Want to be Friends?

CANARIES DIVER

Want to be Friends?

How easily a website can give a misleading impression of a destination, but as it turned out there was no question of Gran Canaria proving a let-down for WILL APPLEYARD

Encounter with an inquisitive cuttlefish.

Appeared in DIVER September 2018

THE ONLY RESEARCH I DID before heading to Gran Canaria was to look briefly at the Blue Explorers dive-centre website – a two-in-one site, in that it also runs a centre of the same name on neighbouring Tenerife.

Blue Explorers would be looking after my diving, eating, drinking and accommodation requirements while on the island. Its website banner image included mucho sunbeds, pedaloes,

a water park and so on and came leaping out at me. Eek, those types of attractions aren’t really my bag these days, and I didn’t see any underwater photography that grabbed my attention either.

All the same, I thought, I’m sure it will be nice to be in the water for a few days, and I hear that the weather’s great too.

Sabrina from the Blue Explorer team collected us from the airport, which had spat our luggage out into the arrival hall in no time at all.

Outside, the place had a “Spanish but not Spanish” feel about it, along with Grand Canyon by the sea topography and a fabulously warm evening breeze.

“It’s more mountainous here than I’d imagined,” I said to Sabrina as we left the airport. She explained that the island was “governed by mountainous micro-climates, with the north often being dramatically cooler than the south”.

Although belonging to Spain, geographically the Canary Islands are part of the African continent, lying 125 miles west in the Atlantic about level with the Moroccan and Western Saharan divide. Although a flight from the UK takes four hours, we never leave our own time-zone.

The gaudy beach-holiday image lurking in my mind since that website visit swiftly dissipated as we drew to a halt outside the quiet yet welcoming Blue Explorers dive-resort in Puerto Mogãn.

There wasn’t a sniff of a heaving tourist resort either, only divers – many, it turned out, returning customers from the UK.

The evening light was painted beautifully on both sides of the deep volcanic valley, and I enjoyed involving myself in cocktail-led chatter, while staff milled about preparing cylinders for the next morning’s dive.

Water temperature averages 22°C there in June and I was wondering whether I should have packed my drysuit rather than a 6mm wetsuit as I got my equipment together the following morning. However, apart from David (one of the centre’s French owners) and his clients, who were about to conduct a dive to 65m, I could see that everyone else would, reassuringly, be diving wet. It’s still borderline for me!

BLUE EXPLORERS IS SITUATED just a short drive up the valley from the sea, so divers and their gear are ferried by minibus to and from the marina, where its two RIBS live side by side.

We passed Puerto Mogãn before entering the marina – it’s a pretty little village, comprising a collection of ornately painted buildings and a narrow tidal river straddled by several blue, arched wooden bridges. The locals call it Little Venice.

Swiss dive-guide Denise and skipper Rasmus had been assigned to us for the week and helped offload our pre-prepared equipment from the van and carry it down the jetty to our RIB. Cameras were placed inside a netted cage at chest level above the cylinder rack, sparing my photographic gear from the usual abuse it gets aboard a RIB. I liked this boat.

Shearwaters soared above immense cliffs that plunged into the sea. Holiday resorts with their busy beaches interrupted the scenery every so often between the cliffs as we motored towards reef dive-site Pasito Blanco (White Step).

This is a pretty little intro dive at just 18m deep, a kilometre or two offshore in open water. It’s a long, flat-topped table or slab of rock raised 2 or 3m above the sand.

The entire length and breadth of the site came into view quickly on descent into the super-clear water and, after a reasonably late night, it was good to be off the boat and in the sea.

I didn’t feel cold at all as the first trickles of water penetrated my suit, putting those thoughts of my beloved drysuit to bed.

There was no current either, and we headed off the anchor-chain and deeper towards a defined overhanging shelf in the slab, which I noticed was home to a lone grey triggerfish. The last time I saw one of these guys was on a wreck dive in Dorset. These fish are real travellers.

A pair of Atlantic sting rays.

Had I done more research pre-trip, I would already have known that Gran Canaria is famous for its many ray species. Five or more sting rays lay on the seabed beside Pasito Blanco, where both common and round rays gather.

Trumpetfish live there too and, looking up towards the boat, I could see that a halo of barracuda had begun to form.

For me, the stars of the show on this dive were at the opposite end of the rock slab – an incredible shoal of grunt.

“The deeper you dive here in Gran Canaria, the bigger the shoals of grunt become,” Denise told me later. Having seen what I considered a pretty impressive shoal already, I looked forward even more to the deeper diving that was planned.

We surfaced after 50 minutes into bright sunshine, though dark clouds hung over the island’s mountains. Denise assured me that the chances of rain were minimal at this time of year. For me the air temperature in the mid-20s was perfect.

ANCHOR BACK ABOARD, we chatted further about the kind of life we could expect to see throughout the week. I was excited to hear that butterfly rays were often seen, as apparently were marbled electric rays, eagle rays and angel sharks.

The afternoon’s diving began with a talk led by Antonio and Marianne of Bassalto Arrecifes, which has built and placed a new artificial reef with funding provided by the company that runs the tourist yellow submarine from Puerto Mogãn.

I had seen this sub parked in the marina and was keen to see it under water, imagining something straight from my childhood underwater exploration books.

The artificial reef lies between two purposely placed wrecks, Cermona II and Allegranza, and is designed to attract even more marine life.

We began our tour of the whole “park” by descending onto Cermona II, where a maximum depth of 20m is possible.

Arrow-crabs hid beneath the hull and surrounding rocks, and my grunt friends were there, and in greater numbers than at Pasito Blanco. Both wrecks lie on their sides, and Cermona II has a small swim-through packed with trumpetfish.

The artificial reef was visible from the wrecks, taking the form of a sculpture park, with huge Roman-style helmets lying upright on the seabed as if recently tossed into the sea by their giant owners.

I encouraged Denise to swim inside one for a photograph. A wall and stone plinths also formed part of the reef project and were already attracting fish life,  together with soft corals. My favourites among the attractions came in the form of a huge fabricated whalebone spine and rib cage that screamed “swim through me”!

Above the noise of my own bubbles, my fantasy childhood adventure story was about to be realised. “You’ll hear it before you see it,” Denise had told me pre-dive, and I was urged to be wary of the submarine’s presence, as its captain isn’t able to steer the machine out of a diver’s way with any precision. Not only that, but the wash from its propellers is reasonably powerful and best avoided.

The yellow submarine cruised past, 10 portholes on each side filled with the faces of excited passengers gazing into an underwater world probably unfamiliar to most. I felt like a celebrity as they snapped away with their camera-phones and waved. Denise had seen this repetitive scenario play out hundreds of times, but for me it was awesome.

OUR SECOND DAY OF DIVING would take us into slightly more serious territory, on the 30m-deep wreck of the fishing-boat Como Tu.

A long descent to a wreck in water this clear is one of the most exciting parts of a dive for me. Seeing the vessel appear on the seabed when you have barely left the surface gives me a real buzz.

The Como Tu fishing-boat wreck.

There’s not really much to look at with the Como Tu, a small fishing-boat with its wheelhouse missing, but the attractions for divers are the butterfly rays that carpet the surrounding seabed, and the clouds of grunt that engulf it.

I fired off one or two token shots of the wreck and, with our bottom time ticking away, we left the wreck to find rays.

During the day the butterfly rays sleep under a sandy blanket, only their faint outline giving them away. When free-swimming they display a highly individual asynchronous finning motion, using their wings alternately.

They’re among the largest and most delicate-looking of the bottom-dwelling rays I have ever seen, with striking patterns emblazoned on their back.

A dose of nitrox would have been perfect for this dive, but it didn’t appear to be on offer, so we enjoyed our 15 minutes on the bottom before climbing the anchor-line back to Rasmus on the boat.

The beauty of diving sites with visibility this good, of course, is that we can go on admiring the area while ascending.

With only two dives left to experience, both quite different again, I was becoming quite attached to Gran Canaria.

Potter, who arrived with a blend of accents and the warmest of welcomes, invited us aboard his enormous catamaran Afrikat. Blue Explorers had recently come up with the idea of using this as a kind of floating base-camp with bar/restaurant, to spoil their diving and non-diving clients even further.

We left the marina aboard the cat, escorted by our RIB loaded with dive-gear, and headed for the Perchel Caves site about half-an-hour away under motor. While we readied ourselves for the diving, the chef prepared the buffet and “divers’ punch” in time for our return.

Perchel sea-caves spread under water along the base of the immense sea-cliffs that line most of this part of the coast. The area of interest to divers lies between 5 and 10m deep, and the caves themselves extend just a few metres at most inland.

Denise located a slipper-lobster on the underside of the first one we came to. Arrow-crabs had been plentiful on our dives and I found heaps of them backed up into cracks all around the sea-caves.

David led me into a shallower cave with a window in the ceiling where I could see the waves crashing against the cliffs above.

We then ventured slightly deeper to enjoy the many swim-throughs and areas with far less natural light.

AFTER 40 MINUTES my thoughts had begun to turn towards the buffet aboard Afrikat, and I found I had developed a bit of thirst for this divers’ punch I’d heard so much about, so we popped up an SMB and waited for our RIB taxi to dinner.

My last dive would be a local dive, just out of the marina and right, known as Mogãn West Drift. It felt as if we might have been in for something uneventful, but it proved to be quite the opposite.

Gemma of Girls That Scuba and I decided to take on the dive by ourselves, while Denise and a student went off on a shallower bimble.

Where the cliffs stop at the water, boulders begin and tumble down onto the sand at 15m. We headed straight for this depth, on the fringes of sand and rock.

Sand-eels poked out of the seabed like bent fingers

and, as they do all over the world, slowly slid back into their holes as we neared.

Quite soon into the dive we were joined by a small African cuttlefish. It was shy at first and kept its distance, but over several minutes it began to venture closer.

My camera dome-port proved interesting to the creature, a behaviour

I had witnessed many times before. My understanding is that the cuttlefish are interested in their own reflection, perhaps mistaking themselves for potential mates.

We kept one eye on the sand in the hope of spotting rays or sharks, but they were elusive on this dive. More cuttlefish joined the party, however, and we knelt for a while watching a trio perform what looked like a mating ritual. These individuals all at once displayed a zebra-like pattern, one I hadn’t seen a cuttlefish create before.

OF ALL THE CEPHALOPODS, for me cuttlefish are as close as you can get to a being from another planet. Their inquisitiveness made them willing models, so Gemma and I took turns in composing the shots we wanted, as the creatures admired themselves continuously.

Post-dive, I was asked what my favourite dive had been during the week, and I couldn’t isolate one. Each dive had provided me with something exciting to look at, or a creature I hadn’t seen before.

Gran Canaria had never appeared on my wish-list of dive destinations before, probably because no-one had told me how fab it was.

During my transfer back to the airport I busied myself with the calendar to see if and when I could fit in a return trip.

Tec-diving is a big deal around Gran Canaria too, and it looks like the kind of place where I might like to take some steps into that world.

I will be back!

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE> Will flew with easyJet but there are a number of budget flights from the UK.

DIVING & ACCOMMODATION> Blue Explorers (Gran Canaria), Puerto Mogãn, blue-explorers.com

WHEN TO GO> Year-round.

MONEY> Euro.

PRICES> Return flights from £94. For four people sharing seven nights’ B&B in a two-bedroom apartment, the price of accommodation is 770 euros. A six-dive package costs 195 euros pp.

VISITOR INFORMATION> grancanaria.com/turismo/en

By |2018-09-25T10:51:05+01:00September 23rd, 2018|Mediterranean, Travel, Travel Features|0 Comments