Monday, July 19, 2010

The Carolita - a ghost

The X-Lighter is one of those dives that you had better get done quick smart if you want to add it to you logbook. She is in danger of being lost to development right next to the dive site.
It is by no means an easy one and divers should have achieved good buoyancy skills before attempting it. It is located just underneath the Manoel Island Infirmiary where it was sunk during the last World War.
Getting into the water is the easy part. It’s a one-metre drop giant stride entry, but it’s not that easy and you have to present yourself at the gate of Manoel Island and tell the people at the gate that you intend to go diving.
Once you plunge into the water, you realize that the colour of the water is green and that there are a very many viz-reducing particles in the water. The wreck starts very shallow as is it sunk length-ways, one its belly on a slope leading from about 9 metres to 20 metres. It is 30 metres long.
Despite the limited viz, you see her immediately and she is like no other wreck in Malta. Firstly, being of the design that she is, there is none of the usual superstructure you would expect on a war wreck. She is largely smooth and there is little in the ways of penetration. There are a few small hatches, especially towards the deep end, but you must be very careful. There are silt deposits on the wreck itself, but once you try and get inside somewhere and fin – visibility can be reduced to as little as a couple of metres.  If you stir up the silt, you literally have to move up or down the wreck to get out of the green clouds.
You can also see where the ship’s hull was ripped apart by the blast if you just continue to swim down towards the bottom. It is not a deep dive. Being in such shallow water, a 15 or a 20-litre tank can give you plenty of time to explore and the area beneath the old naval hospital is a goldmine for ‘treasure’ hunters. You can find old NAAFI  cups, hospital bedsteads, ancient alcohol bottles, bed pans and goodness knows what else. Apart from that there’s not much else to do apart from perhaps practice some skills in a very silted environment.  You should also be very careful to check for passing traffic when resurfacing – remember it is a port.
And this is where the important bit is. Before diving, you should attach a rope to the jetty to haul yourself up. There is a development site next door and the watchmen are most unfriendly – picking on people who might climb up a sea wall which is on ‘their side of the fence’. It really is not worth the hassle.

Technical details: 
The X 131 is one of the 200 Lighters constructed for the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Designed by Walter Pollocks & Son of Faversham in Kent. The X 131 took action in the Dardanelles Campaign but by 1921, the ship was in Malta and was converted into a Water Carrier. The wreck had different names, Coralita, Coral, Carolita and was at one point even mistaken for the wreck of an English Submarine. On the night of 21st April 1942 it received a torpedo hit in her stern and sank immediately.
For years, the wreck was thought to be an ordinary barge until David Mallard, an archaeological diver from the Isle of Wight, carried out an underwater survey and confirmed the vessel's historical significance. 
"The wreck has been on the charts for 40 to 50 years. Any development should have taken that into account. Now it The X-131 Water lighter remains in almost perfect condition even though it is 100 years old and Mr Mallard believes it can remain like that for at least another century if steps are taken to protect it. The only other known surviving example is moored on the River Thames.

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