WhiteHaven to Liverpool; an illustrated history of Power

WhiteHaven to Liverpool; an illustrated history of Power

Finally the winds have moderated and even the sun has consented to make an appearance so we are resolved to keep to our sailing schedule and make for Liverpool and the AND (Abandon Normal Devices) festival at FACT (Foundation for Art and Technology). On board there are multiple interpretations concerning the state of the tide and our relentlessly enthusiastic skipper Lars is eager to slip away at the earliest possible moment. Out of the Sea Lock and into the ocean, then unfortunately straight onto a sand bar! We churn our props, shimmy off the bar, try again whilst listening to hopeful comments from the lock-keeper over the VHF. But discretion being the better part of valour we return to our berth and I fall into a well deserved stupor in the morning sunlight on the foredeck trampoline.

Three hours later we make a successful (and more dignified) exit. The ship cruises south past the hulks of coal mines perched along the cliff tops. Whitehaven once boasted the deepest mine shafts in the world and the first undersea coal mines, it also could report a terrible record in human tragedy, employing children as young as eight years old to extract the energy source that fueled the Industrial Revolution.

Eastward in the haze we spy the towers and reactor buildings of Sellafield, a nuclear re-processing plant, re-named from Windscale in an attempt to sidestep the former nuclear generating station’s notorious safety record and to dis-associate it from its other role as a producer of weapons grade plutonium for Britain’s Nuclear arsenal. Truly a site of cold-war industrial archeology, as these two incarnations are co-located with Calder Hall, the worlds first commercial nuclear power plant. Needless to say the waters in this vicinity are amongst the most radioactive in the world – we decide not to swim!


We sail further south passing a series of oil and gas rigs beginning to light up in the gloaming on the horizon like drifting apartment blocks. As night closes in we approach the mouth of the Mersey estuary to confront a confusion of flashing red lights dotting the horizon. A check of the electronic charts shows no source for them but careful scrutiny with binoculars reveals that we are sailing towards a vast array of wind turbines planted out in the ocean. We debate their disposition and distance and finally choose an approach that avoids being sliced and diced!

Liverpool was my introduction to city life; I studied Sculpture here and used to sail the Mersey on a regular basis. In those days we had a strong aversion to contact with the river water which exuded an acrid chemical odour (courtesy of Lever Bros et al) a full immersion in which was said to require a tetanus injection! We enter the river my nose expectantly aquiver – but to my surprise the river has seemingly returned to a healthier state, silt filled as usual but without the chemical tang!

We glide past Seaforth, passing a procession of outbound merchant ships, passing New Brighton to starboard and then the entire river is ours alone, the city’s shining reflection across its glassy surface.

At one in the morning we tie up to the harbour wall and I’m climbing a sea-wall ladder to beat down the door of the Coburg lock-keepers station. Two sleepy, good-natured lads stumble out of their bunks and within an hour we are berthed, showered and in our bunks.

Sound Waves

DSC02060.JPG As part of the collaboration with the AND Festival, M.A.R.I.N. artists in residence did a 2-day workshop with sound artists from SoundWave, a music and sound art organization from Workington. We met first on the catamaran docked in Whitehaven for informal discussion and dinner, introductions, and telling about our work and journey so far. In between several days of gushy winds, we enjoyed a cool and crisp, calmer evening.

We joined SoundWave at their offices in Workington for a show and tell, first myself, Nigel Helyer and Andreas Siagian discussed sound art in contexts of public space, locative work, and ecology. SoundWave coordinates programming for a nice 8-speaker rig in the town centre called The Hub, originally designed by BASE Structutes for the Allerdale Borough Council, and including work by Illustrious Company (Martyn Ware and Vince Clarke).

DSC02081.JPG The Hub’s soundscape was quite beautiful, giving a sensation of for example sea birds hovering above you. Emma Foxall presented a community project called Sonic Picnic that they had realized at The Hub, from which one got a real sense of building community ownership through participation.

Also Steven Pearson, Dave Camlin, Mark Newport, and Dave Roberts discussed their work, in particular in the context of The Hub, 3D recording and authoring. Soundwave had also realized an interesting project called Slate Song at the Honister Slate Mine last Spring. Performed in the mine, a 1.5 tonne “Musical Stones of Skiddaw” instrument had been performed together by a mezzo-soprano and fiddler (Mike Newport).


“Once the second biggest port in the country…..” reads the legend on the harbourside public art project, well this is hard to imagine as Whitehaven is a barnacle of a harbour, brooding stone walls clinging to a wave wracked, cliff-bound coastline and boasting an entrance that can be terrifying in rough weather (see previous post “White Knuckle to Whitehaven”). Some large amount of EU money must have been poured into the town since the collapse of the Coal industry as it carries its history in a proud and well ‘interpreted’ manner.

Not everybody liked the place however, one of its own, Jean Paul Jones, who sailed from here at the age of thirteen came back as a commander of a US naval vessel during the war of independence, spiking the guns of the shore batteries and sinking shipping around the coast ~ he must have had a bone or two to pick!

We are harboured here whilst making forays up and down the coast, workshopping with regional arts groups, discussing their connections with the local communities and the environment. Our plans to visit Barrow in Furness in the boat are abandoned as the English summer continues to emulate the Icelandic winter, howling winds driving breakers over the harbour mole – we happily revert to land lubbers!

2-day break and a great sail

We said farewell to Belfast and ISEA2009 on the night of September 1st, as weather forecasts suggested foul weather for the seas the following afternoon. M.A.R.I.N: catamaran set sail for Isle of Man during moonlight, arriving morning of the 2nd to Port Mary. We spent the day walking over hills with beautiful heather, sheeps and occasional posh housing estates here and there. Lars bought some scallops from a local fishery, which were perhaps the best on the planet. It was great to rest after 5 weeks of non stop work.
We sailed across to Whitehaven with winds up to 17 m/s from the North West, our travel speed around 10 knots yet reaching 18 knots on downsurfing the big waves. We got wet allright, but it was a great sail. Upon arrival to the Whitehaven marina, we just made it through the pier heads… there was only one try, or a splintered boat.
Today we have been gathering our thoughts and working away, getting ready for the AND Festival worksohp series hosted by Folly and FACT.

White Knuckle to Whitehaven

DSC02038.JPGWe’ve been looking at animated weather maps on our iPhones, little arrows with fletched tails showing way too much wind, but from the right direction. To confirm the situation we read and re-read the met. reports posted in the Harbour Masters office window ~ again way too much wind but in a perfect direction. With a modicum of indecision we slip away from St Mary’s intending to run up the coast knowing that we can head for cover in Douglas harbour if things deteriorate.

We have two reefs in the mainsail and half a headsail but we surge ahead in the rollers passing close to the rocky coastline and the havoc of surf. I tempt fate by sitting at the very tip the port bow (safety-line clipped on) watching the nose plunge into the back of the swells as the ship corkscrews through the rollers. We pass an isolated Lighthouse with a massive iron foghorn staring out to sea, a real piece of Klang-Kunst and I regret not being able to take a photograph but I’m not letting go for the moment!

DSC02048.JPG The wind increases and we are sizzling along in following seas, at times hitting 15 knots, so we decide to maintain course for Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast heading for open sea and even bigger rollers. The ship needs to be hand steered in these conditions which is physically demanding but which induces a trance like concentration, sensing the pitch of the swell and driving the ship down the face of the waves; by the end of the day we all have raw palms! The ship is racing the clock, as Whitehaven is a tidal harbour and we have to meet a 16h00 cut-off for the Sea Lock. We leave the sails up until the very last moment as we approach the massive outer harbour wall, sails down and engines on ~ I’m forward hanging onto the mast, paying out the main halyard; the ship is lifted by the stern, the two bows dig in into the trough of a huge swell, the harbour wall some 20 metres away. I look astern, Lars has the rudder on full lock with a look of consternation on his face, I muse that going for a swim here would be bad! The ship recovers its composure, flashes past the two stone beacons and swerves into the outer harbour ~ the lock keeper is already opening the sea gates and before we know it we are tied up in the lock and soon to our berth. Instead of the anticipated 12 hour crossing we took 7 ~ the local bar has free WiFi ~ we are happy!

Meditations on Fish

The Herring is a lucky fish,
from all disease inured,
for as soon as it is caught at sea,
immediately it’s cured!

IMG_0098.JPG Up on watch at 06h00 Wednesday 2nd August, dawn is just breaking and the ship is entering a narrow channel at the Southern end of the Calf of Man. On the port bow jagged inky black cliffs rise out of a foaming sea and to the starboard a solitary rock boasting an ancient stone lighthouse ~ not one of those National Trust lime-washed structures with geraniums in window-boxes but a gloomy dark tower set in a cold sea emitting a hard white light. I rub my eyes feeling as if I am still in a dream, traveling through a mythic seascape but the cold spray soon grounds my reverie. We follow under looming cliffs and draw alongside the Isle of Man scanning the coast with binoculars for the entrance to St Mary’s. I spy a stout harbour mole with yacht masts protruding above it and we make through the breakers for the entrance. St Mary’s has a very congenial harbour master who lets up raft up alongside a large fishing trawler working the Scallop beds. The weather has been so bad that most of the fleet is tied up in port ~ but a few brave souls are still hauling in a catch and we visit the small processing shed next to our berth where “Queenie” Scallops are being shucked. Later that day we feast on pan fried Scallops bought directly from the quay at a ridiculously low price ~ best ones we have ever tasted everyone declares!

Many years before Hull Time Based Arts were kind enough to provide me with a trawler for “Drift” a massive 3D sound installation. The “Arctic Corsair” was the last sidewinder trawler to operate out of Hull after the Cod War and the collapse of the Cod Fishing industry. Whilst I was wiring up the speaker rig in the fish hold I came across a poem pinned to a bulkhead which stopped me in my tracks. My fathers family were said to hail from Northern Germany generations ago, migrating to the North East to establish a fishing fleet but all this is lost in the haze of time, the poem bought a surge of salt through my veins.

This is the old Hessle Road,
The home of Bear Island Cod,
Where the Hudsons speak only to the Helyers,
And the Helyers speak only to God.

Vertical data

When working with location based applications, one notion that seems to be not so easy to author in is stationary location with changing time. Transition from one location co-ordinate to another, the trace, does contain a time shift and can easily be represented. While an interview audio file can create a time dimension to a locality it is embedded in via narrative, layers of data going back for several years are difficult to represent on a map interface. How to represent data vertically on a map? During this project, we are sonifying data files to give a sense of changing values. Daniel Woo has developed a representation with bubbles that react to changing values over time, matching the animated bubble movement, intensity and partially colour of water.

On interview samples part of the Ecolocated installation, Adam Mellor from Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute speaks of their data collection from marine sensors in the Belfast Lough. They have regular data from the Lough from over 8 years of time with in-situ instruments, and more than that with water sample based readings. “We are only now beginning to find out how useful the data is” he says. In terms of the marine ecosystem, water quality readings need to be matched with changes in organisms in the water column.

We got kind permission to use a year and a half of data from Buoy number 8 in the Victorian Channel, in the Belfast lough, before the entry to the harbour. This data we sonified, but would need quite a bit more time to model it adequately to represent time-value changes.ecolocated_214

Adam also talked about the excessive rain fall from the last two, and this summer. “Two summers ago it was a once in 80 years type of phenomenon. Now we have a third very wet summer in a row”. The rain fall creates a strong wash from rivers and land to the littoral zones, increasing the nutrient and organic particle levels in the Lough radically. Measurements would point out, according to Mellor, that sewage overspill is not a main factor in the impact on the water column, even though it contributes to the long term stress on the Lough’s ecosystem.

Northern Ireland Environmental Agency is deploying aeration devices to some areas where there occurs anoxia, depletion of oxygen. Several public organisations are doing reactive measures to counterbalance environmental impacts of the rainfall, which is likely to be caused by the wider climate change. Sometimes reactive measures are done on different grounds than the benefit to human ecosystems. For example, the Belfast river Lagan Weir has imrpoved the river aesthetically (visually and smell wise) but also created a rather impounded river area above the weir, from which agricultural nutrients do not flush to the sea, but saturate in the river.

Data collection from Belfast to Bangor

ecolocated_072Nigel and myself, accompanied by cap Lars took a 2 night trip to Bangor. We wanted to make a data trace from river Lagan using the YSI 600XL Sonde, recording temperature, pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen and oxygen reduction potential. It was another summer in Belfast with lot of rainfall, so there should be a lot of nutrients in the water. Weather forecast was luckily wrong for the day we went out: it was sunny with a smooth South-Westerly wind that made it a pleasant sail after the harbor area motoring zone. We also stopped along the way to make hydrophone recordings.

ecolocated_235 Once in Bangor, we sought permission to take the catamaran onto a slipway. One of its folding propellers had corroded and literally disintegrated. Also it was time to get rid of some barnacles. They are an amazing species, leaving a substrate behind even when removed, leaving a “bed” for new larvae. Think we removed about 60kg of it from the boat, and put into trash. The catamaran looked mighty big when off water, yet also beautifully designed.

Before dusk, Nigel and I took out the little dinghy boat with the water testing kit and hydrophones. At the entrance to the harbour, a dozen of fishermen were casting for mackerell. A few seals also loved this spot, not least to the treats that returning fishing boats would give them, the unused bait. We got pretty close, 2 meter distance from one of the seals, which seemed to have lost one eye. We tested the water in the commercial and yacht harbor, and then went out to Luke’s point, an area where I knew Bangor still has open sewage to the sea.

ecolocated_074 An unfriendly, cunning rock crept up from the sea to scratch the small engine propeller on the way. When going out to the sea, dissolved oxygen levels improved significantly, but when approaching the spill area, we’d hit values closer to six mg/l DO. The readings were showing worse water quality 200 meters off shore at the spill area than in the visibly polluted commercial harbor of Bangor.

The calculation one city may do is whether the wider impact of their sewage output has long term effects on wider aquatic areas. As it washes out to the open sea, the impact is in the short term, regional. What about the longer term stress on the marine ecosystem?

ecolocated_251 In the harbor, rather new mussle boat with trawling gear was in the harbor. On the coastal road, there was a sign warning to eat any mussels in Belfast Lough because of pollution. I turns out that the mussels in Belfast lough are replanted in other waters, grown, cleaned and sold.

We slept two nights in Bangor, and sailed off early in the morning to record a track from Bangor to the other side of the Lough near a power station, then up to the beginning of the Fairway buoy. The weather was rather windy.

Our water quality testing is something I would call indexical work. In order for the data to be meaningful for science, it takes a long period of time to monitor a single site to take into account changing conditions, and the possible measurement errors (which always are part of the picture). The mobile kind of monitoring that we do helps give an idea of an existing issue that may be worth investigating closer. For example, there are no permanent measuring equipment stationed in front of Bangor to monitor the sewage output.

The Assistant Harbour Master ~ or the bad tempered Fat Controller!

ecolocated_211 Just like the good cop bad cop routine Belfast seems to have a calm logical Harbour Master (good) and an infernal assistant Harbour Master. (bad). Neither of them are easy to comprehend on channel 12 of the VHF and it falls to my lot to deal with them on the radio as I’m the only native english speaker (the logic goes I stand a better chance!).

The Assistant Harbour Master who must get out of his hammock on the wrong side each day, is of a stout build and who prefers to wear a suit topped by a life jacket, soon earns the nickname “The Fat Controller” as he develops a passion for being bossy and moving our ship from berth to berth ~ this we tolerate and try to prevent Lars, our voluble Danish skipper from arguing the toss, as this makes the Fat Controller build up steam! So a tacit peace is maintained until the fateful day of the Tall Ships departure, when in a rush of enthusiasm, Lars decides to leave our berth (grimy industrial) without the normal formality of a VHF request. Even worse as we slip our berth our skipper leaves the wheel, dives for his camera and proceeds to snap away, our vessel cuts across the bows of an HM Coastgaurd ship, and then fatefully across the bow of a Pilot vessel.

Unfortunately this is the Pilot vessel that the Assistant Harbour Master has commandeered to orchestrate the serial departure of square riggers down the Lagan River. In short order the Pilot boat roars alongside in a flurry of bow waves with the Fat Controller on the aft deck, his face an angry shade of red and voicing a string of expletives designed to make even the most hard bitten stevedore blush! We are banished (under threat of being towed to the nautical equivalent of purgatory) to the butt end of a dock and instructed to stay put and miss the fun!

In Sailor Town

ecolocated_141A tough, tight community, well it was once, now half way through a ‘re-generation’ project where the angular structures of new apartments elbow stone churches and brick terraces, not that anyone has cash to buy them for the foreseeable future. “Welcome to Sailortown” proclaims the razorwire adorned wall in a pre-view of what once was real-life and is destined to be a Disneyfication of History.

ecolocated_192Now that looked like a closed-shop, heartland of the Maritime Union, Hard men and good commies all I bet ~ but not to worry, my own father had been a ship yard worker on Tyneside. A riviter, his back a palimpsest of lunar pock-mark scars delivered by stray white-hot rivets ~ so I go in. Dead friendly, informal and warm, I’m taken up into the boxing Gym (funny my dad trained boxers too) and shown around the Dockers Club photo archive ~ lots of these blokes are dead I’m told, some industrial accidents, but more shot during the troubles. Later in the bar a warm working class glow of beer, Sunday best and a band bashing out C&W standards ~ think I’ve discovered the original workers paradise!

ecolocated_312 Sailors don’t always have good reputations, Whalers never do, so even getting into church was a difficult feat (in a ‘lock up your daughters’ reflex I imagine!). Mr Sinclair rose to the challenge by establishing a unique church just for Sailors, in Corporation Street, Sailortown, Belfast. Ironically it’s still hard to get into church, The Sinclair Seamans Church is a closely guarded secret it seems, but we did get lucky on one of out four attempted visits. It was worth it, the Church contains a planoply of maritime artifacts, a ships prow as a pulpit with matching post and starbord navigation lamps to keep the nautical congregation ‘on course’. The old gaffers who man the deck of the church are frail but sharp as tacks and have an ocean of knowledge under their grey pates! As Wilde said “Youth is wasted on the young” ~ why do we habitually ignore the elderly?