A personal perspective on a fantastic Easter weekend, diving out of Penzance and Lamorna - my first ever dive holiday!

Friday 6th April

Leaping out of bed at 4am to get down the A38 Friday morning and avoid all the other grockles penetrating darkest Cornwall, we soon arrived at Lamorna Cove. Yasmin''s navigation was tip-top round the fiddly stuff - she''s very good, getting us to Vobster Quay, as well as operating the iPod, feeding me, watching out for speed cameras, ferreting out sunglasses, and various other tasks that if I attempted myself would almost certainly end in disaster.

We stumped up for parking and had a quick look about, most importantly to see what the water looked like. The visibility was great. I could see submerged divers, and I too was ready for some kind of underwater swimming fix. There was plenty of time before the others arrived for a sneaky snorkel. I put on a few skimpy wetsuits over a thermal rash vest, added plenty of weight, and all the other bits and pieces that would allow me brief glimpses of the underwater scene and its peculiar inhabitants.

Wading into very clear cold water I stuck on my flippers and did a quick weight check, before floating myself off for a swim. Lamorna Cove is a sheltered piece of coast south west of Penzance and Newlyn, with a sandy bottom, rocky and weedy edges, and attractive surroundings. There''s a slipway and according to my dive book on South Cornwall is one of the best sites in the county for diving groups, with amenities to hand. Finning out past the breakwater I took a picture looking back to shore, before turning my attention to the sea bed.

Amongst the thick kelp I saw a few wrasse, a bass and found a spider crab, several spiny starfish, and a large sea urchin; beyond the kelp, clean bright sand stretched into the distance. After about an hour I started to get cold and tired, and my poor ankles had started to ache – I suppose all to be expected this early in the season.

Back on shore, just as I reached the top of the slipway Clint and Anne arrived towing Mir, the club’s RIB.

Over a cup of tea at the café we enjoyed the scenery and the fine weather with the prospect of good diving conditions – especially as several recent club trips had been either aborted completely or disrupted by bad weather. Walking up and around the craggy rocks above the top car park the views got better and better and the clear blue green water was exotic and inviting.

Very soon I was on my first boat dive, we (the buddy pairs: Clint and Anne, Debbie and me, with Chris boat handler) were on our way to The Bucks, a rugged rock pinnacle to the south west. It didn’t take long to get to and it was easily found, the summit exposed by the ebbing tide. Clint and Anne went in first clearing the boat for Debbie and me to kit up. Adjusting straps, connecting hoses, attaching gear I was very glad for the calm sea. After a recap of the plan and the buddy check, and at the very instant Chris ordered us ‘go’ we flopped backward over the tubes. We collected ourselves on the surface and began our descent beside the rock. At about 8 metres we saw Clint and Anne looking very happy; we did some waving and grinning and carried on down. The giant boulders and rugged slopes were heavily encrusted, and teeming with all kinds of weird animal. Everywhere there were colourful sea urchins, and starfish with five arms, with seven arms, from the cute and cushiony to the macho and spiny.

Nearly everything I saw was new to me; black sock-like sea-cucumbers, and on the vertical walls delicate flower-like anemones, and what was this yellow stuff? Debbie mimed something to me; what was she doing?  She couldn’t be narked? Later she told me she was washing – and it was a sponge. It was super, its warty lizard-skin texture and rows of holes gave it the look of a miniature yellow dragon.

Debbie guided us around the rocks and as we went I tried to absorb everything, taking mental pictures of this wonderful place. Here and there we were finning against current and soon enough I was signaling to Debbie that I had 100 bar, and pretty soon after that 80 bar; so she took us to a flattish area to deploy the DSMB. Slightly inverted and finning against a current again I found myself struggling a little, but sorted out my position with a roll. With the blob up we were ready to go; the ascent was nice and steady and I held the stop easily. The boat was there for us and after de-kitting the heavy stuff and put into practice the good how-to-get-in-the-boat advice, getting up onto the loops and over the tubes, then slithering into the boat like a big black fish. My first boat dive over, Debbie pronounced “There, told you I wouldn’t get you dead!”

In the evening we all [Andrew, Anne and Clint, Brian and Hilary, Chris and Debbie with Alyssa and Ali, Nik and Chris, and Peter] met up at the Bluff Inn for our tea, bit of a drink, and to plan.

Saturday 7th April

As I was slated to go out on a later wave, Yasmin and I used the morning to visit Mousehole where we enjoyed the scenic harbour and lichen covered cottages, and marveled at the clear water. Two little boys on the beach were making fantasy castles out of the wet sand – just as I used to with my brothers. Again the weather was fantastic. It was already hot, and the narrow shady streets pleasantly cool. As the place started to become busier and the cars arrived to trundle through the narrow roads we took our leave. [Note to self – it’s not possible to do a three-point turn on the harbour wall.]

Yasmin’s strategic navigation got us to Penzance car park without too much ado, and we maneuvered ourselves close as possible to the Albert Pier. After a brief foray into the town (it was heaving) for pasties courtesy of the Penzance Pasty Co., and sun-block, it was nice to get back to the harbour and find a quiet place to relax: the bouldery sea defences where we sat and watched the dolphins in Mounts Bay.

A leisurely loll about the car park chatting, reading (dive guides – there wasn’t time for Dickens), sorting and preparing kit, was followed by a gruelling carry of clobber along the pier. Suited-up, in the hot sun, through the thronging student divers, and down the steep slippery steps, we made it to the RIB; it was a great relief to be on our way. Clear of the harbour we sped past the impressive coastguard ship Anglian Princess, I for my 13th dive.

We couldn’t find the Low Lee Ledges and the Primrose as hoped, but discovered some reefy bits further west. Anne and I explored the reef and we saw lots of fish. There were several types of goby, among them the transparent orange two-spot variety. Small and pretty they hover and dart in small schools near the bottom. Around the boulders there were big sea urchins and starfish; as well as man made articles- a big pile of net, and various bits of litter amongst which I found an old crab-paste jar.

During the dive my buoyancy felt fine and I relaxed as Anne took us round the rocks and we examined the wildlife. Checking my air, she seemed pleased how well it was lasting. Being something of a guzzler I was glad to have a 15l cylinder, and we had a lovely long dive. When we got back to Penzance Brian and Clint were waiting with the trailer and Chris drove the boat right up onto it. Later on we converged on Chris and Debbie’s caravan to relax and confirm the plan for the next day’s dive.

Sunday 8th April

Arriving early at Lamorna Cove we met Nik and her Chris just leaving. They told us it was already full there and we were going to base ourselves once more at Penzance. This was very lucky because there was no mobile phone signal at Lamorna.

There were three waves today and I was fortunate enough to be on two of them. Midday I dived with Chris G at The Stannock, a reef to the west of Mousehole. [Thanks Peter for the air]. We made a swift descent to 24m. Looking around there was a lot of fish – the most I’d seen – cuckoo, ballan and corkwing wrasse; and others. Chris with his torch helped me take some of the delicate sea-fans on the bottom, and I managed a blurry sequence of Chris with a very big spider crab. We found brain coral, widely fluted and delicate looking but actually hard and horny. Everywhere there were things to see and wonder at. I thought how easy it would be to loose track down here.

Back on shore for a good surface interval we managed to get some tanks filled at Bill Bowen’s place on the Pier. The previous day there had been a problem with the compressor, and the Hayle dive shop had been inundated.

Now, my second dive was something different. We were going to find Low Lee Ledges and buddied with Andrew, I was to lead. Anne boat-handled and we found the ledges just west of the east cardinal marker. We dropped in and down. A minor tangle with the shot was easily sorted, and we continued the descent. Watching us as it swam over a big rounded boulder, was a huge dogfish - a shark! We sent up the blob, and set off for a look round. The visibility was good in the distance some interesting sticky up bits to swim round, so we made for these. There were plenty of fish, a variety of wrasse, and a rather lonely pollack, and many of the animals we’d seen already. I gave my torch to Andrew and we took some pictures of a big yellow ‘dragon’ sponge [it''s actually Cliona celata, a ’boring sponge’] surrounded by masses of tiny blue anemones. Swimming around the rocks the scenery was really good - a crescent of rocky pinnacles rising out of the sand, and around and about were nets and cable, crusty boulders, cuckoo wrasse, starfish and urchins - magic.

[Later Chris asked if we’d seen the cannon at the bottom of the shot – but we''d missed it completely].

When I was down to 80 bar it was time to leave (Andrew had loads of air), so signaling, we left for the surface. On our practice safety stop at 6 metres, we drifted very slowly over the flattish reef summit and looked down at the starfish and urchins. Surfacing into the sun we signaled OK, our mates and the boat gloriously silhouetted; I was elated. I had led my first sea dive.

Monday 9th April

Expecting Lamorna to be very crowded we arrived very early; but it was actually very quiet and we all parked easily. The plan was for the experienced Sport Divers and up to go out to the Runnel Stone; but as a first wave Andrew and I would go out to The Bucks, where I’d dived with Debbie on Friday.

Warned to leave the surface quickly, because of the current, we went down diagonally holding onto the shot, finning towards the top of The Bucks. We moved off from where the shot had landed and sent up the blob from a rugged ledge (it had kelp to hold onto if required), and we set off clockwise around the pinnacle. On the north side, we met quite strong current so backtracked and swam up and through a tall gap between rocks, lined below with blue anemones. On the other side, the going was much easier. The scenery was fantastic, we could look up at the steep slopes at kelp-topped cliffs, and there were interesting gullies to investigate. We saw plenty of fish, and another big dogfish. There were old friends – urchins, sponges, spiny starfish, and sea cucumbers which in strong light are a mottled green colour and do look like something out of a pickle jar. We took a few pictures- I had been after a purple starfish to show Yasmin, and remembered to record something of the scenery. We toured leisurely on until – too soon – it was time to go. Another great dive had come to an end.

When the second wave came back from the Runnel Stone (which was fantastic by all accounts), and the boat retrieved, Yasmin and I set off for Marazion and St Michael’s Mount. It was alright – good views from the top, and we watched bunny rabbits in the nature sanctuary behind the coast road. Back to the chalet later for kit wash, clean up, and out once more to meet up with Phil, Chris, Debbie, Alyssa, and Ali at the Turnpike Inn near Hayle. So ended my first ever dive holiday. Thank you - all my buddies, everyone who helped me and made it so much fun - Yasmin and I both had a fantastic time. It was a brilliant trip, and it was great to have been a part of it - I can’t wait for the next one! Where’s the list!?

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I haven’t said too much about each day’s weather or conditions, as they were consistently superb. Water: 5-10 metre visibility. Weather: warm and sunny ~20°C.  Winds: light (0-5mph) north easterly and variable. Sea state: calm/slight.