adversity Birds harbour History Landscapes Rescue Weather Wellington

August 5, 2014 … and now we lie in Flanders fields*

Wonderful opportunities arose yesterday.

A cool grey morning and a battery of 105mm L118 light guns is ready to fire the hundred gun salute

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?

The harbour was delightfully still

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.

The marina was just perfect, and I am not worried by the photo-bombing gull

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.

arriving on station
My kind host at the helm of his sturdy and beautifully kept boat

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.

The salute continues … and as it does, the smoke gets more dense

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.

A hundred years ago, the predecessors of these young men and women were on their way to the great adventure and expected to be home by Christmas. Of those that left, 18,000 died, and 40,000 were injured … a huge toll on a small country

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.

… the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row.

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



adversity Lower Hutt Rescue Trees

June 21, 2012 … blessed are they who expect little …

Expectation management is an important science.

For example, recently I had a minor collision in my car (my fault, no injury to either person). I took it to the car repair place. In the past, given the minor scale of the damage, I might have expected the repair to be effected the same day or at worst, overnight. Alas it took four days, and even then the fog light that got broken has to be sourced offshore (black mark Toyota NZ!). If someone had said to me on Monday, it will be ready on Thursday, I would not have had any problem. As it was, expecting its return more or less hourly, my blood pressure elevated with each passing day.

Expectations also came into play when my policeman son invited me to photograph another search and rescue exercise, in Percy Reserve, Lower Hutt.  I have been to Percy reserve on many occasions, and my experience has always been of manicured lawns and well-tended paths. But no! We had barely entered the park gates than we left the well made tracks and started following the rocky stream that runs down towards the waterfall.

Let me not over-dramatize this. At no stage were we more than about 700 metres from the nearest house … at least laterally. On the other hand, the vertical separation may have been a different story. I had sturdy boots, but due to the mismatch of expectations, I felt unsafe most of the time. With much recent rain, the stream was high, and everything was slippery. Of course, my advancing years and solid build  may be part of the problem, but when I am near steep banks and am unsure of my footing, I tend to get skittish.

That said, I made it cautiously to an area opposite the bottom of the waterfall where, according to the training scenario, a boy had slipped over the edge and was stranded on a ledge half-way down. Having reconnoitred the area, the rescue squad went racing back up the treacherously slippery track to get the appropriate equipment and to rappel down the steep mossy rock face to the scene of the incident.

For my part, wisdom decreed that I should stay where I was with my cameras and a sturdy monopod which doubled nicely as a  walking stick. Being well away from the recognised public tracks, on a soft grey day, not quite raining, I was undisturbed for the better part of an hour, sitting looking at the waterfall, watching for birds (saw none) and contemplating the meaning of life. Waterfall in Percy Reserve, Lower Hutt

I am not sure that I gained any great insights while I waited, but being in my own company in the bush was not unpleasant.

A falling rock eventually heralded the arrival of the rescue team at the top of the slope. It was quite a big rock. By the crashing and thumping, and the effortless manner of its bouncing passage through the bush, it would have posed a real threat to the safety of a real person to waiting to be rescued.

Soon I saw a bright yellow rope come snaking down through the bush, and before long, an overall clad, safety-helmeted police officer, dangling on a rope with a dummy dangling below him came down the slippery slope.Police Search and rescue team training

These men and women seem immune to fear. There is almost no place they won’t go. I am glad they are on my side. It was a privilege to watch them in action, and a source of some pride.

After a couple of hours. I left them to it, and scrambled the last few metres  down to the stream bed, and then up the other side to where life’s normal service resumed.  As you can see, the main walkways of the park are quite civilised.  This was what I had in mind when I accepted the invitation. It’s a pretty riverside walk.Walking track in Percy Reserve, Lower Hutt

Expectation is everything.

* … for they shall not be disappointed.

Lower Hutt Photographic commissions Rescue Social

April 22, 2012 … if I am lost, I want people like these looking for me

What an amazing day, with amazing people.

My youngest son is currently the relieving Wellington Search and Rescue Coordinator for the New Zealand Police. With his colleagues, he organised a regional  Search and Rescue training day. Since the Belmont Regional Park is almost at my back door, he invited me to come and photograph the event.

I  roped in a friend from the camera club, and so the two of us spent most of yesterday watching weathered  wiry people scramble up steep banks, administer first aid, and lower “bodies” down steep grades.  They dealt with crime scenes and had their powers of observation thoroughly tested. They erected (and dismantled) temporary repeater stations to give radio coverage where there was  previously none. There were eight exercises in all, and each of the eight teams had to demonstrate their capability at solving the relevant aspect of search and rescue skills. Each task was overseen and assessed by an experienced person who was a  combination tutor and judge (I learned a few things myself, just by listening).

Some of the scenarios were situated at the top of some very long steep grades, and I was well pleased that I managed to get to most of them under my own power.  I was prepared to take the easy way when it came to the summit.

The park itself is lovely, and one of yesterday’s benefits was the rare chance to get a  ride to the Belmont summit (451 metres ASL) in an SUV. The road is normally closed to private vehicles. Of course, the competitors had to do it the hard way, but they arrived at the top in under 30 minutes with little more than a glow.

Of course the temptation was to follow yesterday’s theme of another hill another point of view.

Instead I am using a shot of one of the exercises. The teams arriving at the top of the road then had to lug the repeater station including its aerial and all its fittings the last hundred metres or so to the summit. Though the weather most mostly reasonable yesterday, at that altitude there was a stiff Northerly breeze, so getting the flimsy rope-guyed aerial up was no mean feat. Temporary repeater station on Belmont summit

Yes that is the harbour entrance in the South. Then they had to repack it and cart it back to the gate in readiness for the next team. The day ended with a very sociable barbecue and some very fine steaks. I found myself in awe of a very fine bunch of people, and I enjoyed being in their company.