One of the most dived wrecks in Wales lies off the coast of Pembrokeshire by Skomer Island. John Liddiard shows us around.Illustration by Max Ellis
The Dutch coaster Lucy was abandoned by her crew on Valentine's Day 1967. She had become wedged on a rock at the south end of Jack Sound, in danger of exploding as her calcium carbide cargo came into contact with water. A rising tide freed the Lucy from her rock, and the current then carried her until she sank to the north of Skomer Island, just outside North Haven. The wreck site lies in the shelter of the island, and it is a calm location for a dive in any wind other than north-west to north-east. The condition of the tidal race as you cross Jack Sound is a more important factor to consider before setting out. A buoy line is attached to the bows and clearly marked with the ship's name. Be prepared to hang on to the line on the way down as there can be a bit of current, especially in large spring tides. Visibility is rarely fantastic here and a few rainy days can bring it to a silty zero. Even on good days natural light will be minimal, but if you give your eyes a chance to adjust when you reach the wreck at 36m, you will be surprised by how much you can see. The buoy line is attached to the starboard railing, about 2m back from the bows (1). If there is more than one line attached, the one you want is clearly marked 'the Lucy' and heavily overgrown with marine life. The bows have a good spread of plumose anemones, daisy anemones and hydroids, particularly on the railings and over the sides. Items of interest are a large anchor winch (2) and the chain locker, which is half-full of silt. The foremast has broken off long ago - its remains can be found resting against the reef at nearby Rye Rocks. There is little to see in the holds except the concreted remains of the cargo, so I prefer to follow the slightly shallower starboard railing (3) to the stern and look over the side of the wreck. The Skomer Marine Reserve is famous for the richness of its marine life and the sides of the Lucy are teeming. It is easy to find a variety of small nudibranchs munching their way along the hull. A brisk swim leads to steps (4) up to a companionway which runs around the stern of the ship. On arriving at the stern, dip below it (5) for an incredible sight between the shaft and the rudder (6). It is worth doing this early on, as the depth can be as much as 38m on spring tides. Ascending the port side there are a couple of small portholes which look in on the silted below-deck cabins (7), before you reach the railed companionway. About halfway along the superstructure is a corridor that connects the port and starboard sides (8). Although dark, taking necessary care, it is easy to fin through here, back to the starboard side. But there are a number of doors you could explore first. The first door on the left leads to a large cabin below the wheelhouse, probably the galley (9). A diversion into this room has exits upwards to the remains of the wheelhouse or through windows at the front. On the right-hand side of the corridor a silted cabin (10) and broken bulkhead lead to a stern cabin, with an exit possible through a door at the starboard end of the rear bulkhead. In the centre of the cross-corridor are two more doors. To the stern, steps lead downward to the cabins that you might have viewed through the portholes earlier, but the way is blocked by silt. Forward leads to a small gallery which looks down on the heavily silted main part of the engine room (11). Sometimes light enters through an open ventilation hatch to the port side of the funnel. It is a tight squeeze to exit through here and there are many loose cables in which to get tangled up. Back in the corridor, the last set of doors before exiting the starboard side lead forward to the head and sternward to a cabin (12), which connects to the stern cabin (13) through another collapsing bulkhead. As you emerge on the starboard side, the railing leads back past the entrance to the stern cabin and on past a large bollard at the stern. Continuing round to the port side there is a set of steps (14) to the upper deck above the cabins. Moving forward, past the port side of the funnel (15), you may want to have a quick look through the ventilation hatches above the engine room. The steel sides of the wheelhouse (16) are still intact, but the windows are broken and the roof has collapsed, leaving a relatively bright area in which to rummage. My favourite option for surfacing is to ascend the anemone-covered mast to 15m and release a delayed SMB (17). This is OK for a no-stop dive, but the best option for more than 5 minutes of decompression is to return to the buoy line at the bows.
A PERILOUS CARGO
The men who crew ships which carry calcium carbide are wise enough to abandon them when seawater starts to make contact with their cargo writes Kendall McDonald. Seawater plus carbide makes acetylene gas, which makes for exploding ships. So the crew of seven and the ship's collie dog were in a liferaft and clear of the 450-ton Dutch coaster Lucy very quickly after she hit Blackstones Reef in Jack Sound, at midday on 14 February, 1967. She was on her way from Norway to Barry, South Glamorgan. The 52m-long Lucy, with her carbide cargo now fizzing as the water rose inside her, remained balanced on the reef until early evening when the rising tide lifted her off. She was last seen drifting away into St Brides Bay with a heavy list to starboard. A snowstorm drew a curtain over her last moments, as she sank on the north side of Skomer Island, right in the heart of the Skomer Marine Reserve. She served only three years as an ocean going vessel, but as one of the most dived wrecks in Wales, her useful life for divers is guaranteed to be far longer.
Tides: Slack water is not essential to dive the Lucy, but if you do want slack it is two and a half hours after high and low water at Milford Haven. Depth can reach 42m in spring tides.
Getting there: Follow the M4 and A40 to Haverfordwest, then B4327 to Dale and Martin's Haven or B4341 to Broad Haven.
Diving and air: Air is available from West Wales Divers (01437 781457) in Hasguard Cross and Dive Pembrokeshire (01437 781117) in Little Haven. Trips including boat charter and accommodation can be arranged through Pembrokeshire Dive Charters (01437 781569).
Launching: Beach launching at Broad Haven or small boats at Martin's Haven. The closest slip is at Dale.
Accommodation: There are many hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the area. Tourist information offices at Haverfordwest (01437 763110) and Milford Haven (01646 690866) have details.
Qualifications: Depth and darkness make the Lucy an advanced dive. Nevertheless the usually sheltered surface conditions make it an easier dive than many other wrecks at a similar depth.
Further information: Admiralty Chart 2878, Approaches to Milford Haven. Admiralty Chart 1482, The South and West of Dyfed, shows a 1:12,500 scale plan of Jack Sound that just includes the Lucy. Ordnance Survey Map 157, St David's and Haverfordwest Area. Shipwrecks Around Wales, Volume 1, by Tom Bennett. Divers' handout from the marine reserve office at Martin's Haven gives essential information on slack water and rules of the marine reserve.
Pros: An intact wreck in the beautiful Skomer Marine Reserve.
Cons: Deep and dark. Good visibility is very uncommon.
How to find it: 50.44.27N, 5.16.33W (degrees, minutes, seconds). There is usually a buoy attached to the bows which makes finding the Lucy easy. Otherwise it is not too hard to locate using transits. The stern rises more than 20m from the seabed, which gives a nice echo, but current, depth and a small target make it difficult to hit with a shot.