Text and photography by David Oldale
I arrived in Tenerife in the early evening on my usual Monarch Airlines flight to the sunshine and warmth (26°C) of Tenerife’s superb sub-tropical climate – a slight change from the morning fog that had descended over middle England for my trip across country to London Luton Airport.
The following morning we (that is Paul, Sheila and myself – Holiday Diver staff) took a trip down to the dive centre – as I needed to sought out my dive kit and make arrangements for the coming week’s diving.
‘So you want to see some Black coral in 14 metres do you?’ asked Nev at the ‘Los Gigantes Dive Centre’. ‘If the weathers calm I’ll get you up there in the morning but remember it’s a good hour’s trip on the RIB.’
For once the weather was to be kind and with just four of us on the RIB it made for a very comfortable ride up the coast beneath the magnificent high cliff face of Los Gigantes. The dive site known as Punta Teno is situated near to a lighthouse on more or less the very end of the peninsular before the low cliffs swept back giving access to the dive sites of the north. At this location the current would sweep around the tip before losing momentum in the far-reaching bay behind us. Coupled with this, the wind increases its velocity in the area to give the water at least a slight chop. It stood to reason that Punta Teno was dived only in the most ideal conditions – and one of those few days was today!
We left boatman and dive centre owner Neville on the RIB, whilst Paul, Sheila and yours truly went diving. After receiving detailed instructions from Nev as to the exact location of the Black coral (Antipathes wollastoni) Sheila led both Paul and myself around the craggy and amazing underwater scenery. At 25 metres I spied the first branches of the green in colour (Black coral). Not particularly en-mass but Black coral nonetheless. Sheila found another outcrop close by – all growing within the shelter of a number of overhangs that existed in this area. Following the contours of the reef a small cavern appeared, which on closer inspection it could be seen gave all the cover required to shelter a vast quantity of the fronds. All this was in depths ranging from 20 to 25 metres. Whilst I was happy to take a few pictures of the coral in these relatively shallow depths we still hadn’t found Neville’s fourteen metre specimens. We followed the contours of the reef wall shallower and at 14 metres hidden in the darkened recess of a cutback Sheila located our quarry! Unlike the other coral seen earlier on the dive this was coloured both brown and red. Before making our way back to the surface three Greater amberjack homed in to attack our exhaled bubbles.
An hour later, nearing the harbour at Los Gigantes Bottle Nosed Dolphins could be seen cavorting around the outside of the nets by the fish farm. Nev eased the RIB slowly towards the nets and cut the engine. It wasn’t long before we had several Dolphin approach the boat to within one metre. How I would have loved to enter the water at that point, however under local laws any approach in the water towards these mammals warrants a very stiff fine. Should Dolphin or Whale approach the diver then no law would have been broken! It must be mentioned that a very close watch is kept by the authorities to make sure that this law is not being flouted…
The next morning saw us all off down the coast to Aqua Tenerife Diving at Arona and from there to the small harbour at Las Galletas. The ride by fast RIB took a bumpy 30-minutes – I was glad I had taken a seasickness pill, especially as the boat swayed viciously in the swell at anchor. The dive was to be to the wreck of the El Condesito.
The ship sank some years ago just 50-metres off the lighthouse at Punta Rasca, on the southern most tip of Tenerife. The El Condesito (a merchant vessel) was carrying a cargo of bagged cement when, for some still unexplained reason turned directly shoreward, to then hit the jagged rocks. The wreck lies in about 18-metres of water, with its funnel having broken off in 30-metres. The bow section has been crushed by the impact but the amidships and stern remain intact.
After waiting some minutes for Paul and Sheila to set up the underwater video camera and affix it to the underwater scooter we eventually descended through the crystal clear light-blue water to fin above a rocky ocean floor, all the time following a course around the headland. There was just enough head-on current to make the going a bit difficult. For this dive all of us were rigged with full facemasks equipped with communications – so we could have a chat! Some of the animated comments passing between us reflected the conditions, as we hauled ourselves over and around the boulders.
It seemed as if we were finning for some considerable time with no indication of the wrecksite. Paul was worried that somehow we had completely missed the wreck and intended to search in deeper water. I said we should continue over the next ridge of rock – I had that feeling!
From the top of the ridge the ocean bed dropped quite steeply to about 20-metres and in the distance, just on the limit of visibility the blurred dark outline of a wreck started to appear. The El Condesito stood proud and upright from a rock/sand bottom, its stern with prop and rudder in 18-metres and smashed bow section some metres shallower pointing directly in at the rock shoreline.
Cruising the aft-deck Damsels and Trumpetfish moved slowly out of my way while a solitary Barracuda above stalked a shoal of small Baitfish that moved as one.
Just forward of the bridge was the area of twisted steel and devastation – it was here that the ship impacted head-on at full-speed (I am told) with the shore.
While I would not advocate foolhardily entering a wreck, the Condesito has many entrances and exits that can be easily entered, so long as you are aware of machinery snags, cables and wire hawser. In the stern hold some of the cargo of now solidified cement bags were quite visible in the daylight that penetrated to all parts of the wreck.
Other than the small reef and Trumpetfish spotted at the start of the dive I had seen nothing of the large Black Atlantic Stingrays and other large species that are a common sight in Tenerife’s waters.
Wanting a photograph looking down onto the wreck I ventured high above the stern when something caught my eye, sparkling in the beams of sunlight. I glanced up to find myself about to be enclosed within a shoal of many hundreds of silver Barracuda. I tried to attract the attention of my buddies but only Sheila responded – perhaps best as she had the videocam. The Barracuda enclosed us both within their shoal in a seemingly magical dance. Throughout the remainder of the week, we never let the subject drop as to the magnitude of the shoaling silver predator, at each telling the number increasing dramatically – much to the distaste and annoyance of Paul. Perhaps I am glad that he missed the spectacle as he would only have gone on about the stunning this, that and whatever!
Now travelling with the current – we glided in a very few minutes back to the RIB and then back to Las Galletas for – a surface interval – LUNCH!
The next day – back at the Los Gigantes Dive Centre, the first dive was to be at Atlantis 2 that funnily enough is just around the corner from – Atlantis 1! Now I have never really enthused over Atlantis 1 even though it is a very picturesque location with regards to the towering 6-sided Basalt Columns that in their thousands extend upwards from the ocean floor. Atlantis 2 however was very much of an eye-opener and I knew immediately as I left the calm surface that here was a dive I was going to love – I would not be wrong!
The trip out on Nev’s hardboat had been smooth – due no doubt to an oily-flat-calm ocean – unbelievable considering that this was the Atlantic Ocean and it was October! It was warm, wonderfully so as the air temperature was hovering around 34°C. There was no Paul today as he had vast amounts of work to complete in the office. I was buddied up with Sheila who was once again armed with the videocam, and some other diver whom I hadn’t met before. I plopped over the side and made my way around to the anchor line at the bow, with okays exchanged the three of us dropped slowly down through the crystal-clear water to the top of the reef at 10-metres. Once there and making sure to avoid the long sharp spines of the black Sea-urchins I switched on and set up the DX-1G before gliding over the drop-off and vertically down the sheer columns onto a sandy area at 20-metres. At the base existed a number of cutbacks and overhangs where, Glasseyes, African Striped Grunts and Bastard Grunts would shoal in the cover of the semi-darkness. Out on the sand between large areas of columns sat a small lonely yellow sea-fan (Atlantis 1 had two much larger specimens) that on close inspection could be seen to shake very slightly in an effort to filter microscopic food from the surrounding water.
Behind the others, I followed the contours at the point where the Basalt columns met the gritty- sand to an area where a magnificent electric-blue coloured Sea Anemone stood out from the dull grey of the rock reef. On the Anemone and crawling between the moving tentacles was an Arrow Crab and two striped Shrimps. Sheila moved in with the videocam to film whilst I settled myself onto the sand to get the shot of the whole scene, which on the LCD screen looked rather picturesque. Glancing to my Suunto Stinger I was rather surprised that we were now in 36-metres - as there had been no detectable slope of the ocean floor. We continued to follow the cavorting line of the reef base but we had risen slightly to 30-metres in an effort to give us a longer bottom-time and hence a lesser time spent on our decompression stop.
It was just after we had rounded yet another underwater headland that I spotted a plateau covered with a sea of green fern-like fronds – Black coral. Unfortunately only seconds could be spent in the area as it was time to make the turn-around and head back in a slow rise to the surface and location of the dive-boat. There was no denying that the dive on Atlantis 2 was most enjoyable and no doubt made the more-so by the conditions – 40-metres viz with no current in warm 24°C water. On the short journey back to the marina at Los Gigantes I kept a look out and spotted the inevitable pod of Dolphin cruising – in the direction of the fish farm – obviously it was approaching lunchtime!
The following morning again boded well – weather wise. So with instructor Andy taking care of a few customers on a dive out of Octopus Cove, Nev decided that he would take the Holiday Diver staff in the RIB some distance up the coast, under the high cliffs of Los Gigantes to dive the shallow water caves (lava tubes). Like Punta Teno the lava tube system is some distance from the marina and would take some 45-minutes to reach by boat. Nev anchored in 8-metres before leading the dive into the cave-system leaving Holiday Diver’s Webmaster Chris on board (as boatman). Within and to the back of the first cave existed many hundreds of black-striped Shrimp which would when approached, scurry into every known or for that matter unknown unseen crevice within the cave’s walls. They were masters of the magician’s art of – disappearance!
Towards a second exit of the cave Paul was the first to spot a Black Atlantic Stingray that was gliding over the boulder strewn bottom – away from us! As both Sheila and myself vied for the best position for our respective cameras, Paul and Nev stayed clear – of these two fools that were twisting in all directions at all angles in an attempt to get the perfect shot. As far as I am concerned it didn’t happen for me but another time will come!
With the dive over we slowly cruised back in the direction of the marina but not before Nev had showed us a cave that’s entrance extended from below the surface to about a metre and a half above. At first, second and for that matter third glance I was convinced that in no way could the RIB be steered into the cave through such a low opening. Closer and closer Nev slowly steered the RIB to a point that the entrance appeared much larger and could be easily negotiated – but definitely not on a day when a slight swell would cause the water to touch the roof of the entrance. Within, the cave opened out to form a large cavern with a small beach at the far end – perhaps on another day we would explore the underwater area of the cavern.
Whilst I would go on to again dive the magnificent Stingray Site of Los Chucos (see Holiday Diver issue 3 – Marine Life) and with the Green Turtle at El Puertito (this issue – Marine Life) near the end of my week, as far as this article goes my diving was at an end. It must be said that I sampled the best diving (on this trip) I had ever experienced before in Tenerife (and it’s always been superb), I also must put down in writing that the Turtle Dive featured in this issue has just got to be my best dive of all time (44-years of diving and many thousands of dives completed) TO DATE.
The seemingly fewer numbers of divers that are venturing to Tenerife than seen in earlier years surprises me; and for that matter the fewer numbers of tourists that are visiting this lovely Island. The excuse or should I say the reason behind this shortfall I am told is the fact of the declining pound against the euro (Tenerife’s currency is the euro). Other destinations whose standard currency is the euro are suffering also. However, Tenerife (unlike Spain and Malta etc.,) is outside the EU and therefore duty-free goods can be purchased at departing airports (in the UK) together with these, goods and services purchased in the resort are far cheaper than those purchased in other EU destinations. Whilst Turkey (another destination outside the EU) has enjoyed a bumper year as far as tourists are concerned – I found their prices to have increased dramatically to now rival many EU holiday resorts – and be more expensive than Tenerife. I seem to get the opinion that there is a certain stigma attached to the euro – because the exchange rate is not as good as it has been in the past, all countries whose currency is the euro seem to have been avoided by many in an attempt to get the best value for money that is possible. Well, take it from me Tenerife really is a cheap destination – STILL!
GETTING THERE: ‘Monarch Scheduled’ operates an excellent service from London Luton/Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester to Tenerife (South) Airport. Luggage allowance 20 kilos per bag and is charged at £7-99 each way. So in theory, you can take as much dive equipment as you like, as long it weighs 20 kilos or less in each bag and are prepared to pay the £7-99 for each bag each way – booked in advance. You are allowed 10 kilos of FREE hand baggage. Web: www.monarch.co.uk Tel: 0871 225 3884
DIVING: As mentioned in the text – all the diving within the Los Gigantes area is carried out with the Los Gigantes Dive Centre (PADI; BSAC School) Tel: 0034 922 860431
To dive the El Condesito contact David or Yvonne at:- Aqua Tenerife Diving, Arona, Tenerife.
CURRENCY/EXCHANGE: Although Tenerife is not within the EU the EURO is the accepted currency – approx €1-28 euros to £1 sterling.
WHEN TO GO: All year round destination averaging 25 degrees C. Sea temp: from 17 to 25°C.
ACCOMMODATION/COMPLETE HOLIDAY: For accommodation in Tenerife close to the Diving Centres mentioned contact: www.monarchhotels.co.uk or for a complete package holiday contact: www.monarchholidays.co.uk Tel: 0871 423 8642. You can also contact Monarch Holidays to book just a flight.
Please note: Monarch Holidays operate to various destinations throughout the World including the Maldives, Red Sea, Turkey, Malta and Caribbean.
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