There’s lots of underwater places to check out from Salcombe. Out from the Salcombe sandbar there are shallow reefs, a couple of shallow wrecks (SS Soudan), some well known wrecks (eg. SS Maine, Oregon), some deeper wrecks (SS Skaala, SS Riversdale) and a lot else. But many more places that are not well known. Here are some of the reefs – not the wrecks.
All of these outside Salcombe reefs are out in the channel which means they are subject to tide. For most sites the maximum flow is at High tide and the maximum ebb is at Low tide. Generally speaking slack is at 3 hours before High Water and 3 hours after. Some sites are best dived at slack, others can be dived in current. But the cox must know which direction the current is moving. Otherwise, incidents will happen.
Being out in the channel, divers are exposed to the weather and tides. On the positive side, underwater conditions and visibility can be superb. A couple of years ago some of of us dived the Maine. Vis was a poor 2m – divers unimpressed. We then headed 3 miles south to the Cattons and 2 divers descended. Vis was approaching 20m. A stunning dive. On the negative side, weather conditions can change quickly. Good dive planning is important. Tide planning is crucial.
Most of these sites can be taken from Plymouth – same sort of eastern distance as the Maine. And little difference from Hand Deeps and nearer than Hatt Rock. Access from Plymouth is fine although there are a few miles to motor on a SW facing shore. Alternative access is from a shore launch at Challaborough (hard work with a sandy beach) , a Hope Cove launch (slightly awkward access) or Salcombe (good access on the ramp out of season).
Out of Salcombe there are a number of reefs:
- Alternative Rutts – 50 13.740 – 03 57.330. This is sometimes accessed from a shore launch at Challacombe. The site is a pretty and shallow reef. No big drop offs. Depth 18 – 34m.
- Anchor Reef – 50 12.714 – 03 54.533. Rarely dived. This a small reef that juts out from the seabed at 45m. There’s an anchor on the reef. Depth 30 – 45m.
- Cattons – 50 09.647 – 03 53.556. An unusual site. There’s lots to see here ranging from good underwater drop offs to areas of white sand where turbot are rumoured to lie on. The Cattons are 5 miles out from the Salcombe Bar. Owing to the exposed position they are rarely dived. A pity. Depth 30 – 60m.
- East Rutts – 50 13.459 – 03 58.907. This is a well known site. Good for trainees given appropriate conditions. An isolated pinnacle that stretches up to 11m. A football field area on the top of the pinnacle. But this is really a slack water dive. Depth 12 – 40m.
- Hay Tor Reef – 50 10.646 – 03 54.037. This exposed site can be an exhilarating dive. Hay Tor reef is a big block of reef that lies above the 47m sea bed. On the NE side there lies a sharp drop off that goes up from 47 to 22m in a short distance. Along the cliff edge there’s lots to see. This site is rarely dived – good dive planning is essential. One way to dive this reef is to shot the NE side at 47m and then let divers dive on the end of the flow slack so that the ebb takes them nicely across the drop off and then over the reef. Depth 25 – 50m.
- Nice Reef – 50 12.559 – 03 56.571. The marks are for a tight pinnacle at about 22m that stands above a wide, gently extending reef. Suitable for many grades of divers to experience a drift dive in fairly ambient conditions. An undramatic but pretty reef. Lots of sponges. Depth 22 – 36m.
- Shoal Ground drop off – 50 11.772 – 03 49.842. This can be an exciting dive but good supporting boat cover is important. As the name suggests, the Shoal Ground attracts surges of water depending on tide, wind and weather. It is an extensive mound of rock that rises up from over 44m to 22m. On the east side of the mound there is an impressive drop off that is coated with colourful squidgies. A good dive plan is to drop a shot on the eastern edge of drop off in 45m and get divers to dive on the moving ebb and drift over to the Shoal Ground. This way they can dive the drop off in the best way. Depth 28 – 45m.
- Three Pinnacles – 50 13.955 – 03 53.968. An extensive site with a number of separate pinnacles. Quite pretty and deserves a couple of dives on the site. Drift dives are pleasant on this site. Depth 17 – 30m.