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The BEC Get Everywhere - Gibraltar

From the Belfry 'horror' (worse than Zot ever was!) Trev Hughes gives us an account of his recent visit to the world famous Rock of Gibraltar.  I'm led to understand that it is still standing……

By Trev Hughes

A three week working visit to the Rock of Gibraltar by HMS Bulwark over the period 22 Sept to 12 Oct provided plenty of spare time to plan and carry out a reasonable amount of dives, caving trips and walks/cycle rides about the upper Rock.

As most people won't have been to Gib I'll start off with a few historical and geographical details to help set the scene.  The earliest known inhabitants were Neanderthal Man and various stone age animals known, by their remains found in various caves, to have lived on the Rock up to 40,000 years ago.  The Romans called the Rock "Calpe" as one of the Pillars of Hercules, believing it to mark the edge of the world.  The next owners of the Rock were the Moors under Tark-ibn-Zeyad after whom the Rock was named: Gibel-Tarik (Tarik's Mountain). They held the Rock until 1462 when it was surrendered to the Spanish.  The British, under Admiral Rooke, captured the Rock in 1704. Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713 following the treaty of Utrecht and became a Crown Colony in 1830.  The work to turn it into a modern naval base began 1893, most of the subterranean fortress was dug during World War Two. Today about 31,000 people live on the Rock.

The Rock is basically a limestone peninsula lying N-S about 55km long by 1½km wide, the highest point being 424m above sea level.  The shape of the Rock, a sharp ridge, was determined by the near vertical dip and a major fault which caused the east of Gibraltar to slip into the sea, hence the steep eastern cliffs and water catchment.  The top outline was affected by frost shattering in the Ice Age which lowered the height of the Rock by several hundred feet. On the western side the land drops-down, in a series of levels, to the reclaimed land just above sea level.  On the rugged Upper Rock there are many wild flowers including the Gibraltar Candyfuff - a unique in Europe.  Lower, in pockets of ochreous soils grow pines, Eucalyptus, Hibiscus, Oleanders and other Mediterranean plants.

I'll go through each type of activity separately and what better to start with than caving.  Being a big ship Bulwark has its share of cavers and apart from myself onboard there are Geoff Ford (BEC and Ex HMS Daedalus) Len Tyler (ex HMS Daedalus) and Chris Waterworth (Manadon Caving Club) all known to Belfyites.  Of course there are the forty or so people prepared to "give it a go" for whom trips to lower St. Michael's cave (more correctly called New St. Michaels) were arranged.  By far the best cave visited was the lower series of Old St. Michael's Cave (the lower lower series).  Geoff, Len, Chris and myself with a local caver called Tits spent a most energetic 2½ hours in this cave.  It is not very extensive but has a vertical range of 240ft and is comparable to a Fairy Cave Quarry cave turned on its end.  It is a superbly decorated system whose chambers are joined by a collection of fine sporting squeezes and boulder ruckles, it also contains the finest tasting water on the Rock.  I must mention it is not a cave for the Chris Batstones of this world.  Apart from the St. Michael's caves other caves visited included Martin's Cave which is full of huge bats and, as Tony Jarratt will know, there is a fine engraving available to those who search - I bought a print in a local junk shop for a most reasonable sum.

Another interesting cave visited by Chris and myself was Fig Tree Cave No.2 (we couldn't find No.1) marked No.3 on map.  This cave has very good dig potential, a low sand and pebble choked crawl heads into the Rock.

Many smaller caves were visited while out walking and to this aim I recommend the Mediterranean steps which descend the steep Eastern Cliffs - rather like the path up to Crib Coch but with the additional hazard of huge cactus bushes at every corner.

There are many other caves worth a visit especially, so I hear Georges Bottom, not found this time but I have marked the location on the map (No.4).  It is said to be tight and sporting.

The best person to get in touch with reference to caving is a local shopkeeper and part-time soldier: Ernest (Tits) Serra

SPQR Tobacconists
146 Main Street,
Gibraltar            Tel.4395 (shop hours).

Its is a very helpful contact and will arrange trips for any visiting caver, most easily at weekends.

With so many cave sites on the Rock (about 170) a fair selection can: be found on the Upper Rock especially if the show cave bar is visited first where there is an excellent cave location map (1:5280).

Key to Cave Sites on Map

1.                  St. Michael’s Caves

2.                  Martin’s Cave

3.                   Figtree Cave No.2

4.                  George’s Bottom

5.                   South Cave.

6.                  Gorham's Cave

7.                   Boathoist Cave

8.                   Pocci Roca Cave

9.                   Haynes Cave

For the sub aqua enthusiast there is plenty of scope around the rock.  In general the underwater visibility is good (10-14m) and the water fairly warm, about 19OC at 10m. Even in the winter months the water never drops below 15°C.

The tidal range is about 1m and as a result, of this a moderate current sweeps round Gibraltar Bay just after the turn of the tide, the strongest currents are off Europa Point and at these times this area must be avoided.

The best diving is to be had off the Western side of the Rock and I'll go through the better sites visited.

At the Northern end of the detached mole are two wrecks (site A) - the "inner" and "outer".  The inner wreck may be located by swimming out about 25m from a green water tank on the mole.  The outer wreck is linked to the inner by a rope tied to both, it bears 290° magnetic from the inner wreck.  The depth of water is about 20m, vis. good, and the current negligible except at turn of tide springs.  Both wrecks are well shattered and much dived on.  A first world war Enfield machine gun has been recovered from this area.

Further down the remains of a gate across the mole gives the location of the SS Excellent (site B) about 25m out from the mole in 20m of water.  She is upside down the sandy bottom.  Both sites are good for octopus but beware of large conger eels.

By far the best wreck to be dived on is the SS Rosalyn on the Southern side of S mole (site C). She is very easily found by swimming out about 20m from the mole leaving it at the northern end of the central casemate. The wreck is largely intact, sits upright on the bottom in 21m of water.  I don't know her exact history but Rosalyn dates from about World War 1 and was sunk in World War 2.  Her stem and stern are complete but her centre castle has been demolished in recent years.  The wreck may be entered but extreme caution is required.  The engine room and holds are open but "finds' will be limited as she is dived on regularly,

Moving off wrecks and onto the delights of nature.  The Seven Sisters rock pillars in 10 - 22m of water are well worth a visit (site D). Many varieties of fish are to be found and all are so used to seeing divers that you will be treated with total disinterest.  The occasional octopus, some of a fair size, are to be had in deeper water.  They live in such things as old car tyres and the like. The occasional stone gin bottle may be found in deeper water (25 m +).

Further south at Camp Bay (site E) are two sunken barges in 10m of water.   This site is where the old Men-o-war used to anchor for victualling purposes.  In 15m of water many stone gin bottles and for the lucky, glass Hamiltons can be found.  Of our four dives in this area with about 25 man/dives we collected seven Hamiltons and 'enough' stone bottles.  This area is also good for fair sized octopus but in deeper water the current is N-S and fairly strong.


Scale 1:20,000


Further south Little Bay (site F) is an interesting dive site, shelving steeply to 23m, it is well worth a visit to study the marine life.  The current (N-S) is fairly strong here at times.

Further south there is a good reef dive to be had in 13m of water off Europa Point (site G).  A guide is needed here for location and for checking the current which runs up to 1½ knots here.  I have not dived on this site.

The Joint Services Sub Aqua club of Gibraltar containing a mix of service and civilian divers are the mainstay of resident diving on the Rock.  They are a very active and social bunch and meet on Monday evenings at their superbly equipped (also has a bar) hut on Coaling Island.  They may be contacted on Dockyard Phone No.4460 any day except Monday and Tuesday. They have charging facilities and plenty of gear and make visiting divers most welcome.

Points to note are that boat cover is needed at most sites for accessibility and safety, diving is not permitted in Rosia Bay and for diving off the moles the AQHM should be notified on Dockyard 5901.  The best way of diving in the area is with JSSAC and ask for their assistance for boats etc.

I hope all this has been some help to anybody thinking of visiting Gib.  As a postscript I must add that there are over 200 pubs and bars on the ROCK “Everything to Excess".