Stephanie had told us that a must in Palau was a day-trip on one of the many boats in the harbour to visit beaches around the archipelago.
We joined her recommended boat, owned and captained by Franco of Palau Blue Tours, and spent a perfect day swimming, snorkelling, enjoying local cheese, salami and olives from Franco’s own grove as well as a tasty fresh pasta main course, all washed down with plenty of cold northern Sardinian white wine.
Clockwise from top left: Saupe whistle as they swim; Piseinotecus soussi nudibranch; anemone; Tubastrea cup coral is found on rocks at many sites; red scorpionfish; ornate wrasse; Cratena peregrina; rainbow wrasse.
For our final day’s diving, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sea’s surface was mirror-calm as we approached the dive-boat, with just the slightest hint of wind. Vinny looked excited.
It had been the best weather for some weeks, so he had decided to make the 60-minute trip to the northernmost part of the marine park, Lavezzi island in Corsica.
There were a few more divers than our normal 10-12 that day, so Julie would accompany the dive-boat in the RIB with three more divers.
Enjoying the early-morning sun on the top deck, we chatted to Swiss diver Frank, who visited Sardinia regularly.
He usually dived home lakes and rivers, so appreciated the warmth of the Med, but it was also his view that the marine park at La Maddalena rivalled and exceeded many more tropical destinations.
Vinny chose Secca di Ponente as our dive-site, telling us about the unusual brown and sargassum algae normally found there but rarely seen elsewhere.
The site went down to 40m and was, he said, favoured by technical divers.
The lovely Brittany, from the east Midlands, was our dive-guide, carrying out her first dive at the site.
The beauty of the rocks astounded me. It looked like a fairy-land, coated as it was in a swaying mass of small individual algae plants like cotton wool, bright green sargassum weed and brown wispy algae, and dotted with mermaid cups and white cup coral. Dentex and hundreds of brightly coloured wrasse swirled about.
As we went deeper, purple and orange gorgonian sea-fans grew all over the rock face. Orange and yellow cup coral, red, orange and bright blue sponges vied for space among the algae.
Sizeable white and red starfish clung to the walls of rock, and nudibranchs and flatworms competed with their colour and patterns. The colours were incredible.
I didn’t want the dive to end but, down to 50 bar, I reluctantly signalled to Brittany and we started our ascent.
As we moved up over the rocks, eight beautiful fish I had never seen before schooled around the rocks.
Smooth and shiny, yellow in colour with brown fins, I found out later that they were sea bream, which have a pearly structure in their foreheads through which they make a whistling sound.
Vinny was very happy when I shouted to him that the gorgonians were back. Before the dive he had told me that unusually warm waters had seen them off the previous summer.