A few years ago I wrote a few guides about Falmouth underwater. These were short separate guides about wrecks, marine life, snorkelling, shore diving and dive sites around the area. These were well received and a few people said I should sell them. With that in mind, I have collated them, added more information and lots more photos. I have just converted them to a Kindle Book and it is available on Amazon for just £2.99. Packed full of full colour images of the underwater wildlife and wrecks around Falmouth. You can preview a few pages or buy it here – Falmouth Underwater Kindle version
This book is now available in print, re-formatted so it looks quite good, full of updated and improved images, it isn’t cheap as it is print on demand and full colour. The print version is also available from Amazon – Falmouth Underwater Paperback
The ss Brest was a 1472 ton Cunard cargo ship. It ran aground in dense fog near Beast Point in 1879. It had been dived in the past, how recently we didn’t know. So, it wasn’t new, just new to us.
We were asked if we could help free a mussel rope by a recreational fisherman from Cadgwith, it had become entangled, others had tried to release it and failed. The fisherman had been talking with Dave, when they said it was next to the Brest, Dave offered our help.
Before we headed down, we thought we would do some research on the wreck and it’s location. What we found wasn’t what we expected, for such a recent wreck.
Beast Point is an old name for Bass Point, which lies just to the east of Lizard Point. The board of trade report usually has very accurate details of the sinking and the location, for some reason there is very little locational information within the report. The Hydrographic Office co-ordinates were listed as ‘Unreliable‘, making it near Kilcobben Cove, about one mile from Cadgwith. Another report stated it was wrecked near Polbarrow, which is half a mile from Cadgwith. A newspaper dated September 08, 1879 also listed the wrecks as striking the rocks at Polberro Point. Another paper stated that the Brest ran ashore between Church Cove and Polberro. The fishermen said it was on Whale Rock, the Hydrographic Chart has Whale Rock 0.8 miles from Cadgwith. Looking at older ordnance survey maps of the area, Whale rock is 200 yards closer to Cadgwith than the hydrographic chart shows. Dive reports listed a few scattered plates or a cave with encrusted material in it. Where were the fishermen going to take us? What would we see?
We headed out on their boat, to where the old charts listed Whale Rock. There were two buoys floating, that was the top of their mussel line. We jumped in with a line to tie to the anchors, then were to cut the mussel line free. The anchors were a mess, I tied the rope to them and cut off the main mussel line, job done. Now to look for the Brest. The fishermen told us to head straight towards Whale Rock, we had taken a bearing and headed along the reef. It wasn’t long before we saw a few ribs, then a few scattered plates. As we searched we found more and more, including an area where the decks had collapsed on each other, a large piece of the hull and even the remains of the bow. What we saw was more than the scattered plates that had been previously reported. There was also no sign of a cave. Were those reports of this location? Or were they of the hydrographic office’s location? Or the Whale Rock as on the hydrographic chart? We shall return and look at those locations as well, just in case.
Close to the wreck of the Volnay there is a small sea mount. We hadn’t noticed it in the past but recent nautical chart updates made it stand out. We headed out there in our boat, Stingray, to have a look. It was high tide, the sounder showed 13.9m at the top of the pinnacle and 21m at the bottom. The top of the pinnacle looked like a camel’s back with two humps, there were several steps on the reef and a lot of noise around it. We were on another job at the time, so couldn’t dive, we would go back though.
A week later we headed back, this time it was low water. The top was around 10m with the sea bed at 17m. We dropped a shot line on the south side at 17m, it was just after low water, so any tide would take us over the pinnacle. We descended, there was a little amount of tide. The first thing we noticed was that there were a lot of big rocks around the area. Under the rocks there were crawfish, crabs and lobsters, around the rocks there were and several species of wrasse, bib and pollock. The deeper areas were quite sparse and a little silty with several urchins and starfish. As we ascended the pinnacle we noticed there were still quite a few large rocks, some lying on top of others creating a bridge. Various sea weeds appeared as we got shallower, still plenty of fish and other marine life. At the top there were more than just the twin peaks, several large boulders and a few rocky tips.
The whole area had a lot of rocks around it, they grew less the further away you went. It was typical of a fallen stone stack. When it had fallen may never be known, it may have been a hundred years ago or even thousands of years ago. What we do know is that it is now a haven for life. The visibility around low water wasn’t great at between 2-4m on this day, it may be better at high water or on another day. It was quite interesting and although it is quite small, we only covered less than half of it. We shall return to have another look, we may even find some divers who would like to visit the site.
At the end of the Great War, the Keisers’s high seas fleet was interned at Scapa Flow, Orkney. Due to some miscommunication or maybe the lack of communication, Rear Admiral von Reuter ordered the scuttling of the entire fleet. Most were removed straight away, except some of the vessels that were in deeper water, several were then salvaged. Most of the German U-Boats, in UK waters went to Harwich to surrender as well as some other ports, receiving various fates over the next few years.
Some of the surrendered U-Boats, were dispatched to Falmouth. The story that went around and even appeared in several books, was that they were sent to Falmouth, for gunnery practice. They shot at and sank three of them, the rest blew ashore during a south easterly gale.
This story was believed to be true for a long time, we have no idea where it came from but it sounded feasible. Then one day I thought “Why would anyone tow a flotilla of submarines to Falmouth, just to shoot and sink them? That could be done anywhere, not towed hundreds of miles at great cost.”. There was also an issue of the submarines blowing ashore, one was supposed to have gone in at Gyllyngvase Beach, which is on the west edge of Falmouth Bay, the rest ended up on Pendennis Point, to the north of the bay, this did not make sense, so we decided to look into what actually happened.
Information is constantly coming forth, this is the factual information as we know it as of May 2018.
The exact reason why any were sent to Falmouth does not seem to be documented too well, we do know they were coming for explosive trials. There are also misleading reports about the actual number sent, somewhere between five and nine. On November 23rd 1920, a report in a newspaper stated “Experimental submarine sinks”. The story stated that an aft panel had become loose on one of the U-Boats, SM (Seiner Majestät, His Majesty’s) UB118, it started taking on water off of Dodman Point. It then created a lot of drag and the tow broke. Knowing that it would continue to break it’s tow with the extra weight of water now inside, it had to be sunk as it would be a danger to shipping if left. It was going to be easier to sink it than try to bail it out and restart the tow. The auxiliary patrol vessel ‘Kennet’, fired on UB118 and sank it. There are two U-Boat wrecks listed near Dodman Point, UB113 and UB118. UB113 was on patrol when lost according to official records, UB118 was part of the convoy to Falmouth. Whether UB113 is actually there, is another project for the future. The remaining U-Boat flotilla ended up moored in Falmouth Bay, awaiting whatever their fate would be.
Naval records stored within the National Archive, state that they were used in explosive experiments, to test for weaknesses in their construction. A huge twin hulled submarine lifting rig, the steam powered ex-German submarine support vessel, Cyklop, carried the subs out into deeper water, lowering them down to the required depth.
Trial 4 stated that UB106 was at a depth of 100ft, in 22 fathoms of water. A net mine with 45 lbs of Amatol was placed 6ft off the port beam. The charge was set off, the sub was then recovered and inspected for damage. Trial 4 completely filled the sub with water, the bow was bent to starboard, straining the bow tubes causing them to leak. At the end of the tests, they were dropped off close to the rocks on Pendennis. Within the National Archive, there is a photo of UB86 and the stern of Cyklop, captioned “BEACHING U.B.86. STERN OF CYKLOP”.
They were then manually hauled up onto the rocks, below the castle. Another photo shows around twenty men on the shore leaning back, with the caption ‘UB-106 being hauled ashore’. The angle of the rope lines up with the remains of two metal spikes sticking out of the rocks, quite likely where there had some pulley blocks to help with the task. It is believed they were beached as and when they became too damaged to withstand another trial. UB97 had to have barrels strapped to it’s bow to help it float, before it was beached.
What we do know is that on December 16th 1920, UB112 appeared in a newspaper stating that this U-Boat was ashore. The newspaper piece also stated that experiments were expected to continue after Christmas. Trial 4 stated above, is dated 17th January 1921, so they did return.
The official records stated that UB86, UB97, UB112, UB106, UB128 & UC92 arrived at Falmouth, so six in total. We have photos of five on the rocks, backed up by a newspaper article dated April 2nd, stating there were five U-Boats on the rocks. A few days earlier on March 28th, another newspaper article showed UB112, with a conning tower just sticking out of the water behind it. That makes six submarines.
Over the years, many photos were taken of the submarines. Most offered no clues as to what they were. One photo, from an unknown source, shows a U-Boat in a gully, with it’s stern out of the water. On the side of the conning tower, it’s markings of UB86 are clearly visible. Quite a bit of that submarine remains underwater today. On a very low spring tide, some of it is visible from the surface.
A lot of the contemporary photographs showed both UB86 with another submarine close to it.
Within the records at Historic England, they have a collection of photographs, taken by a British Naval submariner of the time, Jack Casement. There are also copies of these in the National Archive. They are of UB86 and another submarine, one of the H.E. photos shows the markings of that submarine, UB112. There are some remains of this submarine left today, although most of it lies flat and close to the sea bed. Divers notice a large three pronged fork, which is the highest point of the wreckage that remains. It is thought to be part of the hydro-vane’s mechanism.
A little further east of these two wrecked submarines, there are remains of three more. Most of the time the remaining bits of these lie hidden under the sand, only becoming occasionally exposed after a storm. These are virtually impossible to identify as submarines underwater. One is UB106, according to an excerpt from the National Archive and the photograph of it being hauled ashore.
There are two submarines next to it, so far not known as well as the sub in deeper water. The sub that is now on Castle Beach, was not on Castle Beach at the time. It was hauled there later and salvaged. The subs on the rocks underwent a lot of salvage over the years, it would have been a major job to drag one of them off and onto Castle Beach. So the logical answer would be the sub in deeper water behind UB112, so this was most likely UC92. This leaves the two subs between UB86 and UB106, one is UB97 and one is UB128. Historic England have a photo showing the side of the conning tower of the sub next to UB106, it reads UB128, which leaves the middle sub to be UB97.
A newspaper article dated June 1921, states that the Steam Tug ‘Alice’, owned by a Mr W. S. Pearce, sank on it’s mooring one night near Pendennis. Alice had been involved in salvage operations on the submarines when it sank.
Wessex Archaeology spent two days in July 2013, investigating the Castle Beach site, taking photos etc. I assisted and even revisited to go and take a couple of extra measurements for their official record. There are six circular features near the shore end of the sub, measuring 1m in diameter and 9m from front of the first to the rear of the last. This was the last piece of data required to determine that it is in fact UC92. The six circular features are the mine shafts, UC92 was the only mine layer of the six submarines. Records state UC92 was lifted in 1971 and scrapped, it looks like it wasn’t lifted, just dragged up onto Castle Beach to be scrapped. The date of 1971 is a bit suspect, on a postcard dated 1957, the remains of UC92 can be seen. The stern now lies at 50.147027, -5.055695, the bow at 50.147299, -5.055984, it is visible on Bing maps or Google maps. On a low spring tide, the bow is visible out of the water.
Details within the National Archive “Explosive trials on German submarines: 1921“ ref:ADM 189/102, are held at the National Archives, Kew.
So of the seven we know, from west to east:
- UC92 now off Castle Beach, originally in deeper water behind UB112
- UB112 most westerly on Pendennis
- UB86 next heading east from UB112 on Pendennis
- UB97 unidentified but believed to be the next heading east on Pendennis
- UB128 next heading east from UB112 on Pendennis
- UB106 the most easterly on Pendennis
- UB118 off Dodman
From newspaper clippings we know the U-Boats would have arrived around November 23 1920. By December 16, just over three weeks later, UB112 was on the rocks. The trials continued after Christmas 1920 into 1921. With newspaper reports from March and April showing all the U-Boats on the rocks, plus the salvage being under way in June, experiments never continued for very long. Therefore, the U-Boats were only experimented on for a very short period of time, completing 17 explosive trials.
There may have been more U-Boats, we may find out one day. What has been reported as other U-Boats may just be pieces of some of these U-Boats that fell off after the trials.
The Maritime Archaeology Trust have completed a report on the U-Boats, it can be viewed via THIS page.
A group of volunteer divers, led by Mark Milburn, went out into Falmouth Bay today to release seven hundred juvenile lobsters for the National Lobster Hatchery. Their chosen location was just off of Rosemullion Headland. Diving in two groups, Mr Milburn dived with the first group, they descended and released around half the lobsters. They then headed along the reef to do a little exploring. It wasn’t long before they came across a piece of net, standing 4-5m from the sea bed. They then realised that it continued a long way and was stretched across the reef. Within a few metres they came across some spider crabs, caught in the net, they started to cut the crabs free. Once they had released the crabs, placing them some distance away, they continued along the net. The net had dozens of spider crabs, brown crabs and lobsters trapped along it’s length, stretching out for over one hundred metres across the reef. The divers left a surface marker buoy in place for the second group to locate the net. The first group thought it was going to be a very dangerous operation to remove the net, the nest group could offer a second opinion about potentially removing the net. The first group headed for the surface, where their boat came to collect them. They dropped a buoyed anchor by the surface marker buoy, which was then recovered.
While the second group was kitting up, a local fisherman, Tim Bailey came across to see if the representative from the National Lobster Hatchery was on board. She hadn’t gone out on the boat but had returned to the hatchery in Padstow. Mr Milburn told Mr Bailey of the net, explaining it’s size and direction as best he could from what he had seen. Mr Bailey offered to help recover the net using his mechanical hauler aboard his boat. It would be a lot safer than divers trying to do it. The second group entered the water and descended down the buoyed anchor line. Once they reached the sea bed, they released the rest of the baby lobsters, they then tied the anchor to the rope of the net. Once they competed they dive, Mr Bailey picked up the buoyed line and attached it to his hauler. Four of the divers went aboard Mr Bailey’s boat to help bring the net aboard. For over thirty minutes they pulled and hauled at the net, slowly dragging it aboard. Eventually they managed to bring the whole net aboard, with an estimated length at well over one hundred metres. Once back at harbour, more fishermen came to help Mr Bailey with the disposal of the net. How many creatures it has caught and killed will never be known, it won’t be able to kill any more.
At Atlantic Scuba we have a large air system, with a high output high pressure compressor. We have 16 filling whips, DIN or INT (A Clamp/Yoke), so can simultaneously fill 16 cylinders at once. We also have a gas booster and can offer nitrox and trimix mixes.
We can offer out of hours fills for clubs and large groups at our normal filling prices. We quite often fill cylinders for several BSAC and other clubs on trips to Penzance, Hayle or St Ives. Gas fills for all around west Cornwall.
So for Penzance air fills or Hayle air fills, contact Atlantic Scuba.
If you are needing to get some dives logged, you don’t have a buddy or know where to go, then give us a call.
We often go shore diving for fun during the week, sometimes on protected wreck sites that we have a license to visit.
We also run our own boat throughout the week, for fun or for charter. If you need or want to dive, we are quite likely to be going out. At weekends we schedule diving around Falmouth, dives are advertised and booked through a Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/falmouthdiving/
Atlantic Scuba in Falmouth, Cornwall has become the first dive centre in England to become affiliated with The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS).
Traditionally, NAS organise skills days for their Recorder and Surveyor courses, as well as many other archaeology related courses. These are usually at a set location and on a set date and are organised up to a year in advance.
Atlantic Scuba will be able to hold courses ‘on demand’ as they do for the range of diving courses they already offer. The Recorder and Surveyor courses can be taught as underwater courses for the qualified diver, or as intertidal courses for non-divers.
Mark Beattie-Edwards, CEO of the Nautical Archaeology Society, said: “Atlantic Scuba have set up a team of experienced instructors, including a maritime archaeologist. They are the licensees of four protected wreck sites in Cornwall, so they have plenty of fieldwork experience too.”
Atlantic Scuba intend to offer taster sessions for anyone who is interested in Nautical Archaeology. They will also be offering fieldwork days for those who have already completed the required NAS courses.
Find out more at www.atlanticscuba.co.uk.
Find out more about the nautical archaeology Society at www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org.
Since the sinking of the Scylla artificial reef near Plymouth, it has attracted many divers. The ten year estimated income generated, was £63m for Plymouth. It almost killed off the Cornish diving industry. Since then, many Cornish diving businesses have failed. Falmouth does still support three recreational diving businesses, partly due to the university, partly to do with it’s location in relation to the sea.
I have an idea for an artificial reef, near Falmouth. I choose Falmouth, as it is the only area that could support the potential arrival of more divers, for both diving and non diving wise. It would be pointless putting it in Penzance, the closest place to get air for the divers, is our shop, Atlantic Scuba, in Mabe.
The reef itself will not be a ship to sink, it is quite different from that. The idea is to construct something that resembles a ship, from 3m cubed hollow concrete blocks. Each concrete block will be made up from different aggregates and recycled materials. Different materials for each block could include:
- Standard aggregates like Granite and limestone
- Added materials like crushed glass (of different colours) or rubber beads
- Sand from different parts of the country
- Cement would be restricted to a sulphate resisting cement, due tothe harsh environment
Each block would then attract different life. Some blocks would have pipes, recesses etc. as habitats. Cornwall College or Falmouth Uni, could design and experiment with the aggregates. Cornwall College could actually make the blocks. Once made, someone like Fugro or Fal Divers could maybe place the blocks in situ. Keeping the costs to a minimum, wherever possible. My idea is NOT to construct it in one go. It would be to construct it over several years, even decades. Always evolving, always generating interest. The base blocks could be solid, to help anchor the site,the rest would be hollow. The use of hollow blocks would allow cameras to be installed, away from souvenir collectors. The images could be relayed to land and available on-line, to be connected to any screen, anywhere in the world. Potentially, live underwater images in every premises in Falmouth, or anywhere. The blocks could be filled with various items to attract life, with letterbox viewers to see inside.
The finished article would be somewhere between sixty and a hundred metres long, twenty metres wide and around the top of the bridge, would be at around fifteen metres in depth. Maximum depth would be thirty metres at high water, so something for almost every level.
The potential for studying wildlife would be endless, the life of the structure would be the potential length of the wildlife study.
So that’s the idea.