Looking back on my first Farnes trip.

Searching for the briefing notes for this years Farnes trip I unearthed this report from 2003. Brings back a few memories…

##Farnes Diary 2003

###Jun 30th 2003

Get to work, open email – ooh, another one for me (and 79 other people) from the dive club – “Two places have become available for the Farnes weekend ..”

I experience the self-same feeling all those women feel on Sale day at Harrods. Elbows out, don’t care about anyone else. Quick, email back – three words. “I want one”.

Afterwards, I feel a little ashamed for the speed of my response. But hey, I’m a bsac diver – don’t I look after myself? Then, in a fit of charity, I email my regular dive buddy. Perhaps he’ll want to come too?

For those of you who can’t understand my enthusiasm, this isn’t just another dive trip – The Farne Islands are one of those locations that the ‘dived everywhere in Britain’ mob drop into the conversation just to make sure you know how far down you are on the diving ladder –Scapa has it’s wrecks, but the big attraction for the Farnes are its seals.

The grey seals, and for that matter the whole Farnes area, have enjoyed government protection for ages now, and it is now a kind of nature reserve. This has made it one of the premier UK diving locations, and divers can get an idea what things might be like if there were no fishing or lobster pots around our shores.

To cut a long, boring story into a short boring story. I got the place, I dived the Farnes and now I’m writing this report in a Bridget Jones sort of a way to fill a page in the venerable OK newsletter.

But before I jump forward a couple of months, bare in mind that this isn’t the only account of the goings on for the weekend. There are two stories to tell you see: There’s the diving, and then there’s the debauchery, the scandal and the sex. For the latter (more salacious) story you will need to refer to Irena Webster’s forthcoming account: more Jackie Collins than Bridget Jones I think.

###Day One – Friday.

We load kit and people onto a bus called ‘Parkhurst’.

Inmates for the journey were: Len and son Matthew, Paul and Lesley, Cynthia, Sue, Rob and myself – Oh, and Jacqui who organised the whole shebang.

We left at 9.15am and eventually arrived in “Seahouses” about twelve hours later.

Most of the journey time was spent playing a game called “mumbly” A game with seemingly no rules, and a requirement for drinking whatever unwanted alcohol was left in the bottom of everyone’s respective cocktail cabinets. Needless to say, on arrival everyone was well and truly ‘mumbled’

###Day Two – Saturday.

Two more club members join us at our cottage in the form of Guy and Tony – Lone road warriors for whom, the delights of ‘Parkhurst’ and Absinth like liquors were a temptation to be resisted.

A routine is soon set that sets the trend for the weekend: Get up, down a coffee, fry breakfast and manufacture the day’s sandwiches. Then a brisk walk down to the harbour to meet up with our boat,.

Our boat is a catamaran called ‘Wavedancer 2’. Len drives the kit down. We get stuff onto the boat. Same old, same old.

The islands can be seen from the shore. They only stand a couple of feet above the sea, and this has inevitably made them a danger to shipping. There is a sizeable lighthouse standing proud from one of the islands doing it’s best to prevent any further additions to the local wreck diving opportunities.

I seem to recall a recent television documentary that stated that the Farnes area was the location of the first lifeboat service. I also recall that this early service was on a pay-as-you-need basis. Meaning that ‘customers’ would have to pay-up before being rescued from whatever perils they faced. Be warned though, I haven’t put any research into this, so I may have dreamed it.

The skipper and his mate seem very friendly. However, I honestly can’t be sure. It takes a while to appreciate how distorted the English language becomes as you travel north. However, by the end of the week I did get to know the difference between ‘the groond’ and ‘the watah’ – ‘Why eye man’.

As the boat trundles out of the harbour as everyone starts to attach thousands of pounds of scuba paraphernalia to tanks. And, within minutes, we have a crisis – Jacqui announces that she may have a bad air fill. And, thirty seconds later, Cynthia joins the party.

I immediately take on an air of superiority, and volunteer to test the air from their respective tanks. At the time I felt that I had the right to act like an insufferable know-it-all as I had been inconvenienced during the preceding week by an email from Dave Tressider.

In his email Mr T explained that all air fills at the club from such-and-such a date to such-and-such another date were likely to be contaminated. Back then I took the precautionary measure of draining my tanks (something that seems to take forever) and get them re-filled. Something that Jacqui chose not to do with her tanks.

By god, you should have tasted it – an unpalatable cocktail of oil and smoke. I am pretty sure that you could see the air as it as we drained it away.

All was not lost though. The diving for the first day was to be a sedate affair, and those who had big tanks and who were good on gas could easily use one tank for the two dives.

My first dive illustrated perfectly why it was worth trawling up the M1 for twelve hours. No sooner did Rob and myself get oriented on the bottom (at about 12m) than the first seal rolled in to take a look at us with its big doe eyes. Nothing quite prepared us for the experience. I’m no poet, but it could only be described as magical. The animals that you see on the rocks, blobbing along like giant limbless Labradors are not the same as the supremely graceful sub aquatic predators you see beneath the waves. We marvelled at their effortless buoyancy control, and laughed (uh, oh, mask-flood time) as juveniles nuzzled and playfully bit our fins.

Seemingly in no time at all, our agreed hour was up, and we headed back to the surface to face a group bollocking from Jacqui.

“This, from someone who didn’t check her kit” I mumbled to no one in particular as Missis H came down from her high horse. Well, to be fair to Jacqui, we can’t have looked like the most professional of outfits – Apparently, it took over 45 minutes from the time the first pair of divers did their giant stride until the last pair shuffled towards the gunnels and plopped into the drink.

“A bloody shambles…” bemoaned Jacqui as we opened our cheese sandwiches.

Next dive we were all kitted up and ready before the boat was at the dive site.

Rob and myself saw no seals this time, but had a pleasurable scenic excursion around one of the smaller islands. There were masses of soft corals and festoons of brittlestars. Yes, brittlestars do come in festoons – and that is something to behold, I can tell you.

So that was that. The diving was over for the day.

On a trip like this, we all get given jobs to do, and it was my lot to be in charge of filling tanks. It’s not the best job in the world. But that’s what you get for being a smug little git when the dive marshal has a bad fill.

So, with this responsibility on my shoulders it became my distinction to be able to sample the worst service in the land. And, in England, that’s saying something.

I don’t want to be done for libel so I won’t name names here. Suffice it to say that over the long weekend the staff at the filling station treated me with all the rudeness, sarcasm and appalling customer care that can only be tolerated because, in the Farnes, there is only one place to fill your tanks. I am honestly not exaggerating, and as I write I can feel my blood pressure starting to rise and my spit turning black.

But, I digress…

We were scheduled to dive a wreck for the first dive on the next say. And for dive two, seals.

###Day Three – Sunday. The day after the night before.

During the night I learned quite a bit about Paul Eyden that will serve as excellent bribe material on my return. I expect to have a police escort to and from the clubhouse each Thursday from now on – My bread is well and truly buttered.

Although I am leaving all the sex and gossip to Irena to elaborate on, I can’t start today’s account without making some reference to the unexpected lunar sighting that Jacqui visited on the diners in the restaurant during the night. And, while speaking in her own defence she proclaimed, in a line that still makes me wince with its unintentional double entendre, “I just don’t know what came over me last night. Oh, except for those five black Russians”

The wreck dive was aborted. For some unfathomable reason we didn’t manage to get to the boat on time, so we had a couple of fantastic scenic dives instead: More brittlestar festoons, lobsters the size of cars, and lots of blobby things sticking to rocks. The seals didn’t visit Rob and myself, however everyone else said they that they saw them, and of course, they were so much better than the day before.

Apparently we could plan to do the wreck dive the next day if we set off at 7am – so in the quickest vote in history we decided to give it a miss.

###Day Four – Monday

Monday’s diving was postponed for a while as the skipper expertly manoeuvred the boat onto a sand bar in the middle of the harbour. We were stuck fast for an hour and a half as we waited patiently for the tide to come in and float our boat.

The skipper spent most of the of his time hiding from the harbourmaster, who for his part spent his time trying to make sure that the skipper could hear his jibes: ‘Yoove roon agroond. Yoo need wataah” etc.

This delay, and the imminent onset of a special Lifeboat fair that was to take over the entire harbour area, meant that we were only able to have one dive that day. But to my mind it was the best dive of the weekend.

The first part of the dive was a slow bimble around scenic gullies, taking in walls of purple rocks covered with soft corals. This alone would have been a satisfying dive. But, after about forty minutes we came across a seal seemingly resting at the bottom of a twenty-metre deep gully. We watched it for some minutes, as it tilted its head this way and that looking quizzically at us. Inevitably the seal either got bored, or needed a breath of air. It swam gracefully towards the surface. On checking our computers, we decided it was time for us to follow suit and ascended to what must rank as the best safety stop you could imagine.

At about six metres, the rock gave way to a kelpy forest. Inevitably visibility was reduced somewhat, but seals could be seen bombing in and out of the kelp and down to the sea bed in a display that prompted us to do a really, really safe, safety stop and stay for a quarter of an hour – Brilliant.

###Day Five – Tuesday: Pack up and go home.

In an oversight, we managed to leave all our wet dive kit on the seats of the minibus overnight. As I write, Terry is using a second hairdryer to try and dry them out. The first one overheated an hour ago.

This trip has been excellent. And, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jacqui for all the organising.

I now learn that Jacqui organises this trip each year and she has boats chartered for five more years yet – ensuring that this particular long weekend will be part of the club calendar for years to come.

I would encourage anybody in the club to dive the Farnes and get a taste of some fantastic UK diving. The wildlife on show is amongst the most spectacular that I have witnessed and conditions are suitable for all levels of diver.

If only it was a bit nearer to home though. Oh well, only another twelve hours to go.