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Malta Trip

APRIL 2002



As all of you know (unless you have been under a rock for a very long time) this year we celebrated our clubs 25th Anniversary.  This was a milestone for the branch and a diving holiday was arranged taking into account the costs and financial constraints of both divers and family groups. Before I start this memorable journey, and on behalf of all holiday makers and myself, thanks to Mervyn and his silent organisational partner – so silent I have forgotten his name - for their efforts in making this huge and enjoyable event possible.

On the run up to this mammoth event I had been religiously checking the internet for the Maltese weather, and had become increasingly worried as from the middle of March the weather had been getting cooler from 17 deg. C down to 12 deg. C – comparable to England! On arrival the weather was in fact in the region of 16 to 23 deg. ranging through cloudy windy and sunny.

Our club bombarded Manchester Airport and we all but commandeered the plane. ‘Scoop’ stories were pouring in already!  Not to worry, my pad was in my hand luggage at the ready – I know this club so well!  The first tale, Mervyn had forgotten his credit cards and had turned back to get them – what can I say, I had to turn back to collect my forgotten rings!  From then on Roy and I were on the starting blocks, first in the queue for the plane – and most other things from then on too. Ros was searched and scanned, Roy had his adjustable spanners taken off him, Les and Lynn were thoroughly checked and Mick had his penknife key ring impounded.  Anyone would have thought that we were a band of thugs. All in all a group of approximately 48 people, of which 31 were divers arrived on the island of Malta spanning three weeks. You have all heard of 18 – 30 club holidays, well ours was 2 – 52 incorporating SAGA holidays.  Read on and you will see why we fit in so well with the existing holidaymakers in the hotel.  We arrived  3 a.m. at the Qawra Palace Hotel. The revolving doors were a challenge at this time in the morning, and I promptly hit nose on glass when Shaun decided to stop dead in the midst of them.  We donned wristbands for the all-inclusive status and then got our heads down until the next morning.

Tom and Lyn had travelled to Malta the week previously – reconnaissance duties and we were looking forward to seeing them for their reports on the islands diving, social activities and general chitchat about the holiday so far.  They told us that they felt like they were the youngest residents in the hotel, which housed 392 rooms! ‘Golden Years’ was being organised by Airtours who were doing a cheap winter rate for the older generation. However, we soon livened them up.  During the visit our club managed to clean up on most of the quiz nights winning bottles of wine, and even won at bingo. Peter Froggatt won £L92 (approx. £150) and Amy Mitchell won £L63 (approx. £99).  I did say that they were sad specimens playing bingo, but hey, they won! We didn’t dare confess to Airtours that we were travelling with Chevron Air Holidays!  Anyway just for prosperity I kept a diary of events, as is usual for my ‘Scooping’ duties – read on.

Saturday – 30.3.02   Sally and Steph had a problem with the double bed they had in their room, as Steph ‘prefers men’.  Sally would also like it noted that she does too.  Carl and Mel were not happy with their single beds either and the hotel promptly put these problems right. Off to Maltaqua to register in the rain.  Underfoot was slippy which is probably why Sally had her first dive of the holiday, and fell off the curb.  In her defence, it was rather high and I had slipped off too, but managed to regain my composure. The rain soon dried up and the holiday began.  Some of us congregated around the pool on the sun beds, despite the cloudy and windy weather. Roy was brave (or daft) enough to have a dip in the outside pool, but he did wear his pool suit – still it was cold. Jane Bateman was suffering with a cold, and thought that a bit of fresh air would do her some good.  She perched neatly on the end of my sun bed, however I got cramp and jumped up, only to find Jane flat on her butt with the sun bed sticking up in the air.  We would have helped her, but we were too busy laughing.  Chris had gone to bed at 4 p.m. to sleep off the beer he had poured down his neck whilst socialising with James who was also well oiled.  Tom and Lyn had returned from the days diving by now, and were reiterating their events to us.  Not least the fact that Toms weight loss now seems to have been taken over by Lyn, who managed to shed her weights on the Rozi – a wreck lying in 36 mtrs of water.  That night we were all in high spirits and full of spirits too – no diving until Monday, so we let our hair down.  The Nightclub – Nightingales - was invaded by the Buxton Bubblers.  The seating was a little low and as I sat down, the seat was not where I expected it to be and I grabbed for the table, the beer was flowing all over the place, table cloth and all.  Magician Mervyn pulled the cloth off used it to mop up the spilled beverages and hid it in a corner. Roy was busy having an epileptic fit on the dance floor along with several other members of the club.  Word came to my ears that Chris had pulled a time share rep – a bloke. However Chris protested the ‘pulled’ status and replaced it with a ‘new friend’  - a bruiser named Wigan – who am I to allow the truth to spoil a good story!

Sunday - 31.03.02 – Valletta (Malta’s Capital) had a Sunday market, and quite a few of us made our way by public bus.  Or as Roy would say BUZZ.  He was well taken in with this mode of transport, as was Martin when he arrived the following week. So much so, that they purchased key rings, fridge magnets and models, and Roy has the T-Shirt to prove it! Boys and toys! They were pre-war and very rickety – the buses that is, not Roy and Martin.   However after a 1-hour journey at the back of one of them, I was finding it comparable to a boat trip and we all know what I think of those.  The weather was sunny on our return and the afternoon found us all sunbathing.  Steph however has an allergy to the sun – it would seem that she bursts into flames if it touches her skin.  To combat this minor problem she donned a pink headscarf with sequins and another to wrap her body in.  She looked like she could read palms and tea leaves – ‘Septic Peg’ was born.   Karen and Lynne braved a dip in the pool – quick being the operative word – it was freezing cold.  The night’s activities were much quieter than the previous night as most of us were early-ish to bed in readiness for the next days diving.

Monday – 01.04.02 – The first days diving at Cirkewwa Point, (re-named by myself as Krakatoa due to my inability to remember its proper name) and the clubs photo shoot. Adrian who took the pictures in groups of 4 – 6 divers in 6 mtrs of water (with a 20 mtr. drop off right behind us) worked wonders with us all.  The finished group picture – some 30 divers is excellent.  This was our first experience of the Instructors from Maltaqua and they were brilliant. Well when they had all remembered their kit that was, our instructor Kim (male) had to turn the car around to fetch his because he had forgotten it – see it happens in other places as well as Buxton. They all had an excellent sense of humour and were very experienced. Kirk, Vicky and Simon were completing their Club Diver (now Ocean Diver) qualifications, and Mel was completing her PADI Advanced Diver with them also.  Simon and Vicky had put a padlock on their dive bags, and left the key back in the hotel!  Jane managed to wipe out her instructor Antonio, in 6 inches of water.  She jumped in, landed on him and flattened him!  Does this have a familiar ring at all?  She also wiped him out the following week after she had gone home!  He was full of Bateman bugs and could not dive from Wednesday onwards. Can I just say that most of Malta probably had those Bateman bugs before the end of the second week, because an awful lot of us were suffering by then. The entrance was reasonably easy, a walk to the water and two steps down – easy that is if you don’t put your fins on first as Shaun and Steph did.  As it was Sues 40th birthday, Steph and Shaun did just the one dive and went back to the hotel. Sally had left the room key at Maltaqua for safe keeping – much to Steph’s surprise when she got back to the hotel – however she did forgive Sally, as she gained entrance with the pass key.  When we got into the water the visibility was excellent 50 mtrs +.  As I looked down to 6 mtrs or so, I saw lots of lead weights on the sea bed – strange marine life I thought, but then discovered that 8 kilo of it was actually surplus lead of Chris’ – his instructor had told him to dump it.  Carl and Alan both had 18 lt. cylinders – gas-guzzlers!  The dives were excellent, some doing reef dives, some doing wreck dives – apart from Jane losing a fin clip, Chris losing his weight belt buckle, and me having ‘rope burns’ from my dry suit neck seal there were no problems at all. Later that day Tom and Lyn were sitting with us and told me that they still had to put toothpaste in their masks to stop them from misting up.  However, Lyn had drawn a tube from the first aid kit, smeared her mask and then realised it was in fact ‘Anusol’.  I didn’t dare ask which one had the piles, and where had the toothpaste been applied?  Sam announced to Sally that she would have liked a trip over to Sicily to see Mount Etna.  After careful consideration Sally queried ‘where exactly does your Aunt Edna live then?’  That night we were back in Nightingales – cabaret night. Old Macdonald’s farm was the topic and Andy and Mervyn were up on the floor to be a couple of the animals.  Andy was a pathetic kangaroo, and Mervyn was a 30 minute wonder as a Ram – we were not impressed but everyone in the club found it extremely hilarious - it had certainly given us ammunition to take the rise out of them.  Gooday Skippy!  

Tuesday – 02.04.02 – Weather a bit on the cloudy side, more diving today, but mainly by the ‘6 dive pack’ people and the trainees. The Bateman’s had locked their room key in their room at breakfast time, but it seems they managed to get in with the passkey.  More shopping than diving done today with jewellery being foremost on the shopping lists. A relatively quiet night all around again, some going for the Nightclub and some to the ballroom.  Roy and I sat with Tom and Lyn and watched the elderly residents strut their stuff, however Tom and Lyn were quite good at strutting their stuff too.  During the evening Lyn must have been practising her buoyancy or having a night dive because one minute she was sitting on the chair talking to us, the next – splat! She was on the floor.  We would have helped her but we were all too busy laughing, as was she, which hampered her ascent somewhat.  Luckily she had not hurt herself.  It seems that she was balancing on the edge of her chair when the guy next to her clipped it with his foot on his way to collect his bingo tickets.  After a few seconds teetering, down she went.  Even the bingo caller asked if she was ok. 

Wednesday – 03.04.02 – Lots more diving today, however despite being sunny the wind was causing a problem as to which sites to dive.  Luckily Maltaqua have back up plans for these occasions.  Tom and Lyn had forgotten their hoods, but still managed to dive Cirkewwa Arch. Despite a long finning session we saw schooling Barracuda (80-100 in total) along with many other impressive marine animals.  The next dive on the Carolita Barge on Manuel Island (just beyond Valletta’s harbour) was dismal.  Our guide Joseph warned of bad vis – what he didn’t tell us was that it was comparable to Dosthill on a bad day.  The trek down to the entry point was comparable to Porth Ysgaden’s slip – SLIP being the operative word.  Joseph had a saying – and personally after this dive I was not sure I agreed.  ‘THE WORST DAYS DIVING IS BETTER THAN THE BEST DAYS WORK’.  The facilities here was an old ruin that used to be a hospital during the war.  Steph and I had to water a bush before our dive, however the males being males just let it all hang out!   Lynne, Les, Andrew, Catherine, Mervyn and some of the others had gone over to Anchor Bay – which was where we should have gone – and had an excellent shallow dive for 63 minutes in crystal clear waters, seeing everything marine like possible.  Sally had opted for a day out shopping in Valletta with Margaret and Bernie, and fell over again – TWICE.  This time it was a visit to the doctor to ensure her ankle was still intact.  Vera had been to swim with the dolphins in the afternoon, she had an excellent time and the photos she brought back were very impressive. That night again the quiz was won and a free bottle of ‘Chateau de Shiite’ was won – useful, as our board arrangements were all inclusive.  During the entertainment Shaun managed to develop a pair of women’s breasts on his head – this was from the Airtours rep that was leaning over him from behind.  He tried to imply that he had not noticed!! Yea!  Much dancing and chaos that night in the Ballroom – we were a little bit rowdy to say the least. 

Thursday – 04.04.02 – Maximum Turdus went for his Dive Marshalling course with Maltaqua. Having endured 7 hours of boredom during the lectures, of which he has mostly covered with our club anyway, there followed 15 minutes of sheer panic as he was told that he was to organise and marshal the next days diving at Gozo.  During diving Mick had a feet up experience and our very own Jeremy Beadle – Shaun Mitchell – was there to catch it on video camera – bad luck Mick.  Lynne however opted out of diving today due to a hangover from the previous nights merry making. As Sally had celebrated her birthday earlier in the month Karen Forggatt  organised a collection and a pressie was bought for her.  Mervyn did the honours as Chairman with a 30-second speech.  Sally however gratefully accepted her pressie and her speech of thanks was all of 10 seconds along with a very red face.

Friday – 05.04.02 – Despite the sun shining Gozo was cancelled due to the wind.  Mervyn was to Dive Marshal his group regardless of venue. Off we went for dives at Zonqor Point – excellent dive, 2 wrecks to see, however the entry was a bus ride away.  Longest dive yet 65 minutes having touched 20 mtrs.  Our guide Antonio was very good at finding marine life and pointing them out.  However, when he gave Chris a sea cumber and told him to squeeze it, most people would have smelled a rat.  Not Chris!  Out came yards of silly string that caught around his glove and started to tighten up.  Not learning his lesson he then prodded an octopus – inked in the face!  A baby Moray eel went for cover when he saw us coming too, as did the Pipefish and most marine life around the bay.  Second dive of the day for us Delimara Point. Having trekked down cliffs and over salt pans for some distance we then had to leap off the edge into the swell of the sea – some 15 foot high! (Its new name -Lemming Leap).  As though that was not enough, we then had to climb back up over the salt pans and up the cliffs – Krakatoa II was born.  This dive was again excellent – we freed a lobster from a fish net at 25 mtrs deep, however as Antonio was using my knife to do this I almost drifted into the net.  When I got the STOP! signal I nearly blew an aortic valve – what lurked behind me??  When I discovered it was just the net I was smugly relieved. The weekend was looming, so more fun in the Nightclub.  A large group of us went for it yet again.  Sally managed to sit on an armchair and the leg broke off!  Is there no end to her talent for fast decents?

Saturday – 06.04.02 – Steph, Mick, Vera, Jane, Alan, Philip, James, Tom and Lyn, Ros, Peter and their friends (all but Tony and Sheila) had gone back home the previous day, so things should have been quieter. Can I just say however, that despite Jane, Vera and Mick going home, they had in fact left their ‘GERMS’ on Malta with the rest of us. Rob and Martin had arrived – peace was shattered.  They both managed to get a dive in the afternoon on ‘The Mouri’ so at least we got some peace for a while.  Most of us were sunbathing, having the weekend off to have fun.  Bernie, Carl, and Mervyn went for a snorkel but after 20 minutes got cold in just pool suits and T-shirts.  Poor Catherine had been thrown in the outdoor pool twice. First by Rob and Mervyn, and then by Chris.  Then to add insult to injury, Roy dragged her in the sea too.  That night Rob’s verucca made an appearance, much to Martins dread.  Sharing a room with a verucca was not his idea of fun; especially when Rob threatened to walk around the toilet seat with it!!   One of the cabarets special was a song ‘The Court of King Caraticus’ which was a fast number with all the actions to go with it.  Bernie, Rob and Margaret had a crack at it, and due to laughing so much – Bernie got dragged to the front to do it properly.  The Airtours rep did not see Margaret as she was hidden behind another dancer.  In fact just about the only one in the club to crack the actions of this bizarre dance was Carl – so he had attached a ‘song sheet and diagram’ for the those of us who wish to have it off by heart for the next time it should be required.

Sunday – 07.04.02 – A quiet day by the pool sunbathing. No diving in Malta on a Sunday.  Even the markets finish at 12, as they are a religious race off to church.  Sally was tempted to go for a snorkel in the sea, but did not dare as if she drifted off no one would notice.  She was wearing a cerise pink swimsuit – I pointed out that the chances of being lost in that were 1000000 to 1. However she and Roy braved the pool, as did I.  Once in it was a quick dash across the pool and out for me.  Roy and Sally stayed in for quite a while frolicking in the icy cool water – like a couple of sea otters.   Mervyn, Bernie, Margaret, Catherine and Andrew had gone off to Mellieha bay, and on his return from a walk down to Bugibba, Rob decided to go with public transport to meet them.  Big mistake, they must have crossed paths and the group were back before Rob managed to find them.   Either that or they saw him coming first! On his return from his dive, Martin – Mr Fitness – decided to go for a jog, but didn’t take a map.  Having negotiated a building site and an allotment he finally found his way back to the hotel via Maltaqua.  Yet another competition in the Nightclub – Miss Qawra Palace.  Thankfully it was not men dressed up, but ladies having to obtain men’s clothing.  5 points for a top, 10 points for trousers, and 20 points for boxers.  Chris was stripped of top and trousers; Kirk was stripped of his top and Tony (The Froggatt’s friend) was caught on film semi naked too.

Monday – 08.04.02 – At last more diving.  Torpedo day!  Andrew, Carl, Mervyn, Martin and Rob opted for this easy way to propel them selves around the wreck El Ferude.  Apparently it’s a large wreck and to fin to and around it would not allow them to see the whole picture. However Andrew managed to get his knife lanyard trapped in the propeller and it conked.  Carl managed to drop his switch and Martin had to do a superman impression to retrieve it.  All made a good job of mowing the Seagrass – leaving a reciprocal path to follow back to shore.  Rob was bladder stricken and he and the instructor decided to use one of the beauty spots of Malta to relieve themselves.  Pee Alley.  Only the wind blew the wrong way and their feet got washed. Scutters!  Mel had opted for a day off diving to catch up on the homework Maltaqua had given to her.  She went for a stroll over the salt pans and sat down to read.  An old guy walked past and acknowledged her presence.  When Mel turned around he was doing obscene things to himself, and she fled back to the hotel.  A stiff drink was needed.  More fun and frolic in the night club with Martin being selected to sit on a chair to allow the Airtours rep, Andy, to dress up as a drag queen and go for the ‘Hey Big Spender’ Shirley Bassey number.  Martin had pulled!

Tuesday – 09.04.02 – Boat and shore dives today. Sally, Rob and Martin had forgotten to order packed lunches, so thought it a good idea to take cheese, ham and rolls from the restaurant at breakfast.  The were nailed by the headwaiter, when they explained the reasoning behind this activity they were excused.  The boat went off to Comino Island where caves and crevices were dived.  Martin managed to drop his bottom timer over the side of the boat into 20 mtrs of water after his dive.  Dave and Antonio went to retrieve it, luckily they found it no problem.  Apparently the Comino diving was excellent with large fish and brilliant visibility all around.  Roy had not put his neck seal right on his suit, and it leaked in badly, so much so that he could have warranted a dive with deco stops inside his suit. Kirk had got back to the hotel before Lynne and Les who were on the boat.  He opened the wardrobe door in the room; it fell off and landed on his foot – ouch!  Sam and Neil to the rescue who were in the next room to him, and he sat on their toilet with his foot in the bath until the doctor arrived.  Broken toe!

Wednesday – 10.04.02 – Finally, the trip to Gozo was on.  I think it should have counted as a boat dive, after all we had to get on a ferry to get to the dive site!  Roy and I had our first row of the holiday – underwater.  We were diving the Inland Sea – a deep ravine of approx. 25-30 mtrs deep.  100 mtrs visibility through to the other side and into the open sea.  I had problems with a dry throat and coughing.  Because of this Roy thought I was not happy with the drop off (down to 60 mtrs +), however, as there were rocks in the near vacinity this was not so, still he insisted I go back into the ravine. After a few ‘hand signals’ we continued the dive.  Barracuda, Groupers, Sea Bream and a whole host of marine life was spotted. Excellent.  Also the first easy entry dive of the holiday – a wade in.  However the second dive was not.  Down another mountain of volcanic rock, a trek over salt pans and then down ‘The Blue Hole’. Sheer sides with 20 mtrs to the bottom and clear visibility.  The diving on Gozo was so far the best I had done.  Later in Nightingales Carl and Mel were dragged on for the Mr and Mrs game, and also the Old Macdonald game.  Mel was an impressive dog – and Carl had the job of the Ram, which he took great pride in when he tried to straggle the comperes leg whilst thrusting his hips at him.  Much better than last weeks ram.

Thursday – 11.04.02 – Less divers now, just 5 of us for the last dives of the holiday Roy, Shaun, Dave, Mel and myself headed off for Cirkewwa Reef.  Excellent dive, with Shaun on video.  I had by now, well and truly caught the germs that Jane, Mick and Vera had kindly left behind for us – I was coughing for most of the dive.  Dave was following up the rear, with his own impression of my seal cough.  Served him right when his mask kept flooding!   Yet another lone Barracuda spotted, along with many other marine critters.  We opted only to dive in the morning, and having said our goodbyes to Agnes and the instructors at Maltaqua arrived back at the hotel for an afternoon of sunbathing.  Shaun went of to Sliema with a few others, and being caught short, decided to relieve himself in the harbour.  Is there no end to this male talent! .  Martin had lost his watch on the previous days diving. Having searched the Maltaqua car in the morning there was no sign of it, until that was, Roy pulled his bag along the floor and it came out of the vehicle. We decided to auction it off that night, Martin was gullible enough to believe it was a donation from the dive school, and paid £L1 to enter the bidding, along with a further £L1 for Rob as he was not there.   By the end of bidding Martin had realised it was his watch, but had already bid £L36 for it.  Several parties of the club went for meals – Maltese and Indian.  Others stayed in the hotel, but most came back to the hotel and Nightingales was invaded for the last time.  No disco, no fun and frolic – just a man with a guitar.  How disappointed were we?  Never mind we soon had them all up and dancing, with Mervyn, Carl and Roy playing air guitar on stage with the artist.

Friday – 12.04.02 – Last day of the holiday, cloudy no sunbathing. Roy was feeling sorry for himself with an upset stomach from last nights drinking.  Others went to Bugibba for last minute shopping and some opted for a game of crazy golf. Generally, apart from Martin who went out for his last bus ride, we sat around talking and drinking.  Rob had asked if Martin had got his possessions out of the safety deposit box, and he said that he had.  When Rob went to get his possessions, Martins car and house keys were still in it.  Nothing was said to Martin.  On the bus trip to the airport the penny dropped and Martin announced that he would have to go back to the hotel to get his keys.  Half way down the bus to stop the driver, Rob finally confessed that he had them!  It was then that we collectively decided that Rob was a little shit, and that we all owe him big time!

I am hoping that now that the holiday diving has finished the senseless high levels of testosterone in the club will disperse. Its clearly a ‘man thing’ that the first bit of information volunteered after a dive was the depth, not the marine life, or the excellent visibility of the dive, but the DEPTH!  We should have learned by now that marine life exists at all depths and be happy with what we are privileged to see, and not how deep we have been.

In Summary:

Excellent visibility on the majority of dives, and even better over on Gozo. Depths to suit all divers irrespective of grade and experience.  A good variety of marine life to be seen. Despite the entry and exit points being a little tricky at times, the quality of dives on offer more than compensate for those hardships.  Maltaqua were very friendly and helpful, despite a hoard of some 30+ divers landing on their doorstep they coped very well.  The instructors were very knowledgeable of the sties and informative on island information when travelling to and from dive sites.  Malta itself is steeped in history and very English, which when and if it ever gets finished will be impressive.  Not a place I would care to visit again just for a holiday but would definitely return for the diving. There were many places of interest for the non-diver to visit with shopping on offer from Marks and Spencer’s to Maltese Craft Villages.



‘Scoop’ Tomlinson



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