Dive Falmouth Bay & The Lizard

Diving in Falmouth Bay and along the Lizards eastern coastline offers a wonderful variety of sites, many rich in marine life.

Falmouth is one of Cornwall’s largest towns, having grown extensively in recent years due to the expansion of the close by Falmouth University.

Situated on Cornwall's south coast, it is often claimed it has the world’s third largest natural deep-water harbour, and it is because of this safe anchorage that the town has grown over the last 500 years or so since King Henry VIII ordered the building of castles at both Pendennis and St Mawes, guarding the harbour entrance.

Today, Falmouth's links with the sea are still strong. There is still a large dockyard there and during the summer it is often visited by cruise ships. Sailing boats of all shapes and sizes can regularly be seen enjoying the large expanses of open water and at the National Maritime Museum the history of our life on the ocean waves can be discovered through interactive galleries.

Tourists who visit Falmouth looking for water related entertainment are spoilt for choice. The Fal River and its adjoining rivers and creeks provide countless journeys of discovery, whether by the fleet of boats travelling between towns or independently by kayak or SUP. Falmouth’s beaches, such as Swanpool and Gyllyngvase, offer good snorkelling and many also have businesses hiring out kayaks etc. There are also easily accessed diving sites from the beaches, including six U Boats dating from WW1.

Diving in Falmouth Bay offers a wonderful variety of sites, many rich in marine life. Because of the sheltered position of the bay, several ships were towed there to be salvaged, often ending their life on the seabed, only to be flattened by explosives so they were not a hazard to shipping. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to explore.

Further afield, but easily reached by dive-boat from Falmouth, the Manacles Reef on the eastern side of the Lizard Peninsula, is one of the most famous dive sites in the UK. Home to at least 50 wrecks including the SS Mohegan which sank in 1898 with the loss of 106 lives.

Much of the coastline around Falmouth is made up of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) including the Helford and Fal Rivers and the Roseland Peninsula. All can be explored using the South West Coast Path, a magnet for walkers, picnickers and families alike. The Helford estuary is also a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area recognised as one of the best sites in Europe for marine wildlife.

As the tourism website for Falmouth states, the area is rich in the spirit of the sea.

Top Three Dive sites

1:Castle Beach and Silversteps

Two sites in close proximity, Castle Beach gives easy access whilst Pendennis (Silver Steps) is a trickier entry. These dive sites below Pendennis Castle allows novice divers to discover the scant remains of six World War One German U Boats, one on Castle beach and five on Pendennis, beached here in 1920 after being used in experiments by the British to see how they reacted to different explosive devices. The area consists of finger like reefs separated by nice sandy gullies inbetween which are rich in marine life including cuttlefish, scorpionfish, swimming crabs and very occasionally lumpsucker’s,.  The wrecks lie in no deeper than nine meters of water, found lying in gullies and often covered in kelp. Most of the metalwork was salvaged shortly after the experiments were carried out during WWII by Roland Morris, but even so hulls still sit on the sea bed including UB86 that can be seen on the rocks above water on a low tide as can UC92 off Castle Beach. There’re also the remains of the steam tug Alice further out in the sandy plains off of Pendennis.  Divers should take care when diving on an outgoing tide that they have a suitable exit point as some of the rocks further out towards Pendennis Point can create difficulties when the tide is low.


2: The Volnay

The Volnay was a ship of around 4600 tons, homeward bound from Canada, with a cargo consisting of much needed ammunition for the troops fighting the Great War in France. On 14th December 1917 she hit a mine in the shallow waters off Porthallow in Falmouth Bay. Taking on water, she anchored up but eventually sank in around 20 meters of water on a sandy and silty bottom.  The wreck is now well broken up, possibly due to later explosions used to destroy the munitions it was carrying. There are though still some very large pieces remaining, including two massive boilers, which have a coating of deadmans fingers and provide a good home for wrasse. Away from the boilers, jumbled piles of deck plates lay scattered on the sea bed. Most of the ammunition from the Volnay was salvaged, but as the wreck has broken up over the years more has come to light. Divers are warned not to touch anything that looks like ammunition, including brass detonators that may by hidden in the silty sand that covers much of the site. Despite this, the wreck is safe to dive on, being protected from SW winds by high cliffs and not susceptible to tidal changes.


3: The Manacles Reef

This infamous reef of the east coast of the Lizard is one of the most popular dive sites in the UK. The area has claimed 100s of ships over the years including the SS Mohegan in 1898. But it’s also a haven for sealife with breeding grounds for dogfish and anglerfish and rock stacks covered in jewelled anemones.

Diving on the reef can be dangerous with very strong tides and little shelter if the wind changes. Be sure to get local advice or dive with a group who know the area.

The main dive sites on the reef are Vase Rock, a pinnacle that starts about 5m below surface and goes down to 45 m. Just south of Vase is Pen-Wyn, a breeding ground for anglerfish (also known as monkfish) and the site of the rudder from the SS Mohegan.

The SS Mohegan sank in mysterious circumstances on the 14th October after hitting Vase Rock. Bound for New York, she had over 160 people on board, 106 of whom lost their lives. Wreckage is spread across the reef in depths between 16m and 26m. The holds are still littered with floor tiles and crockery, but beware, the wreck is said to be haunted!

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