The day the sun went dark


The morning of Wednesday 11th August 1999 had finally arrived. It was almost 2 years since we booked our holidays on St. Mary's the Isles of Scilly in order to see the total eclipse of the sun. For the last few days we had been anxiously listening to every available weather forecast, hoping that the skies would be clear for this great event. Although the weather had been really good for the previous week the forecast were more and more depressing as the day approached, the latest predicting only a 5% chance of seeing the sun. Still as we drew back the curtains we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that the forecasters are always wrong! But not this time, a blanket coverage of dark grey skies greeted us.

Never mind there is still another couple of hours for the clouds to clear. A quick breakfast and down to the spot we had chosen. A high cliff top overlooking the straight across to St Agnes with wonderful views of the islands and the Bishop Rock Lighthouse away in the distance. I set up my camera, more in hope than anticipation. But wait, is that a patch of blue in the distance? It was, but would it arrive at the right place in time? We could tell where the sun was by the slight lightening of the clouds up to our left, but of the sun itself there was no sign.

Stephen was listening on his walkman to the Radio One Roadshow from Penzance. "It's raining in Penzance" he proclaims. Well at least we are not the only ones who are clouded out. At the Roadshow they are watching the pictures from the Hercules on a large TV screen. "First contact!" Stephen announces. The event has begun, the blue patch is still there but is it moving the right way?

About 10:30 the cloud around the sun brightens. There it is. Hundreds of pairs of eclipse glasses are raised as the sun peeps through the cloud. Already a large segment of the sun has vanished. I took a quick picture in case we saw no more. The cloud returns. The blue patch was certainly not moving our way. Is that it? Will we see any more?

About 11:00 the sun, now just a thin sliver, again shone through the clouds. Some more pictures. Ever so slowly it seemed the crescent sun became smaller and smaller. The light dropped and it became eerily dark above, but with light all round the horizon. The temperature also dropped and we shivered noticeably.

The sun was now just the thinnest whisker, then suddenly it was gone. Left hanging in the sky was a small ring of fire. What an awesome sight. Some people cheered, others applauded. Thousands of tiny camera flashes lit the island opposite. Even the Bishop Rock Lighthouse joined in sending its warning beam far out across the sea. Below the sun, Venus shone out brightly. I managed to take some pictures of the pink prominences and the white corona while Catherine took some of the overall scene, but I was conscious of not wanting to miss the experience. The light and quiet was unreal and difficult to describe.

Almost before you had time to appreciate what was happening it was over. The sun peeped out from behind the moon showing the brilliant Diamond Ring and the darkness started to lift. It was as if someone had turned up the dimmer switch. People were stood around trying to take in what they had experienced. Although the partial phase would continue for another hour or so, the main event was over and everybody started to move away as things returned to normal.

By all accounts it would appear that we were very fortunate to see the eclipsed sun as most places were totally clouded out. This was supposed to be the experience of a lifetime. Unfortunately it has wetted my appetite for more. Can I persuade Pat to take me to Australia for the total eclipse there in December 2002? After all it will be my birthday.

PS No, he didn't! (Pat)