The Log Book
Tales of an Artist Afloat
We've been on the move since my last blog post- fantastic places but slow/ no Internet. The lack of interweb is quite refreshing- people look around and smile as they walk along the street and kids entertain themselves by playing outside, riding their bikes and swimming. Wandering around in the afternoon, it's normal to hear ukeleles or people practicing the drums. Life without Internet isn't so bad. Having said that, I do get pretty excited when we find a decent connection, but then lots of formerly everyday things have become exciting and rare, like peppers and fresh water and bok choi and eggs. Eggs are a mystery, occassionally sighted but always seeming to arrive ‘demain’ (tomorrow). Perhaps they're related to bread and unicorns- only seen by pure souls who get out of bed very early.
The secret to baguettes in Rotoava, the small town in the north of Fakarava, is to order them the day before from the bakery. They also make tasty pain au chocolat- the only challenge is getting to mine before Jim can. There is a fruit and vegetable stall selling cabbages and onions, and I was very excited to get the first green pepper I’ve tasted in French Polynesia. There were a few and it was tempting to stock up, but peppers don't last well in the heat and Island Prism doesn't have a fridge. So one pepper it was- and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I did a few dives on the pass here. The coral’s good, and there's a decent shark population. It would have been breathtaking if I hadn't just come from the south, which was even sharkier. The Garuae pass was atmospheric, with sandy slopes full of Moray eels and flat fish. On one dive, I descended into a huge school of goat fish, and drifted along with them just above the sand as if I was a goat fish too. The sharks swirled in front of us and I felt very small. Later, the current picked up and I flew above coral gardens where butterflyfish flitted and squirrelfish gazed out from dark caverns with big baleful eyes.
The pace of life is slow in the Tuamotus, and people look around them, so sketching is harder to keep under the radar than when I'm in the lands of attention-consuming online connections. People are interested and positive, and it's been a good way to strike up conversations with other cruisers, tourists and locals. When it's hot, popping a fold up stool in a shady spot and drawing crabs or boats is a pretty good way to spend time. And if I get to hear someone's story while I do it, that's an added bonus. Seeing my sketches may have inspired someone else to start talking a sketchbook and watercolours when she travels (do it, Louise- a sketchbook, fineliner and paintbox won't take much room!). I was very excited when Anne-Marie, another cruiser, liked my drawings enough to ask me to paint her some post cards. We'd dived together the day before so I painted her underwater with the sharks and manta ray we saw on our dive. She insisted on paying for the commission and I was able to treat Jim to delicious ice cream sundaes at La Pailotte, a gorgeous eatery on the waterfront. It's exciting to think of two of my artworks winging their way to France!
Toau was just a day sail away from North Fakarava. Our departure was carefully timed with the outgoing tide- we wanted enough current to help us on our way but not so much that we risked facing turbulent waters as tide fought with the prevailing wind. We made our way through smoothly, and made it to Toau by mid afternoon. I loved it- turquoise waters, great coral and fantastic snorkeling with eagle rays, tiny pipefish and enormous Napoleon wrasse. Jim, however, noticed a change from when he was here nine years ago. He felt that fish numbers were down and the schools of reef sharks which had wowed him previously were noticeably absent. Just one of those things or poor fishery management? We certainly found a well-stocked fish trap, some of whose victims were showing negative signs from their captivity. I was glad to learn that the trap didn't belong to Valentine and her husband, but to an absentee nephew who refused to let them touch it. It's tragic to think of paradise being destroyed by human thoughtlessness, but I suppose that's a story the world's over. I avoided the depressing traps after our first snorkel, and Jim mourned for the declining glory of the ocean. For me, the fish life and eagle rays still made it worth a visit, and I hope that they manage to hang on to what they have.
On Toau I spent a happy half hour watching and sketching hermit crabs whilst Valentine, who owned the motu where we were moored, told us about the local tsunami early warning system. The crabs are good at sensing impending disaster and climb the trees- this is a signal for the locals to do likewise (there is no high ground on the coral atolls of the Tuamotus). Hermit crabs are therefore treasured friends. I loved the bright red ones, though some of the smaller creatures were delicate whites and pinks with pale shells to match.
Also in the anchorage at Toau were Nick and Jess on Te Mana, whom we'd meet in South Fakarava. They invited us to their boat for dinner, and revolutionised our cruising lives by showing us how to make our own coconut milk. Husk and split a coconut, drink the water if you want and use a nifty device called a rape de coco (pronounced ‘rap’) to grate the white flesh. The rape de coco looks like a flat spoon with fine teeth on one side, and is screwed on to a board which you sit on. You rhythmically scrape your coconut against it to remove the flesh, which you then put in a muslin bag and squeeze. An amazing amount of creamy milk comes pouring out, and you can eat the grated remains if you want to. The fresh milk is rich and sweet and had a fuller flavour than the canned stuff I've always used. Jim spent the next morning joyfully grating and milking, leading to an excellent lunch of fish with coconut milk (the cruiser’s dilemma- if fish stocks are under pressure, is it OK for us to take the occasional fish too?). There's definitely no shortage of coconuts, and a rape de coco has gone to the top of our shopping list when we reach Pape’ete.
We stayed at Toau for a couple of nights before moving on to another tranquil atoll, Ahe. This was an overnight passage- and with a beautiful beam reach we made great time, arriving at 8am instead of our predicted 2pm. We misjudged the slack tide in the pass slightly, and I had a couple of knots of current against me going in, but engine and headsail kept us going (even if it was only at a rate of two knots). We found a well-marked channel to the main village of Tenukupara, and anchored snuggly in a sandy space between coral outcrops. We were glad to be out of the way when the supply ship Dory came in, and happily sat ashore watching the hustle and bustle as bikes, trikes, wheelbarrows and a ute joined Dory’s forklifts to unload and restock the vessel. There was a bit of a party atmosphere and small boats zipped in from across the lagoon.
The following day was Bastille Day. The celebrations were a riot of colour at the flag raising. Residents of each suburb wore brightly coloured t-shirts and most people sported colourful and intricate lei on their heads. There was singing in Reo Maohi, then the Marseilles, followed by a feast. We were presented with leaf plates with sweet cakes and slices of baguette. I pulled out my sketchbook and once again failed to stay under the radar. A father soon asked me if I could draw his infant son, Moana, and this was soon followed by further requests and I ended up under a tree with a queue of families! Jim was sent back to Prism for more paper as my sketchbook grew thinner. The babies reactions varied from fascination to total disinterest ( little Tiare especially was infinitely more engaged with the sand than with me- her parents ended up with two drawings, a hard-won portrait which I think caught her mischievous gaze and a sketch of her fully focussed on the sand). The older children were more excited and the parents had a tough time prising the competed pictures from their hands. I wish I could have drawn the whole families- the parents’ proud and adoring expressions said everything you needed to know about families in French Polynesia! I'll have to share the photos at a future date, but it was definitely a good opportunity to practice my portraiture, and was a fun way to say thank you to this welcoming community for allowing us to join in their celebrations!
It's looking like we'll have a good weather window on Friday or Saturday. Departure is getting near, the boat is well-provisioned and leak-free (for the moment anyway), and all that stands between us and French Polynesia is a load of laundry, a last shop for vegetables and rather a lot of sea.
I started drawing places I'm saying goodbye to. It's the people who are important, but the places are all tied up with the memories of the special souls I go there with and so it seemed a good way to approach leave-taking. So I've been sketching Pacific Bay and Schnappa Rock, a great little restaurant here in Tutukaka, and remembering fun sailing trips, swimming, post-dive beverages with Jill and delicious birthday dinners.
Then along came Brian Butler. He's teaching a class on Sketchbook Skool this week, and shared lively sketchbooks filled with busy drawings of concerts and road trips. He collages images together and paints enormous murals on the side of buildings to celebrate the communities he's painting in. His style is different and original, and you can find him at www.theupperhandart.com/. He challenged us to draw our own collected images of our favourite places. It seemed a perfect way to remember them and say goodbye.
His quirky style got me thinking, and gave me permission to be silly. (Why do I feel I need permission to be silly in my artwork? I don't have much problem being silly any other time. Does it all stem from the art teacher who just never got my drawing of the whale weigh station?). The result was an exploding Rangitoto spewing out Auckland landmarks, my running shoes, wine from Mudbrick vineyard and coffee from the shop across from the school where I taught. It's totally daft, it didn't matter that I can't draw a straight line and I had a whale of a time playing with bendy perspective. If I ever redraw it, I'll try so I'm looking into the volcano. I enjoyed it so much that as soon as I was finished, I started drawing a fish-eye view of the Poor Knights. I challenge you to see how many fishy puns you can find.
I used coloured pencils, which take a lot of layering but are very relaxing to build up and blend. I wasn't happy with the first shark I drew on the Poor Knights, so obliterated it with a cooler version in Posca pen. One of those mistakes that turns out for the best- I like the solid colour on the textured coloured pencil.
There may be more towns and regions to come- it's certainly a great way to reminisce! I'm not so sure about trying to create a mural a la Brian- I'm not much good with ladders- though I could always decorate the side of the boat!
I've posted my more sensible watercolours down below too (pretty happy with how the shadows are working out- a big thank you to Natalie Renotte on the Sketchbook Skool Facebook page for her advice on the dark foreground Schnappa Rock sketch)- now I'm off to distort some of the beaches on the Tutukaka Coast,,,
Today's post is a bit on the image heavy side- click on an image to expand it for a closer look.
I've been trying to follow along with Inktober. It's a month long drawing challenge where the aim is to draw every day in (yes, you guessed it) ink. There are optional prompts to follow, but I've decided to go the route of doing my own thing and using a different tool each week.
During Week 1 I focused on using fineliners- not the most adventurous start as I use them all the time, but it was school holidays and I had time to do lots of detailed drawings, so I figured I'd make the most of it. I'm enjoying mixing up pens of different sizes- it gives interesting variation in the hatching and line. On the days I had time to draw twice, I grabbed my Lamy Safari. Sorry fineliners, I love you but don't think we're about to enter an exclusive relationship.
On a boat note, Jim's polished up the anchors and we've been working on repairing the furler, which has required quite a bit of running around and ordering parts. Finding affordable steel rope proved a bit of an epic task, but Jim managed it, and my paperwork endeavours succeeded in getting Prism an extension here in NZ- meaning we can spend the summer in NZ waters.
Week 2 of Inktober saw me going back to work. Goodbye lunches at the boat yard with Jim, sketching and playing with watercolours. Hello, long days at school! For my tool, I picked my new Noodlers Konrad pen. I wanted to explore the flex nib, and be able to work quickly in case I was pushed for time (which I was).
I was a little nervous about the pen as I had read quite mixed reviews about it. Noodlers pens are handmade but are also very inexpensive- this can lead to a pen which requires some tinkering (it seems like the perfect instrument for people who like taking things apart). I lucked in and became the proud owner of a pen which wrote perfectly straight out of the box. The flex isn't as dramatic as you might get with a dip pen nib, but is enough to give decent line variation when sketching. I think it will take a bit of practice to optimise this, but for this week I found it fun to use.
I've been working my way through some of the ink samples I ordered along with the pen, with some pleasant discoveries. Noodlers Blue-Nosed Bear (the partly waterproof ink I used on the owl) showed beautiful colour variations when I added water, pulling turquoise tones out of the dark teal.
For more inky explorations, see my blog post inky jellyfish.
My ink samples come from Goulet Pens. It's been a great way of playing with different colours! (I am in no way connected to Goulet other than being a very happy customer!)
The list of boat jobs is steadily getting ticked off, and I'm slowly combatting the paperwork and research side of things. And, of course, sketching. The rudder is back on and smoother and steadier than it's been in a long time, the mast is undergoing some major repairs and any weekend now I could get the call to come down to the boatyard and help slap on bottom paint.
Slapping on watercolour over my Platinum maki-e brush pen is much more relaxing. I'm loving the variety of lines I can get from this pen (and look! I used the same materials for two drawings in a row!).
Sketching my Jimmie is fun too. He reckons I've drawn too much hair. I reckon he needs a haircut!
We've also checked our watermaker is in full working order. This is an essential part of our emergency kit, in case we run out of water or our water gets contaminated. Jim made up a bucket of salt water and I pumped it through. The result was excellent- salt and chemicals all removed. I had fun with a multi-coloured pen and carved my own arrow stamp from a bit of lino.
We're still not sure if we'll make the 17th October for our launch date, but it's great to see things progressing!
Jim's been working steadily on Island Prism, and I've been going down to the boatyard to take him lunch, sketch and lend a hand. I thought about making a visual record of everything we are (he is?) doing to get the boat ready for launching, but long furlers and small screws don't make for terribly arresting images. The boatyard itself is far more inspiring, so I've been doodling the boats instead.
Art-wise, this presents lots of interesting things to draw. It also highlights my inability to stick with exactly the same media for two pictures in row! On Thursday I drew a couple of boats being hauled out using Lamy ink and watercolour. I think I'm supposed to be horrified by the way the ink runs when I add watercolour, but actually I like the effect.
Both Prism's anchors are being stored on the ground. Their shapes and slight rusty patina were interesting so I sketched them in ink. I was going to paint them, but then I remembered I hadn't used my coloured pencils in a while. So I slowly built up the layers of colour in my home-made colouring pages. We spent a little while taking the roller furler apart- some of the plastic wedges holding it together were worn and needed removing.
On the drive home, the light over Auckland was absolutely stunning. I wanted my skyline to stay crisp and needed to work fast, so I pulled out my brush pen with de Atramentis document black and drew the view back to Okahu Bay and the city, then added watercolours. My flat water brush was perfect for catching the light reflecting on the sea.
Launch is supposed to be on 17th October. The timing is looking tight and we're not sure if we'll make it. We're planning to move onto the boat in November and have very exciting plans for next year... watch this space! Maybe by that stage I'll even be able to settle down into a signature style and medium. Do you tend to stick with one way of drawing, or do you flit between materials? I'd be interested to hear!
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.