Ex Maltese Mission – Cambridge University Air Squadron

Day 1 saw a total of 8 members of Cambridge University Air Squadron (CUAS), travel to Malta for Exercise Maltese Mission after meeting at Cambridge Headquarters at an early time of 03:30 before heading to Luton Airport for the flight to Malta. After about an hour’s delay due to fog we landed in Malta around 10:00 and immediately upon arriving we distributed diving kit out to each individual, checked into our accommodation (Clover Holiday Complex) and met the staff who would be instructing our diving (Mark Instance, Sam Goodwin, Ken Scott and Pat Woods). After hitting the ground running by taking the BSAC open water theory test, we then took some time to acclimatise to the area, including sampling local food and attempting to speak the Maltese language in the local area much to the amusement and confusion of the Maltese population.

Day 2 began with glorious sunshine and a luxurious 08:00 start before going to the dive centre to pick up the final items of kit needed for diving. This included lead weights needed for buoyancy, regulator attachments for the cylinders to attach to our regulators and gas cylinders which we were unable to take aboard civilian airlines. Once our kit was assembled, we headed down to Serena Bay in St. Pauls Bay for a refresher of the skills we had been previously taught in the pool at RAF Halton. Despite the failure of several key pieces of gear including a BCD and a regulator, all squadron members completed 2 dives which included basic drills and saw us dive down to a level of 6 metres. Some members however were forced to rent kit from the dive centre to replace the failed equipment.

The following day another 08:00 meet heralded another day of fulfilling diving, this time with each member completing 2 dives to the wreck of HMS Maori which had been sunk of the coast of Malta during WW2 before her remains were moved to a more accessible depth of 14m so novice divers like ourselves could train using her. Along with practicing buoyancy, regulator loss and mask clearing drills, exploration of the wreck uncovered shells from 1941 and the discovery of a plastic poppy which had been placed to commemorate the sailors lost aboard the Maori. Diving finished around 3pm and we spent the rest of the day in lessons or retaking theory tests to gain our diving qualifications.

After meeting at 08:00 on day 4 and picking up the dive gear we travelled to Cirkewwa Point. Once there we again practiced skills and improved on our buoyancy. We also moved on to giving our own SEEDS briefs which are the final safety and planning discussions before a dive and practicing being dive leaders in our buddy pairs. The Sports Divers among the group have also advanced and are training in the use of inflatable buoys and other equipment. Daily theory lessons have started for the sports divers in order for them to have the knowledge to attempt the theory test needed for their qualification.

For Day 5 we returned to Cirkewwa Point in order for the CUAS members trying to gain Ocean divers to complete their qualifications by leading a dive in an area that was familiar to them. To do this, each student that was tested had to give a fully briefed (SEEDS) dive and control the dive from beginning to end. This included controlling the direction and duration of dive along with managing the gas levels and decompression stops of both themselves and their dive buddy. Congratulations must be given to Off Cdts Northcote, Banks and APO Hawker for passing their leads and qualifying as an Ocean diver. The Sports divers meanwhile practiced rescue breaths in the water during their dives and CPR on land.

Day 6 saw a change of location and we travelled to the Blue Grotto. The final Ocean divers qualified today with Off Cdts Janota and Bott successfully completing their leads while some of the Sports Divers and some of the qualified Ocean Divers progressed to a deeper wreck of around 20m. Lectures continued for the Sports Divers with the main focus being use of tables involved with using a Nitrox breathing gas and diving at different altitudes in the same day.

Due to 5 days of continuous diving, Day 7 was used as a de-gassing day and we travelled to Malta’s capital city of Valletta to experience the Island’s culture and history. While many areas were closed due to the fact it was a public holiday we learnt about Malta’s role during WW2 by visiting the Presidential Palace, Fort Elmo and the National gardens. Malta is unique in being awarded a George Cross for its efforts during WW2. We also observed the firing of a gun which was previously used to protect the harbour. This transpired to be a small part of a much larger tradition of firing guns every hour, which in the past was used for ships to calibrate their clocks so they could determine their longitude while at sea.

On day 8, diving was restricted to a single dive in St. Paul’s Bay close to our accommodation due to an unforeseen cycling event and the wind being unfavourable at Anchor point. Despite these setbacks the sports divers nonetheless used the day to experience diving with 28% Nitrox (an Air mixture which has 28% oxygen in it) while all other CUAS members dived with normal air in 15L tanks. The aim of the dive was to reach 20m depth before locating a cave. Only one CUAS member (Off-Cdt Northcote) achieved both aims with the other members either being unable to find the cave due to a navigational error or being unable to reach 20m due to ear issues. Sports diver lectures continued today with an emphasis on the tables used to calculate Nitrox consumption and extended use at different altitudes.

The next day an earlier meet of 07:10 saw CUAS head to the smaller island of Gozo (which lies to the NW of Malta) after picking up kit, in order to dive the renowned Inland Sea Tunnel, the Azure Window and the Blue Pool. The first wave saw the Blue Pool and the Azure Window being dived before the second wave where the Inland Sea Tunnel was explored. A boat ride of the surrounding caves and sea was also undertaken and a medieval fort (on land) was visited which was built by the order of St John. Congratulations must go to Sqn Ldr Kellett, APO Apthorp and Off-Cdt Kierman who all passed their Sports Diver theory tests. A special mention must also go to APO Hawker who despite a plethora of kit failures including his mask and right fin at 18m managing to complete both dives without having to surface prematurely.

Day 10 saw many members of CUAS undertake their first boat dive with all members completing 2 dives including a visit to the ‘Maltese Chimney’ (A Large ‘’L shaped tunnel of around 14-18m depth) and the wreck of a P31 patrol ship at 17m within the area of St. Pauls Bay. Although not all members were able to locate the chimney, everyone found the P31 wreck and took turns to dive the entire length of the vessel which was surprisingly well preserved for over 7 years of being underwater. In addition to this the Sports Divers all completed a depth progression to 25m. Diving off a boat presented some unique extra challenges to CUAS members who had to contend with the problems of limited space and the effects of seasickness.

The 23rd marked our final 2 dives in Malta which were completed just off the capital of Valletta, quite close to the wreck of the HMS Maori which we had visited on Day 3. This time however CUAS members explored the much older wreck of a 110m Italian steamer sunk in the opening moments of WW2. Despite the cold waters and worsening weather we were reluctant to stop diving and return to the UK. After finishing our final dives we returned to the Dive centre for the penultimate time to wash and prep our kit for the journey home. These final dives meant that over the 11 days of training, CUAS members had together achieved a total of 72 hours and 27 minutes dive time, with 5 Ocean Diver and 3 Sports Diver Qualifications being achieved in the process. A fantastic achievement by all.

Our penultimate day was a relaxing but somber event as we packed the final items of our diving kit for the journey home and said goodbye to the dive staff at the dive centre for helping us in prepping, maintaining and storing our kit. There would be no diving today due to us needing to completely de-gas and remove the excess nitrogen from our systems so there was no risk of DCI (Decompression Illness) during the flight home. Once the kit was dry and had been stowed and accounted for, CUAS members explored the culture and history of Malta’s previous capital of Mdina and the nearby town of Ribat, the views of Malta from Mdina’s walled battlements are of special mention. Finally, CUAS members went for an end of expedition meal to thank the instructors for their time, effort and patience and presented them with glasses engraved with their names and the expedition crest.

The final day of the expedition was a later start of 09:15 due to the absence of diving, and after packing our personal kit we headed to the airport for an 11:45 flight to London Luton Airport. After landing at 14:10 we returned the diving kit to the AT store at Cambridge Headquarters before going our separate ways. Special thanks must go to Off Cdt Jess Northcote, Sgt Andy Morris and Sqn Ldr Kellett for organizing and leading the expedition.

DIVE STATISTICS

Name Total Dive Time Qualification Achieved
Sqn Ldr Kellett 9hrs 36 minutes Sports Diver
APO Hawker 8hrs 21 minutes Ocean Diver
APO Apthorp 9hrs 37 minutes Sports Diver
Off Cdt Janota 9hrs 08 minutes Ocean Diver
Off Cdt Bott 8hrs 34 minutes Ocean Diver
Off Cdt Kierman 9hrs 15 minutes Sports Diver
Off Cdt Northcote 9hrs 04 minutes Ocean Diver
Off Cdt Banks 8hrs 52 minutes Ocean Diver

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

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