Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Have a fabulous and ship-filled 2014!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

10 years ago today

This joined us for the first time. Queen Mary 2's first arrival home was on a wet and cold Boxing Day in 2003. Where have the past 10 years gone?

At the time, I never thought I'd get the opportunity to travel on such a fabulous ship but, in 2012, I did just that, a four-night cruise in the Channel and North Sea.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

2013 Part 2

July's highlight was a trip to Dover, a place I'd not visited in about eight years, with my friend Patricia. I was planning to go to Dover anyway and Patsy wanted to see Saga Ruby and Saga Sapphire together on July 4th - something that wasn't going to happen at Southampton - so we pooled our resources and went together. I collected her in Southampton and we drove down, arriving in the late afternoon on the 3rd.

Also in July was an opportunity to catch up with Artania, the first Royal Princess - which I recall skipping school to see in 1984, when she was new - and, later, Artemis. She called at Portsmouth during 2013; Portsmouth is an excellent location for photographing ships and it makes a change seeing cruise ships there instead of Southampton - as much as I like Southampton, Portsmouth has waterfront pubs, which Southampton lacks since the ones on Town Quay closed, and is easier to get to by using the hovercraft service to Southsea (not least that you can park close to the terminal).

August began with some unhappy rumours about the ultimate fate of Ostend Spirit, ex. Pride of Calais. These were later confirmed with the ship eventually meeting an untimely demise at the hands of Turkish breakers (see October and November, below).

Relatives visited in early August, and we booked ourselves on the Red Funnel Cowes Fireworks Cruise on Red Osprey. The Red Arrows performed a display over the Solent and the two Cowes towns before the cruise began.

August's highlight was a Thames Ship Society Solent cruise. I'd been supposed to join the June one but circumstances dictated otherwise. However, I was able to transfer my booking to the August trip and it turned out to be a gloriously warm sunny day; summer 2013 was the best in a long time with high temperatures and a lot of sunshine.

More cruise ships on August Bank Holiday finished a half-decent month.

The definite highlight in September was a quick weekend trip to the port of Almeria in southern Spain to catch up with a long-lost friend, a ferry called Sherbatskiy, better known in the UK and northern Europe as Pride of Free Enterprise and, latterly, Oleander. We also did a ferry trip on Isabella 1, also formerly of UK-Continental routes, over to Nador, Morocco, and back, which was an 'interesting' trip.

The week before that, though, I'd gone to Gosport to see Wind Surf, a five-masted cruise ship, depart from Portsmouth, and she was also worth the effort of seeing.

In mid-October I did a return trip to St. Malo on Brittany Ferries' Bretagne, a lovely ship I'd not been on for some years.

At the end of October came the news that fans of Dover Strait ferries - and, in particular, fans of a certain two Dover Strait ferries -  were dreading, that Ostend Spirit had indeed been definitely sold to breakers and would leave Tilbury for Aliaga on 30th October.
Myself and my friend Slinky-Dave made a last-minute decision to go up there and photograph her departure. Now, nearly 2 months on, I still think 'ugh, shit' whenever I think of that day, primarily because of what was happening with that ship going prematurely to breakers, but also because in the end it turned out to be a bit of a waste of time and - considering I'd brought my car over the Solent - money, because, after an abortive attempt to enter the locks, her departure was put back until the evening, because of apparent mechanical trouble - although we think she knew there were onlookers with cameras and just didn't want to be photographed! That said, we'd have not forgiven ourselves if we hadn't gone there and she had left as intended. We at least gave it a go. One of the joys of maritime photography!

During November, on the 13th, Ostend Spirit got beached at Aliaga, which I followed at work via texts from Slinky-Dave (there's no data signal in Newport for some reason, certainly not a Vodafone signal - you're lucky if you can even get a phone signal sometimes). We're not supposed to have mobiles on us at work but I've not been officially told that...and rules are made to be broken.
As of mid December, she is half gone, cut up as far back as the funnel. A disgraceful waste of a good ship in full working order.

On the 16th I went to the South Coast Ship Show in Portsmouth and nearly broke my arm in the process, tripping over a crappily-maintained paving slab while on my way there, fortunately with no lasting damage to myself and - more importantly - with none whatsoever to my camera and lenses snuggled in a well-padded bag. I did console myself with some new ship models for my collection and a new book about the Dover-Calais ferry crossing, as well as seeing some people I hadn't seen for a while.
Before measuring my length on a borderline-lethal paving slab I photographed Commodore Clipper on her way to the Channel Islands, as she departed Portsmouth on a cold but sunny morning.

Towards the end of November came the news the old cruise ship Formosa Queen, the former Song of Norway and Sundream (among many ex names), had been sold to Chinese breakers. At 43 years old, she's had a very good innings indeed, unlike a couple of other ships I know. She was a semi-regular visitor to these parts a few years ago and I photographed her in Southampton Water in 2003, back when I was still using film. The photo below was taken on 31st August 2003.

On 7th December, I popped over to Southampton to see Saga Ruby for which, as far as I am concerned, was likely to be the final time. She sailed on her last Saga cruise that evening and, although she's due to return to the city on 7th January (a Tuesday), I am likely to miss her because I will be back at work after the Christmas break. As she's already been sold, she is probably not going to hang around for more than a day or two at the most.

I got another new camera, a Canon 70D, which joins the 6D. I am one of these people who likes to have more than one camera body, in case something goes wrong with one, and it also cuts down on lens changing.

And here we are at the end of 2013, a year with ups and downs - mostly downs, it has to be said, with a run of bad luck which seemed never ending. I am happy to see the back of 2013 and I sincerely hope 2014 is a much better year.

So, what do I have planned for 2014? Firstly, a trip over to Rotterdam and sailing back on the new Norwegian Getaway in early January,  followed by an overnight cruise from Southampton and back. In March, I am going to Australia for three weeks the highlight of which will be - hopefully, weather permitting - a week far from artificial lights, up in the Warrumbungles, looking at the southern skies (which are spectacular, because the centre of the Milky Way is overhead and southern hemisphere stars completely outshine the stars north of the Equator. This is my third trip to Australia and my fifth south of the Equator). That is not maritime-related of course, but I am planning some ship photography in and around Sydney, as well as up the coast at Newcastle. I am hoping to get back to Dover and Calais at some point, plus I am thinking of visiting the Irish Sea and maybe the Baltic, too. Finally, finances allowing, I am hoping to do another cruise on Queen Mary 2 at the end of next year. However, plans change and, the Norwegian Getaway and Australia trips aside, nothing's graven in stone.

Here's to a great 2014!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Have a fabulous Christmas everyone and a great 2014.

Photo Highlights of 2013, Part 2 (video)

Here's part 2 of my photo highlights (and the odd lowlight) of 2013. Again, no audio, sorry (there's nothing I'd call listenable at the right length!). This, and the video in the previous post, are best watched in HD if your connection will allow.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Photo Highlights of 2013 Part One (video)

Here's the first part of a video of my photographic highlights of 2013. There's no sound, simply because I couldn't find an audio track I liked at the right length.

Saturday, 14 December 2013


I bought a 70D as a back up to my 6D last week, replacing a 600D I'd originally got as a back up in May but didn't like. It arrived at the shop while I was at work last Tuesday so my aunt, who was going into town anyway, collected it for me. However, as I don't see daylight from Monday to Thursday and yesterday was wet, I hadn't had a chance to try it out properly until today.
I went to East Cowes with my aunt and Monty the puppy this morning, mostly for a shopping trip to Waitrose but also to give Monty a walk and for me to point the new camera at anything nautical that might pass in front of the lens. Unfortunately ships were thin on the ground but the Red Funnel car ferry Red Falcon obliged.


Molly, at home before we left

The 70D is very much like my old 7D in a lot of ways, especially the AF system. It doesn't feel as robust as the 7D did and the controls are a little different but, otherwise, it's very similar. The image quality is much better than the 600D but - as to be expected - not as good as the 6D, because the 6D has a full-frame sensor while the 70D has an APS-C sensor. I don't have to do much to 6D images and never have to add sharpening but the 70D files need a little sharpening as the 600D, 7D, 40D and 20D (and my past Nikons) did before them.
I'm off to Southampton tomorrow - that's the plan at the moment - for Christmas shopping so hopefully I'll have more photos to post, although the weather forecast is utterly dismal.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

2013 Part 1

It's that time of year again, Christmas is almost upon us - and I am sure I'm not the only one who thinks the years are increasingly going past as blurs punctuated by Christmases - so here's a look back at the highlights (and the odd lowlight) of the past year. I'll split this into two parts, because the year's not quite finished yet, and the post's going to be huge otherwise. 2013 was a great year for shipspotting and photography but a bad year for other reasons, that I won't bother going into here but, suffice to say, I can't wait to see the back of 2013!

There's a link for each month, click on those for the entire archive if you can be bothered.

On January 10th, there were no less than six cruise ships in Southampton, five which should have been there and one - Saga Ruby - which shouldn't. She'd broken down and the time taken for repairs meant her world cruise was cut short.

Winter 2012/13 was bitterly cold, with significant snowfalls in January and March and regular flurries through the entire season.

Visited Portsmouth (Southsea) for the first time in a long time to catch up with a friend I'd not seen in years and took a few pics of the usual ferries, including Commodore Clipper.

The Saga Ruby saga continued, with the ship going on sea trials after her repairs. I photographed her passing Cowes on her way back into Southampton.

More snow and a new camera - a Canon 6D which I'd bought because it was the first full-frame DSLR I'd been able to afford and I'd wanted to get a full-frame for ages. Needing a wide-angle lens that worked with a full-frame camera also meant I had to trade all my other lenses except my 100-400mm, my 7D and some surplus astronomy equipment (eyepieces, etc) to cover the cost of the new one! It was also a present to myself for putting up with one of the worst temporary jobs I have ever had, which lasted from January to March, in the local council's filing store - it was the most boring and coldest job I'd ever had and I was glad to see the back of it when I'd had enough, lied to the agency about getting another job and quit!
I took the new toy to Cowes and tried it out on a couple of passing ships, including container ship CMA CGM Titan.

Also in March, I caught up with the brand-new AIDA cruise ship AIDAstella, which was visiting Southampton on her maiden voyage. It was another horrible bitterly cold day and I found a tiny casualty, a dead bee, on the ferry's outside deck, presumably a victim of the atrocious early spring weather. I would think this tiny creature's demise was only one of many small tragedies resulting from the dreadful weather.

The weather finally improved and the highlights of this month were catching up with two of the new generation container ships, APL Temasek and Hong Kong Express, the latter's name sounding like a Chinese takeaway in Newport.

I did a day trip with a mate to Cherbourg, from Poole, on Brittany Ferries' Barfleur, my first trip on this vessel, and later the same week, I joined my friend Patricia on P&O's Aurora for a short cruise to Amsterdam and Zeebrugge. While in Amsterdam, we got the train to Rotterdam to see the new Norwegian Breakaway which was visiting the city prior to her maiden voyage to New York, via Southampton, a few days later.

As we were in Rotterdam, and she was close by, we went to visit the old liner SS Rotterdam, now preserved in the docks at the end of her long career as a liner and latterly a cruise ship. The two ships, one old the other brand new, provided an interesting contrast in styles and a gap in ship design of 55 years.

Back home, I photographed Norwegian Breakaway as she passed East Cowes on her way to New York, presumably never to return. She'll be based in NY City year round.

A lowlight in April was the news that ferry company TransEuropa Ferries had gone bust. Their newly-acquired chartered ship Ostend Spirit, the former Pride of Calais, was sent back to Tilbury to await her fate after being handed back to P&O, while their other two ships, Larkspur and Gardenia were laid up in Ostend also facing an uncertain future. It was also a bit galling from the point of view I was planning a trip with them in the summer.

I finally caught up with CMA CGM Marco Polo, who'd eluded me up until now. I caught her on her way past East Cowes on her way up to the docks at Southampton.

I also managed to see the small Hurtigruten cruise ship Fram, which had called at Portsmouth. Hurtigruten ships are rare visitors so it was nice to see this ship.

On a sad note, it was goodbye to HMS Ark Royal, which left the Solent under tow bound for the breakers at Aliaga, Turkey. Unfortunately the weather was horrible, very grey and murky but the photos came out as well as could be expected, given the conditions.

June was generally a month to forget for various (non-maritime) reasons but I did manage a lot of photography trips to Cowes and one over to Hythe (near Southampton). One such was to see the new Royal Princess arriving for the first time, as the heavens opened when she reached the Solent, with thunder, lightning and torrential rain.

Ten days later, she sailed on her maiden voyage, in much improved weather.

To be continued...