Dive South East Cornwall
For many, the historic fishing port of Looe, is the main centre for visitors to the area. With a wide range of accommodation, places to eat and traditional fisherman’s pubs, the town also has a very active marine conservation group with several divers amonst its membership. The waters around Looe Island, just off the coast, are a good place to see grey seals, who share the outer reefs with a large nesting colony of great black backed gulls amongst other sea birds.
To the east of Looe, the coast curves around into Whitsand Bay. Long sandy beaches lay at the bottom of verdant rounded cliffs. Coastal villages such as Seaton, Downderry and Portwrinkle offer a small amount of tourism facilities, but overall the area is quiet compared with much of Cornwall. Offshore the sandy depths are home to the wrecks of the James Eagan Layne, a US ship sunk in WW2 and HMS Scylla, a British frigate sunk deliberately in 2004 to provide a popular, and safe, dive site.
The Whitsand and Looe Bay Marine Conservation Zone was set up in 2013 and covers 52 square kms of the bay from just west of Looe to Rame Head at the far eastern end of the bay. Large fields of sea grass grow in the shallower waters, whilst deeper out pink sea-fans and rare sea-fan anemones can be found.
Rame Head guards Plymouth Sound from the prevailing westerly winds. On the west side of the sound the twin villages of Cawsand and Kingsand were heavily involved in the smuggling trade in the 18th century and now provide pleasant places to walk around or search out a cosy pub. In the relatively sheltered waters of the Sound there are various dive sites and Plymouth has several dive shops.
Returning to Looe, the coast to the west is, in contrast to the sandy beach’s of Whitsand Bay, a succession of rocky headlands and small coves interspersed with rockpools, including Talland Bay which is a great site for learner divers with a large boiler stranded between the rocks and exposed at low tide.
The village of Polperro with it’s tiny harbour hidden under high hills on both sides is a magent for tourists. Beyond the coast gets even more rugged with only a few places where access to the water is available. Off shore the Udder Rock is another popular diving spot, marked by a large bell buoy.
All along this stretch of coast from Looe to Fowey there are countless spots ideal for snorkeling. Hannafore at Looe is great for its many varieties of seaweeds and at Talland Bay, the multicoloured rocks make even a snorkel in shallow water at high tide an unforgettable experience. Lovers of mini-beasts will be spoilt for choice as you delve into a rockpool and uncover cushion stars, beadlock anenomes, squatt lobsters and other amazing creatures.
The town of Fowey and its river marks the western end of this area. It’s deep water port still caters for the China Clay industry but is also a popular destination for yachts and pleasure craft of all sizes, even cruise ships. Just outside the harbour entrance the remains of a tin dredger, bound for the far east in 1937 offers an unusual dive amongst its buckets and gear wheels.
Top Three Dive sites
1; HMS SCYLLA & JAMES EAGAN LAYNE
Sitting on the sandy bed of Whitsand Bay, are two warships sunk about 60 years apart. HMS Scylla was a British naval frigate, built in 1968 and in service until 1993. She was bought by the National Marine Aquarium in 2003 and sunk in Whitsand Bay, Cornwall on March 27th 2004.
Before being sunk, lots of work was done to ensure the ship was safe and easy to explore by divers. Unfortunately, over the years extreme weather has had an affect on the ship and since 2017 penetration dives have been regarded unsafe. Divers should also take care to avoid abandoned fishing gear and other debris that has accumulated over the years. Easily reached by boat from Plymouth in about 45 minutes, there is still plenty to explore.
The main reason for sinking the Scylla was to create an artificial reef and for the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth to study the life that took up residence there. After only two years, over 80% of the surfaces on the ship had been colonized. It is now thought that over 270 species can be found there.
For information on diving the Scylla, please go to http://divescylla.com/diving-scylla/
2; HATT ROCK
Hatt Rock lies about 10miles south of Looe. It is only suitable for advanced divers and is a flat-topped pinnacle that starts about 25 meters down and then falls steeply to around 70 meters with ledges full of life. With nothing else around the top of the rock, it’s like being on a mountain top in a wilderness.
Considered by many the finest scenic dive in Cornwall, the marine life that can be seen here includes, branching sponges, pink sea fans, plumrose anemones, soft corals, sea urchins and large shoals of mackerel and pollack.
3; TALLAND BAY
Between Looe and Polperro, Talland Bay offers a great dive for beginners or those just wanting to dive from the shore. The inshore reefs are less than 10m deep and comprise of green , purple and grey coloured rocks. It’s also a great place for snorkeling, especially with the tide in.
The wreck of the Marguerite lies in shallow water between the two main beaches. She was a 220 ton steam trawler based in Boulogne that ran ashore in the bay in bad weather in 1922. Her boiler can be seen at low tide lying in between the rocks and divers will find more wreckage stuck in gullies further out. Two other wrecks in the bay are much harder to locate. Both sank before the 1890s and reportedly broke up soon after.