Wonderful opportunities arose yesterday.
It was a day of solemn memories in New Zealand, marking as it did, the 100th anniversary of our country’s entry into the first world war. A 100 gun salute was to be fired on the waterfront near Te Papa. The day started cool and grey, but I set out to get an early position near the battery of 105mm howitzers that were to fire the salute. Ten guns were lined up and each was to fire ten (blank) rounds. One hundred shots at five second intervals would take eight minutes and twenty seconds. As I said, I arrived early and was exploring the possibilities and viewpoints when I was approached by a kind stranger who said he was about to take his boat out from the marina and would observe proceedings from just offshore. He asked if I would care to join him. Wow! Would I?
There was still some time to fill before he cast off, so I recorded the conditions. It was very still and quite cool, and the harbour was flattening to that lovely slightly oily look that gives wonderful reflections. My friends from yesterday, the fluttering shearwaters, were at rest out on the water, and I wondered how long they would linger when the firing started. Young soldiers were handing out free earplugs to anyone who wanted them, and setting up barriers to ensure than no members of the public were permitted within 50 metres of the guns once the salute commenced.
With my new-found friend, I went over to Clyde Quay to the outermost finger of Chaffers Marina. Conditions were improving rapidly, and I grabbed a shot of the reflections among the boats. I was photo-bombed by a passing gull, but I think it adds to the image.
The boat was a sturdy working boat, a former crayfish boat from Oamaru. Its owner had restored it beautifully to a condition far in excess of what it looked like as a working boat. She was not spectacular or glamorous, but every detail was superbly executed with good old-fashioned craftsmanship. The diesel engine started at first turn of the key and soon we were backing out and cruising gently about a hundred metres in front of the guns. A police launch and the harbour master’s boat were there to enforce a fifty metre safety zone, but we didn’t trouble them. As we waited, I could see the scrum as hundreds jostled for unimpeded viewpoints and was doubly grateful for the random act of generosity by my host. By now, the sun was fully out and the grey day had evaporated. Brilliant.
And then it started. A quick glance revealed that the shearwaters instantly departed. Most of the visual effects were smoke. Though many others caught pictures of the muzzle blast I was completely unsuccessful in making any image of the flame. I counted to four after the preceding blast and then fired at eight frames per second. Despite a few hundred images, I caught no flame. However, the muzzle brake of the L118 light gun forces the smoke into an interesting trefoil and I got many shots of that.
When at last the hundred shots were done, two of the guns were manhandled out from behind the barriers so that the people could have a closer look.
We got back to our mooring and I wanted to buy my host morning tea or coffee but he declined. He did, however, accept a ride to parliament grounds where he wanted to see the observances there. Even in this, he did me a favour and I saw the memorial field of 100 crosses laid out on the lawn of parliament’s grounds.
It was a sombre day but a good one.
* In Flanders Fields by John McCrae