Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: Saturday 04th of March 2017.

After our previous bad luck with the weather at the Helderberg Nature Reserve, we were holding thumbs that history would not repeat itself. Fortunately, it didn’t and we could actually show people things in the sky other than clouds.

This eager young viewer quickly got the hang of the control pad on “Little Martin” and under Auke’s watchful eye set about finding the moon.
This eager young viewer quickly got the hang of the control pad on “Little Martin” and under Auke’s watchful eye set about finding the moon.

Auke, Lynnette and I pitched nice and early followed shortly by Wendy and we all promptly set about setting up the telescopes in preparation for the arrival of the Friends of the Helderberg nature Reserve later on. Wendy set up her 8” Dobsonian and Auke set up the Celestron nicknamed “Little Martin” while Lynnette and I set up the other Celestron known as the “One Armed Bandit”. Both Celestrons were automated and we hoped to gain time and make life easier by not having to adjust all the time to follow an object, as is the case with a Dobsonian.  Although there are definite advantages to using an automated telescope as opposed to a good old push-and-tug Dobsonian I found that with the 5” instrument I had it was less stable and did not give me the clarity and brightness I was used to on our workhorse, Lorenzo the 10” Dobsonian. I will definitely investigate other uses for the Celestron but at present, I have my doubts when it comes to general outreach.  Watch this space is I believe the expression to use.

TOP LEFT: Auke and I setting up. Lorenzo stayed at home and the “One Armed Bandit” was out in the field with Auke’s “Little Martin”. CENTRE LEFT: Myself and Auke sort out last minute details. BOTTOM LEFT: Some of the picnickers were quick to latch onto the opportunity to do some viewing even if the event wasn’t really for them. TOP RIGHT: Wendy’s 8” Dobsonian drew immediate attention. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy and a small crowd of enthusiastic potential viewers.
TOP LEFT: Auke and I setting up. Lorenzo stayed at home and the “One Armed Bandit” was out in the field with Auke’s “Little Martin”. CENTRE LEFT: Myself and Auke sort out last minute details. BOTTOM LEFT: Some of the picnickers were quick to latch onto the opportunity to do some viewing even if the event wasn’t really for them. TOP RIGHT: Wendy’s 8” Dobsonian drew immediate attention. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy and a small crowd of enthusiastic potential viewers.

There were still day picnickers around and when the children spotted the telescopes they made a beeline for us before we had time to set up properly. As soon as we were up and running we let them look at the moon to their heart’s content.  Auke even had on eager little lass trained up in no time to operate the control paddle of his telescope; I was less adventurous. As the picnickers trickled away the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve ) started arriving and setting up their picnics.

TOP: The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve starting to arrive, well equipped for the evening’s picnic and dressed appropriately in case the temperature dropped. 2nd FROM TOP: The Moon was up so we could view that before it got dark enough to do a what’s up. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: While some looked at the moon others enjoyed a leisurely picnic. BOTTOM: Edward presenting the what’s up.
TOP: The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve starting to arrive, well equipped for the evening’s picnic and dressed appropriately in case the temperature dropped. 2nd FROM TOP: The Moon was up so we could view that before it got dark enough to do a what’s up. 2nd FROM BOTTOM: While some looked at the moon others enjoyed a leisurely picnic. BOTTOM: Edward presenting the what’s up.

By the time it was dark enough to do a what’s up tonight most of them had looked at the moon.  I kept my introduction as short as possible and steadily increased the number of stars and constellations as the gathering dark allowed us to see more of them.

TOP: Wendy and the 8” getting some photographic exposure. CENTRE: One advantage of using the OAB is that one does not have to keep adjusting to keep the object in the eyepiece. I still prefer Lorenzo despite the convenience of the OAB. BOTTOM: Auke and “Little Martin” in the background while the two ladies on the right evaluate the setup.
TOP: Wendy and the 8” getting some photographic exposure. CENTRE: One advantage of using the OAB is that one does not have to keep adjusting to keep the object in the eyepiece. I still prefer Lorenzo despite the convenience of the OAB. BOTTOM: Auke and “Little Martin” in the background while the two ladies on the right evaluate the setup.

After the talk, it was back to the telescopes and we spent the rest of the evening until packing up time around 21:45 showing various objects and talking about whichever astronomy questions were put to us.  All in all, it was a very pleasant and enjoyable evening with fair weather, very little wind and nice people.

Thanks to the Friends for the invitation and we are very glad the weather gods viewed our little get together favourably this time round.

Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: Saturday 12th March 2016.

On Saturday morning Auke sent Margie a message asking what plan B was because the weather forecast at yr.no (the Norwegian weather site which you can see here) said it was going to become cloudy from 17:00 onward with the possibility of rain. The Friends (go here for more about the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve – FHNR) and Margie looked out of their windows and decided it was fine weather and was going to stay that way. The FHNR also have a Facebook page which you can visit here.

Auke, Lynnette and I arrived on time and set up under cloudless skies in the Helderberg Nature Reserve (go here to learn more about this jewel in Somerset West) and it looked as if, for once, yr.no had got it completely wrong. People started arriving and setting up their picnics and it looked increasingly as if it was going to be clear all evening but then at 19:00 the wind shifted to the south and the temperature dropped a few degrees. Shortly after this change the first wisps of cloud appeared from the direction of False Bay and pretty soon the wisps had become large chunks and shortly thereafter it was completely overcast. The conclusion is that the Norwegian weather forecasters might be late sometimes, but they are only very, very seldom wrong.

TOP: The assembled Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve. BOTTOM LEFT: Daniel Snyman setting up his refractor. BOTTOM RIGHT: Daniel and his very cute daughter getting the moon in their sights while it was still visible and in the background Auke chats to Yolandri, the nature conservationist.
TOP: The assembled Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve. BOTTOM LEFT: Daniel Snyman setting up his refractor. BOTTOM RIGHT: Daniel and his very cute daughter getting the moon in their sights while it was still visible and in the background Auke chats to Yolandri, the nature conservationist.

Clearly there was going to be no stargazing but what was there going to be? After a hurried council of war between Margie and Auke it was decided that Auke would present his normal What’s Up in a different format to substitute for the lack of moon and stars.

TOP: The Friends all in the dark but all listening attentively as Auke takes them through Astronomy 101 the Slotegraaf version. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke demonstrating the differences between refractors and reflectors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Maphefu and the Friends in the background captivated by Auke’s presentation.
TOP: The Friends all in the dark but all listening attentively as Auke takes them through Astronomy 101 the Slotegraaf version. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke demonstrating the differences between refractors and reflectors. BOTTOM RIGHT: Maphefu and the Friends in the background captivated by Auke’s presentation.

Auke pitched in and first up explained the difference between refractors and reflecting telescopes using Daniel Snyman’s refractor and his Dobby, Maphefu. He then launched into a brilliant coverage of astronomy, astronomy history, cosmology and indigenous astronomy that entertained the Friends for more than an hour. Well done Auke!

We will be back at a later date to do the stargazing.

Observe the Moon night with the Eco-Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve: 22 January 2016.

Auke, remedy Lynnette and I arrived at about 19:30 to begin setting up. Andreas had taken the Eco-Rangers and some parents on one of his very instructive night walks in the reserve and when they returned we had to be up and running. There was a fairly strong gusting wind and I was worried that we might not be able to get a stable picture on the screen with the Celestron refractor and the Martin-Cam. I was also holding thumbs that the electronic gremlin which Martin had fixed, generic would stay fixed and not derail my efforts as it had on our previous visit.

By the time we had Lorenzo and the Celestron set up and I was certain that the electronics were behaving themselves, sovaldi the line of torches appeared amongst the trees, heralding the approach of Andreas and the Eco-Rangers.

Auke got the group settled down and did a basic introduction before the observing started. At my telescope there was some initial confusion. Some of the Eco-Rangers insisted that they wanted to look at the moon through the telescope and not on the screen. After several explanations I got the message home and the group settled down.

The camera was set up out of harm’s way and set to take photos at specific intervals. As it was dark the shutter speed was fairly slow so any movement caused a blurring effect. These three shots show Auke in action with the Eco-Rangers shortly after they arrived back from their walk. Careful observers will recognize the Southern Cross and the two pointers in the background.
The camera was set up out of harm’s way and set to take photos at specific intervals. As it was dark the shutter speed was fairly slow so any movement caused a blurring effect. These three shots show Auke in action with the Eco-Rangers shortly after they arrived back from their walk. Careful observers will recognize the Southern Cross and the two pointers in the background.
If you were standing still you have a solid image and if you moved the image is blurred. The Southern Cross is very clear in the bottom image.
If you were standing still you have a solid image and if you moved the image is blurred. The Southern Cross is very clear in the bottom image.

One of the Eco-Rangers made a short video of the telescope and the changing Moon as I moved the image on the screen. Quite nifty, complete with a voice recording.

The Celestron and its mount in reflecting the green glow from the light on the battery and in the background some artistic torch work by some of the Eco-Rangers.
The Celestron and its mount in reflecting the green glow from the light on the battery and in the background some artistic torch work by some of the Eco-Rangers.

By 22:00 it was all over and we packed up kindly supported by Wendy, Claudia, Andreas and on or two other adults. Thanks for the help and we hope to see you all again soon.

Three Days at Blaauwklippen’s Christmas Market: 17 tot 19 December 2015.

Like in 2014 we were booked to do the Blaauwklippen Christmas Market again in 2015 (go here to read more about Blaauwklippen Wine Estate), ambulance but, unlike last year’s one night stand, 2015 was to be three consecutive nights. The weather forecast looked good and they proved to be correct too.
Star People spent three very pleasant and busy evenings there with solar viewing from 16:30 till sunset and from 18:00 till 22:00 the almost first quarter moon provided many people with a first time peek through a telescope. We had our Old Faithful, Lorenzo, there as usual and Auke set up Evan’s demo radio telescope as well. Jonathan brought along his refractor on the first evening. Lorenzo was operated, as usual by Lynnette, with Auke also doing several stints. Wendy and Rose each had an 8” Dobby there and Alan, not to be outgunned, set up his 12” Dobby. Dirk set up his 127 mm MAK, (F = 1500 mm) but was plagued by technical problems so he never really got into the swing of things. We had a surprise visit from Brett and Tammy too which was very nice.

TOP: Plenty of wide open space just after 15:00 before the stalss had set up and the crowds started arriving. MIDDLE: Auke’s very eye-catching advert for the event. BOTTOM: Evan’s radio antenna with the Simonsberg and Stellenbosch Mountain catching the setting sun, just visible in the distance.
TOP: Plenty of wide open space just after 15:00 before the stalls had set up and the crowds started arriving. MIDDLE: Auke’s very eye-catching advert for the event. BOTTOM: Evan’s radio antenna with the Simonsberg and Stellenbosch Mountain catching the setting sun, just visible in the distance.
TOP: Wendy and her 8”entertaining some visitors with a glimpse of the moon. MIDDLE: Jonathan getting everything properly aligned before the rush starts. BOTTOM: Lynnette and Lorenzo with Auke in attendance and an interested moon-watching youngster.
TOP: Wendy and her 8”entertaining some visitors with a glimpse of the moon. MIDDLE: Jonathan getting everything properly aligned before the rush starts. BOTTOM: Lynnette and Lorenzo with Auke in attendance and an interested moon-watching youngster.
TOP LEFT: While Mom looks through Lorenzo the rest of the family eyeball the Moon.. TOP RIGHT: The Celestron refractor set up and ready for its first successful public outing. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette and Lorenzo. Lorenzo is in auto-mode while Lynnette explains something to an interested visitor. BOTTOM RIGHT: The image of the Moon on the small screen via the Celestron refractor.
TOP LEFT: While Mom looks through Lorenzo the rest of the family eyeball the Moon. TOP RIGHT: The Celestron refractor set up and ready for its first successful public outing. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette and Lorenzo. Lorenzo is in auto-mode while Lynnette explains something to an interested visitor. BOTTOM RIGHT: The image of the Moon on the small screen via the Celestron refractor.
TOP LEFT: And this enthusiastic medical person, Rhyno Rhode, won the competition for the telescope. Congratulations Rhyno and we hope to see you at the SSP for your first lessons.. TOP RIGHT: There were lots of people, especially on the Friday and Saturday evenings.. BOTTOM LEFT: Sorting out last-minute technicalities on the refractor before the evening rush starts. BOTTOM RIGHT: People starting to spill over onto the lawns for their picnics.
TOP LEFT: And this enthusiastic medical person, Rhyno Rhode, won the competition for the telescope. Congratulations Rhyno and we hope to see you at the SSP for your first lessons. TOP RIGHT: There were lots of people, especially on the Friday and Saturday evenings. BOTTOM LEFT: Sorting out last-minute technicalities on the refractor before the evening rush starts. BOTTOM RIGHT: People starting to spill over onto the lawns for their picnics.

This was also the maiden voyage of my Celestron 102 mm (F660 mm) refractor with the Samsung CCTV camera and the Martin Lyons modification. Although I didn’t actually project the image but only had it on the small screen attached to the telescope, it worked quite well.  The system does not like wind, as the slightest breeze gave the Moon a serious case of the shivers. This is actually not the refractor’s first public outing but it is the first successful one. There was a previous outing at the Helderberg Nature Reserve, but that was a total disaster due to an electrical problem.

TOP LEFT: Wendy and the 8” inch Dobby. MIDDLE: Dirk at far left contemplating his telescopes complications as a dad lifts his son to get a view through Jonathan’s telescope. BOTTOM: Adamastor clothed in regal purple lies peacefully beneath the mountains of the Peninsula awaiting the day when he will return to wreak vengeance on the world.
TOP LEFT: Wendy and the 8” inch Dobby. MIDDLE: Dirk at far left contemplating his telescopes complications as a dad lifts his son to get a view through Jonathan’s telescope. BOTTOM: Adamastor clothed in regal purple lies peacefully beneath the mountains of the Peninsula awaiting the day when he will return to wreak vengeance on the world.

Anyway it was a lot of fun and we met lots of interesting people and some very nice ones too. Here are some of the images taken over the course of the three evenings.

TOP: Dusk and photography becomes more difficult but we managed to catch Auke in consultation. BOTTOM: Star People and Star Friends. From left to right, Alan Cassells, Auke Slotegraaf, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Rose Cassells and Wendy Vermeulen. Absent were Jonathan Balladon, Dirk Rossouw and Snorre.
TOP: Dusk and photography becomes more difficult but we managed to catch Auke in consultation. BOTTOM: Star People and Star Friends. From left to right, Alan Cassells, Auke Slotegraaf, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Rose Cassells and Wendy Vermeulen. Absent were Jonathan Balladon, Dirk Rossouw and Snorre.

Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve: February 2015

A relaxing evening in the Helderberg Nature Reserve with interesting people.

We left Brackenfell in good time so as to be able to pick up Auke in Somerset West and still set up telescopes in time for the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve who were undertaking a twilight walk in the Reserve. While we were unloading, Auke and Lynnette managed to get in several gentle reminders that I was not to lose the Vito’s keys again. I suppose it will be a long time before that little incident is finally put to rest, if ever. Go here if you wish to read more about my mistake or here if you want to know the eventual outcome.

Claudia and her able associates had organized lavish picnic baskets for us, including a bottle of pink bubbly.  We had definitely landed firmly in the lap of luxury, but barely had time to eat some of the delicacies on offer, when the first torches twinkled through the trees to the North, announcing the group’s approach.

Many of the people were actually quite knowledgeable, which was a pleasant change from the largely totally uninformed groups we often have to deal with. Having Lorenzo and Maphefo side by side also made a considerable difference in the number of people we could handle. Having the two telescopes there greatly reduced the waiting time in the queues and also helped us cover a wider range of objects in the available time.

Auke sat off to one side and conducted his usual very informative what’s up tonight laser guided star talk. He also fielded many of the questions taking the pressure off Lynnette and I at the telescopes. Quite a few of the people actually went from the telescopes to Auke and then came back to the telescopes again, although most seemed to only move from the telescopes to Auke.

The weather was fairly clear with only a few small scattered clouds to the south and south-east.  The wind, which we initially hardly felt among the trees did, however, cause some upper air instability.  This resulted in quite lot of twinkle and sparkle of objects as high up as 20 degrees above the horizon. Toward 21:30 the wind became quite strong and gusty hastening our departure from the Reserve.

All in all, it was a successful evening with about 80 people of which about 20 were children. We must really remember to take along a stepladder for the dimensionally challenged viewers.

In case anyone is wondering why there are no photographs of the event there is a simple explanation.  Lynnette took them and I downloaded them but now i cannot find them.  If and when I do find them they will be posted here.

Astronomy Outreach at Root44 Market: January 2015

Mad Dogs and Amateur Astronomers go out in the midday sun (apologies to Noël Coward)

Astronomy outreach during the daytime and in summer is not for the fainthearted or those who forget to apply their sunblock as Star People, being Auke, Lynnette and myself were about to discover at the Root44 Market, on the Audacia Wine Estate on Saturday the 17th, Sunday the 18th and Saturday the 24th of January. On the first Saturday we were very ably supported by Wendy Vermeulen and Brett du Preez who’s innovative solar telescope was also pressed into service. Permission to be there was negotiated by Auke with Surea and Megan and on the individual days JJ and Jason were available for all manner of practical assistance. The wine estate is situated on the R44 between Stellenbsch and Somerset West right next to the equally well known Mooiberge farm stall and strawberry farm with its huge collection of imaginative scarecrows.

The preparation of the poster A-frames seemed a never ending task.
The preparation of the poster A-frames seemed a never ending task.
The Vito loaded with all the parphenalia for an outreach event
The Vito loaded with all the paraphernalia for an outreach event
Wendy doing a stint in the sun with Lorenzo
Wendy doing a stint in the sun with Lorenzo. Note the candy floss.
Brett making last minute adjustments to the solar telescope
Brett making last minute adjustments to the solar telescope
The visitors came in all sizes, although the smaller versions were easily distracted by all the other goings on
The visitors came in all sizes, although the smaller versions were easily distracted by all the other goings on

The Root44 Market is the venue for the Root44 parkrun every Saturday morning when hundreds of serious and also not so serious runners and walkers descend on the venue to participate in the weekly, timed excursion through the vineyards. Some progress at the highest speed they can manage while others are merely intent on finishing the 5 km and soaking up the beauty of their surroundings. However, it is also the venue of choice for hundreds of folk who want to spend a Saturday or Sunday with good food and wine, relaxing music and the convivial company of good friends in the sort of tranquil surroundings which only the Winelands of the Western Cape can offer.

We were there to generate an interest in Astronomy and especially in space related activities and research. To do this we employed a wide selection of informative posters, and Lorenzo, the 10-inch Dobsonian, equipped with the appropriate Solar filter to show guests the Sun and the rather meager harvest of sunspots. On the second Saturday we even managed to show people the rather pale pre-first quarter moon. We talked to lots of interesting people and also met many astronomically enthusiastic persons as well.

One gentleman turned out to be the estate manager for the Earl of Rosse’s estate in Ireland where Birr castle is situated and where William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, built his gigantic Newtonian telescope between 1842 and 1845.  Called the Leviathan of Parsonstown it had a 1,8 m speculum mirror with a focal length of 16 m. In 1994 a retired structural engineer and amateur astronomer Michael Tubridy was asked to resurrect the Leviathan of Parsonstown. The original plans had disappeared so intense detective work was called for to achieve his goal. Reconstruction lasted from early 1996 to early 1997 and a new aluminium mirror was installed in 1999.

Part of our poster display on the "new" A-frame display boards
Part of our poster display on the “new” A-frame display boards
Southe African astronomy and our involvement in space matters was given prominence
South African astronomy and our involvement in space matters was given prominence
We emphasized the importance of space exploration
We emphasized the importance of space exploration
Space exploration and missions to other planets got a lot of attention
Space exploration and missions to other planets got a lot of attention. Wendy in the background manning the solar telescope
Visitors were also encouraged to join ASSA or the Cape Centre
Visitors were also encouraged to join ASSA or the Cape Centre while Star People and the Southern Star Party were also on display. Lynnette taking a break in the shade can be seen in the centre
More posters and Auke in the background on the second Saturday
More posters with Lynnette and Auke in the background on the second Saturday
The model of the Saturn Rocket drew quite a lot of attention
The model of the Saturn Rocket drew quite a lot of attention

Our poster display was quite impressive and most visitors found it very informative as well. In fact many of the interesting discussions originated around one or more of these posters. Some visitors started a discussion at one poster and then continued on to a second and third poster, eventually departing after more than an hour of questions and answers; heavy stuff!

On the second Saturday it was hotter but there were fewer visitors
On the second Saturday it was hotter but there were fewer visitors
Some visitors actually sat down to study the posters
Some visitors actually sat down to study the posters. Note the Earth and models of the Moon and Mars in the background
Lynnette and Lorenzo on duty
Lynnette and Lorenzo on duty
Auke braves the Sun to show visitors the Sun through Lorenzo
Auke braves the Sun to show visitors the Sun through Lorenzo
These visitors wanted to see the Moon and Lorenzo and I obliged
These visitors wanted to see the Moon and Lorenzo and I obliged
Auke had an impromptu reunion with an old class mate
Auke had an impromptu reunion with an old class mate

However, the Sun took its toll and by closing time on the second Saturday we were done, well done. It did not take a long discussion to decide that we were just not up to another day in the Sun. Auke made the appropriate apologies to Surea and Megan and we spent the Sunday recuperating.  All things being equal it is much easier to battle the mozzies and their biting cronies at night than to take on the Sun for seven hours or more.

Episode Two of The Key Saga: November 2014: November 2014

The Key Saga: November 2014

During our moon evening with the Eco Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve on the eighth of November some of you might recall that I lost the keys to the Vito along with the key to our security gate and front door. You can read all about that drama if you go here

The story has, there however, cialis developed a new twist. While Lynnette and I were organizing the inside of the marquee at the recent Southern Star Party the keys very mysteriously turned up!  This is what happened.

I left the marquee to have a drink of water in the house and while I was there Lynnette walked in and said something like “You shouldn’t leave the Vito’s keys lying around in the tent. We’ve already lost one set and we don’t want to lose another set.” I replied that they weren’t in the tent but hanging on the hook next to the door. As I turned to look at Lynnette there she was holding a set of the Vito’s keys in her hand and over her shoulder I could see another set hanging from the hook on the wall.

To say that we were amazed, look stunned and dumbfounded doesn’t even come close to describing our reactions. There, large as life, was the new set of keys on the wall where I’d put them and in Lynnette’s hand was the “lost” set which, she said, had been lying on the admin table in the tent.

After racking my brains for an explanation I have concluded that the only two items in the marquee that had also been present at the outing in the Helderberg Nature Reserve were our two folding chairs. Each chair has a side pocket and each chair is transported in a sturdy zip-up bag.

I had taken the chairs out of their bags, folded the bags and put them on the admin table just before I went to have the drink of water. Lynnette had taken the folded bags from the table and put them in a crate behind the admin table before leaving the tent to come down to the house. As she came out from behind the table she saw the keys on the table.

Did we not look in the chairs’ pockets that evening in the Reserve? Yes, we both very distinctly remember looking in the chair pockets and we did not find the keys. That evening, after the first round of searching,  the chairs were folded up, carried back to the Vito and put into their bags. Between then and the SSP the chairs had not been used. It would seem that, somehow, we missed the keys in one of those pockets and that set of the whole chain of fruitless searching and the unnecessary expenditure of around R4000-00 to replace keys and locks. The keys must have been in a chair bag and had fallen out onto the table as I folded the bag.

The questions I have no answers for are firstly how the keys got into the chair pockets or the chair bag in the first place because I have absolutely no recollection of putting them there. Secondly I cannot explain how two of us could have missed them when we both searched the chair pockets. I might have missed them but Lynnette does not miss things like keys when searching pockets.

Moon evening with the Helderberg Eco Rangers at the Helderberg Nature Reserve – 08 November 2014

Hi Ho Hi Ho , It’s Off To Show the Moon We Go!!

Yes, I know that is not exactly what the Seven Dwarfs sang in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and neither did we really sing either, but that is more or less what it amounted to as Auke, Lynnette and I set off for the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West. Auke had arranged with Claudia Shuster and Andreas Groenewald that the three of us would come along and give the Eco Rangers and their parents an opportunity to look at the Moon through a telescope. We brought our two Dobbies, Lorenzo and Maphefo and the Eco Rangers would supply a third Dobby.  This whole outing was to have been part of the National Space Week project which SAASTA seems to have allowed to fizzle out.

Claudia was at the gate of the Reserve to meet us and, after parking the Vito, Andreas and others were on hand to help us get the telescopes to the viewing site.  The chosen site was a bit unusual as it was situated on the boardwalk at the Northern edge of the dam adjacent to the restaurant in the Reserve. There might be some discussion as to whether this is the “greenest” site we’ve ever observed from but it was definitely the wobbliest. Anyone not treading very lightly on the boardwalk, promptly set the moon yo-yo-ing wildly in and out of the field of view.

The three Dobbies on the boardwalk against the magnificent backdrop of Helderberg Mountain with Haelkop Peak on the far right
The three Dobbies on the boardwalk against the magnificent backdrop of Helderberg Mountain with Haelkop Peak on the far right
Even Auke, who's seen it all, had to admit that this was the most "different" site he'd ever set up in
Even Auke, who’s seen it all, had to admit that this was the most “different” site he’d ever set up in
Lorenzo at attention and ready for action, of which there was to be plenty later in the evening
Lorenzo at attention and ready for action, of which there was to be plenty later in the evening
Auke getting ready to go and have supper.  In the background the dam and in the far distance Kogelberg peak
Auke getting ready to go and have supper. In the background the dam and in the far distance Kogelberg peak

After setting up the telescopes we went back to the Vito for the picnic supper Lynnette had packed for us and Andreas explained that he would first take the Eco Rangers on a short moonlight walk through the reserve after which they would arrive at the telescopes in small groups. The three of us finished supper and made our way back to the telescopes in the gathering dusk to await the rising of the moon over the Hottentots Holland Mountains and the Eco Rangers. In the meantime we were entertained by an at times cacophonous chorus of frog and bird calls.  Go’here to listen to a recording I made on the cell phone

Suppertime!  Delicious potato salad, cocktail tomatoes, lettuce and sliced cucumber prepared by Lynnette.  The trusty Vito, resplendent with door magnets and in the background Hans se Kop
Suppertime! Delicious potato salad, cocktail tomatoes, lettuce, sliced cucumber and Gypsy ham prepared by Lynnette. The trusty Vito, resplendent with door magnets in the background and in the distance Hans se Kop

When the Eco Rangers and the accompanying adults pitched up it was not in the planned small groups at all. Instead, we were inundated by waves of eager moon-gazers from both directions on the boardwalk. Most moved quite sedately but, as is usual with children, there were groups that insisted on running resulting in an extreme case of telescope shakes. At one stage the 1957 Elvis Presler hit “I’m All Shook Up” on Capitol Records did cross my mind as an accurate title for this outing. Eventually the flood dwindled to a stream and finally to a trickle and when the last few drips and drabs had passed we started to pack up.

We were so busy that none of us had time to take photographs of the hordes of guests. With the bouncing boardwalk taking photographs as a bit dodgy in any case, as can be seen by the blur in this ons
We were so busy that none of us had time to take photographs of the hordes of guests. With the bouncing boardwalk taking photographs is a bit dodgy in any case, as can be seen by the blur in this one

I carried Lorenzo back to the Vito and installed him firmly in place and then went back for the rocker box only to discover that I had lost the keys to the Vito.

Disaster!

First I double checked all my pockets then checked the Vito, which I had fortunately not locked, but they were gone. Everyone pitched in combing the boardwalk and the vegetation on either side with torches. Eventually we realized that it was very unlikely that we were going to find them so Lynnette phoned her sister Petro who got the spare keys from our house and she and her fiancé drove through to Auke’s place with them. Claudia went home to get some well-earned rest and Andreas took Auke home so that he could bring us the keys when they arrived, courtesy of Petro. In the meantime Lynnette and I spent some quiet time in the moonlight under the watchful eye of the Mother Goose weather vane.

When Auke arrived we could eventually start the long overdue journey home.  The next day Auke kindly agreed to accompany us back to the Reserve to search for the keys in broad daylight.  The search was, however, fruitless.

The entrance to the actual Reserve with the Mother Goose Weather vane prominently displayed on top, in the middle.  The Helderberg Mountain forming a nice backdrop for the gateway
The entrance to the actual Reserve with the Mother Goose Weather vane prominently displayed on top, in the middle. The Helderberg Mountain forming a nice backdrop for the gateway
A close-up of Peggy, the Mother Goose weather vane
A close-up of Peggy, the Mother Goose weather vane
The Mother Goose plaque on a rock just inside the main entrance
The Mother Goose plaque on a rock just inside the main entrance
The boardwalk in broad daylight and somewhere along here are the Vito's keys
The boardwalk in broad daylight and somewhere along here are the Vito’s keys
The dam under cloudy skies with two Egyptian Geese having it all to themselves
The dam under cloudy skies with two Egyptian Geese having it all to themselves
Lynnette and Auke searching meticulously but in vain
Lynnette and Auke searching meticulously but in vain
The restaurant in the Helderberg Nature Reserve
The restaurant in the Helderberg Nature Reserve
Auke very uncharacteristically out in bright sunshine, among the birds and the bees (and plants).  Thanks for your efforts Auke.
Auke very uncharacteristically out in bright sunshine, among the birds and the bees (and plants). Thanks for your efforts Auke.
This Leopard tortoise is a resident  of the Nature Reserve and was not a member of the search party
This Leopard tortoise is a resident of the Nature Reserve and was not a member of the search party