Monday, August 27, 2012

Sunshine Hit Me

Sometimes, when it's rodding down with rain outside (particularly if it's still supposedly the middle of summer), you need a bit of audible sunshine to supplement the lack of a big yellow orb in the sky.
Enter The Bees (aka "A Band Of Bees" if you're state-side) a six piece band from Ventnor on the Isle of Wight led by Paul Butler whose analogue sound harks back in subtle homage to classic artists of the 60's and 70's and manages somehow to both relax and uplift in unison.  
I caught them at the utterly fantastic Port Eliot Festival back in mid-July (more to come on that soon) and managed to get myself a spot down near the front and fire off a few shots on my trusty little 35mm Olympus Trip.  They came out pretty good and have provided me with the perfect excuse to tell you that, if it's raining when you wake up tomorrow morning and you need your day brightening up some, look these guys up and get some sunshine in your ears.  Even if it's not raining, their soundtrack will make a good day better. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Not Much Of A Surf Story": Bev Morgan

Bev Morgan is the Forrest Gump of surfing; I'd bet that even readers with an affinity for surf history and culture have only seen his name pop up here and there in books, articles and stories.  But the funny thing about Bev is that, if you dig deep enough, he appears to be the nuts and bolts in many of the major developments in surfing throughout California and Hawaii from the late 40's through to the mid-60's.  He was that guy in the background, involved in what was going on but never standing front and centre.  If you google his name, you'll get a whole lot of stuff come up about the Dive Helmet business that he started in the mid-60's which is one of the world's leaders in dive helmet technology.  But a few images from his days in the midst of surfing will pop up...

How entrenched in early Californian surf culture you ask?  This guy has pedigree and a ridiculous number of the sort of incredible stories that you wouldn't have thought could all be attributed to a single man.  Growing up as a teenage friend of Greg Noll and the Manhatten Beach Pier guys, he rode boards shaped by Joe Quigg and Bob Simmons (who shaped him a 6' x 24" wide board in the early 50's which was absolutely unheard of and has since spawned the mini-simmons trend) and glassed surfboards for Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs.  He was a helicopter rescue diver in the early 50's, jumping out of helicopters to rescue post-war fighter jet test pilots in Los Angeles Bay, opened one of the first wetsuit shops and got big into the fledgling diving scene.  His stories about the impact of domestic detergents replacing soap in American households and it's effect on breaking up sewage effluent and it's subsequent impact on marine life, particularly the molluscs and crustaceans that he dove for, provide a harrowing illustration of overpopulation's impact on the oceans. 

In 1957 Bev sold his share in Dive N' Surf and, along with a group of friends, bought a 61' wooden ketch and spent two years exploring the South Pacific.  On a mission to collect fish samples for Scripps oceanography institute from the Cococs Islands, they discovered that the reason why nobody had done it before was because of the ferocious and inquisitive sharks, so they dove as a team with shark billys to bash the teethy fish on the nose and scare them off whilst they collected samples.  On Easter Island they were formally requested by the island elders to "contribute to the gene pool", then retrieved artifacts from the  HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island.  Upon his return he did a stint as a photographer at Surfer magazine then got into wetsuits and started the company that would eventually turn into Bodyglove.  He hung with Pat Curren in Hawaii surfing and spear fishing, trading half their catch for gas for their car.  He  smuggled lobster into the USA from mexico by plane with a load of friends and then took a freighter and two bulldozers down to try to bring back a mile long load of pearl shell to sell to the button business (the shells were delaminated and the whole scam failed).  When he finally settled back in LA he spent a significant amount of time bodysurfing the Newport Wedge with Mickey Munoz and Phil Edwards, where Joe Quigg and Carter Pyle developed swim fins by getting a dead frozen porpoise from Marineland, cutting off the tail and used the forms to make fins on tennis shoes.  Bev then developed his diving helmet business, using all of his experience in both diving and in advanced composites from the surf industry to make the first significant advances in diving helmets in 150 years.  He now lives in Santa Barbara and, when approached by The Surfer's Journal, claimed that he "didn't really have much of a surf story to tell"...  I would disagree Bev.

Bev Morgan's story is absolutely amazing.  The closest he's got to any sort of biography is an article in The Surfer's Journal where he tells the stories behind a load of photos from his extensive personal collection, called "More Than My Share".  You can buy it as a downloadable pdf from The Surfer's Journal here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Brilliance of British Bellyboarding

Greater than the sum of it's parts:  deckchairs, bunting, an Original Surfboard Co. bellyboard and John Isaac's Model T Ford.  World Bellyboarding Championships 2011.

Some things define British beach culture like nothing else:  buckets and spades, stripey deckchairs, sandcastles and of course bellyboards.  International readers may raise a quizzical eyebrow at this point, however a lot of British based readers will be drifting off into memory-ville.  A lot of us caught our first wave on a bellyboard; not our first "stand-up" wave, but lying down on a piece of plywood with a rounded nose, engulfed by the whitewater from waist-deep until we were deposited in the warm shallows.  In my grandma's shed there was a stack of these old things - my grandma's bellyboard which now rests in the corner of my bedroom, and three that my mum and her sister and brother had painted their favourite sea creatures on when they were children.  Most people who spent their childhood holidays on the beaches of Britain will have one of these bent plywood boards stashed away in a shed or up in the rafters of their garage, but these days they're starting to dust them off and get them back in the sea.  Bellyboarding's back.

Jenni Hosen entering into the spirit of things.  WBBC 2011. 

"Surf riding", as it was called back then, was a British beach pastime inspired by Hawaiian paipos and which has a history in this country dating back over one hundred years to the turn of the 19th Century, when Hawaiian Royalty were sent to Britain to finish their education.  Ever wondered why the Hawaiian State flag has the Union Jack in the corner?  That's the link right there.  After World War Two sheet material such as plywood became increasingly available and shaping a 4 foot long by 1 foot wide board with a rounded nose, often steamed or laminated to a slight upward curve, was easy.  You could get 8 boards out of a standard sheet and make them at home before loading the car to head south and west for the family holiday.  Wade out to waist deep water, wait for a strong line of whitewater to advance towards you then turn around and push yourself into it.  Good, simple, honest fun.

Arthur Traveller used to come down to Chapel Porth in Cornwall on holiday from London every year, bringing with him his plywood bellyboard.  When he passed away back in 2002 the National Trust's car park attendant Chris Ryan and Head Lifeguard Martin Ward organised the first "World Bellyboarding Championships" in his memory on the first Sunday of September.  This year is the championship's tenth year, and promises to be even better, and more eccentric than ever.  Modern wetsuits are not allowed, and classic woolen bathing suits are the most you're really meant to wear in the waves.  Everyone piles in for the expression session before the "serious" heats begin in two categories:  Juniors for anybody under the age of 60, and seniors for the more "practised" attendees who can get there using their bus pass.  For anybody not keen on wading out into the Atlantic Ocean in September can stay on land and get involved in the bake-off.  It's a wonderful event where a sense of humour is just as important as a bellyboard, chock full of British beach culture and traditions with a brilliant dose of classic eccentricity.  Knotted handkerchief and sand in your sandwiches anyone?  I'll see you there on Sunday September 2nd.  Enter here.

 The "Expression Session"

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Well, she floats.

And in this case, whatever floats my boat is about a year and a half of hard work and head-scratching (on spare weekends), three sheets of fsc certified plywood, a couple of old school science desks, some kitchen worktop offcuts, mis-blown foam from a lifeguard paddleboard, various workshop scraps, an old windsurf mast, the spare sail and a few bits from a knackered old mirror dinghy, 26 old seatbelts, a load of used plastic drinks bottles, a roll of fibreglass, some epoxy resin and finally patience and advice from a whole heap of people.
And what a relief it was when I pushed her into the sea!  After a year and a half in the making, An Reun Govynnus had sort of become the elephant in the corner; the project that I'd taken on that was arguably waaaaay to big.  So to push my little wooden boat off the beach at Port Isaac where my Great Great Uncle was the last wooden boat-builder and for it not to keep on going along the seabed until water came over the gunnels, or instantly capsize, was a pretty nice feeling.  To be honest, just getting it finished took a weight off my mind, let alone whether or not it was seaworthy.

An Reun Govynnus (Cornish for 'The Curious Seal') has featured on here a few times in the past (here and here), but I didn't want An Tor Orth An Mor to become a build diary for a project that I wasn't completely confident of finishing.  Building a boat is quite a big job as it turns out, particularly when you're working from a book (not full scale plans), adapting all of the measurements to suit the reclaimed and recycled materials that you're intent on using, don't really understand any boat jargon and only have 5 clamps to your name.  All that, and I'd just started a new and pretty full-on job which was overly-demanding on my time.  

It must be getting on for ten years ago that the desire for an outrigger canoe first crept into my mind; it seemed like the ultimate vessel for accessing some of the little nooks and crannies under the high cliffs around where I live to go spear fishing.  The outrigger would give it the stability to climb back aboard easily after diving that a normal small boat wouldn't provide.  So I called around a load of outdoor centres trying to get my mitts on a knackered old Canadian canoe with the aim of lashing a bit of drain pipe onto the side of it.  Well that dream morphed a bit over the next decade.  Surfboards get in the way in small boats, so for small surf trips up and down the coast an outrigger canoe provides space to lash a stack of boards....and why paddle everywhere when there's free energy in the wind?  One guy that I e-mailed for advice told me to build one in a day with friends and a crate of beers then smash it up paddling around in the surf to see whether I liked outrigger canoes enough to build one properly.  But by the time I'd shelled out for three sheets of plywood I figured that I'd made an investment and might as well do it properly.  Cue admiralty charts laser etched onto the fore and aft decks (so that I don't get lost), a trampoline of recycled car seatbelts and a whole heap of other little touches that might only be known to me.  If a job's worth doing...

I splashed her back in April during a horrible storm, my girlfriend Kate patiently watching from the beach in the driving rain whilst I bobbed around making a mental list of all of the things that I needed to do and improve before I could hoist a sail.  She also had to endure a conversation that I had with Tom Kay of Finisterre at the opening event of an exhibition where we gibbered excitedly and almost exclusively for a good ten minutes about various sail set-ups, making models with paper napkins and cocktail sticks to the bewilderment of everybody around us.  I owe her a public thank you for being so wonderfully patient and understanding.  Thank you!

And so to the maiden voyage:  Launching from Port Isaac seemed like the right thing to do; kind of completing the circle of wooden boat building and heritage.  Captain Christian Beamish calls it "blood memory" and I'd be inclined to agree.  It was a dropping spring tide so, having put all of the various bits of boat down on the pebbles at the waters edge the tide had dropped a fair bit by the time I'd lashed all of it together.  A few Port Isaac locals helped me to carry it down to the waters edge and, just as I shoved off my housemate Matt pulled his boat Sea Explorer into the harbour with a full compliment of clients on a sea safari.  Nice to have an escort for moral support and mainly in case my boat building skills weren't actually all that.  It's an interesting way to test yourself isn't it?  Putting your faith in your own craftsmanship to the extent that if it fails you'll probably have to swim a long way home or get scooped up by the lifeboat.

I paddled out of the harbour walls and looked back to enjoy the view of the picturesque little fishing village that I'm so used to seeing from within (some of you would recognise Port Isaac from Doc Marten, the TV show that's filmed there).  A mile east under the cliffs to Port Gaverne and then after beaching to adjust my rigging and eat some lunch I pointed north up a rugged, beautiful and largely inaccessible stretch of coast.  I had my eyes and heart set on a semi-secret beach a good few miles away but was paddling against a light head wind and didn't want to be overly ambitious on my first outing.  The last time I was in charge of a boat was a good few years ago after all, and I kind of wanted to soak it all up; this stretch of coast is utterly stunning with verdant green clifftops speckled with purple heather and yellow gorse flowers, incredible cliffs, waterfalls, coves and sea caves.  An Reun Govynnus only draws about 15-20 cm of water with me onboard so can come in remarkably shallow and skim over some of the reefs protecting the rocky shoreline.  

I hoisted the main sail and jib (the smaller sail at the front) for the run south back towards Port Isaac, just as the sea mist descended over Tintagel Head and the breeze picked up.  After such a beautiful hot and sunny day with barely a breath of wind the sea mist came down the coast amazingly fast.  Almost as fast as An Reun Govynnus which, at 16 foot long and less than 2 feet wide doesn't need a lot of sail up to get a move on.  This was the bit that I was a bit more apprehensive about because I'm a surfer and by no stretch of the imagination a sailor, and essentially an outrigger sailing canoe is an offset catamaran with the mast over to one side unbalancing it enormously.  When the sail is out over the outrigger it is pushing down on that buoyancy, however when it swings out to the other side it is more likely to capsize the boat than power it forwards and you need to be able to scramble out to the outrigger float to counterbalance it.  Everything that I read stated that these things are fast, easy to capsize and difficult to right, particularly singlehanded.  Luckily the breeze was manageable and I made it back to Port Isaac just as the sea mist caught up with me and almost exactly on dead low tide which revealed a few choice rocks and boils just outside the harbour walls that aren't often uncovered.
My original plans had been to follow the coast south and west the 7 miles or so back to Polzeath so that I could run my boat back up on my home beach and wheel it up the sand back to the garage where I'd built her.  But that voyage is probably an overnighter that can wait for another day and the next patch of high pressure that moves over us.  One paddle stroke at a time hey, now that I know that it floats.

I built myself a bloody boat, but it absolutely wouldn't have been possible without the following people:
My parents for the boat building heritage and "blood memory"; Richard Scott of thirdshade surfcraft for telling me that building a pram dinghy "just wouldn't be cool" and for advice and materials; John Burford of Upper Deck Marine for providing me with chandlery despite my enormous lack of knowledge about what boat bits I was actually after; Kate for taking photos, her unending patience and for making allowances for my near-obsessiveness, lateness and gluey/sawdusty clothing; Gary Dierking for designing such a rad boat and writing the book that I worked from; Matt from Cornish Sea Tours for the workspace and escorting me from Port Isaac to Port Gaverne; Dave Cook of Marine Academy Plymouth for advice; Byron the Port Isaac Harbour Master for allowing me to launch from "home", and finally to everyone who got so enthusiastic about my stupid project and encouraged me to do a proper job.  Thanks very much, sorry I didn't build on a gin-deck for us all to sit back and enjoy it on.

Images 1, 4, 5 and 8 taken by Kate Fewster, images 2, 3 and 6 taken by me and image 7 taken by Cornish Sea Tours.