As far as the eye can. Sea.

Abstract panorama from Spurn Lighthouse

There are peninsulas and there are peninsulas.  The narrowness of the fragile spit that links Spurn Head to the mainland means it is easy to stand with water visible on either side of you.  Proceed south and the Head itself is more substantial, but climb to one of the highpoints and you now have a third watery vista ahead where the  North Sea’s salty waters blend with the silts, muds and fresh water that the Rivers Ouse and Trent feed into the Humber.    A sailors playground.

Yet in the 85 miles or so between here and Whitby, the East Yorkshire coastline is believed to have 50,000 shipwrecks, of which the most famous is probably the Bonhomme Richard.  Remarkably this was as a result of a sea battle in the American War of Independence.

Now I’d always assumed that the hostilities were confined to the far side of the Atlantic, but American naval hero John Paul Jones brought the fight to the British and engaged HMS Seraphis.  Though the British ship had the upper hand for most of this single vessel conflict, a falling mast from the Bonhomme Richard crashed into the British frigate’s hold and ignited the gunpowder there.  Most of the other vessels that lie on the seabed here didn’t have such spectacular ends, and fell victim to the rocks and heavy seas that crash against them.

Naturally Spurn has a part to play in protecting mariners and their craft and it does so in several ways.  Let’s begin with the lighthouses since they are my theme for the year.  Two of them.  One raised up, the other living dangerously by dipping a toe into the waters at each high tide.

There are records of lighthouses at Spurn dating back to the 15th century though the present examples are far more recent.  The lower light was originally one of a pair that would be aligned to mark the safe passage, though the original was washed away and this continued to be a problem until 1852 when the present design proved strong enough to survive the forces of nature.  Now the highlight’s days were numbered for 40 years later a single light was brought into service (the current black & white tower).  Nothing remains of the highlight that it replaced but the lower light stands defiantly in the Humber, though with a curious piece of redesign.  The lantern has been removed and replaced with a water tank.

The lights are augmented by another life saver.  Or several.

Spurn Head’s position makes it a good place to establish a lifeboat station to rescue those in difficulty whether at sea or in the estuary, but it’s remoteness and the transient existence of roads and paths from the mainland, renders that same location impractical in the event of “a shout”.  It would take too long to get there even on those occasions when it is possible.  Spurn is therefore home to the only permanently resident lifeboat crew in the UK.  Even with a team permanently at hand there are practical issues.

Their craft are moored on the Humber where the shallow mud flats mean that the high and low water marks are some distance apart.  No use anchoring your vessel after a high-water rescue and then finding it stranded on a mudflat next time you need it.  Instead the vessels stay some distance offshore, and the crew have a purpose built pier allowing them to reach them at any point in the tidal cycle.

Yet another organisation plays a part in the safety of shipping here though.  Another large structure, akin to an air traffic control tower looks out over the river mouth.  And that’s pretty much what they are: Vessel Traffic Services.

So plenty of help for the sailor.  But the lighthouse is surely the most elegant.


A Fistful of Shrapnel

As you can imagine I get some varied responses when I ask people for a picture, but at the weekend I had a first.  A tanned man with a well lined face glowering under a beany initially refused point-blank with a “Picture of me?  What would I want to let you do that for?”, but as I walked on he turned and called me back.

“Tell you what…” he said, “I’ll let you take a picture of me if you’ll pay me one pound forty!”  As I caught the alcohol on his breath (it was 10.30 am) I guessed at what he wanted the cash for, though had no idea what he would get for such a small sum.  Nevertheless I declined his offer.

The value of a photograph is a thorny question.  There are thousands of words written on blogs and forums by pro photographers decrying the way in which a combination of amateurs with digital cameras, and full-time photographers trying to undercut the competition, are devaluing the work that they offer.  Why would someone pay hundreds/thousands of pounds to have their wedding photographed when Uncle Bob will do it for next to nothing?

Of course with a quality photographer you are paying for them not just to “be there for a few hours” but for their ability to capture great images in virtually any conditions (and without upsetting the priest with constant flash), the time they spend editing and processing afterwards, and the fact that they carry insurance, multiple cameras and multiple memory cards to make sure that they are ready for anything.  The alternative can be devastating.

Still there are plenty who will go for the cheapest option available, and realistically this tells me how important the wedding images are or are not to the couple concerned.  If you really want to be sure of some special memories then why take the chance?

There are similar hurdles to be overcome when photographers work with models.  An aspiring model might expect to pay a photographer to produce some images for her portfolio, but the situation is reversed if the model has a good reputation and a photographer wished to improve his or her portfolio.  In the attempt to reach a fair settlement the offer of time for images is often a negotiated compromise.

I mention all of this because there was a cost to today’s image.  I’ve written before about the great work for the RNLI and how they rely on donations to continue that work.  They were collecting at Seaburn today, and probably when they planned it they expected a warm summer’s day with plenty of passing traffic.  Instead it was cold and grey with regular outbreaks of rain.  There appeared to be plenty of promotional items left unsold.

Despite this, Holly, who was collecting, continued to great everyone with a smile and a polite offer to explain more about the work of the charity, and how I could join for the cost of a pint of beer each month.   I happily made a donation in return for a photograph, but when it came to processing I decided she deserved a more colourful background than she had had to put up with all day.  Blue skies to match her blue eyes and give it a promo poster feel.

Wonder if the mysterious beach totem builder made a donation?