ISLES OF SCILLY
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WRECK DIVES

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.

Wreck 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. Marys.
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 supply!

SS Earl of Lonsdale: Carnew Rock, St. Agnes.
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!

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