VARIOUS FRIENDS IN PEMBROKESHIRE have given me two recommendations about diving from Stackpole Quay. They say its a nice but very shallow shore dive, and best dived when the tide is in.
Which is why, with no consideration for tide tables whatsoever, I turn up for my first dive just after low water.
At least its not a spring tide.
I find out about this bit of bad news as we walk down to the quay for a quick recce before sorting out the dive kit. With the whole afternoon ahead, my lazy gene concludes that there is no need to rush. Every minute we procrastinate before getting started brings the tide that bit higher.
I start by chatting to the National Trust workers manning the car park and shop. I already have a parking ticket from Martins Haven for Skomer, where I was diving in the morning, which is also valid for Stackpole Quay, so I dont have to pay for a new ticket.
They advise sorting out all our dive kit in the car park, then dropping it off at the gate to the beach by car, thus saving effort on carrying it.
The car park is full, and spilling over into the field behind. I have been lucky to get a space near the entrance. Apparently it is often near-empty in the mornings and fills rapidly from lunchtime onwards, so divers wanting a space close to the entrance are recommended to turn up early.
Coincidentally, this morning the tide would have been conveniently high.
Considering the number of cars in the car park, the harbour area seems remarkably underpopulated.
Surprisingly for a weekend, there are no other divers here. I learn that many visitors walk along the coast path to the nearby sands of Barafundle Bay, reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain.
I also pick up a bit of local history. Stackpole Quay was built in the 18th century to ship in goods to the big country house of Stackpole Court, and to ship out quarried limestone.
Stackpole Court was demolished in 1963, but the quay survives, and the lakes and woodlands of the estate are now managed by the National Trust. Car-owners who are not off building sandcastles are probably walking through the grounds.
Soft jazz music drifts over the wall from the café when we finally shuttle our kit down to the gate. I also catch sight of some impressively proportioned ice-creams, and make a mental note for later.
A shelf on the wall is a convenient point for kitting-up, then we leave the soothing music behind as we walk through the harbour entrance in knee-deep water.
Outside the harbour wall, the sheltered water is perfectly flat in a gentle westerly breeze. The bay faces south-east. While I have not previously dived from the shore here, I have dived nearby from boats, and have always been impressed by how good the visibility is along this stretch of the southern Pembrokeshire coast. I dip my head beneath the surface, and the clarity of the water does not let me down.
A very gentle rocky slope to 5m reaches out to a sandy seabed with scattered small rocks stretching into the distance. In the clear water with plenty of natural light, its unsurprising that the tops of the rocks are covered in various forms of algae and kelp, including a small hairy rock that scuttles away on my approach.
Well-decorated spiny spider-crabs and less well-decorated and more in-your-face spiny spider-crabs are plentiful. At this time of year they enter shallow water to mate.
Bearing in mind the strong currents that run along this coast further offshore, I turn right into the rising tide. The current is only gentle, but should it pick up I would prefer it to take me home rather than further away.
There must also be edible crabs or lobsters in the area, or a long-lost lobster-pot wouldnt be there. To prevent it ghost-fishing, divers have already opened the gate at one end.

BETWEEN SPIDER-CRABS, I examine plenty of the usual life for such shallow habitats. Dragonets hide camouflaged against the sand. With a rebreather I can creep up until my camera is almost touching them. I need to, as I have a very wide lens fitted, and anything less than almost touching would see them as a tiny splodge in the picture.
Green snakelocks anemones are much easier to sneak up on. I could get just
as close blowing bubbles on scuba.
I look carefully among the tentacles for scorpion spider-crabs, but without luck. These tiny crabs like to hide inside such anemones, but perhaps not in water this shallow.
While the spiny spider-crabs are migrating into the shallow water ready to make whoopee, the sea hares and nudibranchs are already well at it.
The more colourful nudibranch varieties are easy to spot, and the more camouflaged ones can usually be found by searching close to their white spirals of eggs.
I make another mental note that perhaps I should bring a macro lens next time I dive here.
Before re-entering the harbour, we make a short diversion in the other direction.

HAVING BEGUN THE DIVE cautiously against the gentle current, I am now confident that it wont be increasing drastically, or at least not during the 10 minutes spent down-current to the left of the entrance.
In general, it is pretty much the same scenery as the previous 50 minutes of the dive, though I do catch the three wise spider-crabs lined up at the top of a rock, and a nicely co-operative dogfish.
Other dogfish earlier in the dive had either been so dozy as to appear almost dead, or had scarpered before I could get the right shot.
This one swims in a few circles before moving directly towards me, and settling with its head in my direction.
Now heading into shallower water and close to the harbour entrance, I surface tight against the rocks and away from the main channel. I dont want to have an accident with
boat traffic.
In the space of an hours dive, the tide has risen enough for us to swim back into the harbour. As we stand up in shallow water to remove our fins, a small fishing-boat chugs in, laden high above the gunwales with sacks of limpets - a delicacy destined for France, the fisherman tells me.
Like many fishermen, he is interested in what divers have seen under water, but has absolutely no intention of trying it for himself.
With the tide rising, a couple of 4x4s are now launching small boats from the beach. The café is busier, and the musicians are still playing jazz. There is just enough time for an ice-cream before heading home.
The tide is coming in nicely. Nevertheless, with the clear visibility and calm surface conditions, perhaps low water was not such a bad thing after all.