Skomer is a trip which runs at the end of the summer term. It is open to everyone that has passed the pool test and is a fantastic chill out. The diving offered ranges from shallow bimbles for beginners up to raging drift dives for the very experienced. The mood of the trip is much more relaxed than Porthkerris. This is because it is run as an “open house” – turn up when you want and dive when you want (although you’ll be much more popular if you tell whomever is doing the rota your plans).
As Skomer Island and the surrounding area is a Marine Nature Reserve, there are ground rules which must be observed. One such rule is that the South side of Skomer Island (from Pains Rock to the Mewstone) is off-limits to divers and boats during the seabird breeding season (March – July). For this reason, the dive sites known to UBUC concentrate on the north side of the island, meaning that northerly or north-easterly winds can halt diving. During such times, the club treks the few miles to Dale and launches from there to dive some of the fantastic wrecks in Milford Haven. These include The Dakotian, The Behar, The Thor and P.L.M 21.
1. Martin’s Haven
This is our daily base and where we launch the boats from. It has a gently shelving pebbly beach, which gives way to larger boulders and kelp and descends to around 13m on the RHS of the haven. On the LHS of the haven, the Dale Princess, which ferries people to Skomer Island, has it’s embarkation point so this area is out of bounds to divers except at night. The Marine Nature Reserve boat, Skalmey, has a buoy straight out from the Haven in about 12m, which is perfect for SD and DL rescue drills. Due to the boat traffic in the Haven, use of Surface Marker Buoys are essential. If you haven’t dived for a while, a enjoyable bimble round the Haven can get you back into the way of diving and be a very rewarding dive. When the weather permits, the Haven is an excellent night diving spot. The bioluminescence is breathtaking and a lot of the crustacea which is hidden by day is out and about. Martin’s Haven can be dived at all states of the tide and in any wind except moderate northerlies.
- Milford Haven Coastguard: 01646 690 909
- Police Marine Unit: 01646 621 162
- Countryside Council: 01646 636 736
- National Trust: 01834 831 771
3. North Tusker
The photo shows Tusker rock as seen from the western side of Wooltack Point. The tidal V shows the incoming tide and demonstrates the force of the body of water racing up Jack Sound. The topography on the Northern side of Tusker can be seen here and contains a spectacular drop-off from 20 to 32 metres. From here on north the bottom drops away to ‘The Pit’ at around 60m. The visibility around Tusker is often better than other dives due to the twice daily massive movement of water and the life is often much more prolific.
Breaking the surface at the north end of Jack Sound is Tusker Rock. There are really two sites here: a plateau and wall north of the rock, and shallower ledges to the south and south-west of it. The plateau stretches north of Tusker Rock at a depth of 20-25m for a distance of about 70m. Running round the edge of the plateau from north-east to north-west is a 10m wall.
The time to start a dive here is just before high slack water, 2-2.5 hours after high water at Milford Haven. The trick is to go out in the boat two hours after high water, and kit up while watching the tumbling water and currents. As soon as the surface water flattens, but is still just flowing northwards, it is time to dive. Descend on the north side of Tusker Rock to the plateau and follow the current and your compass out northwards. The rocky seabed is covered in jewel anemones, dead man’s fingers and hydroids. As you drift across the plateau, there is a good chance of bumping into dogfish and crawfish resting on the rocks. These are enough to make any dive, but don’t stop to look for too long, because you have to get to the wall before the current turns. The wall appears suddenly. At first glance it looks plain and brown in the natural light, but shine a torch and what initially appeared to be a brown surface turns out to be a carpet of densely packed anemones (Sagartia elegans). As bottom time disappears and the current starts to turn, it is time to come back up the wall. Once you know the area well, it is possible to swim back across the plateau and ascend Tusker Rock, but until you do it is better simply to follow an SMB line up from the plateau. No matter how good a dive you are having, this is not a safe place to build up large amounts of decompression. A safety stop is always worthwhile, but spending more than a few minutes hanging in blue water could set you off on an unplanned, high-speed drift through growing overfalls at the south end of Jack Sound! This is not a forgiving site. Below the wall you won’t notice the northwards current building up above you until it is too late to surface safely. It is never a good idea to ascend into a vicious mix of strong up- and down-currents. Until you know this site, it is essential to dive with an SMB.
5. Jack Sound Drift
This is easily the most advanced dive available to divers around Skomer. With a racing tide of up to 8 knots on springs, this is not a drift dive for the faint-hearted. For safety reasons, each pair in the water have their own boat cover with very competent handlers. The standing waves, overfalls and currents at the southern end of the sound are easily enough to flip the boats if not handled properly. This is an exhilerating dive but as a rule of thumb, is only open to BSAC Advanced Divers or above with experience of drift diving. The Jack Sound Drift is diveable 4h after HW (6h after HW Milford Haven) but is dependant on little wind from any direction.
7. The Black Stones
This is not a site that gets dived often, but boasts interesting topography and plenty of life. The Black Stones are diveable on or before either slack.
9. Rye Rocks
A group of rocks on the west side of North Haven on Skomer Island, and are quite often inhabited by seals that are just hanging out. At low to mid water the rocks are visible, although on a high tide you may just see them breaking the water. The reef system that supports these rocks runs out of North Haven in a North Easterly direction with various nooks, crannies and gullies running throughout the length of this. If you drop in on the North Haven side, there is a shallow wall that you can follow to start with, but it does break up in places, so keep close to the wall and boulders and keep following them along. Along the way to the bedrock, you’ll find the rare gorgonian sea fans growing at 90o so be careful! These marine inhabitants only grow a couple of cms a year, and are unique in that they are only found in a handful of areas in the UK. Lots of holes for the usual array of lobsters and other crustaceans, including quite a few crayfish. At the ‘fingertip’, as you start heading back towards Skomer Island, it is quite shear with a max depth of about 25m before it starts sloping away in the sand back out towards the wreck of the Lucy. At this point, between the top of the wall at 12m and the bottom at 25m, you’ll often find the seals playing around. They like the shallow and deep contrast. Continue the dive back in, but again stay close to the wall and broken up areas as the only thing you’ll find out to the east is sand! You may be fortunate enough to come across the bow mast of the Lucy if you head east, which is in about 12-15m of water.
This is a popular dive site that usually suits the Dive Marshal’s purpose as one boat can carry six experienced divers onto the nearby Lucy (9) and the other boat can take 6 less experienced divers onto Rye Rocks. Slack water is two and a half hours after high/low water at Milford Haven, the same as the Lucy, although Rye Rocks can be dived most of the time. Be careful of currents during spring tides, and have a look at the site to see what side to drop the divers in based on which way the current is running. Depth is 25m max on the tip but the rest of the time is between 10m and 15m. Always carry a delayed SMB with you as when your doing your safety stops you will have a habit of drifting, and this area has varying amounts of boat traffic. Novice divers are okay here providing its neap tides and there’s not much current.
11. North Cliffs
A favourite with photographers and videographers, the gentle slopes of the North Cliffs allow good positioning for snapping the plentiful life that exists along the cliffs. Close to the cliffs, the depth is only a few metres sloping down to 30m, although the flora and fauna are most plentiful down to about 20m. Currents along the North Cliffs can be confusing, often going against the flow of tide, caused by water coming round the Garland Stone. Although along the Cliffs can be dived on all states of the tide, care needs to be taken to ensure the current doesn’t cause a few divers to drift towards the overfalls and standing waves to the North side of the Garland Stone.
2. Wooltack Point
On the mainland side of Jack Sound is Wooltack Point. In the small bay, the sandy bottom and rocky edges boast a wide diversity of marine life and scenery in about 6m, gently shelving to around 16m further out. Anemones and sea fans cover the walls and rocks. There are writhing carpets of brittle stars, as well as patches with the occasional cup coral and dead man’s finger. Once again, a torch is useful because most of the rock faces are directed northwards. The time to dive this site is the opposite of the time to dive to the south of Tusker Rock. Low-water slack is suitable for less experienced divers, while the more experienced can enjoy a slack area with some back eddies at any time that Jack Sound is running northwards.
Drop in on to the shallow rocks right under the cliffs, then swim out northwards over the kelp. At low tide watch out for rocks that could foul your boat’s propeller. The topography here can be misleading. The bottom descends in steps separated by sand and mud slopes. Just follow the slope down between the steps to your planned dive depth, follow the rocks along for a bit, then meander back in over the shallower steps. End up doing a safety stop while pottering about under the cliff.
Another option is to follow a flat sand and gravel seabed west from Wooltack Point towards Tusker Rock at a depth of about 15m (but not so far out as to get caught in the current). The seabed is not particularly spectacular, but it is a great place for finding octopuses. If you are diving Wooltack Point while Jack Sound is running northwards, you must stay aware of the current and watch your compass. Navigation by the direction of the current can be deceptive and you do not want to surface into the strong currents at the north end of Jack Sound. Wooltack can be dived at all states of the tide and in any wind except moderate northerlies.
4. South Tusker
On the south side of Tusker, tight in behind the rock there are gentle back eddies and it is slack enough to dive all the way from just after HW SLACK THROUGH TO LW. Before you dive, it is advisable to watch the current for a while to convince yourself it really is slack. You could even jump into the water without kit on to act as a human current monitor.
Drop in right on the south-west edge of Tusker Rock, taking care not to hit your head on it. Follow the rock down to 15-20m, then just potter about, making sure you stay within the slack area. Keep an eye on your compass and be aware of the current strength and direction at all times.
Beneath the kelp, the usual anemones and dead man’s fingers cover the rock, with shrimps, squat lobsters and aggressive velvet swimming crabs filling the numerous cracks.
This is a great location for nudibranchs and the occasional octopus. Except on high-water slack, this site is just about impossible with an SMB. The buoy and line tend to drift out into the current and drag divers out of the slack area. At the end of the dive it is best to navigate up the rock to 6m, make a few minutes safety stop on the rocks, then pop up a delayed SMB for a relatively brisk ascent before you get caught in the current.
6. The Wreck of The Molesley
Tucked in against Midland Isle, just south of the Crabstones, lies the wreck of the Molesey, a 3800 ton steamer wrecked in 1929. Today, the well-broken remains of the Molesey lie in 6-12m and amongst the kelp. Fierce currents keep most of the plates clear of kelp, making this an interesting shallow wreck at slack water. To find the Molesey, locate a vertical slit cave in the side of Midland Isle just south of the Crabstones. Enter the water about 10m south of the cave and swim out perpendicular to the shoreline. This should lead to the boilers at a depth of 10m. From the boat, seals can often be seen in the entrance to the cave and along the shore, but you are unlikely to see them underwater. The Molesey is diveable at 2.5h after both high and low water at Milford Haven, but the high-water slack allows a longer dive due to the shelter provided by the Crabstones.
GPS: 51 44’02″N 05 15’39″W
8. Dead Eye Wreck
Lies perpendicular to the rocks the at a place called The Neck, east of South Haven. She is spread over a large area and tides are slack near the cliffs. Makes for a good second dive after the Lucy. Depths are around 8-15m. In the bay to the left as you face the Island you will usually see seals. They can be quite playful, especially the young pups. The area is well protected from any north winds. Sunk in 1890, this brigatine’s name is unknown, however, as the pseudonym suggests, many dead eyes (a wooden block with holes which is spliced to a shroud, used to adjust the tension in the standing rigging, by lacing through the holes with a lanyard to the deck) have been found on the wreck. Apart from a few larger bits of superstructure which stand 3m proud, the site contains mainly wreckage spread over a wide area. The wreck can be found by swimming out from the central (and largest) of 3 caves to the left of Thorn Rock. Divable in most states as it is protected from Northerlies and Westerlies.
10. The Wreck of The Lucy
The most famous divesite around Skomer Island the intact upright wreck of the Lucy is a diver’s dream. So much has been written about diving this wreck that repeating it all here would be pointless. Have a look here for the definitive tour. At 42m to the seabed and the top of the mast at 15m, she is an impressive dive – small enough to have a good look round with minimal decompression. Due to depth restrictions, the Lucy is only for experienced SD or above and is diveable on any state of the tide, (but can run like a train!) and in any wind except Northerlys.
GPS: 50.44.27N, 5.16.33W (degrees, minutes, seconds)
12. The Garland Stone
The Garland Stone is an enormous rock at the north-west corner of Skomer. It is easy enough to spot, but that is not quite where the dive site is. About 20m before the Garland Stone on the north side are a few shallow rocks that just about break the surface at low water slack, and the reef runs north from here.
It is ridge of rock rising vertically on both the east and west sides to 10-15m from a 35-40m seabed. Any time but 2.5 h after low water Milford Haven the current piles over the reef. If you are there at the wrong time it is easy to see it. This is possibly the best dive site in the area, the Garland Stone is a big UBUC favourite. Above the water there are always seals playing about and it isn’t uncommon to see them during the dive.
Its good to drop in just north of the rocks, then swim over the shallow reef to the north-east or north-west until you hit the wall, follow the wall round to the other side, then back across the top of the reef to return to the starting point. As an added bonus there is a nice little boulder cave in a narrow gully at about 25m on the west side of the reef. 35m is the preferred depth for stunning life and rock faces, however this is a dive you can choose your depth.
Tides can be quite fast, so picking slack is a must. Slack is 2 hours after HW Milford Haven. This must be dived with care, as the tides can take you out to sea. The best time to dive is at neap tides.
Boat-handlers need to be cautious of a number of rocks which are just under water at some states of the tide!