Saturday, 20 June 2009

Part 4 - Malta

After a cracking 3 dives in the deeper sections, Howard and I thought we would join Paul Toomer and his IANTD ART student, Adam Fish (A Fish!!) on Adam’s first ‘deco’ dive to the El Faroud. So cylinders loaded onto the flatbed and off down the coast to the gulley and local swimming area which is the entry point to the Al Faroud. The pickup was parked on a very steep slope and to prevent it becoming a wreck of its own we made sure the front wheels were jammed with a breeze block before we left. Getting kitted up in a drysuit and thermals on the shore in front on scantily-clad locals is an interesting experience, especially as we were carrying stages of 100% too! I got kitted up very quickly as I was cooking my nadgers off and getting in the water was a welcome relief. The others (Paul, Adam, Howard and Hayden) joined me and Hayden led off towards the wreck surfacing swimming to the drop-down point and Adam leading the surface checks just before dropping down. We swam past a memorial to commercial divers on the way to the wreck. Once you pass the vast expanse of sea-grass, you come across white sand and the dark outline of the El Faroud.

L-R, Paul Toomer, Adam Fish, Howard Payne

Again, a little about the wreck

“M/t Um el Faroud was built in 1969 at Smith Dock Co. Ltd., Middlesborough, UK and was owned by the General National Maritime Transport Company, Tripoli. (GNMTC)
It had been operating between Italy and Libya carrying refined fuel up to the 1st of February 1995. On the 3rd of February 1995 it was docked at Dock no.3 of Malta Dry-docks. During that night an explosion occurred in one of the fuel tanks and 9 shipyard workers lost their lives. The vessel suffered structured deformation and was written off after following inspection and survey. It had been occupying the dock ever since the explosion until was decided that the best option to utilize its remaining value was to scuttle her as a diving attraction and to start a new life as an artificial reef.”

After the explosion

On the surface before scuttling

Once we got a little closer to the wreck I could see the scour around the rudder and propeller, so went over to get some shots of the guys coming across the sand and into the prop area.

Mr Payne above the huge prop

Adam above the same

Howard looking at some squidgy stuff just before crushing it with the torch head!! (1)

Paul and Adam started down the port side of the wreck with Howard and I hanging slightly back. Howard then spotted a hole in the side…here we go again!!

Howard entering the El Faroud

I followed Howard up into the wreck and then through a section before coming back out. Shame, it looked like it would go but we said we would stay with Paul and Adam. So further forward and towards the massive clean break in the ship. It looks like someone cut it cleanly in half at the stage and moved one section 30ft to the left! The penetration opportunities look massive!! This reminded me of the wrecks which Howard and I dived in Narvik last summer…through a bulkhead and out into another section. A quick goodbye to Paul for an explore…

Howard squeezing his tiny body through a bulkhead door…

..and back through the same hatchway so we didn’t lose Paul for too long. Then up onto the deck area in front of the bridge and superstructure; we could see Paul and Adam off to the left making their way back. We signalled that we might join them at the stern…

(1) Howard didn't really do that!!

Both Howard and I saw the entrance at the top of the stairs at the same time but I beat him to it to get some shots of him coming through the companion way with the daylight behind him…

What you can’t see is the massive fish that got in the way above Howard’s left shoulder (PS magic ;) )!!

Not that fish, a much bigger one!

Howard then turned right into the superstructure and first into what looks like the messhall/cafĂ©…

Tables and ceiling lying on the floor…

Through another passageway making our way rearwards we passed a couple of other rooms which looked like they would entertain some penetration and then into the galley

Howard, the masterchef, fish anyone? :)

I exited the galley (just to the right of the cooker in the shot above) and waiting for Howard to exit behind me so that we could get some more shots of the hull before, hopefully, catching up with Paul and Adam.

Coming out of the Galley

One thing I did learn on this trip is that having lots of light can be a pain in the arse sometimes. Most of my stuff in the UK you don’t normally have a problem with shooting into sun because (1) there normally isn’t any and (2) if there is, it isn’t too bright and you don’t have too much of a contrast problem. The following shots were very hard to get sorted because the vis wasn’t great (by Maltese standards) into sun because of the small ‘dust’ particles in the water. As such, detail of the hull was almost non-existent.

Howard over the rear-starboard quarter

Howard poncing with his light sabre

We then followed the return track back to the exit point, stopping at 6m for 8 mins to clean up and admire the view. Howard then tried the “who can I hit with the SMB” game with the swimmers above. We surfaced to be met by some holiday makers with a video camera…stars again!

This nice little dive rounded off an excellent long weekend in Malta. As Howard has already said, Divewise bent over backwards to help us and I would definitely recommend them when it comes to running a wreck trip from Malta. Paul Toomer is now planning on running 3-4 months worth of trips back to back, so if you are interested in IANTD training in a brilliant wreck environment, drop him a line. I had not met him before and he certainly seems to hold no prejudices and appears to be a really enthusiastic and knowledgeable instructor and instructor trainer.

This was my first experience of the island and it certainly won’t be the last. The food was cheap as was the beer (certainly cheaper than Stockholm where I was 3 weeks ago!!). The wrecks are awesome and from my point of view, very photogenic. As both Howard and I have alluded to, we are already planning on getting back there and we will be using Divewise.

Admin bits:

Flight from LHR Term 4 to Malta with Air Malta was around £120 return. £13 each way for 32kg of additional baggage (dive gear) but on the return leg we only paid 15eu for 2 x 32kgs :)

Accommodation was in “The President” which is a 5 min walk. 25eu pppn based on 2 sharing a twin-room.

Food and beer was mainly consumed in “Huggins” bar where Divewise have a 25% discount. Huge portions and good quality food.

Additional costs (Gas for 2 x T2, 1 x T1 and 1 x recreational dives, stage hiring and twinset hiring, boat costs and water in the centre) came to around £370