A Piece of WW II History: Visited
A few years ago, I saw a photograph of the Maunsell Sea Forts and was captivated by the structures and their presence in the North Sea. After I researched the forts and found out about their history during WW II, I was even more interested in seeing them in person. Like a lot of my desired travel destinations, I would put the forts on my “places to visit list” and never really thought about them after that. However, when I started to plan a trip to England in early 2018, I began to map out a visit to the forts. The North Sea in January can be unpredictable, very cold and wet time as well (average in January is three inches of rain) and, with the moisture and high winds, the temperature is much colder than indicated. The "easiest" Maunsell Forts to travel to from the mainland are located in the Red Sands area of the Thames Estuary, North Sea, located about six miles out from Whitstable Harbour. When I called around to hire a boat, there were no boats in the water for hire (all had been pulled for the winter); but, as in Florida during Hurricane Harvey (see Dome Home blog), I found the perfect Captain, who thought I was a crazy American, but, up for the challenge. Sometimes in adventure photography, you need a little luck and a worthy partner to help you achieve your goal.
The problem was not the boat nor an experienced Captain, the problem was the weather and extreme tides of the North Sea. In the winter, storms can come up in the North Sea within a few hours and high winds with a small boat could be a problem in the open sea. With the extreme tide swings for the North Sea in the winter, meant there was no water in the early part of the day and only enough water to get in and out of Whitstable Harbour in the late afternoon. We ended moving the day up to get a clear three-hour window in the afternoon (see cell phone photo below of weather forecast for that afternoon). Forecast showed sun and light winds, but, that was not the case. The boat trip took 30 minutes and it rained the entire time. Although I had rain gear, the boat crew loaned me heavy weather gear and tethered me to the boat!
Seeing photos of the Maunsell Forts is one thing, but, seeing them in person from the lower perspective of the water surface is another vista entirely. The forts were assembled in the local harbor and floated out to the locations and sunk in about 50 feet of water in 1942-1943. The top portions of the forts were constructed with sheets of iron riveted together in a two-story structure. The patina on the metal surfaces of the forts is really extraordinary and gives the final photo of them an "other-worldly" quality. The sky was very grey and the water was a muddy brown adding to the effect of the photograph as well.
Over an eight-day trip in the southern part of England, I drove 673 miles and visited a number of interesting locations (and more round-a-bouts than I care to count!). Because of the inclement weather, we moved the boat trip up a day, so, the boat ride out to visit the Maunsell forts was the very first thing I did and photographed after I landed in London-Heathrow. I am lucky to have located the perfect boat and Captain and very glad for the opportunity to visit a piece of WW II history and witness some English engineering and ingenuity.