April 4, 2017

Droning Boy: Cape D'Aguilar

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After a few weeks straight of having crappy weather - or fine weather during the work week and crap weather on the weekends - I've finally gotten a day off when the sun is out and the skies are blue.  That means I finally get a chance to take my DJI Mavic Pro out for more practice.

Ever since Hello Kitty pointed me to a particular video a couple of months ago, I've been wanting to go fly my drone around Cape D'Aguilar.  The old lighthouse sitting on the cliff seemed like a pretty good subject, and the water around Hok Tsui Wan (鶴咀灣) is so clean that the area has been designated a marine reserve, and the site of the Hong Kong University Swire Institute of Marine Science.

Lately, however, it seems that the public has discovered the beauty of this area, and selfish, irresponsible tourists have ended up trepassing on the Institute grounds looking for toilet facilities.  In the process they have caused irreparable damage to the research being done by the Institute, as well as polluting the pristine waters of the marine reserve.  Calls were made for the public to stop visiting the area so that it doesn't get damaged further.

I still wanted to go fly my drone there, and I figured that I could just go up to the area around the lighthouse and not actually go down to the rocky shores by the marine reserve.  That way I could avoid trepassing on the facilities of the Swire Institute, inflict zero damage on the coastline, and still get what I want.

I dragged my ass out of bed pretty early in the morning on a holiday, and got myself onto a bus headed to the area.  It happens to be Ching Ming Festival, and the bus was packed full of people on their way to pay their respects to their ancestors.  After getting off at the nearest bus stop, I set off on a trek of more than 3km towards my destination.

The trek was pretty easy, as there was minimal change in terms of elevation.  I walked past the ruins of the Cape D'Aguilar Battery (鶴咀炮台), which once provided protection for soldiers and their machine guns.  This would certainly make an interesting subject for drone photography, and would save me the trouble of trying to find my way down to the ruins themselves.

The paved road cuts through the PCCW Cape D'Aguilar High Frequency Radio Transmission Station.  If one chooses to come via taxi, the drop-off point is at the gates of this compound, and one would need to continue on foot.  However, as the compound is a restricted area and off-limits to civilians - despite the gates being open on both ends - I followed the well-trodden foot path that circumvents the fences of the facility.

Just as I passed the transmission station and was admiring the clear, azure waters, I realized to my horror that I had dropped my jacket somewhere on the way here.  I had taken it off as I was getting a little warm, and stuffed it under the flap cover of my camera bag without securing the buckles.  It must have slid off without me noticing.

As this was my "go-to" windbreaker whenever I needed a second layer, I immediately doubled back to try to look for it.  I probably walked more than a kilometer before giving up, and went back towards the lighthouse.  I guess it was a sign that I needed a new jacket...

The Cape D'Aguilar Lighthouse entered service in 1875 and operated for 21 years before being decommissioned.  It re-entered service in 1975 - a hundred years after first being lit - after automation.

I found a spot on the path next to the lighthouse, away from the residences attached to the Swire Institute, and launched my Mavic Pro into the air.  Much to my dismay, I discovered only this morning that all four of my drone batteries were down to about 50% power.  They had been fully-charged as of a month ago, and I didn't realize the power drain was going to be so significant.  That means each battery would only give me about 10 minutes of real flying time.  Not great.


So I flew my drone around a little, circling the lighthouse with the ol' Point of Interest mode.  I was trying to do a fly-by while having the drone rotate so that the camera was always pointed at the lighthouse, but I wasn't successful in getting the drone to recognize the lighthouse using the ActiveTrack mode.  Need more practice...

As I flew my drone past the lighthouse over the Swire Institute, I wasn't surprised to see a bunch of tourists basically trespassing on the grounds.  They were on their way to the rocky shoreline and encroaching on the marine reserve, which they certainly should not have been.  I guess there will always be plenty of selfish people who only care about their own pleasure, with little regard to the consequences of their actions...

Since I didn't have much juice in my batteries, I ended up running down the power until I was cutting it pretty close.  Automatic Return-to-Home was activated on all four of my flights.  With no juice left, I packed it up a lot earlier than I had expected and headed back on foot - another 3.5km on the way out.  It was getting close to noon, and a lot of people were coming in.  Sigh...  I hoped that they, like me, were only going to visit the lighthouse and avoid the rocks in front of the Swire Institute.  But that's probably wishful thinking... especially when a number of them felt it was cool to bring their kids as well as their four-legged kids.  I shudder to think what kind of gifts they would leave behind for the marine life in the area...

P.S. I got totally lucky!  On my way back, I found my trusty ol' Prada windbreaker!  Someone had picked it up and decided to leave it on the ground next to one of the village dumpsters.  Now I just need to go get it cleaned...

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