I was trying to find some kind of marker in the sea to help put the boat in the right place to photograph Little Skellig. But the sea was fizzing and nothing was appearing for very long. Then a big patch of foam bubbled up. I turned to the skipper. "Put us on top of that," I called.
He manoeuvred the open boat with expert hands and held it in place. It gave everyone onboard the opportunity to take photographs of Little Skellig's dramatic raw beauty. Out of one of the most unpromising days I've ever encountered on a workshop produced one of my most memorable images. The low cloud cover broke for a short time, revealing the island's rocky spikes standing unbowed and proud amidst the raging Atlantic.
We almost hadn't come out here. The weather had been so bad that our scheduled boat trip to the Skelligs, including a landing on Skellig Michael, had been cancelled by the operator a full 24 hours ahead of time. Usually, they will wait at least until the morning of the trip to make a judgment call if the weather is miserable. It wouldn't even be possible to cruise around the islands, they told me.
This was disappointing news. I knew that for some of the people on the workshop, the visit to the Skelligs was what they were looking forward to most. Interest in the islands has skyrocketed since the final trilogy in the main Star Wars saga got going. But with increased interest comes heavier demand for places on the official tours, and you need to buy places far in advance. If you miss your slot, or your trip to the islands is cancelled, you can't simply book on the next boat out.
With our official trip off, I approached Willie, a local man I know who has an open rib I've chartered before. Provided he thought it was safe, he was willing to take us out. We wouldn't be able to land on Skellig Michael. The seas were too rough for that. But we might be able to tour around them.
Little Skellig reveals itself
Little Skellig in the Raging Atlantic
The weather was still pretty grim the next morning, but Willie felt the seas were safe enough to venture out. Problem was, the Skelligs were gone, hidden in dense low-hanging cloud. It was so bad that we had to give up on Skellig Michael completely after a while. The cloud stubbornly refused to budge, totally obscuring the island from our view.
Things didn't look much better over by Little Skellig, either. Nevertheless, Willie elbowed his boat through the waves to get us closer.
At this point, the warmth of the Skelligs Chocolate Factory café was on all our minds, I could tell. We'd already dropped in several times that day for coffee and bio breaks. (By the way, the cakes here are so good, one of our party took the bold step of ordering two on one visit.) Besides, the motion of the sea was starting to become uncomfortable. You know what I mean...
Then, the clouds parted. We all scrambled to get our camera viewfinders up to our eyes and take photographs before the thick veil of mist was drawn closed again.
Something wasn't working. The angle wasn't quite right.
"Peter! I think more over there would be better!" one of the workshop participants called over the wind. He was right. With the help of a patch of foam, I was able to direct Willie right to where we needed to be.
I'm glad we went out and that people were able to see Little Skellig. I'm also pleased because the picture above is one of my all-time favourites. So much so that it will likely be the signature photograph in the new gallery's window for the coming years.
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