There are certain situations which move too fast to capture in paint. Sunrise at Russ Island was one of these. Instead of chasing the rapidly-fading light, I sat with Mary from Elmira, NY. As our mates snored in their bunks below decks on the American Eagle, we watched the dawn and counted lobster boats leaving Stonington harbor.
I’ve observed that the tides seem to change most slowly at their high and low points, and wondered if this was true or just an illusion. A retired science teacher on the Olad on Monday pointed out that the solstices cause a similar effect—sunrise and sunset times don’t change as fast as they do near the equinoxes.
“Oh, snap!” I thought. We learned in math class that the rate of change in a sine wave is the smallest at the peaks and valleys. These are just two physical manifestations of that. I like painting at low tide best, so it was great to have my gut feeling validated.
One thing about being an early riser is that you see the crew doing their behind-the-scenes chores. No holystoning for this crew; they wash the decks with saltwater.
“Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,
And on the seventh—holystone the decks and scrape the cable.”
(A complaint about dishonoring the Sabbath from Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1840)
Holystoning reached a mania at the end of the 18th century, when the Royal Navy recommended that it be done twice a day. Apparently, white pine decking was cheap then, because they must have scoured through the planks on a regular basis. The modern antique schooner eschews holystoning and uses regular applications of an oil finish cut with the artist’s old pal, Japan drier. (Boat finishing uses many products that have disappeared from the modern artist’s paint box. It makes visiting Hamilton Marine so interesting.)
Wednesday morning I painted Russ Island, its beach now obscured by the tide. I realized that Penobscot Bay’s islands are distinguished not by their foliage but by their overall shape and the way the rocks touch the water. I could, under sail, outline the shape of a passing island and fill in the details later.
That evening, we put in at Pulpit Harbor on North Haven Island. This harbor is barred by Pulpit Rock, which is topped with an enormous, active osprey nest. From water, this harbor looks too small to admit a great boat like the American Eagle, but Captain Foss assured me there was 50 feet of water beneath us. A lovely sloping field of lupines greeted us at the harbor’s mouth. I desperately wanted to paint them but the light was wrong. I drafted the painting for morning and set out to paint the crepuscular rays of the setting sun.
(The American Eagle, the Isaac H. Evans, the Heritage and other Rockland and Camden schooners are featured in Below the Waterline: Seven Weeks in the Shipyard, at Camden Falls Gallery this month.)