Will Harrison revels in the dramatic nature of Sardinia’s mazy seabed.
Jesus used to reside here. Until someone lifted the underwater icon for a clean and neglected to return him to the seabed that is... Sadly, as anyone who’s done any Mediterranean diving will attest, it appears someone has done the same with all the fish. On this occasion though, I was quite happy without. During a week’s diving at Santa Teresa Gallura, a beautiful town on Sardinia’s northern shore, I didn’t once yearn for the vast shoals that used to call the Med home. I managed without the Big Man too.
Sardinia unquestionably offers the most topographically intriguing seabed I have ever encountered. Contorted swim-throughs slice through bedrock that, in other places, has succumbed to the relentless brutality of the sea and fallen away to create piles of giant boulders, or collapsed to form deep canyons. The array of caverns and caves is endless, as are the nooks and crannies in which critters hide - and all this, as a consequence of some rather unhelpful winds, at a relatively small selection of dive sites.
Our inability to reach sites farther afield was initially a concern - like any island, Sardinia has a plethora of diveable sites, both near and far, and I was worried I’d perhaps miss out on the best spots. My fears were quickly allayed after a dive at a local site called Municca, just a few minutes by zodiac from Orca Dive Club, with whom I was diving. This site is as close to a house reef as a harbour-based dive centre can get, and it’s a beautiful dive. Focused around Municca Island and a few neighbouring rocky breaches that would have once been connected, the dive unsurprisingly boasts some glorious underwater features. Down at depth there’s plenty to steal your attention, from impossible overhangs to rock formations with such sheer sides they look as though they’ve been polished to precision. Around these dramatic sights lies a grassy seabed, home to small fishes and invertebrates.
Our route took us north towards the open sea, around the farthest outcrop and back along the other side, before a final dissection of two of the pinnacles and a return to the shotline. The return between two of the rocky mounts was both fun and full of atmosphere. With the wind up and our depth no more than 5-6m, we had front row seats to waves smashing against pinnacles, the water churning and gurgling before another set rolled in.
My ‘dive of the week’ came at a site called Monte Regalo, which translates as Gift Mountain. It certainly lived up to its name. It came on my penultimate dive day, when the winds had really picked up and most sensible folk had sought cover in a sheltered trattoria (Santa Teresa Gallura has some excellent eateries). The team at Orca organised a special foray for me and a local diver - dive guide Andrea Garuti had waxed lyrical about this particular site for the preceding few days and the team didn’t want me to miss out. Famous for its caverns adorned with beautiful red corals and swim-throughs clustered with purple seafans, I was keen not to miss out too! We loaded ourselves into the zodiac and headed out into a lumpy sea. While the site wasn’t far, progress was slow, the captain easing off the throttle as we crested big waves.
Down at 5m, as the three of us gave each other the okay, there was no hint of the weather up top - one of diving’s great pleasures. With most of the dive site at around the 30m-mark, the number of caves and caverns visited depends entirely on the visiting group’s speed, what’s encountered and, if there’s a photographer in the mix, how long they spend on a given subject. We were aiming for three caverns and managed two before spiralling deco forced us up. The evidence for who to blame for the missed third cavern is inconclusive, but most fingers point to either me or the gorgeous scorpionfish I just had to get a decent shot of. Sat on a rocky ledge, he was picture perfect - bright orange and an absolute monster! Andrea later told me he never moves from his perch, and it’s no surprise - given his size, the eating there is clearly good. Finally content with one of my images, we moved on towards the first cavern.
Andrea paused at the entrance, peered backwards to make sure his charges were present, and headed in. Once inside, he turned his torch
“The site is made up of winding twists and turns, tunnels and funnels. For those with decent in-water skills, it’s an absolute playground”
on to reveal a ceiling of corals and sponges. The cavern was awash in beautiful reds. I could see why several of Orca’s instructors consider this one of their favourite sites. The second cavern was just as stunning and the seafan-adorned gully walls, which had been described as a support act, turned out to be as gorgeous as the cavern ceilings. After an enjoyable meeting with an enormous conger eel, we headed toward the surface and a not insignificant amount of deco…
Grotta della Cernia should be renamed The Maze - or Il Labirinto in Italian. The site is made up of winding twists and turns, tunnels and funnels. Like a maggot to an apple, it’s as if a giant worm has eaten its way through the bedrock, leaving a mazy trail in its wake. Its current name translates as Grouper Cave, though sadly none were encountered on my visit. Good buoyancy skills are important as there are a few tight spots - colonised by colourful sponges and fans - that require control and judgement. For those with decent in-water skills, it’s an absolute playground.
Other dive sites visited included La Balena, or The Whale, so named because the land against which the dive site sits apparently looks like a whale… No whales beneath the waterline, obviously, but plenty of purple seafans. Il Cristo, the site where the statue of Christ once resided, is a relatively open area, with sponge-covered boulders and a grassy seabed, and Punta Contessa (Countess Point) has a multitude of swim-throughs and tight turns that offer plenty of entertainment.
We did also manage to visit the wreck of the Angelika, a cargo ship that sank in 1982. Now scattered across the seabed at 12-20m, it’s a perfect dive for divers of all experience levels. While penetration opportunities are limited, there’s plenty to hold your attention, including a number of well preserved stairwells. A variety of fish call it home too, including some stunning scorpionfish, moray eels and nudibranchs.
While I did likely miss out on some fabulous sites because of the weather - as well as a trip across the water to dive Corsica - the smattering of sites I visited offered more than enough to convince me of the quality of the diving in the area. Given none of the sites were more than a ten-minute zodiac ride from Orca Dive Club’s base in Santa Teresa Gallura, it’s fair to say they’ve got some excellent diving right on their doorstep, which is exactly what you need when the weather rolls in.
I’ve always considered Malta and Cyprus to have something of a duopoly on Mediterranean diving, at least as far as British divers are concerned. And true to form, my fellow guests in Sardinia were all either Italian or German. But with dive centre staff who speak excellent English, and a shorter flight time than both Malta and Cyprus, there’s no reason why Orca (and Sardinia at large) shouldn’t encounter a few more British divers in the coming years - the diving is certainly good enough. And don’t even get me started on all that sunshine and pizza…
“Sat on a rocky ledge, he was picture perfect - bright orange and an absolute monster! Given his size, the eating there is clearly good”
Divers return to the zodiac as others complete deco obligations below
Dramatic walls at Municca
Divers ready to roll
The Sardinian seabed is littered with weird and wonderful shapes
Dive guide Ilaria Bruttomesso exiting the Angelika
Dive guide Andrea Garuti at the entrance to one of many swim-throughs
Seafans at Monte Regalo
Strewn boulders are indicative of an ever-changing seabed