NOAA’s Bell Shimada at the Exploratorium


On Thursday I headed over to the Exploratorium’s new Pier 15 home to take a round of photographs. Pier 15 is a great location for the museum with its dramatic waterfront siting sandwiched between the city’s center and San Francisco Bay itself. On Thursday it was more dramatic yet for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel the Bell M. Shimada. What fun to see this large white ship parked just outside the windows of the museum’s new Observatory.

Bell Shimada at Pier 15

The ship as seen from inside the Exploratorium’s second floor Observatory.

The Exploratorium’s interest in documented their first ship visit led to a quick invitation to KAP from the deck of the ship. My first act was to check the weather forecast where I was relieved to find a prediction of 10 kt. winds from the north into the early afternoon. When winds are from the more typical WNW this site is in the lee of Telegraph Hill and the kite flying becomes very difficult for KAP – large scale cells of turbulence and quick changes in wind velocity from >15 mph to practically zero. I have flown in these conditions on a few occasions (once with Simon Harbord years ago) and wished never to again – dreadful kite flying. So, happy with the prediction of northerly winds I quickly packed up my gear and headed over to the waterfront. I wanted to get over earlier in the day to avoid shooting into the later afternoon sun.

Bell Shimada at Pier 15

Many if my shots looked like this as I was wary to send the KAP rig further.

The promised 10 knots out of the north never appeared and instead I found near calm conditions between 11 am and 3 pm. If you have to kill time somewhere the Exploratorium is a great place to do it! I happily watched the dissection of a cow’s eye and played a bit in the Tinkering Studio. Around 3 pm a slight sea breeze showed up, unfortunately from the dreaded NW. Yet again Telegraph Hill seemed to embed leeward eddy demons that were particularly diabolical – winds with “holes” that eliminate lift for a couple of minutes at a time, just long enough to kerplunk my gear in the bay if it is out too far.

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A composite image stitched from two landscape-format shots. When the wind filled in for a moment I was able to get the camera out far enough to capture the whole ship. This workable wind only lasted for a few minutes and the camera was then hauled back to a “feet dry” safe conditions.

I boarded the ship just after three and set up shop on a small foredeck about 30 feet above the waterline. I flew three different kites (6, 7.5 and 8.5 Rokkakus) over a two-hour period trying to outwit the winds. This was over two hours of kite flying with multiple cycles of deploying line followed by a quick panic retrieval to keep my gear out of the bay. In the end the quirky winds won and I did not get the sweeping panorama or variety of shots I wanted. But, I am happy to say I wasn’t completely skunked. I did get the camera out toward the end during one five-minute period of sufficient breeze. I was able to go far enough from the pier to get a handful of similarly framed shots.

Bell Shimada at Pier 15

A composite image stitched from two portrait-format shots.

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