THE WEATHER IN WEST WALES has been perfect for a few days – the sun always shines in Pembrokeshire. The good conditions have been well used to finish off a whole load of sites that for some reason had eluded me. The original plan for my visit is already complete. With that out of the way, what more can we do on an “exploration” week that has already met all its original objectives
“How about the Smalls” suggests Bob, of fine dining and better-French-vocabulary-than-mine notoriety, but who doesn’t speak Welsh.
Skipper Mark has never taken Wandrin’ Star out to the Smalls, but it is within the boat’s range and is a site we are all eager to take a look at.
To add to the incentive, TV and radio news has been reporting a super pod of dolphins in the area.
To get a head start, we leave Wandrin’ Star anchored just outside Porthgain for the night. The RIB shuttles everyone ashore for an evening in the Sloop Inn, before Celtic Diving’s minibus takes us back to the dive centre – all except for Mark, who returns to the boat to sleep on board and keep anchor watch.
Next morning, we start at dawn and the process is reversed.
The sky is a bit grey, but the sea is nice and flat, and the Smalls beckon. At the helm, Mark is listening to rousing songs from The Best of Communism CD.
I interpret the lyrics as stirring patriotic messages about working in the tractor factory for the glory of the state.
It takes getting on for four hours to reach the Smalls, past the Bishops & Clerks and out into the Irish Sea. While the sky is grey, surface visibility is good and the tower of the lighthouse grows from the horizon.
The 41m-tall Smalls lighthouse was erected over a two-year period and completed in 1861.
It was based on the already proven design of the Eddystone, and replaced a wooden platform that had stood on iron and timber piles for 80 years.
With nothing for comparison to give a scale, the judgment of distance is deceptive unless I look over Mark’s shoulder at the plotter.
We seem to have been almost there for ages; then suddenly we can see the actual rocks, and we have arrived.
A fast whaler pulls out from behind the rocks and comes alongside. The landlord of the Sloop has been here for a few hours, using rod and line to catch fresh mackerel for his restaurant, and has a chestful of silvery fish on the deck.
In an open boat in the now drizzling rain, he welcomes the offer of a warming cup of tea.

THERE IS TIME TO WAIT for slack water, so Bob uses it to search for the wreck of the Cambro, using an approximate position from roughly sketched transits that he only half-remembers. Wandrin’ Star can’t get close enough in among the rocks, but we have towed the RIB behind for just this eventuality, and also as a safety boat, as we’re a long way from home.
On 24 May, 1913, the 1918-ton Cambro was on the way from Spain to Garston with a cargo of iron ore when a thick fog enveloped the entire area. She ran onto the Smalls, stuck fast
and began flooding.
The crew abandoned ship. One lifeboat with the first officer was picked up by a passing ship, while the other with the captain rowed hard through the night to reach Milford Haven.
Bob has no luck with the echo-sounder. A broken wreck in shallow water among the rocks is not a target likely to show. So the shot is dropped roughly in line with the transits, just far enough out that Mark can get Wandrin’ Star close enough to drop divers.
It is said that there is no VHF coverage at the Smalls. Certainly it is outside the range of any land-based antenna, but the claim is a myth, as the lighthouse has a relay. Mobile phones are out of coverage, but we can still get the Coastguard on marine VHF, and advise it that we are about to dive.

IT STILL ISN’T PROPERLY SLACK, but it’s just about possible to haul down against the current. I hit a sloping reef at 15m, where a line of kelp meets a bed of mussels. The slope continues deeper and becomes a network of gentle valleys to just past 20m.
It’s patches of mussels interspersed with patches of dead men’s fingers and patches of anemones. Vis is excellent. Scraps of wreckage are tantalising, but none actually leads me to anything, not even a promising length of chain.
The tide slackens a little, and I use the increased freedom to range further away from the shelter of the valleys. Lobsters scuttle for cover. A crawfish waves its antennae at me. Crabs spread their elbows and wedge into their holes. This far out, the visibility is blue, rather than inshore green.
After all the turning gullies, I am pleased to find my way back to the line. Back on the surface, delayed SMBs are popping up all over the place. Closer in to the rocks, seals hold their heads up to see what all the fuss is about.
Some divers have run across more wreckage than me, some have found less. On some dive sites I would have been disappointed, but here I’m simply happy to have explored the reef.
Heading for home, gannets are dive-bombing among the overfalls to the north of the reef. The action becomes more intense as the shoal of mackerel below tightens up in a bid to survive.
It is only as we get close that we can make out the fins and backs of dolphins arching for breath as they work on the ball of fish. We don’t have the super pod of thousands, but there are more than enough to provide a good spectacle.
By the time we pass Porthgain on the way home, the sun is out and the beer has been out for a while.
The RIB makes a diversion with a couple of divers to pick up their cars, and the rest of us carry on.
It’s another 90 minutes past a sunset over Strumble Head and back to Fishguard. The CD player is on repeat, and dedicated and happy tractor workers have built many wonderful tractors to the glory of the state.

Celtic Diving ( 01348 871938) is by the public slipway at Ocean Lab, Goodwick. It can provide air and four-bed bunk-room accommodation for up to 20. Divers with their own boat and a good 4x4 can launch at Porthclais, and on the north coast the slip at Porthgain harbour can be used at any state of tide. At Goodwick the slip dries for a couple of hours either side of low tide.