Farne Islands, 2010
We have a couple of trip reports from the Farnes. Thanks to Mick and the mysterious Gennaro who wishes to remain anonymous
After removing the cobwebs from my dive gear and packing my ‘Idiot’s guide to Diving’, I was all set for a weekend jaunt up north to play with some seals. Mick and I departed my work place at 16:45 for the long trek up the M1 through Friday evening traffic. Oh the fun we had…
Upon arrival at the quaint village of Beadnell we met the rest of the motley crew.
Familiar faces Nick and Lisa joined us from Rugby
While new member Mark was getting back into diving after a few years hiatus from the sport
Pete brought his wife Anne along to sample the delights of a Marlin SAC diving weekend. Regulars Cathy, Garry, Richard, John, Jim and Steve completed our posse.
Accommodation was basic but comfortable in the Farne Diving Services. John and Mark managed to get a room all to themselves while each couple was also catered for, leaving Mick, Richard, Jim and Steve with no choice but to share with me J. They all bunked together at one end of the room instructing me to bunk as far away from them as possible…
With an early start the next morning, a tasty breakfast was consumed at 8:00 before the procession made its way to harbour in Seahouses. The tides and queues of bird watching tourists were against us resulting in a delay before departing. The boat was very spacious with a lift on the back which was very good. The only problem with the boat was that it didn’t have storage space for our second cylinders. Weight belts were used to keep them in place as they were laid on the deck. Our friendly skipper Lee delivered very informative dive briefs and his first mate (name?) proved to be very helpful when kitting and de-kitting. (Editor’s note. There was no first mate Eoin that was me.)
For the first dive we did The Britannia , which was a wreck dive with the seals. We dropped onto a shelf in 10m of water where we happened upon the only bit of the wreckage that we found throughout the dive. Visibility was good at around 10m, but the seals seemed rather elusive, nibbling at your fins one second and then vanishing the next second. Pete, Mick and I struggled to find our way to the ledge. Pete confused my ‘we are swimming into a current’ hand signal to Mick with ‘I want to beat the crap out of you’ and moved in to act as peace maker. Mick doesn’t understand any of my hand signals anyway so he shrugged and carried on muttering into his regs… Eventually we found the ledge and descended down to 20m. The wall was covered in dead men’s fingers which was pretty impressive. Near the end of the dive we saw a small shoal of plucky Pollock, plucky considering the number of seals that we saw bobbing in the water before we entered.
The second dive was a very enjoyable wreck dive in 10m of water, The Coryton. Steve was putting Richard through his paces for his Sports Diver qualification, while Garry and Mark were digging under the boiler for what can only presumably have been treasure… This wreck was more complete than the previous one and we could see a couple of boilers, the ribs of the hull and plenty of mangled metal. It was teeming with lobsters, velvet swimming crabs, edible crabs and hermit crabs. Both John and Jim managed to catch a lobster each but let them go straight away. Jim mentioned something about fancying a steak for dinner instead.
The journey back proved to be better than a trip to Alton Towers! Mick did his Michael Flatley impression while Lisa fell to her knees attempting to zip Nick up (his dry suit of course). Almost straight away people started huddling behind the wheelhouse for some sort of shelter. Cathy did a sterling job marshalling all day but the only black mark on her copy book was the delay in the provision of boat sweets. (2nd Editor’s note I was ill and said help yourself, which Eoin did with great enthusiasm. Normal service was resumed on Sunday) Upon disembarkation everybody packed both Garry and Nick‘s jeeps with all of the empty cylinders, which were promptly carted off to the fill station. That evening we had a relaxing meal in The Lobster Pot watching the world cup.
The next morning we had an earlier start, to the delight of everyone. Breakfast was at 7:00, followed by a frantic search of Seahouses to find some food for our lunch. Pete decided not to dive on Sunday but we were joined on the boat by regular Diving magazine columnist, Mike Clark. He was a very friendly fellow. On the way to the first dive site, Nick and Lisa spotted a Minke Whale. During the surface interval Mike had an unconvinced Lee chasing splashes in search of said whale. It all came to nothing disappointingly.
The first dive of the day was The Abyssinia . There were loads of lobsters to be found again. Also there were some Ballan Wrasse who were hiding in the kelp. I tried communicating with one who seemed amused by my “fishspeak”. We happened across Mike taking plenty of photos, and being clever divers we followed him for a bit as he was bound to find some good stuff. Our ingenuity was rewarded with a scorpionfish!
The last dive of the trip was The Megstone. Richard had to be the dive marshal in order to get it signed off for his Sports Diver so Steve was instructed to look after Mick and me (they really don’t trust us Mick do they?). This dive was a seal watching dive. The seals were slightly more inquisitive than yesterday. They were probably attracted by Steve’s blue suit. The dive consisted of us searching for seals and then sitting and watching as they glided around. At the end of the dive as I sent the blob up, it appeared that the seals sensed we were leaving and decided to frantically swim around below in a vain attempt to entice us back down.
All in all it was an extremely enjoyable weekend. Thanks to Cathy and Garry for organising it and thanks to everyone who attended for making it a great weekend.
(3rd editor’s note. We’ve been to the Farnes many times but this was the most enjoyable. The weather helped but it was the company which made this trip special.)
When asked why I go diving, I usually start with the opportunity it gives me to visit places in a unique way. Lots of people visit Lundy or St Abbs to view the birds or seals from a cliff top advantage, but how many get to see them from the water or even to interact with them beneath the waves? Magical moments!
For me the anticipation of such an encounter is heightened when it’s also a chance to dive a new site. You could probably imagine then, my disappointment when last year’s trip to the Farne Islands was blown out, but this year Neptune was smiling on us and we headed up the M1 knowing conditions would be near perfect; 25°C with some cloud cover and light winds.
And then there’s the special people you get to met, some who you may even get to call friends. One such is Jim who, as this was the weekend when England were to confront their old foe the Germans in the world cup, wanting to show his support and to commemorate the occasion Jim went to the dressing up box and dug out a kit from a period when England actually won such events and wore it proudly for most of the weekend.
After a hearty breakfast; Saturday morning had us spending an hour or so on Seahouses harbour which was full of day trippers on their way out to capture images of the birds and seals with camera lenses that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Hubble space craft. We watched them being crammed onto boats for their journey out to the islands, until it was or turn to board the Farne Diver and head out for our first dive of the day on the Britannia. Read all about it here
As we made ready and awaited slack water over the site, puffins and guillemots flapped past with beaks full of fish on their way back to feed their young, while gannets and turns soared overhead and the seals tentivley watched our activities from the water.
It was going to be a threesome this dive, with Eion leading and me and Pete flapping alongside. After 20minutes or so searching amongst the kelp at around10 meters I signalled to Eoin to head west and the planned drop down to 20m. He responded by pointing east and smashing his fist into the palm of his other hand. I took this to mean if I headed that way he’d thump me. (It’s apparently the signal for a strong current, for those of you interested in these things) After another 10 mins of looking for a clue amongst the kelp I tried again to move the dive west, this time Eoin complied and we where soon down to 20m surrounded by cliffs strewn with anemones and soft corals, followed by two or three seals that seemed to want to keep their distance. The current was soon on the increase so it was time to head back up the cliff face.
The second dive was to be on the “ “ which lies in 10m off the beach north of Bamburgh castle. An amazing dive this one with wreckage strewn over a huge area of seabed, an hour soon passed as we hovered over the site trying to identify the different parts of the vessel. These where full of wholes and crevasses providing the perfect habitat for all types of critters to thrive. Excellent!
Back on board we stowed kit and headed for harbour but as we left the shelter of the islands we were heading into a force 3-4 and against the tide. This resulted in the boat being pitched in every direction, a ride which couldn’t have been bettered at Alton towers. Other members were not so thrilled with this, causing one member to ejected his lunch.
The previous evening we had patronised the Craster Arms, some 100m from camp, and so after a quick wash and change we headed for Beadnell’s other hostelry, the lobsterpot restaurant, to sample their offerings. Various meals and ales where imbibe, all getting a thumbs up and some getting two thumbs.
Day two started with breakfast at 7am! to get us down to the harbour and underway by 9am. First dive of the day was to be the wreck of the Abessinia (this is the name we were given by the skipper but on researching, it may be mixed in with other wrecks. Explanation Here:
As we descended we found ourselves in a gully just wide enough for two divers where the walls where covered in sponges, soft corals and anemones, all of which were in full bloom filtering for food in the strong current. Today the sun was shining brightly and we where shallow, so the resulting vista was spectacular. The floors were littered with wreckage that concealed all manner of critters. We made our way east against the tide until we could no longer make ground and then turned to fly west across the area we had just covered. We soon came across the pistons from the engine but never made the boilers, which were a little deeper, instead we followed the gullies west discovering the critters pictured here. One of these beautiful creatures, a wrasse, Eoin took quite a shine to and as I turned from snapping a scorpion fish I found him regs out trying to steal a kiss from the wrasse. Yes folks O’Flynn is a fish kisser! You have been warned.
I had no idea the effect this news was to have when I reported it to our Dive manager, (opposite) who found it too much to cope with.
(It’s a good job our DO don’t read this nonsense)
Our last dive was to be a seal encounter. We were accompanied by Steve on this one as his buddy stayed onboard to do his assistant dive manager practical for his sport diver training. We were at about 8-9m swimming through the kelp looking for seals which occasionally came to see what we were up to but quickly disappeared. I know this sounds a bit paranoid but I’m sure they were uncomfortable with there being three of us. This was re-enforced when on turning a corner we came across Mike Clarke a freelance photographer for diver magazine, who was diving alone. He was lying face to face with a seal that was sniffing his camera casing (too close for him to get a good photo) but on seeing us and much to Mike’s annoyance, the seal took off.(link to mike’s photo’s of the day below) The seals did put in an appearance for us; it was while we were ascending on a DSMB they came up from below nibbling on our fins just as we surfaced. The highlight for me was the massive Jelly (opposite) whose tentacles must have been 2-3 feet long. Spectacular!