Like many others, I watched the weather forecasts closely from early on last week. It looked promising and wild. In fact, as the week developed, unusually, the Met Office didn’t really alter their predictions. Early on Monday morning the UK was about to be hit by ‘St Jude’, a storm the like of which, we hadn’t seen for decades.
The storm consisted of a deep low pressure system that would bring hurricane force winds of over 80mph in places, particularly exposed areas of the south coast.
I was unsure whether to make the trip to the south coast, particularly Lyme Regis, for two reasons:
- 1, it was a two hour drive away and
- 2, sleeping in the van overnight may not have been the brightest idea I’d ever had!
However, I have been to Lyme Regis many times and the thought of massive waves crashing over The Cobb and onto the Harbour buildings with a rising sun behind excited me and is something I have always wanted to photograph. It is a bit of a clichéd shot but not one I have managed to capture yet. I felt Lyme was a particularly good ‘target’ during this storm as The Cobb stretches out into the sea even at low tide and therefore there was a chance the waves would crash into the wall even with the sea at its lowest ebb.
St Jude was scheduled to hit land at 1.00am in the deep dark night and photographically speaking it would die out quite quickly with gusts reducing in intensity to a mere 35mph by first light (7.00am). Tide times meant a high tide was also not due until 11.30am. What to do?
Late Sunday afternoon I made a decision. This storm was likely to be the biggest for 20 years, the weather reports and news items were littered with warnings and advice and there seemed to be no indication that the storm wouldn’t be as intense as expected which is often the case with UK weather forecasting. I couldn’t just sit at home and then wish I had made the trip when I saw the aftermath and high seas on the south coast and on the news. To solve my sleeping in the van issue during the high winds, I booked a little Bed & Breakfast room in Lyme and set off on the two hour journey south, packed up with all the camera gear I might need and all the waterproof clothing you could imagine!
It was pouring down with rain by the time I arrived and the lovely lady that greeted me at the B&B gave me a little room in the ‘sheltered’ part of the house. She was particularly worried that I would be taking photo’s at first light as Lyme had lost a photographer from the Cobb just the day before. Apparently he had been swept off by a large wave and drowned. I assured her that I had no intention of being actually ON the Cobb, but photographing it from the shore.
I was woken up in the night by the start of the storm, the wind and the rain were sounding intense. At 6am my alarm sounded and I quickly prepared making sure I was warm, protected and had all the gear I needed.
I jumped into the van and headed down the road for all of two minutes, parked in the car-park and leapt out to survey the carnage I knew would greet me……
……..only, there wasn’t any. Actually, I didn’t want any carnage, I just wanted big rolling stormy waves and at least some chance of some decent dawn light. Amazingly, there was neither. Now, I have done enough photography to know that light is a matter of luck on these types of occasions but where was the sea? It was a bit choppy for sure, waves were crashing into The Cobb, but rather apologetically and certainly not with any force or excitement. In fact, it was quite a calm scene that greeted me and not what I had expected at all. It was probably a scene locals saw quite regularly in Lyme and absolutely nothing to write home about. I chatted to a couple of other photographers, one who had had exactly the same idea and travelled down from Bristol and another more local. Talking to another local, he was amazed and relieved there was relatively no damage in the area and laughed at TV crews arriving hoping to find ‘death and destruction’ on the shoreline!
My views are that sometimes, as a photographer and as my good friend and I often remark, you have to be “in it to win it”. Had I not made the trip I might have missed an amazing shot and opportunity. As it turned out, I would have missed nothing but all the signals were there and I made the effort. I don’t regret it at all. Its the way things go sometimes.
Now, I don’t know if anyone has seen the forecast for this weekend yet? It does look promising again down there, gusting 50mph winds with high tides……………