I’ve been diving in these waters since I learnt to dive some 20 years ago, and only regret not having started sooner!
The gulf’s central section consists mainly of sandy bottoms and nothing much to see, but the dive-sites lie on its edges, south towards Maratea and north towards Marina di Camerota and Capo Palinuro.
There is only one dive-centre there, Profondo Blu, set up a few years ago by Sapri-born and bred Antonio Chiacchio.
A young man with a passion for diving, Antonio wanted to share his love of the sea with others. He takes us under his wing every summer and his enthusiasm for the area is contagious. He and business partner Vincenzo Dell’Olio run a smooth, professional operation and, since diving with the centre, we’ve seen things we had never seen before around there.
Antonio is a cave-diving enthusiast, and has discovered a couple of new sites in recent years. There are many famous caves, some of which require technical-diving abilities and a local guide to avoid fatal accidents (of which, sadly, there have been a few in nearby Palinuro).
Many caverns are suitable even for beginners. One is the Grotta di Santa Maria, where Antonio guided us this year.
The entrance is from a small bay at a depth of around 10m. The thermocline hit us as soon as we entered, and through the fuzzy water and the torch’s beam we saw two thick stalagmites rising to the left, shaped by centuries of Nature’s efforts.
A couple of black shrimps scuttled away.
Towards the back the cavern was so shallow that we were able to surface and marvel at the vast stalactite-clad ceiling.
The site hid more surprises, with a small pebble beach revealing a stone staircase used long ago by locals to collect fresh water. The water is drinkable, clear and, despite the cold, incredibly pleasant.
The site is called Santa Maria because one of the rock formations at the back of the beach looks – with a fair amount of imagination – like the Virgin Mary.