Following the very successful annular eclipse in Western Australia on February 16, 1999, I began to think about the total solar eclipse across Europe on August 11, 1999.
For this eclipse, the best places to observe it were in Romania and Turkey. I started making plans to observe from Romania, however by the time I knew for certain that I would be able to make the trip, There were no seats available on any flights around the time of the eclipse! In the end, my wife and I decided to try and observe the eclipse from England, and use the trip to visit my relatives there and to see my childhood home.
We had planned to observe the eclipse from the southern tip of England, in Cornwall. However the day before the eclipse it became clear that there was no chance of clear skies for the eclipse. With this in mind we quickly drove east across the country to New Haven, where there was a ferry across the channel to Dieppe in France. The morning of the eclipse dawned with us anxiously waiting at the dock, hoping there would be sufficient room for us on the ferry. In the end we were the second people called on board!
Heading across the channel, the skies were beautiful and clear while we were over the water. However as we neared land, a strong sea breeze was causing low cloud to form which streteched all the way to the horizon. Another disaster happened while we were walking away from the ferry to find somewhere to set up for the eclipse, the catches on the telescope case broke open and the telescope fell out onto the footpath, shattering the corrector plate! That ended the chance to view and photograph the eclipse through a telescope!!! At least the telescope was covered by the travel insurance!
We set up on a park near the beach and waited to see what would happen. We could see the clear skies over the channel moving very slowly towards the coast so it would be a race. Would the clear skies arrive first of the Moon's shadow?
At first contact it was still very overcast and throughout the partial stages we were only able to obtain very brief glimpses of the eclipse. As totality neared it became clear that the Moon would win the race, and in the end we saw nothing of the total phase of the eclipse.
What we did see was the Moon's shadow rapidly sweep over the clouds as totality started, and during totality, I had time to look around at the landscape and marvel at just how dark it had become. We also heard quite a number of planes overhead. Presumably the lucky ones who were able to afford to get above the clouds! Finally the skies began to lighten, and then the trailing edge of the shadow swept over us and totallity was over. About 15 minutes later the clear skies reached us and we were able to watch the rest of the eclipse. We then had a long wait until after midnight, for when there would be room on the ferry to take us back to England. It was a disappointing end to the day, but at least the trip was enjoyable and we were able to see much of my childhood haunts.