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Sand mason on the Minnehaha, diving Scilly Isles, England - courtesy of Tony Gilbert

Scuba Diving in the Scilly Isles, England

Reader Reviews:

Dive Site: Peninnis Head and Minnehaha wreckage

Location: St. Mary's, Scilly Isles (49°54'15"N 06°17'50"W)

Description: Wooden barque

Length: 55 metres (180 feet)

Depth: 12 - 25 metres (40 - 82 feet)

Visibility: 10 metres (30 feet)

Rating: ****

One of the most distinctive promontories of St. Mary's Island is Peninnis Head, with its tall granite outcrops. These drop wildly way below to the sea and are quite prominent, whilst just slightly inland other massive outcrops occur. Within this melee of sparkling rock rests the lighthouse of Peninnis Head. Many of the rocks or specific formations have been given interesting names, like Blowhole, Kettle and Pans or Monk's Cowl. On the seaward side a number of square cut gullies exist and the rocks tend to be vertical. One such gulley was the nemesis of the Minnehaha in the 19th Century, a 55m long wooden barque. This hit the rocks with so much force, so our dive boat skipper Jo tells us during the briefing, that a small chunk of rock was taken out, and it's below this we find a large anchor at roughly 15m.

As the composition of the wreck is wooden and the numerous and often confusing gullies just off the head don't support deep sand, no trace of this is left except for some of the metal fittings. These large rocks harbour the remains which also include a large pole looking like a masthead, and much metal work, some of which isn't readily identifiable. The large boulder rocks continue in a NE direction, as does the wreckage trail. Most of this site is kelp covered and very dusty. Good buoyancy control especially on entry near the anchor is paramount. It's worth exploring the rectangular gully in front before heading off. Just a little way offshore an extremely large boulder was visited by a number of us and we found a very large and quite old lobster on a shelf at 15m. As this dive is a mixture of wreck 'n' reef, diving's equivalent of surf 'n' turf, "you take your bearing and off your go".

Cutting across to the east will take the diver into 2m wide gullies with canopies of kelp, which extend quite deep. These drop gradually to about 17m. On one such dive after swimming the length of a gully that was some 35m, a gap occurred to the right, at its end. Ahead was another wall of damn kelp! The gap was brightly sunlit and no kelp going roughly southeast and down. This gully's rough-cut corner dropped away to 25m, but staying at 21-22m it followed a superb vertical ridge completely covered in colourful dense jewel anemone patches. Many horizontal cracks in the rock were home to scores of tompot blennies, crabs, small squat lobsters and shrimps.

Some 20 minutes later it was time to ascend and jumping back we encountered a large 3m vertical wall with a cut out, in which the whole area was a dizzying array of closed orange plumose anemones. With a small current picking up, heading west now across kelp tops at 12m brings the dive back inshore to make a nice and easy safety stop. On our stop the boiling water patches we'd seen frequently during our surface intervals were finally solved! We discovered several hundred mackerel swimming past in unison had created them. An awe inspiring sight indeed, and great way to end this dive!

Tony Gilbert



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