Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Billinghurst Cave and Reqqa Point

3 August

Me with the cave entrance in the background
Photo Jason Fabri
Today was my first dedicated cave dive at the Billinghurst Cave near Qbajjar in Gozo. It was an early doors start, catching the 8.15am ferry to Gozo. After landing, we headed off to Zebbug and wound our way down the precarious road and tracks to the Billinghurst Cave entry site, near Reqqa point. Getting to the Cave entry site is a bit of an operation and you have to be very careful to avoid falling onto the very sharp rocks. You cannot exit the water from there and you have to swim round Reqqa Point to get out of the water.
But back to the cave. Buddy check, inflate BCD, giant stride and a one-metre drop into the water. It was a relief in the 30 degree heat. A quick ok and off you go, a quick decent to 20-29 metres and the cavern opens up. You look down the 120-metre long tunnel and all you see is black. As I have mentioned, this was my first cave dive, but we had torches and the experienced Jason Fabri from Watercolours Dive School with us, so I wasn’t overly concerned. A good tip is that if you feel claustrophobic, just look back, there is a massive turquoise window that is very reassuring.
Coral in the cave
Photo il-Bagigu
It is worth noting that the cave tunnel allows for three divers to easily swim up to the cave side by side. At a squeeze four can do it.  It is a sandy bottom too and there is not much danger of silting either. If you look at the walls on your way in, there is a lot of coral and a lot of miniscule sea life, but more on that later, you get to see it in its full glory on the way out.
The journey into the tunnel is a bit eerie, and you do have to do some torch waving to ensure that your group sticks together. But, it is perfectly acceptable to use the torch in burst flashes rather than as a continuous beam.
There are also some reassuring lines which have been put in place to guide you in or out of the tunnel. It is also slightly deceiving as you do not all of a sudden come to the surface. The tunnel slopes up gently and after a final gentle bend to the right, you come across a tighter area where the height of the tunnel shortens to about five metres. You negotiate some boulders and that is your final cue. If you look up, you can see that you are near the surface.
Me in the Billinghurst Cave
Photo Jason Fabbri
There are no obstructions and the dome of the cave is more than big enough to allow you to surface without worry. Once you do, you look at the majesty of it all and realize that you are at sea level and that the roof of the cave is a good 10 feet above you.
A few deep breaths of air, blow your nose and turn on the torches and you are in a place where not many others have been before.  You feel elated, full of wonder and you realize that you must be directly under a hill because the dome is so high above sea level.  A couple of jokes and photographs later and it’s time to leave.
We decided that we would head back out without torchlight and just aim for the turquoise window. You do not see it at first because it is round the bend, but you do see a faint glimmer that is ‘round the corner’. A small word of advice – wear gloves and a full length suit if it’s your first time. You can kind of bump and scrape across a few rocks and you can get some cuts and grazes if not careful. But do try and fin and wave your arms – the bioluminescence show which you receive in return is absolutely spectacular.
Photo Jason Fabri
 On the way out, it's an even better treat as hundreds of fish, jellyfish and various other forms of undisturbed marine life come to literally, check you out. Groupers, mauve stingers, kahli; the range of life is incredible. Do keep a watch on your dive computer though, it's all to easy to forget that this has been two dives in one. The exit points can be a bit dodgy, especially if the sea is a bit rough. 
You might want to attach some rope to a couple of places, just in case it's a bit too difficult to get out. The swim round the drop off is quite fascinating and the underwater topography is quite stunning. This is a great dive. And it's unspoilt. Check out the videos by Jason, featured below.

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