Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fantastic Farnes

Last year Ace Divers arranged a trip to the Farne Islands and I was gutted that the trip was full before I could get my name on the list.  Fortunately, another trip was arranged for this year and my name was first on the list.  The Boy started a new job this month and for a few days it looked like he might not be able to go so I was preparing myself for having to go without him.  In the end it all worked out and we were both able to go.

We headed off early on Friday morning to the harbour in Seahouses, Northumberland in search of the "big white cat" that turned out to be the Serenity II, a lovely dive boat with a diver lift - heaven! We passed Bamburgh Castle on the way.  It looked like it could give Edinburgh Castle a run for it's money.  Awesome!  Must go back and explore it some time.  When we arrived at the harbour we paid our £4 for a day's parking, assembled our scuba gear and carried it all on to the Serenity.  There was a bit more room that I'm used to on a dive boat.  I'm used to boats that are fully loaded with 12 divers but the Serenity took 15 of us and still had space for more.

As we headed out towards the Longstone / Outer Farne lighthouse one of the crew gave me a bit of the background and history of the area.  There are a lot of sea birds in the area but, for divers, it's probably most famous for it's seal population.  We could see the odd seal popping it's head above the water on the journey. It didn't take too long to reach our destination and soon we were all kitted up and ready to jump in.  I was in a buddy team with The Boy and Niall so the three of us did our deep water entries off the lift for our first dive.  Niall was so busy protecting his camera that he forgot to hold his mask.  I got to the bottom and realised I'd left my dive computer on the boat.  On any other dive that could have been a big problem but we knew that to see the seals we had to stay shallow so it was just annoying not having it.  Ironically Niall's camera housing flooded as soon as he got to the bottom so no photos for him.

It didn't take long for the first seals to appear.  I think there were maybe 3 or 4 of them, but they were very playful and interactive.

That's me in the bottom left corner:

 They loved The Boy's white Seawings:

They were all juvenile seals and, like any human baby, they explore by having a nibble.  You swim along looking for seals and suddenly you feel like you're kicking something with your fin. You turn round to look and find there's a seal attached to one of your fins.

Black Seawings were nearly as popular as white. Niall having his fins nibbled:

This one was heading for me:

I couldn't work out what it was doing but apparently it was nibbling my hood.  I think it liked the white logo:

The Boy managed to coax them in quite close:

At one point Niall and I had to try and hold The Boy down and manhandle his integral weights back into place after they tried to part company with him.  Thankfully we managed to avoid a rapid ascent.  Eventually we made a deliberate ascent to get back on board the cat.  The skipper tied up on one of the islands while we had lunch in a calm little bay and the crew made us tea and coffee.

After a reasonable surface interval, we got kitted up for dive number 2.  I made sure I took my dive computer this time.  The tide was coming in so the skipper dropped us in the shelter of some rocks and told us to stay behind them out of the current.  We were also advised to drop down straight away rather than waiting for the whole buddy team to get into the water before descending.  That dive was a bit of a weird experience.  Most of the dive took place at a depth of between 3 and 5 metres, so almost the whole dive was a safety stop. What was weird was the washing machine effect of the current.We could all feel ourselves being moved back and forth in the surge but we were in the middle of a kelp forest which was also moving in the surge.  Unfortunately, the kelp wasn't moving the same way as we were so the whole effect felt extremely odd and, for the first time, I felt sea sick under the water.  The cause of the sea-sickness:

There were a lot more seals this time but they weren't as interactive as the ones we saw on the first dive.  We would come across each other swimming through the kelp:

The seals in action:

This one was vertical in the water, nose to lens with the camera housing:

Eventually we called it a day and decided to surface.  The Boy inflated his SMB to show the boat where we were and we started to ascend.  Then he turned round and showed me a reel with a broken line and no SMB attached.  Fortunately I had my own SMB and reel so I inflated my SMB and we ascended to the surface.  The Boy was not amused at losing his SMB.  The boat picked us up and we scanned the sea for something bright orange and horizontal (as an SMB with a diver attached below it would be vertical) and ..... we found it!  The skipper took the boat round and picked up the escaped SMB so The Boy could smile again.  At least now he only needs to buy a new line, not an SMB and line.

We counted heads on the boat, decided we were still a few divers short, and went in search of SMBs again.  There were a few dive boats in the area, not to mention quite a few curious seals on the surface, so it was a bit of a challenge deciding from a distance which heads belonged to divers rather than seals and which ones were our divers.  Happily, we found everyone fairly quickly and got them all back on board.

We all had a great day.  Thank you to Martin for another fantastic diving trip.


  1. Love the seals Maggie....must be a wonderful experience to meet them in their natural environment :)

  2. Pat, it was awesome. I'd go back tomorrow.