THE SEAS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SYNONYMOUS WITH MYSTERY. It must be something to do with not being able to see what lies beneath - unless youre a diver. Whatever the reason, all over the world tales born of nothing have evolved into major stories.
     Seafarers, drunk on rum and rundown with scurvy, are the source of most mythical sea creatures, weird disappearances and the like, but its not only the mariners who have started to believe their own bull. Divers are almost as bad.
     You can understand what happens. Diving around our shores is often carried out in poor visibility and dim lighting. Its a mood-setter, guaranteed to put sinister thoughts in ones head, and before you know it a story is concocted, told in a pub and spreads.
     The diving fraternity is like a sponge. Before you know it, divers are coming to blows in defence of the most fantastic stories. So I thought it was time to investigate some of the UKs best-known rumours, myths and legends to see how much, if any, truth there might be in them.

I first heard about a bomber wreck in the Lake District about 10 years ago. At the time it was a Wellington in Derwent Water and was supposed to have crashed during training for the Dambusters raid.
     Now, while 617 Squadron (the Dambusters) did use the Derwent Valley for training before that epic mission, the aircraft they used were Lancaster bombers, not Wellingtons. So that settled that.
     However, I soon heard that the plane was in fact now a Lancaster, but that it had moved. It wasnt in Derwent at all, but in Wast Water. So I started to investigate.
     Wast Water is quite a popular lake for diving, and has a number of sites used by local groups. From what I gather, the visibility is usually pretty good, and although most of the sites are scenic stuff, there is supposed to be the wreck of a Hudson bomber in 24m and the tailfin of an Avenger in around 12m. There are also rumours of three Catalina flying boats that were scuttled in around 65m, but nothing is really certain.
     The rumour is that a Lancaster bomber lies in 77m towards the Wasdale Head Inn end on the lake. The story has been taken so seriously that several technical divers have been out looking for it. It has even appeared on some aircraft heritage website forums.
     However, there are no records of a Lancaster crashing into Wast Water, and the person who is said to have found it has since moved abroad. Why is it that so often when something is found by one individual, they later seem to melt away
     My impression is that the story of the Dambusters wreck from Derwent Water has migrated to Wast Water, and in the process been confused with the Hudson bomber and the Catalinas.
     If any of these aircraft are there and have been dived, people are keeping very quiet, which I think unlikely.
     And putting the wreck well beyond safe recreational diving limits is a convenient way of keeping such rumours alive, without serious risk of it being found except by technical divers - the depth is well within their mission limits.
     The lack of reports concerning the wreck speaks volumes. An aircraft lost at sea might go unreported but a crash near such a well-known and long-established hotel would surely have been noted.
     Fighter and bomber wrecks can be found spread across the hills and valleys of the north of England, but most of these are accounted for in crash records.
     I dont believe that the Wastwater Lancaster exists but, like the many who keep the myth alive, I would love it to be true.
     If its there, Im sure someone will find it.


The Mohegan wreck off the Manacles Rocks in Cornwall has an extremely sad, yet strange story. She was embroiled in all sorts of intrigue from the moment she hit the rocks, and the mystery continues to this day.
     The Mohegan was a passenger/cargo vessel used for the Atlantic crossing between London and New York. Originally named the Cleopatra, she was sold after the owners realised how badly she had been built!
     She underwent a major refit to repair the faults acquired during her rushed construction, and was put back to service under the new name of Mohegan.
     On 14 October, 1898 she was supposed to be making her way down the Channel, some 10-12 miles offshore. Instead, she was well inside Falmouth Bay and steaming straight for the coast of the Lizard peninsula.
     Rockets were fired from shore to warn the vessel, an action that saved many people. The lifeboat station at Porthoustock saw the rockets and, believing that they came from a ship in trouble, the men prepared to launch.
     The Mohegan heeded the warning and turned, but instead of swinging full about and steering a 180Â course to take her back safely through the coastal waters she had already negotiated, she headed south-east - straight for the Manacles. She collided with Penvin Rock, tearing off her rudder, and without steering smashed into the Voices Rocks, ripping a massive hole in her side. Within minutes the generators were flooded and all light extinguished.
     In all, 106 people died. Of the eight lifeboats aboard, only two got away, and only a few people were rescued from the water by the lifeboat crews who worked hard all night. Neither Captain Griffiths nor any of the deck officers survived to explain what had gone wrong, but it was one of the worst maritime tragedies of the era.
     For several days after the accident, bodies were washed ashore. Most were well-preserved, the people having died quickly of the cold, and, as they hadnt been in the water that long, they were fairly easy to identify. Some 48 are buried in a mass grave at St Keverne Church next to the Three Tuns pub. The grave is marked with a Cornish Cross and the name Mohegan.
     A few days later, a headless torso dressed in the captains uniform washed ashore. This was the only corpse that could not be identified from the bodily remains alone. Mysteriously, during the rescue one of the rescue crews had reported a gentlemen passenger on one of the lifeboats jumping ashore and running off. He was never seen again.
     Soon speculation arose that the mysterious man who legged it had in fact been the captain, and that he had faked his own death. Years later, it transpired that Captain Griffiths had substantial shares in the Mohegan and was in a great deal of debt.
     This led many to speculate that the accident was in fact an insurance job, and that the vessel was deliberately heading for the land. The passengers and crew would certainly have been able to reach safety much more easily had the vessel crashed into the shore.
     The warning rocket from land had changed all that. The next available place to wreck a ship after that was the Manacles Reef. The trouble was that the ship was so badly holed that she sank within 14 minutes - barely enough time to organise an escape.
     With such a compelling story, it is understandable how mystery has built up around the Mohegan. She is now said to be haunted, and certainly all the groundwork has been laid. The people died suddenly and before their time. Most of them were laid to rest in a mass grave, and several bodies are unaccounted for.
     So is the Mohegan haunted Several divers think so. Some even appeared on a TV programme aired a few years ago to describe their experiences of being led to find a buried skeleton.
     I have dived the Mohegan several times and not felt or heard a thing. I have had no eerie experiences, nor do I know of anyone else who has. A haunted ship is certainly good for hooking a TV audience, and the Mohegan is the sort of place a lost soul might choose to haunt.
     Yet it is also true that while not everyone who stays in a haunted house sees a ghost, that doesn't mean there are none. I do believe in ghosts (having seen one) so I am prepared to accept that the Mohegan may be haunted!


As popular a dive in the north of the country as the Mohegan is in the south, the wreck of the Somali is surrounded by its own mystery.
     She sank after being bombed by German Heinkel bombers on 25 March, 1941, while bound for Hong Kong. She was off the Northumberland coast when the attack occurred, carrying an odd cargo of toy soldiers, photographic film, cosmetics, some vehicles and straw.
     By design or fate, the explosions set the straw, which was in hold three, alight. Crew and passengers fought the blaze in vain and eventually, with the flames clearly visible from shore, the order to abandon ship was given.
     Everyone was taken off by a passing patrol boat that had stopped to give assistance, and then the Somali was cast adrift and warnings broadcast by the local Coastguard station.
     However, the Somali was stubborn and refused to sink. The next day, she was taken in tow by the large salvage tug Sea Giant. The plan was to beach her for salvage, as the fire had not completely damaged the cargo.
     A mile or so out from the town of Beadnell the boat, in its final act of defiance, suddenly exploded and split in two. Debris rained down for several minutes, reaching as far as the beach.
     So powerful was the blast that the bow section was ripped away and sent into the air before splashing down several metres away.
     The force of the explosion has led many to believe that the Somali was actually carrying munitions to the Far East, though this has never been proved.
     Nor, for that matter has the bow ever been located. Many divers claim to have discovered it, but there has been no verification of such claims.
     A friend of mine believes he dived on it when he missed the main wreck, but didnt bring anything up to confirm the location, or that the wreckage was from the Somali. To add some fuel to the story (if any were needed), the Somalis safe, it is said, was located in the bow.
     If that is the case, does it still contain the ships purse and any valuables placed in it by passengers
     I doubt it. The crew of the Sea Giant had several hours to clear the safe, and thats if the ships captain didnt do just that before he ordered the ship to be abandoned. Its a good element to the lost bow story, however.
     Im quite surprised that no one has mounted an expedition to discover the bows whereabouts in the past 40 years. Whenever you dive the main wreck, skippers always recount the bows mysterious disappearance and the fact that no one has found it.
     So how likely is it to be discovered Well, the seabed in the general location is around 30m, so it is well within diveable depths.
     Yet the area is also washed with fierce currents and the dive window is very short - even during a neap slack - so time is not on any divers side.
     I think you would need a sidescan sonar to help locate the bow wreckage, which is an expense out of the reach of most divers, especially when all youre looking for is a twisted hunk of metal.
     The Somalis bow is there somewhere, but finding it wont be easy.
     As a challenge, its a worthy exercise, but there will be no reward at the end of the day - except perhaps an article in a diving magazine.


The Dutch cargo ship ss Breda is arguably the most popular wreck dive in the UK. It is certainly the most loved in Scotland, and it has been dived by thousands over the years.
     The story of the sinking in 1940 is well documented and is recounted by almost every boat skipper who moors over her.
     Divers have heard all about the bombs from the Heinkels that crashed into the sea so close that they damaged her pipes and plates, causing her to flood. They have heard about much of the cargo being unloaded, including 10 racehorses belonging to the Aga Khan who were set free to swim ashore, before she slipped back into the 32m-deep Ardmucknish Bay during a storm.
     Divers know how well-preserved the wreck is, and where to find the odds and ends that remain to this day. Most also know the monkey story. It is a favourite among skippers, instructors and divemasters in the area, and I heard it 14 years ago when I first dived the Breda.
     The story goes that a crew-member kept a pet monkey which was lost during the attack and subsequent sinking. This is where the waters get a bit muddy.
     Some reports say that the body of a monkey was washed ashore a few days after the sinking.
     Others say that the body of a monkey was discovered in the 1970s close to Oban, after years of people being ridiculed for having reported seeing a monkey in the wild.
     Both stories agree that the body had a collar, and that the name Breda was stamped on it.
     Its a fantastic story, a good yarn to tell divers who are about to visit the wreck. Yet is it true
     Scratch the surface of the story and its hard to find much to back up the claims. Im not saying that it isnt true, but David Tye, the man who raised the ships propeller, says he knows nothing about a monkey. Peter Moir in his book Argyll Shipwrecks doesnt mention it, and neither does Rod Macdonald in Diving Scotlands Greatest Wrecks.
     Surely such a story, told for many years by divemasters and instructors, would have been picked up by one of these men, who have between them done far more research on this wreck than most.
     Sadly we may never know whether there was a monkey connected to the wreck of the ss Breda, unless one of you readers has first-hand information regarding the mysterious primate and its antics around the town of Oban.
     But I suspect not.


What would the tabloids do without Cornish fishermen during the summer slow news season
     Reports from fishermen allow the Wapping-based hacks to rummage through the picture archives and use that powerful image of a white shark, mouth open and teeth bared as it tries to grab bait being pulled away from it.
     Headlines that read something along the lines of Killer Shark Spotted off Cornwall are a licence to print money for newspapers.
     So are there really white sharks around the British coast Well thats the thing, no one can agree. Marine biologists can give no definitive answer. There have been no conclusive sightings, but then, there is no reason to think that they are not there.
     White sharks off the South African coast live in water very similar in temperature to our summer conditions and the UK has a good seal population, so there is no lack of food.
     So the environment for white sharks is fairly good. There is a population in the Mediterranean and, seeing as scientists have tracked whites travelling over 1000 miles in other parts of the world, it is possible that a white from the Med could work its way up to the UK.
     The Cornish coast is often visited by sunfish, turtles and other creatures more associated with more exotic climes, so why not great white sharks
     But why dont we see them With the amount of boat traffic around our coast, someone would surely notice if they were around. Basking sharks are spotted regularly throughout the summer, as are mako, blue and porbeagle sharks. Why not great whites
     Well, just because the whites in South Africa and California predate on seals and sea-lions doesnt mean that they all do. The Mediterranean population feeds on fish - tuna primarily - and thats probably why they havent migrated northwards in any numbers.
     Thats not to say that the reports are false. We are only now discovering how big the range of white sharks is.
     The first satellite tracking programmes started only a couple of years ago and the limited number of tags means that it will be several years before marine biologists start to get a grip of the whites movement patterns.
     The Mediterranean sharks may never be tagged. They generally stay deep, following the tuna, and are rarely seen, which makes satellite tracking impractical.
     So unless a fisherman has a camera to hand, we may never know whether the white shark sightings are based on fact or whether what they are seeing is another species, such as a basking shark or porbeagle.
     If there is a population of north-eastern Atlantic white sharks, Ill be one of the first to volunteer to jump in the cage.


Charred Body Found on Remote Hillside - Remains Found in Wetsuit. How many years is it since this story surfaced How many newspapers across the world have picked it up and run it as a pukka news story Far too many on both counts.
     The basic story, which jumps around the world from the Mediterranean to Australia, the States and Canada, is that a diver is scooped into a fire-fighting aircraft as it collects water from the sea or a lake and is then deposited onto the flames. Days later, when fire assessors are wandering through the lonely hillside, they come across a body.
     This story is categorically a myth. The body of a diver has never been found on a hillside after being used to help extinguish a fire. Think of the odds it would take to turn the story to fact. The plane or helicopter would have to be collecting water close to known dive sites, which is unlikely. It would also have to miss the boat, which would be close to the diver, and would have to scoop the diver up on or just under the surface, where you are generally visible.
     A load of old tosh it may be, but it hasnt stopped the creation of Fire Divers International, an organisation dedicated to a bizarre new sport. It has its own website, which explains the rules and regulations and offers some hints and tips about getting involved.
     Its run as a competition, in that you have to make as many jumps as possible to win. According to the website, there are a number of teams dotted around the world with names such as the Bay Area Bucket Divers; FIST (Firedivers In Sacred Trust); Half Moon Bay Hell Hoppers; SCREAM (Santa Clara Raging Enferno Altitude Masters); LA Smog Suckers; Sitka Sizzlers; Volcano Volunteers - Hawaii; Topanga Topographic Trouncers (Triple Ts); Puissant Puget Fantastic Fire Divers And Totally Awesome Bambi Bucket Riders Association; and Jamaican Smokers and Flying Fire Turtles!
     There doesnt seem to be a team from the UK as yet, so maybe someone would like to start one. I recommend a name along the lines of Bulldog Basters, or Hot Stoney Grounders.
     The rules are fairly simple although, as the site says, getting picked up by an aircraft isnt easy.
     Professional teams wear camouflaged wetsuits and have to swim very hard to get in harms way.
     Cheating is frowned upon, as the one-time world-record-holder found out when he was disqualified after it was discovered that the pilot who picked him up happened to be his brother-in-law.
     And in case you think Im trying to start up a myth of my own, you can check out Fire Diving International at