Onwards and Upwards

Since my last post things have certainly returned to some sense of normality, at least, normal for us on St Helena. Out of no-where I am extremely busy again, and all of those little jobs that I really should of done when I had nothing to do, and didn’t, are now staring me in the face making me wonder when indeed I am going to do them!

Photos of the Jamesbay Waves I promised in the last blog.

The response to my last blog entry has been somewhat overwhelming. It seems I am not alone in my feelings of self-doubt and miss-direction and that many people have appreciated what I wrote, whilst others have offered sympathy and support. It is an odd thing barring your heart to the world, particularly to those who are in your day to day life, who then know how your feeling and, understandably want to help. But it turns out writing is easier than speaking, and my usual response has been “I’m fine” when someone asks if I’m ok. In reality I am a lot better than I was. I don’t suppose to think I have suddenly gotten over everything, but being busy helps immensely, as does having supportive family, good friends and good times. There is also a real therapy to writing down your thoughts. Confronting yourself and feelings, and attempting to apply a logic to them so that others can read and understand, helps to box them up and rationalise your feelings, you can then start to break down the problems and fix them.

The first thing I have to do in future is to recognise when I have less work on, and do productive things with the time that is freed up, for now however that is not a problem.

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Sunset Behind High Knoll Fort viewed from our garden!

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Sunset over JamesBay, Stunning.

 

In terms of photography out of the blue I had numerous photoshoots, I am resuming some product photography for a local jewellery designer and I finished editing the shots from my first wedding shoot. The wedding took place a few weeks ago. I was incredibly nervous, after all, when the day is over all that is left are the photos and memories, and I didn’t want to screw this up. I am thrilled with the results and the feedback has been fantastic. You can see for yourself here, and here. It was a wonderful experience, to be invited in to someone else’s special day, strangers to all intense and purpose is a true privilege. As the photographer you spend the whole day with the couple, you are the only one who does, you build a relationship with them and in many ways direct many elements of the day. I have a new found respect for wedding photographers, next time you see the cost of a wedding photographer, give some thought to the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. Plus the hours of work that will go into editing the shots once everyone else on the day has finished their work, I know I will never look at them in the same light again.

I have also been helping out on the Enchanted Isle, the stellar sightseeing boat on the Island, helping primary school groups on a dolphin watching trip, and with Bev’s Marine Biology A level class. Bev has signed up for a global project to test for plastics in the worlds oceans, taking water samples at depth with a special piece of kit called a niskin bottle. Great fun was had and the day was followed up with more swimming in the sea at Lemon Valley. This gave ma great opportunity to test my new underwater camera kit. Unfortunately the underwater flash (strobe) that I had purchased second hand showed its value in the bath the night before by leaking and breaking on me, but the camera is great and in better conditions and with some practice I’m hoping to get some good shots with it during dives around the Island.

The family and I have also enjoyed our first night at Banyan Cottage. Nestled in the bottom of the Valley of Sandy Bay, this 100 year plus cottage can be hired out for the princely sum of £20 for three nights. Those of you who have followed from the begging may remember a birthday party we attended there some 12 months or more ago, this time we were there for the night, and I don’t mind saying we were in fact dreading it. A stone cottage equipped with the basics, a few beds, pots and pans, running water and lots of nearby wood for fuel. With no electricity fire and candles are the order of the day. The children loved it, what an adventure and experience for them and despite our worries, Bev and I had the most wonderful night with great company and many laughs. Banyan cottage shows the diversity that exists on St Helena. Here I am on my computer typing away, editing photos and uploading my blog to the world on St Helena, whilst in other parts of this tiny Island, less than a few miles away, people still live in this subsistence manor. There are not many in 2016 without electricity, but I have no doubt there are some, and many more without electric ovens who rely on fire wood for cooking and heating and who’s way of life is from a simple, some would argue, nicer time.

Whatever the pros and cons of modern life, to escape from it entirely for a night is wonderful. We cooked food on a fire, roasted marshmallows and drank beer until the early hours of the morning. 3am to be precise, and with the sun waking us up before 7am there was little sleep to be had.

And so it was that I rushed off the next morning, barely awake to ensure that I arrived on time for another huge milestone in the life of St Helena, the first Jet Engine Airplane to Land here. Following a wonderful piece by fellow blogger, what the Saints did Next, I was inspired to contact Air Access to see if it were possible for me to gain access to the newly finished terminal building to take some shots to show you all. Unfortunately that request has been temporarily turned down I was invited to be part of a small group of media representatives to photograph the arrival of the Bombardier Challenger 300 as it arrived to complete further tests for the airport. With it arrived members of ASSI, the Air Safety Support International personal who are here to conduct final audits on the airport, and, with fingers crossed, give it the all clear for the commencement of commercial flights. Just saying that in quite extraordinary. I don’t wish to out a jinx on things, but we are so close now, within a few weeks people will be able to fly here. I will save my feelings on this until it happens, but to take a quick look at what has been achieved is valid right now.

In 2011 permission and funds from the UK government were provided to enable St Helena to build an airport, to open the Island up to tourism and to reduce its dependency on overseas aid. With that in mind, Basil Read, a South African company were announced as the successful bidders. £210 million was granted for construction. But there was a problem, there was no flat land, solution, dynamite a mountain and use the rock to fill in a valley to create the flat land, simples. But wait, the area ear-marked for this airport had no road, ok, so they built a road, up some of the most difficult and steepest terrain you can imagine. But before they could build a road, they needed to get equipment, supplies and the like onto the island, and there is nowhere for a ship to dock. No problem they said we will build a temporary wharf, allowing the first ship to actually dock on the island in its 500 years history, and eventually replace it with a permanent wharf to provide access for container shipping once the RMS is de-commissioned. And so they did, apparently on budget and on time, to the very day if the last tests are successful. For £210 million pound Basil Read have achieved the impossible, they have built a wharf (having never built one before) built an access road, built bulk fuel installations to supply the airport, built infrastructure to support the build (such as a garage, and workers accommodation), flattened a mountain and filled in a valley, built a runway, terminal building control tower and all navigation equipment ( all of which they hadn’t done before), they have built an airport on one of the most remote and challenging places on earth. They have done all this on time, on budget and with an Island full of cynicism and lack of belief behind them. Having been let down with many false dawns before few on the Island really ever thought they could do it, that this day would come, and no one thought it would be ready on time. By all accounts it will be, and we are now a tiny step away from something incredible, everyone involved should be incredibly proud regardless of the outcome of the tests this week.

We have witnessed so many firsts in our time here, first docking of a ship, first mobile phone service, first airplane to land, first jet plane to land, and before long first commercial flights to land. The rest of the World may take these things for granted, but being here makes you realise what an incredible thing it is, maybe it is good, maybe not, only time will tell. One thing is for sure, there is no going back, the Island is about to change forever, and it’s almost frighteningly close now.

 

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A Random Rainbow outside our house, stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onwards and

 

 

 

Dolphins, Dolphins, Dolphins………and Whales!

This weekend we embarked on our third trip out to see the Dolphins and Whales. Despite our fantastic time two weeks ago, subsequent trips from the Island have seen some truly breathtaking spectacles, and we wanted part of that action. It may seem that we go whale watching a lot, and we do, but not as often as some on the Island who seem to be present on every trip that departs the wharf.

Our weekend started back in the mud, on the monthly Saint Helena National Trust‘s community conservation engagement program we helped with four weeks ago. This time round we were at St Paul’s Primary school a lovely school set up in the hills and known as the Country School. Three hours of back breaking work saw us once again clearing invasive species, this time in the form of a fern with a root network reminiscent of the cables at the rear of my surround sound system, and so thick it required pick axes to dig out. Being interviewed for the local newspaper, I overheard the conservationist in charge, Jason, explaining that the work to remove the ferns was important to clear the way to re-plant another endemic plant species. It was at this point that I realised we had spent three hours, digging and clearing a 3m square area of fern only to see it replaced with, yes, another fern!

Jason explained that there are the right kind of ferns, and the wrong kind of ferns, to which the reply from our co-worker, Paul came, “like Fern Cotton and Fern Briton”!

The monthly community engagement program plays a greater role in raising awareness and instilling public participation and responsibility for the Islands rare plant life, than it does real conservation, which is carried out Monday to Sunday every other day of the month. Some of the rarest plants on earth are clinging to existence on St Helena, and it is vital that the locals appreciate and understand the importance of protecting these habitats if the program is to succeed long term.

The evening was spent back in the company of the Days family who came round for a movie and pizza. Get Carters, a local eatery provides the Island with take away pizza of fine quality. Amongst the usual selection I felt obligated to try a 9” Caribbean, the topping consisting of Jerk Chicken, Bacon and, Banana, no that is not a typo, Banana on a Pizza, and delicious it was too.

On Sunday morning Bev and I embarked on the first of our theory sessions to learn to dive. Given my background in Marine Biology and Public Aquaria it is highly unusual that I don’t already dive, but finally a life-long ambition is being realised on this tiny Island, and I will soon be diving amongst some of the most pristine marine environments in the World and sharing my time with Whale Sharks, Devil rays and a smorgasbord of endemic species seen nowhere else in the World.

And so we arrive at our Sunday afternoon boat trip and what a trip it was. This time we took to the Sea with Into the Blue, on a much smaller rib boat, an inflatable with two out board motors capable of travelling at great speed. The advantage of this, is the ability to move across the sea to where the animals are spotted in the distance, and get there before they disappear. Being low to the water also presents great views if the animals come close and of course it is huge fun bouncing and skipping across the waves.

Craig the operator and captain has been very successful in recent weeks and it seems has a sixth sense for finding the best views of these amazing animals with 13 sightings in 14 trips. So with great expectation we once again swung off the wharf and onto our latest adventure.

Moving at speed we were once again heading along the Northern coast towards egg Island, before we knew it we experienced the now familiar stop, turn and full throttle. Being experienced as we now are we knew or captain had spotted something.

Within minutes we were surrounded by a pod of around 300 Pan Tropical dolphins. Everywhere we turned dolphins were jumping, spinning, flipping and diving around us. The Deep Blue Circus Ring providing the perfect stage for these acrobats par excellence.  The excitement on the boat was palpable with expressions of “wow”, “amazing” “awesome” and a few expletives to boot. The sense that looking in one direction would cause one to miss out on the next leap clear of the water just behind you, caused us to flit from one side of the boat to another, jostling for position. Dolphins were jumping a clear 15ft from the waves, spinning and dancing in the air before coming down with a splash of a tail.

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Pan Tropical Dolphins, the acrobats and show off’s of this watery World, a pod of some three hundred all around us.

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This individual liked to show off by swimming vertically, pushing himself along in this upright position!

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The boat suddenly slowed to a halt as Craig made adjustments, with some sadness the Dolphins is seemed to then tire of us and the acrobatics ceased. A quick turn around and we were off again, soon back up to speed and along with us the dolphins began act 2 of their show. They suddenly sprung back into action with the sound of the motor and within a minute were once again putting on the display of a lifetime. Without doubt these animals were showing off, performing for their doting public and loving every minute of it. Oliver sat in amazement, completely breath taken at the sight, the experience he will keep with him for a long time. Charlie on the other hand was less interested, or at least too tied to be, seemingly nodding off to sleep with the warmth and comfort provided by his large padded life jacket.

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Spinning a full 360 degrees in mid air.

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Incredibly difficult to photograph. You never know where they are going to jump up, and inevitably you miss the focus, the timing, or both!

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After a time we moved on, I say a time as I have no idea how long we spent dancing with the dolphins, it may have been minutes it may have been an hour such was the depth of enthralment and captivation the dolphins held us in. Charlie at this point was soon brought back to life as some home baked chocolate brownie was passed round the passengers.

What then seemed like an age passed with no further sighting of dolphin or whale. Our captain approached some local fishermen, who, after pointing us in the right direction, held up their catch, a huge Moray Eel, highly prised eating in these parts.

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Cousins swim side by side

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Two adult Hump Back Whales with two Rough Toothed Dolphins which help to show the scale of these giant animals.

Following their directions we headed off and sure enough, in the distance we spotted the now familiar site of a hump, breaking the waves in the distance. As we approached it became apparent that two Adult Humpbacks were being accompanied by a smaller pod of dolphins moving slowly around them.

It became clear that these two whales were not just moving along slowly, diving periodically with a wave of their huge tail as we had seen before, but were also rolling and splashing, turning and spinning, their huge pectoral fins (the largest pectoral fins of all the Whales), crashing down as they rolled onto their backs, revealing their bright white throats, and ventral pleats. With each dive we waited with baited breath for a breach, the huge whale leaping from the water and crashing down with a tidal wave. But alas this never materialised as they resurfaced to continue their gentle play.

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With the largest pectoral fin of any animal in the World. A photograph cannon convey the size of this animal. The fin you are looking at is around 4.5m long!

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Splashing huge waves with a swipe of the caudal fin.

Rough Toothed Dolphins swam alongside and between them as we began to question this behaviour we observed. It seemed that maybe we were witnessing courting behaviour but further research with the Island’s Marine Team suggests the dolphin’s presence may have indicated that we were witnessing a calving mother and we may have been privy to some stage of a birth. Whatever the truth it was wonderful to watch and the Rough Toothed dolphins provided a greater sense of scale for these giants of the sea.

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Look at the fin at the far right of the image. That is the fin of a Rough Toothed Dolphin which can themselves reach 2.8m and is completely dwarfed by it’s gigantic cousin.

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Relative to their cousin the Pan Tropical Dolphin, Rough Tooths were very calm, cruising around alongside the Whales.

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Me, and my, shadow!

Returning back to shore we reflected on our weekend adventure. Many people spend their lives and never come close to seeing what we witnessed today, others embark on a once in a lifetime holiday to see such things. Yet here we are, with the privilege of a trip every fortnight, or more regularly if we choose, to spend our time amongst these mesmeric animals. How lucky we must be to live on St Helena.

I will leave you now to enjoy the photographs from our trip however one thing has now become clear to me, whilst my photography skills are improving and my enjoyment for the art is enormous, my budget, second hand equipment does not cut the mustard amongst the big boys. Following the success of my blog I hope to develop my writing and photography further and who knows maybe one say sell some photos in the future. Despite my wife’s protests and rightly pointing out we cannot afford it, I am now saving for a new photography shopping list, including a whacking big telephoto zoom lens, a boy can dream cant he!

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IMG_7695 This is the dorsal fin of the Humpback Whale. Situated towards the back third of the body length just before the tail.

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