Reunited

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On our way back into Langport for the first time in a while, we asked the bus driver to drop us at the corner and walked down to the yard to see how the flatner was faring in her temporary abode. We were a little apprehensive, wondering what we’d find, but we were pleased to find the boat still in good shape, its timbers and joints sound – it just needs sprucing up, and good soak to swell the planks. Big thanks to Ian for looking after it!

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Ian joined us at the yard and once we’d stopped off to say hello to the motley crew of animals in the field next door, we headed on into town for the Christmas fair, and to catch up with all our (human) friends. The fair was fantastic – we manage to pick up some nice local handmade gifts while we drifted through – and it was lovely to see so many of the people who have been involved in Some:when in different ways.

The river users’ group had set up a beautiful painted barrow to promote the Duchess of Cocklemoor  – selling duchess mugs, placemats and cards (more about that project at duchessofcocklemoor.co.uk).

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Last but least, it was nice to be reacquainted with the Parrett at our favourite (chilly) picnic spot on Cocklemoor – the soft silver surface of the water reflecting yet another stunning sky.

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We caught the last bus out of town as the night grew properly dark, leaving Langport’s residents and more local visitors to enjoy fireworks on the river’s bank.

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A restless interlude

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Some may have been wondering how the Some:when flatner has been doing over this long and changeable summer. While long-term plans for a river trip have been simmering slowly on a back burner (and there are some exciting developments in that area), the boat itself hasn’t been content to wait in silence. After a long stay  at the exhibition Imagined Landscapes at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, the flatner travelled back to Langport for a while, where its thirsty timbers were greeted with their first taste of rain for a very long time.

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From there, the flatner pressed on south to participate in the exhibition Weather Station II – coordinated by OSR projects as part of Portland’s prestigious B-side Festival. Weather Station is an “artist-led response to flooding,  extreme weather and the changing relationship we have with landscape and the natural world” – involving the cumulative contributions of a selection of artists working across South West England.

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Ideas for staging the hoped-for tidal journey on the Parrett are still afoot – and we are finding new ways to embed it within the wider locally-led project to re-connect Langport with the River Parrett. The logistical challenges of a tidal journey on this river were greater than we ever imagined – but we are confident that everything will eventually come together!

In the meantime, watch out also the Duchess of Cocklemoor – another inspiring boat-centred project to re-enliven the Parrett as a space of culture, leisure and transport…

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Carribbean Fishermen’s Tale

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Having travelled the Caribbean Coast for a while I have a number of stories to tell, however, there is one that comes to mind and makes me think of the traditional Flatner over and over again….

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Taganga is a little village nearby Santa Marta in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is a tiny place where tourists come to enjoy crystal clear sea water, unique sunsets in the beach, fish and sea food by the coast, excellent views of the Caribbean sea… however, staying in the place longer than a couple of days I started to realise that the community hasn’t yet lost its essence as many other places do when tourism becomes the driver of their local economy. Before tourism arrived within the last decade the sea was their only livelihood as the land that surrounds them is unsuitable for farming, there is no fresh water supply and very little rainfall.

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It was interesting to share a day with a group of fishermen, the technique they use is net fishing and that is based on “waiting”. Everything is quiet , the group of fishermen chat, play cards in the shade while one of them is in the sea snorkeling to see if shoal of fish are gathering in the catchment area of the net. When the snorkeler gives the signal the moment arrives for all hands on deck. Everyone runs to positions and wrap the net’s ropes and pull, pull strongly to take the shoal of fish. They need as many hands as possible and some other fishermen nearby come to help too. They keep on pulling until they realise there are no fish. Time to place the net again. For that they use a canoe, a hand made canoe carved from one tree trunk. They have been using this type of boats for many many years and still they use them. They are heavy, low sitting canoes with an almost flat bottom. Especially beautiful on the beach beside the modern fiberglass engine boats surrounding them. In these types of boats you can see how time passes, and how much these fishermen are connected to the sea being quite respectful with it.

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After waiting and waiting again the diver shouts again, and finally they got a great number of fish, a whole shoal of “cojinovas”. Time to leave today, it is 5:30 pm and the sun will set soon but there is still a final stop for them to be part of, back in the main beach in Taganga all of the fishermen groups come together to weigh the different catches, then is time to get a proportional amount of fish for each of the participant fishermen, the rest will go for either direct sale there, where the community is waiting for getting the best pieces for cheaper and the markets around. Still in Taganga fishing is the sole means of making money of many families and it was nice to see that the men fishing were a mixture of generations. They are just an organised number of groups fishing and still the familiar and community sense is still there.

Tourism is quickly becoming the main driver of their economy but it will never have the resilience that the fishermen have because of tourism’s heavy dependency on fresh water which daily is transported in trucks. The whole village needs this water and the people who live there have an awareness of the scarcity of fresh water that the tourists passing through generally don´t have hence posters all over the villages hostels and hotels which say “Taganga no tiene agua, cuidala” (Taganga has no water, look after it).

 

Seila Fernández Arconada

Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) 18th of July 2015.

[Re-posted by Jethro Brice 19th July, with minor edits]

First dip!

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Photo: Simon Lee Dicker

It was an incredible feeling – that moment when the flatner first touched the water, and the dead weight we’d been manhandling down the slippery banks suddenly came alive in our hands and slipped up and out to float proudly at our feet. For all its solid wooden mass, the boat dances very lightly on the water.

The event was a lovely one – a flotilla of local craft travelled upriver to meet others from Thorney and even further afield, then circled back down as far as the old locks before landng back at Cocklemoor to celebrate with some of Burrow Hill’s finest local cider. After so many hours of toil, often in semi-darkness and near-freezing conditions, it was amazing to celebrate with such a bright, gorgeous day on the water, with a gathering of old and new friends and strangers there to celebrate the launch.

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OSR Project Weather Station booklet (B-Side Festival, Somerset)

That same weekend we took the flatner as part of the Weather Station project. After so long focusing mainly on working with other humans – and with the wood and materials of the boat itself – it was exciting to be working with new, nonhuman collaborators. The wind, the currents, the buoyancy of wood in water, all spoke to me through the dance of boat and ball and the tug at the oars in my hands.

This sense of the boat’s aliveness in the river environment was like a foretaste of the longer journey we have dreamed of, and still hope to realise – riding the incredible tides of the Parrett between Bridgwater and Langport.

[Post added 5 Dec 2017]

 

Under the Arches

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Traffic paused on Langport’s Bow Street for an unusual spectacle on Sunday 22nd March, as a Parrett Flatner made its way up the road for probably the first time since the high street flooded at the start of last century. This time the boat wasn’t floating. Instead it was carried in procession from the historic port at Bow Wharf, to the arches beneath Langport Town Hall, where it will be on temporary display.

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The procession went by land because access to the river isn’t possible, as the only slipway, by Black Bridge, is currently not in a useable condition. With the help of the Environment Agency, however, residents hope eventually to see the slipway back in operation, and access to the river made available again for all to enjoy. The boat will be formally launched as part of the Langport Festival in June, when summer water levels provide easier access to the river. Seila Fernandez Arconada and Jethro Brice – the artists leading the project – arranged the celebration to thank some of those who have been involved in the project so far, without whom the project could never have happened.

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A Sea Captain’s Tales

We are pleased to share in our blog a story from Captain Peter Hull who kindly came to visit the making of the boat, telling us stories and supporting us in the process: thank you.

“INDONESIAN BUGIS” by Capt Peter Hull

I am a Master Mariner by profession and formerShipmaster. In 1984 the Shipping Company for which I worked posted me to Indonesia to act as Operations Manager in South East Asia.Indonesia is a busy, diverse and fascinating country. It is the largest archipelago in the world with over 17,000 islands. It is also one of the most populated. Hence boats have always formed an essential part of life in Indonesia, enabling people to travel and trade between the islands.What I normally referred to asBugis are part of a group of sailing vessels often called Makassar Schooners orPhinisi (sometimesPinisi). They are probably the last such fleets of sailing boats in the world that still ply for trade. They carry a wide variety of goods such as timber, copra, rice and raw materials to centres like Jakarta, and return to the various river ports throughout the archipelago with material such cement, steel and manufactured items. The main centre in Jakarta is known as SundaKelapa, which is the old sailing ship port nearTanjungPriok. It is well worth a visit.It is interesting to see the Bugis being loaded and discharged. Most of the cargo is carried as loose bags or single boards of timber and the stevedores walk up and down a narrow plank carrying a bag of cement, rice, or a couple of planks. The planks of timber are sometimes cut by hand in ‘saw pits’.

I had been to Indonesia before this and seen numerous Bugis at sea under full sail – an impressive and colourful sight. But my new posting gave me a chance to see one being built in Kota Baru (South Kalimantan). It was rather fortuitous to stumble on this vessel while I was supposed to be doing something else, but it gave me the opportunity to learn a bit about Bugi building. The most interesting thing is that they build the shell first and the frames second.

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Here is an extract from an article about them……

‘Pinisi have always been assembled using wooden pegs to join the timbers. We would call the fasteners “trunnels” or tree nails.

The sequence of assembly is different than we in the West would ordinarily assume. First the keel is laid, then the stem and stern post are erected, as usual. Then however, rather than setting up the whole array of the hull shell. The frames are pegged to the planks, to the keel, and to each other where the frame segments are joined. The frame butt ends either lap across the keel (Sulawesi style), or are joined to a floor member (more common in Kalimantan), depending on the tradition from which the individual boat builders have come.

This “planking first” approach may seem odd to our rigidly defined approach to shaping a ship in the West, but this is as the builders among the Indonesian islands have done it since no one knows when. This is very much the most common method used throughout Indonesian, Malaysian, and other South and Southeast Asian waters, and the method has served the people very well indeed’. 

(I think the ancient Greeks used to build trireme this way)

Suffice it to say that building a Bugi requires a lot of skill and experience. They are impressively large and built by hand using village labour without the help of power tools. (There are quite a lot of websites showing Pinisi building).

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All photos are courtesy of Captain Peter Hull.

Boat glue

You know those moments of doubt? When you wonder whether art can ever really be relevant to environmental and social issues, when you know it’s not exactly going to save the earth?

Well. Apparently we have the answer. Gorilla glue can fix it all:

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Today’s jobs were what it says on the tin – tough, but effective. The whole base of the boat is now glued, clamped and screwed, and curing overnight ready for cutting out tomorrow.

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Thankfully our work was punctuated by visits from a couple of old and new friends – our boat now has the approval of an experienced sea captain. And as if to remind us what the whole thing is about, ‘Planet Earth’ put on a spectacular sunset display to round off a cold but beautiful and productive day.

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Winter’s greetings!

A warm hello to all our friends and followers, this bright winter’s day. We are visiting friends and family (Jethro in Scotland, left; Seila in Spain, right) and recharging our batteries for the excitement of January.

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The exciting news is: we have found an excellent work space and will be starting work on THE BOAT in mid January – we are also looking forward to some more creative workshops while we are there.

We hope you are all having a nice toasty time with your loved ones, and enjoying the spectacular return of the sun.

Best wishes and looking forward to seeing you soon

Jethro and Seila

Some more encounters on the Levels…

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Last week we made a lightning visit to Langport, where we held a small gathering for some of those interested in getting involved in the project (about which another post will follow!). The following day we met up with the Fidai ProFlo group – an exchange of social and physical scientists, planners and designers from the Netherlands, with artists, historians and local residents affected by floods in Somerset. Rhona Light kindly showed us around her partially-restored house, and shared an insight into the process of flooding and some of the ways this year had been different from the usual annual cycles of wet and dry.Screen shot 2014-09-22 at 13.58.07

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From there we went for lunch at the King Alfred, where Seila and I presented Some:when to the group and some members of the local FLAG group, and discussed possibilities for longer-term collaborations to continue the work Some:when has begun. After a lovely and lively meal we clambered up the steep sides of Burrow Mump to admire the view and listen to a brief presentation from Antony Lyons of NOVA, about his work on deep time perspectives on the Severn Estuary and Somerset Moors and Levels.

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Finally, we paid a quick visit to Anna’s incredible tythe barn, one of the sites for October’s conference. It was a swift goodbye as the Dutch contingent had a train to catch, but we had some really interesting discussions and are really looking forward to resuming the conversation at the conference on the 7th: http://www.aqua-deltamarnix.com/index-uk%20event.html

“… and I saw a boat appear”

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

(from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”)

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Following the trail of the Somerset Flatner, we discovered a set of plans to build it had been drawn up by enthusiasts at the Watchet Boat Museum. That was  how we ended up in Watchet, looking for the plans, and hoping also to see the real boat. After an interesting journey, getting to know a few more people along the way, we arrived in Watchet – possible birthplace of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. An interesting small town on the coast which that day was blessed with remarkable and irrational weather…

2:00 pm: the museum opens… and we get to enter this fantastic space packed with floating inspiration, independently created and curated by a passionate and inventive local group, Friends of the Flatner. Bruce, a founding member, kindly met us at the museum and we had our first tantalising glimpse into the world of knowledge the group have accumulated over the years. We begun to realise just how complex the project is – the boat we want to build, the “Flatner” is a whole spectrum of plan variations depending on their functionality, context and owner. A couple of hours’ explanation opened windows and even doors, to look at the making of this fascinating project. Finally able to explore its history in depth, and being able to touch and handle the actual boats, we started to see the boat take shape in our minds’ eyes.

 

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Thank you so much to Bruce, on behalf of the Watchet Boat Museum and The Friends of the Flatner. So much passion in one little shed – so much knowledge to learn from!

 

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