Every now and then, my belief in the gods of fate is reaffirmed. Out of the blue, I receive an email from Ben Slater, telling me that he is setting up a new dive charter RIB business. Would I like to join him for a few days diving
What I get really excited about is the location in which he will be specialising. He describes it as diving around Pendeen Lighthouse, covering most of the wrecks and reefs.
Pendeen is a headland on the north side of the Lands End peninsula, about halfway between Sennen and St Ives. Now, I have dived lots on the other sides of Lands End; it's one of my regular spots in the UK. But I have done only the odd dive on the north side, and none on this stretch. Ben has offered me some diving right at the top of my wishlist.
Wanting to make the most of it, I schedule a few days when the tides are good for hitting both high- and low-water slack.
I end up meeting Ben at 7am for an 8am departure for a wreck known simply as The Gun Wreck.
Thirty-four metres down, the lighting has that spooky quality. Its only 8.30 and the sky is overcast, the surface oily-smooth and the water just green of clear. Just enough light penetrates to illuminate the steel skeleton almost floating on a sea of coarse granite sand and fading into the distant green gloom.
We swim sternwards past boilers and engine, then along the propeller shaft. The wreck is cut down almost to the level of the seabed, save for the engine and boilers, which stand well clear.
As my eyes adjust there is enough light to dive by, but not enough for my cameras auto-focus, which whirrs in and out as it attempts to lock on. I have to switch on my dive light to compose photographs.
At the stern, we search port and starboard, seeking out evidence of the gun after which the wreck is named. Either it has been salvaged or it has sunk below the sand. Ben points out the area where he has found shell casings in the past, just below the steering quadrant.
Like many wrecks in the area, the Gun Wreck was extensively salvaged some time before sports diving became popular. Perhaps its true identity was known to the salvors, or perhaps they just grabbed whatever was there without caring.
Over the next few evenings, Ben shows me copies of newspaper clippings, old photographs, Admiralty reports and pages in the Shipwreck Index. While the identities of other wrecks are positively resolved, there is not even a cautious possible reported anywhere near the Gun Wrecks position with the right machinery configuration - two boilers and triple-expansion engine.

For a second dive, the problem is not a lack of ideas. Having started early, we have plenty of time to wait for the next slack water and dive another wreck. The problem is one of priorities. In the 30-40m range there are too many wrecks from which to choose, so which to dive now and which to save for the future
In the end, we opt for the Enrico Paradis, a 3800 ton steamship that went down in 1916 after striking rocks at Gurnards Head in dense fog. A salvage team working on the nearby wreck of the Neto tried to save the Enrico Paradis, getting it clear of the rocks and under tow towards St Ives, but it eventually sank a couple of miles offshore.
We arrive on site in plenty of time and Ben gets the shot in next to the boilers again, this time just aft, with the line draped over the engine.
Its mid-afternoon and the sunlight sparkles on the sand at 34m. The wreck is in a similar state to the Gun Wreck, on an even keel with the hull cut down just above the level of the sand, though the engine is broken to port and resting on top of the donkey boiler.
I am baffled by a structure of three curved rods, each about 10cm in diameter and 2-3m long, each evenly curved in a large arc. The three rods cross near the middle and the overall structure stands upright, just to the starboard side of the engine.
Later in the dive I find an identical structure projecting from the sand in the area of the forward hold, so this is certainly a deliberate design. But are they part of the ship, from the cargo, or something lost at a later date
Diving an hour later next morning makes a big difference to the light on the wreck of the Busby. I get a distinct sense of dŽjˆ vu as I work my way round at 33m. Its another fairly conventional steamship of 3200 tons, two boilers and triple-expansion engine solidly in place amidships, with the rest of the ship sunk a little bit deeper in the sand than the previous two wrecks.
Then it clicks. The wreck, scenery and general disposition of the Busby is remarkably similar to some of the wrecks I have dived off Brittany. Its like diving on an enormous aquarium model.
After the many shallow wrecks broken up close under the cliffs, the Busby is the closest wreck to Pendeen. It originally steamed into the rocks right beneath the Pendeen coastguard station in 1894. The wreck was subsequently re-floated and put under tow, only to founder less than a mile offshore

Further east and off Gurnards Head again, the Saxon Briton represents a bit of a conundrum. In the Shipwreck Index and Admiralty data, the wreck at this location is given as the Denebola. The current disposition of the wreck at this location matches its description. The wreck is broken just forward of the two boilers with a gap, then debris from the bow which had turned as the ship sank and now points towards the boilers.
Yet the Denebola is listed as having a triple-expansion engine and a 12-pounder gun, and the wreck here has an intact two-cylinder engine and no gun. The gun could easily have disappeared since the ship went down, but there is no way the engine matches that listed for the Denebola.
On the other hand, Ben has dived the wreck located at the position given for the Saxon Briton. It is only 1.5 miles away and has a general disposition matching the book description, but it also has a triple-expansion engine and a gun, whereas the Saxon Briton is listed as having a two-cylinder compound engine.
The simple answer is that someone in the past managed to get the locations of the Denebola and the Saxon Briton crossed over. Perhaps, with no other data to go on and for convenience, an unknown wreck was named after an unfound ship known to have sunk somewhere in the area. Since then the state of the wrecks has been correctly reported against the wrong names, but the discrepancy in the machinery must have been overlooked.
As far as my logbook and wreck sketch go, I record the dive as the Saxon Briton. But whats in a name
Saxon Briton or Denebola, it is still an enjoyable wreck, with the added technical interest of the two-cylinder compound engine, a predecessor to and much less common than the triple-expansion engine that subsequently became the universal standard for steamships.

Our last wreck dive is another unknown, a well broken rear-engined ship lying upside-down in 40m. The shot lands predictably within a few metres of the boiler again, so close to the stern.
The configuration is immediately evidenced by the engine fitted tightly into the remains of the keel at just a few metres behind the single boiler, the whole lying tipped onto one side with propeller still attached to the short shaft.
Off to one side, an intact 12-pounder stern gun lies on one side, still fixed to its pintle. Its a good indication that whatever the wreck was, it most likely went down in World War One.
The rest of the wreck is a jigsaw of flat double-bottomed keel. Ben had spoken to a retired crawfish diver who dived this wreck in the Ô60s and had described it as more intact, but nevertheless perfectly inverted.
The wreck is generally referred to as The Tanker, though other than the rear engine there is now little to confirm this.
I work my way between sections of keel to the bow, where I find a spare propeller poking out from beneath the side of the wreck. It would be an interesting wreck on which to spend a few more dives, looping out across the reef which stretches along its eastern side. Perhaps it originally landed on the reef before sliding to its current position, in which case debris from the upper part of the wreck may be scattered across the reef.

Wanting to get a good cross-section of the diving available in an area new to me, I also sample some of the scenic dives available (no, Im not suffering from some mental aberration caused by excessive nitrogen and Guinness, I simply thought it would be a nice idea).
Looking out from Pendeen, the immediate reef is Three Stone Oar, a line of rocks which stretch parallel to the coast a few hundred metres from the cliffs.
We head out a couple of hours before slack water to drift along the outside of the reef, the tide still just flooding.
Perhaps we should have started a little earlier, because the current is barely noticeable and I have to swim with it to cover distance, passing below walls, along gullies, through sandy grottoes and around pinnacles of rock.
Halfway through my film, we drift along the jewel anemone-encrusted side of an isolated pinnacle of rock and come across something every UK underwater photographer gets excited about - a John Dory.
The fish knows this and does its best to frustrate me. Swimming just within range, but never turning better than three-quarters away from me. I dodge left and right, back off and swim round, but never get close enough to a good profile or head-on angle.
Bens father John, who is my buddy for the dive, tries to herd the John Dory my way. Perhaps he can coerce it to point towards me. After all, once surrounded, it surely cant head away from both of us at the same time
Somehow, it does. In some ways I would prefer to be stalking a fish that simply bolted, rather than one that remains so tantalisingly close.

Allowing for a short surface interval, it is just after slack when we dive in the shadow of a series of pinnacles beneath the headland at Bosigran Castle.
The current is noticeably picking up and I have to dive-bomb the pinnacle and get in tight behind it. Its another sheer wall of jewel anemones and hydroids, falling from 7 or 8m to coarse sand at 20m. Its a fair-sized rock, stretching some 20m on each side, with the current picking up round both sides and over the top. As I meander back and forth, looking at some of the smaller marine life in detail, I spot an aquatic dust-devil twirling at the confluence of currents just off a corner, specks of sand lifting from the seabed and dispersing at the top of the funnel.
Back home, I have another search for clues to the identity of the Gun Wreck or Tanker, but without success. The wrecks have obviously been salvaged at some point, possibly by hardhat divers in the years after their sinking, or by the explosion of smaller-scale commercial salvage in the 1960s, when scuba first became common. It is a shame that much of the knowledge of wrecks in this area gleaned by the salvors has not been documented.
Diving an unknown can be frustrating, but on the other hand it is also part of the lure.
Who knows, the next dive could be the one to reveal vital evidence and the discovery of that true identity.

A lobster beside the engine of the Busby
The Saxon Britons anchor
There were two of these unusual structures on the Enrico Paradis, the rope presumably tied more recently. Any ideas
12-pounder gun on the Tanker Wreck
That John Dory still wont co-operate!


GETTING THERE: Follow the M5 to Exeter, then the A30 through Penzance. The diving pick-up point is at Sennen, right at the end of the A30.
DIVING : Ben Slater, 01736 787567, email: slater_cs@hotmail.com.
ACCOMMODATION : Ben Slater can arrange accommodation using local B&Bs. There are also many camping and static caravan sites in the area.
AIR : Bill Bowen runs a compressor on the pier at Penzance, 01736 752135.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1149, Pendeen to Trevose Head. Ordnance Survey Map 203, Lands End, The Lizard and The Isles of Scilly. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, Volume 1, by Richard and Bridget Larn. Penzance Tourist Information, 01736 362207.