Friday, 8 November 2013

The Gordon Holmes Expeditions

Those familiar with the Loch Ness Monster scene will have heard of Gordon Holmes. Back in 2007, his two minute footage of something strange and eel like in Loch Ness caught the imagination of the world's media. I covered some stills from that day here.

But Gordon wasn't there on a tourist jaunt, for that was his fifth trip to the loch in a series of expeditions to hunt down the Monster of Loch Ness. I have been in touch with Gordon since I met him for the first time at the Edinburgh Symposium in April. Having brought me up to date on his activities, I now detail them here.

The summary of his trips is shown below to give you the overview of what Gordon has been up to in the last ten years.
2003 -2004: Search the loch using binoculars and camcorder
2005–2007: Underwater search using Hydrophone & tape recorder.    
26th May 2007: Captured two minutes video footage of 2 creatures.    
2008–2010: Radio controlled sonar and hydrophone boats
2011: Radio controlled boat with cam and sonar.
2012: Underwater Cam towed by Radio Control boat.
2013: Helium Balloons lifts cam 80 ft above loch

Gordon says the results have been mixed. Unusual dark shapes were seen in the first two years though he puts that down to windrows and similar phenomena. As Gordon told me:

Visual results (apart from the 2007 sighting) were difficult to interpret due to the distances involved and the general fuzzy shapes etc due to waves, lighting conditions, unpredictable winds and tourist boat wakes.

Some sounds were recorded from the hydrophone experiments. The image below shows the hydrophone signature of a tourist boat. Although his self-built hydrophones performed well, the main problem became apparent. In his own words:

However, the problem was the noise pollution from the tourist boats' propellers and their sonar. Plus a low frequency hum from the Power Station at Foyers. After about 5 years, I gave up on this research since any animate sounds would be virtually indiscernible due to the background noise pollution. The only solution to this would be to monitor in the middle of the night and record around the corner of Urquhart Bay away from the power station low-frequency hum.

Two images are further shown from the sonar experiments Gordon conducted over 2008-2011. Gordon stated:

The sonar results (based on my equipment) were very encouraging with several unusual yet solid contacts obtained. Also, I received permission from a few boat owners to monitor their sonar displays and once again I obtained a few convincing solid contacts.

Obtaining these images is, of course, only half the job - interpreting them is the other task. He quotes Dick Raynor as suggesting the second image seen at 65 feet is that of poacher's net support. When I asked him if he had the chance to go back and inspect this area again, he did, but his boat broke down and he had to abandon the operation!

But let us move onto Gordon's novel approach for his expedition this year.  The modus operandi was to attach a spy pen and suspend it over the loch with helium filled balloons. The Aberdeen Press and Journal publicised this in an article dated September 9th and you can see Gordon showing the small spycam he used for the experiments.

Here is the "SKYNESS" project in Gordon's own words.

Hovering about 80 foot above Loch Ness, a tiny camcorder monitors signs of water disturbances. Like a Golden Eagle, the spy in the sky is carried aloft by 10 helium filled foil balloons. This is the latest project by Loch Ness Investigator, Gordon Holmes from Shipley, West Yorkshire. On paper the idea sounds crazy but, surprisingly the results have been amazing. During the last ten years, Mr Holmes has visited the loch armed with sonar, hydrophones, underwater and surface cameras mounted on radio controlled boats. His intention is to record any unusual activities or obtain proof of unknown creatures. 

Originally, I had hoped to drag the cluster of balloons plus cam around the loch using a radio controlled boat, but the winds are so unpredictable. Within minutes, the wind direction can change by 180 degrees. During my first launch attempt, two balloons exploded when blown onto the local sharp rocks. However, by the third attempt on the final day the conditions were perfect to launch. The spy in the sky cam produced better results than previously expected. Duration of the flight was 40 minutes although, the camcorder is capable of 90 minutes recording time.

The main difficulty is turbulent wind causing the SkyNess system to swirl, thus blurring the images obtained. As long as wind-levels remain below 3 knots, the system is capable of discerning any creature surfacing, obviously to observe the strange cluster of balloons. As far as I am aware, this is the first attempt to search for Nessie using the principle of a kite, involving helium filled balloons and a miniaturised cam. Now the system has proved itself, hopefully, future missions will record any unusual activity on the Loch. 

Gordon would like to thank Borlum Farm, Drumnadrochit, for providing access to their loch ness shore side property for his research during the past few years. The first picture shows the balloon rig while the second picture is a picture of Urquhart Bay below taken by the cam from 80 feet up.

The next picture is a view from the cam back down to the jetty from where it was launched.

The setup was working well and it was down to Nessie to put in an appearance. That part is pretty much beyond the control of any monster hunter but Gordon sent me one picture to show what the elevated camcorder was capable of. The image below is taken over water which has a depth of 3 to 12 feet and the objects you can see are sunken driftwood and other rubbish. 

This at least demonstrates that objects can be seen below the water surface though (in my opinion), any monster would have to be swimming quite close to the surface to emerge from the opacity of the peat stained water.

So that is Gordon's monster hunting results to date and I am sure monster hunters everywhere will wish him the best of luck as he embarks on future expeditions in the pursuit of the Loch Ness Monster.