Paul Winkly, Advanced Diver, wrote an article for BSAC's SCUBA Magazine about some of the dive sites we regularly visit. The following describe just a few of the great reefs and wrecks available to us just an hour's drive away. Read on to find out more ...
Our favourite Pembrokeshire dive sites
My name is Paul Winkley and I am a recent recruit to Ammanford Sub Aqua Club, which meets in Ammanford, north of Swansea on the borders of the Brecon Beacons. With these fabulous coastlines within easy reach – we can reach the Gower peninsula in half an hour or the Pembrokeshire coast in an hour – the club does plenty of diving in west Wales.
Diving is our passion and we’d like to invite visiting divers to join us, when there is room, or accompany us in their boats so that we can dive together and help them to experience our local dive sites.
A word of warning, if you are planning to come to Wales check the weather in advance. In winter we have cold rain and in summer we have warm rain – it rains a lot, but when the sun shines it’s hard to beat.
Heading to the diving
To find south-west Wales, get on the M4 westbound into Wales and keep on going, when you run out of motorway past Swansea, you’re getting close. Stick on the A48 and then the A40 towards Haverfordwest and you’ll be in the right place to follow these instructions.
GPS: 51º 56.925N 005º 11.746 W
From Haverfordwest, continue on the A40 towards Fishguard, as far as Letterston taking the B4331 to Mathry. Porthgain is signposted from there. Porthgain harbour has a pub, a bistro, and there are public toilets. It's a steep slope on the launch slip, which dries out at low water. Leaving the harbour head west and you’ll find this wreck in a sheltered bay. It’s an ideal site for new divers and the viz is often good.
This cargo steamship, first named Emile, was built in 1891. She was later sold to a Cardiff firm, P. Rowe and sons, who changed her name to Baron Ardrossan. In 1898 the ship left Glasgow with a cargo of coal, but she ran into thick fog and due to a navigational error struck the rocks at Porthgain. Three lifeboats launched and one of the crew climbed the cliff to raise the alarm. Eventually assistance arrived and towed the three boats to harbour.
This is a good dive for the start of the season with
plenty of life from fish to lobsters and little current.
GPS: 52º00.504N 005º05.419W
From Porthgain, this time exit the harbour and turn right heading for the mark. You will come to a large reef that breaks the surface at low water. Slack water is required as this site is subject to strong currents: so dive at two hours before or four and a half hours after
high water at Milford Haven. The wreck may be buoyed but don’t count on it. The dive can be carried out as a no-stop dive but you need to return to the shot or send up a DSMB at the end. We’d recommend at least a pony cylinder for this wreck and a good torch is needed to light your way. At the end of your dive it’s best to surface a little way out from the reef, as you risk getting thrown against the rocks.
The Vendome sank in 1888 after striking the shore near Strumble Head; apparently tides pushed the steamer back and forth off the rocks until she came to rest in deeper water. She was carrying coal – a popular cargo hereabouts. The boiler is the highest point of the wreckage, there are winches, anchors, a propeller and anchor chains all encrusted in marine life and surrounded by shoals of pollock.
GPS: 51º42.207N 005º08.395W
From the slip at Gelliswick, head right past St Anne's head to find this wreck about 100m north of the buoy that bears its name. It’s best dived on an incoming tide, three hours before local high water.
This is good dive when others are blown out and a good wreck dive for beginners.
The Dakotian was a merchant ship, built in Glasgow. She sank carrying bikes, tinplate and Christmas puddings – I suspect they are gone off by now – after attracting a magnetic mine that blew out her port side and broke her back in 1940.
Crossing the wreck at one time the tinplate, folded into big square bales reflected any light but of late the wreck has started to collapse, and you can see the tin stacked in the open holds. The wreck sank upright onto the seabed and you can swim over and into the holds, seeing winches, bollards, steering gear and what appears to be a gun mount. Sea life here is plentiful, with anemones, sponges and an enormous selection of crustaceans from lobsters to spider crabs. You’ll see lots of fish too including cat sharks, bib, pollock and the occasional bass.
GPS: 51º 51.430N 05º12.240W
From Haverfordwest, take the A487 to St David’s, Porthclais is signposted from there. There is a car park with fees to pay and you must get the tides right otherwise you could be hours getting back on the slip.
Launching to dive around high water is a good plan. Leaving the harbour, bear left towards the scars. The viz can be excellent here and this dive provides many photo opportunities, it’s very colourful with sea squirts, anemones, sponges and a huge selection of fish. The
site is ideal for novices: colour is king and there’s lots of life to point out.
GPS: 51º43 23N 005º40 10W
From Haverfordwest take the A4076 to Milford Haven and Gelliswick. There is a free but tidal slip here in the shelter of Milford Haven, with public toilets and free parking, giving access to many good dive sites including Skomer and Skokholm islands.
But the Smalls are the prize. You need to plan well, as the Smalls are the most westerly rocks between Wales and Ireland, approximately 20 nautical miles away. You need two RIBs, radios, spare fuel and good tidal conditions. Do not chance it as the coast here takes no prisoners; there are various wrecks but the wildlife beats them all for sheer variety.
The lighthouse on the reef is the most remote Trinity House light in the UK. The original lighthouse was built on oak pillars and stood for 80 years.
There’s a gruesome story about a keeper who lost his mind, after tending the body of his dead colleague, who died in a freak accident, until the end of his duty.
As you approach the lighthouse from the east, you’ll find an area of rocky reefs in front of the light. Slack water should occur around five hours after high and five hours after low water Milford Haven, but it is possible to dive in the lee of the reefs at other times. The diving here is fantastic, with the likelihood of seals buzzing you. The best tactic is to pretend not to be aware of them, then they get curious. The rocky walls are covered by jewel anemones of all colours, keep an eye out for the nudibranchs, and you’ll be surrounded by fish.