Friday, August 19, 2011

Rough Ride to Grassholm

After our pleasant outing to Skomer, we were looking forward to Monday's trip to Grassholm, a remote island approximately eight miles off the Pembrokeshire coast, and home to about 39,000 pairs of Gannets. That is, until we saw the weather forecast on Sunday night: heavy rain was predicted for the morrow. Oh dear!
Next morning, we half expected the trip to be cancelled, but a phone call confirmed it was going ahead, so we headed down to Martin's Haven and boarded the Dale Princess along with around ten other hardy souls. I remarked to another photographer on board on how calm the sea was. This fellow, who had been twice before to Grassholm, said: "That's because we're in a harbour. Wait until we get to the open sea." How right he was!
The sea became increasingly rough, with large waves rocking the tiny boat dangerously to and fro. This went on for a while, before we went into a really large swell, and waves began crashing over the boat. About this time, heavy rain began falling, so we were getting soaked from all quarters. (Of course, I'd forgotten my waterproof trousers!) Several people were now taking shelter in the craft's small cabin. It was quite a disconcerting feeling, being adrift in the middle of a vast grey ocean, with visibility down to a few metres, being drenched in torrential rain, and with large breakers washing on board, and the small boat tossing about crazily. Quite frankly, at one point, it occured to me that we might not get out of this alive. This was supposed to be a pleasure trip!
About this time, the skipper announced that if the conditions got any worse, we would be turning back.
Thankfully, within a few minutes, the rain cleared and we passed through the worst of the swell. Suddenly, the sky was clear, and we could see the island of Grassholm ahead. The sea was still rough, but we now pulled alongside the island, where we drifted around the island for about half an hour, allowing a few photos to be taken. Here's the island:

We didn't get very close inshore, so these were the biggest close-ups of the colony possible, taken with a 500mm lens:

I was able to obtain a few closer shots of the Gannets as they flew overhead, although the rocking boat made it hard to stand up and rendered photography very difficult:

After we had turned for home, I looked back towards Grassholm for one more shot of the isolated island under lowering skies:

The journey back to shore seemed to go much more quickly, although we had to endure more heavy rain. We did see a number of Manx Shearwaters and Fulmars skimming over the ocean, as well as small groups of auks - mainly Razorbills. I also glimpsed a couple of fins distantly breaking the sea's surface, which presumably were dolphins or porpoises, although it was difficult to see anything through the rain.
As we arrived at the landing stage, a fellow passenger, looking like a drowned rat, turned to me and said something like: "That wasn't what I bargained for!" I could only agree.
I think we were all glad to be back in one piece!


  1. Wow, so many birds......

  2. A beautiful serie photo's,
    i like it very much Jeremy.

    greetings, Joop

  3. That sounds like a bit of an epic trip Jeremy. Knowing the boat it's not a vessel I'd particularly like to endure those conditions in. Looks like you got some excellent shots of the Gannets in flight though.

  4. these are beautiful! wow, to see such a colony! :)