Saturday, 30 October 2010

Sea voyages

Thursday, October 28th
Having received a sudden invitation from Alistair Goodlad to go out in his boat, I rapidly altered my day's itinerary and drove off to Trondra. Having clambered aboard, sketch book and charcoal to the ready, I found myself hanging on to the side of a small boat as we hurtled out to sea. "It's only about Force 2", he remarked, as we banged down over the incoming waves before the boat launched itself at the next. Although Alastair was impressed at my ability to draw without looking down at my sketchbook, my attempts were curtailed by waves of nausea. But landing on the small island of Hildasay, and strolling around in the sun, watching seals and small birds (now can't remember their 'proper' names), helped to settle my stomach (or was it the large quantity of rum you poured into my coffee, Alistair). So I managed another couple of drawings before we embarked on the return journey - and I didn't feel sick at all! Thank you Alistair.
Janette sketching cumulo nimbus (photo Alistair Goodlad)

Friday October 29th
Gale warnings - Issued: 0933 UTC Fri 29 Oct
Southerly gale force 8 increasing severe gale force 9 imminent, veering southwesterly later
Shipping Forecast - Issued: 1725 UTC Fri 29 Oct
Wind: Mainly southerly veering southwesterly 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9.
Sea State: Very rough or high.
Weather: Rain or squally showers.
Visibility: Moderate or poor

Friday morning, accompanied by the equally intrepid writer Laura Freidlander, now living in Scalloway, we drove north to Vidlin to take the ferry to Outer Skerries, casting an anxious eye at the weather. Arriving at the first landing pier to find no boat, Laura assured me that it would probably be going - if indeed it was going - from the other terminal further along the coast (how would I have known that this is what happens when the weather is a bit dodgy?). Sure enough there it was, and despite being told we might not get back that night since the weather was set to worsen, throwing caution to the wind, I drove to on board. Having, earlier in the week, abandoned my planned trip to Faire Isle due to dire warnings of bad weather and of getting stuck there, I wasn't going to miss this last opportunity to travel to an island. Watching the crew lashing down the cars, one had small nagging doubts, but ho-hey… and we took off out into the open sea, with one other fellow seasoned passenger, who in the course of the journey remarked, as we passed Easter Skerries with waves and spray breaking over their tops, that he'd never seen them like that before. And it was rough and fantastic, and for about an hour we ploughed on against the wind, with spray washing over the deck, and spin-thrift flying through the air, and I hung on and drew until a lump of water drenched my sketchbook.

Seeing the jagged rocks of the Skerries emerge and watching the ferry's navigation into the harbour is something else. From the small shop - that wouldna sell Laura a paper because 'there's only enough for the locals', to the telephone kiosk that probably hadn't worked for years, and the small stretch of road to drive up and down and back again all within a couple of minutes, and its sixty-seven or so population, Skerries is an intriguing place. Walking up a track behind one of the houses I immediately found a fantastic location to sit and paint massive waves rolling and thundering against black rocks, vast plumes of spray shooting into the air. Everything tasted of salt - my face was gritty with it, and my head was full of the sound of the wind and sea.

Heartfelt thanks to the hospitable Bertha Anderson, who inviting us in, provided soup and home-made bannocks that warmed me up after I'd spent several hours crouched on the rocks getting cold (not sure if the inhabitants of the Skerries could see me dancing to the sea in an attempt to get the circulation going). It was a wonderful and remarkable day, and I only wished we could have stayed longer. The fast wind-driven return journey was just as memorable; paying no heed to the instruction that passengers must remain in the salon, we spent the journey out on deck, being buffeted and drenched by waves breaking on the deck, as the ferry rolled and pitched and me trying to draw. I'd finally achieved my wild sea trip. 'You'll be back again' promised the skipper. Definitely!

Having spent two of the last three days traveling on the high sea when I now close my eyes all I can see is waves and I'm sure I'm still swaying, and definitely still smitten by the energy of the sea. I hope that I can put all this experience into the subsequent drawings and paintings I am planning to make.

Outside the wind is still beating against The Booth. Tomorrow night I leave - depending on the weather - so mebbe not.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

So there we were, standing in a draughty car-park in the dark drawing on the ground with a bit of broken chalk...

The phenomenon of the Moder Dy - In Conversation with Shetland inhabitants:

Charles Simpson (Cunningsborough): It’s a reverberation; a back echo or reflection of a wave hitting an immoveable object (the land).

Davey Smith (retired fisherman, Scalloway): Well to navigate you need something fixed that can be seen, and I don't see how you can navigate from something that you can't see.

George Duncan (fisherman, Burra): It’s something that has now been lost – old fishermen could read the surface of the water – the pattern – the way the current was running. It was an experience handed down in the same way they could read the weather 24 hours ahead. Used ‘meids’ as well – fixed positions on the land by which to navigate. I remember my faither taking me out in a boat when I was a 'perrie' boy and pointing into the sea and saying to me 'there’s the moder dy'. I couldn't see anything. It was also used by Polonesian fishermen. It was a back wave, and I was shown a diagram showing the direction of the waves. (George drew this using a bit of chalk that we found on the road).

Hazel Hughson (Shetland Arts Officer): ...currents far underneath - from deep underwater; Fishermen could feel it in their feet; it's not on the surface.

Alister Goodlad (Tronda): It was a way of steering. Can be seen from a plane – wave always comes in the same direction; SW it will always come from WSWesterly??? (not sure I wrote this down correctly). If the wind stays in same direction you can gauge where you are. Think that it is mainly a phenomena of the west side of Shetland. There is the Wyville Thomson Ridge between Shetland and Faroe; the ridge affects the flow of water due to the changes in depth and temperature. It’s possible that as a result, a ripple effect may be created in the water. (The ridge separates the Faroe-Shetland Channel to the north from the Rockall Trough to the south. Its significance lies in the fact that it forms part of the barrier between the colder bottom waters of the Arctic and the warmer waters of the North Atlantic`). Does this phenomena only occur on this side of Shetland?

Dodo Watts (retired fisherman, Scalloway): Well, it’s far-fetched!. We used radar and charts - taking longitude/latitude readings.

Ian Napier (Senior Policy Advisor, NAFC Marine Centre: Re. the Moder Dy): My suspicion is that it is more likely liked to be the deep ocean swell coming in from the open Atlantic. The currents past Shetland are pretty much one way - I am not aware of any significant counter-flows. The long Atlantic swell wave-length waves will probably start to 'feel' the bottom as they cross the continental shelf, causing them to turn towards the shore. The result is that the direction of the Moder Dy would probably be relatively constant, regardless of the local wind / sea conditions. This would presumably give those with the necessary skills / experience a fixed (more or less) reference to judge directions. Sailing 'with' the Moder Dy should take you back to land. There are interesting parallels with the ability of Polynesian sailors to use swell patterns to navigate between oceanic islands in the Pacific.

Addendum: It is likely that the Moder Dy would work best on the west side of Shetland if - as I suspect - it depends on long-wavelength waves coming in over long distances from the open Atlantic Ocean and encountering the (relatively) shallow waters of the continental shelf. We could be talking here about waves with wavelengths of several hundred metres that may have travelled for 1000s of miles. Such waves could have periods of 15 seconds, or more. Waves generally start to 'feel' the sea-bed when the water depth is less than half their wavelength.

To the south and east of Shetland (in the North Sea) there is not the space or water depth for such long waves to form. That said, waves always tend to turn towards the shore (or at least shallower water) so I would not entirely rule out the possibility of some sort of usable phenomenon occurring anywhere around Shetland. But in the relatively enclosed and shallow North Sea the wave regime is always likely to be more 'messy' (confused) and thus more difficult to interpret. I suspect the relatively 'clean', long, open-ocean swells from the Atlantic would be a better guide (and easier to separate from the more local waves, which be running in a different direction).

Other thoughts from boat-builders, an artist, fishermen in Lerwick / Scalloway:
- Ground sea swell – a back swell – used in fog to navigate. Now forgotten.
- A swell running into shore.
- I’ve never seen it – but the old fishermen could see an indication towards shore.
- It’s a whole experience of the sea – auditory… seen… and felt.

The Moder Dy (the mother wave)
(Extract from poem by Jessie ME Saxby written around1880/90’s)

..…. Gray, gray was the lift. And the mist lay low
Like a shroud ower the weary sea;
It heaved its breeest wi’ a lang-drawn breath,
Like a body that’s going ta dee

We could see no meedes, nor glimpse o’ the laund –
Nae guide was the guidelss wave;
“We’ll never see hame,” said Ned o’ the Knowes –
I wheshted the fule wi’ me nave.

Then Mauncie he stimed weel into the lift,
And then upon the sea;
“Noo, boys look oot for the Moder Dy
And mark hoo she rins,” said he.

“The eight peerie dys that geng afore
Rin this way an’ that, ye keen;
But she flowes straight wi’ a lang, free sweep
That ‘ill lighten wir herts an ‘een.

“We need na compass, or glim frae the lift,
There’s light in her fleecy kame;
She maks for the laund, that’s as true as deth,
And she’ll guide wiz safely hame”……..

Image and description found on The Moder Dye, used by Shetlanders before the days of compasses to find the land in times of fog. The radar photograph above shows how this was done. The photo was taken the day after the night hurricane Flossie passed through Shetland in September 1978. The heavy westerly sea swells were about 250 yards apart and show up well on this photograph. The swells reflect around the north and south ends of Foula (left centre) to produce an overlapping pattern which continuously broadens out until it reaches the Mainland of Shetland (top right). Any line drawn through the points of overlap, where the two swells peak, leads from the Mainland to Foula.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Grenades in Scalloway - houses evacuated

Police have advised anyone discovering explosive devices like grenades not to handle them and to get in touch immediately. The warning came after an incident last night when scallop fisherman Morgan Pitt took two rusty grenades back to a shed at his home in Scalloway after dredging them up near Wadbister.
The police leapt into action at about 8.30pm after Mr Pitt called them about his find. As a precaution four neighbours had to be evacuated from their homes at Gibblestone Court until nearly midnight while the danger was dealt with.
Sergeant Gordon Feather said digital photographs of the grenades were taken and sent to the army for expert analysis. It turned out they were already inert and harmless with no pins or bases. They are to be handed over to the military for storage and eventual destruction.
He said such finds should be reported promptly although care should be taken not to use a mobile phone close by due to the danger of its signal triggering an explosion.
“If you find something like that just set it down in a safe place, walk away and alert us immediately,” he said.
Article printed from 22/10/10

It all happens in Scalloway..

Friday 23rd October

Forgot to check the weather forecast!

Having assumed that I had the whole day to prepare for my open studios, I received a text message, and suddenly my trip on a pilot boat was finally on. So having rapidly made an apple crumble and thrown my show together, I drove north to Sullom Voe and found myself on the high sea. Traveling fast in a power boat with a crew of four, the receding land was lost in the blur of spray whipping past the windows of the cabin, as we hurtled out into the sea to rendezvous 12 miles off the coast with a large oil tanker from India (which arrived late). A truly memorable experience, and one that I wouldn't have wanted to miss despite being sick in a bucket as we rolled around and up and down, awaiting the arrival of the oil tanker. In fact it was so rough that the tanker was instructed to come in closer as it wasn't safe for the small pilot boat to go further out into open sea.

Being tossed around by the waves, I definitely saw walls of water coming towards us as any sign and hope of land disappeared. Even the crew said it was rough, and I don't think that they were just being kind… and the pilot having to make the crossing from the boat and climb the ladder was certainly not very happy about the sea state. As we finally drew alongside the pilot scrambled from our sea-tossed boat up a rope ladder and onto an equally unsafe-looking metal gangway lowered from the top deck.

Not having been in such a small boat in such a sea before, the whole escapade (and it was certainly felt like one for me) was just amazing, although I guess it was ‘all in a days work’ for the lads. So I made drawings (until I was sick) and took photos, and just felt the power of those waves beneath us. And I am still trying to assimilate it all.

So thank you to David Smith for setting this up for me and enabling me to go with you and to all the crew for looking after me. The whole thing is a bit of a blur now.

‘Fetch’, means the duration of the wave, from its generation to the point where it crashes on the beach.