Summer Expedition 2016: Diving off the land’s end

Training trip to NDAC Chepstow, 30th May 2016
03/06/2016
3rd Week Michaelmas Update
26/10/2016

Date: 10/09-17/09/2016
Author: Benjo

The tip of Cornwall is a pretty unique place. An enormous lump of lava congealed under the earth 300 million years ago to make the incredible granite cliffs, islands and underwater pinacles that bear the brunt of the North Atlantic storms. The waters around Land’s End are truly oceanic, with the average fetch (distance a wave travels) of around 5,000 miles in any direction to the West. Below the waves at least 5 currents meet as the English Channel and the Irish Sea mix with Atlantic waters. I know this area well after many summers spent here as a child, surfing the Atlantic swell at Sennen Beach and snorkelling around when the sea was behaving. However even after being down there many times since getting my diving certificate, I’ve never dived off the Land’s End. Last week I went down to St. Just with the Oxford University Underwater Exploration Group (OUEEG), on their summer expedition to see what lay in those tumultuous waters.

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The first day we were expecting a strong South-Westerly of around 20 knots and Tom (the most experienced seaman in our crew) suggested we went to Longships Lighthouse, perched on a narrow underwater ridge 3 miles off the Land’s End’s final point. This ridge has regularly claimed victims that pass through this busy shipping route over the years, wrecking numerous vessels with its confusing currents and fierce exposure to the Atlantic swell. We slipped the boat in Sennen Cove in the morning calm heading out to sea at the slack of a neap (weakest) tide to give ourselves the best chance of doing the dive. We drove into the lee for the rocks that peak just above the water to assess the conditions, which had already started making a significant chop in the strengthening winds. In the end Farah and I decided we felt brave enough to try it and after a bit of bobbing on the surface, we found that the water on the landward side of the ridge was calm and crystal clear, by British standards (12m+ visibility). Luxuriant kelp forest grew down the steep walls with gorgeous jewel anemones carpeting the gullies and overhangs carved out of solid granite, shaped by thousand storms. On the drive back into Sennen Olivia and Tom did a dive on some similar habitats off the Cowloes and doing some of the practical sessions for Olivia’s Sport’s Diver qualification, which she completed during the course of the week (well done Olivia!).

The next two days the wind galed from the South preventing us from logging any successful dives. One day we did try to get out and find a spot north of St. Ives where a steam train had been wrecked. However, crazy wind and an unexpected thunderstorm, meant that the dive was just a metaphorical train wreck, instead of an actual one and we came home wet and sad. After that the wind swung to the north and we were able to get three great days out at sea along the southern coast of Penwith, offshore from the enchanted coves of Mousehole, Lamorna and Porthcurno. Our best achievement as well organised and highly skilled seamen and women was to land a shot-line on the runnelstone pinnacle in a 5knot current and getting amazing dives for everyone on board with a slack tide of just 1 hour! Thank you to Tom, Farah, Olivia, Simon, Ollie and Penny for an amazing week.

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