Diving around Europe in winter can be chilly and in a lot of places require a dry suit, however in less than 3 hours from most UK airports there are waters that can still be dived in a wet suit, even in December. I knew that I wanted to get in the water and have the best experience possible, with regards to the current wave and wind conditions and water temperature. The Costa del Sol in Southern Spain was my location of choice and so I set about picking the best dive operator. Online research showed that there were a few dive centres along the coast and I singled one out as a favourite straight away – Simply Diving in Torremolinos. They claim to be the only British-run PADI 5 Star Career Development Centre in Spain. Quite an attractive statement!
Simply Diving have a very user friendly website and having made my initial enquiry I got a quick reply with lots of information from Simon, the owner. After an initial chat to see what I wanted he passed my information to Shani, the centre manager, to handle the logistics.
Diving in December generally does not present the best visibility around Europe; however I am not particularly bothered about poor visibility as long as there is still something to see. My last dives were in Silfra in Iceland – the purest, clearest water in the world, with visibility over a 100m at times. I knew nothing was going to compare to that! I like to spot nudibranchs (sea slugs) and I knew that the waters around Southern Spain were rife with them. I also knew Octopus were often spotted here too, but it was the nudis I was most interested in.
On the day of my dive, we met at their offices in the morning and got sized up for kit. All of their kit is Scubapro and looked to be in good condition. I met the dive team for the day – Instructor Dan, Dive Master Paco and a couple from the Netherlands who had been diving for the past few days. We then drove to the dive site – Fraggle Rock, near Nerja. The hour and a half drive was broken up by a short stop at a service station to use the facilities and get any snacks we wanted.
In the dive site car park, Dan and Paco spoke of a Sunfish that had been spotted on this site a few days previously. This got all of our attention! Dan gave a dive briefing including who would be with who and a description of the site. Fraggle Rock is an underwater seamount which we would circle around and then make our way back towards shore. The group consisted of an Open Water Diver, an Advanced Open Water Diver, Instructor Dan, Dive Master Paco and I. I am also an Instructor, but today I am holiday!
After kitting up and doing a buddy check we made a small walk along the beach towards our entry point. I had been told that the water was 15 degrees the previous day, but this mild temperature didn’t bother me as I had a 5mm long suit, with a 5mm shorty over the top. I also had a 5mm hood and 6.5mm gloves. I normally feel the cold and often have numb hands at the end of dives. The day of our dive was hot and I was roasting by the time we got to the water so I was glad of the cooler temperature. The first thing that struck me about the water was the taste – it didn’t taste very salty. I have dived in the Mediterranean Sea previously and thought it was very salty, but today, not so much.
After the 5 of us made a short swim to the buoy line, Dan separated the buddy pairs in to descent teams so we didn’t all descend together. I had been impressed by Dan continually throughout the morning and we weren’t even under water yet!
When it was our turn to descend, Dan and I dropped in together. Visibility wasn’t as bad as I had expected! We dropped down the buoy line and the first thing I saw on the rocks was a tri-colour Doris. A beautiful nudibranch, about 12cm in length. I knew this was going to be a great dive! Dan and Paco led the group and I happily followed on at the back spotting nudi, after nudi, after nudi. Then Dan came and tapped me on the shoulder and made a sign that looked a lot like he was saying they had spotted a ray. A ray? Surely I had misunderstood? Then he pointed it out, hiding under a rocky overhang. There it was, a marbled electric ray. The dive continued like that, there was just so much to see down there. Dan made sure that the whole group had seen everything each time, kept checking we were happy and how much air we had left. When one of the divers got low, he and Paco exited and I continued with Dan and the other diver.
Throughout the dive we spotted many species of Doris, many flabellinas and other aeolid nudibranchs, a few lady godivas and lots of other different nudibranchs, in all shapes and sizes. It would be fair to say that I was happy with my nudi fix! We also spotted a common octopus, a Mediterranean moray eel, a rather large common cuttlefish, many scorpionfish, blennys, bream, anemones, large hermit crabs, and spiral tube worms together with soft and hard corals, sponges and tunicates.
I didn’t want the dive to end. I wasn’t cold and I loved spotting the nudis. However, like all good things, Dan signalled that it was time for our safety stop as we swam back along some shallow rocks.
One of the things I love about diving is that from the surface of the water, you have no idea what is under there and no inkling as what delights, vibrant colours and crazily shaped living things live down there. You have got to go there and become a part of the ocean to really appreciate it. You have to become as relaxed as the fish for them to accept you into their world. Looking back across the surface, after a dive, you know what is down there, but the surface mirrors the secrets, and only people who have been there know them.
After our post dive de-brief we were offered refreshments of beer and muffins. What a great way to end a fantastic dive. I just wish I had more time for another dive. I will definitely be back with Simply Diving as they proved to be a knowledgeable and fun outfit, and it’s all do-able in a weekend from the UK! There are so many more dive sites that I would love to explore along the Costa del Sol. Next up on the hit list is Gibraltar, with its’ sunken wrecks and diverse marine life. I hear it is possible to dive with the pelagic fish of the Atlantic and then go nudi spotting in the Med on the same day!