Trip Report: Xatt L-Ahmar, Gozo
By Fritz Farrugia
Possibly the most versatile diving location in Gozo, noting all the various factors that make a dive site great, is Xatt L-Ahmar, literally translated as “The Red Shore.”
It is positioned at the southern side of Gozo, Malta’s second largest island, forming part of the Maltese archipelago. Xatt L-Ahmar is protected from the predominant north-westerly wind, sitting close to Mgarr Harbour and surrounded by countryside and natural beauty. The area is popular with trekkers, with a small beach close by. But, besides that, the location is isolated and remains an undisturbed playground for those of us who find the meaning of life underwater.
Xatt L-Ahmar was recently given a facelift, with ample parking and more importantly, setup areas—ideal whether you are carrying one cylinder or are more technically inclined. The bathymetry in the area provides divers with a shelf along the coast with an average depth of 6m and a with short swim southward, a drop off to 30m+, with depths gradually increasing as you head further out. The upper shelf is primarily rock and boulders and the bottom is primarily sand. What lies further afield ensures this is one of the best dive sites in Gozo, offering both newbies, recreational, and technical divers with three different wrecks to explore.
The MV Comino Land, the MV Karwela and the MV Xlendi Wrecks
MV Comino Land was built in England in 1942 by Philip & Son Ltd and named Minor Eagle, weighing in at 295 tons. It was a passenger vessel with a length of hull (LOA) of 34m and a beam of 8m, first registered in Malta in 1992 and used until her day of scuttling as a passenger carrying vessel around the Maltese islands.
MV Karwela was built in West Germany in 1957 by Jos. L. Meyer, weighing in at 497 ton. It was a passenger vessel with a LOA of 48m and a beam of 8m. It was registered in Malta in 1992 and used until her day of scuttling as a passenger carrying vessel around the Maltese islands.
MV Xlendi, built in Denmark by Helsingar Ship Builders, was used as a ferry connecting the islands of Gozo and Malta. On the 12th November 1999, the day of her scuttling, what could have been a very interesting wreck to dive, turned, literally, into a wreck with limited interest. Operations did not go to plan, with the vessel capsizing on the way down. The vessel ended up lying hull-up and penetration was now restricted, following a fatality on the same wreck.
All three wrecks lie approximately equidistant from the shore in a parallel line. Signage at the setup area clearly defines the vessels’ positions and what bearing to take to explore the wrecks.
Open Water Divers
For those of you visiting Gozo to learn how to dive, Xatt L-Ahmar would satisfy open water requirements. With the shelf at 6m and depths gradually dropping to 12m, your first steps (or to be more correct, fins) in the underwater world will be done safely. Although the wrecks at this stage remain beyond your competence levels, the shelf offers a lot to keep you occupied. Cuttlefish, Octopus and Sea Horses are easily found in the area, as long as you have any eye for them. Your instructor should be able to point them out for you. Swim along the coast and let the sense of neutral buoyancy and freedom take care of the rest. Remember, we are visitors into a realm that is home to other sentient beings, so respect the area and leave it as you found it.
More experienced Recreational Divers
For the recreational divers, who have a level of competence that allows them to dive to 40m, the wrecks are calling. Pick a wreck, get the bearing and go for it. I would recommend that the swim is either done at the surface, with the wrecks marked with special mark buoys in the summer months or stay shallow until the wreck is visible. This will ensure you maximize your permitted no staged deco run time, allowing you to maximize your bottom time before entering staged decompression obligations.
If you opt for Comino Land, ensure you have a good look under her stern. It’s always an interesting place to start, but look out for Common Lobster. Admittedly, this is deemed a very rare sighting, but they have been sighted on several occasions and until you look you will never be sure. From there, start your ascent to the upper decks and explore the remainder of the wreck, well-lit with various safe penetrations and numerous exits.
MV Karwela is more popular. The central wreck also includes various penetrations and levels to explore, and offers all divers a great way of spending their relatively limited time underwater. For the macro photographer, both wrecks usually have numerous nudibranchs, who as you know, happily sit there to be photographed. No doubt, they are one of the best underwater models.
MV Xlendi is fun to fin over and take in her beautiful hull lines and propellers, which to this day look perplexed and unsure as to their orientation, as if they are still wondering what happened. It is the third and most western wreck to explore.
For Tech Divers
For those of us who spend more hours setting up our gear than actually diving, carrying multiple cylinders and definitely opting for black whenever possible, Xatt L-Ahmar, with its setup area, bathymetry and availability of wrecks is not one to miss, especially if deeper dives are planned later on in the week and a shakedown dive is required. Noting the predominant wind from the North West, bear off to the MV Comino Land, then head West to the MV Karwela and after that, the MV Xlendi. With the North West blowing and bottom currents set to the West, starting off at the MV Comino Land allows us to take advantage of nature to get to our destination. In the shallows on your way back, sea surface current will be setting to the East, so your return journey is also covered.
Not exactly a drift dive, but the little bit of current there is, does help. Based on your bottom time, heading westwards unfolds additional areas to explore. The return journey and the various staged decompression depths can be carried out along the wall and eventually on the shelf, with various critters keeping us busy whilst our time to surface drops to 0 min.
So, for those of you visiting Gozo, be it for an all-inclusive diving holiday or those of you looking for your first underwater adventure, Xatt L-Ahmar is one of the many dive sites in Gozo that will leave you wanting more, dreaming of your next dive and exploration.