LISA QUICKLY REACHED OUT to grab several thousand pounds worth of camera equipment as it went sailing past her - too late! It continued its descent unchecked, rapidly disappearing into the gloomy depths before she could give chase.
We were diving Vase Rock, one of my favourite sites on Cornwalls Manacles. The jewel anemones here are probably the best I have seen in the UK. They coat the granite on the north-east corner of Vase Rock like some gaudy cloak, jostling for space to spread their delicate tentacles.
Ideally seen when they are open and feeding, the quantity and range of colours here are to my mind unsurpassed, even better than those on nearby Raglans Reef.
With this in mind, I had been keen to get into the water, and in my haste had neglected to clip my camera gear onto my BC. Lisa and her buddy had gone in first, and at about the time she was watching my camera gear go sailing to the bottom of the sea, I had just realised with horror what I had done.
Normally, I hug my camera close when I jump in, releasing it to equalise with one hand and put air in my suit with the other.
As the bottom comes into view, I put my hand down to grab the lanyard on which the camera hangs, generally reassured by its weighty feel. On this occasion, however, I grabbed at nothing!
Reaching the bottom of the shot, I darted off vaguely in the direction in which I thought I would find it. Finning aimlessly around for a few minutes, panic mounting, I realised I needed to start being more systematic in my search. I had wandered a long way from my entry-point, and probably some distance from where it had landed.
Returning once again to the shot, I realised that I had been looking in quite the wrong direction.
Working my way back under its sloping line, eyes darting back and forth checking every shelf and hole, I suddenly spotted it lying undamaged in a shallow gully. The relief was overwhelming!
Calm once again, and with everything clipped on securely, I started my dive properly.
Vase Rock is ideal for a mixed group of divers, because you can just choose your depth. For those who prefer a deeper dive, it bottoms out at more than 40m.
The top 15m is covered in kelp, but from there down its crags and gulleys provide homes for a huge variety of life, with wrasse, pollack, goldsinny and the occasional dogfish hunting up and down the walls.

THE MANACLES ARE A TREACHEROUS AREA of sea near the Lizard. Many ships have come to grief on its rocks, some of which lie no more than 10m down, and can even be seen breaking the surface at times. Currents here are strong, and diving can usually be undertaken only during slack.
Divers have lost their lives here in the past, so it is important that adequate research about tide times is undertaken before diving, or that you dive with one of the local dive operators.
On this occasion, I was diving with a group from the Yorkshire Divers Forum with Porthkerris Dive Centre.
As the centre owns and runs the beach here, everything is set up with divers
in mind. It has a compressor room from which not only can you get air throughout the day but also nitrox.
There is a small dive shop for all those odd bits and pieces you suddenly find you need and, so that you never need to leave the bay during your stay, there are bed and breakfast apartments and also camping facilities.
The dive centre runs a RIB for single dives and mid-week diving, but we were on the fabulous Celtic Cat. With bags of room on board for 12 divers, and a dive lift that will take two divers at a time, it is one of the most comfortable dive-boats I have come across.
Sea fog was hanging around on the first morning, so we had started the day with a dive on the Volnay wreck, which lies north of the Manacles. This is an extremely popular dive, as it is possible to do it at any state of the tide and, lying at only 21m, is probably the first wreck dive for many new divers in the area.
An armed cargo ship that sank after hitting a mine in 1917, the Volnay was carrying a rich cargo of provisions.
As the wreck started to break up with the pummelling it was receiving from the sea, the holds gave up their treasure.
With wartime rationing in full swing, the residents on the Lizard were more than delighted when cases of coffee, tea, jam, tinned meat and butter started coming ashore!

THE SHOT IS USUALLY PUT IN near the boilers, which sit around 5m proud of the seabed. Dotted with cup corals and the odd candy-striped flatworm or nudibranch, they are worth investigating if you like the minutiae of marine life.
Although the wreck is rather broken up, and in places scattered, bollards, steel plates, winches and chain and some ribs can all be found.
Evidence that the Volnay was carrying a large quantity of munitions in her holds can be clearly seen from the balls of lead shot that lie scattered about the wreckage, and the shell-cases from which they came are still occasionally found.
As the winter storms cover and uncover different areas of wreckage, so new finds are made each year.
Ghostly white dead mens fingers protrude from metal plates, while an edible crab hastily drops into a hole as
I appear. Silvery pollack glide over the broken wreckage, while the smaller goldsinny dart in and out of cracks and crevices. Some bold cuckoo wrasse come and check me out before disappearing into the gloom.

THE HUGE LIFT BUILT FOR TWO on the back of Celtic Cat soon whisks you and a buddy back on board once your dive is over. Here large quantities of sandwiches, crisps and chocolate bars are waiting, and the hotwater boiler is always on.
While many ships have come to grief on the Manacles, some have managed to limp away only finally to sink elsewhere.
Dozens of others over the years have not been so lucky. Once caught, the fearsome rocks of the Manacles never lose their grip, and the sea pounds and batters the once-proud ships until they lie in pieces. Their only use then is as homes for a multitude of marine life and the entertainment of numerous black-clad, bubbling visitors.
One such wreck is the Mohegan, probably the most dived wreck in the area. While it is possible to do a drift dive off the Mohegan, it is better dived at slack if you want a good rummage around.
A 7000-ton Victorian liner, she must have been an impressive sight before she foundered and sank in 1898.
Her sinking remains a mystery, as there seemed to be no reason why she should be so close inshore. Tragically, she had a full complement of nearly 100 crew and more than 50 First Class passengers when she went down. Although some were saved, 106 were lost to the raging sea that night.
Like the Volnay, the Mohegan is fairly flat, with girders piled upon each other. Only the three boilers sit proud of the wreck. She starts at around 16m and then continues down to the boilers at around 26m.
The piled-up wreckage provides homes for dozens of creatures, including a huge ling, which I initially mistook for a conger because of its size. The barbel under its chin gave it away as it streaked off, disappearing into a large crevice to watch me covertly.
Pink seafans sit up proud of the wreckage, so care with fins is a must - many seafans grow at a rate of only 1cm a year. As with the Volnay, dead mens fingers, cup corals and nudibranchs dot the wreckage, and pieces of broken crockery can still be found in the holds, though each year there seem to be fewer.
Other items that once belonged to the passengers are occasionally revealed, as the shifting sands and silt gradually give up their treasures.
Not far from the Mohegan lies Raglans Reef. Again to be dived only at slack, this pinnacle drops steeply in parts to around 45m, while the top is often a mere 5m beneath the surface.
Rock surfaces are covered in jewel and plumose anemones, while a few elegant anemones in shades of pink and red can be found nestling in among the others.
My favourite-coloured urchins are dotted around, their delicate lilac and pink colours revealed only by flashguns.
Bright orange potato crisp bryozoans, often misnamed as ross coral, grow in neat little humps here and there.
It was only later, when I checked my photos, that I noticed that a flabellina nudibranch had been strolling across the very orange hump I had chosen to photograph. However, munching away on its favourite sponges was a beautifully white translucent Cadlina laevis, and I spent some time watching it, and looking around for others.

AS WITH THE OTHER SITES nearby, the wrasse are plentiful here and the smaller goldsinny dart around. I didnt see any on this occasion, but dogfish, mullet, ling and the odd John Dory can also be found here.
For those days when the weather prevents a boat trip, an excellent alternative is the shore dive from the beach. The best entry-point is at its northern end, where the dive centre has thoughtfully put a handrail to guide you over the steepest part of the rocks.
As you follow the reef out, the depth quickly increases to around 15m.
Following the reef to its farthest point, it bottoms out at around 25m. This dive can be done at any state of tide, but care should be taken once you are seaward of these rocks during spring tides.
Often reputed to be the best shore dive in Cornwall, Porthkerris beach lives up to its reputation with the huge variety of sea life present. Filter-feeding animals abound on the furthest rock faces, making the most of the passing currents that bring them sustenance, while large ballan and corkwing wrasse glide silently about among the shallower seaweed forests.
Cuttlefish lurk in corners, lifting two tentacles to wave defiantly at you if you invade their space, and the usual male cuckoo wrasse lurks at arms length, darting off every time the big eye of your camera lens appears.
With the dive centre also offering a launch and rescue service for club boats and those exploring the coastline, Porthkerris is an ideal place to stay. Having all the facilities one requires for a diving weekend in one place is rare in the UK, so makes for a relaxed break.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: From Helston, take the A3083 south and turn left at the roundabout onto the B3293 and into St Keverne. From the main square, turn left towards Porthoustock and Porthallow until you see the sign for Porthkerris Beach.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Porthkerris Dive Centre, 01326 280620, www.porthkerris.com. The centre has its own B&B apartment (£30 a night, reducing for longer stays) and can also arrange facilities for divers elsewhere in the area.
WHEN TO GO: Diving takes place year-round, with late spring the time for basking sharks.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Cornwall Tourist Board, 01872 322900, www.visitcornwall.com