Mark Evans is the long-serving editor of Sport Diver (official magazine of the PADI Diving Society). He also heads up the online side of the business, which includes digital versions of the magazine, an active website and Sport Diver TV. Mark travels extensively on assignment for Sport Diver, and has dived all over the world, but counts the Middle East, the Caribbean and good old Blighty among his favourites, which is why we have interviewed him to get the inside scoop on diving holidays…
What’s your background and how did you first become involved in diving?
I started out as a newspaper journalist when I was 18 years old, and worked with several daily and weekly newspapers, as well as a TV listings company supplying ready-made TV guides to national papers until, in 1999 (as I turned 25), I saw an advertisement in the Press Gazette for ‘an editor for a water-sports magazine’, which turned out to be Sport Diver – and 14 years later, I am still here!
My uncle was a commercial diver, and he introduced me to diving when I was 12 off the coast of Anglesey in North Wales. I was immediately bitten by the bug, and so it was a dream come true when I combined my job with my hobby at Sport Diver.
Where are the best places to go diving in Europe?
Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands offers some of the best wreck diving in the world. You have seven World War One German battleships and cruisers lying in depths ranging from 12-46m in a sheltered natural harbour, and even after being on the seabed for over 95 years, they are still in remarkably good condition.
Malta and Gozo might be two tiny little islands in the middle of the Mediterranean, but they boast many excellent dive sites, including wrecks like the 110-metre cargo vessel Um El Faroud, patrol boats P31 and P29, and the tugboat Rozi, and natural attractions like the Blue Hole and the Inland Sea.
Cyprus is another island that is a hotspot for divers, and for one main reason – the gigantic wreck of the roll-on, roll-off ferry Zenobia, which sank outside Larnaca Harbour and now sits in depths that make it accessible for virtually every level of diver, from relative newcomers to seasoned technical divers.
Mainland Europe also has some good diving. The Medes Islands off the southern coast of Spain are a marine park which is home to some sizeable grouper, octopus and various other Mediterranean species that are thriving in their protected habitat.
And Portofino is another protected haven for marine life in the northern reaches of Italy’s southern coastline, with colourful reefs and walls and all manner of fish life.
What are your favourite things about diving?
I always tell people that diving is the nearest thing you can get to flying – you can move around in three dimensions, float motionless, go in any direction you want.
Plus, seven-tenths of our planet is covered in water, and so I love the fact that diving allows me to explore some of this alien environment that is right on our doorstep. Forget outer space, there is plenty worth exploring under the water!
What are the most exciting things you’ve seen while diving?
I have been lucky enough to have dived all over the world, and I have seen many wonderful things. Probably one of the greatest moments of my life was diving on the wreck of the Umbria in Sudan, surely one of the world’s best shipwrecks. This Italian cargo ship was carrying munitions for the Germans during World War Two when it was captured by British forces. Instead of letting the ship fall into enemy hands, the captain scuttled the vessel, and now it lies on its side in just 32m of water, making it a perfect dive-able depth. It is in absolutely pristine condition, and inside the holds you can find intact wine bottles, three Fiat cars – and 360,000 live bombs!
What’s your favourite marine creature?
Sharks – without a doubt! I love tiny critters as well, such as frogfish and seahorses, but sharks are my main passion. I am just enthralled by their sleek efficiency in the water, the calculated way in which they hunt, and the power they contain. I have dived with tiger sharks, great white sharks, oceanic whitetips, numerous species, and they are all equally awesome – just in different ways.
Any unusual/scary/funny experiences whilst diving?
I did have a bit of a shock in Sudan when I turned around on a wall dive when we were at just 6m doing a safety stop and found myself face-to-face with a three-and-a-half metre tiger shark! She was just cruising along behind me, and quickly swam off when I saw her. How long she’d been behind me, I don’t know!
On a more-humorous note, I was diving with a group of friends in southern Egypt and one of our group had got a brand-new, quite-expensive wetsuit. We went into the water at a site noted for dolphin encounters and, sure enough, a large family group turned up. A large male barrelled through the divers and sought out my friend with the new wetsuit. For some reason the shark had taken a shine to my shocked friend and was trying to mate with him! We were falling about laughing when we got out of the water, but he didn’t really see the funny side – especially when we got in for a second dive and exactly the same thing happened again! Funnily enough, he never wore that wetsuit again!
Why is it important to go with a qualified instructor?
Diving is a relatively safe sport – as long as you do everything as you were taught on a proper diving course. You have to remember you are in an alien environment so don’t take any chances – sign up for a try-dive or your entry-level PADI Open Water Diver course at a recognised dive centre and you will enjoy a safe and enjoyable introduction to the wonderful underwater world.
If you could give a new diver one piece of advice what would it be?
Never dive outside your limits, stick with what you know and are comfortable with, and just gradually expand your diving as your experience increases. Never feel pressured to do something you are not happy about, and never hesitate to abort a dive if you are apprehensive or feeling unwell. There is always another day.
What’s your favourite holiday destination and why?
I love Egypt. The diving is among some of the best in the world, and we are very lucky here in the UK that it is only a five-hour flight away. I also love the smell of the desert, the tasty Arabic food, the stunning desert scenery – and the delicious local beer Sakara Gold!
What gadget can’t you live without on holiday?
My laptop. Most of my ‘holidays’ tend to be work assignments, and so my laptop keeps me in touch with the office via email, the Sport Diver website and Facebook, plus it allows me to download and work on photographs I have taken on land and underwater on a day-to-day basis, which saves me a lot of time when I get home.
What are your three favourite holiday tracks?
For more information about diving holidays, come back later this week to view our blog post on diving holidays for beginners, or alternatively contact Thomas Cook for expert advice.