Wrecks and Seals – Diving in the Farnes

12th August 2007

With the launch facilities reopened at Beadnel under new management, it seemed a good time for a trip out to the Farnes.

The first pleasant surprise was that the launch fee, including tractor launch and recovery has dropped in price to £20.

Parking in the council run car park however is still expensive at £4.40 per day. If using the launch facilities for the first time remember to bring a copy of your boats current insurance certificate. The form will be copied onto a data base thus negating the need to bring it along again, if further uses of the launch facilities are planned in the remainder of the season.

Once safely launched and with the outboard happily firing on all cylinders, the clubs RIB Sea Witch powered its way out through the gentle swell out towards the distant Farne Islands.

A brisk south Easterly breeze however limited the range of dive sites available for safe diving. In the end we opted for the outside of the Longstone wall, just around the corner of the reef known as the Hopper. The chosen area was reasonably protected from the swell, although some tidal current was anticipated. This particular dive site is noted for the dramatic and extremely scenic gullies that cut through the reef with the added possibility of good seal encounters.

The underwater visibility looking down from the surface also looked very promising and indeed we were not to be disappointed after we rolled back into the water and began the descent down the face of the wall.

The tidal current in this area can also prove to be quite unpredictable for one moment you can be happily drifting in the current only to find yourself unexpectedly back into one of the narrow gullies that cut through the reef in this area. This apparent abundance of current however has also resulted in rich marine growth along some of the reef walls making for a very pretty scenic dive.

Within minutes of entering the water however we were ‘buzzed’ by inquisitive seals. A short while later we drifted onto a sandy bottom were a number of divers were waiting patiently kneeling on the sand as if lost in silent prayer. The reason for this strange scene soon became clear however, when on closer inspection it became apparent that a number of seals were also lying on the same area of sandy bottom staring with wide eyes at the circling divers.

With a little care it was possible to gently creep forward getting closer and closer tin an effort to obtain some decent images of these truly amazing animals. In my own case, restricted by a 10.5mm fisheye lens I had to make the effort to get really close to these seals in order to obtain a decent image.

By the time the second planned dive was due to take place, the SE swell had dropped considerably from that witnessed on this particular site earlier in the morning. Conditions looked reasonable to dive the wreck of the St Andre.

This small steam ship had originally been constructed and launched in Sunderland. At the time of her sinking however, the St Andrea was owned by a French shipping company. She was wrecked in 1908 after initially striking the Crumstone reef. Holed and taking in water she drifted on to Staple Island where she sank close to the Pinnacles. Today the wreck lies just out from the island in a fairly sheltered area. Tidal current is usually not a problem on this site. The steep underwater walls are covered in life and drop down onto a rocky bottom covered in large boulders. Search amongst these boulders and you quickly start to find the remains of rusting iron work.

We followed this debris trail down into deeper water onto the main area of wreckage which consists of an area of collapsed steel plates, the remains of the collapsed steel hull of the vessel. Nearby the remains of the ships boilers still rise proud from the wreckage. Following along the prop shaft brings you back close to the island cliffs. The remains of the propeller, minus its blades is still attached to the end of this shaft. Throughout this dive we were continually surrounded by friendly wrasse that followed us around the wreckage. Leaving these friendly fish behind, we ascended slowly back towards the surface and the waiting RIB to take us home.