AARGH! WHAT IS THAT FLOATING ON THE SURFACE Pale, with lots of appendages flapping around – is it a strange, deformed beluga, or a giant squid come to join me on my safety stop
As I swim closer to complete my safety stop directly beneath it, my regulator nearly falls out my mouth when I realise what I’m seeing – a man, completely nude, doing an untidy breast-stroke!
Suddenly I spot another man, then a woman. Oh no, how am I going to surface amid all this naked flesh
Swimming towards the steep ladder welded to the rock cliff, I surface and hang onto the rope strung across the small inlet, to help stop me being carried onto the rocks in the swells.
The nudists get there before me. Trying not to stare as, one by one, they clamber up the ladder, I finally get my turn.
I have been diving at a site called Charco Del Palo, off a small rocky cliff in the town of Mala, around a 20-minute drive north along the eastern coast of Lanzarote, from Costa Teguise and 30 minutes from the capital of Arrecife.
Cruz Yago Gonzalez, probably one of the friendliest dive-guides I have come across, had, with her apprentice Sam Hutchinson, arranged to drive me there, as it was reputed to be one of the best dive-sites on the island.
Dive-centre manager for Native Diving in Costa Teguise, owned by the jolly and jovial Jose, she had moved to the island from her home-town Madrid many years ago, and dived year-round on all the island’s dive-sites.
This vast experience was appreciated, but her fun side had decided not to warn me of the unusual marine life I might encounter at Mala, a German clothing-optional town.
The dive-site had lived up to its reputation. Carefully negotiating the steep steps cut into the rock of the cliff, we made our way down to a at rock positioned perfectly as a platform for a giant-stride entry into the water.
The cool 20° water made me gasp as I hit the surface, my body having been warmed by Lanzarote’s lovely winter sun.
Descending in good visibility of around 20m, we made our way between two pinnacles jutting out of the water to a white-sand bottom scattered with small volcanic boulders at around 12m.
Winding through the volcanic rocks, we discovered swim-throughs, caves and lava flows going down to 30m.

GLIMPSING AN ATLANTIC RAY in one cave, I swam towards it, hoping to take a photo, but it was too quick for me.
I stopped on a sandy patch to photograph a small blenny hiding in a hole, and was suddenly aware of a swish as an angel shark took flight and passed within inches of me.
I tried to switch my macro wet lens for a wide-angled one, but had time only to snap the shark as it disappeared from my field of view.
Switching back to macro, my little blenny friend posed and pouted from his recess for several minutes. Then it was time to swim back to the cliff for my interesting safety stop.
I had travelled to Lanzarote in search of a viable alternative to Egypt for underwater photography courses.
About 80 miles off the African coast, Lanzarote is the easternmost island in the Spanish Canary Islands. Covering only around 327sq miles, it is easy to reach any of its many dive-sites, very cleverly and informatively described and illustrated in Guia de Inmersiones Lanzarote, a guide published in English/ Spanish (download it at www.turismo lanzarote.com).
With dive-sites from 6-50m depth, the diving is suitable for all levels, from beginner to advanced technical. Most sites encompass large areas, so you can dive several times on the same one in different directions.
Being of volcanic origin the diving is varied and very good, with plenty of caves, lava flows, swim-throughs, healthy corals and fish life fed by the Atlantic currents.
The steep cliffs close to the coast drop off to around 200m, bringing nutrients up from the deep and making Lanzarote’s dive-sites some of the most diverse in the world, with plentiful and varied macro life and huge schools of sh.
With almost year-round sun and little rain, this island is a perfect quick, cheap getaway. The Atlantic waters are fairly cool, reaching a balmy 23° in summer and dropping to around 18° in winter.
There are five distinct areas for diving – Playa Blanca in the south, Puerto del Carmen (south-east), Costa Noreste (east), and Archipelago Chinijo (north).
The islands in the archipelago are protected by the Marine Biosphere Reserve and offer some of the best diving on the island, but can be dived only when the wind is in the right direction, as the currents can be very strong and the long crossing rough.

WE MET CRUZ AND SAM AT NATIVE DIVING for a shore-dive off Playa del Jablillo beach in front of the dive-centre. This sheltered man-made bay offers safe and calm waters year-round.
We would time the dive to coincide with high tide so that we could pass over the underwater rock wall at the entrance to the bay, to dive in the open ocean along the harbour walls.
Passing over the sand at only 4m, we had our eyes peeled for another angel shark. Striped mullet were busy hoovering the sand for food, while chub and a group of spot-tail pinfish gathered around a rocky outcrop to one side of the bay. Snorkellers swam overhead, watching our every move.
Making swift work of the length of the bay, we soon arrived at the underwater wall protecting the bay. Large red-lipped blennies abounded between the giant boulders forming the wall.
The surge over the rocks made it impossible to stop to take a photo, so I went with the flow and was pushed out of the bay into the open ocean, the bottom dropping away to around 8m.
On the sandy bottom I looked into nooks and crannies in the wall for more blennies, but they obviously preferred the top. A few fire-worms moved surprisingly quickly over the rocks, while several brightly coloured flabellina nudibranchs stood out in bright contrast.
Sharp-nosed pufferfish swam above the reef in pairs, coming quite close to us.
As the very relaxed dive ended we swam back to the wall, where the sea level had dropped to leave only around 1.5m clearance over the rocks.
Horizontal and making sure to have no bits dangling, we waited for the next swell to torpedo us over the wall into the calm waters of the bay.

JUST ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF COSTA TEGUISE is a small bay where the Telamon, a cargo ship from the Ivory Coast, ran aground in 1981 with its valuable cargo of wood. The stern projects out of the water very close to shore, while the broken-off bow lies close by in around 12m.
Kitting up on the beach in the warm sunshine, we marvelled that we were the only people around.
The flat surface waters surrounding the shipwreck belied the strong onshore current below. We fought against it to swim to the wreck. Swirling the silty-soft sand into clouds, the current slowed our progress in only 5-10m visibility.
Suddenly we were upon the wreck, its bulk offering some protection as we hugged close to the hull, which we followed until we reached the section where the bow had sheered off.
Sinking onto the sand, I looked into the open stern at a blue starfish spreadeagled on the coral-encrusted hull.
As we regrouped, we decided to push on to the bow section to the north-west. Only around 100m away, it took Cruz a while to locate in the bad visibility, but once there we found the vis improved to around 15-20m.
Largely intact, the bow section makes for an interesting dive. It lies partially on its side, with lots of structures to swim around, through and over.
Schools of fish gather around the wheelhouse, while the sun rays penetrate through and down to light the wreck.
A large porthole made a great frame for images of each other. I’d like to return in better vis, as its shallow depth and profile would make for amazing sunlight images.

ON OUR FINAL DAYS, Cruz took us over to Puerto del Carmen and Playa Chica beach, where six shore-dives and another five boat-dives can be accessed from the same jetty.
It was hard to find space to park the minibus among the many cars and vans. Weaving between seemingly hundreds of divers kitting up, I was already missing the seclusion of our previous dives.
As we joined the throng, Cruz pointed out the two entry points, one from a beach to the left of the jetty, the other from steps on its right side. Native Diving also uses a boat from the jetty.
Feeling like large walking seals with our heavy equipment, we dodged between the many sandcastle-digging children, fussing mothers and scantily clad European men in their tiny Speedos.
Submerging among throngs of near-naked bodies in the cool water, we swam out toward the furthest point of the bay on the left.
We were aiming for a large cave called the Cathedral at around 32m. The bottom had been kicked up by previous divers to reduce visibility to around 10m.
Reaching the point, we swam over a small rise and descended to around 28m and the wreck of a small boat.
Surprisingly, all signs of returning divers had disappeared. We didn’t see another until we hit the shallows again, which seemed remarkable considering the number who had been kitting up, but highlighting how many sites there were in Puerto Del Carmen.
Visibility improved to around 20m. Lying on a rock ledge just above the wreck was a large dusky grouper. It posed as I approached and let me take lots of photos.
I signalled to my buddy, Sue, but the grouper scooted off into the blue as she came over. Shrugging, Sue showed me what she had been photographing – more nudibranchs, posing prettily against a dark background.
We signalled to each other to find the cave. Descending to around 30m, we came across several large caverns before reaching the end of a wall, but had too little air left to continue to the big one so returned to shallower water.
There we found a beautiful little brown seahorse on a rock at the entrance to the bay in only around 6m. As the water surged around us, I managed to get a few images before being pushed into the bay, where we investigated the sand, and Sue tried, in vain, to photograph the very skittish peacock ounders.
After a surface-interval drink at the lovely little restaurant on the jetty, we decided to come back another day to try for the Cathedral. Instead we took the steps to try the site to the right of the jetty and look for another seahorse in an old crate at around 22m.
Cruz led us there almost immediately. The little yellow seahorse had curled its tail around the bars of the crate, using them as an anchor. Under the crate was a tiny pygmy filefish, which darted fiercely towards me as I tried to photograph the seahorse. Sue had found a bright red starfish on the golden sand, a tiny anemone and lots of peacock flounders.
Trying to photograph the many striped mullet as they sifted through the sand alongside goatfish and chub became a game. They remained just beyond my strobe capabilities.
Our final dive was another attempt on the Cathedral. Cruz and Sam had clients to lead, so Sue and I headed for the cave.
At around 10m, I noticed a big stream of bubbles coming from my hose. I checked my gauge to find that I had used up twice as much air as usual.
If we went straight to the cave, stayed only for a minute or two and then ascended, I thought I would be OK, but on checking my gauge again at 20m, I saw that I was down to 120 bar!
I signalled my disappointment and apology to Sue, and we returned to around 10m. At 12m my friendly dusky grouper recognised me and swam over to greet me. This time Sue was able to get a couple of images before he swam away to join another huge grouper.

WE COULDN’T FIND THE SEAHORSE on the rock again, but there were lots of nudibranchs, fireworms and an orange starfish. Swimming into the bay at around 5m, we kept over to the right-hand side to investigate the rocks.
Brightly coloured wrasse and parrotfish patrolled the reef, where vivid red scorpionsh lurked everywhere, daring us to put our hands down to steady ourselves in the slight swell as we took photos. Lots of tiny arrow crabs busily collected food with their pointed rostrums.
All too soon, sucking the very last breaths from my tank, I popped my head up to the surface, and swam back to the shore. We had managed a 62-minute dive, despite my lack of air!
Cruz was excited to find out whether we had seen the angel shark – how did we miss it Oh well, there’s always next time, and with the close location, cheap prices and excellent diving perfect for underwater photography, I am sure it will be very soon.

GETTING THERE Fly direct with BA from Gatwick, or book a London or regional flight with Monarch, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Ryanair, Jet 2 or Easyjet.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Native Diving, www.nativediving.com. Hotels, apartments and villas are available in Costa Teguise. BeLive Grand Teguise Playa Hotel or Apartmentos Galeon can be booked through Native Diving or travel companies including British Airways Holidays.
WHEN TO GO Year-round. Summer air temperatures are 27°C, winter 20°. Summer sea temperatures 23°, winter 18°. Take a 5-7mm wetsuit and add hood and gloves in winter.
PRICES BeLive Grand Teguise Playa from 63 euros pp a night. Return flights from £80. 10-dive package from 200 euros.
TOURIST INFORMATION www.turismodecanarias.com