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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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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Pressure’s on…

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This was possibly the most exciting bit of the process so far – fitting the four sheets of solid marine ply that make the actual sides of the boat. As the board we had was quite a bit heavier than the specifications, we had some real concerns about whether it would bend into shape. Following a top tip from Cara, and an artful improvised bath construction from Ian, we set the boards to soak for 24 hours before we started. The marine resin is (we hope) unaffected, but the wood fibres themselves naturally soften with moisture and then set in their new configuration as they dry.

The tricky thing was getting the angle right on the front posts – with nothing much to go by but feel, and four different sets of eyes and opinions… However, we arrived at a solution we liked and worked our way back along the boat, watching the straight-sided boards miraculously produce their lovely raking curve as they were pulled in tight against the ‘knees’. Then we had to construct ‘straps’ to join the rear boards to the front, and wait a good half day while the glue set solid before we could safely attempt the final curve.

Thankfully, all went smoothly and we now have what is, in essence, an actual boat… …though there’s a fair amount of work to go before we can complete the finishing touches and set it afloat!

The photos above give a bit of a sense of the process. Thanks also to Cara and others who got their hands dirty wrestling the boards into place, but didn’t show up in the photos…

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SOH CAH TOAH

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Working as artists in multiple collaborative and community contexts, we’ve had to develop a pretty varied range of skills – knowing how to work with different materials, how to facilitate shared processes, how to improvise and find creative solutions to unexpected problems. But the best thing about collaboration, is that in the end it;’s not all down to you. Other people bring their own skills and knowledge (and stories, and ideas) – and you end up creating what you didn’t know you could.

Building Some:when has been a bit like that – surprises come up, things fall into place, people chip in and throw their different perspectives into the mix. This was evidenced in a small – but critical – way a few weeks ago, when we found ourselves trying to cut the triangles for the prow and stern – without a protractor…

Captain Peter arrived with impeccable timing and gave us an impromptu lesson in trigonometry.

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A couple of weeks later, it was time to put it all to the test as we assembled the locker and post structures. Thankfully, everything fitted together beautifully, and we ended up with a structure we hope is solid enough to ‘crack ice’ (as the Nova Scotian fishermen say) – or at least strong enough to take a few hard knocks when exploring uncharted flood waters, or traversing the length of the powerful Parrett!

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…and we’re back!

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It’s our first day back and it’s been a productive one. After putting together a quick schedule for the week we set straight to work. Assembling all the parts from the last session was fun – once the sanding was finished we seemed to get a great deal done very quickly. Then it was on to the prow and stern posts – a complicated job – but more about that tomorrow…

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For now, the flatner still looks like something between a fossil, a fish, and a space ship about to take off. I think perhaps after all this time the boat is eager to be off – hopefully that energy will stand us in good stead when it’s finally time to spring forth onto the waters.

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Turning point

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Today’s session was a really productive one – probably the first time we’ve done more, not less, than we’d hoped. You can’t really see it in the pictures, but the base now has an elegant sweeping bevel to its sides. Once this was done, we could turn the boat, and begin transferring fine measurements and angles to shape the knees, locker fronts, and other components.

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We left the boat frame set out ready for assembly, looking somewhat like a primitive space craft, or the fossil of an ancestral fish. At the far left you can see one of the knees in already in position – we couldn’t resist fixing one in place to see what it was going to be like.

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It was a long day at the workshop today, so we were doubly pleased to arrive ‘home’ to the house where we’re staying, and find a surprise gift left hanging from the door handle. We hope it was intended for us… Thank you to the mystery chef!

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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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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