What a difference in weather - cloudless skies and hot sun. We had a minor run-in with a jobsworth on the pier who refused to let us drive on until he saw our pass (which we didn't actually have) - I flashed him a Great Northern Firework catalogue, and he was happy to let us through!

- You can click on any thumbnail to view the full sized picture -

Flotsam and jetsam.. the remnants from the previous night's display. What a mess! But glorious weather and on the other side of the pier...
... the next day's pyro, a whole van load. Ah yes, this should turn out to be a nice day indeed.
Tens of thousands of people, literally, enjoying a fine day of air displays.
This is a really good day out as there's loads to see, eat and drink (ale I mean, not sea water).

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Seafront (552Kb) Slightly dodgy panning but here you can see the whole seafront and how many people descend on Lowestoft for this one!

Once on the pier, amongst the debris from last nights show, we could see the the Skyscenes lads were preparing the pyro for the air-sea battle. The aim was to recreate a battle between a Westland Wasp helicopter, and a gunboat (the Defender). To create the impression of a string of explosions leading up to the boat, a long line of about 15 ground maroons would be trailed out behind the boat, and fired electrically in sequence to make a line of waterspouts. Candle packs and cakes on the boat would give the impression of tracer, and an array of smoke pots as the finishing touch!

The day started to get out-of-hand when it was time to get all the pyro (and the two lads from Skyscenes) over to the Defender. Pyro Pete and I helped carry the boxes of gear down to the jetty to meet an inflatable which was to take everything out to the Defender. While we were waiting for the inflatable to arrive, one of the Defender's crew gave us a brief history of the service history of the boat. We were assuming that for the display, we would set the cameras up on the end of the pier and film from there - he had other ideas! Once he realised we would be filming the show, he insisted that we go out on the Defender to get as close to the action as possible! We felt as if we had been press-ganged, but as it was a gloriously sunny day the thought of a boat trip was quite appealing.

Simon and Steve getting the pyro stuff ready for loading onto the inflatable.
Andy does the splits. I think our combined "nautical coolness" here was zero!
Simon trying to play it cool, standing up in the back. He wasn't doing that thirty seconds later at 25 knots on the North Sea!
There they go. Shouldn't laugh. We were next. It might look fun, but...
... Captain there's something moving down there.. and it's big, and something tells me it's really pissed off from the ground maroon we let off in the water yesterday!
Out of the harbour and the maniac inflatable pilot going at full pelt. Not amusing when you're trying to hold onto your camera gear. Incidentally in the background to the middle-right is the pier the firework display was fired from.

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Off they go! (468Kb) This one's for the soon-to-be-seasick-Simon, showing off in the back of the inflatable. He was the first one back ashore, ill, heheh. The moral of the story is, never show off in front of the camera.

Hastily grabbing cameras and lifejackets we boarded the inflatable and gave strict instructions that the driver take it easy out to the boat as the sea was choppy, and we didn't want any seawater sloshing over the cameras. The driver completely disregarded this and as we left the harbour and headed for open water he went flat out for the Defender! I seem to recall that at one or two occasions on the ride out, my arse was actually in contact with part of the boat, but for most of the ride I seemed to be completely airborne, whist trying to hang on the back of Pyro Pete's seat and also stopping the video camera sliding into the North Sea with my knees. A short lifetime later, we arrived at the Defender and after a brief battle with a rope ladder we were onboard!

Above: Pyro "Ready to fire, Sir!" Pete.

Pete B on the guns.
More weaponry. We'd be safe from any kamikaze attacks anyway.
This is me shortly before the sea sickness started to kick in!
Ian Rigby from the team behind the Defender, a privately owned boat for hire for various wargames and so on. See the Info section for more details.
The plaque explaining a little bit about the Defender.
More weaponry. They weren't joking when they said it was a gun boat!
The Red Arrows start their display, screaming down as we find, yes, more brilliant guns. Big boys toys!
View from the back of the Defender.

Skyscenes had the back of the boat to themselves to set up the pyro, and were already setting up when we arrived, although it was soon apparent that Simon was feeling less than 100% and that if he did not get back on dry land soon, he would show us all what he had had for breakfast. Pity was taken on him and after a quick debate it was arranged for me to assist Andy for the display, while Simon headed back to shore with the nutter in the inflatable and Pyro Pete found a handy perch next to the funnel to film from.

My job was to feed out the string of ground maroons from the back of Defender - hopefully at the correct marker buoy - then get clear while Andy fired them in sequence, then to dash back in to set off the smoke pots while Andy was busy firing the candle packs and cakes. We rehearsed our cues and movements around the deck a few times til we felt as ready as we would ever be, and waited for the action to begin.

Andy getting the report candles ready.
Pete B takes a quick break to watch some of the airshow.
Back to work, loads to set up and get ready.
The Defender takes us out a bit further, while Pete B and Andy explain the pyro to one of the crew.

Shortly before we were due to display, the Defender fired up its engines (and Pyro Pete disappeared in a cloud of diesel smoke) and headed a couple of miles offshore so the guns could be tested. The Defender is equipped with a 75mm laser-guided Bofors gun on the front, a 20mm cannon on the rear deck (which made a great handhold for me as I lurched about), and a brace of gas powered machine guns either side of the bridge. It was completely surreal to be bobbing around in the sun, on a boat bristling with guns, while the Red Arrows screamed low overhead leaving clouds of coloured smoke on the water while the Defenders guests and crew blasted away at them with machine guns!

Above: Excellent stuff from the Red Arrows.

What a good view of the air show. Almost worth the sickness! I really should not have had a tuna sandwich on board.
Stunning display as always from the Red Arrows.
The mad inflatable again. See how it flies!!
Pete B metres away from the cold, churning, brown North Sea.

Downloadable Video Clips

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On the Defender (514Kb) I still feel a bit green when I see this, the inflatable, and the horrid North Sea (which doesn't seem to bother Pete B in this clip!)

At last! Time for action and we met up with our helicopter adversary and headed for the crowded beaches. Ahead of us the Harrier Jump Jet was finishing his display and performing his traditional bow to the audience while hovering low over the water. The roar of his jet louder even than the rumble of the Defenders engine as we gathered speed - On the rear deck, Andy and I were ready. Up by the funnel Pyro Pete was ready with video and still cameras. Somewhere around was our flying adversary and we all hoped he was ready!

Suddenly everything changed. On the Defender we heard a tremendous PHUT followed immediately by an uncanny silence. Looking ahead to the shore we saw a parachute going into the sea and an empty sky! No smoke, No flames, Nothing! Had we really just seen a plane crash? A quick shout to Pyro Pete confirmed that he hadn't caught it on camera, as he was ready to film us in action instead. News came in on the ship-to-shore radio that the Harrier had indeed crashed, and all boat and plane movements were stopped while the emergency services swung into action. We tried to contact the other members of the Skyscenes team by mobile phone to ask what was happening on shore and the pier, but all networks were busy. When we did eventually get through and asked what had happened we got the dour answer "We think he flooded the engine!".

Above: The helicopter winches the harrier pilot from the Lifeboat.

The lifeboat races to pick up the downed pilot.
Here the Sea King takes the pilot from the lifeboat to fly him to hospital.

From the harbourmaster came news that the pilot was OK (save a broken ankle) but that the plane was leaking aviation fuel on the water in the area we were due to display, and so the air/sea battle was cancelled. All the pyro effects had to be made safe and dismantled, then boxed up in readiness for return to land. This done, there was nothing else we could do while the ban on boat movements was in place, apart from bask on deck in the afternoon sun. The Defender kindly supplied some much-needed cold beers and we sat and watched the Harrier pilot complete his adventures by being winched from the lifeboat to a rescue helicopter and flown off to hospital.

Eventually Pyro Pete and I made it back to harbour after another hairy inflatable ride - this time I had even less to hold on to, as our inflatable had been involved in the rescue and had actually been hit by the Lowestoft lifeboat while rescuing the pilot, and this had torn off the rope handholds down the side of the inflatable!

Back on the pier we found the Skyscenes crew dismantling the planned fireworks show that evening. With much talk of aircraft fuel still in the harbour, and the sense of shock still very palpable among the witnesses along the shore it was reluctantly decided to cancel the show. Some hasty negotiations with the airshow organisers and the town council confirmed that Skyscenes would still be paid for their time and effort, and that the fireworks show would merely be postponed for a week, and would be fired the following weekend as part of the towns carnival celebrations.

I'd like to say a big 'Thank You' to Skyscenes for the insight into the ups and downs of a professional display team. Surely a weekend which demonstrated that no matter how much time and preparation goes into a show, there are some things which you cannot plan for (such as a few tons of jet fighter crashing in your display zone)! Thanks also to all on the Defender for allowing us to get close to the action at all times. All in all, an outstanding weekend of pyrotechnic adventures, which we both feel privileged to have been a part of.

Report by Pete B. Picture and video captions by Pyro Pete.

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