Leatherback Turtles – Final shoot of the documentary

And this is the very last location and the last adventure of our latest documentary project – Filming Leatherback Turtles in Gabon. Check our previous blogs for our trips to Guinea Bissau and Costa Rica

Tagging a leatherback

Tagging a leatherback

Planet’s greatest turtles

Leatherback turtles are the giants of the turtle world. The biggest ever recorded was nearly 3 metres long and weighed in at just under 1000 kilos. That’s almost the same weight as a Nissan Micra! Some turtle…

These leviathans are known to cross oceans in search of food. They exist on a diet of jellyfish. Tagged leatherbacks have crossed the Pacific from Japan to California.

Leatherbacks are also the champion divers of the turtle world – they can dive for as long as one hour to depths of as much as 1000 m!

But when it’s time to lay their eggs powerful primaeval forces drive them back to the beaches where they themselves hatched.

Fionn selfie with leatherback

Fionn selfie with leatherback

Gabon hosts the biggest nesting population of leatherback turtles in the world.  Almost all leatherbacks in the south Atlantic will have hatched on these beaches. So that is where Fionn headed along with Dr. Brendan Godley , one of the planet’s leading experts in turtles.

Brendan is based on Exeter University‘s Penryn Campus, just down the road from our studio, and is the scientific adviser for our documentary.

Dangerous beaches…

The shoot was – interesting… Because the beaches where the turtles nest backs onto deep jungle, and the turtles share the beach with buffaloes, forest elephants, and even a pair of hippos with a calf. Not really the place to be wandering at night! And yet that is what the crew had to do, as that is when the turtle action takes place!

It may look docile here, but when this buffalo charged the team scattered very quickly!

With filming now complete, lock down couldn’t have come at a better time for us. We are now deep into the edit and hope to have something to show you very soon…

Much appreciation to Dan Marsh for the original concept for this film. Dan didn’t get to come along on any of the filming trips with us but I hope we will get to work with him in the future…

Wildlife Filming…

Wildlife Filming is never predictable. They said we’d never get the shots! They said that it took the BBC a year to get their footage. We allowed ourselves a window of 10 days and didn’t really hold out any hope. But on the very first day the turtles started arriving… We had an ARRIBADA!!!

Arribada from the air...

Arribada from the air…

No drone filming…

We could not fly our drone on the beach. It’s too close to the local airfield. And as we were working under a permit and receiving great help from Yeimy the reserve administrator we didn’t break the rules. But I just saw this image on FB and had to share it.

And yes, these are all turtles. Olive Ridley turtles to be precise – on a beach on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

The Arribada

Their arrival is totally unpredictable. Scientists still can’t fully explain it. It doesn’t seem to be linked to the tides nor to any specific phase of the moon. Sometimes there are tens of thousands of turtles. Sometimes as many as half a million come ashore during the 3 or 4 days that the wildlife phenomenon lasts. Then as quickly as they arrived the turtles all disappear and the beach is empty, save for a few scavenging vultures.

Two Olive Ridley Turtles

Two Olive Ridley Turtles

And this was a big arribada. Fishermen had been reporting increasingly large numbers of turtles offshore. But while arribadas usually take place between dusk and dawn, this was such a big one that the turtles started coming ashore at midday. Maybe the overcast skies encouraged them into thinking evening was coming early.

Our contact in Costa Rica was Vanessa Bezy   A scientist who has studied the turtles for many years, Vanessa had suggested that our best chances were in late September / early October. But when she called us on the morning it we arrived to tell us the arribada was starting, it was the best we could have dreamt of. Our room at the Ostional Turtle Lodge  was just five minutes from the beach, so five minutes later we were there. Capturing some awesome footage for our upcoming documentary

Sunset on turtle beach...

Sunset on turtle beach…

Filming turtles on Poilão Island

Fionn and I have just got back from filming turtles in Guinea Bissau. It’s probably the remotest place I’ve ever been – Poilau Island, way out in the Atlantic – 2 days on small open boats – it doesn’t even feature on a Google search. Here’s a photo.
Poilau Island

Poilau Island

Turtle Island…

Totally uninhabited – and it’s a sacred island so we weren’t allowed anywhere but the beach. You can walk round it in 30 minutes. No water, a tiny generator for us to charge our cameras. They didn’t even have a radio to contact the mainland should anything go wrong.

We accompanied 2 scientists and 2 local rangers and slept in tents on the beach. The rangers caught fish every day for us to eat with rice. It’s so far out into the Atlantic we didn’t see another boat large or small all week. But every night 1000+ green turtles come ashore to nest. Awesome. They grow up to around 160kg so they are huge. This shot is of a turtle laying its eggs in the nest it has excavated

Turtle laying eggs

Turtle laying eggs

And this shot of a turtle heading back into the sea shows how many turtles have left their tracks in the sand overnight

Guinea Bissau

And Guinea Bissau is interesting – one of the world’s poorest countries and according to the US State Department a no go area and a narco state. Despite those State Department warnings we found the people very friendly and the country intriguing.
So we are going back there soon to film the nests that we saw being laid now hatching. And we also plan to film salt water hippos on another island – the only salt water ones in the world.
Plus more destinations, more species of turtles, and more fascinating science.
This promises to be a great documentary

Well a year in the planning and the Paddle Against Plastic Pollution finally happened. At dawn on a perfect July Monday morning the team set off from Porthcurno Beach at the very west of Cornwall to head for Scilly. We mentioned the plan in a blog over a year ago. And at last conditions favoured us… Here is Mike Lacey‘s teaser for a longer film he will be making about the project:

The Mission

The purpose of the mission was twofold. Firstly to highlight the increasing issue of plastic pollution in our seas. And secondly to raise sponsorship monies for Surfers Against Sewage.

Check the piece about the crossing here in Cornwall Live

The Hazards

I have nothing but respect for all the paddlers who took part. And apart from having to battle against strong northerly currents that plagued us most of the way, and the hazard of crossing two busy shipping lanes.

Shipping Lanes between Lands End and Scilly

Shipping Lanes between Lands End and Scilly

There was even a close encounter with The Scillonian, the ferry from Penzance to the Isles.

Scillonian passing Kelvin Batt en route to Scilly

Scillonian passing Kelvin Batt en route to Scilly

One of the unanticipated issues that more than one paddler had to deal with afterwards was sunburnt feet!

We even had visits from a pod of dolphins during the crossing. Plus a visit from a big lone bull seal, who was a very long way from the nearest land.

It was an extremely long 13 hour day at sea. Long for us on the support boat and excruciatingly longer for the paddlers. So we spent the following day relaxing and enjoying Scilly at its very best. And in the late afternoon we headed back to the mainland, passing on the way back the iconic Wolf Rock lighthouse, with its ever present seal colony.

A day to remember for all of us!

The long road home…

When planning the trip, Finland’s Archipelago Sea had intrigued me. Have a look for yourself on a map. The more you zoom in the more islands you discover. It reminded me of staring at the sky on a clear cloudless sky. The longer you look, the more stars you see… It’s the sort of place you could spend a whole summer cruising and never staying in the same anchorage twice.

We left the Archipelago Sea on yet another flat calm day and cruised through the Swedish archipelago to Stockholm.

But home was calling – National Geographic had asked for a re-edit of our Truk Lagoon film 

And they wanted it ASAP. So although we had planned a homeward route through the Swedish Canal system from Stockholm to Gothenburg, that would have added an extra week to the trip. Reluctantly we decided to save that for another year and head back through The Baltic for the Kiel Canal.

 

The final leg of the trip…

Eddie left us part way back – like us he had jobs piling up back home. So Elliott Harrison and I made the last part of the trip together. Bad luck with the weather close to the Kiel Canal turned to worse luck once we were through, and eventually we had to leave Cecienne in the marina at Breskens. We returned a couple of weeks later and on glass calm seas completed the voyage home to Falmouth.

And now the best part of the trip…

So far the trip has had its ups and its downs. Particularly in the early stages! My fault – we left too early in the Baltic boating season to get the best out of it. As a result we encountered empty harbours, closed fuel stations, and not the best of weather. But we had succeeded in our mission – taking my Princess 39 to St. Petersburg. Well after St. Petersburg we left Cecienne in Helsinki in the care of Mats Carlson, the Princess agent there. And a month later I returned with a new crew to complete the voyage. And when we returned it was to a very different Baltic. Here’s what happened…

The Archipelago Sea

Stretching from Helsinki islands spread the whole length of the coastline. So despite windy and choppy seas we could always find somewhere to shelter in the 3 days that we threaded our way to Turku, the most southwesterly city in Finland. And then we jumped off into the amazing Archipelago Sea. Because this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, countless thousands of islands seemingly stretching for ever. And every night we found a quiet anchorage all to ourselves.

Cecienne at anchor somewhere in the Archipelago Sea

Cecienne at anchor somewhere in the Archipelago Sea

The wildlife was incredible

Floating nest at Kumlinge

Floating nest at Kumlinge

And the anchorages countless and totally deserted – can you spot Cecienne in here?

Cecienne at the perfect anchorage among the islands of the Archipelago Sea

Cecienne at the perfect anchorage among the islands of the Archipelago Sea

 

St. Petersburg's Golden Domes

St. Petersburg…at last!

After all the rollercoaster of departing from Estonia – will we or won’t we make it? – yes, we make it to our Holy Grail of this trip – St. Petersburg. According to the shipping agent we are the first of only 4 boats from the UK that will visit the city this year. But it is worth every second of the trip. And here’s the video.

 

History and beauty

And what an awesome city! I don’t know what I’d really expected… something from a 1960’s spy movie with cigarette smoking men in long coats following us everywhere we went! Instead we found a vibrant and beautiful city, with an incredible history.

Everyone knows about Stalingrad in the Second World War, but the story of St. Petersburg – then Leningrad – is just as horrific. Besieged by the Germans and effectively totally cut off from the world, during the two and a half year siege around a million and a half died of starvation.

Secret filming…

After all the warnings and worries, the border formalities were no worse than anywhere in the world – and way better than some – though I don’t think they would be happy that I snuck a couple of photos on my phone!

Marine Border Crossing Point Fort Konstantin

Marine Border Crossing Point Fort Konstantin – secret phone picture from stern of Cecienne

Our marina berth…

Our marina berth was just inside the River Neva, and immediately opposite the St. Petersburg World Cup Stadium.

St. Petersburg Football Stadium

St. Petersburg Football Stadium

Military Museum

And one of the highlights for me was our visit to the Military Museum where the weapons on display I’d only ever seen before on Cold War newsreels!

St. Petersburg Military Museum

St. Petersburg Military Museum

Here’s the second of five videos charting our trip on Cecienne to St. Petersburg in Russia last year.

Things start to get a bit sketchy and I begin to doubt if we will ever reach St. Petersburg…

And we have our first run-ins with Frontier Police – maybe a taste of what is to come if we leave the EU?

Cheesy title but that’s what the magazine are running the series of articles and videos under.

Part 1 is in this month’s Motorboats and Yachting Magazine, and here is the link to the first video of last summer’s Baltic adventure!

Stage 1 of the voyage – after a smooth trip up Channel and through the Kiel Canal we have our first taste of The Baltic

 

Rustler 37 in the Helford River

A favourite client…

One of my favourite clients is Rustler Yachts. Filming boats for them is a guarantee of a great day at sea.

Rustler 37
Rustler 37 at anchor, Carrick Roads

Rustler have a reputation for handbuilding high quality yachts. Based in Penryn, Cornwall, just a few miles from our studio, it’s always a pleasure to work with them.

Rustler’s workshop alongside the River Fal is crammed with skilled craftsmen of every type. It’s companies like this that keep the art of boat building alive. No GRP production lines here as you find in the huge French yacht manufacturers. Here at Rustler they give every detail minute and skilled attention. That’s the joy of owning a Rustler yacht.

Filming at sea

Well, so far our films have focused on individual boats. We wait for perfect conditions at sea off Falmouth and spend a day at sea filming by drone and boat-to-boat as one of their skippers puts a yacht through its paces. Here’s a clip of their Rustler 42 that we made for them.

A film brief with a difference

But the latest project – although still fun  and still filming boats – was very different. In the Penryn boatshed Rustler are building their biggest yacht to date – the Rustler 57. So we came up with the idea that we would film that critical moment when they laid the deck on the hull and attached it.

And of course there is a great deal of work done before that happens. But it’s still a great moment to capture. So with the help of some of the craftsmen, Fionn and I set up 3 Go-Pro cameras each filming different angles of the process.

It’s not dramatic – in fact it’s a precision process that the craftsmen have carried out many times on other boats. They have raised and lowered this deck countless times already to ensure that when the final time comes the fit is perfect. But in time-lapse it’s still great watching that moment when the deck is finally lowered and then fixed in place.

Here it is!