Divernet

Travel much further south from Porthkerris Beach and you fall off the British Isles and into the mouth of the English Channel. Mind you, I can't think of a better and more convenient place to do just that.

The beach has a great shore dive, there is easy access to the Manacles and, for trips further afield, the dive centre operates a large, comfortable catamaran.

Set to the left of the main Porthkerris beach is a rocky reef that reaches up from a 15m bottom to the surface and extends roughly south only a few metres from the shore. Here divers can be divers without having to worry about DSMBs, boat traffic, ripping currents or serious depth. Yet it's full of life, affords a decent profile, a good distance to swim, generally clear water and is only a short walk from the air station.

For life, the northern edge is best. The pebble seabed here slopes gently at first and then plunges steeply next to a rockface with a kelp beard of Gandalf proportions. Dogfish, wrasse of all varieties, jellyfish the size of small motorbikes, John Dories, pollack and cuttlefish are all common visitors. We swam down, watching scuttling spider crabs and juvenile pollack dancing in the shafts of sunlight. I told you it was good!

As we rounded the outer reef wall, a lesser-spotted dogfish snaked over the kelp like a supermodel on a catwalk. It exuded confidence - until it saw us. Cartoon-like, eyes on stalks, it stopped in midwater, hung for a microsecond and then darted the other way, bumping into kelp fronds in its panic. For a site much used by divers, I thought its reaction a little over the top.

We swam around the front of the reef, admiring the fish life, scaring the odd cuttlefish from the seabed and finally edging into the inner lagoon. The water gradually shallows as you work through a series of gullies until the vegetation peters out, leaving you with the odd foraging mullet on a barren beach.

At low water the walk back to the sea wall takes a little longer, but even at high water and with the help of the rope, getting up in full kit is far harder than getting down.
For slightly more adventure and stunning scenery, Porthkerris Dive Centre, which owns and runs the beach, runs daily RIB trips to places such as the famous Manacles. This collection of rocks that almost or just reach the surface is washed by raging currents at times and has claimed many ships over the centuries. My favourite is more scenic, however - Vase Rock, a large lump covered in life.

Diving here is not always as easy as falling off a RIB, but today it was. The water was calm and fairly clear and I followed the shotline until I could just see the anchor nestled in a cleft at 14m. The rock drops much deeper in a series of ledges, but the most life is found between 14-20m.

Below the kelp line, which finishes at 18m. the rock faces are decorated with jewel anemones in reds, whites, pinks and purples that glow in your torch beam like Christmas-tree lights.

Further on, we passed yet another dogfish and more wrasse. I looked up to see a clump of plump white plumose anemones. Around the corner were more, and then the wall was full of them. They were mostly closed, but I had never seen so many in one group before. Vase has surprises around each bend, but it requires care and a good boatman to assess the conditions both above and below the water.

Like a kid in a sweetshop, a diver at the Lizard can pick and mix from a tempting supply of delicacies. Wrecks and reefs litter the seabed, but to reach them in comfort and a dash of style you need a boat like the Aqua Cat. It's a motor catamaran expertly driven by Mike, who delivers you to distant dive sites at the bottom of the Lizard, up around Falmouth or, in easterly weather, as far to the west as Mounts Bay.

We anchored over the wreck of the Hera. A RIB ride from anywhere, even Falmouth, would be uncomfortable in anything but a calm sea, but the cat made it comfortably.

Falling off (most people call it a controlled giant-stride entry) was achieved without fuss. The well-placed shot led us to the side of the wreck's stern section. The plan was to explore here for a while and then find the bow, but we never did.

Searching the barren sea floor, we did find a possible guide, but such big lobsters caught out in the open tend to defend themselves rather than give directions. It jumped, grabbed and lunged at three of us before wandering off towards the piece of wreck we had just left. It made it unscathed, but probably vowed to walk around only at night from then on.

The Hera lies between the shore and Gull Rock, which she struck in 1917 in Gerrans Bay to the north of Falmouth. It is flat and well-broken but has a good resident marine-life population. The Hera is clearly well dived, because the ever-present and persistent wrasse around the boilers have become more like pet dogs than wild fish.

Porthkerris Beach isn't exactly a sandy oasis, but it's fun for the kids and the lawn in front of the café up the hill provides a safe place for little ones to play. The café does very good food and the best hot chocolate in the UK, and a small dive shop on site stocks those essentials that break or get left behind.

There are camping facilities on site too, a host of pretty fishing villages to explore and I don't think I need to remind you of all Cornwall's other attractions. Every pub, bar, restaurant, station and B&B has a table full of leaflets for that purpose.

If you're looking for a convenient place to get wet, and to have some great, varied diving with a range of sites to suit just about every level of experience, Porthkerris is worth a visit.





one of the mast rings on the wreck of the Hera.


Sunstar


plumose anemones on Vase Rock


FACTFILE

GETTING THERE: Get yourself to Helston, which, depending on where you live, could mean coming over the top of Dartmoor or to the south of it. Then take the A3083 south past RNAS Culdrose, turning left at the roundabout towards St Keverne (B3293). Follow this road for about eight miles into the village. At the main square, turn left again and head towards Porthoustock and Porthallow. Stay on this winding lane until you see a signpost for Porthkerris Beach, which will lead you down an even smaller lane before taking you onto the private land owned by the dive centre.
DIVING: Porthkerris Dive Centre has good launching facilities, an air station, dive shop and restaurant. There's plenty of car parking (daily charges apply) and it runs day RIB and hardboat charters on its own vessels (01326 280620/280877, www.porthkerris.com)
ACCOMMODATION: There is plenty available in the area and the centre is happy to arrange facilities for divers. Lisa from the centre now also owns the Three Tuns pub in St Keverne, which is a bonus.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Diving takes place year-round, but late spring is fantastic for spotting basking sharks.
WATER TEMPERATURE: 9-18°C.
DIVING SUITABLE FOR: From beginner to experienced.
FOR NON DIVERS: The beach to play on, snorkelling, Goonhilly Earth Station, plenty of places to visit, attractions and helicopters from RNAS Culdrose to watch.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Cornwall Tourist Board, 01872 322900, www.cornwalltouristboard.co.uk