Porthkerris – Sealife to Pondlife!
Over the Easter weekend, seven hardy divers made the long trip to Porthkerris for 4 days’ of diving off Cornwall’s southern coast. The first three days saw us exploring estuaries, go searching for wrecks and getting up close and personal with all sorts of sealife. The fourth day involved some very exciting sub-aqua activity as well, but not in the way we’d hoped!
The Log Cabin
We (Emily and me) arrived at Porthkerris Divers on the Thursday evening while it was still light and so were able to appreciate that the dive centre had a wonderful aspect right out to sea and the amenities looked very handy indeed. Here, check it out for yourself…
Save for Nathan, who joined us later that night, we were the latecomers as Verity, Aidan, Alex S and Keith had already setup camp in the log cabin, our home for the weekend. We unloaded our kit, negotiated our way around the fearsome guard….peacock(!), and then everyone headed to the pub for dinner. The Five Pilchards in Porthhallow (just a few minutes drive from Portkerris Divers) did the job nicely has it has a cosy pub feel and good food at decent prices.
Everyone was in bed early after the pub, to get ready for the first day’s diving.
First Day – Helford River
If you wake up early enough and it’s a clear morning, you can watch the light flood in large log cabin window from the rising sun over the sea. I caught a glimpse during an early morning toilet trip and it really was something. I went back to bed though to catch some more zzz’s and prepare for my first sea based dives in a dry suit…I was a little nervous to say the least.
Around 8am we had got all of our kit loaded into the cars for the short trip to the shingle beach and then transferred all of that to the RIB, including the cylinders which had their first fills back at dive HQ in Marylebone….
The Porthkerris Divers’ tractor had the RIB in the water in no time and we were off gliding through the calm waters with Keith at the helm to our first dive spot, Helford River.
Nathan and Keith acted surface cover as Emily and Verity formed a buddy pair and Alex S, Aidan and me a formidable dive trio…well, it was more like a three legged race team with me as the comical third leg! Not being used to the dry suit in salty water (the area of the river we were in was still somewhat salty and I had only one practise day in the suit at freshwater Vobster Quarry in Somerset), I hadn’t weighted myself sufficiently and had trouble getting down. Eventually though a duck dive and heavy finning downwards (luckily I equalise easily enough) got me to the bottom and although I had some issues staying down, we completed a beautiful dive at around 14 metres depth in 12C water with a very gentle drift. There were lots of sea urchins, sponges, dead man’s fingers, what I believe were dahlia anemones, a square crab (who was keen to ward us off his patch!) and goby.
Emily had similar weight issues as me, but more sensibly went back to the boat for more lead. Emily’s main concern about the diving though had been the cold, which she is more susceptible to feeling than myself (a dive in 7C water at Vobster had almost put her off UK diving!), but an investment she made in a Fourth Element Xerotherm thermal base layer did the trick and warded off the chill.
Keith and Nathan then tried another wreck near the river for their dive, before we headed back to shore.
First Day – Volnay Wreck
After Verity had tackled the somewhat confusing voucher system for air fills at Porthkerris Divers and we had some warm food in our bellies from the well stocked onsite cafe, we headed out to sea again. This time to the Volnay Wreck – a 117m steamship which sank in 1914 and which lies at around 20m below the waves. It’s fairly broken up and flattened and had a healthy amount of life around it, which we all explored in the same buddy pairs in two waves. On our dive we saw the ubiquitous cuckoo wrasse, a couple of spider crabs, more goby, some delicate sea fans, a nudibranch, pipe organs and sea urchins and loads of other stuff.
We rounded off a great day’s diving with a home cooked meal – kudos to Verity (head chef) and Aidan (sous chef) for preparing – and soon after eating, we had all headed off to bed, knackered from the first day of diving.
Second Day – Downas Cove
With a small breakfast and coffee washed down quickly and no need to launch the RIB from shore, we were an efficient and well-oiled machine on the second morning. The sun threatened a few times to make an appearance on the longer boat ride out to Downas Cove, near Lizard Point. I think we were supposed to have dived on a wreck (let’s call it wreck A) but neither my buddy pair with Verity, nor Aidan and Nathan’s pair nor the second wave trio of Emily, Alex S and Keith were able to find it! Not that it mattered though – it was my favourite dive – watching an undulate ray glide through the 8-10m viz (a few metres better than the dives the previous day) was one of the reasons. Dogfish, a camouflaged thornback ray, rock cook, ballan wrasse and even more cuckoo wrasse were some of the many other reasons.
Whilst the first wave was down at 20metres plus, Emily, Keith and Alex S got to watch a seal playing about in the waters near the boat, so we were all on the look out for the big stuff the rest of the weekend. The following day did not disappoint – more on that below!
Second Day – The Manacles (sort of) and Porthkerris shore dive
Aidan and Nathan did a drift dive along a reef in the afternoon while the current was still running strong. The rest of us opted for a more gentle dive on the The Manacles at the penwyn wall later in the afternoon during slack tide. Descending the shot, I was excited about this dive as I heard the wall was teeming with colour and life. A surprise then when Verity and me discovered a shot suspended in a green void with nothing to see but salty water in all directions – well, except for Keith who joined us and looked a little bit confused by the fact Verity and me were starting to ascend again! He fixed a lift bag to the shot and soon we were all back on board the RIB, shot and all, heading back to shore. All was not lost though because when you’ve got air left, why not dive?! So Nathan, Alex S and myself did a shallow shore dive among the kelp and pipefish and, of course, cuckoo wrasse. I also successfully practised DSMB deployment for the first time in open water and agreed with Alex to try for real the next day at depth, which would hopefully count towards my sports diver course, which Emily and me have been working on since joining the club in February last year.
A relaxing BBQ on the beach in the evening, put on by the dive centre cafe, was the perfect end to an awesome day’s diving.
Third Day – Downas Cove
Alex S took us back to Downas Cove on the third morning’s diving to search again for the elusive Wreck A. Alex S and me formed one buddy pair and Emily and Keith formed the other for the first wave. Verity, Nathan and Aidan opted for a drift dive afterwards on the reef. The abundance of life wasn’t quite so noticeable this second time at Downas Cove, but it was successful all the same as I managed to complete the DSMB deployment first time whilst battling against a cramping hamstring (just to add to the pressure!). Emily spotted some dogfish on her dive and came up smiling.
Third Day – Mohegan Wreck
We had a long wait on the beach until the small slack window late afternoon to dive the Mohegan, a 145 metre steamer that sank in 1898. With the Cornish sun belting over the water and a pod of dolphins spotted close to shore, it was an enjoyable wait indeed. Whilst we acted surface cover for Alex S and Keith to do their afternoon drift dive on the reef, we had a closeish encounter with the pod which was heading out in the direction of Downas Cove and being trailed slowly by a few interested dive boats – that was pretty special.
I thought the dive on the Mohegan was a good one, as I’ve not dived many large wrecks in the UK which still has plenty of its parts still recognisable. So getting a good look at things like the boilers on the Mohegan and picturing how the men would have fuelled them to power the ship made for an exciting dive for me. Some of the more experienced divers though felt there wasn’t enough life on the wreck, but I spotted a tompot blenny for the first time on the dive (as well as starfish, cuckoo wrasse and ballan wrasse) which was plenty enough life for me!
That was Emily’s and my last dive of the weekend, as we had a few days’ holiday planned in North Devon from the Monday and so it was a fitting end to an educational and interesting weekend’s diving and we both felt that we had gotten better at handling the drysuits and more confident at UK diving in general (being warm water PADI learners, the UK is a whole different ballgame!).
A trip to The Five Pilchards that evening took a surreal twist, as Keith and Alex S following us to the pub in the Land Rover had a malfunction on a steep hill and the vehicle ended up the PorthKerris divers’ pond – which was a better destination than off the steep cliff at the bottom of the road! Keith and Alex S were thankfully fine, although the hunt is now on for a new vehicle to tow the RIB. I understand there was still plenty of excitement on the fourth day even if though there was no diving, as recovery teams and cranes turned out to remove the Land Rover from the pond and the RIB from the sea and there were lots of spectators to watch the events unfold. No one can say that trips away with London Diver No 1 are anything but eventful!
Here’s looking to my next trip in Swanage at the end of May.