Monday, October 4, 2010

The Imperial Eagle and the Christ statue

We set off early doors from the dive centre in St. Paul's Bay to catch a luzzu out to the site of the Imperial Eagle and the Christ statue. A couple of mates, Karl and Claudia,  asked me to join their group for a boat dive to visit the Eagle and by default, the statue. I had never been diving with them before, but we are at about the same level and decided a group trip would be nice. For me, it was a chance to meet different people on the local dive scene as well as a first visit to this particular site. I can never resist the lure of a wreck, so I thought why not.
We prepped up on the jetty, loaded up and off we went. On the way there we kitted up and Karl and I buddied up and we split into groups of four. Our guides were Nat and Reiny (cheers lads) and we were the last to go down. The descent on the line is a fast one, and if you can get your equalizing right first time, you can pretty much descend all at one go and hit the bottom at 42 metres. The first things that come into view are the posedonia meadows, giving you a sense of perspective. You sink pretty fast and the viz isn't that great, it was about 15 metres at best when we were there. Anyhow, we went round the the Imperial Eagle first as the Christ statue was a bit busy.
The Eagle is a grand old lady. She looks ancient and feels very much as if she belongs in another era, and that is probably because she does. She was launched as the New Royal Lady in 1938 and served as a pleasure cruiser ironically near where I used to live on the spectacular coast of North East England. She was used in Scarborough and Whitby, two fantastic and picturesque towns I know very well. She was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and was later attached to the US fleet. She survived the war and was put back to work, first as on the Firth of Forth, then on London's Thames and finally, on a regular ferry route in Southend.
The Crested Eagle, as she was then known, was purchased by E Zammit & Co Malta and was renamed the Imperial Eagle. She was put on the Mgarr to Marfa route and served it for an amazing ten years from 1958 to 1968. She was then sold on and was used to transport animals and cargo to and from Gozo. In 1999 she was  scuttled at her present resting place - half a kilometre off Qawra point. If she seems big, that's because she is, she is 141 feet long and could take 70 passengers and 10 cars. She has been underwater for close to 10 years now and sports some thick vegetation. Your first stop will probably be the wheelhouse, a nice experience and then you can head round the side and swim under the propellers which are still clear. From there you might want to head up and over into the aft section, where you can worm your way through the missing decking to enter the bowels of the ship and descend right into the keel. For more information check out
From there, you can head round to the Christ Statue. This impressive, larger than life 13-tonne fibreglass covered concrete statue was designed by Alfred Camilleri Cauchi.  It had cost over Lm1,000 and was commissioned by a committee of divers led by Raniero Borg purposely set up to commemorate Pope John Paul II  visit to Malta where it was lowered onto the seabed close to St Paul's Islands.  Ten years after it was lifted out of the water and once again lowered out at sea, this time off Qawra Point. The statue is impressive to say the least and it takes on a life of its own under water. It is well worth spending a couple of minutes just looking at the statue from different angles as it really is a work of art with a difference.
From there, you can take a leisurely swim under a natural arch formation and make your way back to the line. If you are lucky, you will not have racked up too much deco time

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