – following their Ocean Diver exam the following week – Georgi and Miro were able to qualify as Ocean Divers in a relatively quick 11 and 13 weeks respectively. Also of note, this was relatively inexpensive weekend, due to most of us camping, doing pier dives and eating fairly cheaply. A similar weekend could probably be done even more cheaply with more car sharing (which saves on pier fees and campsite parking, as well as petrol) – that can be our challenge for next year’s visit (already scheduled for 6th and 7th August 2016).