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<font color='#0000FF'>Better late than never!

                       Açores Dive Trip

                         São Miguel Island



I’ve heard much about the sealife of the Açores but heard little about the diving.  The little I heard wasn’t all that positive but I wasn’t convinced. These islands are in the mid Atlantic and much of the filming of marine life were made here such as many of the scenes in the Blue Planet. On paper it seems to be a divers paradise. Why has there been so little written about these islands?

Rather to dream about it my wife and I flew out on boxing day for a weeks stay at the largest of the 9 islands São Miguel. There are direct flights to São Miguel from the Continent and being the largest of the island it has more to offer when not diving. As I didn’t have any references to diving centers I searched the net and came across John of Atlantic Aqua Sports. In turn we booked at a local hotel at Agua do Pau.
John & Jane Cookshot have a rather laid back diving center and offers shore divers from the local port. They are very hospitable and on the first morning invited to their us for Tea and Christmas pudding (something we thought we were able to escape from!). Because he only does shore dives he recommended another center (Espirito Azul) at a nearby village (Vila Franca do Campo). This new center is run by Portuguese and has 2 boats.
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Dive 1 – 27/12/2003 Ilheu island
Our first dive of the Açores. This was in the evening and there wasn’t much light. Water temp was 17ºc and viz variable from 8-12m. There wasn’t much as per fishlife, first thing I noticed was the shear quantity of Fireworms, there were also cow breams and damselfish. There were other species but nothing spectacular or that I could Identify. The rock formations were nice with vertical walls and large boulders.

Dive 2 – 28/12/2003 Calhoura Port
This shore dived arranged by John covered the area in front of the port. Topside the scenery was beautifull and the sea floor had black volcanic rock. The dive involved a lot of swimming where our aim was to visit a spot where there are groupers. Alltogether we saw six groupers, a couple being quite large. Fortunately visibility was good (7-8m) as we came across a fishing net where we had to lift and swim underneath it. Here we also saw octopus, spider crab, large clams, usual fireworms and damselfish.
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Dive 3 – 28/12/2003 Dori wreck
I very rarely dive wrecks. The Dori was a cargo ship that sank off Ponte Delgada in the 1960’s. The story goes along the line that the company was in financial difficulty and the skipper took the ship close ashore and told the Port authorities he was in difficulty. The harbour master who suspected a scam told the skipper to make sure that if he were to sink not to block the shipping lane and he would rescue the crew. The valves were opened (or officially there was a problem with them) and the ship sank to a diver friendly depth of 20m. The ship collapsed internally after a bad storm a few years ago so now it’s a tangle of metal. We swam along the starboard side to return on the port side.  There was a large school of barracuda and quite a variety of fish such as red mullets, sole, scorpion fish etch. On the way out we spotted a pod of dolphins, I jumped into the water with a snorket to have a closer look, although they didn’t hang around it was great to see them
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Dive 4 – 29/12/2003 Baixa de Paulos
This was a long deep dive with interesting rock faces & bolders. I saw a ledge where I wanted to sit and look out into the blue however all the places were taken up for fireworms. Uneventfull dive with little fishlife.

Dive 5 – 30/12/2003 Dori Again
Had to return to the wreck. Sea conditions were not as good as before but nice dive anyway. Plenty of barracudas, damselfish and parrot fish. As before the red mullets followed my fins.
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Dive 6 – 30/12/2003 Baixa de Castanhetas
The second dive of the day was a maze of collapsed lava tubes. A kind of Disneyland for divers. Great fun to swim in, up & around the arches. Not much fishlife other than a ray, damselfish and sea scorpions.
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Dive 7 31/12/2003 Panela /Arcos de Galega
My favourite. Imagine a witches pot where the pot is a cavern and the handles the entrance and exit. The remainder of the site was like the last dive with collapsed lava tubes. Well as for the pot the cavern is 18m deep. Going in there was a double arch, inside there was little life but the way the light came through and the clear water made it quite surreal. On exiting had to wait for the swell to push you out, everyone did this except for me! I swam against the swell finning like mad to then pop out like a champagne cork!
 

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<font color='#0000FF'>Conclusion
The Azores has much to offer. It’s a great destination with good diving. Top side it is tranquil and unspoilt, personally I love this hence why we went to the açores and not Madeira or Tenerife. The diving was good and apparently much better in the summer. I can only compare it to my experience from diving in Portugal mainland and Gozo. I will return and try to do some Blue water diving to spot bigger fish. To dive with whales you need a permit, not sure how hard it is to get but personally I’m OK knowing that they are around and leave them unbothered. You can take special tours that go close to them though if you wish.
I dive with Espírito Azul (www.espiritoazul.com)who proved excellent, couldn’t fault them. Knowing how competent you are they can take you to more challenging sites. In the summer they will offer trips to some inhabited islands and marine reserve some 40kms away.
 

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Thanks, Chris! It's always interesting to read about other people's trips, especially about placed one hasn't been to, and the pics make it even more interesting.
 
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