Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings, Part 12: Tidal Estuaries


Another instalment of Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings…

Around Falmouth, we have two tidal estuaries and the biggest is the Carrick Roads. It is the end of the Fal River, where it joins other tributaries to create a one mile wide and three mile long estuary. This has helped create the third largest natural harbour in the world. Its many tributaries include the Percuil River by St Mawes, Mylor Creek, Penryn River, Restronguet Creek and others.

The other tidal estuary around Falmouth is the Helford River, which is located a few miles to the southwest of the Carrick Roads. The Helford River is nowhere near as big, or as deep as the Carrick Roads; it does sprawl almost across the entire northern edge of the Lizard peninsula.

The Carrick Roads has many wrecks; most have been salvaged at some time but there are still things to be found. The two biggest wrecks are the SS Stanwood and the massive 9,500 ton Mitera Marigo. There are also remnants of the WWII liberty ship, the George Hawley, left from a bombing raid, before it was removed after the war. One cannon was trawled up where the HMS Firebrand is thought to have caught fire and sank. There were many ships called the HMS Firebrand in the past, designed to be set on fire and sent into the enemies fleet, this one was a little premature.

There are several large ships anchors of varying ages lying around, some with chains still attached, but there’s always more being located. Coal, bottles, jugs and random crockery litter the bottom of the deep channel. During WWII Falmouth was an important wartime port, as it was during all conflicts, and all sorts of ships used to moor there. Before the D-Day landings there were ships from many nations so every now and then something turns up. An American ward room officers saucer was recently found in the channel by a local diver.

In the past, the Helford River was frequently dredged for oysters or scallops. This has destroyed anything small, of any age but there are still things there to be found. In the mouth of the river, the ship the Rock Island Bridge covers a large area but stands little more than a metre high. We have found anchors, random pieces of metal and the Bailey Bridge support pontoon. Very little of any age is found, except the odd old bottle in the Helford Pool.

I recently found a small white fibreglass upturned boat hull with a small hole in the side and another in the stern. I may go back one day, to try to turn it over to see what’s inside. I also found the outline of a hull near the river mouth; it only stood up an inch or so. After speaking to locals, there was a small yacht lost there in the 1950’s and the owner claimed £1500 for lost jewellery on board. A local diver had looked for it for 30 years without finding it. I need to find it again and have a rummage but haven’t been able to so far; it’s more than likely covered with sand again. It wasn’t far from the Parachute Mine that I found a few years ago.

In the Percuil River, a tributary of the Fal, I have recovered used 20mm shell cases. I have around two dozen so far, all reported to the Receiver of Wrecks. During WWII there was apparently an anti-aircraft gun in the Percuil River just off St Mawes, and the shell cases must have just ejected into the water after being fired. I have also found a 2” brass shell case, probably thrown overboard by a fishing boat after being trawled up. There’s been a few things of interest like a 1930’s bowl and a large clay jug with the word “Gin” embossed into it. I also keep finding huge anchors that are being used instead of mooring stones, I have not found an unattached one in there yet.

I have also found a small cabin cruiser, laying upright, within the moorings. The engine was removed before it sank by the looks of it. I wonder what its story is?

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Mark Milburn

Mark Milburn

Mark Milburn is the owner of Atlantic Scuba in Falmouth, Cornwall, England, and is an SDI/TDI/NAS/RYA Instructor and a Commercial Boat Skipper. Although often referred to as a maritime archaeologist, he prefers to call himself a wreck hunter. Find out more about Mark and Atlantic Scuba by visiting

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