Farne Islands

26th May 2007

The last bank holiday weekend of May 2007 commenced with very poor weather forecasts with strong NE winds.

The original plan had been for a club dive on the Sunday with a training dive organised for the Monday at Browns Bay.

The poor forecast however resulted in a major rethink, with the club dive brought forward to the Saturday with the rest of the weekend predicted as being something of a washout.

Following this rapid revision, plans were redrawn and the dive party assembled at Seahouses harbour with one of the club’s RIB’s. Here we were joined by Dave Taylor complete with his own RIB and 4 fellow members of Northumbria Branch. Conditions looked promising as the two RIB’s headed across the water towards the Farne Islands.

The plan included a first dive along the Longstone Wall. In the right conditions this site provides quite a scenic dive, with various gullies, steep rocky underwater cliffs that are covered with soft corals. It is also a site situated close to one of the main seal colonies, so provides good opportunities for encounters with these graceful and inquisitive creatures. Sure enough, on a number of occasions seals were observed gliding past during the course of the dive, before gracefully fading back into the green gloom.

It was on this dive that we came across an old historic wreck site of some long lost vessel. The first indications were a mass of concreted chain which just did not quite fit in with the surrounding smooth rock. Like some mysterious visual puzzle, the more one stared at this mass, the more the links of an ancient lost iron chain became apparent. Swimming on a little further, we came across another small gully which was littered with several old iron cannon.

The actual story along with the identity of this wreck has been lost back in the mist of time. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no official excavation of this site. The rusting iron work serves as a fascinating reminder of the very real perils that these islands posed to vessels without the aid of modern navigational instruments such as radar and GPS.

Once everyone was safely recovered the two RIB’s headed out to Whirl Rocks. This particular site, when conditions are right, provides one of the most exciting and picturesque dive sites around the Farnes. It is situated out to the East of the farnes and consists of a rocky reef that rises up from 40 metres to within a few metres of the surface. It is an area that is subject to major tidal currents and the water at most states of the tide visibly boils across the reef. It is a site that should only ever be attempted at slack water and during calm sea conditions.

On this occasion Andy and Fiona Hunt dived this site, never having had the opportunity to dive it before. Both surfaced wide eyed and impressed by the natural beauty that had unfolded before them on this dive, with cliffs richly encrusted with green jewelled anemones. There is also interesting wreckage from long lost steam ships scattered amongst the multitude of gullies that make up this site. It is an area of the Farnes that tide and weather permitting, we fully intend to return to explore further later this season.

Once Andy and Fiona were both safely back aboard we headed the short distance over to the Knifestone Reef. Here the rocks break the surface. Nevertheless it has still proved a fatal site for many vessels over the centuries whose remains now litter the base of the reef. These wrecks include steamships such as the SS Abyssinia, a German 5,755 ton steam ship wrecked on the 3/9/1921. Other lost vessels include the SS Emma, the SS Gustave Vigelend, the Steam Tug GR Gray, the SS Horley and the trawler Queenstown, all lost between 1908 and 1922.

It is however not just a dive for wreckies, as the steep gullies covered in a rich layer of marine growth are extremely scenic and picturesque particularly when as on this occasion the U/W visibility was a respectable seven metres plus.It is another site that can only be properly explored at slack water and in calm conditions.

With everyone safely aboard we headed back to Seahouses. The blue skies had by now gone and as the RIB’s sped back across the sea the first signs of the predicted Northerly wind began to be felt.

By the following day, conditions had deteriorated just as the weather forecasters had predicted bringing a premature end to the weekends diving. For those of us fortunate enough to get out on the Saturday, the Farnes had provided some excellent diving.