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A Diver's Guide to The Shipwrecks of The Lizard

 
PART 1 : THE WESTERN LIZARD.

The Lizard Peninsula, in Cornwall, is the biggest trap for shipping in British waters, jutting into the Channel to welcome mariners home to England, and to sink them by the thousand on its reefs and cliffs. This two-part guide by Kendall McDonald starts with a look at the western Lizard (with additional diving information from Kevin Heath) 'more'



First choice for divers on their annual south-westerly pilgrimage. Last stop for hundreds of ships. Clear water. Great deeps. Shallow rummages. A reef named the Manacles. All things to all divers. Welcome to the Lizard! The Lizard is not named after some legendary beast - although it is a land where such stories abound. The name actually comes from the Cornish lezou, or headland. The Lizard is, in fact, a peninsula, whose cliffs support the moorland plateau of Goonhilly Downs, some 300ft above sea level.

The Lizard sticks out into the Channel so far that it is the biggest ship trap in British waters. In fact, so many ships have fallen victim to the Lizard's cliffs and underwater reefs that the Admiralty advises navigators to keep three or more miles off in any kind of rough weather. Those who failed to take that advice have made the Lizard a Mecca for today's wreck divers. The wrecks of the Lizard are of all ages. Some contain real treasure. Not just book talk of silver and gold, but real, hands on, in-the-diver's-palm, silver coins and ingots. Much has been recovered. More is still there to be found by the lucky Lizard diver.

But even those few divers whose hearts fail to beat faster at the thought of such treasure, and who profess to find wreck diving boring, will thrill to the marine life and spectacular undersea topography which the Lizard seabed provides, and all in constantly clear water.

The geography of the Lizard concentrates divers into a few good launching places. This is the land where diver overcrowding first began, and those diving the Lizard today must take care not to repeat the early upsets of the local residents and fishermen. The beach at Porthallow is still banned to divers, but if divers obey the signs erected by the BSAC at sore points on the peninsula, further friction can be avoided.

In this two-part report, the Lizard has been taken as starting at Porthleven in the west. Selected wrecks are dealt with in the closest section to a launch site - though many of course can be visited by big dive boats from ports much further away.

The first part of this report runs north-west to south-east from Porthleven to Lizard Point and round to Hot Point. This is the big sailing-ship graveyard, where there are cannons on almost every 500m of seabed, and where many treasure finds have been made.

Porthleven
Two miles to the south-west of Helston, is approached along the B3304. The big harbour at Porthleven is out of proportion to the size of the little town, with an inner and outer harbour faced with huge granite blocks. Some of the early 18th century buildings survive below a topping of modern bungalows higher up the hillsides. The inner harbour has a big slipway down which you can launch very easily 3 hours either side of high water, but only with the permission of the Harbourmaster, Mr Dennis Swire, whose office is at The Old Customs House on the edge of the harbour (01326-561141). There is a charge, and harbour dues are payable.

There is a speed limit of 3 knots in the inner harbour and 5 knots in the outer. The inner harbour dries completely at Spring lows. The outer harbour has deep-water jetties - no diving without the harbourmaster's permission - and when built in 1811 was intended to import mining machinery and export tin. Today, the largest boats are fishing craft. All the rest of the moorings are for pleasure boats.

There is good diving on the reefs directly offshore in about 20m, where there are iron cannon marking early shipwrecks. However, there are also cannon even closer in at Tye Rocks, which stick out from the beach just to the south of the harbour. These very corroded cannon cover and uncover with sand in just 6m. It is Loe Bar, a mile along the beach to the south-east from Porthleven harbour, that tends to concentrate most divers' thoughts. More than 50 ships have been recorded lost along this stretch of the Lizard coast, and there is wreckage almost everywhere underwater off Porthleven Sands.

Two of the most important wreckings took place close to Loe Bar - those of HMS Anson , on 29 December, 1807, and the Portuguese San Antonio, (St. Anthony) on 19 January, 1527. HMS Anson, a great wallower of a ship, even though she had been cut down from a 64-gun frigate to one of 44 guns to improve her sailing qualities, left Falmouth on Christmas Eve, 1807, to join the patrols blockading the French Channel ports. By the time Captain Charles Lydiard reached the French coast close to Roscoff on 27 December she was running into a full gale and finally had to turn before it to seek shelter in Falmouth again.

Anson was leaking badly when those aboard realised that the land ahead was the Lizard and not the entrance to Falmouth. Captain Lydiard tried to sail her out of the trap, but she was dipping her head into the huge seas and slowly but surely she was being blown onto the lee shore between Gunwalloe and Porthleven. He anchored, but at 4am on 29 December, the anchor rope snapped. He put down the smaller anchor and that held, but it was clear it would not last for long.

Captain Lydiard told his crew that when the last anchor snapped he intended to sail his ship into the shore, at the centre of Loe Bar.

At 7am the cable snapped and Lydiard sailed his ship at the shore. But, unfortunately, there was an uncharted reef of rock just 100m from the steep beach of fine shingle on to which the great waves were thundering. Anson ground to a mast-snapping halt broadside to the shore. The mainmast toppled on to the beach and made a bridge, and some men escaped across it. Lydiard, however, died in the surf on the beach - as did 190 out of the 330 men aboard. On the beach was Henry Trengrouse of Helston. He was so shocked by seeing sailors die only feet from safety that he determined that people watching from the shore should be able to offer more help. Later that year, he invented the musket-fired rocket lifeline, the forerunner of the rocket apparatus of today.

Cannon and carronades, from the Anson are still there for divers to see today - just 100m off the beach and slightly west of the central point of Loe Bar, level with the Pool, at 50 04 10; 05 17 45W. Loe Bar itself is a 180m-wide pile of flint shingle, which runs for 400m between cliffs. Behind this shingle barrier, water piles up on the landward side to form the lake of Loe Pool, which is one of the many places in Cornwall alleged to be where the dying King Arthur flung his magic sword, Excalibur.

But don't waste time looking for the sword - the lake wasn't there in Arthur's time. The shingle bank was piled up by storms in the 13th century, and only then blocked ships going up the River Cober to the port of Helston.

Diving the Anson is dependent on sea conditions off the bar. If you visit the shore there during the kind of gale which brought Anson to her doom, you will have no doubt about the power of the sea. Giant walls of water thunder on the beach, which literally shakes beneath your feet as the waves tear out tons of shingle. This wave action has made a shelf 8m offshore, just below low tide mark, where the seabed drops suddenly from less than a metre to 6m.

Diving from the whole length of Porthleven beach is dangerous except in complete calm. Getting in is easy: getting out is another matter.

The Anson cannon, even in calm waters, may not be uncovered. But, because each tide alters what you can see, keep your eyes open. Gold coins are occasionally found, probably from the pockets of the officers of Anson. The white Anson memorial cross at the Eastern end of the Bar is close to the spot where the dead from the ship were buried. It was not put up until 1949. Best launch for the Anson site is Porthleven Harbour, but it is possible to get a boat and trailer closer to the bar by taking the A3083 from Helston towards Culdrose Naval Air Station and, before going under the bridge which links the two sides of the airfield, turning right along an unmade road. This will bring you to the bar, where you can leave the trailer and carry your boat across the beach. Be warned, though: it will be hard work.

Only a short distance from the Anson wreck lies the remains of the 300-ton Portuguese carrack, San Antonio (St. Anthony).

She was wrecked on the way from Lisbon to Antwerp with a cargo which included copper and silver ingots. We know where she was wrecked because her commander did exactly the same as Captain Lydiard was to do centuries later with the Anson When his anchors snapped in the early morning of Saturday, 19 January, 1527, the Portuguese captain, Antonio Pacheco, sailed at the lee shore, hoping to beach in the shingle. He aimed for the eastern end of Loe Bar. He struck the same reef of rock unseen a 100m off the beach and his ship broached to and was smashed to pieces. Forty-five of the crew survived. There was much salvage at the time, but no record of the recovery of the ingots. The wreck was believed for many years to be at Gunwalloe, because some survivors were reported to have landed there.

The real wreck site was pinpointed after a copper ingot was found on the beach in 1981. Then local diver Tony Randall, found a solid silver "melon" weighing 8.6kg in the open on the reef! The wreck is now protected: diving is not allowed within an area of 75m around 50 03 04; 05 17 01W.

About 150m to the south of the Anson memorial are the very, broken remains of the 1661-ton steamer Brankelow, which was carrying coal from Cardiff to Russia. She ran aground there on 21 April, 1890, and was soon broken to pieces by gales.

Gunwalloe Fishing Cove
With its Halzephron Inn, allows access to the southern end of Porthleven Sands, whose many wrecks throw up coins of all nations to the metal detectors. The beach slopes steeply here and is again undercut by waves to give a steep wall underwater only a short way out. Just to the south of the cove, under Halzephron cliff, are more cannon. This can be a shore dive. The cannon are likely to be the last remains of the Army transport James and Rebecca, homeward bound with a squadron of the 9th Light Dragoons, which was wrecked here with 41 dead on 6 November, 1807.

Gunwalloe Church Cove
The southern of the two little coves, is a quite extraordinary place. Not just because of the little 15th century church of St Winwaloe, with its tower completely detached from the main building and usually half-buried in blown sand; and not because the church contains woodwork said to have come from the San Antonio; but because this is the site of yet another treasure wreck - in "Dollar Cove".

This shipwreck, often confusingly called the San Salvador , (see Poldhu Cove), was reputed to be carrying two tons of Spanish coins. Despite the fact that documentation of such a ship is very poor, treasure-hunting has gone on for centuries. Efforts were made in the early 1800s to dam the gully into which the tons of coins were thought to have spilled from the wreck. This failed and in 1847 a group of tin miners was employed to sink a metre-wide shaft under the wreck so that the coins would drop into the tunnel. More than 12m they tunnelled until the sea broke in.

Later methods used explosives. Each time, tantalisingly, just one or two silver coins would be found. Visiting divers have tried for the jackpot many times in recent years, but no great discovery has been reported. You can see evidence of the miners' tunnelling to this day. Just to the north of the top of the miners' shaft at 50 02 33; 05 16 04W is the protected site of the wreck of the Schiedam, a Dutch ship of 400 tons which sank in 1684. No diving is allowed on her. She appears to have been transporting cannon for the English army from Tangier to Portsmouth.

Treasure tales abound in the neighbourhood. One that persists is that the pirate John Avery, alias Long Ben, buried a fabulous treasure in the sand near Gunwalloe. Why he should have done that when he retired to Bideford, Devon, and died a pauper in 1697, is never made clear!   Inflatables can be launched across the sand of Church Cove , but parking for cars and trailers nearby is very limited.

It was from the cliffs to the south of Poldhu Cove : that Marconi sent his first Morse message across the Atlantic in 1901, and a memorial marks the spot. The cove itself - though a popular holiday spot - has no road link with Gunwalloe, and approach must be made by a side-road from the A3083. Launching is possible across the beach except when south-westerlies are blowing.

The documented wreck of the San Salvador , driven into the cliffs half-way along the north side of Poldhu Cove in 1669, has been found by divers. The site is marked by small iron cannon. Many Spanish silver pieces-of-one real have been found around the shallow rock ledges. Only a mile and a half from Gunwalloe as the crow flies, but four times as far by road, the approach to Mullion with its tiny harbour can be made by several routes off the A3083. Mullion in the summer is a hive of visitors. There is no launching down the steep slipway without the harbourmaster's permission. Cars with trailers are allowed down the winding road to the actual cove to launch and recover boats, but not to park. There is a charge.

Mullion Cove
Is owned by the National Trust, who at one time wanted to ban non-BSAC divers after trouble with groups taking over the small beach and spreading themselves and their equipment in all directions. However, the BSAC insisted that the diving should be open to all - and to ensure that it is kept that way, please consult with harbour-master before bringing yourself and your gear into the immediate harbour area.

There are iron cannon on the south-west tip of nearby Mullion Island , and there are at least two more iron cannon sites under the cliffs between Mullion Cove and Polurrian Cove to the north. Further south, the boiler and other bits of the Denise, a French steamer of 1596 tons, carrying coal, which ran ashore in fog on 6 June, 1918, can be found under Predannack Head .

Kynance Cove
Is hemmed in by 60m cliffs. The cliff to the north is called The Rill. Kynance Cove can be approached by a toll road, owned by the National Trust, but don't try to take a boat and trailer down, because access to the beach from the large car park at the end of the road is by steep flights of steps. Supermen do occasionally carry their gear down and get a pleasant dive there, but lesser mortals approach by boat from elsewhere.

A boat in calm weather will bring you to Asparagus Island and Gull Rock in Kynance Cove. These rocky outcrops not far offshore provide some interesting diving. There is a tunnel right through Asparagus Island - but it is not to be tried in any kind of swell! There is evidence of a shipwreck of the early 1700s - coins and buckles, possibly Dutch - at the entrance to the tunnel on the island's south-west side.

On the southern side of The Rill in Rill Cove is another treasure wreck - possibly the "great silver ship" of 1616. More than 700 Spanish silver coins have been raised from the site, plus a banded breech-loading gun. However, this wreck is now a protected site, with no diving within 100m of 49 58 31; 05 14 26W. Isn't it amazing how treasure wrecks attract archaeologists! Lizard Point is the most southerly spot in England. It is considered the gateway to the English Channel, and is the first English landfall for shipping after long voyages. But this landfall has not always been the kind intended. In 1619, Sir John Killigrew of Falmouth, who was first to build a lighthouse on the Lizard, wrote that most of the houses nearby were "built with the ruins of ships". Various other lighthouses followed. Today, the one perched on the 50m high cliff is the most powerful in the British Isles. Its light has a range of 21 miles, but its reflection can be seen 70 miles out.

Launching in the area is possible - but not worth the hassle. The wrecks of the Lizard are best visited by boat from Cadgwith or Kennack Sands (See Part Two of this guide). The Stags is the general name for rocks extending for half a mile south of the Lizard. Each rock has its own name - Ennach, Maenheere (furthest south) and Carligga, Carnvel, Man o' War and Mulvin (furthest west). Watch out for the tide, which on springs, will reach 3 knots just off the rocks. To the south of the Stags is a race which can produce very rough water. And there is another powerful race south-east of the Lizard which dive boats should avoid in any sort of wind.

The wreck of the Royal Anne - the last fighting ship with oars built for the Royal Navy - is at 49 57 27; 05 12 56W, but she is now a protected wreck and there is no diving allowed in a 100m radius of that position.

Further round the point is Housel Bay , said to have been the site of the wreck of yet another "Spanish treasure galleon" - and then we come to Bass Point . Some 800m south-east of the Point is Vrogue Rock , which lurks some 2m underwater, though surface disturbance in the strong tides gives its position away. The Vrogue , listed by the Admiralty as "very dangerous", has claimed more than its fair share of wrecks from vessels trying to cut the corner. One of the best dives in the area is provided by a ship which did just that - the Czar.

Built in Hull in 1858, at 1100 tons gross the Czar was not a big ship. Her single screw was driven by 180hp engines, and she carried a crew of 28 under Captain Robert Jackson. On 16 January, 1859, she left London on her first long voyage - on charter to the Government to carry munitions from Woolwich Arsenal to the garrison on Malta. Her cargo kept her low in the water as she moved down Channel.

In her holds were fifty-one 68-pounder muzzle-loading Lancaster guns, the shot and shell to go with the guns, uniforms and other military equipment, plus spirits, oil, sugar, hides and cinnamon.

On 22 January, it was clear that something was wrong with the Czar's boilers, and Captain Jackson turned back for Falmouth. But the route he took - creeping across the face of Lizard Point and cutting the corner by Bass Point - was not a good one. There was a grinding crunch as the vessel ran hard on the Vrogue - so hard that most of her bow went right over and she pivoted on the highest point of the rock.

One boat got away with ten aboard but was swamped immediately. Another with four men in her tried picking up men from the water. Moments later, the ship tore in half behind her funnel. Bow and stern sank separately. Despite huge seas, Cadgwith fishermen and Lizard coastguards launched boats to help. They picked up 6 men from the wreckage; but 13 people died - including Captain Jackson, his wife and 5-year-old son.

In June 1990, some salvage divers working on the nearby wreck of the three-masted steel sailing ship Wansbeck (very broken in just 10m close inshore of Maenheere Rock) were asked to have a look for the Czar. They found her collapsed, with a clean break between her two parts.

You can see some of the cargo of the Czar today at 49 57 07; 05 10 04W. The seabed in 12- 18m just to the north-east of the Vrogue Rock is carpeted with massive 68-pounder shot - nearly 18cm in diameter. Some of the huge guns for which they were intended are there too. When diving her, it is worth searching carefully in cracks and gullies in the rocks, where military buttons from the uniforms in her cargo are often found. Many of those gullies are full of musket shot.


Diving on the many wrecks around Lizard Point and Bass Point needs care, particularly on those close in.The whole area is subject to heavy ground swell, and the tide races sometimes reach 5-6 knots. Great care, for example, should be taken when diving the 300ft long schooner-rigged Suffolk, an iron steamer of 1924 tons. Homeward-bound from Baltimore, USA, she hit Old Lizard Head on 28 September, 1886, in fog. All her crew of 38 and the 2 passengers were saved.

At the time of her wrecking, she was carrying a cargo of tobacco, wheat and flour. Her decks were stacked with walnut logs, and 161 steers were penned on the foredeck. Only 26 of the cattle survived. Today her very broken remains lie just to the north of the head at 49 57 41; 05 12 50W in the sand-floored rock gullies at 10m.

Two great sailing ships are not far away. One, the four-masted steel barque Queen Margaret, laden with 4500 tons of wheat from Australia hit the Maenheere Rock while waiting for a tug on 5 May, 1913. Her remains - mostly ribs and plating - lie on the seaward side of the rock in 12m at 49 56 06; 05 12 20W. Another big sailing ship, the Cromdale, ran straight into the Lizard right under the coastguard lookout in thick fog on 23 May that same year. She was carrying a load of nitrates from Chile. Her ribs and steel masts lie in in rocky gullies in 10m at 49 57 42; 05 11 06.

Closer to Bass Point (sometimes called The Beast in old documents) - at 49 57 47; 05 11 05W - is the Mosel, a barquentine-rigged German steamer of 3200 tons, which ran straight into the cliffs in the morning fog of 9 August, 1882, at nearly her top speed of 13 knots. She was carrying 620 passengers - mostly emigrants - from Bremen to New York via Southampton. All were saved. Local divers call her the Junk Shop, because although much of her cargo was saved, there are masses of small items buried in the sand at 11m amid the plating. Divers have brought up penknives, scissors, buttons, combs, tooth and shoe brushes, spectacles, and even mouth organs. Part of the wreckage is in the area of a tide race. Dive on low water slack and leave before the flood.

Inside Bass Point are the remains of a Boulogne steam trawler, Le Vieux Tigre, of 261 tons, victim of fog on 27 March, 1935. Her position is 49 57 48; 05 11 00W, but she is scattered so widely that some parts of her are mixed with those of the Mosel . Her boiler is jammed in a gully just to the west of the point.

In between Bass Point and Hot Point (nothing to do with washing machines!) are two more fairly modern wrecks. Furthest out is the Clan Malcolm, a 5743-ton Glasgow steamer, yet another victim of fog on 26 September, 1935. She was coming from London for the Clyde when she hit the Tregwin Rocks. Tugs tried to get her off, but two days later the wind rose and so did the sea. Her crew of 75 were landed safely, but the ship became a complete wreck. She is now at 49 57 50; 05 10 50W, very broken and heavily salvaged. Her three boilers are central to the spread of wreckage in 14m. Her bows point inshore towards Hot Point. Great care should be taken when diving her as she lies in an area of very strong tides and overfalls. Dive at slack only.

The last of the big sailing ships to be wrecked in the Lizard Point area - the five-master Adolf Vinnen - was only three months out of her launching cradles and on her maiden voyage from Kiel to Barry for coal when, on 9 February, 1923, she was driven by a full southerly gale into Green Lane Cove , just under the now disused Lloyds Signal Station and between Bass and Hot Points. The crew of 24 were rescued by breeches buoy to the cliffs above.

The 1840-ton 262ft long Adolf Vinnen was unusual in that she was also powered by two massive diesel engines, but this didn't save her. Her wreckage is right out of the tide, but subject to ground swell in south or south-east winds. She is in two main parts, with her frames and some of the hull standing clear of the rock-and-sand bottom in 12m, and the diesels and shafts still there at 49 57 54; 05 11 01W.

Next door to Hot Point is Church Cove, where the lifeboat is kept. The ramp is for the lifeboat only. Don't try launching there.

Concluding our survey of wreck sites off the Lizard Peninsula, in Cornwall, we look at wrecks along the coastline from Cadgwith to the Helford Estuary, nine miles further north. (With additional diving details from Kevin Heath)



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A Diver's Guide to The Shipwrecks of The Lizard

PART 2: THE EASTERN LIZARD

In spring and summer sunshine, the coast of the Lizard, daubed here and there with brilliant yellow gorse, is a lovely place. Yet people sometimes say that they feel a brooding sense of menace despite this glorious scenery. Perhaps old Celtic gods still lurk in the valleys of the well-wooded Lizard East. Or perhaps, in the case of divers, they are simply suffering from a surfeit of wrecks!

The launch site for many of the wrecks off the eastern Lizard is Cadgwith, a village of thatched cottages which has been squeezed into a valley leading down to a shingle cove where fishing boats are beached. Launching is difficult here, suitable more for small inflatables than big RIBs. Take care to keep out of the fishermen's way - everyone who lives in the village seems to be a fisherman! Car parking is on the outskirts of the village, 2 minutes' walk from the cove.

Cadgwith is shellfish country so don't, whatever you do, flaunt any catch or take more than one for yourself. And don't try a shore dive anywhere near the cove. Keep-pots are moored close in.

The nearest shipwreck to Cadgwith is the Bellucia, a 4368-ton British steamer, which was torpedoed by UB-31, 2km out in the Channel east of Bass Point on 7 July, 1917, while homeward bound in a convoy to London with a cargo of flour from Montreal.

The convoy, of which Bellucia, captained by James Kiddie, was part, was aware that U-boats were about, and the convoy commander in the destroyer HMS Lyra brought the ships as close to the Lizard as he dared.

The weather was squally with a rough sea. At 3pm one of the Bellucia's crew shouted that he had seen a periscope about 300 yards off the port beam. His warning came too late. A torpedo struck in the port side in the engine room, killing the third engineer, two firemen and the chief steward. Bellucia did not sink at once and the rest of the crew got clear in boats and rafts and were picked up. The ship was blown in and finally grounded, tipped over on her port side and sank, leaving her starboard side just above water. Later, holes were cut in the exposed side of the hull and tons of flour salvaged.

The wreck today is owned by Dick Larn. You will find her at 49 58 39; 05 10 39W. She is well broken and spread over a wide area, but most of the bottom of the hull can be seen from the area of the torpedo strike forward. Her bows are clear and more or less intact, as are her three boilers. The engine and propeller of the Bellucia have been salvaged.

Another wreck close to Cadgwith - 1km to the south-west - is much more modern. Divers will find the 779-ton motor vessel Citrine broken in 21m and upside down at 49 59 17; 05 09 35W. She foundered with a cargo of limestone when waves smashed in her fore hatch on 2 January, 1956, in a gale. All ten of her crew were saved by the Coverack and Lizard lifeboats, but one died later.


Kennack Sands
Is really two beaches of firm silver sand, divided by rock outcrop. It provides excellent launching, but it becomes packed with holidaymakers in the summer, and divers must take great care not to cause problems with gear or boats.

Divers should also take care when launching here, particularly in any southerly wind which brings up a big surf. You'll know when not to launch - surfers appear with their boards!

A narrow lane runs down to the sands and a not-very-big public car park - so you should consider making an early start. Ahead of you as you approach you will see a BSAC-supplied notice board, which states the simple rules for divers: use the car park; no trailers to be left on the road or the beach; keep the slipway clear at all times; observe the 5-knot speed limit near the beach.

Most of the Lizard sites can be dived from Kennack, which may well have its own treasure wreck, so far undiscovered by divers. The evidence for this is the recent find by a local man using a metal detector on the sands. He found a 600-year-old Belgian gold coin, called a mouton and struck between 1355 and 1383. It is valued at £1000.

Two of the most popular known wrecks close by are the Carmarthen and the Gunvor.

The 4262-ton steamer Carmarthen sank on 26 July, 1917 after being torpedoed by UC-50. Kapitanleutnant R. Seuffer had laid all his mines when he spotted the Welsh steamer rounding the Lizard riding high in ballast from Genoa for the Tees. His torpedo hit her close to the engine room, and though her engines continued working, she started taking in water fast.

Captain Griffith Roberts, who thought he had been mined, ordered his crew to abandon ship. However, Commander J.A. Collett of the patrol trawler St. Hubert was soon alongside and disagreed with abandoning the steamer. He felt that they might be able to beach her. Soon tugs had the steamer in tow. They made some headway, but at 8pm Carmarthen grounded at 50 00 07; 05 07 27W in Eagle Cove a mile to the west of Black Head, and became a total loss.

Today the wreck of the Carmarthen is a pleasant dive with much marine life around her in 20m. Most of the broken wreckage stands 3m proud, though her boilers are a good 5m from the sand/shingle seabed. She has been well salvaged. Her 12-pdr Japanese gun is gone, but there is some ammunition for it buried under the sand.

The Gunvor is nearby at 50 00 19; 05 06 07W. This 1500-ton Norwegian three-masted steel barque became a victim of fog on 6 April, 1912, when she ran bow on into the cliffs of Black Head during a return voyage from Chile. She hit so hard that her masts bent like bananas and she swung as though trying to make her stern touch her bow. She ended up parallel to the rock face. Fortunately, her bowsprit now stretched out over dry rocks, and the crew used this wooden pathway and a rope-ladder to get safely to shore.

Today, the Gunvor is well broken with her bow driven in under rocks in 5m of water. The seabed here is a sheer wall into deep water, which makes the rocks a popular rod fishing site in calm weather. Close in to the wall is an anchor, then her masts stretch out to seaward.

This is a scenic second dive, with large sections of plating and ribs standing up from the kelp and shingle. At the stern, where the depth is about 10m, care must be taken on the flood when the tide can run nearly 2 knots. She is worth a good rummage - one recent dive uncovered the ship's inclinometer and a porthole.

Not far away, cannon lying almost right beneath the coastguard lookout on Black Head mark the site of one of the ships in a hideous double tragedy on 22 January, 1809.

The cannon are from the Admiralty transport Dispatch, homeward bound from the Peninsular War with the men and horses of the Seventh Dragoons. The other ship lost that night, HMS Primrose, sank just 2 hours later a little over 1.5km away on the Manacles (see below).

The Dispatch, a requisitioned ship, was driven in under the cliffs by huge winds laden with snow, which cut visibility to almost nil. She was carrying 75 men, of whom only seven survived. The rest were later buried at St Keverne.

Apart from the cannon there is little to be seen, though small finds thought to be parts of horse harnesses have been reported.

Coverack
Fishing village is part of a small cove with a sand bottom which makes the sea look crystal-clear. Though much photographed, with its thatched cottages and narrow streets, be warned that there is little parking. The stone pier and disused lifeboat station are at the southern end of the harbour, which is controlled by harbourmaster Mr Vivian Carey, whose office is in the square near the harbour (01326 280583). There is no diving in the cove itself.

At one time there was a fishermen's ban on all divers using the cove. Today, divers are, if not welcome, at least tolerated, and can launch down the concrete slip on to sand at all states of the tide, with much discretion and the harbourmaster's permission. There is a speed limit of 3 knots in the harbour and a launching charge.

One of the largest sailing ship wrecks on the Lizard is not far away. The 2512-ton Pindos was a steel four-masted barque built for a London firm at Workington in 1890, but later sold to the Hamburg-based Wencke shipping company. In February, 1912, the Pindos was pinned in Falmouth on her way home to Hamburg from South America with a cargo of nitrates by a succession of contrary winds. The German company sent their tug to haul her home, but the captain of the tug found to his surprise that his ship was not capable of towing the Pindos against the south-easterly wind. In fact, once they cleared Falmouth both ships were being blown down Channel. Finally, the tug had to slip the tow.

The Pindos was in trouble immediately. The great weight of the towing hawser made steering impossible, and she crashed broadside on to the Guthen Rocks. All 28 of the crew were landed safely by a combined rescue operation between the Coastguard and the Coverack lifeboat. The Pindos stayed above surface for another day or two, but the next storm broke her up completely.

Her wreck today is at 50 00 58; 05 05 14W on the seaward side of the Guthens, which are in turn just seaward of Chynhalls Point. Local fishermen call Chynhalls "Mears Point", and refer to the Guthens as "The Three Sisters", because of the three main rocks on the reef. Some small bits of the Pindos can be found in the shallows inside the Guthens, but the real wreckage lies on the outside of the reef. Her bow is to the south-east and stern to the north-west. Depth to the broken wreckage is 12m. She should only be dived from low water to flood, as on an ebb tide the tide boils over the site. A great deal of plating and some of her ribs are still there, though they tend to be heavily weeded in the summer.

Not far away - on the southern side of Chynhalls Point - is more wreckage, but this is from the small iron Irish steamer Rose, which ran ashore on 10 July, 1866, while on her way from London to Limerick.

Not far off Coverack is a good deep dive on the wreck of the 235ft steamer Veritas. This 1133-ton Norwegian ship was on her way from Gothenburg to Bristol with a cargo of pit props in August 1807, when she was involved in a collision. She went into Portland for temporary repairs, then resumed her voyage. But she started leaking badly when off Black Head. Soon the water put out the boiler fires. Her 15 crew abandoned her, rowed into Coverack and called for tugs. Three Falmouth-based tugs took her in tow, but in Coverack Bay her bows dipped and all the water in her rushed forward. Her bow hit the bottom in 36m. Her stern stayed on the surface - but only for two days.

The wreck today, at 50 01 10; 05 05 10W is owned by John Ellis of Seaways Diving in Falmouth, and lies upside down on a sand and shingle bottom at 39m. Her bow is to the north, and her remains are well scattered to seaward. Her iron propeller is still there, and part of the stern is intact. Her two boilers are clear.

Each year, Easter, however early, is the start of the divers' pilgrimage to the Manacles. Then they pack the beach at Porthoustock. When the sun shines it is wonderful, but anyone who has been in a dive boat off the Manacles in any kind of rough weather and has looked back at the land will have seen the kind of shore that great oil painters used to depict the Gates of Hell. This was the last view that many an old-time sailor saw. Take care that it is not yours. The Manacles need diving with great care.

St Keverne
Has two main attractions for divers in its little square. One is the church with its many gravestones and memorials to those lost in wrecks on the Manacles. The other is the pubs. The Three Tuns offers dinners to suit divers' appetites! The White Hart in the square also offers good food in either the pub or the bistro.

Porthoustock
And next-door Porthkerris, are the beaches from which to tackle the wrecks of the Manacles. Porthoustock has suffered badly from diver congestion, particularly on Bank Holidays.

This is another place where the BSAC has cooperated with the fishermen and residents to work out a way to avoid friction. On the grey shingle beach you will find a large notice, setting out two simple rules:

"1. Do not park cars, trailers, boats or yourselves on the left-hand side of the beach as you face the sea. This is reserved for Porthoustock fishermen to launch and winch up their boats;

2. Do not run compressors on the beach."

Since this noticeboard was installed there have been few problems.

Porthkerris Cove
Is a short distance to the north of Porthoustock and is approached by two steep roads, one of which has been specially cut from the radar station on top of the cliff through the fields to the beach to ease the launching of big RIBs. There is parking for 1,000 cars on the beach! There is a charge of £1 per car for those not using the facilities of Porthkerris Diving, whose dive shop and restaurant are on the right hand side of the beach.

The Manacles reef lies 1.6km offshore and almost directly in the line of the approach to Falmouth from the south. It is not surprising therefore that there are records of nearly 200 shipwrecks on these deadly rocks.

Each of the Manacle rocks has its own name. All of them are covered at high spring tides, except for Carn-du which always shows at least a metre above the water.

Diving here is totally governed by the tide. Speeds of over 3 knots are common during springs, and even on neaps the tides are still strong. The sea can get up very quickly and there are strange currents underwater in tidal eddies. Slack water is the only time to dive, and generally speaking slack water will be later than on the beach. Divers have died on the Manacles. It is not diving for beginners.

The Manacles, too, are a place for very careful boat handling. Many rocks lie just under the surface and are no respecters of inflatables. There are channels through the rocks for quite big ships, including one which follows the coastline inside the Manacles; but you need to take advice from local fishermen before trying them out.

At the northern end of the Manacles is the rock known as Shark's Fin, site of the wreck of the Andola.

The Andola, a 2093-ton, 275ft three-masted sailing ship, encountered storm after storm on her way home with 2000 tons of wheat from Seattle. It took her 185 days to reach Falmouth. But there was to be no rest for Captain Passmore and his crew as they anchored there on 29 January, 1895. For they were ordered to sail again for Hull as soon as they had taken aboard fresh water and food. They cleared Falmouth on the evening tide, and ran straight into more contrary winds as they tried to head up Channel. The tacks of the Andola grew larger and larger and soon they were crossing the entire Channel from side to side. And when they spotted the Lizard light close by they realised they were actually going backwards! Then it started to snow.

However, it was only when they heard the Manacle Bell tolling mournfully very close that Captain Passmore tried to alter course. He was too late and shortly afterwards the Andola struck the thin slate outcrop aptly named Shark's Fin.

The striking had been seen and the Porthoustock lifeboat was launched. But Captain Passmore didn't know this and ordered the firing of distress signals. However, the flares only fizzled, and the ship's boy was ordered to get some rockets from the stores. As he did so, he managed somehow to drop one of the fizzing flares into the locker among the rockets. In a panic, he slammed the lid of the locker down. One of the exploding rockets slammed shrapnel into his thigh, then the whole charthouse roared into flame. Even so, the Porthoustock lifeboat was quickly beside her and managed to save all 28 aboard.

Today she is shallow, but interesting. Her wreckage is at 50 03 18; 05 03 30W, inside the Shark's Fin. Maximum depth is 10m. Her bow is to the south and is marked by great lengths of anchor chain. Broken plates and ribs are all around. Some sections of her double bottom are hidden under the thick weed of summer, which is why some say she is best in the spring. She can be dived by boat, but it is possible to carry dive gear to the sandy strip just opposite her below Manacle Point. From here, she's so close, less than 40m, that there's no need even to bother to snorkel out.

Perhaps the greatest attraction of the Andola to today's divers is the fact that she carried her name on both sides of her bow in brass letters nearly 30cm high, each weighing close to 2kg. Some of these letters have never been found. The Five Pilchards Inn at Porthallow, once had the letter "A" on display, and now like the "N" both are in a private collection. "D" is at the Charlestown Shipwreck Museum. That leaves "O", "L" and another "A", plus the whole name from one side, to be uncovered.

The nearest wreck to the Andola is the Lady Dalhousie, a 285ft Scottish steamer of 1800 tons which lies on the shore side of the rock named Maen Chynoweth (often called The Morah), which dries a little over 1m at low. She was seen from the shore on the Saturday evening of 13 April, 1884 to steam straight in among the rocks despite the bright moonlight. She was travelling from London for Newport in ballast and with a crew of 30. She seemed to have scraped right over one set of rocks, but was so badly holed that Captain Murchie turned in to beach her. It was then that she became firmly impaled on Maen Chynoweth. Tugs tried to pull her off, but she was stuck fast and soon became a total loss. The wreck is usually heavily weeded and lies with her bows to the north. Some fine portholes have been recovered.

The most seaward of all the Manacles and the nearest rock on the inside of the Manacle Bell Buoy, whose chain reaches down 61m to the seabed, is the Vase Rock. The Vase is a beautiful scenic reef dive with shelves and gullies dropping down from the top of the nearby Penwin Rock (at 50 02 58;05 03 21), which is just awash at low springs, to the seabed on the seaward side at over 50m.

Of all the wrecks that divers explore among the Manacles, the best known is that of the Mohegan , a 7000-ton, 482ft, liner, which hit the Vase or Penwin at her top speed of nearly 14 knots on 14 October, 1898 at 6.50pm. The impact tore off her massive steel rudder (which is still embedded in the Penwin). Then, as she careered on out of control, she hit the three peaks of the Maen Voes (The Voices), ripping out a great section of her starboard side.

On board, most of the 53 first-class passengers had just sat down to dinner when a steward shouted, "All on deck to save yourselves!". And as the last passenger left the dining room, the sea cascaded into the engine room and rose at least 4m to drown the dynamos and put the ship's lights out. In the darkness the liner listed to port.

Lifeboats jammed or overturned in big seas. At 7.05pm she gave a great lurch and sank down by the stern, taking her master, Captain Griffiths, with her. It was all over in 12 minutes. A few of the passengers and crew got into the rigging, which stayed above water, but despite the efforts of the lifeboat and other boats from Porthoustock, 106 people died.

Even before the funeral of the Mohegan's victims, there had been major salvage of her cargo. Linoleum, jute, tin, furniture, lace and church ornaments were raised, together with a bell. After that, she was worked by a local hard-hat diver, who in 1904 raised the ship's condenser, weighing over 16 tons.

Today the Mohegan, at 50 02 38; 05 02 26W, is still a fascinating dive.

You'll find that her hull has collapsed towards the open sea, but her huge boilers poke up through all the wreckage, which stands 8m proud in places. One of the boilers is split open, and has some pretty pink growths inside. Close to this are lifeboat davits. The boilers, on the west of the wreckage, are one of the shallowest parts at 20m. Her bow is slightly shallower at 18m . The forepart lies to the south and is supported by rocks, so you can swim underneath. From the boilers to the north is the prop shaft. The north-east is the deepest part, dropping down to over 30m, where layers of steel plate lie amid the sand-floored gullies.

Today, most of the discoveries are being made on the Mohegan in what is apparently the accommodation area, some 10m south of the boilers. It was in this spot that five portholes were recently found. (One can be seen in the Three Tuns at St Keverne.) Plates bearing the crest of the original owners, the Wilson Line, wine bottles, silver teapots, and spoons and forks, have also been recovered from the area. Elsewhere a few tin ingots, left after the original salvage, have been brought up; so have a few silver dollars.

Diving the wreck is only sensible at slack. Slack on the Mohegan is 2 hours later than at Porthoustock beach. Take care when moving in the wreckage; the metal may be thin, but it is also razor-sharp.

Not far from the remains of the Mohegan are those of the Spyridion Vagliano at 50 02 48; 05 02 41W. This 1708-ton steamer, laden with grain from the Black Sea for Falmouth, hit the Voices in the dark on 8 February, 1890, ripped a hole in her 258ft-long hull, and then bounced off to the north. Her crew abandoned her at once. Her captain was drowned when his boat overturned at midnight on Godrevy Cove beach. Another boat with 13 on board was never seen again. The wreck makes a pretty dive. There is much plating and some ribs still standing in 18m, where her small single boiler is in full view. Her big spare iron prop lies flat inshore of the wreck in slightly deeper water. It is difficult to spot.

The greatest loss of life in a single shipwreck on the Manacles occurred when the John, a barque of 465 tons packed with 263 emigrants outward bound for Canada, sank on the Maen Land rocks in May, 1855.

The John left Plymouth on May 3 and cleared Rame Head by 3pm. But by the time she was off Falmouth it was clear that she was too close in. At 10pm she struck the Middle Manacles, probably Maen Garrick or the Gwinges. The impact ripped off her rudder; then the wind took her and blew her inshore. The ship was now nearly full of water and all the emigrants had been forced on deck. An anchor was dropped to stop her headlong rush. When it bit she swung round on to Maen Land. Then the water washed over her decks. Huge seas came out of the dark and tore whole families of people overboard. The crew climbed into the rigging and left the passengers without help. When boats finally fought their way out to her from Porthoustock, the sun rose on only 86 people - including the Captain and his entire crew - still alive.

The Captain was condemned by the Board of Trade enquiry for "ignorance or gross culpable negligence", but when later tried for manslaughter was acquitted.


The Maen Land rocks lie off Dean Quarries and are a reef with four pinnacles. The tops of these only show at low water springs. General depth is 12m in the rock gullies.

Today, the remains of the John are spread far and wide, but the main wreckage is in the middle of the four peaks and is easy to spot as there is a pile of anchors from her deck stowage and a big winch. One of the biggest of the anchors has been raised by local diver Kevin Heath and is on display outside the Three Tuns in St Keverne square. In the gullies, divers from Newman Sport Diving Club, a BSAC special branch, who are working the wreck as a branch project, have found a big sounding lead, and bronze pins, as well as blue and white crockery dated 1840.

The whole area around Maen Land is littered with wreckage. Big timbers trawled up from the sand to the east of the rocks are probably part of the John. Closer inshore are the remains of the 2155-ton Norwegian steamer Forde, sunk on 4 March, 1919, after running aground in fog.

Running the John close in the horror stakes is HMS Primrose, a 384-ton sloop of 18 guns, whose remains are spread out near The Minstrel rocks. From this Manacles wreck of 22 January, 1809, only 17-year-old John Meaghen survived from the 126 aboard. On the night of January 22, the wind blew with near hurricane force and carried snow on its back. The Primrose, outward bound for Spain, struck at about 5am. They said that the cries of those aboard - 120 officers and men and 6 passengers - could be heard on the shore during lulls in the storm. She stayed upright for some hours, but at noon "fell over". Six Porthoustock fishermen fought huge seas to get to the spot and managed to save Meaghen, who had tied himself to the stump of a mast. The Admiralty gave each of those fishermen a reward of 10 guineas.

Northampton BSAC have raised four of the Primrose's 28pdr carronades, one of which can be seen in St Keverne churchyard. The rest of her guns are very concreted into the rocks. A small bronze signal gun, which may have come from her, though it was dated 1809, was raised in the early 60s by the late Reg Dunton of Bromley BSAC. He found it when he drifted off the wreck of the Mohegan towards Carn-du rocks.

The well-spread wreckage of the 176ft Juno, a small Norwegian steamer of 611 tons which hit Carn-du in fog on 3 July, 1915, lies just to the south-west of the rock at 50 02 36; 05 02 58W. She was heading for the Mersey from Le Treport, in France, in ballast, and stayed afloat for some time before sinking by the bow. Depth 20m. Her big anchor, winches and propeller are clear, though she becomes heavily kelped in summer. She can be dived on most of the ebb tide as Carn-du provides shelter.

More than 20 small stone anchors were found by the BSAC Three Tuns Divers around a rock pinnacle rising from the seabed at 22m to 14m to the south of Carn-du. However, this is not likely to be the site of a really ancient shipwreck, and is probably the grave of a smuggling boat of Napoleonic times. The smugglers often used small stone anchors to pin down their casks of brandy under water inshore until a colleague could hook them up with a grapnel when the coast was clear!

Those who don't fancy wreck diving will generally find that getting away from shipwrecks on the Manacles is no easy matter. However, the Raglan Rocks, which provide one of the best scenic dives in Britain, appear to have no wreckage around them. The Raglans (at 50 02 35;05 02 27W) come to within a metre of the surface and drop down first to 32m, then down again to 44m on the seaward side. The rose-coral growths, sea urchins and anemones on these walls are superb. And there are many fish, including large numbers of bass. But dive only at slack.

Porthallow
Is a nice old village . Its Five Pilchards Inn was much used by divers because of its "wrecky" atmosphere - old photos and items from wrecks were all over the place. However, due to the bad behaviour of one or two large groups of divers in the past, all diving activity, including the launching of dive boats, is totally banned at Porthallow Beach, which is private land. This ban is a shame, even though it was well deserved, as Porthallow was a good launching site for several wrecks, such as the Bay of Panama and the Volnay.

The Bay of Panama was a victim of the Great Blizzard of March 1891. One of the finest sailing ships of her time, she was a steel square-rigged four-master of 2365 tons, 294ft long with a beam of 42ft. She was a highly successful ship too, completing many voyages in record times. Her last voyage sent her to Calcutta to pick up bales of jute, which she was to deliver to Dundee. As she approached the Cornish coast, at 4pm on 9 March, 1891, the blizzard hit her. Great winds came from the south-east. Despite this, and the ice and snow on her sails, the hands went aloft and furled what sails were out. But their efforts were in vain. Her bare poles were enough for the wind to grip her and force her inshore.

Somehow, she missed the Lizard, missed the Manacles (which claimed four ships in that storm), and her captain was able to aim her in the general direction of the Helford River. She didn't make it, however. In the dark and the snow, she ran straight into the cliffs just south of Nare Point.

She struck hard, swung violently so that her bows pointed back out to sea, and ended up with her port side jammed against the rocks and listing hard to starboard. Seconds later, waves like moving mountains hit her, and one tore the deckhouse right off the ship. Inside were Captain Wright, his wife, the ship's steward, the ship's cook and four young apprentices. All died as the deckhouse shattered in the trough of another giant wave. The mate ordered the rest of the crew into the rigging. During the night, six men froze solid and their bodies hung from the rigging like icicles. Others could not hold on and slid down to their deaths.

It wasn't until the arrival of a local farmer, trying to find his sheep the next day, that the ship was spotted. A rocket crew got a line across the ship, and brought 17 men out of her crew of 40, alive, though literally frozen stiff, to shore.

Today, the Bay of Panama is at 50 04 18; 05 04 31W. Her jute was salvaged and her bell given to the chapel in Helford, where it can be seen today. Though the wreck is only about 20m from the shore, directly under a prominent white rock, this is a boat dive. Steel plates and her ribs are clear, though weed grows fast over her keel each spring. Depth is 7m. Her rudder is still there and small items turn up each year, so she is worth a rummage. A bronze hawse plate from her could be seen in the Five Pilchards at Porthallow.

Eighteen-pounder brass shellcases mark the grave of the Volnay. They lie mostly under the silt in 20m at 50 04 15; 05 04 02. Some are close to the two big boilers which dominate the site, with a third smaller boiler nearby. Others hide under the bollards, steel plates and larger sections of the wreck of this 4609-ton schooner-rigged steamer sunk by a German mine on 14 December, 1917. Her bow section can be identified by the anchor winches and chain, but the stern section has been torn away from the main wreckage during extensive salvage. It now lies about 20m away across a mud field to the north.

She was loaded with ammunition in Montreal, mostly 18pdr shells with explosive heads, each packed with hundreds of lead balls designed for air-burst over the trenches of France. There are thousands of these lead balls on site, and divers should take care as the timing of the burst was set by brass nose cones still containing live detonators, which are easy to find. The shellcases are marked on the base with a broad arrow surrounded by a big "C" for Canadian War Department. They are dated 1917. Beware also the percussion caps in the shellcases. They, too, are live.

The crew of the 385ft Volnay was fortunate that, when the mine exploded on her starboard side and blew a great hole in No.1 hold, the shells there did not detonate. In fact, Captain Henry Plough had time to try and beach her after the mine exploded some 2 miles east-by-south of the Manacles. He nearly made it, but his ship finally foundered in Porthallow Bay, and most of her non-military cargo - butter, meat and jam and thousands of cartons of cigarettes - washed up on the beach at Porthallow itself.

The Volnay lies in a silty spot, and bad buoyancy control will ensure that the usual good viz disappears almost at once. There are boxes of some waxy substance in the bow area. Don't touch - this may be phosphorus.

Gweek
Boats can be launched from the concrete slipway of the Gweek Quay Boatyard (01326 221657) for 2 hours either side of high tide. There is a charge. Gweek became the port for Helston when Loe Bar blocked the western entrance. Today, 250-ton coasters do sometimes bring coal cargos up to the village. There is a good pub near the famous seal sanctuary.

Gillan Creek
Or Harbour provides good shelter except in an easterly. Speed limit: six knots.

St Anthony
Is on the south bank of the entrance to the Helford river. There is reasonable launching here into Gillan Creek, but it is banned to dive boats.

Weather forecasts:

Marinecall (tel. 0891 500458) gives sea weather for whole of Cornwall. It includes the Isles of Scilly, and contains a forecast for the forthcoming 3 days. Marinecall Fax gives 2-day forecasts and longer forecasts with charts. For 2-day forecast for Cornish waters - 0336 400458. For detailed list of all fax forecasts - 0336 400401. Or CLICK HERE for current Met. Office 5 day weather forecast for The Lizard.

Maps and Charts:

Admiralty Charts - 154 (Approaches to Falmouth); 442 (Lizard Point to Berry Head); 777 (St Ives to Dodman Point);

2345 (Plans of harbours in South-West Cornwall and the Lizard);

2565 (Trevose Head to Dodman Point); diving chart of the Manacles - from Planaship, 21 Pennance Road, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4ED (tel. 01326 312418); Ordnance Survey - Landranger 203; 204.

Further reading:-

Dive South Cornwall by Richard Larn - a completely revised edition will be published shortly by Underwater World Publications.

Diving Restrictions:

Loe Bar - St Anthony protected wreck site (75m radius of 50 03 04; 05 17 01W); Gunwalloe Cove - Schiedam protected wreck site (75m radius of 50 02 33; 05 16 04W);

Stag Rocks - Royal Anne protected wreck site (100m radius of 49 57 27; 05 12 56W); Rill Cove - unidentified 16th century "silver" wreck site (100m radius of 49 58 31; 05 14 26W);

Porthallow - no launching of diving boats, no diving from private beach;

St Anthony - no launching of diving boats.

© Original text - DIVER February 1996 - http://www.divernet.com/



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