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THE SEAL IS CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH, and I can barely contain my excitement. It regards me with large, watery eyes and then grunts, rolls effortlessly away and disappears beneath the dive boat.
     Seal! Seal, seal, seal... I appear to have lost the use of language and have been reduced to hopping from foot to foot and chanting one word.
     Ive just carried my kit down the steep stone steps in Newquay harbour wall and onto Atlantic Diver, a neat-looking Offshore 105. I wasnt expecting quite such a close encounter with sealife before even setting out.
     The skipper, Chris Lowe, shakes his head in amusement at my reaction. Theres another one there, look, he says, pointing out the dark shape of a bobbing head at the stern. Theres four of them...
     Im squeaking and spinning around the deck like an over-excited toddler, trying to spot the seals. Actually, they live here. Ah. Thatll explain why the other divers are calmly sorting their kit as if nothing has happened.
     Only later do I realise that they are containing their excitement for the far more elusive treats in store for us.

Syracuse
I clear my mask in an attempt to clear my head. I think Ive stumbled into John Liddiards brain by accident. Somebody has drawn a perfect, textbook wreck in front of me: large, upright, opened up like a fillet, neatly arranged.
     Gliding over the boilers, I follow the propshaft; follow it, follow it... oh, look at that shoal of fish... no, keep following... Bingo! The picturesque prop looms into view. and I perch above it for a photo. Marvellous.
     Off to the bow... back over those boilers and forward... to an upright, if disintegrating, bow. It looks like a cage full of fish and I can swim right inside the remaining structure. Beautiful.
     At 35m, its probably the perfect club dive; loads to see, easy to navigate - lets face it, even I could see where I was headed - and big enough to impress.
     Today, the wreck is a strangely noisy place. Then I realise that those scratching, ticking noises are coming from the dolphins, which have joined us for deco. I get back to the boat feeling elated.
     Atlantic Diver has a convenient Stana stairlift-style gizmo on the port side, which allows you to stand on a bar and ride back on board. Its all too tempting to spit out your mouthpiece and start raving about the dive before youve even set foot on the deck.
     Did you see that enormous sunfish demands one of the divers, launching into an enthusiastic description of his encounter.
     No, actually, I didnt see the sunfish. I was too busy watching the dolphins playing slalom between the SMBs, and wondering how on Earth it could get any better.

HS Rewa
I wait for the signal to go, and fall backwards off the side of the boat with a large splash - its not easy to look elegant in these circumstances.
     The viz this far offshore is so fine that I can already see metres of shotline disappearing into the depths, before Ive even swum over to the buoy.
     The Atlantic water has a clarity that sets it apart from the English Channel waters that Im more familiar with. Ive heard that the Inuit people have 50 different words for types of snow, and I start to consider that its about time divers developed a vocabulary for different types of in-water conditions. The only word that springs to my mind is stunning.
     The rope slips through my gloved hand. The shot is on the boilers, Chris had told me confidently just before I launched myself backwards, and the man is true to his word.
     Six of the biggest boilers imaginable lie directly below me in neat formation, and even though Im well below 50m, theres enough ambient light to get a great view. The WW1 hospital ship Rewa is a stonker - its huge, its upright, and even on a rebreather youd be doing well to swim from one end to the other in a single dive.
     I pause above the mountainous boilers, trying to appreciate the enormity of the wreck laid out before me. It strikes me that Ive dived on wrecks that are considerably smaller than these boilers.
     Other divers come past me and head off towards the bow, in a bright, white, glare of torches. The bell may have been recovered, but on a wreck of this magnitude - only recently found by divers - there is no shortage of fabulous artefacts waiting to be uncovered. Theres a huge buzz about this wreck. I descend between the sloping sides of two boilers. Rumour has it that somebody saw a box of artillery shells around here, which caused a great furore among wreck historians.
     In its day, the sinking of this unarmed hospital ship provided a ready source of anti-German war propaganda, of the kind generated by the sinking by the Lusitania. If anybody proves that the ship was carrying ammunition at the time, history books will have to be rewritten.
     A large torpedo shape beneath me turns out to be the protruding head of a monster-sized conger. Our eyes meet. The pitbull-sized head moves back a fraction. I push myself gently away, finger by finger, until I can turn around and get the hell out of there. The sound of my buddy cackling into his mouthpiece rings in my ears.
     The row of portholes stretches as far as the eye can see. Close to the boilers, where most divers arrive on the wreck, theyve been nicked, but as you explore out, there are shedloads still in place.
     Much of the ships plates have collapsed onto the deck, but some sections are still upright, with glassy porthole windows staring out across the seabed. Its a rare and moving sight, and one that fills my head as I lie in bed that night.

St George: the last copper wreck
The boys are itching to get up, even before theyve gone to sleep. We have an early start to reach the copper wreck, the St George, tomorrow. The 4am drive through Newquay is unexpectedly lively. A naked lad is cling-filmed to a lamp post. A single gold stiletto lies in the road. Three mini-skirted girls are slumped together across a bench, above a large pool of vomit. Oh, you cant beat the entertainment value!
     Its a long journey out, but Im lucky enough to be on board with two of the guys who, with Lowe, found the wreck. Gavin Haywood and Dan Stevenson give me a spirited rendition of their first moments on it. Dan went forward and recovered the bell. Behind him, Gavin was sitting on a huge pile of bricks, which, on examination, were actually metal and shone like gold.
     Divers swooped across the wreck site screaming Nazi gold! into their mouthpieces and giving each other mock fascist salutes as they loaded bar after bar into lifting bags - with mixed success. The frenzy of discovery was captured on underwater video and is hilarious.
     Back on the surface, the markings CCC were clear on each bar, and the shiny metal was clearly copper. CCC stands for Cornish Copper Company. The boys had discovered the last unfound copper wreck out of Cornwall and, after clearing it with the Receiver of Wreck, handed the salvage operation to a commercial company and split the profits equally among all on the trip.
     Its a small but enchanting wreck, mostly collapsed into the seabed, with not much more than the boilers as a feature. The bulk of the copper has been lifted, but there are plenty of scattered copper bars to recover. The boys are in full, scavenging, seventh heaven and happily empty their bail-out cylinders into lift bags at 60m.
     A large black and white Cornish flag flies proudly against a blue sky above the bridge of Atlantic Diver. The pasties are in the oven. I clutch my post-dive cup of tea and that feeling of deep contentment that you get after a truly orgasmic dive washes over me.
     For me, this is more than just a post-dive high; it feels as if I belong here. Louise Trewavas: born-again Cornish! Ive come home.
     * Chris Lowes website is www.atlanticdiver.co.uk and carries details of all the wrecks he visits regularly. If your group is into exploration diving, hell be happy to discuss the possibilities - call 01637 850 930 or 07860 927833

About Newquay  
Newquay offers stunning scenic diving in the 10-40m range, and glorious wrecks in the 35-80m range. It is best suited to adventurous club divers, and deep-wreck-loving tekkies - a long list of wreck sites can be found on www.atlanticdiver.co.uk
     The town is on a rock-bound coast. Steep cliffs pitch into the sea, and golden stretches of beach provide perfect conditions for surfers, with big swells rolling in from the Atlantic.
     The tiny harbour has limited space for boats, and empties out on a low tide. Its hard to imagine that huge yachts came here to unload goods and a tunnel behind the harbour, now covered up, is the remaining evidence of where a train ran onto the harbour wall to collect the goods.
     It is drop-dead gorgeous, with the kind of diving that takes your breath away, but Newquay presents a number of challenges for divers. Perched on the northern edge of Cornwall, its exposed to the full force of the Atlantic when there is a westerly.
     The constant Atlantic swell makes it an unfriendly place for the seasick. The tides limit the times when boats can enter the harbour, and many an unwary club RIB has been left stranded.
     The space restrictions in the harbour make it virtually impossible to accommodate the most suitable dive boat - a fast, modern cat-style vessel, which could cut the travelling time to those offshore wrecks. So the small, and rather roly-poly, Offshore 105 has to cope with long journeys carrying the kind of bizarre kit-mountain that only technical divers can generate.
     But who cares about that when you have such fabulous wrecks to visit, and a great skipper who is passionate about his work
The Skipper  
The best skippers are invariably amazing characters and Chris Nine-Toe Lowe is a legend. He achieved international notoriety after his little toe was bitten off by an enraged conger; a news event that flashed around the globe, championed by CNN.
     Lowe has a habit of walking about his boat without shoes, and on the fateful day - a fishing charter - there was a large conger eel on board, fighting for its life.
     In the melee that followed, Lowe was bitten on the foot, but didnt realise that his little toe had been severed until the blood had been washed off. After a further struggle, the toe was retrieved from inside the conger, but could not be reattached.
     Amazingly, he still walks about his boat barefoot - scars on display!
     Lowe is no stranger to wreck discovery and has an extensive portfolio of previously virgin sites to his name. He is almost obsessive about finding wrecks and researching the histories. He spreads out a chart covered in pencil marks and points out to me the un-dived marks to which he hopes to take divers to explore over the next year or so.
     He is open and generous about sharing information, an approach that is a real benefit to the diving community.
     This generosity has not always been acknowledged: it was Lowe who found the Padstow U-boat featured on TVs Wreck Detectives, although he received no credit. Fortunately, this hasnt deterred him; he laughs about the experience.
     TV producer and diver Crispin Sadler is making a documentary series on the wrecks off the North Cornish and Devon coasts called Deep Sea Mysteries, which features Lowe, as well as Bristol-based diver, cameraman and wreck-hunter Dan Stevenson.
Chris
Chris Lowe, skipper of the Atlantic Diver
The
The props of the Syracuse
One
One of the Syracuses two boilers
The
The six massive boilersof the Rewa
Many
Many of the Rewas portholes are still in place, and this one was left open
Fools
Fools gold down on the St George
A
A friendly seal checks out Newquay beach

THE ACCOMMODATION: Newquay is a party town, full of stag parties, hen nights and the kind of rampant teenage revelry that makes you stop and wonder whether these kids will make it into their 20s.
The hotels range between surf n sex shacks and the genteel (and expensive) traditional B&Bs frequented by more elderly English people looking for some nice sea air. Neither is really suitable for divers.
Realising that this was going to prove a problem for his customers, Chris Lowe built two chalets at the bottom of his ample garden. When he first mentioned that I could stay in his bunkhouse, my heart sank. However, I can honestly say that these are the most civilised and luxurious bunkhouses I've ever encountered.
From the purple satin duvet covers to the wall-mounted colour TV, lounge area and sliding doors onto a wooden decking terrace area, the place is a gem, and far preferable to B&B. The sun lounge, shower room and breakfast area - with a constant supply of hot coffee available - are a short walk across the lawn. Just take care not to tread on the resident hedgehog when you return to the digs after dusk.




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