Falmouth, July 2003

Biomes at Eden
I'd organised a trip down to Cornwall for the previous three years. This year Alasdair had booked it, but had then contrived to be out of the country, so I ended up taking the trip over. I set off early on Thursday morning and made St Austell in under 4 hours. I'd decided to visit the Eden Project. This was a Millenium project sited in a disused china clay pit. There are two covered biomes as well as a variety of plants from around the world outside. The tropical rainforest biome was particularly impressive with a large waterfall and plants I recognised from the Maldives such as Screw Pines.

After an enjoyable afternoon at Eden, I drove the rest of the journey to Falmouth. For the third year in a row, we were diving with Cornish Diving. They had a new accommodation, which was next to the shop and consisted of a house, with living room, kitchen, 2 bath rooms and 3 bedrooms each with 4 bunk beds in them. I was there on my own for the first night which was a bit boring. I could really have done with a television or should have at least brought a book.

The plan for the Friday had been for 4 of us to do a trimix dive. Dropouts meant that there were only two of us. We were diving a wreck called the Spital in Falmouth bay. Descending the shotline, it became obvious that it was going to be a dark dive. On the bottom in 64m, I needed a torch to be able to read my gauges, which was pretty disappointing. The viz wasn't much more than 2m and it was hard to get any real idea of the shape of the wreck or what we were looking at. There weren't many fish, apart from the head and tail of two different congers.

Cornish jungle
I'd decided to use my Aladin Pro Nitrox as a bottom timer and was quickly reminded why I normally use something else. On the bottom, it beeped a couple of times as it thought my ppO2 had exceeded 1.5 bar. It hadn't because I was using a mix of 18/40, but you can't set the O2 below 21% on an Aladin and even the newer models still insist on tracking CNS O2 even when in gauge mode.

As I left 9m, it started beeping incessantly and it drove me nuts for the next 25 minutes. In the end, I surfaced having missed 94 minutes of stops according to the computer. It then sat there with SoS on it for 24 hours, and then went into "Atn" mode for the following 48 hours giving very low no-deco times. Quite how you can sensibly calculate any deco time for someone if you've think they've missed 94 minutes of stops, I don't know and really don't know why the Aladin bothers. All these "features" mean there are a lot better choices of computers for people contemplating technical diving now or in the future.

Very upset dive computers
That evening the rest of the group arrived and I re-rigged my kit for the single cylinders we would be using for the rest of the weekend. Cylinders are provided as part of the package from Cornish Diving. Air is also included, nitrox was a modest £3.50 a fill extra.

The following morning, it was a grey start to the day, but there was no wind. The sea was flat calm. The shop ran all our kit down to the jetty in the back of their van. We left our cars back near the accommodation. Everyone had managed to find a reasonably nearby space for free. Our first dive was near the rocks called the Manacles and was the wreck of the Mohegan. This was a liner which sunk in 1898 after losing its rudder on Penwyn rock before crashing into other rocks called the Voices. At 7000 tons, it was a big ship. There is plenty left though the ferocity of the winter storms in that area means it is pretty flat.

I had a most enjoyable dive. I was revelling in the fact that I only had the weight of one tank rather than four. The viz was much better than the previous day at around 6m and we spotted loads of poor cod, cuckoo wrasse, pouting and some corkwing wrasse as we meandered around the various plates on the bottom. My maximum depth was 26.4m and dive time was 44 minutes.

The next dive was to be my 600th, which I guess is a bit of a milestone. We steamed over to the site of the Hera, which is east of Falmouth. The Hera was a barque sailing with a cargo of nitrate which got lost in terrible weather and struck Gull rock. We descended down the permanent buoy to find the wreck in 15m. The wreckage is quite scattered, but there are the masts still laying on the bottom and one large bit big enough to swim inside. I saw some of the biggest Ballan wrasse I've ever seen as well as the smaller Rock Cooks and a cuttlefish which didn't seem that pleased to see me. Our total dive time was a minute under the hour and the viz was a more than respectable 8m.

Pouting and a female cuckoo wrasse under some wreckage
The next morning was a slightly earlier start. The boat left at 9am and we went the short distance to the wreck of the Epsilon in Falmouth bay. This was a 3050 ton Dutch steamer which hit a mine laid by UC17 on the 31st January 1917. I'd last dived it in 1995. No-one else had had done it before. Descending down the shotline, I was pleased to see the viz was about 10m. There were some big boilers at the foot of the shot and plenty of scattered wreckage. Gordon was very pleased to find an enormous spider crab. I'm not sure that the crab was quite so pleased to meet Gordon. I also encountered a very curious female cuckoo wrasse, which after watching me for a couple of minutes decided to try and bite me. I physically pushed it away but it still only backed off a short distance. There were also some shoals of pouting, a cuttlefish hiding on the seabed and a large conger under some plates. On the seabed around the wreck there were loads of brittle stars on the seabed. My dive time was 45 minutes, almost twice as long as I'd managed in 1995. I guess my air consumption has improved over the years. Maximum depth was 24.7m.

Our last dive was to be a scenic one. This term is much abused in the UK and can cover boring drifts over mostly featureless sand. Raglan Reef is a dive which deserves the label. It's one of the Manacles and is a rock pinnacle rising from the sea bed of around 40m. The viz was about 5m and you needed a good torch to get the most out of the dive, not because it was dark, but to see all the colours in their true glory. The rock walls are covered in bright orange, yellow and purple jewelled anemones, dead men's fingers, plumose anemones and orange sea fans. As well as loads of Ballan wrasse, there were also Rock cooks and a free swimming baby conger. Maximum depth was 24.7m and our dive time was 47 minutes.

A cuttlefish amongst some ribs on the Epsilon

It had been a good weekend with reasonable weather and perfect sea conditions. Unusually for a UKRS trip, everyone did all four dives, which says a lot about their qualify. Cornish Diving were as helpful as ever and the skipper Steve kept us well supplied with tea, coffee, soft drinks, lunch and an endless supply of biscuits. We will be back in 2004.