The broken remains of the Victorian steamship Mohegan form probably the best-known and most intensively dived wreck on the treacherous Manacles Reef off the Lizard, Cornwall.
Although transits and an echo sounder can put you on top of the Mohegans boilers, I prefer to start a dive at the outer pinnacle of Maen Voes. This is partly because the rocks are covered in spectacular marine life, but also because Im lazy and it avoids the hassle of searching, and laying a shot!
Maen Voes is easily found at low water and is just submerged at high water. Be very careful at high water because 200m further south, there is a rock, Carn-du, which sticks out of the water and looks dangerously like Maen Voes at low water. An over-enthusiastic boat handler could head straight for it and damage the boat on Maen Voes or other shallow rocks on Manacles Reef.
Entering the water on the north side of Maen Voes (1) follow an anemone-and-hydroid-encrusted wall down to the rocky seabed at 14m (2). Keep an eye out for shoals of fish above you. Over Easter this year an enormous shoal of grey mullet was swirling round for at least a week.
Following a north-east compass bearing, it is just a few minutes swim to the broken hull of the Mohegan. On the way the seabed comprises medium-sized boulders with coarse sand and broken shell in-between. Marine life on the rocks includes gorgonia fans, dead mens fingers and jewel anemones. On the sand you might spot the occasional flattie or anglerfish.
You should hit the wreck about halfway between the boilers and the stern (3) at a depth of 22m, or a tad more at high water. The wreck of the Mohegan is well broken and has been extensively salvaged in the past. Even so, navigation is easy as longitudinal and transverse girders provide a rough grid to follow. Turning towards the stern, the first recognisable piece of wreckage is a bent shaft projecting from the wreck with broken blades on the end (4). Presumably this is the propeller shaft, although it looks a bit thin for a 7000 ton ship.
You wont find the rudder here, as the Mohegan lost its rudder on the Vase Rock half a mile to the north before being swept on to Maen Voes (see panel).
Turning forwards, you could either forage beneath the jumbled plates in the hope of finding souvenirs, or start a leisurely tour. Bottom times can be generous, as the wreck is mostly between 22 and 26m.
If you follow the approximate centre line of the ship you will soon come to the remains of the engine (5), about half of which projects above the general level of the wreckage. When the tide is running, the current runs almost directly along the length of the wreck, which means gorgonias growing perpendicular to the current provide another convenient navigation aid.
Forward of the engine are three huge boilers (6). This is roughly where a dive would start if you took the time to play with an echo sounder and drop a shotline. Swimming above these you will see breaks in the skin of the boilers and also notice that the middle boiler is in fact two smaller boilers back-to-back.
Continuing forwards, square arrangements in the girders could mark the location of cargo hatches (7). Towards the deeper port side of the wreck you will soon come to a pair of bollards and the end of a winch projecting from below the collapsed wreckage (8). These are almost cut off from the body of the wreck by a large rock. On the other side of the wreck the corresponding starboard bollards (9) are easily found, but further along, the wreckage fizzles out to the occasional scrap of plating or small girder.
Following the main line of the wreckage back towards the boilers you will notice a huge rock that actually overhangs the wreck (10). Here you have a choice of staying on the wreck, or having a look at some pretty rocks and anemones on the reef above it.
Just forward of the overhang is a small cave thats fun to swim through. From the cave I like to follow the reef up past a shelf at 12m to a window in the rocks at just less than 10m (11). This window and the gully behind it are absolutely plastered with anemones.
It is easy to follow the reef westward (12) back towards the starting point on Maen Voes. The trick is to stay on the vertical north sides of the rocks. On the way there are yet more anemones, hydroids, nudibranchs, and most UK members of the wrasse family. Above the rocks there are often small shoals of pollack.
Back on Maen Voes, a crack in the north face full of plumose anemones provides a convenient location for a safety stop (13).
If, however, you want to see more wreckage, then from the cave return to the stern of the Mohegan and follow a compass bearing to the south-west until the depth is just less than 18m. Then follow the contour in a roughly westwards direction and you will come to the remains of the Spyridion Vagliano, a Greek steamship of 1100 tons which went down in 1890. All that remains are the hull plates and a broken boiler.
Would your club or dive centre like to see its favourite wreck featured here If you would like to help John Liddiard put together the information for a particular wreck, why not invite him to come and dive it with you Write to John c/o Wreck Tour at Diver.
STEERING THE WRONG COURSE
They said that a mad helmsman had wrecked her, or that magnetic rocks had affected her compasses. But the truth is that early into the ships first and last voyage under her new name of Mohegan, the course was set for disaster, writes Kendall McDonald.
She set sail on 13 October, 1898, from London to New York with 97 crew and six men to handle the cattle expected as cargo on the return trip. At Tilbury she picked up 53 first-class passengers before Captain Richard Griffith, a 46-year-old commodore of the Atlantic Line, headed her down the Channel at a steady 13 knots.
West by north, was the course given to the helmsman as she signalled All well to Prawle Point Signal Station. The Mohegans course for disaster was set. She was now heading straight for the Manacle Rocks.
As the passengers sat down to dinner on Friday, 14 October, the Mohegan drove on, lights blazing. At the last minute, Coastguard warning rockets soared up from the shore, and Captain Griffith ordered a turn to port. It turned her even further into the Manacles. She hit the Vase Rock first, where she lost her rudder, and then careered on into the Voices, ripping out a great section of her starboard side. Her lights went out at once. Fifteen minutes later, at 7.04pm, the Mohegan sank, and 106 people died in the dark with her.
TIDES: Slack water is between 2 hours and 1 hour before low water and high water at Coverack. On a good neap it is possible to dive the Mohegan through the flood tide.
GETTING THERE: Follow the M5 to Exeter then the A30 and A3076 to Truro, and the A39 to Falmouth. For the closest launch sites just before Falmouth follow the A394 to Helston, then take the A3083 towards Lizard Point and turn left on to the B3293 to St Keverne immediately after passing RNAS Culdrose. From the square in St Keverne turn left for Porthkerris or go straight across for Porthoustock.
DIVING AND AIR: Porthkerris Dive Centre, 01326 280620, on the Lizard runs a number of dive boats, can assist with beach launching and has a compressor. Dive Action, 01326 280719, in St Keverne runs a RIB from Porthoustock and can supply air and nitrox. Cornish Diving Lodge, 01326 290633, runs a RIB. In Falmouth try Cornish Diving, 01326 311265, Haven Scuba School, 01326 378878 or the mv Patrice, 01326 313265. From Truro try charter boat the Mentor on 01872 862080.
LAUNCHING: The nearest slip is at Falmouth. Beach launching is possible over shingle beaches at Porthkerris and Porthoustock. At Porthkerris you will need assistance from the dive centres snow cat to survive the shingle. Porthoustock beach is just passable to a 4×4 if the driver is careful. Divers are discouraged from launching at Coverack. Further south it is possible to launch across the sand at Kennack. ACCOMMODATION: Local dive centres can put you in touch with convenient accommodation; some even have their own. There are many local caravan sites where it is possible to rent fixed caravans.
QUALIFICATIONS: Anyone from a freshly qualified diver, provided they have suitable leadership.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 154, Approaches to Falmouth. Ordnance Survey Map 204, Truro, Falmouth and surrounding area. Diver Guide, Dive South Cornwall by Richard Larn. Falmouth Tourist Information, 01326 312300. Helston Tourist Information, 01326 565431. Website www.cornwall-online.co.uk/swcornwall. PROS: Sheltered from westerly bad weather. Shallow enough for newly qualified divers. Still worth a rummage under the plates. Some spectacular marine life on the rocks. CONS: Tides can be a problem. Partic-ularly crowded on Easter weekend.
HOW TO FIND IT: The charted position of the outer pinnacle of Maen Voes is 50.02.72N, 5.02.60W (degrees, minutes and decimals). If you want to drop a shot on the boilers, use the transits and an echo sounder to search about 50m out, just east of north-east from Maen Voes.