Venice Biennale – all at sea

Gav's Bar
Gav’s Bar
We had hardly started on the Venetian lagoon when we came across this site-specific installation by Gavin Turk, the much-praised Young British Artist (now of course no longer so young). Here is some of the publicity material we found flying about in the wind from the Biennale*.

“Gav’s Bar – entrance through the white door on the right – is set on a platform once used for fishing on the western lagoon, not far from the shore of the island of Pellestrina. Gav has hung empty frames, canvases, a representation of the moon from a carnival parade and other found paraphernalia to provide a challenging invitation to fellow artists to replace the material with their own artworks, in a curatorial and interactive project that will evolve during the lifetime of the Venice 2015 Biennale.

In keeping with Turk’s  playful references to art history and identity, Gav is also a hommage to the celebrated arts cafes of Montmartre where artists used their work as a medium of financial exchange. In return for their work, artists will be offered drinks and a certificate to validate the transaction. Drinks on offer include Gav Grappa, locally produced, whose hallucinogenic properties rival those of the absinthe drunk by Bohemian artists in early 20th century Paris.

Turk will personally be monitoring each contribution and will only accept art works that he feels are worthy of inclusion or rise to the spirit of the occasion. The participatory, interactive project relates to his ongoing dialogue with the meaning, authorship and value of works of art.

The mundane remains of artefacts from life on shore, set alongside debris collected from the lagoon and the sea outside, will gradually evolve into a coherently curated set of artworks that will illustrate the challenges of maintaining life in the oceans and resisting over-exploitation of the world’s resources at a time when society is increasingly focused on excessive material consumption and the inevitable production of waste and pollution, as exemplified by the passing yachts and holiday barges.

Gav’s Bar has organised a fleet of old and carefully damaged inflatables to ferry artists from the village of San Pietro on Pellestrina to the bar. The deliberately corrupted state of the inflatables and the inevitability that some will not complete the journey without sinking and rescue of the artists on board adds a further political and social dimension to this conceptual project, encompassing the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean”.

* Only slightly adapted from the flyer for Gav’s other bar in Calle del Forno, Venice, and publicity for various Biennale events.

How to mimic big ship equipment

To cut back seriously on paper charts, the greater vulnerability of equipment on a small craft to accidental damage would have to be taken into account, including lightning strikes. For small boats it is already possible to buy, at a price, extremely robust electronic systems, including waterproof laptops that withstand impacts (costing several thousand pounds), and high capacity lithium battery back-up packs;  small back-up generators have also become cheaper in recent years and can be accommodated on many mid-sized cruising yachts.

At a cost, robust weather and shockproof  electronic navigation with reliable backup systems should therefore be quite close to achievable now on a yacht. Even if we fall well short of the rigorous standards of an ECDIS system, we will not be carrying 100,000 tonnes of crude oil or thousands of containers, so perhaps we can be allowed to be rather less tough on the backup specifications. Similarly with training: new courses may be necessary, but perhaps not the 40 hours plus specified for ECDIS for commercial ship deck officers.

 Here is our current navigation equipment list plus a few items we plan to get. We rely on maximising the number of independent systems, including some which can be isolated from the boat’s electrical and aerial systems ie reversing the current fashion for electronics integration. Whether isolated equipment can be protected enough to see us through a lightning strike is a question that we are still thinking about.

We also try where we can to use portable equipment that we have bought for other purposes, keeping down the boat budget, but we draw back from the high costs of top-end equipment such as water and shockproof computers and screens. Others may have very different and perhaps much better ideas – it would be good to hear them, and especially any thoughts on protection against lightning (we had a strike 12 years ago that burnt out some instruments but not all).

This list is for cruising British and nearby waters.

  • Basic cockpit chart plotter using vector charts.
  • A separate large screen chartplotter at the chart table is a good option. But we have stuck with a standard laptop in an easily removable protective mount. The laptop is plugged into the boat’s 12 V system; two advantages over the plotter are that it is programmable and could be very easily switched to a backup external battery specifically designed for it (see below).
  •   iPhone or similar with Navionics or C-Map charts in a waterproof case, kept fully charged.
  •  An old fashioned stand-alone GPS at the chart table, feeding the DSC radio.
  • An AIT system, with its own GPS, displaying ship positions on the cockpit chartplotter, where it is of most use, but with a USB connection to the laptop in case backup is needed.
  • Radar.

Plus in due course:

  • An iPad or Samsung Galaxy 10 inch screen tablet, with full vector charts and navigation software, with a bracket to hold it at the chart table and a 12V charging lead. With a waterproof case, the tablet could also be used in the cockpit in reasonable weather for a few hours at a time, held in a bracket.
  • Two or more 8 amp hour lithium external batteries, kept full charged, capable of recharging the laptop, the phone and the Samsung if the boat’s electrics fail.
  • If laptops with separate screens improve, a screen mounted (removably) on a bulkhead at the chart table and a keyboard on the chart table connected by bluetooth would be an ideal replacement for the current standard laptop. It would have  the programmability and screen size of PCs and the convenience of tablets, while protecting the screen better than a normal laptop.
  • For those with a big enough boat (not us): a generator and electrical control equipment to feed a spare battery to provide a complete standby power system for emergency lights, radio and navigation equipment.

 With this level of backup, is a yacht safe if it leaves most of its paper charts behind (perhaps keeping just a few small scale charts covering a wide area)? Does it matter that it would be ignoring the legal warnings by using leisure charts in practice as the primary means of navigation?

This partly depends on how seriously we take the inadequacies, as C-Map and others describe their own products, of leisure charts, which is a whole new issue for another article.

Next, an example of paper and electronic chart inaccuracy: Orkney roulette