Sailing North – Part 2 – In search of Ice

So I was headed north.

In search of Polar Bears.

In search of Roald Amundsen.

In search of Ice.

In imagining my Arctic trip from the temperate comfort of my Oakland studio, I did my required due diligence and read as much as I could prior to setting out. There is no shortage of literature on the Ice and there is a considerable body of research exploring how our imagination frames our experience of the the Arctic (and Antarctic). On the trip north my constant companion was the wonderful treatise by Francis Spufford “I may be some time” which deals in detail with how Victorian and Edwardian literature influenced the expectations and experience of Polar explorers. I was also rereading Barry Lopez’s “Arctic Dreams”. Lopez dwells at length on the characteristics of Arctic ice, listing many of the innumerable forms it can take (the English language has an incredibly rich and diverse nomenclature for ice and snow). Lopez says, the pack ice  “holds a different sort of attraction because of its constant motion, varied topography, and the access it provides to certain animals. But to venture out there on foot is, to put it simply, to court death. Pack ice moves irregularly before the wind, and the change in orientation of an individual piece of ice is unpredictable…. To be at its mercy in a boat or small ship however, is to know an exhausting, nerve-wracking vulnerability.” He goes on to describe  the famous whaler William Scoresby’s experience of being entrapped in the pack off the east coast of Greenland in 1814. “Scoresby set out on foot to reconnoiter the final mile of maneuvering that he hoped would set him free. Like many men caught in such circumstances, Scoresby was terrified. But he was mesmerized as well by the ice, by its sheer power, its daunting scale, the inexorability of its movement. The sound of its constant adjustment before the wind was like “complicated machinery or distant thunder,” he wrote. Even as he sought a way out, he marveled at the way it distracted him. He lost the sense of plight that spurred him, the pleading whining that came from his ship’s pinched hull; he became a mere “careless spectator.” It was though he was walking on the back of some enormous and methodical beast.”

Lopez goes on to describe the destruction of ships in the pack ice, collapsing “like a grand piano caught in an industrial press” and “of a final image of devastation: the remnant of several whaling crews found in a frozen stupor behind a sea wall of dead bodies, stacked up to protect them from the worst of the heavy seas in which their small floe rolled and pitched.” Gruesome!

This imminent threat haunted all who voyaged north, even in imagination. It was so much a part of the Ice that contemporary painters couldn’t imagine the ice without it. Frederic Church’s largest painting of his career originally lacked a human element, but after a poor reception at its first showing he added the cross-like wreckage in the foreground in the hope that it would add to its human appeal when shown in Europe.

The Icebergs  Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

The Icebergs
Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

Ten years later that other master of Arctic light William Bradford added what appears to be the exact same element of foreboding and loss to his painting of Melville Bay.

An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay William Bradford, 1871

An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay
William Bradford, 1871

It came as no surprise then that when the Antigua sailed into the pack ice our captain was very wary. Antigua was only permitted to enter a ships length or two into the ice where we tied off to a large floe with ice anchors.

Antigua, moored to the pack ice.

Antigua, moored to the pack ice.

We were able to wander around on the floe (about the size my studio!)  and savor the “enormous methodical beast”, while the guides kept a sharp eye out for  polar bears who might surface nearby unexpectedly.

Feeling the floe

Feeling the floe

Thankfully we were all kept safe. The only creatures we saw were some local walrus who were also taking advantage of the relative calm and safety of the floes.

Sitting on a corn flake Waiting for the van to come

Sitting on a corn flake
Waiting for the van to come

We were able to lower the two zodiacs and meander out through the leads in the pack to listen to the sounds of the ice grinding and melting (like deep frying chips) and to the sounds of harp seals navigating the soundscape under the ice. You can see my hydrophone in the foreground of this image and listen to a section from one recording to give you an impression. Can you hear the descending siren-like whistles of the seals behind the popping of melting ice and the motion of the floes in the waves?

Deploying the hydrophone on a nearby floe

Deploying the hydrophone on a nearby floe

This marked the furthest north we reached on our voyage – 79º51 N 11º12 E.

Furthest North amongst the pack ice!

Furthest North, at the edge of the pack ice!

The bergs really look like that - intense aquamarines of compacted snow/ice against the muted grays and violets of the sky and water

The bergs really look like that! Intense aquamarines of compacted snow/ice against the muted grays and violets of the sky and water

The captain only allowed us a single day of adventuring in the pack ice and then he set sail for safer waters further south.

Here is a time-lapse recording of our 9 hour trip south to the safety of Trinityhamna in Magdalenafjord, accompanied by a recording from an accelerometer attached to the mainmast.

 

Sailing North – Part 1 – Life aboard Antigua

After having wandered the decks of Fram and envisioned the Arctic and Antarctic tribulations of Roald Amundsen, I was prepared to step aboard Antigua for three weeks of Arctic adventure. She first hove into view the day we were to board her, sailing up Adventfjorden to the docks of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen.

Antigua sails into view

Antigua sails into view

The figurehead - I never did learn her name.

The figurehead – I never did learn her name.

Nice rope work on deck!

Nice rope work on deck!

Our first day aboard was extremely civilized – in fact every day aboard was extremely civilized. I was expecting freezing weather, heavy seas and a good dose of “rum, sodomy and the lash”. There was considerable amounts of rum (or equivalent) and perhaps some sodomy (but at least behind closed doors) and the lash when administered was rather mild. The weather was hardly Arctic at all – a mild 35-39ºF most days, the very occasional sprinkle of rain or snow, beautiful sunshine most days and only a few days of strong wind and heavy seas – and those were the days we got to sail, so it made up for the rocky and disturbed night’s sleep. The first day we got oriented to safety protocols, the “daily routine” (tricky when there is no night and every day is a new adventure), how to wear life jackets, and cake!

Captain Jo laying down the law.

Captain Jo laying down the law.

That night we anchored in Trygghamna (Safe Harbor) and went to sleep in the beautiful late evening sunlight after a long afternoon of sea and sky gazing!

Our resident scientist Tom with his sun prepped binoculars watching sunspots and waiting for midnight.

Our resident scientist Tom with his sun prepped binoculars watching sunspots and waiting for midnight.

Midnight in Trygghamna - day 1

Midnight – day 1 on board

Sarah and Nemo - sleeping on deck at 1am

Sarah and Nemo – sleeping on deck at 1am

Not all of us slept on deck! Here’s a two way view of the cabin I shared with my roomy, David Heymann. (David being a poet/architect I think I’ll refer to him as my Rumi instead.)

Top bunk or bottom bunk?

Top bunk or bottom bunk?

View from the bunk.  Toilet/shower on the left

View from the bunk.
Toilet and shower on the left.

Top bunk has the porthole!!!!

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

Much of our time was spent in Antigua’s spacious saloon. Here we ate 3 meals a day (plus cake!), met and discussed the days agenda and our projects, hung out and socialized, and recharged both ourselves and our digital devices. The saloon is where we gave talks on our work or listened to the other artists and guides on the boat reveal new worlds to us! And like all good saloons, there was a bar, so that’s where people lingered and talked and conspired late into the sunlit early hours.

Antigua's luxurious saloon with room for 30  seated at a meal together.

Antigua’s luxurious saloon with room for 30 seated at a meal together.

Every morning after breakfast we would get a briefing on the days activities and then get ready to go ashore or to go out on a zodiac project or perhaps stay aboard and write or draw or even snooze!

Sarah explaining "the plan"!

Sarah explaining “the plan”!

Being on Antigua was a rich and delightful experience – a heady mix of work, rest and play. Inspiration and exhaustion wrapped up intricately together. But going ashore was fab!! From the first climb down onto the zodiac, to the feel of the water (and sometimes ice) under the cushioned hull, to the crunch of gravel and the stepping off into knee deep icy water, to the untouched shore. Well untouched very recently perhaps, but with plenty of evidence of human occupation and activity stretching back hundreds of years. And then again very quickly touched by us! We stomped on the snow, crushed delicate plants underfoot (gently) and hugged chunks of ice. We looked like a bunch of deranged LSD experimental subjects – wandering up and down making strange footsteps, using telepathy to communicate to distant places, crawling on our bellies and taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs (mostly of the ground, sometimes of the sky, often of each other).

Sylvie engaging long distance telepathy.

Sylvie engaging long distance telepathy.

Charley Young's ice rubbings and icy toes.

Charley Young’s icy rubbings and icy toes.

The architecture of Prof. Jess Perlitz.

The architecture of Prof. Jess Perlitz.

At all times we needed to be guarded! We were clearly focussed and engaged but perhaps not on those things that we should have been. For that we had our three guardian angels – Theres Anulf, Sarah “Blue” Gerats, and Sara “Red” Orstadius. Well trained, deeply experienced and armed! Keeping a vigilant eye out for Isbjørn!

Saint Theres caring for her flock.

Saint Theres caring for her flock.

Sarah Gerats, always stylish and well armed.

Sarah “Blue”, always stylish and well-armed.

Sarah and Nemo watching our rear.

Sarah and Nemo watching our rear.

Sara Ostadius, getting distracted by artist's shenanigans.

Sara “Red” distracted by artist’s shenanigans.

Ok! We are warm, comfortable, well fed, well-guarded, we know how  to buckle a life vest and have been ashore. Our boots stay dry and the cameras and sound gear seem to be working fine, and yes I will endeavor to not make a mess on deck when I make ‘art’ and to stay within rifle shot of one of the guardian angels at all times. LET’S GO!!!

Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 2 – the ‘Fram’

The next stop on my museum tour and in my hunt for Roald Amundsen was the Fram Museum.

Set right on the water on the outskirts of Oslo, the museum was built around the wonderful vessel Fram. As Amundsen is an icon of Polar exploration so is Fram. It’s not just a vessel, it’s a character in its own right!

Fram (“Forward”) was used in  both the Arctic and Antarctic regions between 1893 and 1912 by a series of Norwegian explorers including Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wistig and Roald Amundsen. It was designed and built by the Norwegian shipwright Colin Archer for Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893 Arctic expedition in which Fram was supposed to freeze into the Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole. Fram has sailed farther north (85°57’N) and farther south (78°41’S) than any other wooden ship

The entire Fram is jammed into the museum!

The entire Fram is jammed into the museum!

She is as a three masted schooner with a total length of 39 meters and width of 11 meters. The ship is both unusually wide and unusually shallow in order to better withstand the forces of pressing ice. The idea was that as the ice formed and pressed close around her she would pop out of it like a squeezed olive pip and so would ride up on the ice rather than being crushed by it.

The smell of tar, oakum and engine oil when you enter the museum is wonderful. You can wander all over the ship and see how amazingly solid she is, and how comfy she must have been.  Nansen tried to make it as comfortable as possible for his crew as they would be staying aboard, fixed in the ice, for at least one winter, perhaps two. So it is heavily insulated and the kitchen is at the heart of the ship so that both food and heat become central. There are private cabins and a saloon and there were lots of entertainments on board – including a magic lantern projector and a piano! Being on Fram gave me a foretaste of life aboard Antigua – another 40m three-masted ship headed for the Arctic with a comfy saloon (more on that in an upcoming post).

Ice level view of the prow

Ice level view of the prow

Cross-battened hull for extra protection from the ice

Cross-battened hull for extra protection from the ice

Heavily reinforced hull

Heavily reinforced hull.

Cosy private cabin

Cosy private cabins

The displays that line the walls of the museum go into great detail about each of Fram’s expeditions. There are convincing reenactment videos of Amundsen’s crew working in their Antarctic base (the Framheim – the home of the Fram), based on contemporary photographs.

Working on the sleds in the wood workshop carved out of the Antarctic snow

Working on the sleds and gear crates in the wood workshop carved out of the Antarctic snow.

There are some wonderful large scale dioramas to guide our imaginations.

Diorama of preparations on the Antarctic ice

Diorama of preparations on the Antarctic ice

Many of the original objects used by the explorers are on display.

Amundsen's personal camera

Amundsen’s personal camera

Mysterious white 'stamina' tablets. I wonder if I can get some for the Arctic trip?

Mysterious white ‘stamina’ tablets. I wonder if I can get some for the Arctic trip?

I really started to get a feel for life on Fram. I can understand why Amundsen was so anxious to have her on his voyage to the Antarctic. She wasn’t a fabulous performer in the open ocean (her broad beam and flat bottom made her wallow and drag in heavy seas) but she was a major character in the heroic age of polar exploration. The first successful attempt on the South Pole wouldn’t have been the same without her!

Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 1 – the Viking ships

Donald & Roald

Donald & Roald

I was on the hunt for Polar Bears while I was up North, I was also on the trail of Roald Amundsen.

As you might recall from high school geography or history classes, Amundsen was the first man to reach both poles. In fact, he was the first man to reach each of the Poles independently. The South Pole in 1911 with four companions on dog sled and skis, the North Pole in 1926 aboard the Italian airship “Norge” (created and captained by Umberto Nobile). On both trips he was accompanied by his fellow explorer Oscar Wistig so technically he shares the honor. Though Wistig is mostly considered  an historical footnote (along with the first African American polar explorer Matthew Henson who accompanied Robert Peary on 7 voyages over 23 years including Peary’s now disputed first arrival at the Geographic North Pole in 1909).

Amundsen is a great hero in Norway. Which is hardly surprising for this great seafaring nation. I spent a day enjoying four great nautical museums on the outskirts of Oslo. The Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Nautical Museum and, the icing on the cake, the Fram Museum. All of them provided important clues for my understanding of Amundsen.

The Viking ship Museum was the obvious starting point and a pilgrimage in its own right. I have wanted to view the Oseberg and Gokstad ships since I first saw images of them (in National Geographic perhaps?). What incredible works of functional craftsmanship. They still provide the most revealing evidence of what viking ships were actually like. Prior to their discovery in the late 19th century, the only clues came from the oral sagas, carvings on a few extant standing stones and the Bayeux Tapestry (AD 1077?).

Vikings invading the Bayeaux Tapestry

Vikings invading the Bayeaux Tapestry

Both ships are believed to have been functional (one a luxury yacht and the other a trade ship) prior to their use as funerary vessels. They had been looted and were shattered and degraded when they were discovered in the late 1800’s but thanks to an amazing restoration effort they now seem ready to sail again.

Sightseers at the Oseberg excavation 1904

Sightseers at the Oseberg excavation 1904

Oseberg ship

Oseberg ship restored

Oseberg lines - sweet!

Oseberg lines – sweet!

The carving work is beautifully restored and preserved and both ships have a wonderful patina that comes in part from their age but primarily from their preservation in tung oil and creosote – a finish that I might pursue myself!

Gokstad ship

Gokstad ship

Prow details

Prow details

Bed head details - the women found aboard were laid to rest in ornately carved beds.

Bed head details – the women found aboard were laid to rest in ornately carved beds.

I enjoyed savouring the long and culturally layered history of the seafaring vikings. I’m from viking stock myself, as are most folk who have Britain in their ancestry, and my family name was created for a Norman lord who was one of the invaders in the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

The Norman conquest was taught in my grade school books as an invasion from France but it was actually a mingling of related folk from across the English Channel. The “Normans” were named so  because of their northern (i.e. Viking) roots. And by the time of the “conquest” the vikings had been living  amongst the ‘native’ britons for almost two centuries.

I couldn’t help but imagine the fabled viking raider of Britain and France, Ragnar Lodbrok (“hairy breeches”) moodily perched on the prow looking out to sea for new conquests.

Ragnar Lodbrok as played by the hunk Travis Fimmel on the History channel's fab series Vikings

Ragnar Lodbrok as played by the hunk Travis Fimmel on the History channel’s delicious series “Vikings”.

My favorite vessel was one of the small tenders found with the Gokstad ship. I could imagine myself at the prow of this one!

A sweet and handy little vessel.

A sweet and handy little vessel.

Northward Bound

I haven’t posted in a while. Too busy and not much to share with the wider world.

All that is about to change.

I’m hectically packing (and repacking) my gear for my next field trip.

To the Arctic Circle with the Arctic Circle Residency.

Flying to New York tomorrow morning. On to Oslo late next week and then off to the Svalbard Archipelago. To pootle around the islands aboard a 125ft three-masted barquentine sailing vessel with 20 other artists and scientists. I’m crazily excited and nervous.

More posts to come!

Bound for Svalbard

Bound for Svalbard

the Estuary

It has been 0ver 10 years since my passion for sea-kayaking gave way to my passion for sailing and maintaining a folkboat, then the ownership and remodeling of a 1897 Victorian in West Oakland and most recently, to surfing. But all are connected with cultural histories and rich traditions of craftsmanship and of course, the ocean (which will most likely come through my Victorian home sometime soon as it is just 8′ above high water mark!). So I thought it was about time to get back into a kayak and get into the Bay – thanks to the crew at California Canoe and Kayak –  a Jack London instistution!

Head West!

Head West!

Oakland has such a great industrial port. There are huge chunks of steel in crazy colors from all over the world  temporarily passing through Oakland. You have to keep your eyes open as some of them do u-turns  the middle of the Estuary, heaved about by giant tugs, whose backwash is enough to make your sit up and notice.

The ships are astounding – the scale, the vibrant colors, the textures revealing the structures beneath, the markings which are a mix of signage and the patina, and the various pieces of equipment, portholes, and apertures seeping strange stains!  Delicious! And then there is all the human history and thinking about exploration movement, transport, the size of the world, sustainability.

And on top of all that its sunny out and the seals seem friendly!

Some images from the waterline!

Red Hull

Red Hull

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

Dry dock

Dry dock

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra

CGM Libra

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

And the dock works and shoreline flotsam and jetsam can be engaging too.

Dry dock

Dry dock

Tug snout

Tug snout

Fender

Fender

What’s not to like?

“Concrete and rubber and steel, Oh my!”

Vessel 8: Charting the Waters

Next Friday May 4th is the opening of “Charting the Waters” at the beautiful Vessel Gallery in the heart of the Oakland murmur.

Its rare for me to show work in local galleries so please come by, say hi at the opening and enjoy the work!

OPENING RECEPTION – FRIDAY MAY 4th – 6-8pm

Vessel Gallery, 471 25th Street, Oakland, CA 94612, 510 893 8800
Gallery Hours:  Tuesday through Saturday, 11-6PM

Vessel 8: Charting the Waters May 1 – June 30

A commemorative group show explores the concept of a VESSEL, as a boat, ship, or fleet that navigates and journeys the tides of time.  Works by Bryson Bost, Natalie Cartwright, Donald Fortescue, Jon Gariepy, Nancy Genn, Luke Heimbigner, Mari Marks, Maru Hoeber, Morgania Moore, Walter James Mansfield, John Ruszel, Cyrus Tilton and Sanjay Vora.  Jewelry by Elisa Bongfeldt, Sakura Haru, Hannah Keefe, and Luana Coonen.

Bob Darr and the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding

The CCA Furniture program faculty went on a research trip last week to the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding in Sausalito. Bob Darr the master boatbuilder and heart of Arques spent an afternoon showing us around the beautiful boat works loaded with delicious eye candy. I’ve been in hundreds of workshops, studios, boatyards, lumberyards and junkyards in my life – but none as sweet as Arques.

There were boats in various states of construction on blocks, hanging from the high ceiling, outside in the yard and Bob introduced us to some sweet ladies out in the water waiting for a turn on the Bay.

Boats galore

Sweet lines in Pepperwood

Not a straight line on her!

Lawrence couldn't get the smile off his face!!

Bob showed us all stages of the process from drawing out boat lines by hand – no 3-D rendering programs here!

Ducks lined up in a row!
These are used to hold thin battens in place when drawing curved lines in lofting plans.

Through model making and a nice little rowing dory under construction by students.

Model under construction using identical tools and methods as the finished boat - except for those teeny weeny little hammers!

From model to full size!

And of course the real test!!

Down on the water we could see some of the other wonderful craft that Bob has built and overseen.

A gill-netter once used for salmon fishing up the Sacramento River delta.

A sweet 16' sailing dinghy, built from 'scrap'.
I'm wondering if I can get in, cast off and sail away before anyone notices.

Arques has been restoring the Freda for many years. A major project to breath life back in to the oldest active sailing yacht on the West Coast. Built in 1885.

Freda's shapely stern

Thanks Bob, for such a rich encounter!

Bob Darr, master boatbuilder.
In his element.