The geography of the islands, reefs and rocks here can
almost guarantee a lee shore whatever the weather, and therefore provide
diving every day during the season. There is something to suit every taste
here, from shallow beach dives among eel grass and fringing gullies, to
dramatic drop-offs and pinnacles from surface to 50m and more; and of
course the attraction of hundreds of wrecks in shallow and deep water.
Attempting to list and describe them all would be futile, so I have stuck
to a few of the classics and some of my favourite and most memorable dives.
Hathor and Plympton: Lethegus reef, St. Agnes.
This is a classic Scillies wreck dive, and possibly unique world-wide
as it features two wrecks piled one on top of the other! The first to
sink was the 314ft, 2,869 tonnes Plympton in thick fog on 14 August 1909.
She ran aground on the Lethegus reef and stayed above water until the
next tide, while some hasty salvage was performed by the locals! She then
turned over and sank with her keel uppermost. Eleven years later, exactly
the same spot on the reef was the scene of a further loss, the 7,060 tonnes
Hathor which had broken her tow some miles offshore in poor weather. She
eventually sank on the mostly upright top of the Plympton, to create one
of the most spectacular wreck dives here. The location also features good
reefs on both sides of the wrecks.
SS Italia: Wingletang Ledges, St. Agnes.
The Italia was lost on the Wingletang ledges in dense fog on 11 May 1917,
the very same day that another vessel, the Lady Charlotte, sank close
to Newfoundland point on St. Marys. Her sinking went unnoticed at the
time: the ledges are actually on the beach and the Italias crew scrambled
ashore before she slipped back into the water. As this happened before
the fog had cleared, the crew spoke Italian, and there was no sign of
their boat, it was assumed they had come from a torpedoed ship offshore!
The wreck was discovered in 1964, when some salvage was carried out, but
the main features remain intact. Normally a dive commences on the bows,
from where the remains of the decks lead you over the boilers towards
the stern in over 40m. The wreck sits on a spectacular reef which drops
off dramatically on both sides and is ideal for an ascent after exploring
the wreck, or as an alternative dive.
SS Lady Charlotte: Porth Hellick, St.
The dense fog prevailing on 11 May 1917 was responsible for another loss
a few hours before the Italia struck the Wingletang. The 3,593 tonnes
steamer Lady Charlotte struck Porth Hellick Point and quickly settled
towards the centre of the bay. Today she is well broken up by both storm
and salvage, but still has many very recognisable features, with the stern
partially intact. The maximum depth is around 35m with much of the wreck
lying on gently shelving reef in shallower water.
SS King Cadwallon: Hard Lewis, St.Martins.
Thick fog has been the primary cause of a large number of wrecks around
the Scillies. The SS King Cadwallon (1,126 tonnes) was another victim
of low visibility on 22 July 1906 when she struck the reef known as the
Hard Lewis, which rises sheer from 65m on the eastern side of St. Martins.
She was stranded on the rocks on her starboard side and was an attractive
salvage proposition, as her cargo was 5000 tons of coal from Barry in
Wales. However, within a couple of days she had slipped back off the rocks
and sunk in the deep water surrounding the reef. Today she is well broken
but retains many recognisable features.
Douro: Crebawethan Rock, Western Rocks.
Fog was yet again responsible for the loss of the 200ft schooner Douro
when she struck the Crebawethan rock on 27 January 1843. She was on her
way to Liverpool with a mixed cargo, but little was recovered as she quickly
sank, leaving only the figurehead and the bodies of six of the crew to
be found some days later. Today she lies in 10-20m of water, well broken
up; but she is a very popular dive as part of her cargo comprised a vast
number of slave tokens (which resemble copper wrist bangles) which were
used in the slave markets on both sides of the Atlantic. These are still
recovered in significant numbers today. However, the diving centres do
encourage divers not to be too greedy as there is not an inexhaustable
SS Earl of Lonsdale: Carnew Rock, St.
The SS Earl of Lonsdale was a steam sailing ship of 1,543 tonnes en route
from Alexandria to Portishead, Bristol with a cargo of beans and cotton
seed when she encountered thick fog on 8 June 1885. The captain thought
he was 10 miles south of the Bishop Rock and foolishly kept steaming at
full speed in very low visibility. Inevitably, the ship struck a reef,
but it was not until the fog lifted that the captain found his navigation
to be at fault as the ship was stranded on Carnew Rock in Smith Sound
between St. Agnes and Annet, several miles to the east of the Bishop.
Some salvage of cargo and machinery was possible until she broke her back
on 27 August and eventually broke up during winter gales. Today, her well
broken remains lie scattered among deep gulleys and large boulders in
depths of 6-12m, where you may still find a souvenir of the era when sail
was gradually giving way to steam power.
HMS Association: Gilstone Ledges, off
the Western Rocks.
The Association was the flagship of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and
was leading a fleet of 21 ships home from a successful campaign in the
Mediterranean in October 1707. After a week at sea in dreadful weather
the fleet was hopelessly lost and a fatal navigational error caused the
ships to strike the Gilstone Ledges and quickly sink. Six ships and close
on 2,000 lives were lost. The site saw several salvage attempts over the
next 150 years as the ships the Association in particular
had been carrying a valuable cargo of coin and booty from several battles,
as well as cannon and valuable personal effects. The wreck was rediscovered
in 1967 when Royal Navy divers rediscovered her, marking the beginning
of a period of serious salvage using modern techniques. One salvor was
Jim Heslin, who now operates the Isles of Scilly Underwater Centre and
offers divers using his centre the chance to dive the wreck. The site
still boasts a number of iron cannon, and more importantly still, yields
silver coins to the observant diver!