8.30 IN THE MORNING, and no jet lag, The Canary Islands are in the same time zone as home. Stepping outside the Hotel Caso Calero, I look back and conclude that while the architect did a superb job inside, it was at the expense of leaving the walls facing the road to a sub-contractor favouring the classical Soviet style.
Its a clear blue sky; air temperature just right for shorts and T-shirt. The Canaries are as far south as the Red Sea, with sunshine to match.
Downhill, the marina architecture of Puerto Calero is pleasantly new Mediterranean, nicely laid out along an extended pedestrian seafront. Island Watersports is already open, while other shops are slowly joining the day.
Islands owner Norman points the RIB north-east along a low black volcanic cliff, past the main resort town, Puerto del Carmen, to a string of buoys marking the no-boat limits of a bathing beach.

Lava flow
Red Cross is a classic Lanzarote reef, a grey lava flow sweeping down the sandy slope to overhang the wall at 25m. You have to look carefully to find the rewards. The yellow tree coral beneath an overhang, the small moray eels, a purple and yellow striped nudibranch, an anemone with arrow crab, a scorpionfish, even a starfish by itself out on the sand - its the minimalist school of underwater art.
The overall scene is much busier in the afternoon by the wreck of a fishing boat just outside the marina. Shoals of sardines are concentrated by a fish feed for the big yellow tourist submarine.
Normally the dive centre and sub operator plan their schedules to avoid each other. Today, by request, we are allowed to follow their safety diver and fish-feeder as he puts on a show for passengers with noses pressed against portholes.
I had been hoping that a big resident sting ray would turn up, but she isnt hungry. I am consoled by an angel shark sleeping in a corner of the wrecks hold.
In the evening, its back to the marina for a Chinese meal. Or it was going to be Chinese, until I discover shark-fin soup on the menu. I feel awkward, but the thing about principles is that once you make an exception, they come tumbling down. We finish the first beer and shift venue to the Thai restaurant at the other end of the marina.
Staying with wrecks, outside Puerto del Carmen six or seven large fishing boats have been sunk as artificial reefs. Some are almost intact, while others are just ribs and engine blocks, the wreckage so confused that its hard to tell just how many wrecks there are. The best is easily the wreck at 20m with bow overhanging the wall and the deeper wrecks.
Even so, with dark wood on black sand and rocks, it feels much deeper.
An email arrives confirming my ferry for the evening. All ferry bookings were supposed to be in place before I left the UK. Instead, they are catching up with me as the trip progresses. The constant concern over my route is a stress I could well have done without.
Yesterday lunchtime, Norman had been busy beneath a yacht scrubbing the hull, while Tonin crawled into the engine-room of another yacht on behalf of an owner who had grown too big to fit through the hatch. Today is less busy, and I bag instructors Tonin and Vicky to pose for photographs demonstrating a rescue exercise.
We finish my two days on Lanzarote at Blue Hole. Its a tunnel down through the wall to 30m, then a detached pinnacle off the reef and a cave. With groupers, black coral, lots of shrimps and moray eels, it has all the right ingredients to finish on a high. Except that my flash cable is shorting, and the flashguns are refusing to fire.
The final highlight is a seahorse resident on the mooring line, and Tonin saves the day by illuminating some close-ups with his dive light. Its just bright enough to do the job.
The sun is setting when Norman drops me at the ferry at Playa Blanca. The fading light silhouettes endless lava fields, still jagged and impassable since the last eruption in 1824.

Norman and Tonin outside the Island Watersports shop

loading the RIB in the marina at Puerto Calero

yellow tree coral beneath an overhang at Red Cross

a seahorse has set up home on a mooring line at Blue Hole

tourist submarine at Puerto Calero


THE FRED OLSEN EXPRESS takes 30 minutes to cross from Playa Blanca to Corralejo on Fuerteventura, then its on south with Roland in the Deep Blue van to the resort at Caleta de Fuste.
Every dive centre has its own system. At Deep Blue we kit up in the dive centre, then sit on the RIB, all ready to roll in. It works because the ride to the dive site takes fewer than five minutes. We get straight into the water, with no time lost.
La Embroscada is impressively big scenery. A shelf of volcanic rock runs parallel to the shore to a depth of between 5 and 10m, breaking into avertical wall to anything between 20 and 30m. Off the wall, huge angular blocks rise from the sand, some close enough to make narrow canyons, others standing as lonesome monoliths on the sandy slope.
This is typical of dive sites in the area. The pattern repeats for a few miles along the coast, though it has taken exploration over a number of years to work out which sections are worth diving and which are not.
Before the dive, Lothar laid a series of detailed sketches on the table, each showing dive sites along the wall. Some obviously interconnect, while between others there are considerable gaps.
While the scenery continues, for some reason the fish dont congregate on certain stretches of the reef.
Back at the marina, I use the dregs of my air and film below the pontoon. An angel shark is resting in the shade. Having cautioned buddy and model Patricia not to spook it, I manage to do just that on the second shot, so finish the last few on a sea hare.
With fresh air and film I fit another shallow quickie in before the official second dive. No fewer than five angel sharks have been spotted by the Discover Scuba group just outside the marina.
Later, at Barranco, I meet a grouper, which isnt bothered by my creeping closer and closer until she is virtually touching my camera dome. Deep Blue is the only dive centre on this stretch of coast and it doesnt feed the fish, so I guess she is used to divers and has never been harassed; curiosity and laziness overcoming fear of noisy bubbles.
For my second day in Fuerteventura, Roland recommends El Portal for macro photography. It still has the big grey scenery with walls and pillars. It even has an archway at 35m, and above it an overhanging wall of tiny anemones, yellow tree corals and black corals.

Deeper red
Across from the dive centre, the hotel pool is surrounded by families, many of them English. Children play in the paddling area, sandpit and playground while parents slowly turn deeper shades of red.
The last two evenings in the town had been busy but relaxed. There were enough people about for the restaurants and bars to have some atmosphere, but none of the hustle and bustle I would soon experience on Gran Canaria. Fuerteventura is the least populated and developed of the four larger islands.
Confirmation of my onward ferry to Gran Canaria has arrived, so I enjoy a stress-free afternoon dive at Amphitheatre. While a natural bowl provides the sites name, it is a low undercut running along the bottom of the wall that is the focus of the dive.
Grouper hiding at the back are less media-hungry than yesterdays poseur. A big scorpionfish just lies across the crack blocking my view of a sting ray.
The ferry leaves from Morro Jable at the south end of the island. The three-and-a-half-hour crossing is in a modern conventional vessel run by Naviera Armas, so big that the few passengers seem to rattle around in it.

Deep Blues RIB departs for a dive from the El Castillo marina

annulated sea hare beneath the floating jetty at the El Castillo marina

A stingray beneath the reef at Amphitheatre

entering a cave at Barranco

Gran Canaria
FROM THE TOP DECK I LOOK DOWN on the floodlit quay, playing a mental game of guess which car belongs to the dive centre. I approach a red 4x4 and meet my hosts, Keith and Sylvia of Dive Academy (now run by David Gratian).
Gran Canaria brings my first shore dive of the trip. Leaving the autopiste, divemaster Natalie drives the minibus down local roads lined with electricity-generating wind turbines, then a dirt track to the Arinaga marine reserve.
The dive site is known simply as El Cabron, which translates to the Bastard - presumably named after the entry through the waves.
Its another completely different dive. The reef is a submerged headland undercut by caves and arches. Spiny urchins are in a minority and this has enabled a thick growth of algae and sponges to colonise the grey rock.
Fish graze on the algae, and the whole food chain grows from there upwards.
On the far side of the reef, we encounter an humongous shoal of roncadores; bastard grunts in English. So perhaps the name of the dive site has nothing to do with the entry point.
While such a big shoal of fish is fun to play with, its the sheer variety of fish that makes El Cabron worth repeating for our second dive. A new fish for me is the Canary drum, with a similar fin pattern to the whole range of drums found in the Caribbean, but bigger, and a speckled green-brown colour.
In the shallows, red and grey parrotfish are having a party grazing on the algae. Many have parasitic isopods on the side of their faces, but for some reason I notice them only on the left side. Is this biology or just blind chance
I spend the remainder of the afternoon in Argueneguin by the dive centres pool, looking out over the bay and harbour. The road runs by above and dive kit is ferried to and from the van in a pair of shopping trolleys.
In the evening, Puerto Rico is a seething mass of tourists among endless restaurants and bars. Keith leads the way to his favourite steakhouse through a gauntlet of hawkers beckoning us into their establishments. Looking at some of their minimal outfits, its like Amsterdam window-shopping with food inside.
As we devour big steaks, big African guys decorated in big fake jewellery offer armloads of equally fake watches. We could have dined inside and avoided them, but in some way its all part of the atmosphere. I get the impression Keith enjoys telling them where to go.
Its back to boat-diving, so Natalie leads shopping trolleys to the van, and van to the harbour, while Keith and Sylvia collect the boat from its mooring. Keiths briefing describes the wreck of a Russian ferry on the way to the Cayman Islands. Anchored overnight, it washed onto the rocks before sinking in 16m.
I descend to a curved white hull with lumps on it. Is it upside-down I continue past a line of windows in a long white GRP cylinder. Brushing aside a shoal of roncadores at the stern, a pair of long rudders disappears into the sand.
I finally realise that the wreck is a high-speed hydrofoil ferry. It looks like the submarine in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea from in front, raised upright above the sand on the forward hydrofoil, elliptical flanges on either side mounting small mooring bollards. The helm is in a tiny cockpit above.
Our second dive, on a boulder reef below Puerto Rico tunnel, disappoints. In calmer conditions with better viz it may have held up, but I cant see how it could amount to anything compared to Arinaga and the hydrofoil.
Back at Dive Academy, I check my email to get good and bad news. My plan was to get to La Palma tonight via Tenerife. The ferry to Tenerife is booked, but the onward ferry has been cancelled. The Naviera Armas website says the ferry is still running. The Armas office assures me it is still running.
I question this and they say sorry, but there is another one in two days time.
A few more phone calls and I have an alternative plan. I will dive Tenerife next and La Palma later, swapping them in my schedule. This will give me time to untangle the contradictory information about the ferry.
The change will cut into valuable diving time, but at such short notice its the only way I can see of completing the tour.
From the Fred Olsen terminal in Agaete, a big express catamaran carries me on to Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
I learn from the purser that the overnight Armas ferry to Santa Cruz de La Palma runs only in summer, so it certainly wont be running again in two days time. Its a pity neither the Armas website, timetable nor booking office knew that.

There are windmills everywhere

a shoal of roncadores at El Cabron, in the Arinaga marine reserve

a surface interval in the RIB at Argueneguin

the helm and engine controls of the Russian hydrofoil

Trumpetfish at Playa Paraiso

A starfish at Roncadores Palm Mar.

DIVERSITY HAS A BIG WATERFRONT SHOP at the Puerto Colon marina in Playa de las Americas, with retail at the front, changing area in the middle, equipment area and classroom at the back and even a small training pool in an alcove to one side.
A desk outside sells every kind of non-diving excursion under the sun. Its manned by Dave, who collected me from Santa Cruz last night.
In addition to my visit being brought forward by two days, and a full complement of customers, the dive centre is also hosting a film crew working on underwater sequences for a prehistoric sea monsters documentary.
The film-makers have already set off for the day in the dive centres main RIB. We get to ride a smaller RIB sufficiently full to remind me of club diving in the UK, but it does the job and carries all the usual safety kit.
We all hunch forward to get the hull planing north to Playa Parasio. Watching the coast, I realise just how far out of town my hotel, the Jardin Caleta, is. There are half-empty hotels in town, but the rooms are all under contract to package-tour operators.
I spend the first half of the Playa Parasio dive wondering why I am there, and the second half knowing exactly why I am there, as I round a corner to an old sailing ship anchor and a well-placed shoal of roncadores sheltering beneath an overhang. I start to find moray eels and bigeyes beneath rocks, a few big trumpetfish, and towards the end am buzzed a couple of times by a small eagle ray.
At Roncadores Palm Mar, we drop into a current and miss the usual start-point for the dive. I work back along the edge of the shelf at 10m. The planned dive site is obvious. A sprawling shoal of roncadores is just above the seabed; a shoal of small barracuda hovering above. Final confirmation is an ancient moray eel with hardly any teeth, living in a vent or spring in the rocks. Cloudy mixing water keeps it out of focus.
I look through ferry schedules to get to La Palma. Chatting to Dave at the excursion desk, I flirt briefly with the idea of chartering a helicopter to fly low. The best I can get is an afternoon Fred Olsen from Los Cristianos.
The consequence is that on my second day I manage only a morning dive, the afternoon dive falling victim to the ferry schedule. At El Balito, the highlights are a pair of leaning rocks with a swim-through, then shallow caves in the cliff with chimneys leading up to the surface and daylight.
From owner Andrews original plan I had missed out on a deeper cave system at Palm Mar and the El Condesito wreck. Victims of my hastily re-arranged schedule; I am just grateful that DiverSity could fit me in at all.

An old sailing ship anchor with a shoal of bastard grunts at Playa Paraiso.

La Palma
an express catamaran serves this route, but the afternoon service is a well-used conventional ferry that chugs along at half the speed. It must have worked in the UK originally, because all the electrical sockets are square-pin 13 amp.
Atlantic 28 is named after the latitude of La Palma, 28 north of the Equator. From the dive centre in Fuencaliente, 600m above sea level, Bernd and Nora drive a pair of old blue Land Rovers down a winding mountain road to the southern tip of the island.
We pause halfway, looking out over some of the Canaries most recent volcanic landscape to survey both east and west coasts. Conditions look good, and we continue on the road, and then a rocky track, through the lava field to Malpique, just west of the southern tip of La Palma.
Nora leads the way across black sand and down a grey basalt shelf. If coral reefs are the rainforest of the oceans, this is the rocky desert.
Attractive for its stark simplicity, it is dotted with the random cactus and thorn bushes browsed by pelagic camels. You have to know where to find small creatures hiding under rocks.
We pause briefly as an electric ray flops along the base of the wall, then continue out to where the next tier is punctuated by an archway with a lone black coral. Out in the blue, a jagged stack rises vertically a good 20m from the sand at 48m, an oasis forest of black coral.
Noras return route loops across the shallow plateau through a forest of grave markers, crosses in memory of 40 Jesuit missionaries murdered and cast into the sea by the French pirate Jacques de Sores in 1570. The east side of the island is rougher, but not so rough that I cant dive with Bernd that afternoon at Las Cobras. The inlet is just sheltered enough to allow us to enter the water.
The topography is a simple sloping wall with a small archway at the top. Its not in the same league as Malpique, but thats more than made up for by the marine life.
As in Arinaya on Gran Canaria, it is the lack of spiny urchins that allows algae and sponges to grow on the rocks. Wrasse and parrotfish graze on these, damselfish flit above, and trumpetfish and grouper eat the lot.
With 600m of mountain to ascend, we dont rush back to the dive centre, decompressing first with a cold beer at Playa Zamorra in the centre of the marine reserve.
Bernd points out a few of the dive sites, accessible only by boat because boat-diving is one of the reserve rules. With no harbour at this end of the island, and moorings exposed to storms, Atlantic 28&65533;s boat is laid up for the winter in Santa Cruz de La Palma.
The morning view down the mountainside from the old white cottage in which I am staying is glorious. Its a bright and breezy day. The sea looks rough, and I wonder if the sites Bernd pointed out yesterday evening will be diveable.
There are three arrivals at the dive centre, one from yesterday and two new divers who have so far been walking, climbing and riding. The mountains down the centre of La Palma separate east and west micro-climates. The forest on the east side is more northern European; on the west side, more Mediterranean. Hiking trails lead up through the forest to the Caldera de Taburiente national park.
As yesterday, we pause on the road to check the conditions on each coast. The strong wind is blowing from the south-east, so there is only one possibility, to dive Las Cobras again, where the inlet provides a little shelter. Even then, it turns out to be a one-dive day, as it is safe to enter the water only near high tide.
Confirmation of the remaining ferry bookings arrived earlier in the day, and I can relax on the evening ferry back to Tenerife. Its a return run of the Fred Olsen ship on which I arrived, getting into Los Cristianos an hour late, at 1am.
My overnight apartment at the Adelfas II is nice enough, a small terraced house within a whole hotel housing estate, but it seems hardly worth the effort for five hours sleep before I am in a taxi back to Los Cristianos and the Gajonay Express ferry to San Sebastian de La Gomera.

Crosses in memory of pirate victims at Malpique

a pufferfish at Las Cobras

a Grouper at Barranco

archway beneath a lava flow at the same site

La Gomera
THE GAJONAY EXPRESS IS A SMALL PASSENGER-ONLY CATAMARAN. Without the luxury of a baggage cart there is a crush on the gangway as passengers carry their bags into the back of the cabin, then a similar disorganised crush as the passengers for San Sebastian get off. I wait until most have departed, as its a lot less hassle.
Dive Art is a dive centre that opened only a few months before. Equipment is new and the shop, located a couple of blocks back from the marina, newly decorated. Owner Andy pulls a trolley loaded with dive kit to his boat.
The boat is a work of art, a 6m dory that Andy built from a basic hull moulding and shipped from Germany. The port fuel tank is a beer keg from Paulaner Brau Munchen, while the starboard tank is Berliner Kindel. Im not sure which brew the outboard is drinking on the way to our first dive at Cascante, a big rock separated from the headland by a saddle at 10m.
Big fat trumpetfish pretend to be invisible, lining themselves up with the visible planes of the rock. More trumpetfish disguise themselves among a small shoal of barracuda, while yet more hide in the shadow of a tube that runs a good 10m through the middle of the rock.
Their regular snack is a cloud of grey damselfish off the end of the rock, toothpick and cleaning service provided by shrimps nesting in the vertical cracks between hexagonal basalt columns.
Loaded for two dives, we kill time by idling along just off the shore and admiring the scenery. While La Palma is the most recently volcanically active island in the Canaries, La Gomera is the least active and has been stable for millions of years.
I can see the difference in the coastline, weathered layers of rock forming vertical cliffs and stepped valleys leading back into the interior. The ferry is named after the Gajonay national park in the centre of the island, harbouring unique forest similar to that found in the Mediterranean before the last Ice Age. As on La Palma, many more visitors come to explore the national park than to dive.
At Punta del Gravita we dive a wall leading to a submerged headland with an equally good supply of fish, though not the sheer number of trumpetfish of Cascante. My fish-chasing ambitions are soon discarded when I meet a well-disguised octopus sitting on the rocks. Do octopus eat spiny urchins
Back at the marina, I have the most convenient accommodation possible short of a liveaboard - the catamaran Prinz Herbert, just along the pontoon from Andys boat. A quick T-shirt and underwear wash out of the way, I now have enough clean clothes to last me to the end of the trip and the journey home. Its a luxury to have time to catch up on sleep before going out for a pizza.
Diving continues with Roque del Herrero, a rock off a headland like Cascante, though this time the saddle is a reef breaking the surface that prevents circumnavigation. I spend ages stalking a shoal of salpe off the point that just dont want to co-operate, then head back to the south side to explore some caves and cracks before rounding the point again with eagle rays, sting rays and a butterfly ray passing in the distance.
To round off, we drift round the headland at Punta Gorda. Along a boulder slope we see a good variety of resident fish and enjoy a passing encounter with a shoal of big mackerel.
Back in San Sebastian, I have the luxury of a few hours on the Prinz Herbert to dry kit before packing for an evening and night of ferries.
First its the Garjonay Express back to Los Cristianos, then Fred Olsens oldest ferry again to El Hierro.

Common octopus at Punta Del Gravita

The catamaran Prinz Herbert in the marina at San Sebastian

beer-keg fuel tanks

an overhanging rock at Roque del Herrero


El Hierro
The ferry docks on time at La Estaca, a painful 5.30 am. I rise slowly from a deep sleep on a bench in the bar. An hour later, Jutte from Fan Diving has me installed in a flat above the dive centre in La Restinga.
I catch an extra hours sleep. Its an exhausting schedule to which I am getting accustomed. The old adage that a change is as good as a rest seems to work; I am full of enthusiasm for the last island and the diving it will bring.
Punta Miradero is the rounded remains of a jagged and uneven lava field covered in small algae and sponges, leading to a steep sandy slope broken by short sections of reef and wall. Its one of those dives where I know in minutes that I have chosen the wrong lens.
Its not that the fish-spotting lens I am using isnt getting results. There are plenty of fish, and I am spotting them, but as soon as we get to the cave full of amberjack, I have a vision of a wide-angle shot of all of them.
A month later, in the January issue of , I see that John Bantin had the same vision, but he had the right lens on the dive.
Gunter brings the RIB back to La Restinga. Other harbours on this trip have been full of yachts, but La Restinga is full of dive boats. From the newly renovated town waterfront I count at least 11 RIBs.
Spanish divers regard La Restinga and El Hierro with the same kind of esteem that UK divers reserve for Oban and the Sound of Mull. This tiny town is overflowing with dive centres. Across from the end of the mole, a construction crew is busy laying blocks for a new mole, providing better protection for yachts, and a marina.
Before picking a lens for the afternoon dive at Hayo del Feyo, I spend more time quizzing Gunter. Like Punta Miradero, it begins with an old lava field leading to a slope of sand. Gunter is sticking with wide-angle on his camera, but I decide to look for smaller stuff. With garden eels, shrimps, hermit crabs and plenty of small fish, going for macro turns out to be a good choice. I even get face-shot of a pair of amberjacks.
The sun sets quickly over the lava field outside town, silhouetting the natural gothic architecture and a reminder of the scenery in which I have been diving. Out of season, the many café-bars have just one or two local customers each. A single exception on the waterfront has mustered those seeking entertainment with salsa dancing in the street.
With a 1000 metre mountain to cross later, I am limited to one last dive. The wind has dropped, and Gunter has something special lined up.
Just outside the harbour at El Hierros southern tip, at the edge of the marine reserve, El Bahon is scenery on a massive scale, like nothing I have dived before in the Canaries.
A sculpted monolith sitting across the current, a couple of hundred metres long, 20m wide and rising from 100m at the outside end, the fish just love it.
Big shoals of bream and salema lurk in the deeper water halfway along the east side. Below them, big grouper lurk in the gloom. A smaller grouper rests on a ledge. I get the impression that its unbalanced, both mentally, as it kisses its own reflection in first my and then Gunters camera port, then physically, as it insists on posing at any angle other than upright as we take turns to photograph it.
The late ferry gets in to Los Cristianos just after midnight. Soon this slow boat will be replaced with a monster high-speed trimaran.
My final night is spent in the Aparthotel Las Adelfas II again, where I can hear aircraft landing every hour or two, though with time to kill in the morning I can appreciate the nicely landscaped surroundings and pool.


A hermit crab at Hayo del Feyo

above the ridge at El Bahon

bream at El Bahon

Garden eels at Hayo del Feyo

amberjacks at Hayo del Feyo

the harbour at La Restinga is full of dive boats


GETTING THERE: Iberia flies daily to the larger islands via Madrid. Charter flights are available from many UK regional airports.
getting about: Ferries between islands cost from 20 and 30 each way for foot passengers: www.fredolsen.es. www.garajonayexpres.com. www.naviera-armas.com. www.trasmediterranea.es. Flights between the islands are not much more expensive, but require decompression. Car rental is cheap, as are buses.
DIVING: Lanzarote - Island Watersports, www.divelanzarote.com
Fuerteventura - DeepBlue, www.deep-blue-diving.com
Gran Canaria - Dive Academy, www. diveacademy- grancanaria.com
Tenerife - DiverSity, www.diver-sity.com
La Palma - Atlantic 28, www.atlantic28.de
La Gomera - Dive Art, www.dive-art.com
El Hierro - Fandiving, www.el-hierro-tauchen.de
FURTHER INFORMATION: Spanish Tourist Office, 020 7486 8077, 24-hour brochure line 09063 640 630 (calls 60ppm at all times), www.tourspain.co.uk or www.spain.info