IT’S BEEN A WHILE since I dived out of Fishguard and along the north coast of St David’s, unless you count diving out of Fishguard all the way to Scotland (Five Men In a Boat, July 2012).
Has it really been three years In some ways it seems the place has hardly changed; in others you can tell that the recession has visited.
At least the chip shop up the hill in Goodwick is still in business so I can get a late supper as I arrive, though not in the same league as the fine dining that will miraculously appear from under the seat of Bob the Dining Officer’s RIB a day later.
We would usually be diving off the hardboat Wandrin’ Star, but it’s mid-week and skipper Mark is off on a last- minute call-out driving a tugboat for the day. Bob has kindly filled in with his RIB so that I don’t miss a chance to dive.
As usual, he likes to get to the wreck early enough for a cup of coffee and a “light” breakfast while watching the tide slacken off.
The 1283-ton steamship Glenisla ran full speed onto the Middle Sledge reef at 4am on 28 February, 1886, following a navigational error, the South Bishop lighthouse having been mistaken for the Arklow Bank South lightship.
Captain Wallace thought he had run into Ireland.
The sea was calm and the captain, his wife and crew took to the boats and stayed near the wreck until daylight, when they realised they were only a half-mile offshore and rowed for Aberpwll, a beach near Abereiddy.
Bob points the beach out as we sit tied to a buoy he keeps on the wreck. He can pronounce the names, which is more than I can do.
Today is calm enough, but probably not as calm as it was in 1886. Below us, the water looks uncharacteristically murky for August. I don’t realise just how murky until I’m on my way down the line.
It’s a good job the line is there, because the flattened wreckage would be hard to find on a sounder and would probably involve some searching in among the rocks and gullies of the reef.
A few years ago we had tried just that, drifting over the reef off slack water after diving the Musgrave, a 252-ton steamship wrecked on the next Sledge along in 1892 (Wreck Tour 123, April 2009). While I had enjoyed some good scenic gullies, I had missed the Glenisla completely.
The buoy is tied to the propeller-shaft in 18m. I follow the shaft down to the propeller and rudder at 20m, then back to the two-cylinder compound engine at 16m before returning to the buoy line. In the murk, that’s about enough for one dive. Sketching it will have to wait for another visit and more seasonal visibility.

AFTER PAUSING FOR LUNCH we head back past Porthgain to the 1451-ton Baron Ardrossan, originally built as a “Hungry Hogarth” (a fleet where boat-crew were kept on minimal rations).
However, P Rowe & Sons of Cardiff owned the vessel when she ran onto the rocks just across the headland from Porthgain at 3am on 20 August, 1898.
In dense fog, Captain Cove had reduced speed to a minimum, so when the Baron Ardrossan grounded it was so gently that his wife, daughter and grandson went on sleeping until told to abandon ship. The boats stood by the wreck until dawn, then one of the crew went ashore to seek help, and ended up hiking the wrong way along the coast, not realising that Porthgain was just round the corner.
Mark used to keep a heavy mooring attached to this wreck, so when the weather was good he could leave Wandrin’ Star there overnight and get a headstart for the South Bishop, or even the Smalls.
Unfortunately the local authority decided that the old minibus he used to run divers to and from Porthgain or other small harbours needed to be licensed as a taxi service, so putting an end to it with another modern triumph of bureaucracy over common sense.

ON HARDER GROUND and further west than the Sledges, visibility on the Baron Ardrossan is clearer, but starting to get stirred up by a lively sea from a veering and freshening wind.
With the sea now coming straight into the bay, I limit my dive to the boilers and aft to the propeller, following the propshaft and zig-zagging across the flattened deck and hull-plates.
A little further along the coast to the west is the Amazonense, then the Nimrod and the Frederick.
The Nimrod was a 583-ton paddle steamer, broken against the cliffs on 27 February, 1960, and the last wreck I dived along this stretch of coast on my previous visit. I’ll say no more because it will be next month’s Wreck Tour.
The Frederick was a timber schooner wrecked against the same cliffs in 1832, one of those dives on which local experts like Bob and Mark claim that you may just get lucky and see something, though I have yet to be convinced.
The Amazonense is a more conventional steamship of 1791 tons that steamed straight into the rocks on 16 April, 1881, with such force that one of the crew is reported to have died of fright. The rest survived, with Captain Hallgate having his master’s certificate suspended for three months for proceeding at a reckless speed in the fog.
I had dived the wreck before, so we head back past Porthgain to the east and the Leysian, located in the long entrance to Abercastle.
Wrecked on 20 February, 1917, the 4704-ton Leysian was one of the biggest ships to steam into the coast here, and also one of the last. She was in ballast from Belfast to Barry roads when the foghorn at Strumble Head was mistaken for that at St Davids Head. Forty minutes later, she hit the cliff so hard that houses shook in Abercastle, half a mile away.
No lives were lost, because the wrecked ship settled onto a muddy seabed only just deeper than her draught. The Fishguard lifeboat made several trips to ferry the crew ashore.
For seven months the ship resisted all attempts to re-float her, before an October northerly broke her up.
The Leysian shows up easily on the echo-sounder, big chunks of obvious wreckage on an otherwise flat seabed. Bob drops a hook amidships.

THE VIS IS BACK DOWN to not much better than we had enjoyed on the Glenisla. Eventually I find the propshaft and follow it aft to the stern, where enough structure remains to rise a few metres into slightly clearer water.
The 2012 weather brought one of the most frustrating diving seasons I can remember. A freshening north-westerly forces a day off during which I walk the cliff path to Strumble Head on an otherwise pleasant day.
The wind then backs to the south, and it looks good enough to make it worth taking Wandrin’ Star out for the day.
With my previous experience of unseasonably bad visibility and weather, I am pleasantly surprised by conditions above the Dan Beard wreck, as inspected from the cliff-top above at Pwllderi.
This is Mark’s usual lookout point to check conditions and see what the sea is like off Strumble Head before driving to Fishguard to board Wandrin’ Star.
A couple of hours later, we’re comfortably anchored just off the cliffs, and the water stays acceptably clear as we descend a few metres to the rocks.
My other bonus is diving with Mark, because he knows the site – Bob the Builder is on board, so Mark can leave Wandrin’ Star in the hands of a second skipper.
Last time I dropped in here was with no detailed instructions, and I had wandered around without finding anything interesting.
Mark’s system is to follow tight in against the base of the cliffs, where sizeable chunks of wreckage have been pushed behind rocks and into the small caves and tunnels, the biggest of which houses a gun-mount. The gun has been raised and is in Porthgain.
In the entrance to one of the caves we meet a couple of seals, though after a couple of curious circuits they don’t stick about to play.
The Dan Beard was a 7176-ton Liberty ship, torpedoed further out to sea by U1202 on 10 December, 1944. Liberty ships were a marvel of mass production but they were not built to last, and had a habit of breaking in two when stressed.
The engines and stern of the Dan Beard sank, while the bow and forward holds drifted into where the remains are now broken and dispersed over quite a large area.
Before returning to Fishguard, we stop for a look at the Slate Wreck. This steel barge was carrying a cargo of slate when it was swept against the Cow and Calf rocks just outside the harbour wall. A nearby alternative, and one that I have dived before, is the trawler William Rhodes Morehouse, a little further offshore and a bit deeper. This wooden-hulled trawler foundered on
14 April, 1968. The hull is all gone,
but the steel superstructure, winches, railings and trawl fittings remain perfectly laid out, as if the hull has simply sunk into a sea of silt.
Back in low vis, I follow the boxy structure of the barge round until I think I have seen it all.
If the conditions were better, I might have had a potter around the rocks afterwards, but Mark has a more enticing plan to get home for a barbecue.
What is it with this wind Having gone west and then south, it has now moved north-west again, and freshened. From the cliff top at Pwllderi we can see the waves pounding in over the Dan Beard where we dived the day before.
We still have a day to go, so Mark and I agree that there is no point pushing it. I drive to St David’s and have a monster ice cream.
Next day the wind has backed to the south again and the inshore water on the north side of the St David’s peninsula is as flat as I have seen it all week.
We head off west to Strumble Head. We have lost two out of five days to the weather, but I had actually budgeted that as the norm for summer 2012, even if I had not anticipated soup visibility.
Having got an extra wreck ticked off with Bob the Dining Officer, I am now a dive ahead of my plan.
It’s the wrong tide, but we decide to see whether we can get in on the Calburga on a high-water slack. This steel-hulled barque is just south of Strumble Head and is normally dived on low-water slack.
As it happens, at least today, I can safely conclude that a high-water slack does not exist. We watch the current swirl, twirl and boil while some of the guys bash a few mackerel for their tea, then retreat for an alternative.
We have a whole coastline back to Fishguard, so fill in the return with half an hour looking for any remains of the Salus, an 1896 wreck in a bay just east of Strumble Head. This three-masted barquentine no doubt had a wooden hull, so there won’t be much wreckage to find. My half-circuit of the bay doesn’t alter that key piece of information.
Back past Fishguard and on to the east side of Fishguard Bay, the southerly and now backing south-easterly wind is actually ideal for my last dive, on the wreck of the Gramsbergen.
This 298-ton motor ship was only six months old when, on 28 November, 1954, she entered Fishguard Bay seeking shelter from a storm.
The captain’s original anchorage was safe but obstructed the entrance, so he was asked to move further east.
This gave the ship enough exposure to cause the anchor-chain to break, and before the engine could be started she was blown onto the rocks.
One of the crew swam ashore and the others were rescued by the lifeboat.

THIS WRECK HAS PREVIOUSLY escaped my attention, probably because when the weather is good to dive it, it is also good enough to go further afield.
It turns out to be quite a nice little dive. A section of the stern stands a few metres above the seabed with the marine diesel engine exposed on one side, then I follow fragments of hull forward to a selection of bow fittings.
It hasn’t been as good a trip as it could have been in normal August conditions, yet quite successful considering what the season has been like and that for once I haven’t been deeper than 20m.
I have ticked off a whole load of wrecks I have previously not dived. The Gramsbergen could be worth sketching for a future Wreck Tour, and maybe the Glenisla or Baron Ardrossan. On the right day, with seals in a playful mood, the Dan Beard could be magic. But like a lot of diving, it’s all about taking a chance and hoping for the right odds.

Diving, air and boat charter from Celtic Diving, www.celticdiving.co.uk