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DIVE NORTH PEMBS...
Words & Pictures - John Liddiard
Our plan had been to dive the wrecks of the Calburga, a 1406 ton barque that was blown onto the rocks at Penbrush Point in November 1915, and the Vendome, a 418 ton steamship that ran onto Tri Maen-trai in December 1888.
Celtic's RIB can handle it, but after a quick inspection of both wreck sites, we decide that we shouldn't be diving here. Mark turns the boat round and we retreat behind Strumble Head, passing close inshore below the lighthouse and the whale-watching lookout point, though no-one is watching and we don't see any whales. We soon find shelter and flat water by Pen Caer, the next small headland back to the east.
The chart doesn't really have enough detail to allow predictions of what the seabed will be like, so we make a few runs in and out with the echo-sounder. It looks as if a shelving ridge runs out from the point. For lack of anything better to do, we may as well have a dive here. It looks interesting enough on the echo-sounder and, with a current coming round Strumble Head, there should be some marine life.
We descend just into the bay. The seabed is at 15m, scattered rocks leading out from a rocky slope. Just below the kelp line, most of the rocks are covered in a brown turf of bryozoans and hydroids, with the occasional clump of dead men's fingers and patches of small anemones.
Following the ridge out and leaving the shelter of the bay, the current picks up - and so does the marine life. It's the same sort of life, but bigger and fatter and more of it. The balance changes, with large areas of the rocks encrusted with sponges. The patches of anemones grow larger. The bryozoans and hydroids get less space to themselves.
Dogfish resting on the rocks are surprisingly alert, twitching away almost as soon as we notice them, with none of their usual torpid behaviour.
A rock moves and turns out to be an octopus. A lesser octopus, to be more precise. It swims only a few metres before settling and pretending to be a rock again.
The pursuit continues in this vein for a while, but no amount of careful stalking will let me get quite close enough.
Turning back towards the bay and ascending the first ledge, a lobster is standing outside its hole. It isn't that fast to retreat, and is even inquisitive enough to come back out to investigate my buddy's finger.
The current has picked up considerably. We had been aiming for slack water on the wrecks, had begun the dive after the calculated slack, and were now ascending into quite a brisk flow. Popping my delayed SMB, I am halfway across the bay before surfacing.
There's an easy measure of a good dive: I had no trouble finishing a film.
For a second dive we drop in with some seals a bay further back behind Carreg Gybi. There are a fair number on the surface, but none really want to play under water. It's one of those things about seals. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.
Next day, we try again for the wrecks, this time launching from Porthgain, about the same distance in the other direction, to the west of Strumble Head. Whether we will be able to dive or not is marginal, but it's worth a look. Our journey is more exposed, but we don't have to pass through the standing waves at Strumble.
At the wreck sites, we loiter for an hour or so to see if the waves will drop as the tide turns, but no luck. We could probably dive, but the pick-up would be too close to the rocks for comfort, with waves and wind pushing the boat ashore.
We retreat to the shelter of Abercastle and decide to investigate the headland. It's more of an almost-detached island to the west of the inlet, marked on the map as Ynys Deullyn, though don't ask me to pronounce it.
It's a shallower dive, though pretty much the same dive plan - drop into the sheltered water behind the headland and work our way out into the current.
Much later after slack, the current is considerable. We have to hang on and plot our route between rocks. Deep gullies provide some shelter.
Spider crabs scale the walls, outstretched claws menacing their reflections in my camera port. Wrasse nose up and down, forever curious of new visitors to their range. It isn't long before I find another octopus, cautious but less so than yesterday's example. I stalk it along a gully and over a ridge.
Wary of the waves off the island and the current, I work my way back inside the shelter of the point before surfacing. Another film finished. Another good dive.
The sky is clearing and the sun is finally out, though the wind doesn't seem to be letting up. Back at Porthgain we enjoy ice creams, then a pint on the pub's terrace overlooking the harbour. It's hard to believe that it was so unpleasant out at Strumble Head.
I have some other diving to do in Pembrokeshire, so it's a few days before I return to Fishguard and have another try for a wreck. Conditions are perfect and the Vendome turns out to be well worth returning for.
But that's not the point of this story. If conditions had been perfect a few days earlier, we would never have explored what turned out to be a couple of very good scenic dives. For any divers less fixated on wrecks than me, they are easily worthy as destinations on their own merits.
John Liddiard is a renowned photojournalist highly respected in the diving world and regularly has features published in Diver Magazine
For more information on John Liddiard visit his homepage: www.jlunderwater.co.uk
To contact John:
0117 973 6770
0779 980 4498