SeaFest 2018: Sketching Sizzling Sun and Splashy Fun on Galway Docks

SeaFest 2018: Sketching Sizzling Sun and Splashy Fun on Galway Docks











I was asked to sketch SeaFest 2018 by Galway’s Marine Institute. SeaFest is the annual celebration of all things marine in Galway – we are, after all, on the Atlantic Coast – and it took place over the weekend of 29th June to the 1st July in Galway Docks. The annual SeaFest is one of my favourite assignments, because I find the sight of beautiful big ships (often with flags flying somewhere) very enticing. Trouble is, the docks are usually a place where it’s hard to roll up and park – they’re busy working areas with all kinds of dangerous activity going on – so all I usually do is drive past and look longingly at the ships. During SeaFest I would wear a “media” tag around my neck, so that I could sketch anywhere I liked, for as long as I liked, over the entire weekend. Happy days. The only caveat was that I had to sketch different things from last year’s SeaFest, but that wasn’t a problem.

We’ve been having a serious heatwave in Galway: I usually have to qualify that and say “of course by Irish standards” but this time it was about 33 degrees, which is warm no matter where in the world you are. Us Galwegians were revelling in it, and Galway Docks and the orange, yellow and blue SeaFest flags around the perimeter of the docks looked beautiful in the sparkling sun.

For my first sketch I climbed to the top of the Granuaile, the first ship I saw; I had no idea what her purpose was. It turns out the Granuaile (pronounced Grawn Ya Wale) is responsible for maintenance of buoys and all other navigational aids around the coast, including lighthouses. A polite young woman in dress whites suggested I go up to the monkey island (the what?) at the top of the ship, where I’d have a good view. I met the captain on the way up.

“Plenty of sunscreen, I hope?” he said.

I assured him I had everything I would need and off I went. On the monkey island I was alone, save a lone member of staff who spoke on his phone nearby. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but he was there for ages.

I.N.V. Granuaile, sketch by Róisín Curé

Temperatures and Tempers Rise

After an hour or so the captain appeared, with a cameraman and two assistants in tow. They were going to shoot an interview, and they stood exactly where I was sketching, blocking my view. I was actually finished my sketch by then but, miffed at not being acknowledged, I craned my neck conspicuously around them, trying in vain to see if they would notice that they were in the way. I left, feeling a little cross (this bit has a happy ending, so don’t go away).

Hot and bothered, I tried to get off the ship as quickly as I could, but a stern sailor insisted I used the one-way system. What was he thinking – hadn’t he seen my SeaFest media pass?! I was obliged to go up through the bridge and back over the other side. In the bridge, and in spite of myself, my eye was caught by something rather lovely near the edge of the bridge where light streams in (I’m not even going to chance my luck at the nautical words for “wall” or “windows”). A row of differently-shaped lamps were neatly arranged on a table in a display for the public. I got sketching in jig time.

Brian was the lighthouse engineer doing the demonstrating. He told me all about them, and about the LEDs which have taken their place.

Lighthouse Lamps with Commissioner of Lights, sketch by Róisín Curé

I suggested that the LEDs weren’t half as pretty as the incandescent bulbs.

“No,” said Brian, “but imagine – it used to take three or four men to change an incandescent bulb, five times a year, in all kinds of weather. They are run on mains and they give us 2000 hours. Compare that with the LEDs, which run on batteries, for 50 000 hours – and need changing once a year…by one man.”

Fair enough. Then Brian went on his break and I got talking to one of his colleagues, Damien. He seemed to really like the sketch of Brian and the lamps.

“What’s your job description?” I asked, “I’d like to write it here.”

“Electrical design technician,” he said, “for now.”

“What do you mean, for now?” I asked. “Just for the day?”

“No,” he said, “From today onwards, I’m an electrical design engineer – I’ve just been promoted. I was telling my wife on the phone when you were up sketching on the monkey island!”

I was so happy to share his good news. I solemnly put a strike through the word “technician” and wrote “engineer” underneath.

We were joined by another visitor who stopped to listen.

“Would you like to hear a romantic story?” asked Damien. We said we would. “See this lighthouse on the wall?” he said, pointing to a photo of a very lovely lighthouse. “That’s the Maidens Lighthouse. In the 1830s, there were two built side by side, 800m apart. The assistant keeper of one lighthouse fell in love with the daughter of the keeper of the other. They visited each other and everything went well until the two families fell out. No more visits…but the young lovers eloped, getting into their little boat and sailing away…”

“I’d love to know how they got on after that,” I said, wondering aloud if they made it out of the bay without having a row, but it wasn’t in the spirit of the story so no one replied.

Sunshine, Splashing and Colour

I left the ship, passing children in colourful kayaks in the water of the docks, splashing and turning and generally having a ball. But I wanted something more stationary, so next up was a sketch of funny little cut-out of a trawler – the Sustainability – promoting conservation for SeaFest in a fun way. Innocent passers-by were corralled into the boat, under orders to put on a life-jacket…whereupon their photo was taken while they flung a plush salmon into the air and were sprayed with nice cooling water. The lads in charge – the “skippers” – were great craic and showed super spirit throughout, particularly since they must have been melting in their oilskins.

The Sustainability, sketch by Róisín Curé

The war ship the William Butler Yeats was one of the ships that we could visit and look around. This sketch was made on her deck, and you can see the captain bidding people farewell as they leave the ship. She was in her party clothes, with the pennant flags that decorated the ship looking beautiful as they flapped lazily in the sunny breeze.

Pennants on the WBYeats, sketch by Róisín Curé

Fancy Fish

I had been asked to draw a cookery demonstration, so I went into the main tent where they were being held, to find that the next demonstration would be starting in half an hour. Just the right amount of time to get a quick sketch in beforehand.

My subject was easy: there was a sculpture of a shark near the entrance that would make a great subject. It was about life-size, and was beautifully designed to look like a real shark, spray-painted in grey from head to tail. On close inspection it transpired that the shark was made of rubbish, any and every type of old junk imaginable. I wanted to know if the rubbish had all come from beaches, and I asked a group of three young children who were looking at it to find out for me. They darted around to the legend on the far side and recited what they read: it turned out that yes, it was all from beaches.

Rubbish shark, sketch by Róisín Curé

As I wrote down and drew each item, it felt a bit like a Where’s Wally exercise. I thought that the shark, and the sketch I made, were a really novel way to get people to think in a concrete way about what we are putting into the oceans. I used to surf, and I think if my line had snapped and my board had floated away I would not have thought about it as litter, as something that was adding to the revolting mess that over-consumption and horrible plastic have left in the sea. Different times, perhaps – it was twenty years ago and more – but still, trash is trash, and very little of it breaks down to nothing. For the record, I never lost a surfboard in the sea. My dignity, not so certain…

Then the cookery demonstration started. The chef, George Stevens, runs some fish shops in the Midlands and on the East Coast, and he showed us how to prepare and cook some easy fish dishes.

Cooking demo at Seafest, sketch by Róisín Curé

I need no converting – I love fish in all its manifestations – but I was reminded how easy and fast it can be to prepare fish.
(George isn’t a triplet, by the way – I just drew him three times doing different things to his meals.)

Poetry in Motion

When I got home that evening, I discussed my subjects for the following day’s SeaFest with my husband Marcel. He is an oceanographer, a sailor and used to work with the Marine Institute. His every working hour is filled with thoughts of the physics of waves, wind and water, and so he was the right person to ask for advice on which subjects would make the Marine Institute happy. He suggested that the Irish Navy Vessel (L. É. in Irish) William Butler Yeats would be a great choice. I didn’t need to be told twice – it was on my list of subjects, and first thing in the morning too, as there was NO shade in the vantage point I wanted.
“You remember the fuss over the naming of the ship, right?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Oh, all the lefties were up in arms over naming a war ship after our great poet,” said Marcel.
“I can see their point,” I said, “I can’t see WB Yeats being particularly pro-war.”
“No one is pro-war,” said Marcel.
The conversation followed the same path as it always did, and petered out quickly, both of us well versed in how it would go. But I was delighted to sketch such a magnificent ship. Whatever her purpose, she was utterly beautiful in the sun and colour.

Next morning, I set up and started sketching. A man in sunglasses, a baseball cap and hi-vis jacket approached. I didn’t recognise him, and I assumed he was one of the security guards.

“Hello!” he said, smiling as he approached me. It was the captain of the Granuaile. “I never got a chance to say goodbye to you yesterday – please excuse me – but things got a bit busy. I would love to see your sketch – I only got a glance as you left the monkey island.”

I showed him. He loved it. I explained that the ensign was fluttering too much to draw properly.

“I have an old one on board the ship,” he said. ” I will get it for you and you can draw it at your leisure. Just don’t fly it from the top of your house,” he said in words that suggested it was a joke, but meeting my eyes with a steely look that assured me it wasn’t.

[Marcel said we should for the lols. We won’t.]

I knew I had caught Brian in my sketch I did of him demonstrating the lighthouse lamps – something that doesn’t always happen by a long way – and I thought the captain would like to see it, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got.

“I’ve known Brian for many years and you have caught him exactly!” he said. “This is more than drawing – I don’t know what it is!”

It’s urban sketching, my friend. By this stage, the terrible crime of blocking my sketch view had long since been forgiven. Not for the first time, I felt pretty foolish after such an overreaction. The captain went off and returned a short while later with a neatly-folded flag, and I told him I would do it justice.
I felt very honoured to have such a special thing in my possession, something that has announced this benign vessel through the night, in stormy skies and scorching days, in unimaginable winds and torrential rain. (Note: I don’t know if flags on ships are taken down at night, or in gales, for that matter.)

I was so lucky with my subject, the grey of the ship contrasting so beautifully with the colourful pennant flags.

The L. É. William Butler Yeats, sketch by Róisín Curé

A Bigger Splash!

At last I finished my sketch and went on to the next subject. It took me a while to find it because – well, it was so hot! I really needed a break from the sun and everything I wanted to sketch was devoid of shade. Marcel had suggested a drawing of the Granuaile – he reckoned a drawing of its monkey island wasn’t enough. I also wanted to draw the flyboarders – the guys and gals who swoop and whirl through the air above the water – but again my luck was in and a display was just about to start. Back I went to the deck of the William Butler Yeats for a perfect view of the ship and the flyboarders.

Flyboarding in front of the Granuaile, sketch by Róisín Curé

You can see the white post at the top of the Granuaile – that’s the monkey island where I had been sketching the day before.

“A big hand for Cooper, all the way from the US of A!” said the tannoy. “And remember folks, keep your children in front of you where you can see them – the water in the docks is very deep!”

Cooper started his routine, and a family of two parents and two children, one a babe in arms, took up position beside me on the deck. It was just them and me, but we were a bit unfriendly towards each other, neither acknowledging the other. Their son, about four or five, slipped away from them as they stood transfixed by the display. He inched towards the railing at the edge of the ship…which was more than wide enough for an adult to slip through, never mind a toddler. It occurred to me that the parents must know their child very well to allow him such freedom. It didn’t occur to me that they hadn’t seen him there, nor to grab him from the edge myself. At the last second his mother noticed him, shrieked angrily at him and pulled him from the edge. It was only afterwards I realised that in one false move his little body would have sunk to the bottom of the docks, deep enough to accommodate the massive hulls of great seagoing vessels. I hope I am more vigilant the next time (not to mention his parents).

I found my next subject, and was soon joined by Ciara, one of the fantastic Urban Sketchers Galway crew. We drew happily side by side. This was one of the pretty, colourful craft set up to promote Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the seafood promotion board of Ireland.

BIM boat, sketch by Róisín Curé

There were stacks of promotional leaflets on tables, and gusts of wind kept taking the top one or two and blowing them to the ground. A uniformed girl with a litter-picker kept putting the ones that blew down into her big rubbish bag. It struck me as wanton waste. I told another uniformed lad to put a stone on top. He seemed a clever lad so I hope he did. I seem to be full of good intentions for others. There’s a lesson here somewhere.

Save our Planet!, sketch by Róisín Curé

Lastly I drew a bit of fun – a group of lads in oilskins were teaching children about water conservation through a bit of play. The kids had to fill an area with buckets as fast as they could…but the rules were too complicated for me. Still, I enjoyed the smiling lad in yellow.

Over the hot weekend, I had to tweet the sketches I was making. This would have been fine except that I couldn’t see my phone screen in the sun (how do foreigners do it?)

It was an amazing weekend for an urban sketcher. Roll on next year’s SeaFest!

Next time…

In my next article, I would like to describe the nuts and bolts of tackling a project when there’s not going to be a second chance, using the sketches I made at SeaFest as my source material. This means getting it right first time: choosing your subject well and getting the right focus, as well as, of course, making a dramatic and accurate sketch that captures the spirit of the scene to best effect. This will be for my patrons only. If it sounds like something you’re interested in, consider signing up with a pledge that can start at just a dollar per month.

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