Freediving and spearfishing in the Balearic Islands is stunningly beautiful. The water is crystal clear and the underwater landscapes dramatic and changing. The Balearics are like massive chunks of Swiss cheese thrown into the sea with hundreds if not thousands of holes, caves and caverns lining the coasts.
Within freediving depths you have access to 3 main different environments that go into each other, rocky walls and slopes lined with burrows, caverns and caves, Posidonia (sea grass) beds and sandy bottoms.
Starting from land you have the rocks and/or sandy bottoms. The Posidonia beds may start as early as a meter below the surface and stops at around 30m depth. Below that depth you find mostly sandy bottoms with rock structures.
The Balearic Islands don’t have an archipelago outside of the main islands, instead the bottom slopes slowly but steadily away from the coasts until at one point it drops quickly into the very deep sea. It’s uncommon to find pinnacles and shallow reefs scattered around the islands and limited pelagic fish stocks so there is little motivation to go far from shore. Even with a boat the diving is done pretty close to land, but often below steep cliffs and other areas where access from land is limited or impossible.
Visibility here is normally 20-30m. It may go down occasionally following stormy weather and may be as clear as 40m on a good day. Thanks to the stunning visibility it’s quite easy to provide safety for your dive partner. Depending on how deep you’re diving you may very well be able to follow the diver from the surface during the whole dive.
Winds and waves
With the open sea surrounding the islands wind and swell is a factor that you need to take into account when planning your diving. The Balearics are positioned in the western part of the Mediterranean with the open sea to the east. Most weather systems in this part of the Mediterranean are formed south of France so we more commonly see strong winds and swell coming in from the North, from the open sea in the East or from somewhere in between. Luckily enough the island is not too big so most days you can find somewhere protected to shore dive within an hour drive from where you are. You can expect plenty of flat days a year, but if you can handle some swell and waves your potential dive days increase further of course.
The boat advantage
A boat provides a massive advantage in accessing the best hunting grounds. The most dramatic drop offs and quick changes in depth, where the big fish likes to hang out, are typically located at places where you have the mountains dropping straight into the sea and thereby making shore access impossible. Unless you are a hell of a climber that is.
The value of a Good Dive Bag
There are many good shore diving spots that do not allow for convenient parking. The good part. They are not crowded. The bad part. You need to carry your gear for a distance. Hence the need for a good backpack style dive bag that allows you to trek from your car to the water without wasting all your energy or break your back in the process. Personally I’m using the Cressi Piovra which is an almost exact copy of the legendary Beuchat Mundial 2 Backpack. I can’t recommend it enough. I sometimes trek for up to an hour with its carrying all my gear including speargun strapped to my back.
The relative scarcity of fish in the Mediterranean, especially in the shallows, has forced Mediterranean spearfishermen to dive deeper and deeper in search for good catches. This environmental condition has turned them into some of the deepest underwater hunters in the world. The Ballearics are not an exception. It is not uncommon that people hunt in the range of 30-45m depth here.
With that said, hunting in the shallows is still possible, especially in the winter when many fish move into burrows and under ledges and decent catches can be found in as little as a few meters depth.
The water temperatures here changes a lot with the seasons. In order to dive comfortably all year around you need several wetsuits to avoid hypothermia and over heating. Personally I have 3 different wetsuits, all two piece open cell freediving suits. To simplify it a little I use them something like follows.
January: 15-13 ºC
February 14-12 ºC
March 12 – 14 ºC
April 14 – 17 ºC
May 16 – 20ºC
June 20 – 25 ºC
July 25 – 27 ºC
August 26 – 28ºC
September 26 – 24 ºC
October 25- 20 ºC
November 19 – 17 ºC
December 17 – 15ºC
If you can’t keep three wet suits, which is fully understandable, you need to decide which time of the year you are planning to dive the most and go for the most suitable suit for those temperatures.
If I were to boil it down to two suits I might get rid of the 5mm and just keep a 3mm and 7mm accepting to be a little cold at the beginning and end of the 3mm season and a little hot in the beginning and end of the 7mm season.