Paddles with an Anas acuta...... unashamedly biased toward the sea kayak of that name (actually the voyages of two boats, one 'traffic over gold', one 'quill')

Monday, 6 August 2012

Fog in the Farne Islands

A map from Wikipedia This is from the 1947 OS map but is more useful than the current OS maps because it uses a lower chart datum and so shows more low tide rocks and reefs.
Launching from Nacker Hole, Beadnell, some 4nm south of the islands, to catch the northbound tide. The burger van in the car park around the corner opens early and the bacon and egg bap is just the ticket, we were the first customers of the day at 8.15.
 Flat calm and murky, but the islands are visible.
Paddling due north the tide carried us NW to Inner Farne. There was a back eddy along the East side and the odd small wave where the currents meet. Intending to visit all the isles,we set off for the Megstone, it seemed to be directly downtide, so we paddled straight for it. The mist came  down and we were in a white world. Keeping on our 330 degrees, we could hear seal sound ahead, then to the west, then the sound of breaking waves to the west. We followed our ears and were relieved to meet the Megstone; not visible until less than 50m away.
Extensive kelp beds to the west of the rocks deflect the tide and we could see it running due east at 2kt past the rock, the easterly set further out had pushed us off target. Thank goodness for seal song, we were pleased not to have stopped our ears, argonaut style, to avoid the siren call. Trust your compass, but use common sense as well. Our back-up plan, if no land was found in 30 minutes, of turning through 180 degrees and hoping to hit one of the larger islands wasn't needed.
Much of the rest of the day was spent on compass bearings, a 'silva type' with moving base plate and the OS map on the deck plus some guestimating of tidal flows being sufficient for on-the-water course plotting. Double checked by Liz! Once having found the small and isolated Megstone we would be unlucky to miss the larger targets of the grouped inner and outer islands. If all else failed, less than 2 hours paddling due west would bring us back to England, so we could not get very lost. A dive boat was at the Megstone doing 'diving with seals'. but the skipper had little knowledge of tidal flows, he just clicked on his gps and electronic chart and there he was.
A seal following along was often the only thing in sight, but we found The Kettle straight away by allowing for about 1kt of easterly flow between it and the Megstone. The fog was thick enough that you couldn't see Knoxes Reef from Inner Farne, only a stone's throw away. Crossing Staple Sound we allowed for between 1  and 2kt of NW bound tide. In fact we found about 1kt until Gun Rock came into view at 50m and then a strong westerly set with small standing waves to paddle through. By now the fog was lifting and we made our way around Staple, Brownsman, Wamses and Harcer to Longstone in sunshine.
After 3.5 hours paddling we were pleased to stretch our legs around the lighthouse. The planning for this trip was based on the information given by John at
We were able to thank John himself as he was picnicing at the lighthouse with his family. That's him to the right of Liz. A party from Tynemouth joined us as well, so we were a convivial group.
As we set off the fog was coming down again. The tide had turned SE bound and we estimated 1kt average to cross Staple Sound, in fact it was less than this except for a fast stream half way across. This ended in friendly overfalls just S of the Sound, but you could see that with wind and swell against the tide it would be a spot to avoid.
The sun came out from time to time, the west and southern ends of the islands are the most picturesque, whilst the flatter slopes to north and east have all the seals. Thick fog cover prevailed all the way back to the mainland with almost zero visibility at times. We paddled on 210, 40 degrees off the 170 needed for Seahouses to allow for a knot or so of tide and to keep off the track of the pleasure boats. I saw a fishing boat about 300m away and was pleased the fog was lifting. Whilst studying the speed and course of the boat, it suddenly turned into a seagull floating 10' away on the water. Beware the human brain, hot on adding 1 and 1 to make 10. The strange thing is that it doesn't even acknowledge its errors, the boat turned  seamlessly into a seagull in front of my eyes.

We hit the mainland just right, just N of Seahouses, nearly paddling into a man in thigh deep water holding hands with his son  who was waist deep. We guessed that the beach must be nearby! The foghorn at Seahouses plus the noise of the pleasure boats had given us confidence that we were on track all the way across. The mouth of Seahouses harbour was slightly worrying, we could see all the way across (30m), but not any of the boats we could hear moving. We waited for a pleasure boat to come out of the harbour, then crossed smartly on the basis that an inbound boat would instinctively turn hard to starboard and if we paddled hard ahead we could mange to avoid a collision. A boat came in out of the fog just as we were across. Now all that remained was to find Nacker Hole -not nearly as easy as we had hoped, but eventually we were on land again, and in sunshine. The fog ended at the beach.

We had seen puffins kittiwakes, shags and seals and bits and pieces of the islands. A good reason for a return trip on a clear day.

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