Farne Islands 2020

The lucky sevenSeven Stratford Divers had the most fantastic time diving around the Farne Islands this July. The accursed Covid situation had threatened to scupper the trip but thankfully we and the Dive Centre were able to manoeuvre safely through the restrictions and the trip went ahead successfully. The only downside was that five of our friends originally booked on the trip had to withdraw for totally justifiable Covid reasons. However, every cloud…it did mean that we had an enormous amount of room to spread out and kit up on the boat’s dive deck, which is one of the biggest dive decks on a charter boat anyway!

Who were the Lucky 7? Alastair, Angie, Chris, Sophie, Jon A, Rob J and me (Sally). We dived with Farne Diving Services from their boat Farne Diver 2, owned and skippered by Lee Hall. They are based in Beadnell and we stayed in their accommodation, single occupancy where applicable! The boat is moored in Seahouses Harbour less than five minutes’ drive up the coast. We observed the Covid related rules on board including wearing a face mask whilst putting kit on the boat, whilst travelling to the dive site and when entering the wheelhouse.

Seal handshakeWe had 4 days diving, 2 dives per day and took in a variety of dive sites, reefs, wrecks, wrecks on reefs and of course, seals. We had several Close Encounters of the Furry Kind. Having not had divers to play with for three months, the seals just couldn’t get enough of us. As soon as Lee backed the boat up to the rocks for us to dive, any seals lolling about would whoop with delight and haul themselves into the water to commence fin chewing, their favourite pastime. They inquisitively swam amongst us, often allowing us to touch them. There are several videos and photos of these interactions going round the club including this photo of Angie and a seal, a scene I find reminiscent of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel.

Lest you think diving in the Farnes is just about seals, there are lobsters, crabs, wrasse, butterfish etc and a surprising amount of jellyfish. We had a superb dive on the north side of The Knivestone on which the Abyssinia foundered. The wreckage is scattered, but there are clearly definable structures including the propeller and boilers, the sides of which are broken revealing the tubes around which fish were swimming. Probably our favourite non seal dive though was on the last morning. We were supposed to have been diving the wreck of The Somali, which is actually owned by The Hall Family, but when we arrived at the harbour Lee gave us the option of diving The Whirl Rocks, a spectacular dive which he said is only doable in a flat sea on a neap tide and only then by “experienced divers” and the conditions that day were perfect. ButterfishOf course we were all chuffed and preening our feathers that he judged our group to be in this category and immediately chose this dive. It was marvellous. It includes the wreck of the Jan Van Ryswyck. I was diving in a three with Chris and Sophie that day. We dropped down onto the wreck and into the best UK Vis that I have seen in the last three years or so, easily 10m if not more. The boilers and other structures stand high off the seabed and as planned we spent about 20 minutes on the wreck before the current would pick up, then headed west to the rocks, which were covered in dead man’s fingers and plumose anemones. Working our way along the rocks exploring some narrow gullies containing huge lobsters and crabs, we gradually ascended. We were told not to launch DSMBs until near the top or on top of the rocks as the current would try and drag us over the top. I duly launched my DSMB and the three of us spent our 3 minute stop on top of the rock with Chris and Sophie hanging onto the kelp, each other and me to keep us together, after which we drifted off and tried to avoid the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish that was trying to join us on our ascent.

The sea temperature, at 11°C was a little chilly especially towards the end of each dive which customarily lasted between 50 minutes and an hour; being the North Sea it’s a few degrees colder than on the South Coast but if that’s what helps to keep the vis good, then I’m not complaining.

Between dives Lee drove the boat around the islands so we could see the scenery and wildlife. The Longstone Lighthouse of Grace Darling fame was a constant landmark. We saw colonies of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, beautiful to look at but what a pong! On our way back into harbour on one afternoon we saw a Minke whale and were able to watch it breach several times (I think it was eventually confirmed to be a Fin Whale, and the first sighting in the area for 50 years or so—Ed).

Beach BBQAfter diving most days we went to The Olde Ship Inn for a drink in their garden overlooking the harbour before returning to base. I had been concerned what our options would be for evening meals. Some of the party were uneasy about eating inside pubs/restaurants and warm, dry weather was by no means certain for the evenings, so we took not one, but two gazebos up and planned to erect them on the Dive Centre lawn under which we could eat takeaways if necessary. Thankfully, the Weather Gods smiled on us the whole trip and we didn’t need to unfurl the canvas at all. We ate inside the local pub, The Craster Arms on one night, in their pub garden on another, got an Indian Takeaway one night and had a BBQ on our local beach at Beadnell on the last night.

We also had time to explore Holy Island, Lindisfarne one afternoon after diving, traversing the causeway by car, walking round the castle, having a drink in a café garden in the village sitting on the grass on their picnic blankets, then returning to the mainland before the causeway would again be submerged.

So all in all a thoroughly enjoyable trip both in and out of the water. I must thank my fellow trippers for your excellent company, invaluable input and cooperation throughout the trip. Needless to say, I am organising another Farne Islands trip next year. You just can’t have enough of a good thing.

Here are a few more photographs from the trip.

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