Tuesday, June 15, 2010

P31 – a jewel in the making

While many divers think that a freshly scuttled wreck is somewhat sterile, there is a good appeal to it.
The P31 was sunk towards the end of last August just under the Tower in Comino. She lies at a depth of 17 metres on white sand and the water is just so unbelievably clear. You do not dive in blue water to see this wreck, you dive in turquoise water. It was August and all you needed was a 1mm suit, it was that warm and being in shallow depth also has its effect.
We set out from Marfa point and kitted up on the boat ride out – a leisurely 10-15 minute cruise from the jetty to underneath the Santa Marija tower. The P-31 is visible from the surface, especially seeing that she lies on a bed of white sand and shows up vividly in the bright seas.

Ben and I were the first to kit up and off we went off the back of the boat. I was actually lucky because I slipped and kind of fell into the water. As always with BCD inflated, there were no injuries, apart from a slight one to my ego.
There was no life on the wreck when we went down, only a few curious little fish having a look here and there. The P-31 is pristine. It’s a lovely descent down, warm all the way to the bottom and it’s a simple case if deflating your BCD and letting yourself just go down. Just before hitting the wreck, it’s a wonderful sensation to just float there, as if you are flying over the wreck. Being at a shallow depth and in incredibly clear water, you can see every bit of detail on her.

All doors have been removed from the wreck to allow entry and steel bars have been put in place to block access to areas that are a bit of a tight fit. Our first stop was the usual tour of the vessel, in through the back down a hatch, and through to the galley. You can even still open and shut the cooker door if you fancy it. From there you can go through into the sleeping quarters, the electronics room and then off into the bow section where you can come up quite nicely under the front of the superstructure. From there its an obligatory stop off at the bridge where you can still play with all the levers and pose for a photograph with the ship’s mascot – Sharkey.
From then on it’s a look at your air supply – and you still have about 150 bar left with a 15 litre tank. So what exactly can you do on a wreck which you have seen end to end and up and down? Do it again from the other side… of course. 

Being in such a safe wreck at a low depth really gives you the confidence to penetrate the vessel, even if it is not your cup of tea. It gives you the facility to practice your entry and exit methods. 

In short, it’s very good practice at doing the ‘real thing’. With 50 bar of air left, we decided that we would take a trip down into the engine room, which was quite fun, especially waving at other divers from the tiny little portholes inside. Another look at the tank and we were on 10 bar, so it really was time to get up and out. We found the anchor and used the line to feel our way up. Then it was time for a quick safety stop – mucking around on the rope for a few minutes and that’s it… dive over.
 Fins off, BCD off and floating in the water and back aboard. A quick kit wash and a cigarette to round off with. The P-31 is not the most interesting of dives, but it certainly offers something just that little bit different. I certainly can't wait to dive on it this summer!

Technical details

The P-31 was scuttled off Comino in the area known as Tal-Matz in August 2009. She is a former German Democratic Republic (East) minesweeper of the Kondor Class. She was commissioned in 1969 and was transferred to the Maltese Maritime Squadron in 1992. She served until 2002. Her most notable adventure was the rescue of 251 illegal immigrants off a leaking ship in Force 6 winds in 2002. She is 51.98 metres long and has a displacement of 361 tons. Her sister ship the P-29 is a slightly more challenging dive just off Cirkewwa.

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