Trip Report : Malta Wreck Diving (June 2022)

Background

Malta was the third trip in my Spring/Summer trifecta (first was Palau in Mar/Apr and then second was Vis, Croatia in May).

I was really looking forward to this trip. I had done quite a bit of research and started planning it about 6-9 months ago. I saw the videos and pictures of the wrecks in Malta and they were impressive and included ships and airplanes from both WW I and WW II.

John at the bow of the HMS Southwold — the last picture I took from my last dive…

Unfortunately, I started to get some symptoms on my 3rd or 4th day here and then tested positive for Covid on my 5th day which ended my diving and I ended up quarantining in my hotel room. I’m honestly not quite sure when/how I got Covid as I’m vaccinated and boosted and I wore my N95 mask on all the flights and airports — though it was a complete free-for-all with families and summer holiday travel in full swing.

I did manage to do 7 dives and spent enough time here to write a report that I hope will help other divers planning a trip to Malta.

Travel & Logistics

Getting to Malta is relatively easy — even from the West Coast of the United States. I took a direct flight from LAX to Amsterdam (AMS) and then a 3 hour flight from AMS-MLA. Not too bad at all.

I had checked in three bags (they were nice enough not to charge me for the third): my rEvo in a Pelican case, my camera equipment in a Pelican case, and a large rolling duffel with my other dive equipment and clothing. I carried on my drysuit, undergarments, heated vest and batteries in a duffel bag and then I also had a backpack with my camera, laptop, etc.

The one thing that I will say is that I wish the airplane mask mandate was still in effect. Spending 20+ hours in airports and airplanes with almost nobody wearing a mask was a bit nerve-wracking for me personally. I’ll never know where I got Covid, but I have a feeling that it was somewhere during the outbound travel.

Another note: AMS airport is a complete mess.

We were on a 777-200ER on KLM which seats about 400 people. When we arrived at AMS airport, apparently there were no jet bridges available so they unloaded the entire plane onto busses. The busses then all queued up waiting for a United jet to taxi and then all arrived at the terminal in unison with 400 people all trying to go through one revolving door with their carry on luggage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the line to get through immigration for non-EU citizens was a complete mess and, of course, nobody was practicing any social distancing.

Needless to say, I won’t be connecting through Amserdam anytime soon again if I can possibly avoid it.

Once I arrived in Malta, I collected my bags and Simon from Dive Systems had somebody waiting to pick me up. It is a short 20 minute drive to their main dive location which borders Sliema and St Julian. I dropped off most of my gear at the dive shop and then they shuttled me to the hotel for a much needed shower, food, and rest.

Malta

I won’t give a history lesson, but Malta is a very interesting country with a rich history of forts, battles, etc. The city is a real juxtaposition. There are very old temples and streets and forts surrounding by high rises and modern architecture. Malta appears to be going through a huge boom in construction and there are cranes everywhere.

There aren’t a lot of sandy beaches, but there are basically “pools” that have been carved out of the rocks by the seashore and make for really interesting areas to enjoy the weather and the Mediterranean Sea.

Food

The food in Malta is very varied. There are a lot of Middle Eastern food shops, some traditional Maltese restaurants, some restaurants with Mediterranean influences, etc. Essentially, there is something for everybody ranging from cheap street food and cafes to luxurious restaurants.

Lodging

We wanted to stay within walking distance of the main dive shop to make things easy.

Since the dive shop was at Exiles Beach in between Sliema and St Julians, there were plenty of choices. St Julians tends to have more nightlife and crowds and so we chose to stay in Sliema where it would be a little quieter. We stayed at the Preluna hotel at the recommendation of Simon and booked everything through him. The Preluna has basic rooms but they are plenty good for a dive trip. There are also quite a few restaurants on-site at the hotel.

Dive Shop

I had done some research and contacted Simon, who is the owner of Dive Systems Malta, about scheduling a technical dive trip.

If you want to dive some of the historical wrecks in Malta, you need to ensure that the dive shop is licensed to dive them. The Malta Historical Society is very select about who they allow on the wrecks and some of the wrecks have only been available to dive since 2019. Given the impact of Covid, some of the wrecks have hardly been visited since they were put on the list of approved sites.

Simon and his team were great to deal with.

They have a very large shop with dive operations taking place downstairs and the classroom, tables, reception, etc. are upstairs. They are very organized and have bins to store your gear in, racks to hang drysuits/wetsuits on, and benches to assemble your gear. In addition, Simon has a state-of-the-art blending station and tons of tanks for bailout, rebreathers, drysuit inflation, etc.

Essentially, if you want to go diving (or technical diving) in Malta, I highly recommend Simon and his team at Dive Systems.

Simon’s dad and uncle originally owned the shop so it has been in his family for over 40 years.

Karsten, me, Simon, and Tom

Diving Platform

Simon @ Dive Systems had us scheduled for our dives with Jason who owns and runs the “Delfino” boat.

A typical day would involve getting to the dive shop around 8-8:15, assemble our rebreathers, get our gear loaded onto a truck and then drive to the secondary dive shop Simon owns which is where the boat can dock. We would meet Jason around 9-9:15am, load up our gear and then depart for our dives.

Admittedly, it doesn’t scream “dive boat” but it is a very comfortable dive platform and is aided by a diver lift.

For diving, we would arrive on-site, Jason would drop a down-line with a buoy and then we would gear up and jump in one-at-a-time. If the boat would drift a bit, he would re-position and put the last diver in. We generally did our deco up the downline and then went to the lift to be taken back up.

Top 3 photos below are from John Entwistle and the bottom is one I took.

Water Temp

First, the air temp was pretty hot here this time of year (90-100F) and I hear that it only gets hotter. I don’t do well with the heat anymore so that was a bit of a challenge for me — especially when putting on undergarments, drysuit, rebreather, hood, bailout tanks, etc. Definitely bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and try to find some shade where you can. Luckily, the Delfino had a good amount of shade for most of the day.

The water temp on the bottom (60m / 200ft) on most of our dives was between 58-60F. The water started to get warmer from about 50-70 feet and above. In fact, in some cases, you could see the “shimmer” in the water where the two different temperatures mixed. The temperature on my 20 foot deco stop was usually about 75-77F which is quite a bit of difference from down below.

I get cold easily (especially on 90-120+ minute dives) and so I wore an old set of Fourth Element Arctic undergarments (which are now pretty compressed and not as warm as they used to be) and a heated vest. I would sometimes turn the heated vest on “low” for 5-10 minutes during deco and then turn it off. I’m guessing the most people wouldn’t need it. In fact, my dive partner John Entwistle had a heated vest but didn’t really use it.

Wrecks

This what we were here for!

Simon had worked out a great schedule for us for our 8+ days of diving. It started on on a wreck 40 m /130 feet and was meant to culminate on the British submarine HMS Olympus at 120 m / 420 feet. However, given that I got Covid, we never got to see the famed Olympus. Below is a list of the wrecks that I did visit before I got Covid. John went on to dive another 4 days and visited a few of the other wrecks on our initial agenda/plan.

For our first two days of diving, we had Sergey as the dive master. For the remainder of the days, Karsten joined us. The typical scenario is that he would go down the downline to check / adjust the placement. If everything looked good, we would jump in after 5-7 minutes if we did NOT see a SMB launched. Jason is a great captain and Karsten moved the downline a bit on some dives, but we never saw him shoot a SMB.

These guys know what they are doing…

Below is a summary of the dives I went on along with a representative picture. Over the next week or two, I will be writing more detailed posts for each of the wrecks.

WreckPhoto
HMS Hellespont
Steam Powered Tug
Max Depth : 135 feet
HMS Stubborn
Submarine
Max Depth : 180 feet
JU 88
German Airplane
Max Depth : 185 feet
Le Polynesian
French Ocean Liner
Max Depth : 205 feet
(2 dives)
HMS Southwold (Stern)
Hunt Class Destroyer
Max Depth : 240 feet
HMS Southwold (Bow)
Hunt Class Destroyer
Max Depth : 215 feet

Unfinished Business…

There are definitely other wrecks on my list to dive and they have identified a few new ones that aren’t open to the public yet that I’m sure will be soon enough. I’m not sure when I will return again. I’m pretty burned out on travel after my previous trips this year and after getting Covid here in Malta so I’m ready to “cool my jets” for a while. I have one more wreck trip in Palau this year and then I will probably stick to local and domestic diving for a while.

However, at some point, I will be back to finish my journey to dive the deep, historical wrecks of Malta…

Stay tuned for the detailed post on each of the wrecks. The photos came out really well and the wrecks have some very interesting history.

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