“We’re going to Cornwall with your sister”
“Oh, will I get to go diving”?
And so it began. My mind was now in overdrive trying to think of a way to get wet without incurring the wrath of a non-diving spouse, in whose head the idea of cladding oneself in rubber and jumping into the briny is as far removed from the family holiday ideal as it’s possible to get. Not to mention the fact that this was a supremely selfish request on my part, for which many brownie points would need to be garnered during the build-up to this, our second only holiday as a proper family with kid-in-tow. We’d been to Pentewan Sands holiday park before – also with my sister and her two boys, but the last time was when our son was 9 months old, so any ideas of diving immediately went out of the window, knowing that such a move would surely mark me out as a complete and utter sod. But the seed, as they say, had been sown. This time, the boy was knocking on three years old, and I figured that as he’d be happy knocking around with his two older cousins, I could indulge in a bit of brine and Sarah wouldn’t feel as if I’d simply left her holding the baby.
My initial thought was to book a couple of cheeky scuba dives with a local outfit, but I quickly realised this would mean a fight for space in the car for my gear and this was an argument I simply didn’t have the stomach for. So while I was sorting through a few things I discovered a Snorkel. Such a device I hadn’t pursed my lips around since I had started scuba diving – quite literally, as soon as the snorkel/regulator exchange skill was ticked off, it was consigned to the bottom of the kit bag, never to be seen at my temple until now. (I should say that I’m no stranger to snorkelling/freediving – as a youth I whiled away many hours at Heybrook Bay, Wembury and Bovisand, dreaming of the day I could afford an Aqualung – but this was a long time ago, and the thought of breath-hold diving after I finally got into scuba just kind of passed me by). Anyway, as I reacquainted myself with this mysterious plastic tube the penny dropped…
Around this time I was invited by my Dad to come down to Plymouth and assist him with his entry into a splash-in photo competition run by BSoUP. Now, I have never before taken any interest whatsoever in photography, both on land and certainly not underwater, but having joined him on this venture as assistant/lookout diver, I found myself inexplicably drawn into the whole thing. I tried to fight it, but even the shambolic nature of that evening’s show and tell couldn’t stop me from wondering: what if..?
The first thing I did when I got back to London was start looking for an underwater housing for my camera. Nothing special – it’s a Panasonic Lumix TZ7. I’d been coveting these devices for some time before a small windfall allowed me to treat myself to such a trinket. And it is quite a clever thing, even though it’s now four years old. I found a little plastic house for it after a bit of research and Ebay-watching. It seemed my surreptitious dive-plan was coming together.
The housing arrived at my doorstep not three days before our planned departure to the Westcountry. During a stopover at my parent’s place en-route to the south Cornish coast my dad greeted the news of my plan with equal measures of incredulity and I think a little paternal pride – being a veteran of the underwater world he has played a significant part in my diving career, as inspiration, mentor and buddy; surely however, never did he suspect I would sink beneath the waves with a camera in my hand.
Pentewan Sands is located just south of St. Austell, along the road to Mevagissey, and is one of the best equipped Caravan/camping parks I’ve seen. A private beach and newly-built bar/restaurant/leisure complex compliments a well thought-out and high quality campsite, with the small historic fishing village of Pentewan situated alongside. Many divers will know this as the venue for Scuba Fest (formerly Dive Fest) which is said to be a great event (though I’ve never been).
I looked at an aerial shot of Pentewan on Google Maps and found what I thought might be some decent snorkelling areas both to the NE and SW of the main beach area.
This approach can be a bit hit-and-miss, as you cannot really see much definition, or tell the state of the tide, but you can usually get a pretty good idea of what lies beneath. As our holiday home was situated at the northern edge of the park, I decided that the coast heading NW was to be my week’s hunting ground. The tides looked favourable too: with high water being at around 8am on the first day and getting later in the morning as the week progressed, I planned my diving around these times which saw little disruption to the rest of the days’ family activities.
I must admit to being a little sceptical regarding whether I would enjoy my first dive – I clambered over a few rocks to get away from some anglers (and their dreaded monofil) hoping to catch something for breakfast on that first day – but as soon as my head hit the water I was absolutely stunned at the visibility and colours laid before me. The sand at Pentewan is fairly coarse, which means the water remains pretty clear, and the sunshine which easily penetrates the first six metres or so (my freediving range these days) made this a really wonderful experience. Kelp-fringed reefs and gullies are host to loads of Wrasse, Pollack, Bass and other critters – Big mussels, Beadlet, Snakelocks and Dahlia anemones, various starfish I don’t know the names of, brown and spider crab, cuttlefish, and even dead men’s fingers (which I’ve never before seen on a <6m shore dive) under some overhangs. Plenty of other things I don’t know the names of, either.
Over the course of three 70-80 minute dives, at both HW and LW I shot around 60 photos, of which I picked my best 9, and decided on minimal LightRoom clean up, to make them more presentable. All shots were taken whilst freediving to a max of around 6m, and with ambient light. The camera must take considerable credit here, for the only manual settings I can make are minimum shutter speed and equivalent ASA ratings. Even so, I was pretty chuffed with my first underwater pics:
So there you have it. If I have learned anything from this, it is that I regret having forgotten all about the humble snorkel, and the simplicity of skin-diving without all the faff of air fills and, much as I love them, boats. I have gained a new-found love of shore diving, and much to learn about taking photographs.
Next up: a Kayak…