Wrecks, Seals and Summer Sunshine

Phil Wood & Andy Frith

Photography: Tony Gilbert & Cameron Burness

Isles of Scilly, UK

The Isles of Scilly lie about 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall and a group of NHDC divers (and non-divers) recently discovered that they are a beautiful place to spend a week of diving and sightseeing.  Five of the islands are inhabited although there are numerous others which are uninhabited and consist of windswept rocky outcrops and sandy beaches.  The five main islands have a very relaxed pace and it is easy to stroll around investigating the restaurants, bars, coffee shops and places of interest.  To get between islands simply jump on one of the regular boats at the harbour for a day trip or evening out.


At this time of year the water temperature was about 15 degrees C at the surface but chillier at depth so it was certainly dry suit diving. The weather was generally sunny although we had a couple of showers towards the end of the week. Hot chocolate on the boat, provided by Jo the skipper certainly kept the spirits high.


Due to the location and nature of the islands they have trapped many shipwrecks over the centuries. The dive team took the opportunity to explore The Brinkburn, Zelda, The Lady Charlotte, The Cita (twice), The Italia, The Firebrand and The Hathor and The Plympton.  The latter two both managed to hit the same rocks 11 years apart and consequently lie on top of one another in about 30 metres of water.


Diver around the propeller of The Cita.  Image courtesy of Cameron Burness

The underwater visibility was good which made it easy to navigate around the wrecks, so much so we did The Cita twice, investigating both the bow and stern sections. She ran aground in 1997 after the crew fell asleep and managed to switch off the autopilot alarm.  Consequently she hit St Mary’s at 14 knots and deposited her cargo for the locals to collect free of charge as there was no customs officer on the island at the time.


Seal playing on Seal Island. Image courtesy of Tony Gilbert.

HMS Firebrand is a British naval wreck that dates back to 1707.  She struck a rock whilst sailing in the area of the Western rocks and despite underwater damage managed to sail onto St Agnes.  Unfortunately she filled with water and sank in Smith Sound with the loss of 31 lives.  She was a fireship of the fleet and carried eight large cannon.   These lie on the seabed at about 27 metres and can easily be seen together with a number of the ships anchors.


Apart from the wrecks it is also possible to dive on scenic sites like Wingletang Rocks and Seal Island. These provide diving on walls with jewel and plumose anemones underneath a canopy of kelp.


The Scilly Isles are famous for the wildlife they attract.  Migratory seabirds fill the skies around the islands but there are also marine mammals in the area.  We were lucky enough to have Grey seals around at a couple of the sites.  These are fantastic animals and very inquisitive about what divers are up to.  They circle divers and occasionally come close to nibble fins.  We also spotted a Bull Huss on one dive.  This resembles a Dog Fish bit much larger, up to 1.5 metres and is very shark-like.


Cat Shark. Image courtesy of Tony Gilbert.

Diver on an anemone wall. Image courtesy of Tony Gilbert.

So what is the attraction for non-divers?  Well there is the picturesque location with miles of walks around the islands.  St Mary’s has a number of quaint shops for some retail therapy and there are arts/crafts courses available. The Island of Tresco has the world famous gardens with exotic species of plants that thrive in the warm climate and clean air.  St Martins has some of the best beaches anywhere in the UK and these can easily be reached by day boat from St Mary’s.  Bicycles, sea kayaks and golf carts are all available for hire if you want a more energetic holiday.


The Scillies is certainly a place to explore and relax.  The pace of life is less frantic than the mainland.  We were able to sample some wonderful food ranging from fish and chips at Porthcressa beach to lobster at a BBQ in Old Town. Scilly Isles culture was also available with Pilot Gig racing on Wednesday and Friday evening.


Our thanks go to skipper Jo of Moonshadow Diving for providing the boat, site briefings and wonderful hot chocolate. Also thanks to Andy for leading the trip.


See you next time ……..