Sunday, 31 August 2014

St Abbs and The Farnes - 23rd-26th August 2014

by Jane

For the August Bank holiday, it was a four day trip to St Abbs and the Farnes, all of 30 miles apart but in different countries, for some relatively easy diving.

For me, it all started at about 6.00 am on the Friday, when Teresa picked me up, helped load my gear, and we set off through London, missing the worst of the rush hour traffic, arriving at our accommodation in nearby Eyemouth by mid afternoon. At which point we found that our boat (MV Shore Diver) was temporarily out of commission, with a duff engine. Fortunately, our skipper (Paul Crowe) had sorted us out a boat for the following day.  In the meantime, we fed the seals in Eyemouth Harbour and then ourselves, with a gentle meander back up the hill to our accommodation.

The forecast for the weekend was a little on the blowy side (primarily south easterly), but there are sufficient sheltered scenic sites, so that although it was a bit of a bumpy ride there and back again, the sites themselves where fairly smooth. This did, however, put the kybosh on the anticipated wreck diving on the Glanmire.

Saturday was the earliest of the starts we had at St Abbs – a small fishing village in South East Scotland, St Abbs Head being the point at which the coast of SE Scotland turns west into the Firth of Forth, and on good days you can see (and dive) Bass Rock. On this day, we were with Pete Gibson, on his boat Stingray. And a new experience for us all on loading the boats. The harbour, as with so many in the UK, is virtually dry at low tide, and there are no steps in the harbour, just the usual ladders recessed into the harbour wall. To load the boat therefore there were a couple of small derricks with ropes on which to fasten kit, and then carefully lowered on to the boat. We picked up the process quite quickly, and with people at both ends of the rope loading and unloading was faster than might have initially been thought. It also helped once the tide came in as there was less distance for everything to travel.

St Abbs is a marine reserve, with only the local fisherman in day boats being able to take anything. This means that marine life is quite prolific.  

All the dives were in the vicinity of St Abbs Head and varied between about 15 and 25 metres. The visibility was good by the standards of the usual south coast dives that we usually undertake. However, it was clear that the about 10 metre vis was considered quite poor by the locals as they kept apologising for it. 

As we were pretty much confined to the same sites, the flora and fauna were much the same throughout. While there were the familiar lobster and crab, these were by the score, particularly the lobster. Carpets of brittle stars, plus sunstars and other starfish were found. In addition to different sorts of anemone - dahlia, plumose, crabs edible and velvet, others saw wolf fish and even a conger.

Sunday was overshadowed by hearing that a diver from another boat had been lost. All the divers about to set off, including us, were asked to dive the site where he had been in case we could find him. When we arrived at the site the RNLI were already there, as were several fishing boats as well as the dive boats, and the air sea rescue helicopter joined in, unfortunately he was not found. From the little information we had though it would appear that he and his buddy had separated early in the dive and then continued their respective dives (which apparently was common practice for these two people) – which is a lesson to us all to ensure that on separation we surface promptly.

Monday the wind came up sufficiently so the planned 30 metre dive on the Glanmire didn’t happen, but a sheltered one by Pettico Wick and the other side of cove did. The swell made it too difficult to dive in the more open sea.

A bumby ride there and back, but quite calm once within the cove. A pleasant picturesque dive, with similar things that we had already seen – lots of lobster and an octopus. I spotted a multi tasking male! (crab), fighting another, presumably male, crab whilst mounted on a female crab waiting for her to moult before having his wicked way.

Tuesday, it was off to the Farnes, all of thirty miles down the road. We arrived promptly at Seahouses. There were several other boats going out, including one that seemed to be full of underwater scooters, perhaps they were going to try and keep up with the seals!

The first dive was very shallow, so shallow that Andy’s computer didn’t register that we were underwater, albeit at less than 2 metres.  We were supposed wait for the seals came to us, while we swayed with the kelp. They did eventually, but only two or three, and then very fleetingly, so we moved somewhere a bit deeper 6-7 metres and a few more came and investigated. While we were waiting we spotted a few crab, not many fish of any size, the odd sea urchin etc. After about an hour of this we surfaced. Had a bite to eat and went back in at another nearby outcrop of rock, which the seals frequented.

We then slid back to the depths of about 20m and swam partly round the island and back at about 12m, a few shrimp and crab were the main invertebrates on display as well as lobster, until the seals joined us particularly on the swim back where they decided to put on quite a display especially once we’d stopped and were considering surfacing. When an especially playful couple decide to investigate us and play with our fins, it became a shame to finish the dive, but it was captivating watching their dexterity so intimately.

Then back to Seahouses for the long drive home.

We were well looked after by the various skippers, and it was pleasing to find that they thought we were a good bunch, including the feedback from  Seahouses “Toby said that you guys were one of the best crowds he has had for a long time, and for my brother to say something says a lot, so thank you".

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