M.A.R.I.N. on return journey

M.A.R.I.N. on return journey

Isle of Man Big thanks to AND Festival; such a great start for a new event series. M.A.R.I.N. residency vessel departed Liverpool on Sunday morning after 6 am and set path to Isle of Man, Fort William, Inverness, Copenhagen. This jourey is mostly transit, and time to reflect, and work on writing. The two past months of residency was full of extremely interesting encounters with local marine scientists, artists, and folks from different communities. Besides, it was full on work with authoring, yet we also got to enjoy the festivals, ISEA2009 and AND.

M.A.R.I.N. residency can be developed a lot, of course, but what is exciting is that even with a year’s lead to production this Irish Sea residency was a great success. I would like to thank the participating artists, sailors and collaborators on shore, and not least, all the funders who made the work possible.

Image of Isle of Man before sunset.

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!

sellafield1

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.

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.

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.

Monday 3rd August

buoy
Another early morning departure into the mists of the Belfast Loch.  We remain in Radio contact with the Belfast Harbour Master as we drive up the Fairway counting up the beacons into the commercial port.   We all struggle to catch his drift ~ a mixture of Irish brogue and static.  The port is full of beaten up cargo ships and RoRo’s, cranes and old industrial sites.  We come to the head of the Loch and into the Lagan river to find our berth alongside the new Odyssey centre ~ this will be our working base for the next few weeks.

Islay

Isle of Jura region So far maybe the most sceninc area, passing through the Sound of Jura and heading alongside of Islay, besides reminding of the skillfully made single malts, the landscape is both harsh and serene. Tidal currents between the islands are strong, but they also form an excellent protected area from the open seas for sailing. This day is to be the most comfortable sailing day to the record, and we are able to work while sailing too. Again here the paradox, when you could most enjoy the sail, you head indoors to work and pop out to the deck every now and then to take a picture or two and breathe in, and go back in.

Some intense winds is ahead, so we go straight across over night to Belfast. At sunset, we see a beautiful sunray emboss the coast of North Ireland. Nigel sees a whale!

Sunday 2nd August

Nigel manual blogging My bunk in the port hull straddles a large Volvo Penta diesel engine which doubles as a very effective alarm clock!   The foul weather that we had anticipated has not arrived and we depart our berth early heading into a calm sea and light winds to cruise towards the North Channel past the islands of Jura and Islay (where the good single malts come from) and onto the Mull of Kintyre.

The winds freshen and swing Westerly so the sails go up and we are ploughing along at 8 to 9 knots in flat water between the islands, just as we pass the last of the Scottish Islands a medium size whale surfaces 50 metres in front of the ship but we are both moving fast and avoid contact, the whale surfaces again on the starboard beam and then quarter before sounding into the Firth which reads as 147 metres deep.  Ahead the outline of the Ulster coast materialises.

The Midnight watch is pitch black and freezing cold, following the distant lights on the Irish coast, no shipping to be seen except one small fishing boat.  We are close to port now so I remain on deck and we berth in Carrickfergus at 03h00.

North of Oban

We dock for the night North of Oban in a fairly large marina, dining well. At night time the wind howls in the masts, with gales at 17 m/s and above in the open sea. Even though the over all weather with winds has not been favourable, we are also well timed to be in harbors when the worse weather is around us. Each evening, our work plans for Belfast evolve and we are very conscious of time, or rather how little time we will have before the first part of the exhibition opens for ISEA2009. At the same time, as we are on a residency, and our work is cumulatively building up over the next month, we are OK.

Saturday 1st August

Ben Nevis region

We leave our berth and head for “Neptune’s Ladder” a series of eight locks that take us to the Sea Lock and out to the Firth.

“Boogie Woogie” is a big vessel, 11.9 metres long and 6.7 metres wide, sitting high in the water and so attracts a good deal of attention from the tourists who track our relatively slow progress through the serial locks.  We walk the big boat along the lock-side paths, leading her like a horse on a halter, and holding her as the water falls and gates swing open.

Once we have cleared the final Sea Lock we cruise down the Firth heading for Oban and watching for the foul weather that has been forecast.  Predictably it arrives, heavy grey rain wrapped in a cold wind, Ben Nevis has its peak shrouded in low cloud moody as a pagan God.

All hands to the keyboards below as the ship once again turns into a typing pool, The robot ship running on auto-pilot, blindly forging out to sea, deaf dumb and blind but with a great sense of direction!

We arrive in a marina nestled behind a fortified Manse, some 3 nautical miles North of Oban and head for the Restaurant ~ finally we are in time to eat!

Lochs and locks

Caledonian Canal lock staircase

I realize that I don’t take similar, immersive relationship with the surrounding as I would, if I was on a holiday. I absorb it and enjoy it, but at the same time I am conscious about the transit mode. It would be great to stay in the lakes, but we are really just wanting to pass through and get to Belfast.

The story goes that the engineer, Thomas Telford was on the Loch Oich at the highest point of the canal and realized that water was going two directions. Instead of such Heureka moment, it is likely that the canal was simply commissioned. Built in the early 19th century in only 7 years period by mostly Irish workers, it is a remarkably functioning system for small craft today, even if it never succeeded in becoming a commercial success.

There are signs: please do not empty your bilge while in the canal. It seems that in these waters, boats and ships dump their waste to the sea without thinking about it twice. Awareness for that is improving in the Baltic Sea, but it is a big issue to tackle.

We stay docked in Gairlochy, and take a late evening off to go listen to local band in Glenn Finnan hotel.