Plane sailing…

Today’s been a long day of careful and incremental progress, trimming and straightening the beautiful old red pine planks that will make the base of the boat, to get a nice snug fit.

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We’ve scavenged some great old steel supports to make a level work surface, and are slowly making our way from seam to seam, making sure the joins are true. Tomorrow we hope to piece together and cut out the sections of the base, and hope to end the day with something approximately resembling the bottom of a boat.

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A Four-Seasons Day

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The weather today has provided a perfect backdrop to the drama of starting on the boat. As the bus wound its way down over the Mendips, the Levels were awash with golden light, but by the time we were in Wells it was hailing.

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The stormy skies and half-light of the day made our new workshop seem a bright haven (though not quite cosy enough to risk taking off our coats, hats and gloves)

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We spent an exciting afternoon wrestling with timber and getting everything together for the boat, ready for marking out tomorrow. Then, to round off the day, we had a great session with our friends at the Langport Huish Youth Club.

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The adventure of making the boat has just begun.

A generous gift

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After a long, slow journey – late buses, hail storms, missed connections and all – it was lovely to have such a warm welcome back to Langport.

Some:when has been made possible by a great deal of creative and generous input and support from people locally, who’ve contributed in so many ways. It was good to be able to add to this list the support of Travis Perkins, who generously agreed to sponsor us with a donation of materials and equipment for the boat. We’d like to say a big thank you to the management of the Langport branch of Travis Perkins, who so kindly arranged the sponsorship, and helped make sure we had all we needed.

It’s exciting to have all the materials, tools and workshop set up and ready to go. Thanks to all who helped today, and on the project so far!

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“… 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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Pal·imp·sest

Last week at the LitterARTi exhibition in Bristol Jethro ran a workshop for children with designer-maker Fiona Hobson – creating laminated collages with children, from waste plastic bags and sweet wrappers (Seila was running a willow sculpture workshop with the artist Sarah Edwards outside)

It was a great chance to experiment with techniques we also hope to use for the some:when sail/banner. It was great to see how tough the laminate is and to get a sense for the properties of the materials, colours and textures – which were far too much for my phone’s camera to handle:

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This was actually our second attempt – our first was an impromptu living-room experiment with Claire and her incredible collection of creative scrap, at Bow Wharf in Langport. There are few relevant artists to consider if we talk about working with lamination and layering. Anselm Kiefer is one of them, one of the main artists working with the palimpsest technique to generate his work.

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Anselm Kiefer

pal·imp·sest (plmp-sstn. 

1. A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.

2. An object, place, or area that reflects its history.
Henrique Oliveira

Henrique Oliveira

And the incredible Museo Aero Solar, a hot air balloon made from laminated waste plastic bags:

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Museo Aero Solar

A feel for the Parrett

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The River Parrett runs like a vein through this part of the Levels… it channels the flows of the landscape and brings life to it. Touching and listening to the water, we got to understand more in-depth this strong relationship of the land with the water. This river is like a thread linking the themes of the valley – it carries different types of water, different traces of history and therefore different meanings. This river contains the stories of the surroundings, its reflections show another angle on the landscape and how images can merge with its flow. It acts as a lens, and only being suspended, floating on the surface, can offer us this different perspective.

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Many stories have been told about the floods and the river. The media, the locals, the experts translate into words what their actual relationship with the river is. However, the watery heritage of Somerset is more than that, and by being immersed in this research, looking at it from different views and different perspectives, already we begin to see the depth and complexity of this relationship between the land and the water, and how people have adjusted themselves to it, and it to them. We both have been looking at Somerset for few years as one of the interests in our research. However, by being in the river I could see all the points of view coming together in one drawing that so far is just a sketch, and will be many more sketches, during this project and future ones.

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dragonfly

 

“Eyes can see widely: They can cross a river in full flood”.  (Tswana proverb)

A welly of water will do

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We were sitting in the library when the phone rang, books stacked about our feet and on the little side table. We had divided the morning between phone calls and local history books, on the trail of the elusive Parrett Flatner. So far we had three interesting photographs, and one promising conversation. Now on the phone was Ron Coombes of Bineham City Farm, kindly inviting us out for a look at his hand-built punt, recreated from the original specifications of Colonel Hawker

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Cycling as fast as we could in the baking sun, we made it out to the farm just in time to catch Ron on his lunch break. He took us out to the barn to admire the boat, a long, low craft built constructed from light timber and marine ply, painted a wintry pale grey. Holding his hand to the side of his Wellington boot to show just how little water was needed to float the boat, he described the extent of the Winter floods and the trips he’d taken wild-fowling with his dogs when the Levels were submerged.

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Standing by the boat with the sun at our backs and the cool musty smell of the barn before, our quest at last began to take on material qualities – the feel of the marine plywood, the weathered texture of the flaking paint, smells of straw and wood, oil, rust and dung. The swallows among the rafters and the wet nose of the dog gently sniffing about our ankles. This wasn’t exactly the boat we were after, but its flat bottom and homegrown feel gave us a taste of what we were after. Ron said the boat has carried them for miles across the floodplain, needing very little to keep afloat. Running aground on the mud, it takes only a quick shove to get going again. It seems an ideal boat for access and mobility in an unstable and unpredictable water-scape.

At the back of the house, another boat lay upturned on the narrow lawn, a battered fibreglass dinghy propped beside the rusting garden gate. Ron marked out the line for us, where the water had reached halfway up the  drive. The house, the yard and the cattle sheds were safe on high ground, but a boat was still a handy thing to have about.

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Cycling back, we stopped besides golden fields of sunbaked corn beneath an innocent blue sky. The smell of warm earth, tarmac and milky thistles revealed nothing to our of the wet, waterbound Winter months.

On the trail of the Somerset Flatner

The following text is reproduced from a forthcoming notice in the next edition of the Langport Leveller with thanks to Janet Seaton.

Artists Seila Fernandez Arconada and Jethro Brice are working on a project with community groups in the Langport area, to recreate this iconic local boat – a flat-bottomed craft valued for its stability in a changeable landscape. Please get in touch if you have information, stories or pictures relating to the traditional Somerset Flatner and its smaller cousins, the Turf boat, Withy boat and Flattie. We are interested in collecting local memories to flesh out what we know from museums and archives – and perhaps even finding an original boat in somebody’s barn!

For more information about the project please visit http://www.some-when.co.uk.
Contact us on somewhenproject@gmail.com

Mannering, J (2008), The directory of inshore craft: Traditional working vessels of the British Isles, Barnsley, Seaforth Publishing, [distributor] Pen & Sword Books Ltd

Mannering, J (2008), The directory of inshore craft: Traditional working vessels of the British Isles, Barnsley, Seaforth Publishing, Pen & Sword Books Ltd

Encounters in Langport – how spontaneity generates collaboration

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We’ve opted for an open and spontaneous approach with this project – floating an idea and seeing where it takes us, following the threads that arise from collective responses. The research trip was directed by the people we met, pointing the way to new encounters with particular places or people. Their interest in the project has in turn shaped our own, bringing different approaches and expertise to flesh out our original ideas.

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We met some great people, whose enthusiasm and knowledge have helped us explore or resolve some of the big questions that face us. We were able to look at construction of the actual boat, floating different suggestions and even testing out some possible materials in an impromptu living-room experiment. We explored the historical and social background, talking to people about their experiences, consulting local books and historians. We began to immerse ourselves in the space, exploring Langport and its surroundings, sought out community groups in order to know how they would like to engage with the project , and even took a canoe out onto the River Parrett, to explore what will be the final event of this project, the Flatner‘s journey downstream from Langport to Bridgewater.

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The journey Some:when has started is vibrant and beautiful. Thank you so much to everyone who has made it a success so far – thanks to Carol, Steph, Josh, Lorraine, Ron, Cara, Hannah, Claire, Alan, Angus, Janet, Caroline, and everybody else who made us feel welcome and inspired.  More updates to follow soon!

The cycle in

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This was our first research trip for Some:when – a chance to meet people, learn about the place, connect with the water, track down information about the elusive Flatner, and start piecing together plans for making the boat.

To get to Langport we decided to take the train to Bridgwater and follow the waterways inland, cycling cross-country to get a feel for the watery landscape of the Somerset Moors and Levels.

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As far as we could, we followed the River Parrett – tracing in reverse the planned journey of the Flatner. Close as we were to the water, we barely saw it – instead we found ourselves cut off from the river by the high embankments, hemmed in between pumping stations and dusty hedges.

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The brief spectacular views of the river showed us a rapidly changing scene, from the mud slicks and buried bicycles of Bridgwater to bucolic, leafy bends, canal boats and herons. Further upstream, we came suddenly on the signs of dredging – long armed diggers perched above smooth-sided, geometrical slopes of clean-scraped mud. A small sign beside a row of riverside houses read ‘Dredge the Rivers’ in vivid red paint. Signs were everywhere: warning signs, planning notifications, road closures, and – scrawled across the road in white spray paint – ‘Flooded To Here’.

The view from Burrow Mump had transformed. We had each been here before, earlier in the year, to see the broad silvery reaches of the Winter floods. I recalled the flocks of wildfowl strung out along field edges, wheeling lapwings, and swans bright against the dark strings of willow. Now two buzzards circled, lazily calling, above hay meadows and lush green fields. We refilled our water bottles at the King Alfred Inn and set off towards our first rendez-vous at the SAW offices in Langport. The road dipped between lush meadows then wound its way into a cluster of steep hills. Gradually we climbed above the floodplain and made our way into Langport.

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