Martins Haven, Pembrokeshire


About as far south and west as you can get in Wales, at the tip of Pembrokeshire, Martins Haven is just inside Skomer Marine Nature Reserve. The bay faces north, so is exposed to wind and sea from the north-west through to the north-east. Having said that, it can be blowing a gale from any direction in the southern half of the compass and Martins Haven will be flat-calm.
As with most shore dives, I like to get below the surface as soon as I leave the beach and follow the large pebbles out slightly east of north, biasing my course away from the jetty and towards the right-hand side of the bay. A marine-reserve rule is that divers should keep away from the jetty area and the left side of the bay while the Dale Princess ferry to Skomer Island is operating. Another is that divers should have an SMB.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen the Dale Princess need to take last-minute avoiding action because divers bubbles are coming up right beneath the jetty.
The worst offenders seem to be certain dive schools which sit an instructor, half-a-dozen students and a divemaster playing sheepdog just a little further out.
Below the low-water mark, the pebbles become larger and kelp-covered. There have always been a fair number of spider crabs round here, and since tangle-netting has stopped they seem to be getting more numerous and bigger.
Kelp and pebbles eventually give way to a silty seabed just before the first mooring buoy. Following this round to the east brings you to terraces of rocks rising to the cliffs at the side of the bay. Kelp grows on top of the rocks, but there are enough steep sides and overhangs for plenty of other marine life to get a look in.
The rocks arent exposed enough for the solid walls of anemones found at many sites round Skomer island. Here there are occasional anemones and small dead mens fingers, cup corals, burrowing sea cucumbers, tunicates and bryozoans.
At the right time of year this is a great place for nudibranch-spotting. Its not unusual for nudibranch-hunters to spot five or more different species on a single dive.
Further out off the point, the seabed is of coarser sand, swept by the current running along the coastline of St Brides Bay. Sand-dwelling critters include anemones, tubeworms and scallops, but dont be tempted to take one for the pot as you are still inside the marine reserve. Pick up nothing but obvious litter.
Navigation back to the beach is a matter of following the join between sand and kelp-covered rocks round to the first mooring line, then following the slope up to the south and slightly towards the jetty to end up in the middle of the beach.
Its not unusual to get seals in the bay, particularly in late afternoon, and sometimes they want to play. I can remember watching from the beach as a couple of friends towed their SMB back in, a young seal popping up and down alongside it.
It was not until they surfaced that they realised what was happening, so they went back down to 2m and the seal played until their air ran out.
The left side of the bay is admittedly a better dive. A much bigger reef descends to 25m or so, with holes big enough for conger eels and lobsters. The safe way to do it is when the ferry is either not running, out on an extended run, finished for the day or having a day off. Ask the boatmen. There are probably more opportunities to dive this side of the bay in winter.
For training, the boat moorings make convenient reference lines for practising alternative air source ascents and controlled buoyant lifts. Again, check with the boatmen that they will not be wanting to tie off while you are blobbing up and down.


A sea-hare at Martins Haven

cup corals characterise the marine reserve

more cup corals


GETTING THERE: Follow the M4 and A40 to Haverfordwest, then B4327 to Dale, turning right on an unclassified road to Marloes and Martins Haven. Parking is in the National Trust car park 150m up the hill from the beach. Ask there before driving down the hill to unload, unload quickly and return your car to the car park

AIR: West Wales Divers, 01437 781457.

ACCOMODATION: Local farms offer camping and B&B. Haverfordwest tourist information, 01437 763110.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2878, Approaches to Milford Haven. OS Map 157, St Davids and Haverfordwest Area. A handout from the marine reserve office contains rules and diving information.