Loch Leven at Longstone

What with Saturday being as forecast it was good to wake up early on Sunday to relatively calm conditions and then rush up to Seahouses to get Calypso out from Fluke Hole and onto the harbour wall!

Whilst on Saturday it was ‘wild’ on Sunday morning the weather was quite settled, which was forecast, what wasn’t forecast was that conditions would slowly deteriorate with quite a large swell picking up by mid-afternoon, but that is later!

Heading out I was thinking about where we could easily get in, ideally from a moored boat, mooch around and head back, it can be a bit of a pain handling Calypso when the spine ladder is out and whilst you have good vis when looking for divers from Mhara Mor or another hard dive boat the range of vision from a RIB or Calypso is more limited. This along with one of the divers bailing out meant that I really wanted a dive with a circular route.

I did fancy Gun Rock, but we had a four meter tide and there was a nasty swell which would have made sitting in the boat a little uncomfortable, the site would have been ideal, plenty of rust to look at then drop down into the Sound and pick up some scallops before heading back, either the way you came or around the inside of the site between the rock and Brownsman. If you take this second route keep an eye open for small clams. There are loads of them and they make a great addition to your seafood dishes.

With the tide pushing a bit much to make the edge of the Harcars adjacent to The Wamses an option I finally decided on a dip at the North East corner of Longstone on the wreckage that is what’s left of SS Loch Leven. In common with most wrecks which are ‘on’ the Farne Islands there isn’t much that you can find that would make a nice trinket but that’s not to say that everything has gone, from this wreck I have the brass letter O from the nameplate which I picked up a couple of years ago, I have also picked up a brass room name plate from Abessinia on Knifestone plus a brass and oak tut from a cask of McEwans Ale which was brewed in 1911 from SS Britannia on Crumstone.

Right, after a little pre-amble the visibility, well today it was bloody good, probably in the 10m to 12m range, certainly it was this sort of value horizontally and at the deepest part of the dive in 14m of water you could see the surface, so excellent vis, unaffected by the spot of bad weather the day before.

The plan on this site is easy, a top of the tide slack water dive on a big hard-boat or anytime on a small boat which is able to trim up the engine to get over the reeflet that is maybe twenty meters from Longstone and makes navigation easy as you have a channel to follow in and out from the wreckage.

When you are swimming along this channel there are frequently lobsters in the cracks and fissures on Longstone but today we had no such luck, not that it mattered overly as I had left my tools back at base, so unless there was a fiend or crab out in the open I would have to leave it alone. On this ‘swim along’ there is a particular hole which tends to be the home of a monster lobster but today there was no one is residence, I am not sure if the latest inhabitant has been taken and eaten, or if it was maybe a dozen yards further along the ‘swim along’ getting stuck into a dead seal. As another aside I never pick up crabs and lobsters from dead seals as cleaning them is a really stinky job with part digested, half rotten seal dropped everywhere, nice.

Along the swim through I also picked up a very corroded dive tank, so corroded that there were a couple of holes in the side of the tank and the valve was missing, I guessed that the tank failed at the valve and blew off the valve along with any regulators and the like. At the time I thought that it had simply been lost from a dive boat but talking about it I was reminded that a few years ago a diver ‘went missing’ when he was carrying out his deco stop at around six meters on a site called Northern Hares which is perhaps fifty yards from where the tank was found. The tank was too corroded to see the serial number so we shall never know if the tank belonged to the lost and dead diver or simply dropped overboard from a RIB that was going a bit sharp and hit some nasty tide swell on the corner of Longstone.

You start seeing odd bits of rusty stuff on the bottom on and in-among the rocks before reaching the main wreckage from Loch Leven which is a large lump of steel and spar which rises matbe two or three meters from the bottom, along with some plate and wooden decking which is jammed against the vertical rock-wall of Longstone.

There was certainly more of the wreckage there but the bottom had a covering of sugar kelp meaning that you simply couldn’t see anything that wasn’t sticking up a foot or two, it also meant that I couldn’t spend any real time grubbing around in the cobbley area looking for another letter! I am sure that they are there, jammed ‘tween or under rocks, it just needs time and effort to dig ‘em out. The loan of a metal detector set to brass only would help and I know where one is that I may be able to scrounge, but in common with many things……that’s a job for next year.

The wall here shows evidence of the tidal nature of the corner, with large amounts of orange and white dead-mans fingers on the vertical surface, where they have a level of protection against sea-urchins and there’s a topic.

My buddy for the weekend, Cam, is a forager and during the dive he picked up an urchin, it was from near the wreck so it had a wee orange tinge so not one which I would have picked up, but hey. He plans to eat seaid sea-urchin and having done this some years ago I gave him so sage advice, that’s to say don’t! On its own served on toast or similar sea-urchin roe is at best an acquired taste, I thought it was ghastly, but and it’s a big but the Ancient Diver has been known to ‘melt’ sea-urchin roe onto paellla where it gives the rice a fishy/salty taste which is quite nice.

The wall here tends, or at least usually has a few edible crabs hanging about, but even though quite large they can be very difficult to find as they hang on to the orange dead mans fingers, once we had gone passed the wreck and were heading back I spent some serious time looking for a reasonable size and accessible crab with no luck. Sure we found a big lobster in one of those holes that goes back into the island ‘forever’ and there were quite a few crabs in among the rocks, cobbles and boulders at the foot of the wall, but as I say with no implements I wasn’t going to risk my delicate fingers. I did try my luck with the lobster using a bit of kelp but he wasn’t overly aggressive so headed deep into the hole rather than come out fighting, oh well.

There were a couple of young Ballan Wrasse in one of the vertical chimneys, since neither seemed to have the bright blue edging to their fins I would hazard to say that they were just ‘hanging around’ and not a breeding pair that had a nest somewhere in the chimney, oddly enough that was about it on the ‘big fish’ front, I expected to see some Saithe and Pollack on the corner where you have a split of tides but I couldn’t see any, sure there were some small codling, in the six to eight inch range along with sea-scorpions and other micro-species but not a head of predators which I really expected to see, perhaps they were just the other side of the mini-reeflet?

Bimbling back to the boat I was again struck by the amount of Furbellows Phacophyta that has sprung up all around the area, to the detriment of the usual kelp. I am sure that the root ball offers similar protection to that offered by normal kelp and that the fronds offer the same security to fish as normal kelp its just the bloody stem and how difficult that it is to bend that has me concerned as it will be much harder to go ‘kelp bashing’ to find lost fishing weights, although that said this new kelp seems ‘more robust’ so there should be more weights to find. A few years ago I did some dives with English Heritage looking at weed species and this was one of the sites we visited, at the time there was none of this species at the site and when we did find a small patch the lady from English Heritage was quite excited.

Heading around thinking about a second dive it was noticeable that the swell had picked up making my ear-marked dip at Gun Rock impractical, the low tide meant that Snowdonia and Brownsman was an option but that dive is a very acquired taste as you are looking for bits and bats rather than large items, so we set the bow the Seahouses and had a steady motor back, and yes the swell inshore was quite bad and we did a bit of surfing on it, no waves breaking but two and odd three meter waves and no a very big gap between them meaning that there was no ‘good’ way of getting inshore, but we did with no damage to life or limb.

It's approaching ‘that’ time of year again and whilst its forecast flat for the first part of the week the gods of the winds are blowing up for the weekend with a swell of eight feet forecast, it won’t ruin the vis out at the Islands but it is all down-hill from here. If you are out and about on boats this coming weekend please make sure that you……..

Dive safe


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