A simple guide to snorkelling around Falmouth. Mark Milburn January, 2012â€Š
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Wrecks and Reefs Falmouth Bay is protected from the predominant south westerly winds by the Lizard Peninsula. This makes it likely that you will get favourable conditions to go snorkelling. The worst time to try and snorkel around Falmouth, is during an easterly or southerly wind. These winds will bring waves, they have also brought many wrecks. There are three German WWI U-Boats, a 5,000 ton oil tanker and a 422 ton fishing trawler. The coast shelves slowly, you will have to swim a long way out to get much deeper than 10m. Visibility varies from 1m to up to 10m. Marine life is varied and you may see a range of things from Nudibranchs to Seals, if you're lucky. We'll start at the most northerly site and work south. You can snorkel anywhere but you may miss something special. Mark Milburn
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Falmouth's most popular shore dive is the 'Silver Steps', it is also an excellent snorkel. The Silver Steps relate to the bright granite steps going down to the sea off of Pendennis Point, pictured above. To get there head along Castle Drive, the one way system around Pendennis headland. The first landmark on the left is the dockyard, then a little further around there is a car park. A few hundred metres more, just before the road becomes two way, there is a lay-by on the left. Park there, itâ€™s free. A photo of the lay-by is below.
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The path to the steps is just to the left of the lay-by looking out to sea. The path splits into two. It is possible to enter the water from the left hand path and steps or the right hand.
Divers will enter from the well trodden right hand path and steps. There are quite a few steps down, for most of the way there is a heavy duty handrail. The handrail is especially useful on the way back up. As a snorkeller, the left hand path will take you closer to a submarine wreck, the UB-86. The German WWI U-Boat that was part of a consignment to Falmouth, in payment for war reparations after the end of WWI. The U-Boats were moored in Falmouth Bay, when a southerly gale made them part their moorings and crash onto the rocks. UB-86 is one of three submarines remains left around Falmouth's shore. At low water part of the submarine breaks the surface.
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Circled on the photo below is part of one of UB-86's structure showing at low water (spring tides).
The submarines have all been heavily salvaged, there is enough left to make it worthwhile spending a while exploring it.
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In the gully to the right, looking from shore, is the remains of another submarine, the UB-97. The most noticeable part of the submarine remaining is the large three pronged fork, possibly part of the hydrovane hinge. There is much more left of UB-86 than UB-97 though. The top of the UB-97 is around 2m at low water. To the right of UB-86 is an interesting gully with a tiny cave at the end, within the cave are the remains of a small motorbike. The bike does get buried in sand now and then. The reef all along Pendennis is covered in life and is very pleasant. The next location is off of Castle Beach. Castle Beach is in front of the Falmouth Hotel just a little further along from the 'Silver Steps'. It is the location of another German submarine.
The submarine is not far offshore, it's around 100m to the far end of the U-Boat. At high water you can swim over the reef straight to the wreck. At lower states of the tide it is best to head about 20m south of the lower slope, there is a gap in the reef which makes for easy entry. You can find the U-Boat by swimming along the reef, it is usually covered in kelp and can be hard to spot.
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The wreck lies at 90 degrees to the shore. If you line up the left hand edge of the Falmouth Hotel, with the left hand side of the ice cream hut and swim out, you will come across the wreck. At low water spring tides the shallowest part touches the surface, the deepest is around 8m at high water. Parking is usually available along the roadside above the ice cream hut. Along the coast another 1/2 mile and Gyllyngvase beach is our next location. Gylly has nice reefs at both ends of the beach. The south end is interesting enough but a little further along there is the remains of a wreck, the 5,077 ton oil tanker, the Ponus.
The wreck is well broken and spread over a huge area. The largest piece stands around 2m high. To find it you need a straight line between the last tall tree in the car park and the red and white beach safety sign.
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Keep the tree and sign lined up and you will come across the biggest piece. The only other line of sight (transit), is the white wall beside the restaurant at Swanpool becoming visible around the point.
Once you find the wreck you can swim around for quite a while finding more and more of it. It is spread over at least 50m with plates, pipes and ribs half buried in sand. The sand can shift and parts of the wreck get covered and uncovered. The top of wreck is just 0.5m deep at low water, maximum depth is 8m at high water. The best place to park is on the road just behind Victoria Gardens. You can then walk around the southern end of the gardens to the beach.
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Swanpool is a very easy snorkel. Especially at high tide. From the car park to the water can be as little as a 25m walk. The southern reef is plain and simple, usually with quite a bit of life. It winds it's way in and out all the way to the point about 400m away. The north reef is shallower, at high water there is a very shallow arch to swim through. On high springs you can swim around the back of the island and out through the arch. At low water you can walk through the arch.
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Maenporth Beach also has a wreck, a 422 ton fishing trawler sunk in 1978, it is very shallow and about a 300m swim out. It is an excellent snorkel and a the reef to it can be interesting. The wreck lies behind rocks along the left hand side, north side, of the cove and is not visible from the beach. At low water you can climb across the rocks to get to the wreck, then walk around the remains of the Ben Asdale. The car park on the beach makes easy access to the water. You can walk along the cliff path to see the wreck from above. You have to make your way through some bushes, to get to the ledge above it though.
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The last not to be missed location is the Helford River. Grebe Beach and Durgan are just a couple of hundred metres apart, on the north side of the Helford River. Durgan has a lot of moorings to swim around whilst Grebe has no moorings at all. They both have Sea Grass beds with a wide variety of life. The Helford River is a voluntary area of conservation, mainly because of this variety of life. It is best to snorkel at slack water, around one hour after high or low water. Then head into the opposite direction of the next tide, so you can swim back with the tide when it turns. If you don't you may struggle to get back to where you started. The maximum depth is around 6m off of either beach. Parking isn't easy as the car park is at the top of the hill, don't park anywhere else as the police patrol the area. The trip is worth it if you like marine life. Thornback Rays and Cuttlefish have been spotted whilst just snorkelling on the surface. There are many other very interesting sites to snorkel. You can wander along the cliff paths and find little coves that no-one visits. This guide only lists the 'easy access' and the 'not to be missed sites'.
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