Longships and Around

Calm spring conditions for a spin around the granite cliffs of Lands End and the Longships reef and lighthouse.

It’s been a while since there was a post of a sea kayaking flavour, so here’s one of those. As with many things over the past few months I’d lost interest in taking pictures while paddling.. and even motivation to get out on the ocean in the first place became hard to come by; when things feel a bit rubbish in the depths of a pandemic rut then slinging a leg over a bicycle outside the front door is, I find, generally the easiest solution.

Responsible for countless shipwrecks and lives lost over the centuries, the Longships reef sits a couple of km off the coast at Lands End. This is the second lighthouse to be built on the reef (the first being commissioned in 1795) and was first illuminated in 1875. The light sits 35m above mean high water, and is visible from 15Nm away.

I have a couple of options when it comes to taking pictures afloat; to date my preferred has been my old X100s in a watertight housing, stowed in a bag on my deck mainly because it’s pretty invulnerable and being old doesn’t represent much in the way of investment while still returning excellent image quality. It has some drawbacks however – the wide angle lens can be limiting (but does produce exciting results when I can manoeuvre myself into the thick of whatever’s going on) and its bulk means it’s too much to operate when conditions are interesting and I need to keep one hand on my paddle to brace, ready to drop the camera when I need the other hand. The other option is my X-Pro2 and a longer lens stowed in a dry bag inside my cockpit; strictly a gentle conditions solution as I need to pop my deck off to access it, and both hands to operate it. The latter is something I haven’t experimented with much mainly due to the combined value of body and lens should it end up on the ocean floor. Conditions were very quiet off Lands End this past weekend so by way of a change I decided to revisit that latter approach. The X-Pro2 is weather sealed but salt water can be uniquely destructive to sealing as it dries and salt crystals form, so I bundled it up in a plastic bag with a few holes where necessary for viewfinder and so on, and stuffed a towel in along with it for drying hands.

On a calm, sunny day the reef feels deceptively benign, and is an interesting place to explore with its payload of birdlife and grey seals. Even on such a day however tidal flow rates can reach between 3 and 4kts, and with a spot of wind over tide the race between the mainland and the reef produces some decent standing waves for a spot of play.
The granite of the far west is something I’ll never tire of. Carrying a longer lens for a change on such a calm day perhaps does it a little more justice than my usual wide angle.

I still don’t have a good solution for when conditions are interesting. In the past I have played with waterproof compact cameras stuffed in my buoyancy aid but have never quite got past the relatively rubbish image quality except when conditions are such that you can hide it with some grain or something. I’m also reluctant to spend any ££ on something which ultimately I may well decide, again, that I’m just not happy with. I am also not a fan of the super wide ‘scattergun’ approach to GoPro photography; the paddling world probably doesn’t need any more of that.

April was a particularly tough month for a bunch of reasons so it’s just as well conditions were quiet, it was a much needed opportunity to spend some time mentally adrift, just snapping back into focus for the swelly bits around the gaps, reefs, and caves.
Conditions were very quiet, maybe a half metre of ground swell.
Near Nanjizal

Having shown you some pictures of the Longships in calm conditions it might be appropriate to offset those and wrap this post up with a few snaps, dug out of my archives, of the reef in somewhat less benign conditions… Apologies for the poor image quality, the air was full of flying salt spray. The fury of the ocean is always a sight to behold and, whenever I paddle around the reef, I do like to marvel at the forces the lighthouse has withstood over the years.

Boom! That spray looks to be reaching at least 50m in height
The light is, of course, automated now but it must have been quite something to be a lighthouse keeper during such a storm…

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