Trip Report

Farne Islands 2019


Return to the Scene of the Crime – by Jane

I completed my first sea dives in the Farne Islands with the club back in 2017 and was excited to return to where it all began. Were the fish and chips at the Craster Arms still bordering on inedibly huge? Could we still see Saturn’s rings on the late, bright skies? And, most importantly, could we generate enough ‘Seal Appeal’?

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Farnes 2019 did not disappoint. Anne needed to appoint several Deputy Cod Consumers after she couldn’t manage on her own, and the formerly sketchy Beadnell Towers was transformed into a stunning gastropub. Evenings were replete with sky- and sea-gazing: Dylan and Chris brought telescopes for viewings of Saturn, Jupiter, and the Andromeda galaxy; room 2 was transformed into Cinema 2, showing big screen dive films, courtesy of Jun-Ho’s projector.

My favourite dive was on the seal-saturated, last of the trip with Elaine. We were following Jun-Ho and Fee quite closely, and the seals behaved ridiculously – I’d never seen so many bubbles from laughing divers. And it was a real delight surfacing to the sounds of Farnes first-timers excitedly chatting about their encounters.

We never quite got around to figuring out whether it was possible to float a baby on an SMB or to clothe a diver entirely in the contents of the RNLI gift shop (if, say, one forgot to pack any clothes…) but there’s always next year!

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Birdies’ paradise – by Olivia

Seals were the basking, dipping and dozing stars of the show, but I also really enjoyed the island views and wildlife especially when we dived and surfaced so close to nesting sites on the middle day of the trip. Chris and I had a fun and calm dive around these and when surfacing at water’s height there was something humbling and amusing about being overlooked by thousands of yakking seabirds from their island cliff – as well as the curious bird watchers! The colours of the flora and the form of the seals amidst the kelp on other dives was marvelous and I definitely count these Farne Island sites among the favourite shallow dives I have done.

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Seals – by Jun-Ho

Seeing a few seals in Pembrokeshire back in May (including the two vigorously pointed out to me by Will ✌️✌️) had whetted my appetite for more pinniped action, and my first trip to the Farnes did not disappoint. One particular favourite moment was on the last dive of the trip. Fee and I spent much of the dive creeping slowly through the kelp sneaking up on seals. It seemed that every time we rounded a corner there was another either dozing on the sand or darting off having heard our bubbles. One particularly sleepy specimen paused from its ear-scratching as we approached and regarded us lazily with one eye, until it eventually decided it didn’t want to play. Whereupon it darted out and promptly became wedged in the small gully ahead of us. There was a moment when it looked around, seemingly to check that no one else had seen it before it turned and with a few flicks, disappeared.

Close encounter – by Robert

Throughout the trip the seals became more inquisitive, at first effortlessly gliding by and then approaching out of the line of site for closer inspection.  My first close encounter was a nudge from behind which I thought was another diver, but when looking around I was surprised to a seal staring back with an ‘all innocent’ expression and then darting off. I noticed adolescent seals played with other diver’s fins, reminiscent of dogs playing with toys, play biting and even sniffing fins.  Finally, as we about to ascend for the last dive my buddy pointed behind me and I turned around to see a young seal nipping on my fin, after having enough play it then zoomed off. This was all played out against a background of impressive canyon like walls covered in white soft corals, swirling kelp and abundant crustaceans.

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Drysuit fun –  by Elaine 

Descending into kelp was memorable as it was never my intention to sink into the unknown! My buoyancy had to kick in then!

Fine tuning my buoyancy in my dry suit was amazing… learning to slow down and also hover were major achievements for me. 

The abundance of colour and life in less than 15 metres down was awesome, and the seals were beautiful to watch on land and underwater. They were by far the highlight of my trip.

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Gun Rock – by Anne

We visited Gun Rock twice as dive sites were limited by a combination of winds, current and spring tides. However Lee always manages to drop us in sheltered water and so diving it from north to south on the first day and then south to north on the second felt as if we were visiting two completely different sites, (probably because Fee and I on the first day and Robert and I on the 3rd day spent so long time poking amongst the boulders, nooks and crannies looking for critters that we never got the full distance anyway).

What better way to start the dive season than to swim mid water on a wall completely festooned with fluffy cream dead men’s finger’s and yellow staghorn sponges beautifully back lit from the sun. Little spiny squat lobsters were lurking in the cracks with piercing blue eyes, red multi legged cannibal, sun starfish (I counted 13 legs) and eel like red and black striped butterfish.

Huge boulders sit on the sea bed at 14 metres, each one a macro sea garden topped with rich ochre kelp and dark red seaweeds being munched by tiny white and yellow tipped nudibranchs. Lobsters generally were seen lurking under rocks but Robert and I saw one magnificent specimen wandering about (lucky Garry wasn’t on the trip).

No seals at this location and although there was plenty of seal action for some on other dives I was disappointed to only see them darting about in the distance. However just as we were deploying the DSMB on the very last dive of the trip our luck changed and Robert had a personal encounter with a seal nibbling away at his fins. During the dive interval we could see many seals lounging on the rocks, guillimots diving into the sea and puffins busily flying to and fro to their nests to feed their young with their beaks full of silver sand eels. The Farne Islands are a must for anyone who wants a close encounter with the UK’s rich variety of marine life and all in Ocean Diver depths!

 

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A sea of colours beneath the waves – by Fee

Dead men’s fingers, spiky lace, sea orange, goosebump and boring sponge – a pallet of yellows, oranges and whites interspersed with sea urchins dotted around and kelp dancing in the far distance swaying with the swell. Peacefully exploring the nooks and crannies for the community that live amongst these colourful structures.

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Big Harcar and seals – by Shira

My special diving moment out at Farnes Island was most definitely Big Harcar. It was my first ever Seal encounter underwater and one I enjoyed tremendously. 

It was fun diving above large kelps that swayed to and fro and searching for more Seals that seemed to have hidden rest places that ends up crowded with curious divers. And so they swam away, leaving just their scent. 

Other beauties found under the Farnes sea included a decoration of deadman fingers, sea urchins and happy sponges spread quite widely. Making it quite a breathtaking phenomenal picturesque view. 

And hidden behind the cracks were a number of swimming crabs some resting while others looked like they were dancing to Staying Alive.

We did see the odd Octopus hiding away but what was fascinating to me was the empty patterned cracked egg shells that added to the jewels of Big Harcar! Truly mesmerising!