The Day we Dived off Portishead Pier

Up the coast from the beautiful Clevedon Pier – a regular feature of my drawings – is another pier. This is the very modest Portishead Pier, or what remains of it. It’s missing a top structure, and the concrete base is solid but a little rubble-strewn. Only fishermen seem to have access to this pier, it’s gated and there is an access code presumably for fear that if allowed on it the General Public will fall off their excitement, and thereby disturb the fish.

The thing about piers though: they are accessible by sea, that’s rather the point. At high tide, Portishead Pier is therefore accessible by anyone foolhardy enough to want to swim there, even through freezing muddy water in December. And, this being not strictly the sea but the Severn Estuary which boasts the second highest tidal range in the world, on the highest spring tides the water covers the pier platform. Swimmers can stand on it as if walking on water, out in the estuary. Even a day or two off the highest tide the water may still reach high enough to allow intrepid swimmers to clamber onto it. This we did, for the simple purpose of diving off again.

The fishermen… pretended not to notice us. I very much doubt that the fish were unduly disturbed either. Having plunged below the surface of that brown water and experienced the instant cold engulfing blackness that closed over my head, I wonder how any poor lost sole in those waters can find anything at all, be it food, a fish hook, or a mate.

Minutes later, back on dry land in a damp and shivery huddle of Dryrobes and hot drinks, we pondered the fishermen’s lot: to stand for hours, alone, by the waterside, for fun. We couldn’t see the appeal, and we wondered if they wondered at all at the pointlessness of our idea of entertainment: to go to all that trouble for a five minute freezing bath and a head-first plunge into muddy water.

Some mysteries are unknowable and the thoughts of fishermen must surely be one of them.

About this picture

This swim happened on 27th December, I swam over with Hilary, Tim and Lauren, and took a few photos of them as they dived off again, imagining that I would later draw something with people against the industrial background of cranes which are a little way off and to the right of this picture, and look like huge industrial giraffes.

But instead, this happened – the scrambling on and diving off became the whole subject, the action overlaid on top of itself. There were fishermen, but they couldn’t be included because there is really enough going on here, and because I have had to take liberties with perspective to create this scene: the figures that are not right at the front are really too large, the eyeline too low, and no standing fisherman can be placed so that he is a convincing size. They were there, silently and individually not seeing us.

It was drawn on a Samsung Galaxy tablet and S Pen – the stylus that comes with these tablets, and the drawing app is Sketchpad by Autodesk. Below you can see some of the stages of building up this drawing.

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