Coast Diary – June 25th

One last reminder that submissions in writing or by email re: Newtown Woods should reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford  iludlow@waterfordcouncil.ie before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked with “Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill” in the subject line.

Now back to the beach. Sort of. Years ago, when I was working in a hotel Amsterdam, one of the male cleaners took a shine to me. He conveyed this burgeoning obsession in a sheaf of handwritten pages of foolscap that, among other things, compared me to Jesus Christ. At the time I thought he was crazy but these days I seriously wonder if he was on to something because these days I seem to be a magnet for every nut job, ignoramus, and asshole on the planet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beach.

Sunday

I walked down to Garrarus in the evening, the little beach about half an hour away. I didn’t go down onto the sand. Instead I went up on the cliff and stared morosely at the water which was like a millpond in the sunset. It was still relatively busy. I haven’t been swimming since January partly because of how annoyed busy beaches make me, but there and then, I decided this week I would tackle my misanthropy to the ground and plunge back in…

Monday

The weather is hot and, after spending some time out on the cliffs looking for basking sharks,(none) and watching the cormorants, shags, kittiwakes, pigeons and gulls – their fuzzy grey chicks tottering about – I walked down to Garrarus. The beach was quiet but by the time I got out of the water, a family of five were bringing their kayaks and boards down the beach and planting them near the water. To give them (me) space I moved up the beach to the large flat rock near the steps. But true to my christ-like magnetism, they followed me and set up camp within five feet. In the spirit of my new magnaminity, I just shifted my towel slightly, put on my shades and hat, turned off my hearing aids and gazed into the distance. I stayed that way until a handsome (well he thought so) muscular man, a long distant swimmer, emerged god-like from the water nearby and began to stare in my direction – god knows why. I am thankfully past my sell by date according to the patriarchy. A few decades ago this might have been exciting but a life time of experience of men and their carry-on behind me, it merely makes it really, really annoying so, before I gained an extra disciple I left. But it was a start.

Tuesday

Encouraged by my newly sprouting tolerance, I went back to the beach with my book. To my horror I realised, too late, that it was midsummer’s eve which meant there were a lot of people about including a band of teens camping and, worse, a circle of drumming meditators. The teens were fine actually and switching off the hearing aids dealt with the drumming, which was quieter than last year. Maybe they heard ‘someone’ giving out about it…There was a scatter of people about near the cliffs, which is where the regular swimmers sit so as not crowd the tiny low tide swim spot. I stopped at a respectful distance and planted my towel. ‘I can do this.’ I thought. Even the couple and their child, hogging the waters edge earned my forgiveness. They looked too large to be able to walk any distance without having heart attacks anyway. As I hobbled over the stones to the sea, two women with swimming gear came down the beach with a big black dog off the leash. This is a pet (ahem) hate of mine but I decided it was none of my business and hurried to take a quick dip in order to leave the water to them. Once in the sea however, I turned around to see the dog squatting near my towel. Rather than scold it, it’s two owners took his toilet to be a sign that they should park themselves right there too. It was at this point my obviously over-stretched magnaminity suddenly gave out and, despite the nearby child floating globularly on the water, I yelled…

For Fucks Sake!

I dashed (hobbled) out of the water and up the beach yelling things about manners and dogs off the lead but the women just looked as bemused as do all those dog owners who can’t comprehend that they aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe. I suppose I was lucky they weren’t the other sort of dog owner – the ones who attack hard on the heels of their mutts. I grabbed my stuff and took it around the cliff to the unfashionable but empty part of the beach. It was a longer hobble away from the swim spot but it was worth it not to end up trying to read my book at bollock-level to a big shitty dog and listen to two wittering idiots. Back in the water the globby child tried to catch my eye. She obviously wanted a sweary friend. She wasn’t going to get one.

Wednesday

Despite the previous evenings beach-bitching I headed to Garrarus once more. Leaving my house I spotted a sparrowhawk being chased by a tumble of swallows. There was a small, swallow shape clutched in its talons. Swooping across a garden it rose up and over a field and, flapping hard, disappeared into the distance. Thinking of how savage the world is for the little birds cast a shadow over my walk to Garrarus and I arrived expecting the worst but I was dumbfounded to find that I had the beach to myself. This emptiness continued for the bones of half an hour. It has been so many years since this happened that I began to think the world had ended, that aliens had invaded and decimated the population. And I found I didn’t care. If everyone was dead, like the little swallow, I would still have a glorious swim and, under the gimlet eye of the local heron, I did. Perhaps this was reward from the universe for my perserverance.

Thursday & Friday

On Thursday the weather started to change and I wasn’t sure about a swim. I wasn’t feeling so good either. By nightfall my throat had closed up and I was coughing. The universe giveth and the universe taketh away. Perhaps it was too much cold water too late in the day or the stress of spending a week trying to be someone I am not. Or perhaps I was right and people are best avoided. No more people for me. I have learned my lesson. For the next seven days anyway.

Coast Diary – February 26th

There were some beautiful days out after the storms at the weekend, though a bit chilly and there was still a big swell going. I walked my usual loopy route a couple of times, down to the sea and back, saw the neighbour, saw Buzz in his tree, and the heron laboriously flapping his way from the main beach overland to one of the coves to the west and wondered what I am going to keep writing about for the rest of the year…

I was distracted from my pondering when, as I walked towards the emergency access point I mentioned last week, the one that runs down through the woods to the cove, I came across a car parked up right between the gate that said NO PARKING EMERGENCY ACCESS POINT and the sign that said NO PARKING EMERGENCY ACCESS POINT. The rest of the road was empty. The registration suggested the owners were ‘inlanders’.

There’s something about NO PARKING signs that seem to draw certain motorists like a beacon. It’s a huge problem at the beaches during the summer, cars parking for hours at a time blocking all access to the water, risking lives and….but there are many, many idiots in the world and there was no point ruining my walk so I continued on down to the cove where there were some swimmers about. Scanning the sea with binoculars in the hope of seeing some dolphins or whales, I became lost in looking at the horizon, the wind on the water, the current as the tide dropped, the birds flying back and forth or bobbing on the waves, the sun slanting to catch the white caps or illuminating the water an electric green here and there. There’s something of eternity about the sea as it stretches to meet the sky so, as I wandered back up through the woods, I composed a piece on the serenity the sea inspires for this week’s blog post. But. The car was still there. My serenity, accelerating from 0-60, took off.

I thought about snitching to the Garda Síochána* but they would be more likely to put me through the mill for disturbing their serenity. Don’t think its our ‘síochána’ they’re keen on protecting. I didn’t even consider posting on one of the Facebook community groups because anyone who posts there about bad parking- in disabled spaces or at the supermarket door (who are those ‘special’ people?!) – gets piled on by lazy idiot skanger trolls who write things like…

“That was me and I’ll f****** park where I like lol”

But there was no need for me to outsource my ire because before I had gone much further the driver of the car returned. A couple and a kid. The woman had been swimming. I waited until they were driving towards me and I stepped out and flagged them down.

I calmly told them that they had parked in an emergency access point. I said our search and rescue need those access points. I asked them to please not do it again and I said I hoped that they would never need the search and rescue services. This last was a lie because I was simultaneously picturing them all being carried out to sea on a burning raft. I believe I spoke calmy and neutrally but with my ‘resting bitch face’ and my articulacy, I have unknowingly frightened the bejasus out of people in the past so who knows?And who cares.

The guy took what I said with equamanity. He may have been one of those men who just hears ‘blahblahblah’ when a woman speaks. A possible reason for this was in the seat beside him where his partner, newly out of the swelling sea, looked like she would have few things to say to me once she had spat out the mouth full of lemons that she habitually chewed on. The salt water didn’t seem to be doing her any good anyway so, as she slammed her body back against her seat in irritation – and as a possible prelude to spitting lemons at me – I walked away.

Maybe they were having a bad day.

LOL.

Further up the road I ran into another neighbour, one of the group of women I used to swim with. She’s a veteran of many years. I asked her had she been in this week

No no, the tide’s not right at our time, and anyway the water’s still unsettled. I wouldn’t chance it.

She knows that anyone of us could get into trouble and need help, even the veterans. So even if you might not mind a few inlanders being carried off, it’s still best if we…

DON’T PARK IN THE F******* ACCESS POINTS!

Thank you.

No LOLS.

*An Garda Síochána is our police force here in Ireland and it translates as The Guardian of the Peace.

Coast Diary – February 19th

In the woods

It was a stormy week this week, though earlier on we had some blue skies. Out strolling I met a neighbour who always stops to chat. Recently we have both been bemoaning the increase in traffic – both on foot and in cars – due to lockdown and a temporary one way system that saw cars barrelling along the narrow road. All in a mad hurry to get from their swims down in the nearby cove back to civilisation I suppose. This time he told me ‘they’ will be tearing down an old wall that runs alongside the small woods before the road turns down to cove, in order to put in a footpath. However when I checked online I didn’t see any such plans so hopefully it’s just a rumour. Its a nice old wall and I know a footpath will depress me. Next it will be street lighting. And disco bars…the car park down at the cove is now like one on a saturday anyway.

The woods, which line the small glen that cuts down to the cove, are lovely, if a bit ragged now in early spring. Despite it only covering few of acres, there are beech trees, oak and poplar trees and I think horse chestnut too. In May the ground is carpeted with bluebells, in autumn the yellow and russet leaves spiral down to trim the path. There are the usual blue tits and robins, rooks and pigeons all about. There are wee goldcrest in there as well as coal tits too, if you stop and look for long enough. I once heard long-eared owls there, late in summer, the creaky call of their young sounding like an unoiled gate – but have never seen them. My neighbour told me that they are there still and I might see them as dusk comes on. I’d better get looking before the streetlights appear.

There’s an emergency access for the cove where a wide footpath splits off from the road and runs down through the woods. Beside the path, a river rushes over a series of tiny falls down to the stony cove at the sea’s edge. Until recently there were two wooden bridges spanning the stream, but they have now been replaced by one metal one. Locally the new bridge was seen as an ‘eyesore’ but I think its OK, probably safer too. And it’s been painted green, which helps. But I worry about the woods. The trees are tall and spindly, and, beset by ivy, they sway dangerously in the wind. Year on year I imagine they are thinning, that there are less and less of these rag-bag survivors from another era, hiding from the encroaching red roofs that can now be seen through the thin trunks up the side of the tiny glen. Maybe it’s my imagination.

Walking carefully back home – (I’ve been dizzy all week with an ear infection, which is why I have only taken you as far as the woods) – I saw the ‘Local Buzzard’ (Buzz) on a tree by the cliffs, his white breast shining in the sun. It wasn’t his usual hawthorn but as I watched he took off and flew low across the field towards me and swooped up to land in his thorny throne. Within seconds he was dive-bombed by a pair of hooded crows. You will often see buzzards picked on by crows. Their response is usually to move on, wings flapping heavily, like the large, plain child in the schoolyard, stumbling and bemused by the taunts of the more socially agile. Buzz took off, but for once he hesitated long enough to make a lunge at one of the crows before continuing on. It was gratifying to see. You’ve got to fight back.

Old wall and Homer Simpson Tree

Coast Diary – January 29th

I was wondering last week how I’d keep a coast diary going, I mean how often can you say

‘I saw the sea today. It was nice.”

But I forgot that things have a habit of…happening. There was the news that Russia is planning military manoeuvers off our southwest coast, which will likely be damaging to the ceteaceans, besides being politically – and in all other ways – dubious. Jokes abounded, mostly about the Healy-Raes luring Russian boats onto the rocks to loot the occupants but it is worrying and worth keeping an eye on.

Last week’s post was about how many dolphins are around and on Sunday a common dolphin washed up on Tramore Beach. I guess there was bound to be some casualties. On my way to the beach, our distinctive red and white SAR helicopter, Rescue 117 out of Waterford airport, passed over going at speed. It was heading out the coast where a body, a human one, had washed up. May they rest in peace. Some days after this, we were relieved to find out that Rescue 117 will remain at Waterford airport after it had appeared that base might be omitted from a new contract. It won’t be the last time the SAR will be threatened by penny-pinching civil servants but they’ll always have a fight on their hands. We revere our SAR, not only on our islands and the coast but inland, on the rivers, up the mountains and even in the cities.

Down on the beach, the unfortunate dolphin was a full grown female common dolphin and fairly fresh. Though I don’t normally notice that the animals differ much, she seemed to me to be especially pretty so I later tried a watercolour of her but it doesn’t quite capture her. It was very busy with walkers and I was dreading recording (taking tissue samples, photos and measurements) but I found to my surprise that, as I used to before Covid, I enjoyed talking to the people that asked about the dolphin. My innate misanthropy had flourished with lockdown. I found it hard to understand how many people couldn’t be bothered about social distancing or just having manners – in supermarkets and out and about, especially on the narrow roads. I literally twisted myself out of shape running around people. And I genuinely find it shocking how many couples (and families) can’t do things individually – like shop, or walk single file – are ye afraid your other half will get away if you can’t keep an eye on them? At least it has made me cherish my independence. Anyway it was nice to feel my mojo return. But it didn’t last long as family groups began crowding around. Some people are very blase about letting their kids pat dead animals and their dogs lick them. It was very cold waiting around for people to move on so I got out of there fairly fast with the result I didn’t take great photos.

The next day, Monday, the IWDG asked me for better pictures of certain marks that suggested by-catch i.e. when a dolphin dies because it is caught up in a net by a trawler, dumped on deck and then thrown back in the water. So I went back to the beach but the Council had already removed her the previous evening. They are usually pretty on the ball about this. They are also always very helpful when I need to record a body that has been removed. This time I was actually escorted a few miles inland to where she was lying next to an enormous seal that had also washed up at the weekend. Biggest seal I have ever seen at around six foot and hefty. Poor chap. I got my photos.

The upshot of all that is that I began an online course to become more familiar with marks resulting from by-catch. But without a post mortem, its hard to determine cause of death. It may be she wasn’t the victim of by-catch, but of other, larger dolphins for, besides the regular rake marks on her skin – common dolphins often have the teeth marks of other common dolphins on their flesh – there were wide-set rake marks, so it is possible she was attacked by the larger, more thuggish bottlenose dolphin.

The rest of the week was all about work: covering for sick people, rushing around installing artworks in various locations, writing an article for a deadline, beginning an online University module as well as the by-catch training. I finally got out on the cliff again one evening when the sun peeked out from under the cloud. There were birds and boats but no dolphins. I did see a couple of whale blows though, about 5km off, just briefly before they travelled further out towards the horizon. It was nice.

Coast Diary – January 22nd

On the cliffs

This week was a busy week mostly spent in the city which meant I did not get out to the sea much but still I saw more than I dreamed I would in a life time as child. Monday a single whale – a couple of tall, spiralling blows and a long, black, rolling back letting me know it was a fin whale. And all week there were dolphins nearly every time I took out the binoculars. When I was growing up beside the sea I never saw dolphins. We were not the most salty of seaside dwellers and I never knew how to look for them or that I was supposed to. I thought if they were around they’d be right in your face. Dolphins were totally technicolour and utterly exotic and as far away as you could get from dreary grey-brown Ireland. Most of my assumptions were of course influenced by the TV show Flipper

“Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning, ever so frightening, King of the Sea!!!!’ Maybe the frightening bit is just me because in fact bottlenose dolphins are thugs and would not think twice about beating you up.

But, as I have since found, there are dolphins galore off the Irish coast, predominantly common dolphins but quite a few bottlenose thugs too. I think January is my favourite time of year for whale and dolphin watching especially days like today which was grey, windless, dry and cool – though, not crisp. It was one of those days that had a muffled quality, the light diffused yet lingering, suggestive of all the light still to come so I went down to the cliffs again for a little bit as the light faded. Sure enough there were dolphins scattered about so I lay next to the cross for the boy who died in a fall here many years ago and watched for a while.

When I came back to the house I opened a parcel from my niece and godchild, the exceptional Charlie, who lives on the other side of the world. It was recently her 16th birthday and typically I have yet to send her a present. I usually get my act together by June. She has obviously decided to take matters into her own hands by sending me in a present instead (I like this development!). When I opened the packet out fell a beautiful charm bracelet and the first charm, cavorting among blue and crystal beads, a tiny silver dolphin.

If you see dolphins or whales be sure to report your sighting to the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group (IWDG) here.

The Winds of Change: Block Island

The story of Block Island caught my eye. Block Island off Rhode Island is a permanent home to 1000 residents. In the summer times, daily visitors number between 10 to 20,000. Electricity supply has been problematic with some using generators and their own wind turbines. An application by the community for a grant for an undersea cable to connect to the mainland grid was rejected. The proposed wind turbines, 5 Haliade 6MW turbines, seemed a no-brainer for most though there were those who objected to it. But this small, private wind farm went ahead and began commercial operation in 2016. But there have been problems. Within a couple of years, the undersea cable connecting to the mainland (as part of the wind farm project) became uncovered at the island end for it had only been buried in places at four-foot depth to save money. Warning flags appeared on some beaches for a while and the cable had to be reburied at the cost of $31million. This reburial also has also problems with blockages and sediment.

There is some controversy over who paid for this reburial with claims that the National Grid profited by $46million from customer surcharges for maintaining the cable. The National Grid denies this.

The Block Island offshore wind farm  [FROM –  cleanpower.org/resources/offshore-wind-public-participation-guide]. Taken from Green City Times.

This June, 2021 it was noticed 4 out of 5 of the turbines had ceased operation. The community on the island struggled to get any information from the operators, the Danish-based Orsted, who claimed that the turbines were down for regular maintenance which was best performed in summer. Ignoring the fact that it is the summer when the island needs the power most, this caused a lot of frustration and the turbines were down for the best part of two months. It emerged then that stress fatigue was noted on the support structures of the “helihoist” platforms on some of GE Haliade turbines in the Merkur project in the German North Sea. Stress lines were subsequently found in Block Island’s turbines but a risk assessment has deemed them safe and repairs were also undertaken.

The Haliade turbines are the same turbines being considered for some of the Copper Coast windfarms – though likely they will be of more recent versions and of higher wattage – which will have well over 100 turbines if projected output is anything to go by.

In the end, the shutting down of the turbines caused no power interruption for the island as the cable, though still being reburied, continued to connect them to the national grid. As far as I know, the turbines are operational once again.

Block Island. Image GE/Sharon Radisch. Taken from Duke Energy/Illumination.

Previous Posts

The Winds of Change: Introduction to a Series, The Winds of Change: The Proposals, Windy Wednesday: Distance to Horizon for Dummies, Windy Wednesday: Some Windfarms

Links

https://www.blockislandtimes.com/article/national-grid-returning-finish-cable-reburial/59851

https://eu.providencejournal.com/story/news/2021/08/14/block-island-offshore-wind-farm-offline-two-months-due-to-maintenance-and-safety-concerns/8122841002/

https://electrek.co/2021/08/10/egeb-us-first-offshore-wind-farm-is-currently-offline-heres-why/https://splash247.com/turbine-stress-issues-bring-merkur-offshore-wind-farm-offline/

https://www.theday.com/article/20210807/NWS05/210809578

https://www.ge.com/renewableenergy/stories/block-island-construction-process

Sunday Archive: Sea Witches

SWIMMERS 2 SM

The Autumn is beginning to make itself known, the beaches are emptying and water babies everywhere are able to feel a bit special again. Many people think swimming in the sea all year around is nuts but I think not doing it is nuts. You will never feel bad after a swim (unless you drown I suppose but then you won’t be alive to feel bad about it) and it is good for the soul, for the head and the body.

An acquaintance mentioned a group of year round swimmers to me once not realising I was part of the group.

“There are these crazy ladies who got in the sea in all weathers, “ she said, her eyes round with awe. Then she lowered her voice…

“I have heard that even though many of them have been doing it for years they haven’t aged a day since they started! It’s like they are witches.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, ” there are no such thing as witches.”

And I walked away cackling…