A Maritime Interlude

This half term just gone, I got the birthday present of a lifetime and was given the chance to go, with some family and friends, on a real Thames Sailing Barge, under sail from Maldon. It was simply the best day ever!!! I have loved boats all my life and these boats in particular for more than 10 years. We used to visit Maldon in the summer, sit on quay, have fish and chips and watch the Morris Dancers. Always, moored up there, were the Thames Sailing Barges, looking magnificent.

Finally I got to sail in one and on the same water where I learned to sail! I just can’t say how totally awesome it was – it blows my mind!

This (above) is the view as we motored away from the quay and got out into the Blackwater Estuary. (These vessels originally didn’t have engines but when they were converted for passenger use, engines were added.)

Here are some amazing facts…

  • They are flat-bottomed sailing boats with no keel. Instead they use “leeboards” to prevent them being pushed to leeward when sailing. (Leeward is basically sideways in the direction the wind is blowing i.e. downwind.).
  • Because they have no real keel their draft can be as small as 3 feet allowing them to get right up river if needs be.
  • Our boat “Thistle” was 85 feet long and 20 feet across.
  • Thames Sailing Barges are the largest boats to be crewed by two men, a Skipper and a First Mate
  • She was built in 1895 and is 124 this year!
  • She began life bringing coal down to the Thames from the Humber and now works as a charter boat for Topsail Charters.

This is our First Mate putting up the jib. That day it was a bit blowy so we only used the jib and the mizzen (main sail on the second mast). She still heeled over when the wind got up, even with so little sail on. It was a beautiful ride.

This is one of a few beautiful vessels we saw moored out in the Blackwater. Once we got right out into the estuary I was very kindly given a chance to helm the boat for about 15 to 20 minutes under the careful watch of the crew. It was so brilliant! It was one of the best experiences of my life! The waves kept banging against the rudder making the wheel jump heavily in my hands. I also noticed that even with the leeboards she wasn’t able to go as close to the wind as the modern boats I’ve sailed before. She took a pretty long time to respond to the helm too, so you had to watch well ahead for channel markers. It was only 20 minutes but I think I fell in love with her a little bit. It was such a privilege to take the helm.

This (above) is part of the salt marsh at high tide. I love this kind of place! Marshes and fens have been my favourite places for years. They are incredibly useful and productive from a biological point of view. They are also invaluable as nurseries for fish, insects and crustaceans. Having good condition salt marshes on the coast really helps to balance overfishing and they also stabilise the land against wave action to some extent. Although, being a Biology teacher at heart, I really enjoy all of this biological stuff, the thing I love most about the marshes is that they’re a liminal place, neither sea nor land, a place of change, of lost edges, of ends and beginnings. It feels kind of magical to me, somehow free from the normal rules. I can see why the marshes were regarded as strange and uncanny in the past. To me though they spell freedom.

Finally we came back to the quay at mid afternoon and had a gorgeous late lunch of Lentil Soup onboard as the boat settled gently onto the Blackwater mud at low tide. This was followed by a lovely birthday whiskey – the perfect end to a perfect day!

P.S. I haven’t included any photos of family or friends because I prefer to ask permission for this kind of thing before putting any pictures onto the internet. I have loads of great photos and many more from my sister who is, it turns out, a much better photographer than me!

P.P.S. Apologies for my absence online on this day. Saturday is my main day for perusing WordPress and this nautical adventure was on a Saturday, so I got a little behind in my reading that week. 😁

The Moonlit Sea

I found another Shin Hanga print I really like. It’s by an artist called Koho Shoda. It really only has one colour and black and white. Here’s the original Japanese woodblock print…

I wanted to create something along the same lines but with a well known English boat as the main subject and in watercolour and gouache. I don’t live very far from Maldon where some traditional Thames Sailing Barges have their moorings. I think there’s also a repair yard in Maldon for these beautiful boats. I spent some time in my teens sailing on the Blackwater, very occasionally alongside these wonderful boats. They are so big that they’re a little scary to be near when you’re in a small sailing dingy, but they still retain the grace and beauty of a sailing vessel. Maybe coots feel the same way about swimming near swans!

(Wikipedia Photo of two Thames Sailing Barges going East on the Blackwater near Bradwell Power Station. By Terry Joyce)

I began with a wash using a mixture of French Ultramarine and Phthalo blue…

Then I painted on more details with gouache…

I did quite like the picture at this stage. It had an open feel. But I went ahead and added the foreground reeds…

Reviewing my picture at this stage I quite liked the contrast and the reflections but I very much disliked the ultramarine sky – it felt too warm and too saturated for the sea below it. To give you an idea what it might look like with the hue shifted towards green and away from red and the saturation dropped a bit I manipulated it in Photoshop. This is how I wish I had painted it…

I think this looked closer to what I wanted but it wasn’t there yet.

I was painting this in the last week of the Spring Term and was really tired so I was temped to leave it there, but every time I looked at the original, still taped to my board, it annoyed me. In the end, on the Thursday before the end of term I decided to do something drastic. I got a big paint brush I had bought for my son to use in painting the bathroom and used it to add a phthalo blue / ultramarine glaze over the top of everything. Then I worked the paper with water to blur much of what I had already painted. The gouache which I had used mixed with the watercolour and helped the paint to move and it really changed. In fact it really looked like a big dark mess, so much so that I went to bed in disgust!

However, today, the first day of the Easter Holiday, I saw it dry and still taped to my board. It’s amazing what eyes which have had 12 hours of sleep can do! I repainted all of the details and followed my heart’s feeling for the picture. Finally I had a painting I like!

Here is the finished picture…