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Saturday, 21 September 2019
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Easter Past - Origins of the annual trek down to the Lizard at Easter Print

by John Weeks

It was Easter 1963, 38 years ago that Guildford BSAC first went to the Lizard. We went because a member had spent a summer holiday there and had got to know a fisherman who would take us out.

A weekend trip of this distance then was considered a bit unusual, as the cars and roads were very sub standard compared to now. Although there were fewer cars, there were more traffic jams, as the main roads tended to go through all the towns, very few dual carriageways and no motorways were available. Because of this our convoy of four cars left Guildford at midnight on Easter Thursday. We went on the old A30 via Salisbury, Yeovil, Honiton, through Exeter, Tavistock, Liskeard and stopped at Lostwithiel for breakfast, then on to Kennack Sands caravan site.

The caravans then had gas for lighting and cooking, no water or inside loos, these were in a very draughty ablution block across the field. Heating was to leave the oven on with the door open.

The diving kit was equally simple 40 cu.ft. (5 ltr) cylinders at 1800 psi (120 BAR) twin tube regulators, 4mm unlined wet suit usually home made, which needed lots of french chalk to get on, weight belt, fins, mask, knife, snorkel, a depth gauge which was a tube sealed at one end and calibrated in feet (Boyles Law), no buoyancy aids were available at this time, so it was essential that you started the dive neutrally buoyant. Some people used a surface life jacket with an expendable gas capsule like the airlines use. Gloves were usually the washing up variety. There were very few compressors around and none at the Lizard, but luckily a rich club member had a 1 cu. Ft. / minute portable compressor, so it took up to 40 minutes to fill one bottle. A slow job!

The dive boat went out from Leadgewith and the fisherman was known as "Sharkey" because it was rumored he had harpooned a basking shark and towed it back to the harbour. My log book tells me we dived first near the Lizard Life Boat Station to recover a fisherman's anchor, then on towards the Lizard where at Bass Rock right under the coastguard look out post, we dived the wreck of a large three masted sailing ship the "Cromdale" which went ashore in thick fog in May 1913. The wreck was close in shore in 30ft of water and very broken up. We recovered a brass grating and left some portholes, which were still attached to port of the steel hull. I've never been back!

That Easter we were probably the only divers on the Lizard.

The following year, Easter was on the Scilly Isles, where again there was no compressor so we had British Oxygen ship out six large cylinders of air which were used to fill cylinders. The pressure reduced the more bottles you filled, but as most dives were shallow, no more than 50 or 60 ft, this was not too much of a problem. Mark Waldren, a former member of the club, had his landrover craned onto the "Scillonian" ferry, which we used to ferry all the dive kit round the Scilly Isles dive sites. The divers walked!

The club continued to Easter at the Lizard because whatever the weather, it was always possible to dive somewhere. In March 1967, the oil tanker "Torrey Canyon" ran aground on the Seven Stones rocks between Lands End and the Scilly Isles, although the oil came ashore in large quantities on the west side of the Lizard, we were still able to dive at Kennack Sands on the east.

In 1974, an oil crisis pushed up the price of petrol considerably, also the fishermen in Cornwall became very anti divers accusing them of robbing their lobster pots, so from 1974 to 1977 Easter was spent in Devon at Hope Cove and Challabrough, but in 1978 we returned to the Lizard where we have been every Easter since.

Over all the years the equipment has improved the boats from a Dell Quay Dory, Zodiac to Ribs. Dry suits, buoyancy aids and larger cylinders. What I need now is an invention to get all my gear down the Porthoustock Beach and back up again!

John Weeks

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