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Scuba Diving in Malta, Europe
Dive Site: Xlendi Bay
Location: Xlendi Bay, Gozo
Description: Archaeological Site
Depth: 10 - 60 metres (32 - 197 feet)
At the time I was an underwater photographer at the University of Miami Marine Laboratory (Now the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science) working under a US Navy research contract. I had come to Malta on assignment to make underwater films of some British destroyers to document the effects of classified hull modifications while the ships were underway. When the project ended, I had a few days to spend as a tourist and met with some of the British EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) divers who for years had been clearing up World War II unexploded ordinance in the surrounding waters to see if they could recommend an underwater antiquities site I could photograph. They had not found any shipwrecks but showed me their confidential charts where they had made finds- marble cannon balls, Roman and medieval anchor stocks on the N. Coast, a huge bronze cannon of The Order and vestiges of lost cargo in shallow, silted inlets including about a dozen amphora found singly off Gallis Rock and Quanava? Point. The most promising seemed to be a few amphora found intact around the mouth of Xlendi Bay in Gozo. These were discovered scattered on the steep cliff facing the sea some six years previously at depths between 100 and 150 feet. I was assured that only fragments remained at the site and since the area was thoroughly picked over and the unexplored area was at such a depth that there was no point in my searching there.
I figured that after six years the EOD guys were sincere but that they had a scuba air depth limit of 150 feet and since I had already made technical dives on air to 250 feet in Florida, thought that I might discover additional stuff. Since none of them felt the trip worthwhile I decided to go alone and packed my double tanks and gear on a bus ride to the hydrofoil ferry over to Gozo and rented a rowboat in Xlendi. I rowed the short distance out in the bay to where the amphora had been recovered and anchored in about 30 feet on the top of the submarine butte that jutted across the mouth of the harbor and made my way down the sea face of the cliff that dropped steeply into unknown depths. At about 100 feet I started to see amphora fragments lightly scattered amongst the rocks and at 150 feet started to feel the effects of nitrogen narcosis. Below, I saw what at the time I imagined was a pile of amphora that had been flattened and then another pile some 30 feet distant at the same depth. Descending down to that level at 180 feet I could see below the flat sand bottom where the rock cliff met the seafloor where a huge flat rock had fallen to lie just outside the base. There at a depth of 200 feet were intact amphora visible half-buried in the sand. Working fast I grabbed the first one I encountered and because it was almost completely filled with sand, struggled to empty it so I could start my ascent. I don't recall how I managed to bring the amphora up to my decompression station on the anchor line of the rowboat (I may have had an inflation vest) but somehow I was able to get all my gear with the amphora sitting in my lap on the bus back to my hotel in Valletta that evening.
In the next three days of diving the site I discovered the huge flat rock was resting on an even larger rock which formed a cave under which were intact amphora that had been sheltered from debris falling from the cliff face. By that time I had realized that the piles of flattened amphora were likely still-assembled roof tiles from the after cabin of a Roman galley. I retrieved my fourth amphora lying just outside the big rock at a depth of 210 feet. As I rowed back to the dock I noticed some guys running back on the path that ran along the promontory which had an observation tower at the sea end and pretty well knew I was about to be confronted by the Maltese authorities. As I tied up my rowboat a heavily mustached guy escorted by a couple of bodyguards assembled at dockside and bellowed out "Donta move!, Donta leava da boot!" and knew I was in trouble with the law.
Naturally I had no choce but to cooperate with the authorities and was escorted back to my hotel room in Valletta where I was provided a receipt for the rest of the amphora I had recovered. Over the next couple of months I tried to contact the director of the Malta antiquities museum to see if he would be interested in my arranging for a a US University to sponsor a scientific survey of the Xlendi site under his direction fiananced by a grant using counterpart funds then available, but he never replied to any of my correspondence. Back in 2003 I had some Email correspondence with Ayse Derrim Atauz, a research associate at the Institue of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A&M University, TX about their website. It presents a brief account of an amphora field in 110 meters, 3-miles out of Xlendi harbour, Gozo. At the time Atauz had the impression that the few dozen amphora recovered by Maltese divers and fishermen over the years in Xlendi Bay were all part of the scatter from the wrecks that deposited the concentrations of thousands of amphora out in deep water. He also mentioned a John Wood who dived to some of the shallower sites at the mouth of Xlendi Bay in the early 1970's. However my sighting of the two stacks of roof tiles at the site in Xlendi Bay seemed evidence that argued against that theory.
(An extract from Ed Fisher's Autobiography Scuba Diving Adventures http://real-gaia.angelfire.com/ed_fisher_diving_chronicles.html - thank you Ed!)
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