Sunday, January 29, 2012

Howls From The Pit: An Reun Govynnus

"Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made."
Robert N. Rose

I've heard it said that whenever you start a project, plan for it to take three times longer than you expect. I'll put my name to that.

An Reun Govynnus was a pretty ambitious project that I cautiously took the lid off back in March last year in the first "Howls From The Pit" post, and considering all of the other things that I had going on last year I really shouldn't have publicised the fact that I aimed to launch her in the summer. Needless to say I missed my planned launch date and the boat's still sat down in The Pit, 95% complete but still confined to dry land while I work on the finishing touches and take the winter to go back over her and make sure everything's all ship-shape and Bristol fashion. I don't want this fancy floating box falling apart on me when I'm around the back of the headland after all.

Since March last year a lot has happened, but often it sometimes doesn't look that way. The eight foot outrigger arms (iakos) were laminated up with 5 strips of ash sandwiched between layers of iroko top and bottom and formed to a curve to meet the outrigger float (ama).

Following a self imposed "tread lightly" sustainability challenge I researched all of the different options available for sheathing the hull and ended up opting to use standard fibreglass cloth and epoxy resin from a local surfboard materials supplier. Not all that sustainable I hear you say, but I had to balance out sustainability, safety and cost; hemp cloth absorbs a lot more resin and only really works with epoxy so would add weight and expense, after a few tests and enquiries I decided against bioresin and fibreglass (questionable bond strength with wood), and in the end after checking every cloth/resin combination the best option was the least environmentally friendly one. But it works and now the hull sections are laminated and painted white.

I glued up the biofoam offcuts using old tyre inner-tubes to strap it all together then glued on balsa and western red cedar nose and tail blocks made from workshop offcuts. I had to stand the ama on it's end in the yurt in our back yard to use it's own weight as pressure on the glue joint with the tail block which made for quite a neat image.

The deck panels had the admiralty nautical charts for the coastline where I live etched onto them using a laser cutter in case I lose my charts overboard and I realised then that all of the clamps in the world still wouldn't be enough to hold them to the tight curves as the glue set. I begged and borrowed as many clamps as I could and cut up sections of drainpipe to apply pressure in between clamps, and the decks are on.

This winter I've had even less time than last year to sneak down and whittle the boat but I've ripped down leftover lengths of iroko and capped all of the gunnels so they're looking all classic in dark hardwood. I've spent a lot of time trimming glue overspills and working on small important things that I can't even see when I step back, knowing that it's the small things that count.

I also saw an advert in my local Newsagents window, advertising an old mirror dinghy in need of some TLC. I called up and on December 27th I headed along to the next village of Rock, just inside the Camel Estuary, to take a look. The dinghy has a hole in the hull and some bits of rot that need cutting out and patching, but it came with spare everything, even a complete set of spare sails. The price on the advert had said £60 and as the elderly gentleman talked me through all of the bits laid out in his garage I was sure that he'd made a typo and that I was £540 short.
Luckily for me it wasn't a mistake so I'm now the proud owner of TWO un-seaworthy vessels. I think that makes me a Commodore? Or a straight up idiot. Probably the second.

I assembled all of the bits a couple of weekends ago on a windy but sunny(ish) January morning with my great friend Alex of Initiative Surf filming my fumbling and confusion (see below, thankfully sped up and crammed into 30 seconds), and the plan is to cannibalise all of the spare bits of the Mirror for An Reun Govynnus and get her under sail. Then I can patch the holes and have two boats...but one step at a time. Three times as long right??!

"A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked, and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say "How to Build a Boat."
Stephen Wright

Top two images shot by Dave Williams.
Bottom two images by Mat Arney.
Mirror Dinghy footage shot and edited by Alex Espir.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beauty in Nature

Nature, whether on a large or a small scale, is unquestionably one of the most incredibly, awe-inspiringly, beautiful things that we are all able to interact with on a daily basis.

Planet Earth, you're amazing. Keep up the good work.

Tom Blake wasn't wrong.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guy Martin: Shifting Sands

Egyptians in Tahrir Square celebrate the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters on the streets of Cairo. Note the sticks, clothes wrapped around heads for protection and bandaged protestors.

A Libyan rebel fighter pulls over onto the side of the road to wash himself and pray before re-joining the offensive against Gaddafi loyalists.

Misrata, Libya, April 20th 2011. A rebel fighter on Tripoli Street takes cover behind a tree. Just a few hours later Guy Martin was severely injured and Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros lost their lives in exactly this same place.

If you've ended up here by way of my website and The Surfer's Path article then you're probably after some of the posts below that are a bit more sun, sand and surf. This week's post is a bit more sun, sand and revolutions.

This past week my friend James Allen has been curating an amazing exhibition of images from the 2011 Arab Spring taken by acclaimed photojournalist Guy Martin, and Monday just gone I headed down to the opening night.

It's pretty common to hear of news-gatherers risking their lives to get the story but Guy's story really shines a light on this. During the Spring of 2011 Guy travelled to Egypt and Libya to cover the unfolding Arab Spring, in Egypt he was on assignment for The Wall Street Journal and in Libya he chased his own stories which were later printed in The Guardian and The Observer. On April 20th, whilst photographing some of the fiercest urban warfare in recent history he was severely injured in a mortar rocket attack from Gaddafi loyalists that killed his two friends and fellow photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. He underwent significant surgery in Misrata before being evacuated to Malta and then back to the UK.

The exhibition was divided into three parts; Guy's documentary photography from Egypt and Libya and then an exhibition of large images of some of the many missing persons posters that were posted on the walls of the Bengazi court house as the revolution took hold. Some of these people had been missing since the 1970's.
I was lucky enough to have James show me around the exhibition and talk me through many of the images (all shot with a 35mm fixed lens, requiring Guy to get right in close to what was happening). Some were symbolic, others directly telling a story, a couple were uncomfortable to look at and many which were incredibly subtle. Images like a hand holding a bit of string with a rock tied to the end in the thick of an Egyptian protest, with another hand touching their wrist; a non-verbal request for restraint - for the sake of peace or to wait for the right time to attack? Or an image of two pro-Mubarak Egyptians being interrogated, one arguing and another with his face in his hands whilst they are being photographed by revolutionaries, then in the corner of the image you notice a clenched fist...

I spoke with Guy, now relatively well recovered from his injuries, and we discussed the tight deadlines that photojournalists on assignment are faced with, having to send 12 images up to three times daily via satellite phone which meant racing an hour back to a hotel, do a rough cut and then spend a fortune sending them through to his photo editor in New York. In Libya Guy followed his own leads and told me about the strange state of these modern revolutions, with kids in Nike trainers racing out to the frontline somewhere in desert and running to the top of the sand dunes, pulling out their i-phones to report back and then waiting for a NATO air-strike. His images show young Libyans, some holding automatic weapons and wearing flip-flops (not sure how I'd feel about fighting a war in flip-flops) fighting from house to house, or away from the fighting relaxing and behaving like young people everywhere.

The range of incredible images that he captured, and the price that he paid in doing so, shows just how important it is to tell these stories, no matter how uncomfortable some of the realities are. The truth must out, and it's through brave photographers like Guy Martin and his colleagues from various medias that the often brutal, horrible but sometimes possibly necessary realities of revolution and conflict can reach the rest of us and help us to form our opinions. Having one such internationally acclaimed photographer from and working out of Cornwall is a nice thing too.

Shifting Sands was shown at The Poly, Falmouth from January 10th - 14th. It was hosted by Cartel Photos and University College Falmouth (where he is an associate lecturer).
Guy Martin is represented internationally by Panos Pictures.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hitting Paydirt

"Twenty years from now
you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbour.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."

Mark Twain

The phrase "If you don't go, you'll never know" gets bandied around a lot, particularly in the "action sports" (I hate that label) arena. But in fairness there is a truth in there.
These days it's difficult to search out novel experiences; in almost every endeavour you can bet you bottom dollar that somebody else has already been there, done that and posted it on the interweb. But not always, and even if they have, that doesn't mean you can't come a close second. Surfing-wise, you'd struggle to find a rideable wave that's yet to be ridden because in the past 60 years surfers have scoured just about every nook on every coast and checked every kink in every reef. When they find a wave then sometimes they'll tell, but if it's good then they generally won't. But secrets out over time and so the surfing map slowly grows. It's nice to think though that there are still mystery spots out there, or fickle, rarely surfed stretches of coast that rarely see a wave and even more rarely see a surfer. It gives me hope that perfect, uncrowded waves are still out there if you can get the stars to align.

I have a bit of a thing these days with that faint possibility that I might find an as-yet un-surfed or un-named or unknown place to catch a wave. I scour maps, study swell charts, tear photos and articles out of newspapers and magazines and relentlessly pester friends or acquaintances for information on far flung coastlines.

Sometimes I hit paydirt.

So the past few years I've tried to follow up on some of my hunches and research and gone looking. Now, I'm not so devoted that I'd risk hauling my boards around on a surf trip with a high risk that I might not find any surf. I still want to catch waves. Instead I've tried to tie my inquisitive forays into slightly bigger trips, either as an aside or as part of an extended stopover on the way to or from a wave-rich destination. I guess if I had more time, more money, and a 4x4 then I'd be able to indulge my curiosity but alas this is the best I can manage.

In August of 2011 I headed back to Jeffreys Bay in South Africa to visit some friends and scratch my Supertubes itch. From there I had two choices: West to the cold Southern Atlantic and the cold, sharky left-handers that peel along the base of the sand dunes of Namibia, or East up the coast of the Indian Ocean to look for warm, equally sharky right-handers in Mozambique and up towards Tanzania.

From the images of the flawless right-handers rolling down tropical points above and below, you can see which option I chose. I have to admit that my decision was mainly down to my desire to surf in boardshorts and my preference for surfing on my forehand.
I'm not saying where these photos were taken, the only clue that I'll give is that they are on the East Coast of the African Continent. The few people whom I managed to prise information about surfing up here from warned me that I ought to take a good thick book with me because I was most likely to find a flat ocean devoid of swell, whipped up by strong winds and teeming with sharks. The stars aligned however and I lucked in, but there were still plenty of X's on my map that I didn't/couldn't make it to where I'm sure I might've found equally good waves but without the handful of other surfers that I ended up sharing the water with. Those other surfers weren't a bad thing though; despite my desire to find solo perfection, it's nice to reduce the odds when there're that many big grey fishies swimming around beneath you.

So next time you wonder whether or not there might be waves there, or have an extended stopover some place strange, or even just want to run the risk and go looking for adventure as well as waves, pack your board and do it. You might just hit paydirt too.

Go looky,
Get lucky.

Images, top to bottom:
  • Ponta
  • One of the handful of other surfers whom I shared waves with, doing a pro-lap up the point.
  • Local Lady on her way back from market.
  • Dawn launch, in lee of another point.
  • Well, it was offshore.
  • Well worth the risk.
  • Sunset swaying.
  • I dare you to pour some of this on your food.
  • Back beach barrels.
If any of you read The Surfer's Path then you may well have noticed that an article about wooden surfboard maker James Otter and mine's "The Storyboard" project has made it into print. It's in the Jan/Feb issue (#88) and we're dead stoked about it. The Storyboard exhibition is also due to go on display at the Scarlet luxury eco-hotel at Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, for the rest of the winter and into Spring, please go check it out if you're in the area.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Repeat After Me: "I Am An Islomaniac"

The sunset before the storm, Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia.

Newland, due just North West of my front room window.

You can set me down just here thanks. The Maldives, appearing out of the blue.

My name is Mat and I am an islomaniac.

Ok, it’s your turn to say it too. It feels better to have got it off your chest no?

I’ve been putting off admitting my fascination with islands for a while now, I kept telling myself that I needed to wait until I had visited just a few more; a couple more photos of an island from the bow of a boat, maybe another image of a rocky outcrop silhouetted against the sunset. But it’s time to lay it out: I have a thing for islands. I can’t define it but their mysterious charm has cast a spell on me. The list of islands (and groups of) that I want to visit just keeps growing, and at this rate I’d never get around to writing this so strikes me there’s no time like the present.

There are thousands of islands on the planet. Trying to find out just how many depends on how you define an island and how you categorize them; The Vikings would only class land as an island if they could pass a ship with a rudder between it and the mainland, whilst the 1861 Scottish census defined an island as “an area of land surrounded by water and inhabited by man, and where at least one sheep can graze. Some are prisons, others holy, some are glorified cruise ship docks or have been razed and re-turfed as golf resorts, some are owned by film stars, some support the world’s biggest cities, some of them are islands at high tide and linked to the mainland at low tide, and a lot of them are knee deep in bird crap.

Big, small, sandy, rocky, volcanic, coral atolls; a lone palm tree, jungle, desert or bleak and windswept; cold, tropical, temperate; oceanic, freshwater, river; remote or a stones-throw from the mainland; there are so many variables that actually coming up with a definitive number of islands on planet Earth is nigh on impossible.

But why are so many of us entranced by islands? After all, they’re just bits of land restricted by water. But maybe that’s it; are they are reflection of us as human beings, individual and often isolated? “No man is an island”? Perhaps not John Donne. Perhaps we see a bit of ourselves in them and are comforted by the fact that when we view them in our minds eye we usually see an island that’s manageably small - the sort that you could walk around and get to know.

When I was little there were times when I exclusively read books about islands: Treasure Island, The Coral Island, Swallows and Amazons, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson and later Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies and The Beach all fuelled my over-active imagination. There was a pond near where I grew up which had a little island in the middle of it that my friends and I used to gaze at, but never swam out to it because we all knew that it would never live up to our expectations and imaginations. And these days when I look out of my window I stare straight at Newland, a rocky outcrop straight offshore from where I live. In the summer when the ocean’s flat some of us will paddle out to it but there’s nothing much to do when you get there; it’s just a lump of rock. At least one of us will still make the paddle year on year though. One day I’m sure that one of my friends will find pirate treasure out there though and make it all worth it.

George Orwell argued that we need solitude, creative work, and a sense of wonder as much as warmth, society, leisure, comfort, and security, and that “man only stays human by preserving large patches of simplicity in his life.”

It would appear that it is often much easier to gain and maintain this simplicity on an island than on a comparatively sized chunk of continental land (Thurston Clarke).

Simply put, we’re more human when on an island.

Tavarua, Fiji, as previously featured in a Desert Island Discs post.

My friend Jack casting for mackerel in front of Mouls Island, Cornwall.

St Michaels Mount, Cornwall. A mythical giant used to live on it according to Cornish folklore.

Prison island: Alcatraz, shot from the ferry from San Francisco to Sausilito.

Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand.

A friend of mine found this on the wonder of the interweb. There's no way it hasn't be photoshopped to turn it into every surfer's daydream, but who cares if it fuels some searching?

If islands are your thing too then take a peek at this book, be warned though, it'll only pour fuel on the fire.