Reflective on Perspective ‘R.F’

This week I’ve been at sea again in my mind…at the London Boat Show and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see the ‘Turner and the Sea’ exhibition. It was a Boat Show full of memories and forgotten dreams: the first time I went was ten years ago for the announcement of the crews for the Global Challenge 2004-5 yacht race . We found out who would sail on what boat in ‘the world’s toughest yacht race”.

Snow storm - steam boat off the harbour's mouth by J.M.W Turner

Snow storm – steam boat off the harbour’s mouth by J.M.W Turner

This year at the boat show with no particular purpose, and only my memories, I felt a little lost and unsure of what to do. I wandered beneath the pristine hulls of the Sunseeker superyachts and motorboats, but most of them were cordoned off “strictly by appointment only” so I didn’t get to see what you can buy in walnut and cream leather for between £400,000 to £25 million…

Yes the Boat Show is a trade fair for the industry, but it is also awash with tourist sea sailing fetishists like me who just like being by objects pertaining to sailing or chandlery. After a circuit of the halls, and then scrambling below decks to look at huge shiny engines inside the belly of the historic vessels on the harbourside, I was spent. The smiling enthusiasts who had restored the original engines in a tug boat, fire fighting vessel and old London barge respectively that I clambered aboard, each asked me if I’d enjoyed my visit below decks on their cherished boats and I said “yes thank you, it looks like a very well looked after engine”. My Grandad would’ve been full of diesel pride talking pistons to these old chaps in flat cap and overalls. But here I was at the Show, stuck in a crack between having a boat and access to the sea as my lifestyle, and wanting it so bad I’m sniffing it out on someone else’s fingers. I’ve been both sailor and ‘want to be sailor’ by turns all of my life. The wanting to be sailor feeling is empty and longs for any proximity to the former proficient sailing self. I wear a Henry Lloyd jacket when it rains in the city but it still looks new after two years from lack of rigorous wear and salt spray.

Turner was a man who liked to paint the sea. Our worlds are 200 years apart. On a few paintings and sketches I noted that he signed his work R.A.P.P and wondered what this signified. He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1799 and Academician in 1802 accounting for the ‘R.A’, but later proposed himself for the position of Professor of Perspective in 1808, for which he added  ‘P.P’ to his name. The later Turner paintings of storms at sea, somewhat more abstract and violent than earlier studies, are evocative of movement and turbulent oceans: potent and energetic. Did he strap himself to a mast to paint the storms as romantic myth tells us? Maybe. I would. A new Mike Leigh film starring Timothy Spall as Turner may persuade cinema viewers forever on that this was so, fact.

Seascape with a storm coming on 1840 J.M.W Turner

Seascape with a storm coming on 1840 J.M.W Turner

Turner may not have been a pleasant man, but many artists are necessarily consumed by their egos. So too leaders.

For a while I became very keen to be elected a watch leader on our race boat: I should’ve known myself better and cared less, but there you are. I was full of Ego with no flag to fly it on. There would be two watch leaders, elevated from the ranks of mere crew to give out orders (!) to the watches and be responsible to the Skipper and Mate. It has taken me some years to understand that the best of us are rarely the leaders, and leaders are often chosen for their compliance, ability to convey the will of the skipper and their neutrality. I was not proposed a watch leader, and I took it as a sleight, not really considering why I was not the right person for the job. In truth I would’ve hated the duties of the task day to day, didn’t have the sailing expertise, and would likely have been horribly isolated by the effort.

We rarely see ourselves for what we are, why? Lack of perspective.

Our skipper was the youngest in the fleet, and cautious enough to avoid risk, look after his boat, and play it safe earning us a second place on the podium. He led by simple tenets of keeping us busy to ward off the negative consequences of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and encouraging reward (and popularity) by frequent treats in food and alcohol. He was not a great leader of men but that was unnecessary. He just had to get us from A-B as fast as possible.  Some of those who achieve success and lead do only what they need to: play by the rules, remain consistent, and avoid great risk.

Thinkers and idealists and true creative souls lead imaginations and dreams with their pens and hearts and brushes, unfettered by consideration of strict rules and authority, to whatever dark and bright movement of waters await them. I now aspire to be a non-institutionalized leader only in this way…and to learn from others, evolve, in perpetual ‘Progress in Perspective’ (‘P.P’).

All is quiet at home, lodgers abroad and an advert for a vacant room. More tales about lodgers soon, I know it’s far more amusing to read. But my mind is dark and full of reflection in these rains of confinement and this city grey sea of spectator boat dreams.

Keelmen heaving in coals by moonlight - J.M.W Turner 1835

Keelmen heaving in coals by moonlight – J.M.W Turner 1835


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