Pouting - There are several wrecks mingled together on the Runnel Stone, but the most distinctive remains are those of the City of Westminster. Throughout the wreck you will encounter large schools of pouting who are very patient with persistent photographers. Dependant on the time of year you will also find shoaling bass, scad and mullet. Nikon F90X, Subal housing, 18-35mm zoom, Elitechrome EBX, f5.6 @ 1/30th, Isotecnic 33TTL and YS30.
Further west and close to Lands End is the infamous Runnel Stone which is reputed to have wrecked more than 27 ships. The Runnel Stone is in fact an extensive area of reefs and pinnacles which lost its only surface breaking feature to the last vessel to be wrecked on the Stone, the City of Westminster in 1923. The reef is now marked by a buoy within sight of Lands End and the Longships reef lighthouse and is consequently open to Atlantic oceanic conditions. Tides and weather need to be right and even in good weather there is normally a healthy swell to contend with. Local knowledge is essential as the tides are vicious and sometimes unpredictable and the weather can change very quickly. But under the right conditions the Stone is simply stunning.
The topography is immensely rugged, the geology granite and serpentine, which produces a bright yellow heavy sand, and there are no river out falls to upset the visibility. These ingredients are perfect for a dense proliferation of encrusting marine organisms and attracts fish which enjoy the shelter a reef provides, dwell in the sand or prefer the flow of the tide to bring them food. This whole area provides a rich microcosm of reef life in temperate waters
Due to the strong currents at this location only the hardiest of sea weeds are able to take hold and thrive. However, the kelp canopy here extends down to between 5 and 8 metres, less where the reef walls are particularly sheer, and provides shelter for a wide variety of marine life both sedentary and mobile. Sponges abound and the first signs of jewel and daisy anemones can be found in as little as 3 metres of water. Looking up toward the kelp line graceful plumose anemones can be seen extended sifting the current. In amongst them are daisy and dahlia anemones. Where the kelp ends the fields of jewel anemones begin in almost every colour you can imagine from vivid yellows to deep purples. These are interspersed with the stems of hydroids reaching out to feed. Inspect these hydroids closely as more often than not you will find two or three species of nudibranch feeding on them, particularly in late spring when they are reproducing. Remaining space on the rock surface is occupied by masses of feather stars and brittle stars again seemingly coloured by every hue from a painters palette.
Along the wall you will find countless nooks, crannies and ledges which are home to crabs, squat lobsters, blennies, shannies and prawns most of which are both inquisitive and cooperative. The best photographic tool here is a housed SLR with a macro lens, the opportunities are endless. You should keep your eyes open for scorpion fish and the Corkwing wrasse which can be found busy building it's nest early in the summer. Cowries and topshells are common on the kelp holdfasts and there is normally an abundance of spider crabs picking there way amongst the kelp stipes. Look carefully at the stipes as you will often be lucky enough to see more than one pipefish taking advantage of their camouflage. As you go deeper the reef system offers walls, gullies and plateau's which support an astounding wealth of marine life, even playing host to the occasional
Dead men's fingers 1 - Below the kelp line you will find swathes of soft corals known locally as dead men's fingers. They vary in colour from white to yellow and this string orange colour, making an ideal wide angle subject. Nikon F801, Subal housing, 16mm fish eye, Elitechrome EBX, f5.6 @60th, YS120flash.
sub-tropical visitor such as trigger fish and sun fish. It is common to encounter large shoals of mackerel, bass and pollack which show little fear of divers. In amongst the rocks are the remains of the numerous wrecks, which in some cases are so close or overlapping that it is difficult to tell when you swim from one to another.
One of the best known and the largest is the City of Westminster which now lies on the south side of the Stone. She was on a voyage in October 1923 from Belfast to Rotterdam with a cargo of 2400 tons of maize when she ran into dense banks of fog as she rounded Lands End. In those days the top of the Runnel broke the surface and was marked by a beacon, but this was entirely invisible to the skipper in these conditions. The ship was too close inshore and she hit the stone under full
Kelp stypes - The reefs top out between 4-8m where you will find dense canopies of kelp. Save some film for the end of the dive as the stypes are home to all sorts of macro critters and interesting wide angle compositions are also possible. When the sun is in the picture you will need to meter the scene carefully and allow a little extra exposure for the dark green kelp fronds. Nikon F90X, Subal housing, 18-35mm zoom, Elitechrome EBX, f5.6 @ 1/30th, Isotecnic 33TTL and YS30.
power, so hard that the bows broke off the top 3-5m of the stone complete with the beacon as the hull drove over the reef ripping out her keel. The ship quickly broke her back and disappeared beneath the waves, fortunately without any loss of life. Her remains include the bows and mid ships section in 20-25m whilst her stern lies a little off the main reef in 50-55m and is consequently rarely dived. The ship is well broken open by the pounding of the Atlantic swells here, but there are many recognisable features and if you search in the gulleys on the north face of the reef you will even find the remains of the Runnel Stone beacon knocked so carelessly from its perch all those years ago.
Other wrecks in the immediate vicinity are the Royal Fleet Auxiliary 'Moorview' (1920), the Febrero (1863), the Lake Grafton (1920), and the Joshua Nicholson all in depths of 15-25m. It is possible to satisfy every diver's taste on the Runnel Stone with more wreckage than you could sensibly cope with and the option and contrast of the adjacent spectacular drop offs and gullies for photographers and marine life observers. The visibility here is generally very good, with 20m not uncommon, although the plankton bloom in late spring/early summer will reduce this but will bring the possibility of an encounter with a massive basking shark or squadrons of huge Rhyzostoma jelly fish.
As mentioned previously this area is very exposed and should only be considered in ideal conditions. What appears to be a calm sea when launching from Penzance can become heavy going and dangerous by the time you round the headland at Lamorna Cove if winds are coming from the South or West. The best period of slack water is one and a half hours before low tide at Penzance, although it is possible to dive on a high water slack during neap tides. Nowhere along this stretch of coast should be dived without the benefit of local knowledge which is best sourced from the local diving clubs or charter boats. The nearest is the Penzance branch of the BSAC which has it's clubhouse on the harbour side at Albert pier. At present there is only one daily dive charter boat operating from Penzance, the Son Calou skippered by Bill Bowen of Mounts Bay Diving,
Cuckoo wrasse - The male cuckoo wrasse is perhaps the most colourful fish in UK waters. They are very inquisitive and territorial and will make repeated approaches towards a photographer, particularly when they can see their reflection in a camera port! Nikon F801, Subal housing, 105mm macro, Fuji Velvia, f11 @ 1/60th, YS120 and YS30.
who also operates a compressor on Albert pier.
If you are diving from your own boat then the Runnel Stone is easy to find using land marks and an echo sounder. Position your boat close to the buoy and look towards the shore at Lands End. On the cliff top you will see two cones, the closest one red and one further in shore which is black and white. Line these two up as you steam slowly inshore from the buoy whilst looking north east towards the headland (Ped-men-an-mere) adjacent to the cliff top Minack theatre and the cove of Porth Curno. On the cliff top on the far side of Porth Curno is a white triangular land mark, as this begins to be covered by the headland you will be over the Runnel Stone. Watch your echo sounder as the depth jumps from 35-40m to 5-6m perhaps 150-200m from the buoy (see sketch). The charted position of the stone is 50.1.33N, 5.40.33W.
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