Diving - The adventure continues!
2021 Diving - The Zenobia, Cyprus
And so, after 3 cancellations and 18 months of delays, I was finally off to Cyprus to do my dives on the Zenobia, a trip I had originally scheduled for March 2020!
The Zenobia was a new truck ferry that de"veloped computer problems which eventually caused it to capsize off of Larnaca in 1980. It lies in around 42M of water, complete with most of its cargo of trucks - Read more here.
The weather in the UK remained good on the Wednesday after the Hazardous project days, so I was able to dry out my BCD before packing and I set off around midday for Gatwick.
At the time, Cyprus was on the Amber list for COVID travel restrictions meaning I needed a lateral flow test before returning to the UK and a PCR test by day 2 after my return (bizarrely, the day I returned was counted as day 0!), but I didn't need any tests to get into Cyprus, just evidence that I had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which I had.
The flight left at a leisurely 3PM, but with a 4.5 hour flight and a 2 hour time difference, this meant we landed around 10PM and, after a bit of a mix up, I didn't get my pre-arranged taxi to my apartment until nearly midnight.
On one hand I was delighted to find that the entrance to the apartment was right between two offices occupied by Dive-In, who I'd booked my diving with, but the lobby looked pretty grim, with leaflets scattered over the flow and plain concrete walls. The apartment, too, looked a bit uninviting in twilight, but I was too tired to do much than happily find there was aircon in the bedroom and go to bed.
Next morning, in sunlight, the apartment looked far nicer and I enjoyed a cereal bar and a cup of coffee on the small balcony overlooking the sea, before taking my gear down, pleased to see that someone had tidied the litter from the lobby, too.
The Zenobia wreck
I was greeted by Hannah and Valentis from Dive-In and quickly assembled my gear onto a 15l cylinder of air.
This, and the rest of my gear, was loaded onto a pickup and driven the short distance to the fishing harbour, where the dive-boat (A hardboat, it turned out their RHIB had hit a problem, so we used this each day for my dives, but the day I returned, their own boat was back in action) was waiting. I chatted to some fellow divers as we walked the short distance to the boat.
Loading the dive boat
The journey out started at 9AM and by 9:05 we were onsite and kitting up, I'd chosen to wear just my 2mm CRESSI shorty wet suit, but most people had longer, thicker suits and I even saw people in full drysuits with undersuits!
The first days' diving was relatively gentle, but that was fine for me, and the other people I dived with, a British woman called Sue (her husband was also diving, but only being an Ocean Diver, stayed shallow) and a Ukrainan called Natalia.
Valentis was my guide for the first 3 (of 4) days diving I did.
For the first dive, we stayed outside, exploring the stern doors and open cargo deck.
We entered via the stern shot, secured to the starboard screw.
First sight of the Zenobia, the rear ramps
Dropping down towards the starboard screw
We dropped down to the hull, looked at the prop and then around to the stern doors/ramps, where we could see a couple of lorries lying on the seabed (wreck lies on its port side).
A couple of lorries lie on the seabed here
We headed through a gap between the ramps and to the open cargo deck where lorries and trailers were scattered around.
We swam up to the gantry between the two funnels and then turned back towards the the stern, past the mast and then swam around the stern ramp winch mechanism and then ascended via the shot.
Valentis hovers over a lorry
Between dives the boat moved up to the Bow mooring point, secured to the starboard bow thruster, and we relaxed for an hour or so, enjoying the sight of a turtle close to the boat.
My fellow divers pass another couple of lorries
Fairly soon, though, the call come to kit up again.
Descending the bow shotline, we headed over the superstructure and then to a door in the front starboard side that led to the cafeteria.
Inside the cafeteria
Looking back along the cabin corridor, everything is at 90 degrees!
We passed through the seating/serving area, with red check carpet visible.
I spotted a turtle below us as we moved out of this area down a corridor of cabins, with toilets and shower fittings.
Windows let in a lot of light in this section.
At the end of the corridor we turned right, across the wreck to look at the lifeboats, davits, masts and a large deck crane.
Heading towards the bridge
One of the lifeboats
We swam up to the front of the superstructure, having a quick look inside the bridge and then back to the shot.
Turtle in the wreck, just behind the cafeteria
Varied life included Needle Fish, Wrasse, Lionfish and, of course, the Turtle.
Lionfish are doing well here, of course
It was only lunchtime by the time we returned from diving and all my kit was left at Dive-In.
I returned to the apartment, changed into some clothes and went in search of a supermarket, where I bought some fruit juice, milk, bread, salami and cheese, and headed back to make myself a sandwich for lunch.
After lunch I walked along the seafront to the Larnaca castle (about 15 minutes in the heat, after a couple of days, I could easily do it in 10), where I looked around and then headed back, making another stop in the supermarket for some shower gel, soft drinks and tomatoes, which I'd forgotten on the first trip.
Cannons face out to see at the medieval castle
Cannon looking along the seafront towards my apartment near the fishing harbour
I ate in Charmers, a restaurant in the front of the building I was staying in and chose to eat a steak as Trip Advisor recommended them and I must say it was amongst the most tender steaks I've ever eaten. Highly recommended.
I didn't venture out again after dinner, just watched a film and then fell asleep on the sofa, before going to bed.
The second day didn't start well as I'd forgotten my wetsuit and jacket until just before we set off and then found I'd forgotten my boots as well! Luckily someone from Dive-In ran back and found them for me!
The diving, fortunately, went better. The two women from the previous day had gone, but I was joined by UK-based Latvian, Edgars, who dived with me the next 3 days and proved good company.
As on the previous day, for the first dive we entered via the stern shot, but left the line at around 10M, swimming at that level towards the bow.
We descended to enter the enclosed part of the upper cargo deck (the open part of which we'd dived on the first dive) and swam through here over dozens of trucks and trailers..
We turned at the end of the deck and swam back towards the opening.
We exited and swam up to the starboard funnel and along to the stern doors again, where we picked up the shot and ascended.
After the boat moved to the bow mooring and we rested, we kitted up for dive 2.
This was through the Captain & Crew's deck.
We dropped down the bow line, taking a short detour to look at the starboard anchor, still fitted into its mount on the hull.
We then swam into the superstructure via a door on the front.
We ascended the floor (now the wall) to a doorway to a corridor and along this through the ship, passing through the crew's quarters. This part of the wreck seemed more jumbled and collapsed and we had lots of ups and downs and narrow swim throughs to negotiate.
Valentis drew our attention to formica and wallpaper and I spotted toilets and shower fittings.
We exited by the lifeboats and then re-entered and returned the same way. We came out by the lifeboats again and looked at the bridge before ascending via the bow shot.
That evening, on Edgars' recommendation, I headed to Militzis restaurant, near to the main part of the town and ordeded a Lamb Kleftiko, a slow roasted lamb joint with potatoes.
The meat was, unsurprisingly, very tender and tasty, but I probably should have ordered a salad to go with it, as there were no other vegetables. I slipped down well, though, with a glass of Cypriot red wine and I strolled back happy to watch another film before reading for a while on the balcony and then bed.
I had always planned to take the Sunday off, but had no real plans, but I found that the public transport was fairly good and cheap and I decided to take a trip to Nicosia, for no reason other than I'd already been to Paphos and Aya Nappa didn't sound very interesting.
I got to the bus stop on the main beach in Larnaca for 8:30, the bus leaving at 9 and I found a smart, modern, air-conditioned coach waiting, so I paid my 7 Euro return fair and boarded.
The journey took almost exactly an hour, mostly on the motorway, and dropped me off at a bus terminus overlooking a modern park along the walls of the old town.
It sounded lovely, but Nicosia is no Medina!
Although there are some historic and interesting sites within the old city walls, they are mixed haphazardly with ugly modern buildings, cheap shops and run-down dwellings and ruins.
Left: Church, Right: Border posts, Cypriot this side, Turkish in distance
It, in the south at least, like nobody has really worried about the history of the city or how it looks.
Balcony window in an old building
Left: Mosque, Right: Old street
The highlights were some exposed archaeological digs at the town hall, the Famagusta Gate (leading into the city through the walls) and a number of attractive churches.
Ancient Town Hall site
I'd forgotten that Nicosia is separated by the 'green line', but after coming to abrupt halts in a number of roads, I decided to go and find the crossing point.
When I got there, I was pleased to see I could cross over as I'd bought my passport, NHS COVID vaccine certificate and an email confirming a negative test within 7 days, but sadly when I approached the crossing point and started to show my phone, the guard explained, politely, that they could only accept a paper certificate of a negative test and there was no way to get one of those, so I can't say if the north is any more sympathetically presevered.
Left: Tourist Information Office (closed!) , Right: Modern park at foot of walls.
It was very hot in Nicosia and I got bitten by flies during the day, so, after an Ice-Cream and a beer at a couple of places, I headed back to the bus stop after wandering around the modern park at the foot of the city walls and boarded a differet, but still air-conditioned, coach for the trip home after 4 hours in Nicosia.
I must have nodded off quite quickly on the bus, as I awoke on the motorway and found a fellow passenger in the seat next to me, who wasn't there the last time I looked!
Back in Larnaca, I paddled on the beach and then had KFC for a late lunch/early dinner, rather than walk all the way back later in the day.
Back at the apartment, I watched a film and fell asleep on the sofa reading my book about 9:30 - It had been a long, tiring hot day, but it had made a change.
Monday came and we headed back out to the Zenobia.
My camera housing had let in some moisture and, although the camera functioned OK after a period of drying out, I decided not to risk it before checking the housing, which turned out to be a good idea as the leak got significantly worse this day and I gave up trying to use it after that, so from this point on I only had GoPro footage.
First Monday dive was to the middle cargo deck.
We entered, as usual for the first dive, via the stern shot, but again swam at 10M towards the bow.
We then dropped onto the hull and in through a door in the side, providing access to the middle cargo deck, which is entirely enclosed.
Diving the Middle Cargo Deck
We swam through, the only light from our torches, over a tanker and many other lorries .
At the end of the deck, we saw a fork lift truck and then turned and retraced our route to a small opening (possibly a door or just a hatch?) and out onto the superstructure near the funnel.
We then swam back to the stern shot and ascended. There was a Trigger Fish on the safety stop.
The second divee was a confusing dive for me - I just followed Valentis, but looking back I'm not really sure where we went.
It was described as a figure of 8 dive and we certainly passed through the front of the uppper cargo deck and some of the superstructure, but I couldn't really swear where we went looking back!
We did venture into the crews quarters again and, I think, some of the cargo decks (probably the front of the upper deck).
After a shower and lunch, I walked into Larnaca and had a lateral flow COVID test carried out, a requirement for being able to board a plane back to the UK, along with a PCR test when back in the UK.
Tuesday was my last day's diving. At one stage I'd planned to forego a day on the Zenobia and take a trip to Aya Nappa for some reef diving, but in the end I'd decided that I was in Larnaca to dive the Zenobia and I would do all my dives here. It wasn't a decision I was to regret.
The first dive was to be the deepest dive of the trip.
Heading out for our final dives
The seabed is at 42M and, apparently, there are points inside the wreck where you can reach 45M, but 41M felt deep enough on this dive.
We entered via the stern shot, past the opening into the covered car deck and then took a small hatch into the engine room at around 40M.
The top of an engine was directly ahead of us and shining torches through, we could make out a gantry running around the far side.
Lots of pipes, etc and quite a tight squeeze with 3 of us in there.
We swam around to the right, past all sorts of pipes, etc and then dropped down a little to the max depth and then moved back out of the engine room after only 3 minutes or so.
We retraced our route and swam up to the starboard funnel and then to the shot to ascend - 1 minute Deco showing at one point, but it had cleared by the time we reached 5M for a safety stop
For the final dive, Philip asked Edgars and I if we were 'OK with tight gaps' and we said we were so, so we went and explored the front of the middle cargo deck.
We descended to the bow and then into the upper cargo deck, via 'the postbox' (small door on its side).
A short way in we found a very small hatch with a ladder (frame around it) led up to from the middle car deck. We squeezed through (my weights got snagged a few times, in and out, but it was OK).
Directly ahead of us a trailer was hanging from the top (starboard side) of the deck. Philip had warned us not to get under it as it was only held by chains and one had recently detatched itself - It probably won't be hanging there if I ever return!
We swam towards the stern, passing many more lorries and trailers and the Captain's car, a small blue Greek-built LADA copy, wedged between trailers and trucks.
At this point we turned and exited the way we had come in, passing a water boiler and the precarious trailer, where Philip pointed out the recently detatched chain!
8 really enjoyable dives, vis, apparently, was poor, but it was still 12-15 metres.
If I go back I will take my wing and do some longer dives on a twinset and possibly do some accelerated decompression, but I can now, finally, say that I've dived on the Zenobia and got the T-shirt!
Wednesday was a rather tedious day, as I had to wait around for a 10PM flight home.
The apartment owner allowed me to check out at noon and Dive-In let me leave my luggage with them until they closed around 4PM.
I'd treated myself to an English breakfast in the small cafe next to Charmers Steak House (And very good it was, too, somewhat to my surprise) and then wandered back to the main part of town after storing my luggage at Dive-In and having a chat with Andrea in the office for a while, buying a few little gifts for the family and treating myself to an ice-cream which I ate in the limited shade afforded by the castle wall.
Storm clouds gather, but never came to anything
I had toyed with the idea of another bus trip, possibly to Paphos or Limassol, but decided I didn't have time before Dive-In closed. As it turned out, I probably would have, but I didn't expect them to be waiting for a delivery and, therefore, open later than expected.
Church in Larnaca centre
Later I grabbed a quick snack and headed back to Dive-In, had a chat with Hannah and collected my luggage, sitting and reading for a couple of hours after they closed and then heading off to Charmers again for dinner as I knew I had a long haul home ahead of me.
They called me a taxi to the airport and check-in was easy and quick, although the flight was almost full and we got away and arrived back at Gatwick on time.
Everything ran pretty smoothly there too, until I tried to get on the M23 and found that the, seemingly never ending, roadworks meant it was closed! The diversion was poorly marked at night and it took me a few doubling backs before I found the slow country road route back to the M25, but once there I made good time and was home about 3AM, pretty much as I'd expected, the time lost on the diversion having been gained at the airport.
A screen grab of me on the Zenobia from Edgars' Go Pro footage
Overall, it had been an enjoyable trip.
Yes, there had been some minor hassles and extra costs, but it was an enjoyable change to be abroad, feel the warmth of the sun and dive in relatively clear water in nothing more than a wetsuit.
The wreck itself is defintely impressive and offers something for every level of diver - If I return, I'll definitely take my wing and rent a twinset to undertake some more extended dives, as all ours were no-deco dives, but for a first visit, I felt I saw plenty and got a good feel for the wreck and racked up another 7 dives in excess of 30M, so not an insignificant level of diving.
A fellow diver, framed in the light around a dive boat
There has been some talk in the club of taking a trip next year, but personally I wouldn't go back so soon, but it would certainly deserve another trip in a few years time.
Unsurprisingly, the one aspect that was missing was a lot of life. There were a decent number and variety of fish on the wreck, for the Med, but even somewhere like Lanzarote offers far more variety and number, let alone theRed Sea or further afield.
Basically, this is a trip for the wreck lover.