Photographing the Wreck of The Astrid

On the morning of 24 July 2013 the beautiful Dutch training vessel The Astrid struck rocks off the Cork coast at Ballymacus near Kinsale after suffering engine failure.  All 30 persons on board were rescued.

I was abroad at the time but I read about the drama on the web. Subsequently, I saw some fine artistic photos of the ship from the likes of Baltimore based photographer Rohan Reilly and others online. I was determined to take a trip down there to see what I could capture. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was though so I had to do some detective work using Google Earth to establish the location. I saw from the online photos that there was a pair of rocks in the distance and having located those on the map  (they are known as the Sovereign Rocks) I had the wreck site more or less nailed down. The next problem was that access to the cliffs above the wreck site was through a farm. How would the farmer react to a request for access? Since the ship went aground there have been reports of items being stolen from it and so there might be sensitivities around allowing strangers like me to get near it. Was it actually still there? Maybe it had since been towed away? All those thoughts bothered me as I made my way to Kinsale on 9th August.

My SatNav brought me to the farmhouse I had identified as nearest the wreck. There was a large dog lying outside the door as I walked towards it but he was docile. I knocked and a pleasant young woman – the farmer’s wife – answered. Yes, the ship is still there. Yes of course I could go through the land. Just park my car behind the shed and follow the path through the cornfield.

That was a relief. I got my camera gear together and headed down the path towards the cliffs. At the bottom of the cornfield was the Irish Coast Guard “do not pass” tape that the farmer’s wife had mentioned to look out for. I stepped over it and made my way through some bramble – it was obvious that other people had followed the same route  – until I got to the cliff edge. And there was The Astrid in all her tragic glory. What a sight! Time to get nearer.  A steep grassy slope led to a rocky ledge. I gingerly made my way down but I momentarily lost my grip and slipped a fair few feet with my tripod taking its own independent downwards trajectory in the process.  Apart from a sore thumb we both survived intact.  Phew!

I set up the tripod, mounted my Canon 5D Mk11, fitted the Canon 24-105 L, composed and focused, changed the lens to manual, fitted the Lee 10 Stop ND (“the Big Stopper” ) and a Lee grey-grad.  My plan was to take a series of long exposures to get that smooth glass-like sea effect. I wasn’t interested in reportage, in recording the scene as is. I was after a more artistic approach (if you will excuse the pretension). Trial and error resulted in optimum exposures of around 70 seconds at f/22 at 100 ISO. I switched the 24-105 L for the 17-40L for some of the shots.

I spent about an hour there and then I made my way slowly and very carefully up the steep slope to the cornfield and thence back to the car. I stopped off at the house and handed the farmer’s wife a five-euro note and suggested she buy some sweets for her kids.  I felt it was appropriate to make such a gesture. She had allowed me access her land when she could easily have refused.  I had the privilege of photographing one of the most dramatic scenes I have seen for some time.  It was the least I could do.

(Left click the photos to see them in a larger size) 


A colour shot and (below) a monochrome version of the same exposure


These monochrome conversions were done using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2


This blue treatment was achieved by changing the White Balance in Adobe’s Camera Raw converter