Kelp forest 2023

Gun Rocks - 2023 Update

The pile of three cannon

The late summer season can often be the best time to dive the Farne Islands. We did this dive on the 3rd September 2023.  Most people are focussed on the seals, but the weather can be kind, the sea calm and like today, blue sky and sunshine. The water temperature was about 14c too, which is great for a nice long dive in a dry suit! 

Although advertised as a club dive, there was just me and Tiago; so we planned to have a very chilled day onboard Glad Tidings. As we headed out to the islands I could see that we were on an ebb-tide. So I jokingly said to Michael, shame we can’t dive Gun Rocks, it has been 9 months since we last dived there. Oh yes you can, came the reply. 

So in all these years, I have always thought that the ebb tide swept the rocks, meaning that you couldn’t dive them. But it appears that due to the reef that runs from the rocks, south towards the southern end of Staple Sound, the south north ebb tide is in fact deflected away from Gun Rocks, leaving a large calm eddy! I just can’t believe I never realised this. It means that the site is now diveable at nearly all states of the tide, with care. 

Where are the cannon? Too much kelp

So Michael expertly reversed GT7 up to Gun Rocks, with the tide ripping up Staple Sound, but as he predicted, the site itself was calm, no tide at all. We jumped in and went down to see the cannon, our old friends, each one we know…. erm hang on, where are they? 

After an embarrassed 10 minutes of swimming around getting our bearings we finally found the first cannon. Recognised it then we were able to work out where the rest were.

It really is amazing how quickly kelp regrows and recovers. The site had quite a few different types of kelp, but notably, a lot of the upstanding kelp like Laminaria hyperborea and Saccorhiza polyschides, but now there is a lot of sugar kelp Saccharina latissima, lying over the seabed, covering all of the cannon. 

After a bit of sign language between me and Tiago, we decided to start clearing the kelp off some of the cannon, so we could check that they were still there, and make them easier to find for the other divers. 

Tiago cleaning kelp off one of the cannon
It isn't just kelp that lives on the cannon

You can see from the pictures above that the cannon were well covered with life. Sea weeds, urchins, crabs and lots of other like. The yellow blobs you can see aren’t sponges, they are the “holdfasts” of the kelp, the one with little legs is that of forest kelp Laminaria hyperborea, and the ones with the knobbles are the holdfasts of furbellows Saccorhiza polyschides. Sadly no octopus this time, but lots of crabs and a few lobsters. 

So after cleaning off about seven cannon, and realising that there really was no current running, we decided to go to the edge of the rock, just before it drops off from 8m depth, down in to the sound. We finned west, looking down to see if we could find the outlier cannon, that sits on the edge, sadly we didn’t see it, but as we popped our heads out of the kelp above the drop off, we realised that there was still no current….. so we headed in to the sound. 

Hydroids and dead man's fingers in the sound.

The dive west from Gun Rocks, up the reef that forms part of Staple Sound was lovely, very calm with no current at all and about 8-10 metres of visibility. We saw so many dead man’s fingers, hydroids and anemones, some with such beautiful colours. 

Tiago being watched on the surface!

Between the rocks we found large horse mussels, and the odd scallop (shh, don’t tell anyone). The holes and gaps between the rocks are all guarded by various species of squat lobster, and many many prawns.  

Just to add even more colour, the scorpion fish were looking great too, red, brown and various other combinations. I often wonder if they are slightly chameleon like and can change colour depending on substrate and mood…. who knows?

After 60 minutes, we decided it was time to come up, so deployed the DSMB, and ascended gently up to our 3 minutes safety stop at 6 metres, then up to the surface, to be greeted by two grey seals, sunshine and a large mug of tea onboard Glad Tidings. A great first dive of the day! But for this blog, the only dive I am going to write about. 🙂

Gun Rocks 2022

The first dive of the season has been undertaken on Gun Rocks, by four BSAC divers, from our club rhib. The intention of the dive was to remove the kelp from the cannon (under the MMO licence for the site) and to remove the dive trail rope, which we noted last year had been storm damaged.

Spring is here, the birds are back!

The forecast was for a bit of swell, with the wind getting up in the afternoon. This was a weekend of spring tides, so we couldn’t launch until after 10am, by which time there was sufficient water in the harbour for us.

Gun Rocks can be dived on a flood tide, as the rock itself shelters the diver from the tide. That said, it does create a large eddy, so if you stray from the shelter of the rock you will very rapidly end up in Holland! Shelter for kitting up can easily be sought by motoring in between gun rock and Staple Island, but minding the shallow reef which runs across its entrance to the south.

On arrival we kitted up, cameras, knives and scrubbing brushes at the ready!

The cannon in the gully with the remnants of the dive trail attached

As soon as we descended, we found that the visibility was about 2-3 metres, it is always less in the kelp. Out came the knives and we started to uncover the cannon, 14 in all. The kelp growth was quite thick on some of them, though the surrounding area looked like the winter storms had cleared the more mobile cobbles of their usual kelp forest.

But had this uncovered anything else? Past reports had been made of timbers on the site following strong storm surges, but no one has ever photographed them.

Tiago clearing away the sand from the timbers

Well the answer was an exciting yes! Tiago was photographing the pile of concreted cannon balls that I had just cleared of kelp, when he saw some dark objects on the seabed. He then started clearing the sand and cobbles, to reveal a set of timbers. They had regular round holes in them, some joints wood and metal, and appeared to be very old. We took as many photographs as we could….

One of the timbers being uncovered
Timber showing signs of a joint and a round hole
Line of evenly spaced round holes in the timber
Small knife for scale showing two more circles
Cannon now cleared of kelp

As the weather was starting to change, we decided only to do the one dive. The wind was increasing, and since it was wind against tide, so too was the wave height. A very wet slightly bumpy trip back to harbour.

Now we are all just excited about finding out more… will the timbers help us to age and possibly identify the wreck more clearly? All very interesting questions. We have already contacted our Archaeologist, and hope that we can revisit the site soon to find out more.

As a final note, we have now removed the diver trail and marker buoy, but hope to reinstate both before the main summer season. The rope is lead lined, so should sit on the bottom for a few years. The marker buoy however has a habitat of going AWOL every year; something I would like to prevent, as it just adds to the plastic junk in the sea….

Sword hilts and COVID-19

Grey Seal - Farne Islands

What a strange year it has been. Back in early March, the intention had been to rearrange the trail slightly to make a circular route around the cannon, to reinstall the shot for the start of the trail (the buoy washed away in November 2019!); and to do some metal detecting. But alas, none of that has happened in 2020.

During lockdown however, research has continued and emails have been exchanged. In April I received an interesting email via this website saying that they had dived the site with their dad many years ago and still had a sword hilt.

Andrews message read: Hi there I have a preserved sword handle that I found on the rocks my father’s friend dived the rocks in in the late 60s and 70s and found sword handles; however, not preserved as the one I found with my dad.  The one we found is brass and still has remnants of wood inside, it’s sphere shaped and has a square hole where a n end piece of the sword would have finished. He very kindly supplied a photograph of the sword hit too.

Brass sword hilt found on Gun Rocks in the 1970s

So fingers crossed, and here’s to 2021 being more of a normal year, so that work can continue and we can done some more mapping and metal detecting!

Gun Rocks in Scuba Magazine

Scuba Magazine front coer

The British Sub-Aqua Club’s magazine – Scuba, features a monthly article called “get wrecked”. The article provides a dive tour of a different wreck each month. For December’s issue, Gun Rocks was featured. It was a really good excuse to filter through all of the photographs that have been taken to date and to draw a new more fun map of the dive trail too!

The map took more time than the words for the article, as it has been drawn to scale and includes additional information such as the location of the octopus and other critters. A copy of the hand drawn map can be seen below. This was then taken by the illustrators at TRMG and made in to the map that was provided in the article…

Gun Rocks Map by Nic Faulks 2019

To see a copy of the article just click HERE. If you are in a local North East dive club then you may recognise a few people in the photographs. For some it was their first ever snapshot in Scuba.

As the dive season is starting again, we hope to get the marker back out on to the Gun Rocks site, by the first weekend in May. Earlier if the weather looks good. At the same time as putting the marker buoy back, we will also check the trail is in place and cut back the kelp. If anyone out there wants to help with this, then do let me know – just use the contact form on this website.

Dutch Cannon in Sri Lanka

Dutch Cannon

On a recent work trip to Sri Lanka, I found some time to go and have a look at a former Portuguese fort in the district town of Batticaloa. This fort has quite a bit of history to it, but best of all are the cannon on display.

The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1628. It was then captured by the Dutch on 18 May 1638. From 1745 on wards, the fort was used by the British, before being returned to Sri Lanka when they left in 1948.

The fort has a structure of four bastions and is protected by the Batticaloa Lagoon on two sides and a canal on the other two sides. The fort is still in reasonable condition and currently houses several local administrative departments of the Sri Lanka government in new buildings, which are located within the old structure.

Cannon with Dutch East India Company Mark

The cannon with stands at the entrance to the fort has a Dutch East India mark on it. Although not exactly like the cannon on Gun Rocks, it is very similar. The Featured photo for this blog also shows the Dutch cannon, full length. Elsewhere in the fort is a British cannon, which looks very different, See below.

British Cannon
A British cannon in Batticaloa Fort

August, what are you doing?

11 August 2019

Yesterday, today and tomorrow we had planned to go and dive on Gun Rocks, to sort out the trail, cut back the kelp and possibly add in a new section of rope. But alas, the weather gods have not been fair to us. Due to the works on the pier at Seahouses, the rhib has to be launched at Beadnell, off the beach by tractor. But when the forecast is for a 1.5 – 2m swell, this option becomes a little less favourable.

So it is with a heavy heart that we had to cancel the weekend of diving. Instead the days have been spent updating this and the Tyneside BSAC 114 website as well as catching up on other admin tasks.

Ken Crow from NORFED has been in touch and has provided us with some footage from the 1970s, with Peter Lumley diving Gun Rocks. Apparently the uploaded clip is only a short section of a longer movie, put together by members of Bradford BSAC. The clip can be found on the media page. Ken is going to contact Bradford BSAC on hour behalf, to inquire about the longer film.

The ongoing hope is that we can get out and do some metal detecting on the cannon site, before the season ends. Fingers crossed!

2019 Trail Clearing in Progress

Simon cleaning kelp from the cannon

A team of intrepid divers set out on the 26th May 2019 in the rhib to visit Gun Rocks to clear the trail, install the marker buoy and check the trail ropes. The forecast wasn’t the best, but we hoped to get at least one dive in before the wind built up. In addition to which, the tide would be on the ebb most of the day, but with an early arrival, the site should be diveable. The ebb tide runs south to north, so the rocks of Gun Rocks do not shelter the site from the current. Flood or slack is the best time to dive the site, however needs must. 

We arrived at the site on high tide, all rocks covered, but were able to shot the main site. Descending down the line with the new buoy in tow, Simon tied it in so there is now a new shot (with a can on top) marking the site. The previous one washed off last year. The site was looking so overgrown, it took a bit of time to get our bearings. How fast the kelp grows, its unbelievable! So out came our knives, just to take the kelp off the cannon, so they can be seen, and a little bit from either side of the trail lines. 

Andy, Fiona and Andy getting ready to go diving.

The trail remained intact all winter. The blue rope is now quite faded, but still can be seen on the seabed. Hopefully now, after a full and frantic hour of trail clearing, it will  be much clearer to see and easier to follow. More work is needed though, those pesky kelp plants (Saccharina latissima, Laminaria hyperborea, Laminaria digitata and Saccorhiza polyschides) do grow quite rapidly and had already covered most surfaces (stone and metal).

By the time we came up and back on to the rhib, the tide had quickened and the swell increased. This meant that the second wave of divers could not dive Gun Rocks, to continue the clean up. Instead we sought shelter along the cliffs and the three divers were dropped on to the St Andre – a great all weather wreck dive. 

Unfortunately, the problem we have now is that my car has died, so I have had to get a new one,  small enough not to get “done” by the upcoming clean ear charge in Newcastle. So basically it has no tow bar and couldn’t tow the rhib anyway. Hmm, what to do? For now, this means that the trail will remain as is, until we can return to finish the kelp removal, and as i have hoped to do in August, get some metal detecting done on the site, to see what else lies down there. Unless someone with a tow bar on their car wants to help us…..

Carl and Melissa visit the Finspång museum in Sweden

In October 2018 two of our club members, Melissa and Carl went over to Sweden to visit Carl’s family, while there, they went to visit the Finspång museum to find out more about where some of the cannon  found on Gun Rocks were made. While there they met a very friendly museum guide, who gave them many facts and figures about the cannon. For a summary of this information read on… amply illustrated with some lovely photographs!

The Finspång Foundry

The first industries were established in Finspång in 1580 when a factory for cannon and cannon balls was chartered. The industry was to continue for 300 years. The Finspång foundry was one of the largest in Sweden, originally owned by the royal family; but in 1618, the foundry was gifted to Dutch nobleman and merchant Louis De Geer. He and his descendants continued to run the foundry for the next few hundred years and shipped cannons all over Europe. The cannons were sent to The Netherlands for distribution by sea, a potential explanation as to why Swedish cannons were found on a Dutch ship.

Cannon similar to those at Gun Rocks

Above is a model cannon, of similar type to those found at gun rocks. Do note the ‘ears’ also known as trunnions, on the side of the cannon. These are used to mount it, and allow it to pivot up and down while on its mount. This cannon was designed for use on land. It has wheels so can be moved around. 

Cannon without trunnions

The picture above is of a specifically designed marine grade cannon. Note the lack of ears or trunnions on the side. For cannon which were stationary and used on ships, they often were made without trunnions/ears. This was usually to save space on the crowded deck. In addition, as these cannon would be stationary on deck, their mounts have no wheels.

Cannon for use on sea and land

The two images above show a cannon made in the same foundry, with ears or trunnions for mounting. Also note the notch on the back which means the cannon could be used both on land and at sea. For use at sea, the notch would be used to secure a rope. This would prevent the cannon rolling back from recoil, if it was mounted with wheels.

The small museum

The museum in the foundry

Gun Rocks presentation at NAS 2018 Conference

Over the two  days, attendees at the Nautical Archaeology Society 2018 Conference presented a multitude of fascinating presentations from individuals and groups, highlighting the  recent innovations and ground-breaking work being undertaken in the field of maritime archaeology, and updating members with fascinating finds and incredible projects. I learned about a range of projects being undertaken across the UK, with much emphasis on recording data, to enable retrieval and access by interested parties, using the internet.

One project which really stood out is the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War project by the Maritime Archaeology Trust. They have created a huge data-base, with lots of wreck information in it. The project funding is coming to a close, but it would be brilliant if the data-base could be expanded upon, to include wrecks around the country and of different ages. A huge resource!

The Gun Rocks talk was given at 11 am on the Sunday Morning, and was televised on the Nautical Archaeology Society YouTube channel. You can watch it HERE! The talk seemed to be well received, which is great, even being mentioned in the summing up at the end of the Conference. Following the talk, the creation of this website seemed to peak quite a bit of interest too, so if you are reading this, and have questions about how I set up the website, do ask! 

Nic Faulks – NAS conference 2018

Duke of Cambridge Scuba Award Winners 2018!

Wow, what a day! On Tuesday 6th November Team Gun Rocks, represented by Nic Faulks, Si Smith and Peta Knott, took a trip to Kensington Palace, to meet Prince William and to receive the DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE SCUBA AWARD! We had known about the award for 6 weeks or so but were sworn to secrecy. This meant as excited as we were, we could only tell close friends and family.

It was a hard decision to make, who we should take. So many people have given their time to the project. In the end we decided to go with the core of the group, but we won’t forget how much input the project has had from club members, other BSAC members, divers from other agencies and non-divers too.

So how did the day unfold? We all met at the entrance gate at 1345 to sign in. I had to have another photograph taken as the one I sent through previously they had put on my ID badge up-side down! We met everyone else representing BSAC, Jubilee Trust and the two teams that were highly commended. After 20 minutes we were lead through into the Palace room. There was a short brief on how the greeting would work, what we should call him, if we should shake his hand…. Prince William then entered. He greeted everyone, then chatted to the Gun Rocks group for about 10 minutes, finding out all about the project. Peta had come prepared and showed him a video on her ipad of the website, photos and 3D models. I gave him a copy of the dive trail maps and leaflets. We were then presented with the award. After a few more photographs, he left, of to more meetings.

Although we were only in the Palace for an hour, it was a fantastic experience. The atmosphere in the Palace is amazing, very formal, but relaxed. ON the way in, there was also a fabulous avenue of Gingko Biloba trees, leading up to the Palace, they looked so beautiful in their autumn colours. 

We then all headed over to the Goat Pub for fizzy and a grand chat! To read more, click on the link below.

Group shot, all people!