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]

Some:when launch Sat 6th June, 2-4 pm

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And at long last… …the much anticipated launch of the Some:when flatner will be taking place this Saturday as part of the Langport Town Festival. We will launch the boat from the steps near Bow Bridge. If you are driving, please park at Ridgway or near the bridge to avoid interrupting the Spirit Levels dress rehearsal at the other end of Cocklemoor.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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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An express visit

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Last week we popped down just for the day, to fit and fix the gunwhales and inwhales (or rubbing strakes – depending who you ask). It was quite a trip – we spent almost as long on the bus as we had in the workshop – but it was a productive session and made a real difference to the feel of the boat. It was a fiddly job but thanks to David we had plenty of clamps to help encourage the wood into place.

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It was lovely to see the Parrett in the Spring Sunshine – lets hope we get weather like this for the launch!

You can expect to hear more from us soon as we are writing now from a lovely spot near Drayton.

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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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Mission: accuracy

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There are very few straight lines on a flatner, as it turns out. All the same, the process of creating symmetrical curves seems to involve plotting a lot of lines – whether with string, pencil, ruler, clamping pressure or even cast shadows and light.

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We have the use of an incredible space to build the boat. Like the flatner, our workshop is characterised by an absence of straight lines, so we’ve had to come up with some intriguing methods to make things fit.

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The boat seems none the worse for it, though. Today we offered up the first sheet of ply to the sides of the boat, which was quite exciting. It’s satisfying to see how well everything comes together. Fingers crossed for tomorrow – it’s a big day!

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Compound angles and complex curves

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Yesterday we divided our time between preparing the marine ply for mounting, and constructing the stern post. This has to be perfectly straight and solid to hold the curve of the ply when we mount the sides in place.

Ian put together an ingenious tailor-made soaking bath to soften the ply. The resin itself is (we hope) fully waterproof, but the fibres should soften with soaking, allowing us to bend the ply more easily into place, and then set again in their new positions to form a strong curve.


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These angles were tricky to do but we now have a stern that looks like it could break Ice. Hopefuly robust enough to withstand some hard knocks in its life as a resource for young people and community activities in the future.


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Now that it has a stem the boat is starting to transform from ‘primordial fossil space fish’ to something more like a viking longship (in miniature). The origins of the flatner design are lost in time, but it is thought to owe its shape to either Viking or Saxon heritage… what do you think?

…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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