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Seal Island

Depth: 8-22m
Note:
Can be dived at all tides, a little local knowledge about the currents makes for a safer dive.

The badger is widespread throughout Cornwall, from exposed cliff tops to wooded valleys, but being largely nocturnal is seldom seen unless you make the effort to do so. Badgers? We don't need no stinkin' badgers! This is Seal Heaven. There is a healthy population of over 1000 Atlantic Grey Seals living around the coast of Cornwall and the isle of Scilly. Occasionally seals also venture into Looe and Newlyn Harbours looking for discarded fish.

 
Less than an hour out of St Ives and rounding The Island, you will pass Porthmeor Beach then continue along the beautiful rugged Cornish cliffs and secluded coves, before reaching the famous Seal Island, a group of rocks 200m off shore named the Carracks which is a title derived from the Cornish language and means, wait for it.. "The Rocks". Notice the rough and calm areas of water which result from the powerful tidal flows past these rocks. The site has plenty of other attractions to offer with a large gully being the home to an abundance of marine life. Sightings include Angler Fish, Dogfish, Tompot Blenny as well as a glorious array of anemones. This site can be dived at all states of the tide though caution and a little local knowledge about the currents in the area makes for a safer dive. Depths are 8-22m.
     
 

According to the Cornish Marine Wildlife Reports other animals that have been seen off the Cornish coast include Bottlenose, Risso's and Common Dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks, seahorses, sunfish, otters, Pilot, Fin and Minke wales and even, in March '99, a leatherback turtle. But lets not forget that Cornwall is an isolated part of the country and no doubt a lot of drinking gets done when the tourists aren't looking. Also, as the locals will tell you, the local trade is fishing so most of these animals ended up on someone's dinner plate shortly after being spotted.

 
The Carracks: Notice the rough and calm areas of tidal water

Stones Reef

Depth: 25m range
Note:
The ideal tide is a low-water spring, with a good hour of slack water and the rocks exposed.

The isthmus of Land's End was supposedly once connected to the Scilly Isles. According to legend, the land of Lyonesse was drowned in the 6th century, leaving only the Stones reef as a reminder. Fishermen apparently still claim to trawl up parts of buildings and the more imaginative even hear church bells tolling in stormy seas. But then, a lot of drinking gets done down that way when the tide's out, if you know what I mean.

 
The little of Stones Reef that can be seen from the water's surface, which goes a long way to explaining the vast number of wrecks around it
 

As you can see by the photo, the Stones are almost invisible from the deck of a ship, and over three hundred ships came to a cold and watery end here. Wrecks that can be dived include the the Nile, the Barge, the Zone and the Rarau. The Rarau was built in 1972 in Poland. On 29 September 1976 she drove straight onto the rocks in fog. All 84 of the crew were rescued and put ashore in Falmouth, and a week later the Rarau slipped into deeper water and sank.

Away from the wrecks there are some truly spectacular walls of colour. In water this clear it is little surprise that even at 25 metres there are sizeable sprigs of kelp on the horizontal faces of the rock. As usual for Cornish reefs, the vertical surfaces are a dense cluster of jewel anemones and hydroids, with tightly packed plumose anemones on the more exposed corners.

   

St Chamond (The Train Wreck)

Depth: 20-24mm
Note:
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There are some excellent write ups out there for this most nerdy of all wrecks, including one from John Liddiard, a 2002 write up from DiverNet and last but not least an interesting, if not too informative, article in July's Sport Diver magazine. We are voting for a new PADI spec for those that have identified five or more types of railway engine underwater; so those of you that have dived the Thistlegorm and the St Chamond are very nearly there, Underwater Trainspotters!

 

The St Chamond is another U-boat victim of World War One, torpedoed and sunk just in 1918. As you descend the first sight is of a locomotive lying on its left side with the shotline draped over it. It's not really surprising that the mechanical parts of a steam loco are so similar to the equivalent parts of a steamship - a cylindrical boiler containing the firebox and lots of hollow tubes, with pistons driving the wheels rather than a propeller shaft.

The main body of the wreck lies a few metres from the chassis of this locomotive, largely flattened to the seabed with just a few scraps of hull rising upwards. Towards the centre of the ship the propeller shaft lies exposed, the only traces of the tunnel being a few curved ribs of steel. Moving forward, the remains of a triple-expansion steam engine are spread to starboard from the crank and a large pile of steel pipes. Skirting this mountain to port, another steam locomotive lies on its side, this time within the outline of the St Chamond's hull. Continuing to follow the port side of the wreck forwards, the bow is marked by a pile of anchor chain and a pair of anchors still tight in their hawse pipes. The anchor winch has fallen forward and can be found a few metres off the tip of the bow and slightly to starboard in about 20m at low water.

Following the starboard side of the wreck back you find a steel dome, possibly the remains of an item of cargo. A little further back are a pair of locos. The chassis of one stands upright with the boiler completely gone, while a second rests on one side alongside it. Some have reported seeing a third loco here. Continuing aft on the starboard side, another small pile of steel pipe rests approximately level with the remains of the engine. A fifth loco lies pointing aft, reasonably intact but tipped just outside the outline of the hull. The sixth locomotive lies a little further aft, in a similar orientation to the previous one. There are a few scraps of wreckage spread out aft of this point across a pebbled seabed, with some rocky ridges at a low-water depth of 24m.

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