Cornwall offers plenty of holiday diversions and unlimited diving pleasure - and you hardly need to stray from the Manacles to find it, says John Liddiard
Frustration reigns. Were sitting in a RIB a few hundred metres north-west of the Manacles buoy. We had intended to dive Vase Rock, only to find out that our echo-sounder was broken. We should have checked it before leaving the beach at Porthoustock.
Its an hour before slack water. Rather than heading straight for something easier to find, such as the Mohegan, we decide to see what we can do with transits and pot luck.
Using the bubbling tide as a clue, we drop an anchor up-current of what we hope is Vase Rock. The diver, holding 15m of carefully measured line, reports that he can feel it skipping. It catches, then springs loose. More line is hastily deployed, but a firm hold is not achieved.
When we realise that more than 50m of line is out and the boat has drifted a good way towards the buoy, our man is instructed to pull it in, but halfway up the anchor jams.
It is all his fault, we say - he and his buddy can go fetch it. The buddy objects that it was nothing to do with her. He protests that the boat-handler told him when to throw it. Eventually they agree to make a 10-minute dive to clear the anchor.
Their bubbles circle round the boat on a mirror-smooth sea. After 20 minutes, the plan has obviously gone out the window. After 30 minutes, ascending bubbles signal divers making a safety stop, but the anchor is still attached. By the time they surface, we are well into slack water, with no time left for alternatives.
Its fantastic, so we left it there - you just dont want to miss diving here! they say.
A scramble into equipment, quick buddy checks and we are in. I can soon see what the first pair were raving about: a sheer-sided pinnacle from 25m down to 40m-plus, the top no larger than the caravan in which we are staying, covered in jewel anemones.

That dive sums up what makes the Manacles off the east coast of the Lizard Peninsula so spectacular. Dive almost any rock sticking up from the depths here and youll see British scenic diving at its best. There are plenty of wrecks here and further afield, but also lots of fantastic reefs, walls and pinnacles.
I have failed to find the mystery pinnacle again, but found plenty of other diversions. Many other rocks in this area appear on the chart only as a general blue-lined splodge rising to Vase Rock and Penwin. Going out early and playing with an echo-sounder leads to all sorts of surprises.
There are many easy-to-find sites, too. Marked as Maen Voes on the chart, but also known as the Voices, this pair of rocks lies just below the surface at high tide and is easily visible at low tide.

The wreck of the Mohegan, a Victorian passenger steamer, lies an easy swim north-east from here (Wreck Tour 8, October 1999), but the rocks and reef running eastwards make a good scenic dive by themselves, with lots of anemones, crustaceans and fish to see. Take care: I recently saw a motor yacht ignore A-flags and buzz past, only to lose a prop and rudder on the submerged rocks.
About 100m off Maen Voes lies Raglan Reef, a series of submerged pinnacles rising to 7m. On the outermost edge of the Manacles, it gets the full benefit of the strongest currents as the tide is deflected round the outside of the reef, though slack water is the shortest on the Manacles.
The rocks are densely covered with the usual Manacles marine life of anemones, soft corals and hydroids, with the emphasis on large plumose anemones.
The southernmost rock in the Manacles is Carn Du. At low tide it is the largest rock, though it does have a striking similarity to Maen Voes, and at high tide it is the only one to break the surface.
Rocky gullies south and east of Cairn Du are less picturesque than the northern side of the Manacles, but are diveable at any state of the tide as a gentle drift with SMB.
For a more advanced drift, enter the water in 30m or more north-west of Raglan with the tide going out. The current will carry you past the reef and along rocky inlets between 25 and 35m on the outside edge of the Manacles. As the rocks start to fizzle out and the water gets deeper, swim cross-current to the west to maintain contact with the reef. You will either end up on the shallower rocks near Carn Du, or on sand at 40m or more further out to sea.
Back at Maen Voes, a nice shallow dive is in the rock garden between the two rocks and to the south-east. At first it looks kelpy, but underneath the rocks are split by narrow gullies and boulder caves, with lots of pretties to see.
The headland further north is Pencra Head. The shallow reef here goes a good half-mile out to sea, but an echo-sounder will reveal a wall from 20 or 25m to past 30m on its east and south-east sides. Currents are gentler than on the main Manacles reefs, but it is still a drift dive on anything but slack water.

All that diving and I have hardly mentioned the shipwrecks, apart from the Mohegan. Some 50m north-west of Maen Voes lie the hull plates and broken boiler of the Spyridion Vagliano, a Greek steamship of 1100 tons which went down in 1890. South of Cairn Du are the remains of the small Norwegian steamship Juno, which ran aground in thick fog in 1915.
There are many areas of wreckage on the Manacles. A couple of miles south, off Chynhalls Point below the Coverack Headland Hotel, lies the steamship Veritas, another small Norwegian ship which sank in 1907 and lies on a sandy seabed at 40m.
To the north in Porthallow Bay is the Volnay, a 4600 ton munitions ship sunk by a mine in 1917. At only 20m, and away from the currents of the Manacles, this makes a convenient second dive and becomes the first wreck dive for many new divers at Easter.
More wrecks in Falmouth Bay and off Lizard Point lie within easy boating distance and, if the weather turns bad, the reef at Porthkerris Point is a good shore dive, offering shelter from the sea at low tide. Another bad-weather fallback option is to shore-dive the submarine wrecks on Pendennis Head at Falmouth, sheltered from north and north-easterly winds (Diver, May 1999).
Because Cornwall is used to catering for holidaymakers, and has numerous diversions for those not satisfied by its natural attractions, it is a great place to get away from it all. You wont run out of diving diversions either, and even if you concentrate on the Manacles and its environs, you can enjoy the advantage of being sheltered from any bad weather approaching from the west.

GETTING THERE: From Helston take the A3083 towards Lizard Point and turn left on to the B3293 to St Keverne after RNAS Culdrose. From the square in St Keverne, turn left for Porthkerris or continue ahead for Porthoustock.
DIVING DETAILS: Dive Action in St Keverne run boats from Porthoustock and can supply air, nitrox and trimix (01326 280719). Porthkerris Dive Centre also runs dive boats, can assist with beach launching and has a compressor (01326 280620). In Falmouth try Cornish Diving (01326 311265). Beach launching possible over shingle beaches at Porthoustock and Porthkerris, and over sand at Kennack Sands. Divers discouraged from launching at Coverack. Nearest slip is at Falmouth. Slack water varies from one to two hours after high and low water Coverack.
ACCOMMODATION: Many local caravan sites - renting a static caravan is good value for money. Holiday cottages, B&B and pub accommodation also available. Falmouth Tourist Information (01326 312300), Helston Tourist Information (01326 565431), or browse www.cornwall-online.co.uk/swcornwall/Welcome.html.
FOR NON-DIVERS: Sandy beaches on west side of Lizard. Seal sanctuary at Gweek makes a nice marine-oriented afternoon out. Satellite ground station at Goonhilly has visitor areas and guided tours. Ostrich farm at Porthkerris.
Hazards: Running over submerged rocks in boats, watch out for strong currents.
DIVING SUITABLE FOR: Everyone, depending on the dive sites.
COST: Local dive centres typically charge £10-15 for a boat dive. A six-berth static caravan costs between£30-40 per night.
PROS: High-quality diving that isnt too advanced. Sheltered from westerly storms.
CONS: Launching over shingle beaches. Slack water required for many of the best dives.