Saturday, March 26, 2011


f you love something a lot, you get to know it in a deep, deep way. Your attention becomes undivided. You attend to and understand every little nuance, mannerism, detail and movement. I have often thought that the great Australian Aboriginal trackers must have a very great love of their physical environment to be able to notice so much, to be in tune with the very fabric of creation.

I have a great passion and love for sailing. For as long as I can remember I have always loved the way boats move - by boats I mean almost exclusively small yachts - sailing dinghies and small cruising yachts - and for as long as I can remember I have been irritated by the inauthentic way yachts and ships are sometimes portrayed. A case in point is the 'WestSail32' yacht in the film 'The Perfect Storm'. Its not so much the patently obvious fact that the yacht in the storm is being filmed in a huge Hollywood bathtub attended closely by huge wind machines. It's the fact that the yacht has far, far too much sail up in such a storm for it to be in any way believable. Most sails would have been been ripped to shreds at the point of action in the film or the yacht in such a wind with so much sail up would be sailing at a 45 degree angle. Another recent film 'Master and Commander' suffers the same lack of nautical authenticity - big models filmed in slow motion to aid the idea of big seas and cascading water starts off well, but a huge square rigger standing upright with that amount of sail up in what appears to be a Hurricane? I don't think so.

Model yachts also walk the gauntlet of my self appointed scrutiny. You would think that authenticity increases with price with items such as these but in my experience this is not always the case. I have a number of small model yachts that didn't cost a lot of money and although not replicating exactly the small fine details of equipment and rigging, they are sufficiently authentic in their overall form and character to be a delight to look at - its somewhat like good portraiture, a portrait isn't a photograph, but it has sufficient likeness to be believable.

Paintings of boats sailing can also be problematic for an aficionado like me with my exacting self opinionated standards. Sometimes the effect is stilted and wooden - for there is a way that a small yacht moves through the water - and it moves - well it moves, just so - and for those that know and look and love (we are the few rather than the many) we are like aboriginal trackers, immersed in our beloved world with a heightened sensibility to the bits that are out of place.

The painting above is of a small yacht famous in the annals of small boat literature. She is the little 18 foot yacht Sopranino, famous for a wonderful, adventurous trans Atlantic crossing in the 1950s from England to the USA.
Here she is running free in mid Atlantic, the traditional twin spinnakers used by cruising yachtsmen setting well in the fresh following breeze. As she comes off the large ocean swell she dips her bow down almost to deck level, and in a few seconds the buoyancy of her fulsome bow will have her scudding down the face of this big lazy Atlantic roller - she is moving well here, she is always vulnerable in such a sea, but she is capable and brave - and she loyally forges ahead as she moves - just so, just so, just so.


Dan Gurney said...

Go to any showing of nautical paintings by amateur artists and you'll find images where the sails of adjacent yachts are set to winds from wildly different directions. You'll see wavy cartoon flags flying in ways flags have never flown, and missing the diagonal wrinkle from down the flag's top corner next to the pole. And you'll see rigging that makes no sense and would fail in a zephyr. Pet peeves of mine.

Alden Smith said...

Yes Dan, I know you are a bit of a sailor like me
and obviously notice these things. The concept that we are talking about here is also alive in the news media - What I find alarming is that when you know something in depth it is very easy to see the lack of knowledge when aspects of your sphere of interest is reported in the newspapaers - which of course calls into question the accuracy of virtually every thing that parades as news.

Katherine said...

Lovely post Alden. When I look at the image, I can feel the stern behind me slipping down the face, and the feel of a thin sheet in my palm.

Alden Smith said...

Katherine, your comment tells me that you have a feel for these things so you are obviously a sailor too - I have always thought an artist / sailor combination as being particularly fortuitous - When you have your exhibition of Marine Paintings (Hopefully with lots of nice yachts in the pictures) I shall come and cast my opinionated and biased eye over them. :>)

Ben said...

Great sailing picture ! Never saw the use of twin spinnakers before.
You are suffering like every specialist does. Almost everything in the news, papers, television is superficial. Not many bringers of the news take the effort to check and do research. As soon as there is news about a subject I know a little bit more off than the average, irritation starts.

Alden Smith said...

Twin spinnakers like this ( which are really just twin jibs) was very common in the 1950s 60s and 70s - not so much these days from what I can gauge from the sailing magazines. Maybe my irritation is age related?? Maybe this old sailor should sail more and moan less :>)