Page 1


AUGUST / SEPTEMBER 2012 NEW 2011 Atlam Committee Members :Nader Bassily President Joseph Azzopardi Secretary Albertine Risiott Treasurer Dorian Law Diving Officer Steve Farrugia Sacco Activity officer Anton Debatista Activity Officer Simon Ciantar

PRO steven@farrugiasacco

IN THIS ISSUE page • Note from the Editor 2 • Website of the month - Dorian Law 2 • Diving Boats - Part 3 - Dorian Law 3/6 • Species Page - Sea Urchins - Edward Vella 7 • Book of the month - Dorian Law 8 • Dived Where? - Kantra Valley Xlendi - Dorian Law 9 • Dive Logs - Camma Caves - Tano Role 10/12 - Migra il-Ferha- Edward Vella 13 - Crocodile Rock - Edward Vella 14 - Ras il-Hobz- Edward Vella 15 - Double Arch - Edward Vella 16 - Fessej Rock - Edward Vella 17 - Santa Maria Caves - Edward Vella 18 - Reqqa Point - Edward Vella 19 - Dives Location Map - Joe Formosa 20

Photo by: Joe Formosa

www. Website of the Research by: Dorian Law

This issue of Bubbles comes following the peak summer months of August and September with most of us enjoying the benefit of diving in cool waters. Boat dives were very well attended with old members and new faces. A boat dive for all family members was organized at Sta Maria Caves on the 21st September public holiday; followed by a ‘majjalata’ on the following day. At the moment, the sea visibility is very good and usually there is lot of sea life in the months of October and November. We hope that the weather remains favourable so that boat dives remain uninterrupted. The annual BA photographic competition is going to be organized in October and hope to have a good participation from Atlam underwater photographers.

Name of website: Dive Fitness.

I have taken the task of writing this issue’s editorial since the current Bubbles’ editor – Edward Sultana has decided to retire from this position. Whilst thanking Edward for all his past work, the sub-committee will now be assigning these duties to his replacement; but more on this in the next issue.

Purpose of site: To promote the book,‘Fitness for Divers’ by author Cameron L. Martz, dedicated to the fitness requirements of divers. To learn about dive fitness through medical, sport and scientific research.

I take the opportunity to invite members to contribute and submit material to be included in the Bubbles e-magazine. Material may be a descriptive account with photos of a diving vacations or exciting dives locally and abroad. Members may also submit photos taken during boat dives to be included in our regular log accounts. Kindly email material to Safe diving to all,

Joe Formosa

on behalf of the Bubbles Editorial Group

JOIN ATLAM SUBAQUA CLUB and share the fun & experience

Activities for Divers: • Shore Dives • Boat Dives • Night Dive • Diving Excursions Abroad • U/W Photo Competitions • Lectures on various subjects • Nitrox Courses. • Free e-magazine

Activities for the whole family • Weekly Club Nights & Bar • Barbeques • Majjalata • Pasta Nights • Boat Parties • Gozo Diving Breaks • Camping on Comino and other places.

For more info contact the President Nader Bassily on 99499101

Access to website: Other access: N/A.

Features: The header features the name and logo of the website with its meaningful motto ‘Better fitness means better diving’. Just below the header and the current date, on the left hand side, the user has a ten option menu to choose from. These options appear also on the main page along with some further information on the subject. These options are as follows: Home: Returns user to the home page. Book: Description of the book including excerpts and reader reviews. Quick links to the preferred purchase method are available here. The price per information given makes it very affordable and worth having a copy of this book. The electronic edition is at US$20 or softcover at US$30. Meet the author: Information regards the author and his educational and sports background.

Articles & Tips: Maybe the most important section apart from the book itself, providing very useful information and tips on how you can improve your diving experience. These include subjects like age, fitness, nutrition, exercise and topics just for divers. News & Research: A ‘library’ of informative research and documentation on all the aspects of health, nutrition and injury prevention and recovery are gathered under one roof. Well worth a look at this option. Weekly workouts: The schedules provided are tailored for the couch potato diver, ‘Zero to Hero’, for the regularly exercised diver, ‘Intermediate’ and also for those who wish to reach their peak performance, ‘Advanced’. These options provide a seven day exercise program as pdf downloads. Links: Quick links to other health related sites. Quackwatch is a guide to health or diet fraud and scams. Photo credits: As the name implies. Readers’ reviews: Provides reviews of the book by previous readers. Contact us: Quick e mail link to send to Why visit this website: If you are looking to improve your diving experience by improving your health or simply purchasing the book, then this is a must site to visit

Diving Boats - Part 3: Equipping the Boat Dear Atlam divers, In this third part on the subject of diving boats, we will be looking at the ancillary equipment needed to make the boat, the boat trip and the passengers safe. These items will be divided into three main categories, with their respective subjects as listed below: Boat safety: Anchors, fenders, fire extinguishers and Vhf radio. Navigation: Compass, GPS and echo sounder (depth sounder or fish finder). Passenger safety: Buoyancy aids, first aid kit and equipment storage. It is very important for the new boat owner to be, to realize the importance of the statement below ‘BEFORE’ buying the boat: ‘The owner or operator of a sea going vessel (boat or RIB) is responsible to carry, store, maintain and use the safety equipment required by the Law’.

Boat Safety: Anchors. The choice of anchor depends mainly on the type of seabed where the anchor will be deployed. As the name implies, for this equipment to operate properly it needs to anchor to the seabed. The weight of the anchor makes little effect on anchorage, but the type chosen does. For this reason, a sand anchor works best on sand and poorly on a rocky seabed where a simple grapnel might hold the boat fast even under strain from wind or current. There exist

Claw Anchor

many different anchor designs like the plough, delta or fluke styles but the claw (Bruce) anchor has the best properties for a suitable anchor to be used on any kind of seabed. It is advisable to have at least the first 5 to 10meters made of chain attached by means of shackles to the anchor on one side and to a suitable thickness rope on the other. Apart from avoiding chafing and damage of the rope on rocks, the chain helps keep the anchor rope low in the water especially when on sand where a longer anchor rope length (Maltese ‘aktar kalun’ or ‘aktar kalar’) helps to avoid frequent unsnagging of the anchor. Other items to consider if space permits are spare anchor and rope, tow rope, knife or rope cutter and a sea anchor or drogue.

Boat Safety: Fenders. The primary use of fenders is to protect the boat’s hull against the ‘occasional’ abrasion, knick or bump against much harder objects like a jetty, quay or other boats. Although not designed for this scope, another use of fenders is as buoyancy aids in emergencies. Attached to a long rope from the aft of the boat, a small fender can also be used as a surface line marker on which divers can hold when surface current is present. Bigger fenders are used as the floatation part of a decompression stage assembly. The bigger the fender the more cushioning is provided for the boat. This is desirable if the size of the fender does not make boarding the boat a hazard by having the boat pushed out too much from the quay side due to the fender’s physical size. Although RIBs have an inherent, fender ability due to their flexible tubes, it is advisable to use fenders of appropriate size to protect the RIB from abrasion. Size and placement of fenders are to be evaluated depending on the chosen place for mooring. Suitable mooring lines are also a must have and thin nylon lines are to be avoided. Other must have items of importance to boat handling and safety include a boat hook, pump and puncture repair kit (for RIBs), a waterproof torch, engine power cut off cords, tools and spares, spare battery and fuel and a suitable boarding ladder that is preferably permanently fixed to the boat. For emergency situations a tiller is ideal for wheel steering boats, while a bailer, bilge pump or bucket are the ideal equipment to deal with water ingress. An alternative means of propulsion like oars or an extra motor are to be always carried on the boat.

Boat Safety: Fire Extinguishers. Fire extinguishers are made to deal with one or more different types of fires. These are categorized as follows; A for solids, B for liquids, C for gases, D for metals and F for cooking oils and fats. When dealing with electrical fires that might have ignited one of the categories above, it is advisable to isolate the electrical power and then threat the combustible material with the appropriate class type fire extinguisher. There are four types of fire extinguishers and their use is as follows; Water – class A only, Dry Powder – class A, B, C & D, Foam – class A & B and CO2 – class B. The most common type of extinguisher found on boats is the dry powder type. Halon was once used as a fire fighting media but since it has ozone depleting properties it has been banned since the end of 2003. It is advisable to have a fire blanket for boats with a galley (cooker). The ideal number of fire extinguishers is one for a small open boat, two for boats up to 10 meters and at least three for boats of more than 10meters in length. Ideally a dedicated fire extinguishing system is installed in the engine compartment to avoid opening the hatch and allowing more air to fuel the fire. Flammable and combustible material should be locked in a suitable container or preferably removed from the boat when not in use.

especially if the boat is being used at the later hours of the day. Other items to consider having on the boat are binoculars, sound signaling equipment like a horn or whistle, emergency flares (night, day and collision avoidance types) and a powerful light source for night signaling. For bigger boats going further offshore, a radar reflector especially if operating in the merchant vessels’ route and an SSB (Single Sideband Radio) or a satellite phone are to be considered.

Navigation: Compass. A reliable permanently fixed compass must be installed on the dashboard, ideally in the central position and away from magnetic interference from metal objects. Although new advances in technology have made the use of compasses ‘obsolete’, it is in cases of emergency or navigation equipment malfunction that this piece of equipment is really appreciated. Coupled with a marine chart, almanac and pilot’s handbook, these items will make navigation and the way back to port easier and safer in all situations. For costal navigation, the use of landmarks is ideal. The ability to identify and navigate successfully using these landmarks is gained by experience. So the more time you spend on the water the more experience you get regards navigating inshore. There is no equipment to replace this. It is important to plan at home your boat trip.

Boat Safety: VHF Radio.

Navigation: Global Positioning System (GPS).

Vhf radios, permanently mount or handheld are a mandatory piece of boat equipment that transmit and receive at very high frequencies in the range of 156 to 162MHz. Some important features to look for when buying a Vhf are; Digital Selective Calling (DSC) which allows a distress signal to be sent with a single button press, battery monitoring and a NOAA 1050Hz WX weather alert to receive the latest weather report. The most important Vhf channels are Channel 16 (156.8MHz) for international distress, safety and calling and Channel 12 (161.2MHz) for the Valletta port control. Other means of communication, like cell phones, are to be considered as a secondary means of communication and the boat owner must not go to sea without a fully functioning Vhf. Suitable covers and protection against water ingress should be applied to Vhfs and phones if they are to work properly. Permanently mount Vhfs and their antennas have a wider transmit / receive range and should be considered as the first preference over handheld units. Removal of the Vhf unit, GPS and echo sounder from the base is a must do to avoid the item being stolen from the boat while unattended. It is very important to check the correct operation of the navigation lights

This equipment is essential for the boat owner to know exactly his position and also to guide him to a known position, generally termed as a waypoint.


This might be a wreck, his favorite fishing spot on a reef or his berthing place. Invented by the United States Department of Defense, this system uses twenty seven earth orbiting satellites to provide GPS receiver units with global position coordinates using a ‘triangulation’ like system. Modern units provide the user with real-time position, speed and direction, course correction, onboard rechargeable backup battery and personal computer interface connection for upgrading with the newest software versions.

Passenger Safety: Buoyancy aids.

Navigation: Echo sounder (Depth sounder or Fish finder).

In principle one might be right in saying that they are both echo sounders and that the depth sounder marks only the bottom and does not mark any fish, while a fish finder marks the depth and ‘size’ of fish and also the bottom, depending on the depth range selected. The fish finder uses modern tuned transducers that can detect the air within the fish’s swim bladder. Technological advances have narrowed the difference between the two and many features are common to both, to the extent that people might be referring to the same echo sounder design or model with both names. Dual frequency sonars can show high and low frequencies on a split screen, modern TFT LCD screen, where lower frequencies are ideal for greater depth and high frequency is used for a narrower cone angle of transmission for a better definition and less noise. Other items to look for might include the unit’s ability to function as a GPS or chart plotter.

Gps and fish finder combined.

Split-screen dual frequency fish finder.

All vessels are required to have onboard a wearable personal flotation device (PFD) for each person. The word ‘wearable’ means that in emergencies any person onboard will be wearing a PFD and not relying on a fender for buoyancy should he go in the water. PFDs must be of the appropriate size for the intended wearer, be in serviceable condition, and within easy access. In the case of a fall overboard, a throwable Type IV PFD is to be immediately available, although one must say that anything that floats works well in this situation. Children must wear a Type I, II or III PFD while onboard a vessel that is under way (anytime, except when the vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore or aground). This is also true for all persons who are unable to keep afloat in the prevailing sea conditions should they fall overboard.

Passenger Safety: First aid kit. You might have the biggest, the most full and up to date first aid kit but when in need it becomes more of a liability than an asset if you do not know when and how to use it especially combined with the proper administration of the basics of first aid. For this reason, it is recommended that the boat owner and those accompanying him should take a First Aid Course with a recognized organisation like the Red Cross or the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what to do in an emergency, so a good comprehensive first aid guide that is easy to understand should be part of the first aid kit. This first aid manual comes in handy, taking you step-by-step through first aid care. Become familiar with the manual’s layout; ‘Read it before you need it’. Apart from the basic items like band aids, triangular bandage and tweezers, other items to have in a first aid kit are antibiotic ointment or powder, non-prescriptive drugs such as pain relievers, antiseptic solution, wipes, gel and swabs, and burn, cold sore, stings, bites and hydro-cortisone creams. When the boat is used for diving it should always carry an Oxygen Administration Kit.

Passenger Safety: Equipment storage.

Depth finder.

Fish finder

All non-dive related equipment has or should have its own proper stowage place. Fenders, ropes and anchor should be stored in a plastic box while the first aid kit and items that should not get wet are to be stored in a dry compartment or a water tight box. Every item’s use must be taken into consideration when planning storage and emergency equipment has to be within easy reach should they ever be needed.

Diving equipment storage comes in many forms. Many boat owners, especially on RIBs and smaller boats, still prefer to leave the equipment on the deck (floor) with only the weight belt preventing the equipment rolling about. RIBs are sometimes equipped with a ‘cylinder hole setup’ where a glass reinforced fiber or rubber lined stainless steel or wooden structure, has holes in it where the cylinder’s boot (lower part) is inserted in these apertures. The quantity of holes determines the number of cylinders that can be carried. Normally this setup is to cater for single cylinders. On larger boats, equipment is either put below decks, on the seating or deck but tied to the handrail or using purpose made clamps or a cylinder hole setup. The type of cylinder storage chosen will provide safe stowage preventing movement or the moving about of equipment. When this is done right, more deck space is created leaving room for moving about especially prior to getting the kit on. Since the information contained in this series is to be used as a general guidance for the owner to be and hence might not be legally correct at the time of writing, it is advisable to contact Transport Malta for any clarification regards the minimum equipment requirements for your type of boat, since this depends on the length, power and intended use. This concludes this series on choosing, buying, equipping and using your boat. Whether new or used, with great care in use and a suitable servicing routine it should last many years and provide the owner with unforgettable experiences onboard along with family, friends and diving or fishing buddies. Further information regards boating and boat equipment will be available in future editions of the Bubbles newsletter. Until then, keep filling up the club’s boat for the best diving experience around the Maltese islands. Just call Guzi Azzoppardi or Anton Debattista to reserve your place on the next Atlam’s boat diving adventure. Enjoy safe diving.

Dorian Law

Species Page Research by: Edward Vella

Mediterranean slipper lobster – Ckal Whenever we come across a slipper lobster (Scyllarus latus Maltese: Ckal), I get the impression that I am looking at a living fossil - a survivor from a bygone age. Its wrap around external armour (since this is a crustacean – like lobsters and crabs) makes it look like like an armoured car, personally they remind me of the ‘testuggine’ formation used by the Romans when laying siege to fortresses! Slipper lobsters are nocturnal, and spend the day in relatively secure surroundings such as burrowing into mud, or staying on the underside of boulders or in caves, since apart from its wrap around armour, it has no defences whatsoever. I learnt that its

Photo by Edward Vella

Slipper Lobster most significant predator is none other than the Triggerfish (Maltese: Hmar) along with groupers and octopus. Well triggerfish are not so common locally, so from these three, I would imagine that here at home, octopi would be their prime nemesis - although for a fully grown slipper lobster (rarely more than 30cm, although exceptionally 45cm have been recorded), the octopus would have to be a big one…. One characteristic of the slipper lobster is that it does not swim, but gets about by actually walking on the bottom of the sea. It uses it front paddle shaped antennae (this is why it is also known as the paddle nosed lobster), to dig itself into the sand during the day. At night it is out hunting for molluscs, small shrimps, crabs or sea urchins, but of course….so is the octopus! One good reason why I enjoy writing these articles, is that during the course of looking up facts from various sources, I get to learn new things about the species in question. Did you know for example, that the slipper lobster lives for about 10 years? After fertilisation, the eggs are not released, but carried for two weeks on the female’s underside, so that they can grow a bit more – but then comes the day when they are released into the currents. The eggs go about drifting with the currents developing, until they become larvae. After various stages, they drop to the

Photo by Joe Formosa


sea bed – at this point they would have been drifting for anything up to 10 months, and as in most cases in the sea, the survival of the species is left to the improved probabilities - in other words, the larger the numbers, the more chance there is of more survivors. In this case, it is estimated that out of the original 100,000 eggs, less than 100 survive the first stage, and from these only one or two make it to adulthood – the sea is a dangerous place! Photo by Joseph Azzopardi Falzon


Book of the Month Name of Book: The History of Pirates. Author: Angus Konstam. Publisher: The Lyons Press. New York United States of America. ISBN Number: 1 – 55821 – 969 – 2 Book in short: The book starts with an explanation of the terms privateer, buccaneer, pirate and corsair and pirates in popular fiction. The eleven chapters that form the main body include the following: Piracy in the ancient world starts with the Bireme and the sea people until the period of the Byzantine pirates and those of Northern Europe. The Barbary pirates includes detailed information on the Galley, Murat Rais and the Knights of Malta The Spanish Main and the New Americas takes the reader through a 350year journey from the 15th to the late 17th century. It includes details of ships like the Sloop and the Galleon, with the exploits of, but not limited to, those of famous pirates or buccaneers of the era like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Henry Morgan and Edward Teach ‘Blackbeard’, all flying their notorious flag, the Jolly Roger, and pirate hunters like Woodes Rogers. Also detailed are the famous pirate bases of Tortuga and Port Royal.

The quote from the book cover, introduces the reader to the real life of pirates, and makes this the book of the month:

Piracy in the Indian Ocean includes the pirate base of Madagascar and the exploits of pirates like Henry Every. The bringing to justice, trial and execution of pirates by the British Admiralty leads the reader to the end of the pirate era in the mid-18th century.

Piracy in the Far East takes a look at the pirate ship the Junk used by Asian pirates like Ching Yih in the Indonesian Archipelago. The book ends with a look at modern day pirates, the pirates’ code and their legacy.

The History of Pirates traces piracy from the seas of antiquity to the New World and beyond. It is a through, authoritative, and memorable portrait of the fascinating world of pirates. Detailed maps bear vivid testimony to the far-ranging exploits of these capricious, sometimes charismatic and frequently bloodthirsty seadogs and highwayman of the seas.… a full-color chronicle of thievery, murder, and torture of the high seas.’. Availability: Malta Public Library. Floriana.

“Dived Where"!!!

Unfrequented dive sites of the Maltese islands, where you will ask your buddy ”Where’s everybody?” — Article by Dorian Law

Kantra Valley & Ras il-Bajda Reef - Gozo Type of dive: Shore or boat dive. Air or Nitrox. Day or night dive.

Kantra Valley, or as it is known by the Gozitans, ‘Il-Kantra’, is situated on the Southeastern side of the entry to Xlendi bay. Ras il-Bajda Reef, or as it is known, ‘Is-sikka ta’ taht it-torri tax-Xlendi’, is situated on the Southwestern side of the entry to Xlendi Bay. When you reach Xlendi Bay, drive past the parking and St. Andrew’s Divers Cove, uphill on San Xmun street and park in the parking on the promontorio where this road bisects in Il-Qsajjem and Il-Kantra streets. A stepped walkway through the restaurants leads to the last concrete jetty on the walkway, which serves as the entry / exit point.


Access: From the rocky shoreline, off the concrete jetty underneath the restaurants and


When Not to dive: When winds blow from South (Nofs in-Nhar) to Northwest (Majjistral). Depth: Maximum 12meters in the valley, 10meters on the reef and 30meters on the Northern side of the tower. Current & Visibility: Some current or choppy surface on the reef. Visibility up to 30 meters, less

in the valley.

The Dive

From the entry point which is at the ‘mouth’ of Xlendi Bay, take a bearing West-Southwest towards the Western promontory off Xlendi Tower, descending along the sloped bottom to approximately 25meters, always keeping the landward wall on the left. When you start turning South, this means that you are on the outer side of Ras il- Bajda Reef. At this point decide when to turn back and start ascending slowly while exploring the reef. The bigger fish are expected in this area. Turning back, keep the reef on the right at a depth of about 10 – 15meters heading back towards the bay. After about 150meters the reef starts turning Southeast towards Kantra Valley. Following the wall on the right, the dive ends at the entry point with the exit done using the ladders installed on the concrete jetty. When the sea is choppy, exit can be done using the next ladders further inshore towards the bay. Sea traffic is a hazard in the area especially towards the entrance to Xlendi Bay and the valley.

The information contained might not be accurate or reflect the conditions found daily at the site. More accurate information should be obtained prior to planning to dive these sites.

Hekka - Camma Caves I have often said that this stretch of coast is one of my favourite dive sites and these two particular dives reinforced my liking for this area. The coastline here is a series of sheer cliffs which tower above the sea to a height of about 80 metres while extending underwater to a depth of some 50 metres. This sheer wall of Lower Coralline Limestone is extensively jointed. For those who may be unfamiliar with geology, joints are cracks in rock formations which show up as fissures and crevices and have nothing to do with suspicious-looking cigarettes! These geological joints have been widened by erosion into long vertical crevices and some of these crevices have even developed further into a series of full-blown marine caves. Cave formation often reflects surface topography despite the fact that the marine caves are much lower in elevation. In the case of northern Gozo, most caves form where valleys, on the surface platform, allow water to periodically flow during the wet season. This, fresh, rainwater seeps underground and collects in the pore spaces of the rock very near to the sea level. One must keep in mind that the rocks which are currently below sea level also have pore spaces filled with water. In their case the water is salty since it comes from the surrounding sea. Fresh water is less dense than salt water and, instead of mixing, fresh water collects on top of the salt water contained in the pore spaces of coastal rock formations. This build-up of fresh water creates an aquifer which continues to rise until a hydrostatic pressure (or head) is created. This water then flows out towards the sea exploiting weaknesses, like joints or crevices, which facilitate its movement. It is precisely this flow of water near to the current sea level which is primarily responsible for the erosion of marine caves. At this point, some people would ask – “But why are some marine caves found deep underwater; even at 60 metres or more?” The answer is simple – because sea level changed considerably during geological time. In fact, during the last Ice Age, it dropped by over a hundred metres. Just think of the tunnel which links Dwejra’s Inland Sea to the open sea. That was formed by a stream which cut through

- Gozo 05 & 12 /08/2012

Article Tano Role

the rocks of the cliff face and allowed water to drain out when sea level was much lower than at present. In fact, the tunnel is just about 4 metres at the Inland Sea side while the other end reaches a depth of about 30 metres. That tunnel must have been carved by a torrent of water forming a river which carved pot holes (circular hollows of varying depths) in the river bed. These pot holes are still there to be seen. This is why marine caves hold such a fascination for me – and some other nutty geomorphologists like myself! This is why I like to spend time measuring and mapping such caves as well as taking note of the peculiar formations which occasionally show up in some caves. I try to see the landscape not merely as it is at present, but as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago. The clues are all there if you know where to look. We started surveying two caves at the Hekka-Ċamma dive site. Such surveys require multiple dives and we often have to produce maps which may need to be checked again on later dives. These two cave surveys were carried out on two successive Sunday dives – 5th and 12th August 2012. Photo by Joe Formosa

Photo by Tano Role

There is some confusion regarding the names of the five caves found in this area. Some caves extend above the sea level and may have names which are used by local fishermen but these names are largely unknown amongst the diving fraternity. Alex Camilleri has done some sterling work in collecting known cave names but the main problem lies with those caves which are well below the waterline and have only been discovered after the advent of scuba diving. Some dive schools have now taken up the practice of numbering Ċamma caves starting from the westernmost cave. Therefore the cave which lies below the watercourse at Taċ-Ċawla is referred to as Ċamma 1. Base photo by Edward Vella

Hekka Deep Cave (aka Ċamma 4)

5th August 2012 I had written about Hekka Deep Cave (sometimes referred to as Ċamma 4) in a previous issue of Bubbles and I had said that this must surely be one of the deepest and longest marine caves in this part of the island. We have now measured the cave and have established that, at a depth of 15 metres, it is 155 metres long. Of course, this is the distance that can be safely navigated by a fully-kitted diver. The passage narrows to a very tight squeeze and it is very unlikely that the passage widens further inside. The cave presents sheer vertical sides with just a few signs of lateral collapse. It also seems to have been formed through the widening of a vertical fault or joint. Hekka Deep cave is exceptionally deep cutting through the entire length of the cliff face and extends above the current sea level. It would be interesting to surface inside the inner part of the cave and see whether it would be at all possible to explore the dry sections. The cave floor is more than 30 metres deep and was quite sandy in some parts but, contrary to my first description, there were quite a few significantly large boulders at the bottom of the cave. We had not explored the cave floor at

that time and we could only catch the occasional glimpse of the floor by the light of our torches. It is evident that cave widening and deepening involved some collapse during parts of its development. A longitudinal profile of the cave is included in this article. One interesting feature of this cave is the basin of “dead water” found at the bottom; on the outer part. The water here was significantly colder than the rest of the cave and shows that there is little mixing. This should be significant for cave life but we would need to take water samples to determine this. The deep innermost part of the cave is very interesting and challenging. An intriguing find here were the numerous potato urchins which seem to thrive in this sort of habitat. The cave floor is covered with a fine layer of silt and is just wide enough for a single diver to enter. One has to be extremely careful and avoid kicking up the sediment at this point. This is easier said than done because even the walls have fine silt – globigerina dust probably brought down by stormwater after a heavy downpour. NEVER allow more than one diver to go inside this section and this diver MUST be carrying a lifeline.

Divers should stay at least 1.5m above the cave floor and practice lateral finning action which is often employed during cave diving. Even with these precautions, it is very possible that the silt which is inevitably stirred up will reduce visibility to zero.

Photo by Tano Role Top photo by Edward Vella, Bottom photo Tano Role

I feel that I need to express some words of caution here – I am not encouraging anyone to casually attempt cave exploration. Cave explorers have to be properly trained in speleology and cave exploration before attempting any serious cave penetration and they have to possess the right equipment and infrastructure. Those divers, who have none of these pre-requisites, would be playing a form of Russian roulette – something which I also discourage! Cave diving has already, regretfully, claimed some lives in the Maltese Islands and I fervently hope that this never happens again. Another plea is for the preservation of cave flora and fauna. I have seen harrowing sights of wholesale destruction of fragile marine cave organisms. A recent visit to Ghar il-Kbir at Reqqa revealed that extensive colonies of Retepora cellulosa (Lace Coral) had been dislodged from the cave roof by divers’ exhaled bubbles. These are now dying at the cave floor. We are destroying organisms which have taken thousands of years to be established. It is supremely ironic that cave diving is being marketed as a form of eco-tourism

Tac-Cawla (aka Ċamma 1) 12th August 2012

This is probably one of the most impressive caves in the Ċamma series. It is also the westernmost cave and, therefore, it is also known as (aka) Ċamma 1. This large cave is characterised by a large opening at the base of the cave and another, smaller opening at a shallower depth. Seen from deep inside the cave, this lower opening forms a beautiful arch with an almost straight lintel. This arch is 14 metres wide at the base and extends from a depth of 32.5 metres to 22 metres. The upper opening is quite different in shape appearing as a more elongated vertical gash. This cave developed along a joint or fault line and the eastern edge forms a vertical wall which curves slightly to the east. The western wall shows a far greater degree of collapse and is characterised by several bedding planes. The outer chamber is quite large averaging 10 metres in width

while an inner chamber narrows down considerably from 5 metres down to a narrow passageway which can barely accommodate a diver. Cave collapse is very prominent in the outer chamber where several boulders reduce the cave depth from 30 metres to 26 metres. Measured at a depth of 5 metres, the entire length of the cave is just over 65 metres. Unlike our previous forays inside this cave, the marked halocline was not present in the upper parts of the inner chamber. This may be due to the change of season but it may also be due to the larger number of tourist divers who are frequenting this cave. The exhaled bubbles have a tendency to disrupt haloclines – even if temporary. It is possible to surface in several parts of the cave. Base photo by Edward Vella

Photo by Tano Role

Migra l-Ferha

- Malta 19/08/2012

Article & Photos Edward Vella

Sunday’s boat dive site selection is in most cases based on the weather forecast, and this week it was as the Americans say, a no-brainer! The wind direction had settled Easterly for most of the week, and the weathermen said that it would not change during the weekend, so it had to be West facing. Migra l-Ferha was an excellent choice. Migra l-Ferha is the place where in popular legend, the fabled Norman, Count Roger landed with his troops to begin the end of the occupying Arabs way back in 1090. Two things may be deduced on what happened on that fateful day – the first is that the weather must have been like last Sunday 19th – otherwise no landing would have been possible, and second that those worthies must have been cursing Count Roger to hell when they realised that they would have to carry themselves in their armour, and whatever else they had up that steep gorge! The intention was to anchor the heavily laden Atlantis in the first inlet after the ‘Count Roger’ cove, but it was not to be - there was a lot of nylon hanging from the cliff anglers, and it was obvious that we were going to spoil the Sunday for good number of people, so the decision was taken to drop anchor just outside of ‘Count Roger’ - on its Easternmost side. The plan was to cross to the other side of the cove and there encounter a tongue shaped reef, on top of which at the base of the cliff, there are a series of overhangs and caverns. We descended onto the first platform, and then over the edge of the second one which leads to a large plateau at about 30m depth. We followed the wall on our right hand until we came to a steep incline, at this point we were at about 40m, and here we started the ascent up the slope. In most cases, the seabed in proximity to cliff faces, one finds boulders, here however, the ‘boulders’ looked very much man-made! Car wreckage was everywhere – all in various stages of disintegration – but an unusual sight none the less!

A painted comber – burqax, swimming upside down for quite a bit of time eh

What seemed to be luminescent patches on the roof of an overhang – photo is bad quality, but shows the patches. There were at least three or four other such groups.

After a short while, we were on the reef top which forms a plateau at about 18m. To our right there loomed the dark shadow of the cliff face, and we went towards it. Here at the base of the cliff, there are deep overhangs, whose ceilings are simply covered in sponges and orange hydroids. While under one of the deeper overhangs, which I would estimate to be somewhere close but to the West of the accessible shore area, I saw on the ceiling, a group of what appeared to be five circular saucer sized patches, which in the darkness appeared to be faintly luminescent? There must have been at least four or five more of these ‘groupings’ - I wonder what these were! As we headed back towards the Atlantis II the overhangs were with us for most of the way. It would be interesting to learn what caused them. One common comment however heard on the boat as the divers were securing their tanks, was that in spite of the environment would have seemed ideal, for territorial fish like groupers for example there seemed to be an absence of fish here – we wondered what all those fishing lines were there for… or perhaps it was a bad day for fish! Apart from this, a truly excellent dive site which can take much more exploration.

Crocodile Rock This dive is one of the firm favourites with many of Atlam SAC’s members, as the fully laden Atlantis II could testify – and with good reason – it is an easy dive (well as easy as you want to make it!), the scenery is spectacular, and the sea life is here! Initially, the wind direction was casting a shadow of a doubt that the site could perhaps not be suitable, and this was sustained along the way since the North West was freshening up a bit, but it was business as usual once we got there, with just a harmless surface ruffle. The sea has become incredibly warm – the computer was indicating 27 deg on the reef. Down below however, beneath the thermocline the temperature dropped to 22 deg. We descended along the small recess in the reef immediately to the South of Crocodile Rock. This forms a natural ‘step’, beyond which is a slope littered with boulders which have fallen off the reef during the years. The depth here is about 40m. As we had previously planned, we stopped at this level, but clearly visible was yet another reef wall the top of which starts off at about 45m at this point. As it turned out, we made the right decision – here we saw the first black grouper (Cawlun), this was a big one – it went right past us not too hurriedly – and headed toward the lower reef. No sooner had this one distanced itself than another two black groupers were seen. At the same time three or four large dentex appeared. To date we had never seen large groupers and dentex (Denci) right next to each other – and these were large fish – I would estimate about 60cm. We also saw a large dusky grouper (Cerna) close to the reef wall on the way towards the cavern. So finally we saw some action! Visibility could have been better- but it was not uniform, some places were better than others – but the worst was near a silty patch in proximity to the previously mentioned cavern! Here it seemed to me that we were in the middle of a Saharan Gibli – a veritable sand storm was stirred up by divers flapping about indiscriminately.

- Gozo 26/08/2012 Article Edward Vella & Photos I am sure that everyone would benefit, if more divers would look up in the internet and then master particular finning techniques that will avoid such situations. This cavern at about 18m was our turning point, and so we proceeded back keeping the reef wall to our left. This time we stayed a bit deeper than the reef rim, and eventually we arrived back at the recess in the reef under the Crocodile Rock. Then following this fantastic dive, we were treated to a birthday celebration of Atlam’s PRO, Simon Ciantar complete with chocolate cake, and other goodies. Pity birthdays only come once a year!

Photo Joe Formosa

Base Photo Edward Vella Base Photo Edward Vella

Ras il-Hobz

- Gozo 02/09/2012

Ras il-Hobz is one of the remaining available sites when the North West is blowing. The Maltese Islands’ orientation is such that whenever this wind is blowing, both the popular and the exotic dive sites are ‘wiped out’. This normally means that the choice falls on Gozo’s sheltered South facing sites: Ta’ Cenc, Fessej Rock, Ras il-Hobz, and the Wrecks. In my opinion, Ras il-Hobz is the best of this lot. Actually on the day, the forecasted force 4 -5 winds not only did not materialise, but actually died down. This prompted a temptation to divert the dive to the Double Arch reef on Gozo’s north coast, but was then discarded due to the considerable NW swell, that would have made anchoring problematic, so on to Ras il-Hobz it was! This meant that the Atlantis II was securely anchored in a small cove in a spot where not so long ago, you would not even have considered to pass by let alone anchor, for this was the exact place where Gozo’s stinking brown sewage flowed into the blue Med.

Article & Photos Edward Vella Today, the sewage pipes are still there, but the sewage is purified, and the exit is so many metres out – with the net result that the sea is clear, the smells gone, and divers can now enjoy this site in all its intended deep blue glory! In the diving tourist brochures this place is now also known as ‘The Middle Finger’! The dive is very simple – once out of the cove, where the Atlantis II was anchored, the diver comes to a sheer drop off, the base of which is I would estimate to be about 25m. Outwards from the drop off wall, the sea bed slopes down, and from a previous dive I know that there is a second drop off the top of which is at about 35 -40m, and the bottom in very deep water, which then slopes off even deeper. As soon as we went over the drop off we descended slowly, keeping the reef wall on our left until we settled at about 30m. After about 8 minutes into the dive, a dark shadow appears to the right. Yes you must have guessed, it was the middle finger! Looking up from its base at about 35 – 37m this tower of rock is truly impressive. On its northern side, it is quite close to the cliff wall, so it seems evident that the pinnacle must have in the past been joined by a softer rock which in time dissolved away leaving it standing on its own. We spiralled up slowly around the tapering column, until eventually we came to its top which is around 12m beneath the surface. In past dives groupers and moray eels had been sighted in the columns recesses, but this time we did not come across any, but there was a pleasant surprise waiting at the top – a sizeable shoal of two banded sea bream (Xirghien), which did not seem to be afraid of us divers at all, and allowed those equipped with cameras to get a couple of good ones. Of course apart from the column, this site offers the opportunity for deep dives – and how! The tec divers had a field day and came up raving about walls thick with lobsters etc.. Slowly the divers gathered back, and even at a leisurely pace, the Atlantis II took us home earlier than usual.

Double Arch Reef The Double Arch reef dive at this time of the year is normally guaranteed to result in a full house dive boat, and this time it was no exception. The dive briefing by dive master Guzi was simple – memorise the anchor point, and note any features close by to assist finding it again and also advised to take a bearing on the shore, so that in the event that the anchor was not located, the divers could make their way towards it, some 200 metres away. Surfacing to the seaward side was to be avoided due to boat traffic. Following the heavy rains of the previous week, I had my doubts about water clarity, but these proved to be unfounded, since a typical Gozo north coast visibility awaited below! As soon as we were in the water, it could be seen that the Atlantis II was anchored exactly on the reef edge. The depth on the reef top is about 17m, and the drop off goes down at this point to about 30 – 35m. We had to find the point where the reef makes a right angle bend, and then resumes its original direction. At this bend the reef back tracks and goes parallel to the shoreward reef forming a headland pointing west for about 40 – 50m. The Double Arch lies at the point where this headland emerges from the reef.

- Gozo 09/09/2012

Article Edward Vella

We passed beneath the orange hydroid encrusted underside of the lower arch and turned West keeping the headland on our left hand. Then looking up at the reef top we saw a shoal of barracuda, which slowly drifted out to sea, a brief but nice encounter. (est.70 - 80) We circled the headland twice, and finally ascending to the reef top. Other divers sighted huge groupers that are often seen at this site. These groupers were of a size where they are convinced that they have no more predators!

Due to the reef top being at 17m this is considered as a deep dive, where a degree of decompression time is almost inevitable, but a watchful eye on the depth gauge can keep it to a minimum, or according to plan. Beneath the Atlantis ll at one time there must have been at least fifteen divers counting out their decompression times. And so back to Marfa – concluding another nice Atlam diving adventure.

The reef here is actually an extension of the cliffs one finds on Gozo’s Northern coast. Starting at Kap San Dimitri, the cliff slopes down, goes underwater round about at Reqqa Point, and then half way to Xwejni Bay, the edge turns 45 degrees, and heads out to the North East. The plan was to descend along the anchor chain, and survey our position with the first priority to look for the ‘bend in the reef’. As it was, we did not have to look for long – we were standing on it! The ‘amphitheatre’ formed between the main reef and the headland was unmistakable, so following the edge we came to our target in a couple of minutes… This Double Arch feature never fails to impress, and it seems to me that it would not have looked out of place as Middle Earth scenery in the Lord of the Rings! Add to this, the blue of the depths here (about 42m) and the whole place takes on an unreal feel.

Base Photo: Joe Formosa

Fessej Rock

- Gozo 16/08/2012

Article Edward Vella

Il-Blata tal-Fessej The massive Ta’Cenc cliff bastion tapers off to Ras in-Newwiela (Newwiela Point) and then turns to face South still descending until it meets the exit of the meandering valley at the Mgarr ix-Xini inlet. Situated about 300m perpendicular to the mouth of this inlet is Fessej Rock. Fessej is a tantalising site - it seems to be within reach from the shore, but the truth is that it is too far away to be reached by a surface swim from Mgarr ix-Xini, so this remains a boat dive.

Photo: Edward Vella

As it must have been surely mentioned in previous Atlam dive logs, this site is chosen in most cases because it remains diveable when there is a fresh North West blowing, and this time it was almost that case. It had been blowing from that direction for the best part of the week, but on the day, the wind turned NE. The sea surface however, was still feeling the effects of this NW, so there was a moderate swell coming from that side, which subsided the closer we went into the lee of the land. If it was just the NW, the Atlantis II would have moored to the Fessej’s SE corner, but this time, the wind would have swept her onto the Rock, so the anchor was dropped on its North side. The dive here consists of circumnavigating Fessej, in whatever rotational direction is preferred, the only snag here is that on the seaward side, the wall drops to 50m plus, while on the landward side, there are only about 10m. In other words, this means that any subsequent circuit will have to be kept at about this depth. Photo: Joe Formosa

This time the plan was to circle it in an anticlockwise direction, keeping the wall on the left, and descending to about 40m. As soon as we entered the water, it became

immediately evident that the visibility was going to be on the low side for this site – no doubt this was due to the rain earlier in the week – but we hoped that it would improve at depth. So a brief surface swim to get closer, and then we went over the ‘shoulder’ exploring under the boulders, and taking it really easy! Visibility did improve at depth – we stabilised at about 35m – but the temperature here fell to about 20 deg C from the surface’s 26, which made it feel quite cold. Just as I was saying to myself that we had not encountered any significant sea life, a large mottled grouper (Maltese: cawlun), swam out from under an overhang – nice. Other grouper sightings were reported by divers who ventured deeper. Of course, and this is something which we perhaps sometimes fail to notice, the whole rock was surrounded by thousands of damsel fish – too many to count anyway! One by one the divers assembled to decompress beneath the Atlantis ll anchored on an ideally placed rocky platform, and quite soon we were sharing our diving experience on the way back to Marfa. Base Photo: Joe Formosa

Santa Maria Caves

- Comino 23/09/2012

This was a dive with a difference, not just because it comes up very seldom on the Atlam dive lists, but mostly because this time, the divers family members were there as well. So it was a more than usually laden Atlantis II that left Marfa for the short trip to the Santa Marija Caves. The site at Santa Marija Caves is rarely dived, perhaps because it is considered to be too shallow and too near to home? The depth inside the inlet is no more than 12m, and this might not satisfy everyone’s expectation of what the Sunday dive should be… not the ideal place for twin tanks and deco cylinders.. Anyway certainly not a site which cannot be seen in one dive, so perhaps it is better this way – absence makes the heart grow fonder! There was a light becoming moderate South Easterly blowing which was roughing up the surface, but nothing which would make the crossing uncomfortable, however given these conditions, it was decided that the ladies and the children would be put ashore at Santa Marija Bay which is a short distance away from the dive site. The Atlantis II then back tracked to the dive site and dropped anchor – the silvery sea bream were already gathering beneath her keel! Locally this must be a unique feature, at least I have never come across it anywhere else… one giant step in and the first thing that one notices are the sea bream - one of the highlights of this dive is driving these insatiable fish into a feeding frenzy – and we had brought enough bread to feed a village . Once down on sand, and the bread taken

Photo: Victor Fabri

Article Edward Vella

out, the diver literally disappears – and as long as the bread lasts, the view becomes a confusion of darting silver fish. We then dived our plan – starting with the principal cave of this site – the cave is basically L-shaped with its exit beneath the headland – Ras l-Imnieri as is known locally. Imnieri is the plural of imnara, which is an oil lamp – so perhaps in the past there could have been some form of light at night to warn mariners of the treacherous rocks lying just beneath the surface? The cave interior is tunnel like, with a shaft in the ceiling at the intersection of the ‘L’ which lets in an interesting play of light. Next there comes a sort of step which leads into the exit tunnel. Sunlight is visible all along the way, which makes this an ideal first introduction to diving inside a cave, however there were no raw beginners this time, but this rock enclosed passage provides lots of opportunities for photography as well. As regards sea life, a 60cm grouper was sighted close to the ceiling shaft, and further down close to the exit, a carapace of slipper lobster (ckal) discarded by its owner after it had molted was found. After we exited, we headed a bit away from the reef, and decided to swim around a huge boulder, whose summit just broke or was exactly beneath the surface. The boulder stands on a sandy bed at the edge of a posedonia meadow. We reached our maximum depth for this dive at this point – 17.1m, and then re-traced our path back into the cave and exited back into the bay, where we ended the dive close to an arch right next to the anchor point. As we ascended, the sea bream were still milling about hoping for a second course! The ladies were then picked up, and the Atlantis II made its way to the so called Crystal Lagoon on Comino’s western side for a swim and a bite. A nice easy going and relaxing day for sure, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all present!

Photo: Edward Vella

Reqqa Point

- Gozo 30/09/2012

As most divers know, Reqqa Point is one of the favourite dive sites, and is surely included in many a personal top ten (if not top five) dive sites in Malta. There have also been several Atlam Dive Logs featured in Bubbles, so this time, I could have just cut and pasted and re-proposed a previous article, but the nicest thing about Reqqa Point, is that there is no need for this, because this site always finds a way to re-invent itself at every dive. This time for example, the plan was to dive the large cave situated further West from Reqqa and here a Point must be made (pun intended) … In tourist literature, and in most diving school websites, this very large cave is referred to as the Billinghurst Cave. This name is resented in the local diving community, because the cave is well known, and already called L-Ghar il-Kbir tar-Reqqa, which may be conveniently translated to Reqqa Cave – the sad thing is that this same literature pushes the myth that the cave was ‘discovered’ by the Billinghurst SAC, and who graciously allowed us to use their name……. The Atlantis II dropped anchor on the edge of the reef at the point, and the first thing that struck was the water clarity – the reef was fully visible from this distance, and all around were the sparkling bubble ‘chandeliers’ suspended in the blue from divers who had already started their dive. We advanced towards the shore wall, to then proceed towards the cave – and here close to the entrance we saw a very large grouper, and several large dentex. As per plan, once inside, we kept to the left hand wall. Following the entrance, the cave is tunnel like having parallel sides. The entrance is huge, so that even where the tunnel ends, the entrance remains visible. The diver then comes to an area full of boulders, and other stone debris that have fallen from the ceiling. What struck me was that some of these large blocks, had what seemed to me, to be sharp edges. This pile of boulders lies on or itself forms a slope. Following the slope the diver ascends above the entrance’s height, and so loses sight of it – good to have a spare torch in here. Ascending even further, the torch illuminated the unmistakable movement of waves which meant that we

Photo: Joe Formosa

Article Edward Vella

could surface. We had arrived at the inner chamber. When we surfaced, we found ourselves in a large dome shaped hall totally enclosed in the rock - perhaps formed by the falling of rock chunks from the ceiling and then abraded to a dome shape by surge, or wave action? It does not look like that the air here is refreshed, and it feels heavy to breathe, so it is better to use your air supply. On the way out we kept to the right hand wall, but before we descended back into the ‘exit’ tunnel, we had agreed to switch off our torches. At first darkness, then slowly as the pupils dilate, the surroundings illuminated by the faint blue light coming from the entrance start to appear. Then torches back on, and down into the tunnel and its fantastic blue light.

Other divers chose to dive on the reef, and there were more large grouper sightings there. So again, once back on the boat, experiences were exchanged, which is after all, an important element of the dive. Such experiences are richer when shared.

Photo: Edward Vella

Bubbles Aug - Sept 2012  

The diving E-Magazine issued by the Atlam Sub Aqua Club from the Mediterranean island of Malta.

Bubbles Aug - Sept 2012  

The diving E-Magazine issued by the Atlam Sub Aqua Club from the Mediterranean island of Malta.