Thursday, 20 November 2014


In April this year (2014) the wife and I headed out to Malta to complete our TDI Advanced Trimix Course with Mark Powell of Dive-Tech.

This blog is a quick review of the course and some background information for anyone who wishes to plan a similar trip to Malta.  Some of the finer details may have been missed; however I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible on my dive descriptions using my logbook, and the quoted costs may change due to exchange rates.

The Flights were as follows:

·            Operator: Air Malta.
·            Itinerary: Birmingham International – Luqa.
·            Total flight time: 3 hours 15 minutes.
·            Operator: Air Malta.
·            Itinerary: Luqa – Birmingham International. 
·            Total flight time: 3 hours 30 minutes. 

The air-tickets were £239.40 per person with meals and drinks included, 1 piece of hand baggage and 1 piece of hold baggage (max 20kg). An extra hold luggage for sports equipment (32kg) was booked at £25 (each way), that was sufficient for both of us. 


We arrived at Malta in the early hours of the morning where Mark picked us up and took us to our apartments. 

Mark rented a small Toyota for the duration of the week to transport us to and from the dive sites, accommodation and dive centre.  It was just about large enough for 4 divers plus kit (twins, CCR and plenty of stages);

The cost of the hire was included in the course (see course paragraph). 

Accommodation and Feeding
We were accommodated at Clover Apartments in Bugibba for the duration of our trip as recommended by Mark.  Our apartment could cater for 6: a twin room, a double room and a double futon in the main living area.  Each room was en-suite and there was a separate kitchen/dining area.

The cost of the accommodation was included in the course (see course paragraph) but if you wish to book it for your own holiday, the prices ranged from €44-50 - €65.00 per night for the duration of our stay.  Depending on your room type and the time of year you book, different rates are offered so it is best checking with them before hand.

We ate out on some evenings and cooked for nights when we had lectures.  Grocery was easily purchased from the local supermarket on the way home from the dive centre.  The bakery next to the dive centre sold excellent pastries, which served as breakfast and lunch.

Cylinder Hire & Gas

All diving was based from Tec Deep Blue (part of Dive Deep Blue) in Bugibba.  For the dives we used twin 12’s and 15’s as well as 7 and 10ltr aluminium stage cylinders.  Once the course started these cylinders were reserved for us so we didn’t have to worry about anyone else borrowing them and changing the setup.  We also hired 1ltr suit inflation cylinders but provided our own mount and regulator.  As a rule of thumb, once we returned from a dive we conducted some basic dive planning, labelled our fill requests on the cylinders and rinsed kit in preparation for the next day.  The weather in Malta had been kind to us and most of the time our kit (except dry suit) were dried and could be locked up in storage before closing time. In the morning we would analyse the cylinders, set up our equipment, visit the bakery and head out within the hour.

Tec Deep Blue had a small shop with limited stock, but requested items could be procured for the next day.  Other facilities included an outdoor training pool and classroom.

Tec Deep Blue was very friendly, and offered a great service.  I cannot recommend Stuart and his team highly enough.  The cost of the kit hire and air (other gasses were extra) were included in the course (see course paragraph), however if you wish to hire the current prices are:

7 Litre Aluminium deco cylinder
10 Litre Aluminium deco cylinder
Wings harness and back plate
02 compatible regulator with SPG
Back gas Regulator
Main Reel
Back up reel
Dive timer
1L dry suit supply cylinders
€7.00 per KG
Air (twin 12s)
Medical Grade O2
(see separate gas price list for exact prices)
Helium fills
(see separate gas price list for exact prices)

The approximate cost of our gas bill came to €625 between us (!).

Weather and Temperature
April was an excellent time to visit Malta.  Prices were slightly cheaper as it was not in the peak season yet it was warm enough to wear shorts in the day.  The water temperature was 15-180C, it could be tempting to think that the water temperature would be warmer, given the warm air temperature.  Be warned: it is dry suit diving!  I stupidly decided to wear a thin wicking layer under my O’Three RI2-100 dry suit rather than my usual Fourth Element Arctic, which clearly was not enough so I was getting cold towards the end of the dive.  Not a good combination with a leaky right dry glove , so the deco stops were generally quite miserable. 

The TDI Advanced Trimix Course with Mark costs £590 per person, excluding any extras listed above.  Prior to the course we were sent some reading materials via Dropbox.  

Day 1 (Pre-course)

·            Aim: Shakeout dive.
·            Site: Wied Iz Zurrieq (Blue Grotto).
·            Shore Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 23m.
·            Bottom Time: N/A.
·            Run times: 3@6 (no deco).
·            Total time: 71 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 12s.
·            Gas: Air.

On the first morning we spent quite some time making sure that our equipment were ready and hired the necessary from Stuart, before negotiating the Maltese traffic to Wied Iz Zurrieq.  Parking was very limited on the small road that led to the water entrance.  Whilst we waited patiently for a space, I went searching for a large rock (a vital piece of equipment for parking on this slope). 

We unloaded our kit onto a flat rock/concrete area by the waters edge from which we would do our stride entry.  To exit from the water, there was a ladder and a number of down lines for stage cylinders.

Kitting up was slightly emotional; it was hot in our dry suits and gluteal muscles worked hard to stand up with twinset and stages. H managed to make a couple of holes in the bottom area of her dry suit from her attempts of getting up, luckily for ‘Black Witch’ she managed the week without a leaky suit.

 H on the shakeout dive
We did our buddy checks before jumping into the water, followed by bubble checks and modified s-drill.  Mark took us around the reef, past a divers helmet statue and back round to the entrance.  We didn’t make it as far as the Um-El Faroud.  At the end of the dive we carried out skills such as s-drills, valve drills and mask removal as well as a weight check.

We chilled out with a drink and then headed back to the dive centre where we prepared our stage cylinders (adjusted the rigging kit, regulator setup etc…) for the following day.

In the evening the group of us headed out to a recommended local curry house (what we were thinking?!).  The food was terrible and took two hours to arrive.

Day 2 (Pre-course)
Dive 1:
·            Aim: Skills dive.
·            Site: Um-El Faroud.
·            Shore Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 30m.
·            Bottom Time: N/A.
·            Run times: 3@6 (no deco).
·            Total time: 77 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 12s (everyone else was on twin 15s but my set hadn’t been re-built yet), 10l and 7l stages.
·            Gas: Air.

 H and Dave 
We dived the Um-El Faroud at Wied Iz Zurrieq, starting at the sterm and penetrated through the port side into the holds, up and along the deck to the bow.  It was at this point I had to thumb the dive as I hit thirds (I was carrying the smallest cylinders), which was a shame as the wreck was very impressive and certainly deserved a much longer dive.  We then headed back into the shallow water and as a team of three we carried out skills such as s-drills, valve drills, gas switching, buddy breathing and dealing with a free-flow deco regulator.

Dive 2:
·            Aim: Skills dive.
·            Site: Wied Iz Zurrieq.
·            Shore Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 13m.
·            Bottom Time: N/A.
·            Run times: 3@6 (no deco).
·            Total time: 44 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 12s, 10l and 7l stages.
·            Gas: Air.

This dive we did without Mark, the aim was to practise skills in our team of three.  We did, s-drills, valve drills, gas switching, gas switches to second stage cylinder, buddy breathing, free flow regulator, mask off/replace and stage cylinder ditch and retreval.

Following a quick ice cream we headed back to the dive centre to sort out our kit for the next day – the first proper day of the course.

The three of us ate out at a local Maltese restaurant whilst Mark presented at a local dive centre.

Day 3 (First day Advanced Trimix Course)
·            Aim: Skills dive.
·            Site: Wied Iz Zurrieq.
·            Shore Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 17m.
·            Bottom Time: N/A.
·            Run times: N/A.
·            Total time: 148 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 12s, 2x 10l and 1x 7l stages.
·            Gas: Air.

In this dive, we descend to 6m on our travel gas before switching to backgas.  During the dive, Mark would be giving us flash cards to indicate equipment failure scenarios.  My first task was line laying and on the way out H carried out a valve drill and Dave then ‘had’ a backup regulator free flow, so we thumbed the dive after the shut down drills.  On the way back I ‘lost’ my mask; this was followed by a series of errors on my part.  First of all I had not secure the line earlier but left the spool on the bottom, so the line end up tangled on my valves and fins (with additional help from Mark).   I deployed my backup mask and untangled myself.  On our way out where I had an ‘OOG’.  As Dave had had a failure on his backup, I went past him to H. The lesson learnt from that was we should have re-adjusted the team order earlier when Dave had his problem, in anticipation for any future events.

In the second practice H laid the line followed by Dave and I.  I ‘had’ a LPI fault so did the disconnection/reconnection drills.  Dave thumbed the dive and we turned back.  On the way back H also had a LPI fault. 

In the last practice we moved into deeper water and carried out ascents with gas switches at 12, 9 and 6m.  Mark taught us to switch from backgas to stage, back to backgas then onto the next stage.  This was different from my previous training where I changed directly from backgas to stage then onto another stage.  Finally as a team we gas switch on ascent as a team, with one ‘blind’ team member (no mask ascent).

We made a number of errors in the day as it was the first time we had dived as a team of three.  It showed the importance of rehersals and skills practice when diving with as a new team.

Post dive we did the usual equipment washup, and followed by some basic gas planning for the following days deep dive.  We were also given our open book exam paper and had our ‘knowledge reviews’ (pre-course homework) marked.

At this point I should point what kit I was using.  My twinset and standard diving equipment was the same as in the UK except I was using an aluminium back plate instead of my stainless steel.  My 40lb Evolve wing was more than capable of lifting twin 15s plus stages.  I did not use my primary light.

Day 4 (Second day Advanced Trimix Course)
·            Aim: 50m dive.
·            Site: HMS Stubborn.
·            Boat Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 52m.
·            Bottom Time: 25 minutes.
·            Run times 1@27m, 1@24m, 3@21m, 1@18m, 1@15m, 1@12m, 5@9m, 11@6m (all gas switch depths had 2 minutes added for the switch).
·            Total time: 65 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 12s, 10l and 7l stages.
·            Gas: 21/35, 50% and 80%.

Today was the first deep dive of the course.  After analysing our gas we headed off to Mellieha to meet up with the dive boat Galaxy.  Galaxy probably beared the closest resemblance to a UK hard boat in Malta, since most of the other dive boats were converted from fishing boats.  The boat could cater for 6-8 divers with twins or CCR with stage cylinders.  There was ample kitting up area in the middle of the boat.  At the back of the boat, it was possible to sit down and clip on our stages before putting the fins on and roll in.  There was no lift on the boat but the ladder seemed easy to use.  The cost of the boat was per person per dive $40-$50 depending on the distance to the dive site.  We left the car by the carpark but took all our valuables with us.

Once we arrived at the dive site we kitted up and did our buddy checks.  We entered the water as a pair so the boat did two runs to the shot line.  There was a slight current on the descend.  Dave led the dive and we completed a lap of the wreck in 18 minutes.  The visability was excellent and I wish we had more bottom time for further exploration.  The ascent was uneventful and we hit all our runtimes until 30m; where the fun started.  I was given an OOG which David responded to.  Further up the shot after the gas switch, H had an OOG which David responded to with his stage.  In hindsight, H admitted she should have gone directly to her back gas. 

At the surface, the skipper threw us a lifering where we clipped our stages.  We were briefed to hold on tightly as they pulled us to the boat anad we climbed up using the ladder.  The  stage cylinders were then loaded into the boat for us.

Mark decided to cook this evening so we gracefully let him, before finishing off with some decompression theory and dive planning for the following day.

Day 5 (Third day Advanced Trimix Course)
·            Aim: 60m dive (should have been 75m).
·            Site: Schnell Boat (should have been HMS Southwold).
·            Boat Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 66m.
·            Bottom Time: 20 minutes.
·            Run times: 1@51m, 1@48m, 1@45m, 2@42m, 2@24m, 4@21m, 3@15m, 5@12m, 7@9m, 22@6m (all gas switch depths had 2 minutes added for the switch).
·            Total time: 96 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 15s, 1x 10l and 2x 7l stages.
·            Gas: 16/46, 27/27, 50% and 80%.

After analysing our gas in the morning the fills we found that the fills were not quite what we were expecting.  We replanned the dive based on the gasses we had and thought nothing more of it.  Later it turned out that the mixes were ‘off’ was because the air cylinder used for analyser calibration had a very weak Nitrox mix.  Lessons learnt: ALWAYS double check your calibration cylinder and plan the dives post gas analysis if possible. 

Unfortunately the weather turned for the worse so we were uable do dive the HMS Southwold.  However we decided to use the same plan in the back up site, as a practice towards deep diving.

H led the dive and had leaders legs, which was a shame as the Schnell Boat was a lovely wreck.  Most of the outer casing had fallen off, leaving a skeleton wreck.  It was an interesting wreck with pleny to see; propellers, torpedo tubes, kitchen equipment etc…  As usual scenerios came at the shallower part of the ascent; I lost my deco gas (50%) at 12m with only a minute of deco to go.  I went onto my back gas and thought (wrongly) that Dave wanted to pass me his 27/27.  In fact he wanted to confirm with me a switch to 27/27, so that he could pass me his 50% stage.  For some reason I had it in my head that this was a test to see if I would take the wrong gas.  H intervened and I eventually got the correct cylinder.  I At this stage I knew I would fail this course as I had made numerous silly errors over the past few days.  At 6m, H lost her deco gas so she went onto the drop tank to complete her deco.

Back on the boat I was feeling a little down so H tried her best to cheer me up.  Today was Easter Sunday and all of the local shops had been selling traditional Maltese cake (Figolli).  The skipper brought some out on the boat,  at least that brought a smile to the fatty in me.

The rest of the day was theory lessons with Mark and more gas planning.

Day 6 (Fourth day Advanced Trimix Course)
·            Aim: 60m dive.
·            Site: Le Polynesian.
·            Boat Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 59m.
·            Bottom Time: 25 minutes.
·            Run times: 1@36m, 1@33m, 1@30m, 1@27m, 3@24m, 4@21m, 4@12m, 5@9m, 19@6m (all gas switch depths had 2 minutes added for the switch).
·            Total time: 91 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 15s, 2x 10l stages.
·            Gas: 20/32, 50% and 80%.

Dave, Mark and myself after the dive.
We knew the weather would not be suitable to dive the HMS Southwold so we planned for another 60m wreck.  The sea was quite rough and I was seasick.  Today was the last dive of the course and it was my turn to lead.  Although we descended to the bottom in less than 5 minutes, we did not leave the shot until at 8 minutes when everyone was happy.  The shot was located at the stern just in view of the large gun.  The wreck laid on its port side, so we swim along it at depth of 60m and upon turning it at 16 minutes, we swam back at 55m.  On our way back we noticed a shot line had just appeared.  Somebody had droped a shot down when we were on the wreck!  The ascent went well and we hit the run times exactly, until H  spotted Dave’s rich stage cylinder were labelled as ‘21m’ on the cylinder body, despite an  MOD of 10m (correctly labelled on the cylinder neck)!  This gas switch was done very carefully and emphasised the importance of team work.  Mark removed the incorrectly labelled cylinder from him, so Dave had now lost his 80%.  Dave also lost his 50% so I passed him mine once I had completed my deco, and he used the drop tank for the shallow decompression stops.  Apart from unclipping the rear clip of one of my stages Mark didn’t throw in any other scenarios as we had created enough of our own.

Post dive we headed back to the dive centre and rinsed off our kit.  We headed back to the apartment for some final theory lesson and exam.

We finished the day in Old Harrys pub and met the new students who just arrived for TDI Advanced Trimix Course with Mark. Mark de-briefed each of us individually but as previously mentioned, I knew I had failed. As a TDI instructor I had generated pressure on myself; something I tend to do around Mark!  In addition to the underwater mistakes described earlier, I had a few brain farts on decompression theory and not rounding down O2 mixes.  The worst was my tendency to micro-manage H.  But in my defence, I was trying to help, as she had a shaky start to the week given her rusty drills.  However as the more relaxed and composed diver, I thought she would have a better chance of passing than me.  In the end, H and I got provisional passes as Mark wanted to see us completing another deep dive and re-demonstrate a few team skills that were lacking.

I was disappointed that I hadn’t met the grade.  Dave had a comfortable pass and to his credit, he had not put a foot wrong throughout the course apart from the wrong cylinder labelling.  He had good training with Mark in his TDI Advanced Nitrox, Decompression Procedures  and Trimix courses.  Despite shivering at the end of every dive due to a poor choice of undersuit and a leaky drysuit, I had thoroughly enjoyed the week.

Day 7 (rest day)
The morning after the night before, we headed to Tec Deep Blue to pack up all our kit and settle our bill.  We knew this was going to hurt and the helium costs certainly made us think about the CCR for future deep diving.

As promised to the wife that this was a holiday, we headed out to Mdina, the old capital of Malta.  It was very easy to get to by bus from the main bus station in Bugibba.  The city was very picturesque and had plenty to offer.  I wish I had more time to explore the rich Maltase war history by visiting more historical sites but we flew back to the UK later in the day.

Skills Practice Dives
Due to our hectic work schedule, we couldn’t fit in a date for our skills dive until September, five months later.  Prior to the D-day, we spent the weekend before at the National Diving and Activity Centre (NDAC) for some refresher training.

Dive 1:
We started the day on the benches with some dry practical with our twinsets: valve drills, primary/backup regulator fails and s-drills.  We went to the 6m platform after bubbles check and did the same surface drills, plus mask removal/replace, rescues including horizontal underwater tows and ascents, no mask ascents buoyancy and trim.

Dive 2:
We had a dry practical on stages gas switching, before taking our stages with us for the second dive.  We carried out the same drills as the last dive, stimulated emergency scenarios with flash cards and practice gas switch ascent.

As a coincidence Mark was at NDAC teaching an Intro to Tech course, we finalised timings for the next weekend and agreed on a dive plan for 60m.  We left our cylinders for fill at NDAC to be collected next weekend

‘Remedial’ Weekend (D-Day)

Day 1
We arrived at NDAC with our dive plans written out on our slates and luckily the blends in the cylinders were fairly accurate.  In addition we also planned a 70m dive in case it was required.
·            Aim: 60m dive.
·            Site: NDAC.
·            Shore Dive.
·            Maximum depth: 60m.
·            Bottom Time: 22 minutes.
·            Run times: 1@36m, 1@ 33m, 1@30m, 1@27m, 1@24m, 4@21m, 1@18m 1@15m, 2@12m, 6@9m, 9@6m (all gas switch depths had 2 minutes added for the switch).
·            Total time: 56 minutes.
·            Cylinders: Twin 12s, Ali 80 and Ali 40 stages.
·            Gas: 16/46, 50% and 80%.

H and I descended from the platform and secured our 80% Ali-80 on the trapeze.  We followed the line down to 42m where it stopped.  I used my 50m spool to lay a line onto 60m.  At our maximum depth, I continue to lay the line but was conscious of the extra time required to reel in so I thumbed the dive slightly earlier.  Once back at the main shot line we ascended with (surprisingly) no ‘funnies’ thrown in.  At 21m when we completed our first gas switch, I signalled to H 4-minute deco, but she corrected me with 2-min deco as we had 2 minutes added on the run times for the gas switch.  We left the main line and continued the ascent along the transfer line up to the trapeze. 

I took the trapeze drop tank with me as we moved from 9m to 6m.  Mark signalled to us to deploy a DSMB when we had approximately 5 minutes of deco left.  As the trapeze was under the platform so we moved away from it, but not before disconnecting the drop tank and trailing it behind me.  H had a little wobble in her DSMB deployment and Mark gave H the loss of deco gas signal.  Since I had the drop tank with me I passed it to her to clear the deco.

In the post-dive debrief we were told that our team skills have improved were awarded our certifications.  What a relief!

Day 2
Although not required as part of the course assessment, we arrived at NDAC for another Trimix dive, after all why waste our blend?!   I also took the opportunity to sit in with Mark on TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures theory revision with another student.

It took a while but H and I eventually got there in the end. I learnt the following:
·            Keep on top of your personal diving skills.
·            I need to work on my mental fitness.
·            Stop, think, act AND buoyancy, buddy, task.
·            Stop micro-managing the wife.    
·            Reinforces the importance of team diving and rehearse for procedures in emergency scenarios.
·            Choose your instructor carefully.  The instructor is more important than the agency.

The boring bit!
All opinions expressed in my articles are my own and may differ to other instructor’s and agency guidelines; by no means are they wrong and I would not wish to disrepute any of them.  This article is for information only and should not replace proper training.

Safe diving!

Timothy Gort
BSAC, PADI & SDI/TDI diver training

l Mob: 07968148261 l Email: l