Whirl Rocks – The Jewel in the Farnes Crown

10th August 2013

written by Richard Booth

photography by Richard Booth & Kevin Thompson

A few years ago Andy and Fiona Hunt, on a dive on the outer edge of Whirl Rocks, had noted a profusion of jewel anemones, Corynactis viridis, a species usually only found in the warmer waters off the west coasts of the UK.

One recent club night over a beer in the Ravensworth Arms Andy was recounting details of this dive, when Nicola, a keen marine life ‘surveyor’, mentioned that with no official reports of Jewel anemones in North East coastal waters, Seasearch would definitely be interested in photographic evidence of their existence. The challenge had been set, now the only problem was identifying a suitable time when a dive could be arranged at Whirl Rock.

Its exposed location and the fact that it catches the full force of the tide as it swings rounds the Farne Islands makes this a dive site that is probably one of the most challenging but exciting dives that the Farnes has to offer. Normally it is a dive that is only attempted at slack water, ideally on low water neaps. Whilst on this occasion we had a viable low water slack time, we would be attempting the dive on quite big spring tides. Timing would be critical!

After launching from Beadnel we sped out to Whirl Rocks on the outer Farnes and after a quick reconnaissance with the fish finder, we selected a suitable spot and dropped the shot.

By our calculations we still roughly had an hour until slack, so we headed over to the nearby Knifestone reef and dropped Kevin and Andy in for a dive amongst the wreckage to be found on this site.

Once they were safely submerged, Seawitch made a quick dash back to the shot where to out horror we discovered that it was now slack water, earlier than had been expected! Being spring tides the slack water window was also going to be a short one! We had no choice however but to wait patiently as Andy and Kev enjoyed their dive exploring the boilers and other wreck debris that is scattered over this site.

 

 

After they had both safely been recovered, we made a quick dash back to the shot; here we could see that the tide was already on the turn. Nevertheless, Andy, Fiona and Richard decided to attempt the dive. If they could make it down the shotline then hopefully shelter from the increasing current could be found by tucking behind the walls and gullies of the reef. Dropped well upstream, all three divers safely made it to the shot buoy and quickly descended pulling themselves down along the line. Below them they could make out the outline of the submerged reef. Here they quickly dropped down into the steep sided gully and on switching on their torches were met with the site of orange walls with small outcrops of white deadmens fingers.

 

 

 

On closer inspection it also became apparent that the orange walls were the result of huge aggregations of jewel anemones. We had found our jewel anemone El Dorado!

Indeed everywhere they looked they were met by the site of even more jewel anemones.

Even the rocks on the seabed seemed to be covered by a rich carpet of these amazing anemones.

The colours were amazing ranging from green, to oranges, and even pinks. What was quite noticeable however is that only a relatively short distance away along the reef, around the wreck of the Jan Van Ryswyck, there are no signs of jewel anemones; instead their the surrounding walls are covered with other soft corals, mainly of the deadmens fingers variety.

Slowly we wound our way back up through the gullies towards the top of the reef.

Endless shoals of fish seemed to pour over the edge of the reef clearly in pursuit of a good feed brought to them in the fast moving water.

Also of note were the large ‘fist sized’ barnacles that were fixed to the rocky surfaces; clearly they were also thriving in these turbulent waters!

At 12 metres the kelp streamed outwards into the open water. Here the group assembled and Andy inflated his SMB sending it off upwards into the screaming current, then like base jumpers they launched themselves off the top of the reef and were instantly carried out into the green open water, Fiona and Richard having to fin hard to keep up with Andy as he was towed along by the fast current by his SMB. Here they encountered turbulent up and down currents and at one point found themselves carried along through a field of air bubbles that remained perfectly level, trapped by the tidal current, neither rising nor sinking. They flew on passing the shotline vibrating furiously in the strong current. On the surface Andy and Kev saw Andy’s SMB hit the surface then immediately take off speeding across the surface as it was pulled along by the tide.

Whilst completing their safety stops, Richard at one point found himself being pulled downwards requiring a rapid inflate of air into his wing to counteract the down current. They surfaced to find a sea that was no longer glass like and smooth but had been whipped up into a cauldron by the current. Even the sky had turned grey and threatening.

Happy and elated by the excitement of the dive, the trio climbed back aboard Seawitch. Kit was quickly stowed and after a bit of a struggle the shotline was recovered despite the best efforts of the tide to pull the buoys under the water.

Seawitch then headed over to the Crumtone for the next dive.

Here the plan was to dive the Crumstone wall on the south side of the reef, which when sea conditions allow, usually offers some shelter from the flood tide.

Diving in two waves, both groups experienced exciting encounters with the resident population who appeared to be totally un-afraid of visiting divers and throughout the dives we were continually buzzed by several seals pulling repeatedly on our fins, as well as giving a dazzlingly display of their agility in the water.

There was such an array of seals swimming and playing in the water it was impossible to keep track of how many there were or where they were, when suddenly a tug on the fin would reveal a seals position!  One seal pup in particular took an interest in Kev and Andy and continually swam close in to investigate.

Others rested on the seabed or on ledges on the reef, seemingly happy to patiently pose for photographs, with one even rolling over as it’s picture was being taken!

The clear water and the scenic nature of the steep submarine cliffs covered in a rich covering of soft corals also made for a superb end to a fantastic and exciting days diving.

 

 

Thanks to Andy Hunt for organizing this club outing.

 

Dive team:

Andy & Fiona Hunt

Richard Booth

Andy Moss

Kev Thompson