Army Reservists with light infantry unit The Queens Own Yeomanry, which has squadrons in Wigan and Chester, recently travelled to Malta for a scuba diving Adventurous Training exercise, Ex DEEP BLUE. Trooper Nick Ledger reported back from the expedition:
“For some it would be the first time taking the plunge into scuba diving, while for the seasoned veterans this would be an opportunity to take on responsibility and further develop leadership roles within the sport. The sacrifice of minimal sleep was more than compensated by the short flight, and we were soon greeted by the warm, early morning climate of Malta, a stark contrast to the UK weather we had left behind.
“The group was divided into beginners and experienced divers. The Ocean divers had their baptism in the dive centre pool, while the remainder had their first taste of the diving Malta has to offer at the Blue Grotto and at the artificial reef of the legendary Libyan oil tanker Um El Faroud.
“Malta prides itself on its wreck diving and this is clearly seen from the abundance it has to offer. This time of year provided warm, crystal clear waters. Visibility easily exceeded 25m on a good day, revealing a wealth of wrecks, artificial reefs and places to explore. Cirkewwa in the North of the island, where the ferry leaves for the islands of Gozo and Comino, offered wrecks such as the P29 German patrol boat with her radar mast protruding from the seabed at 38m below. For marine life, the neighbouring Tugboat Rozi offered a variety of creatures inhabiting this man-made reef. As the majority of wrecks had been deliberately sunk for recreational diving purposes, they offered a fantastic opportunity to explore and push the boundaries of wreck penetration.
“The expedition provided the opportunity to also explore Malta’s neighbouring islands. Although the weather was not favourable enough for the Blue Hole on Gozo, this was more than compensated for by the wreck MV Cominoland and the MV Karwela, with its distinctive staircase, followed by the sandy sheltered cove of Mgarr Xi Xini. Comino provided some of the best diving I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. The chartering of a dive boat for the day opened up whole new avenues and regions of the Mediterranean islands to explore. The Imperial Eagle wreck proved an opportune moment for the Dive Leader members of the group to carry out depth progression training down to 40m, whilst the remainder paid their respects to the statue of Kristu l-Bahhar (Christ of the Sailors). The second dive of the day took us to the shallow waters of the P31 patrol boat wreck, enabling all divers to explore and push their boundaries. Topping off the day in Comino were the Santa Marija caverns and swim-throughs off the tiny Maltese island providing a once in a lifetime experience unique from any other dive site of the expedition.
“The main aim of the expedition was to progress the dive careers of the participants on the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) syllabus. Novice divers not only advanced beyond the first qualification of Ocean Diver, but also completed their Sport Diver through hard work and many a late evening lecture and revision session. Members of the group with previous diving experience were able to build on and develop their leadership skills, completing the Dive Leader and Advanced Diver BSAC qualifications. Responsibility was shared each day for managing and selecting the dive sites, and completing the Sub Aqua Diving Supervisor (SADS) brief for the rest of the group’s daily activities. This was achievable with the first-class in-house instruction from Major Mick Stewart, Staff Sergeant Andy Clark and Lance Corporal Simon Lamb, proving the resourcefulness of the Reserve Forces. Staff Clark particularly was keen to lead by example, and was never short of volunteering for the ‘hat’ of the day, a light-hearted awarded for any comical events that happened during that day’s diving.
This opportunity proved invaluable for honing and practicing key diving skills, such as rescue scenarios, proficient buoyancy technics and efficient air supply use. Cpl Clowes’ mastery of the Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (self-titled ‘The flag’) deployment was an example for all, and the majority improved air consumption use throughout from ever growing confidence. This was further reinforced when all members completed a night dive with heightened senses in the reduced visibility. The darkness provided an abundance of marine life, including octopus, cuttlefish and lobsters that our resident marine biologist Captain Dougie Fraser was keen to interact with and share his wealth of knowledge.
The final objective of the expedition was to provide some community service to Malta who had hosted us so well. The plan was to carry out a site clear-up of litter on wreck site HMS Maori in Valletta harbour. We were treated to a spectacular thunder and lightning storm on the final day, and some experienced a low visibility dive in the wash off. But regardless, the mission was still a great success with everyone’s laundry sacks bulging with the spoils of litter and discarded rubbish at the dive site.
“Overall the expedition was a great success with five brand new, fully qualified Sport divers, four qualifying for Dive Leader and one Advanced diver. The remainder furthered their diving careers and gained valuable experience. The expedition has certainly whet the appetite of the newly anointed and preparations are already underway to continue the adventurous training back in the UK. The success of exercise Deep Blue is testament to the organisers but also to the hard work and enthusiasm of all participants, highlighting the value of adventure training within the military and the key the skills it develops.”