MPI Adventure Wind Turbine Installation Vessel & Port Of Larne At Night - Dec 16th 2021

If any of you follow me on youtube you will know that I have a varied range of passions ranging from Astronomical and Meteorological subjects, photography, and drones. The latter in particular lends itself well to a wide range of subject matter which overlaps my sky interests but which also has evolved into an unexpected world of other interests and curiosities. One of these passions is shipping, something six years ago I had never seen coming at all, however since I got my first drone, the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, then later the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, I have by some strange twist of fate and direction from the Universe found myself chasing Marine vessels with drones.

I fell into all this quite by accident when one day I saw a cargo vessel anchored off the Co. Antrim coast and decided I would fly out to see it up close. The aerial adventure and special close up view over the ocean really blew my mind. The process ticked so many boxes for me, I also saw ships out at sea during night photo shoots and storm chases and always found them mysterious and fascinating, combine this with the actual act of flying out across the sea in all weather conditions with the drone always at risk gave me a thrill beyond words, to me it was the thrill of the hunt, just in the same way as I like to hunt thunderstorms, comets and aurora, however the act of flying introduced a new experience which combined all these traits with the sense of having a controlled out of body experience, since that first flight I've been hooked. I've literally been filming aerial footage of ships for more than five years and obtained hundreds of video sequences and pushed my drones to their limit, it has been a very exciting and educational time which has generated many fond memories and good friends and adventures, I still do this as passionate as ever when time and weather and circumstance allow, which brings me onto the subject of this report.

I seldom dedicate a particular ship chase to a permanent image report on the web site as they are mainly documented on my youtube channel, however there are exceptions to this rule. If a particular ship was unique, rare or famous then it would be worthy of mentioning, and even more so if the process of getting it was an adventure or emotional roller coaster (yes that happens). I have a few on the web site such as the Sir David Attenborough. The latest addition to this list is a unique vessel called the MPI Adventure. This is a famous heavy lift vessel which specializes in the transportation and installation of wind turbines at sea, you may already have seen her or her Sister ships on television documentaries, she's still known to some as the largest turbine installation vessel in the world.

Her and her Sister vessel the MPI Resolution have been periodic visitors to Port of Larne over the last few years, they tend to operate at off shore wind farms on the Irish Sea then with little warning they return to Larne, presumably to re-supply before heading back out to Sea. I had been monitoring her movements on various shipping web sites and had spent the better part of two years obsessing over getting her. This was a very difficult thing to do, first of all I live in Cookstown so the drive to Larne is quite some distance so there's no chance of catching her leaving at short notice. The other reason is that there's literally no public information available on ship movements so I simply didn't know for certain if she's going to leave and if so at what time. Furthermore during the Winter months she often sails in or out under cover of darkness so there was no light to film her with anyway, so all these factors made getting her very unlikely.

Then the night of December 15th/16th 2021 changed everything, I happened to notice when I placed my cursor over her on the web sites her destination had changed from Larne to an off shore wind farm, however when I actually clicked on the ship it still said Larne. This confusion happens a lot on the web sites, in most cases she could still be sitting there for days or even another couple of weeks for all I knew. However, my instincts were buzzing this night, I simply couldn't shake the feeling that she was going to leave and that this might be my only chance of getting her for a very long time. This would be a complete gamble based on nothing more than instinct, I trusted my instincts and committed myself to the chase. Even though I was psyched up I wasn't setting myself up for punishment either, my plan was this, if she didn't leave I could still film her at berth, I could also film the ferry and perhaps stop off at Cairndu House on the way back for more filming, this way I would never be coming home empty handed and I would have something to show for my efforts, anything else would be the icing on the cake. The weather forecast looked good, broken cloud, light SWly breeze and bone dry so everything was conspiring for a road trip.

My plan was to leave during the early hours of the morning under the cover of darkness so I could escape the busy traffic and get there with plenty of time to spare so I wouldn't be rushing or panicking. I packed the van with food and drink, got diese,l then went to bed at 01.00 UT. However due to the excitement of my plan I couldn't get to sleep until 01.30 UT. My alarm went off at 03.00 UT, I was up like a rocket, had an energy bar, filled a flask of hot water and brought a jar of hot chocolate powder, I then grabbed my Dog Rhua (who was confused at this hour) and got her in the van then by 03.30 UT I was on the road. The night was dark and cloudy, I drove swiftly but carefully through the back roads on the hills outside Broughshane then by 04.30 UT I had arrived at Glenarm. I could see the clouds breaking and stars which was a great sign, but as I advanced along the road I was shocked by the wind which buffeted the van and pushed me across the road, the trees were buckling, I was heart broken, so much for the forecast, these gusts must have been in the 30mph ball park, there was no way I could do a long range flight in those winds but I was undeterred and never gave up and kept driving. Once I arrived near the coast outside Larne it was a different place, the atmosphere was peaceful and dead calm, it was magical and tranquil.

I walked Rhua along the beach in pitch darkness while listening to the stirring of the sea and with the stars overhead it felt really special and like a living dream, I was the only person there and that made it feel all the more surreal, I will admit at this stage I was buzzing, I was already having the adventure I had been craving. Within the darkness the lights of Port of Larne could be seen, and much to my satisfaction I could also see the MPI Adventure berthed at port, she was lit up like a Christmas tree with white-blue lights on her hull, deck and bridge, and flashing red lights on the top of her vertical legs. I was delighted she was still there, at least she hadn't left during the night, however she could end up sitting there for days so I had no idea when she would go at all. I took advantage of the situation, using my head torch I set-up the drone then attached a light to make it visible or within VLOS then got in the air. I had already recced this area during daylight during a previous visit and knew where any power lines and wires where located so this night flight could be conducted with complete safety.

The lights of the MPI and Port looked very festive at night which was very fitting with Christmas not far away. For those interested these still images were taken using AFC focus, P mode, incandescent white balance, shutter 1 50th/sec at ISO800 and 400, I was experimenting.

MPI at berth with Port and lights of Larne in the background.

Getting within 50m distance then cropping the image in for a closer look, you can see the six jack legs and helicopter landing pad.


Can you imagine this lit up out in a dark sea with the red lights of numerous wind turbines above the water, it would look like a spaceship in the darkness.

The containers make for a good sense of scale, I could see the walk way between the vessel and quay, I took this as a sign that she would not be leaving as they were still making preparations - I would turn out to be wrong.

120m altitude

I used up two batteries taking stills and a short video clip, it was surreal to look up at the drone coming into land with stars around it, I really was loving this experience. Rhua and I did another walk along the shore in complete darkness then headed back to the van. I got the heater on to warm us up and began charging one of the batteries and controller to keep them topped up just in case. Rhua and I sat inside eating and listening to Christmas music on Downtown radio, I began to feel sleepy and was tempted to rest my head on the window and dose off for a while, however I couldn't afford such a luxury because for all I knew the MPI could leave at any minute with little warning and if I were asleep my chances would be gone for weeks, months or even years. So I stayed awake while watching the sky, it was an experience to watch the darkness slowly transition into twilight, then pre-dawn, I scanned the horizon for rare Nacreous Clouds however the sky was crystal clear.

It was a beautiful morning, the sun was just beginning to rise over the SE horizon, then on an instinct I grabbed the drone and went for another walk with the intention of getting a visual of the ship to see if she was still there, suddenly to my delight I saw her slowly moving away from berth using her thrusters, the MPI was leaving!!!!, I wasn't expecting that to happen, I simply couldn't believe my luck!, I did a quick sky check, this was unbelievable for not only was she leaving but the weather and flying conditions were absolutely perfect. The sky was clear and clean, there was no wind, the ocean was tranquil and dreamy and the sun was now hanging low lighting everything in perfect golden hour light, not only was I going to get this ship but I was going to get it in perfect conditions.

Then it dawned on me that the Universe had conspired to make this happen, it had done all the work, it even felt like my late Mum who had recently passed away was looking down on me, I'm sure she had a hand in this fortuitous moment. Suddenly the pressure now switched to me, I could have the best subject and light in the world however if I didn't fly well then I would never do the moment justice and would let myself down, so I really began feeling the pressure to perform. When I get excited my fingers and thumbs sometimes twitch which can affect my smooth stick adjustments, I could feel this already happening, the adrenaline was pumping through me and my body was shaking, my senses were becoming focused however I needed to calm down and take control. I took deep slow breaths in and out, then began stretching exercises and joint rotations to loosen myself up and channel the adrenaline, I then did a swift but careful check of the drone making sure the camera was clean, the battery was full and engaged securely then checked the body and props for no fractures. The tablet was already on then as I saw the dark form of the MPI sailing into view against the low Winter sun I powered up the drone and got in the air, I hovered, checked my stick movements, then flew out, I had waited two years for this moment and now it was happening.

MPI outbound into the bay

For much of the flight I decided to stay low and film the ship with camera panned up high to give a sense of what it would be like for a person standing on the sea watching her. These are just a few stills grabbed from the video footage, the light was perfection and so was the clear sky.

I made three passes around her, on the third I climbed in altitude to get level with her bridge. This moment, as I watched live on the FPV screen, had me smiling with delight yet shaking with awe. The MPI back-lit by the rising sun, it doesn't get much more cinematic than this. Her six jacking legs are approx 70m high and extend onto the sea bed, that way the MPI can be lifted out of the water and made into a secure platform for her onboard cranes to lift and install wind turbines.

Final scene of the flight when the drone climbed and backed away as she sailed out into the North Channel then made a turn to starboard for her destination in the Irish Sea. At this stage the drone began to RTH due to the cold temperature affecting the life of the battery, however I had already got all the footage I needed so I let it do its thing. I can tell you I was one happy camper as I packed the drone away on shore with the sun shining on my face, I had got her and not only that but I was very happy with the footage, the entire flight felt smooth, flowed, and a dream come true. In truth I don't know how I did it without my fingers shaking but I suspect that muscle memory from hundreds of ship chases previous to this had come into play and stood by me when it was time for action.

Rhua and I had another walk then back to the van for another hot chocolate, even when the MPI was far away she still stood out dramatically against the skyline due to those huge jacking legs, several people out for early morning walks were watching her with great interest, she certainly had a tremendous presence. This was one of those special ship chasing adventures I shall never forget, if I ever get the chance to film her again I would certainly like to do so, she's more than worthy of a return road trip. It would be difficult to get her in such great light a second time however next time I might fly higher to take in the view of her deck and landing pad, but what really would make her extra cool would be seeing her carrying a cargo of turbines and blades out to her next wind farm, either way, thanks MPI Adventure for a great experience.

Night drone footage of the MPI at berth, the Larne ferry lit up at night and Port of Larne lights filmed at 05.00 UT on a calm and tranquil Winter's night.

Full footage of the MPI leaving Port of Larne in perfect light in the company of the rising sun complimented with a dreamy tranquil ocean. This flight has no editing and only a couple of quick cuts so for the most part is a full flight, I hope you find the footage a fascinating yet relaxing experience. Thanks very much for reading.


Martin McKenna

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