Whitehaven Maritime Festival 2003

Fireworks by Highlight Pyrotechnics.

This report and photos by UKFR Forum member DJ Liam. Click on any image to view a larger version.


There was no need for the alarm this morning – I was already wide awake with excitement! Looked out of the window and it was a glorious sunny day. Perfect.

I got dressed into my Dolce & Gabanna pants and Versace t-shirt, had some breakfast, packed my bag and headed out of the door. Just a quick 5 minute drive down to the harbour and I was ready for action. (Note: I didn’t really have Dolce & Gabanna pants and a Versace t-shirt on!).


Arrived at the firing site and met up with fellow local firers Dave, Peter, Alan and Chris. We engaged in some jolly banter whilst awaiting the lorry full of pyro to arrive from Liverpool.


The first minor disaster of the day. The lorry was stuck in traffic on the M6, and wouldn’t arrive till 10:30. After much deliberation we decided on an action plan. We would eat bacon sandwiches and drink cups of tea until the lorry arrived! The cooking was done in the back of a 1953 Bedford van. Nothing but the best for us!


Hurrah! The lorry finally arrived and it was jammed full of pyro. Spent the next 20 minutes removing all the cakes, shell racks and other assorted odds and sods, and somehow managed to cut my arm in the process. I battled on though. What a trooper! After all that hard work it was time for another cup of tea!


The sun was still beating down and I was getting a trifle hot, so I moved into the back of the lorry to work on the mines and candles. There were 35 x 4″ mines and 84 candles, ranging in size from 30mm to 65mm. The candles needed securing with tape to stop them falling over (which was another fiddly task!) and guess who got the job? Muggins! At least there were no elastic bands in sight.

Once that was done, the mines were lowered into their mortars. I was quite excited about this part, as; (a) Mines are my favourite fireworks, and (b) I had suggested a few months earlier that they do a mine sequence, and here I was preparing it. I couldn’t wait to see it in action.


I braved the sun again, this time to help put polythene over the mortars. There was no rain forecast, but with being so close to the sea and having jet skiers nearby you couldn’t chance it. Then stopped work to watch a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster Bomber display. Then had a cup of tea!


Chris, Dave, Alan and myself had a wander to Tesco’s to get some refreshments, go on the toilet and fill up our petrol carriers. This was needed for the lovely fireball effect at the start of the show. Unfortunately the harbour gates were open, meaning we had to go an alternate route through thousands of people, all seemingly going in the opposite direction to us. After half an hour we finally arrived!


Finally got back to site after our trek to Tesco. All the cakes and candles had been prepared in the back of the van and we were just waiting for the stewards to stop public access to the pier. For some reason they couldn’t do this till 18:00. Still, it gave us time for some more tea and bacon sarnies!


The pier was finally closed, so we could get to work laying out the cakes and candles. There were 6 separate sites covering 100m of the pier. Everything was grouped in site order in the back of the lorry, so it was a quick drive down the pier, dropping off cakes and candles in the correct places.


Now came the difficult part. Everything was where it should be, which meant the wiring could commence. The whole show was to be electrically fired, which meant the need for lots (and I mean lots) of bell wire. I’m sure we had enough to go to the moon and back. I would love to explain fully what went on, but frankly I was confused!


DISASTER! We ran out of bell wire with only a few more runs left to do. After a bit of umming and aahing, the plan was to rush to Focus and buy as much as they had. Luckily it was only a few minutes run away, and me, being the youngest and fittest, had the pleasure of informing Peter that he was to go!


An out of breath Peter arrived back with his purchases. They only had a few metres of the stuff left, but luckily there was just enough to see us right. Hurrah!


Whilst the wiring was getting finished, I was doing my stuff with the petrol lifters. This involved placing a bottle filled with blackpowder into a big metal mortar, securing it with a cable tie and wiring it up to some bell wire. There were 10 in total. I liked this job. Nice, simple and not too fiddly!


Everything was finished, so it was time to do some circuit checks and then have some tea and bacon sandwiches and await the firing time of 22:45. As is customary everyone exchanged pyro stories, which ranged from amusing to really quite boring. Still, I laughed in the appropriate places to keep team morale high!!!


The firers donned their helmets, went over their plans and then took their positions. Me and another lad (who’s name I’ve forgotten!) watched from the sidelines as everything was taken care of. It was getting exciting! Only problem was it still wasn’t completely dark. Who’d live up North?!


Right on cue the first lot of candles and shells blasted off, followed by a brief period of just shells. Off went the red and blue crossette cakes, with some more candles and shells for good measure.


Here comes my mine sequence! Starting from the right it fired left across all 6 sites, then headed back right. It repeated this sequence and then changed to firing from the two outside sites in and then the two inside sites out. Then all 6 fired at once. I must say it did look awesome. In fact it was probably the best sequence in the show. Am I biased? Yes!


Some lovely 4″ and 5″ ring shells appeared, accompanied by six 49 shot, 28mm silver fish cakes. Numerous candles and shells followed, along with some lovely orange crossette cakes and then even nicer crackling crossette cakes. Another couple of cakes called ‘double dragon’ fired next, creating some nice silver breaks at a rapid pace. Again, numerous shells broke above including some rather nice gold brocades with blue peony core. A gasp could be heard from the crowd as a 5″ shell broke a bit too close to the ground. I thought it looked nice!


Mayhem ensued as six 100 shot ‘dragon egg’ cakes got going. These produced the most intense crackling you can imagine, and the effect was superb. As these were going on, the finale shells got going. There was a mixture of all sorts of effects fired in 3 waves, the final of which included 9 x 3″ shells, 12 x 4″ shells, 10 x 5″ shells and 4 x 8″ crackling crossette shells. These were a real sky filler.

Video grabs

It’s over. 13 hours of work for 12 minutes of action. I was black, stank of smoke and was covered in bits of ash and goodness knows what else. And it was wonderful! The crowed clapped and cheered, the boats honked their horns and I had a huge grin on my face. I still say a huge spotlight should have shone on us so we could have taken a bow, but never mind! All that was left to do was tidy up. This was made easier by the fact that it still wasn’t dark!


Everything was packed away in the van, and all the large debris was cleared away. Thankfully my fusing worked, as everything went off, bar 2 candles. (Which I had nothing to do with). Time to say my goodbyes and go home!


I had a bath and removed as much muck as I could. Some of it was determined not to come off though! Had a quick nibble and it was time for bed. The only thing was, it was getting light again and the birds outside were starting to sing. Roll on the dark nights!


Awoke Sunday morning feeling great. Well, that was until I tried to move. No, I wasn’t stiff with all the work – I had the worst case of sunburn you’ve ever seen!