A YEAR HAS ELAPSED since the 2017 Birmingham Dive Show, where the seed was first sewn for a group trip to the Azores, led by fellow underwater photographer Martyn Guess, primarily to see the blue sharks.
Sure, you can go down to Cornwall (the journey is almost as long as to the Azores from London) where, with Charles Hood’s very polished act, you can virtually guarantee a sighting on any of his popular trips. But while I struggled to come to terms with the cost of an Azores holiday, I realised that this was going to be a very different type of trip.
It turned out to be worth every penny; we were to be guinea pigs, this being a first for Scuba Travel, our tour operator.
Let me just put the Azores on the map. This crop of nine volcanic islands, which extend over an area of some 370 miles, sits in the middle of the Atlantic, 1000 miles west of Portugal, to which they belong, and 1200 hundred miles south-east of Newfoundland, Canada. “If measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks, which thrust high above the surface of the Atlantic, the Azores are actually some of the tallest mountains on the planet,” says Wikipedia.
We were based on Faial in a hotel with a dining room the unrivalled position of which gave us spectacular views directly onto the harbour and the dramatic volcano of Pico opposite. This is the highest point in Portugal, at 2351m.
Every morning we would arrive for breakfast in time to witness the rising of the sun at the left-hand corner of this ominous-looking peak, which was almost always obscured by an ever-changing wardrobe of clouds.
This is not your regular warmwater dive-trip, where you casually don a 3mm suit and slip into 30°C water. I hadn’t realised quite how like British diving this was going to be, and I thought I’d given all that up!
At 22°, some people needed 7mm of neoprene. I found a 5mm semi-dry just fine, although it was quite irritating to have to go and buy yet another new suit because an old and perfectly good suit had shrunk so much with age.
With a little shower gel, however (biodegradable, of course), it slipped on easily enough.
There were eight of us. All of our dives were by fast RIB and none of the sites, apart from Princess Alice Banks, of which more later, was far away.