Just north of Mendocino, CA is a town called Fort Bragg. It reminds me of what Oceanside may have been like in the 1950’s. The light quality, when the sun is out, is washed in an introspective glow with shadows of blue and grey against the warm strike of light. Sounds don’t seem as loud, and the pace is easy going. There is an interesting sub-culture around harbor towns. I met one it’s characters while having lunch at Noyo Harbor.
Noyo Harbor is nestled in a small bay inside a narrow inlet from the open sea. A bridge crosses high overhead allowing the Pacific Coast Highway to continue straight into and out of town. Driving down into the harbor is like going into another micro-village with its own markets, restaurants, businesses, hotels and apartments, even it’s own version of a library! Noyo, it appeared to me, is not just a place but a way of life.
While enjoying a plate of fish n’ chips at a table with a view, this scene depicted above caught my attention. As soon as I was finished, I knew I was going down to the dock to paint it. A spry woman, in her nineties and wearing a red sweater, arrived at the table and announced that she noticed the attention to the boat and said that it belonged to her, “That’s my boat!”, she said. From there she regaled stories about her and her late husband, travelling the open ocean to as far Australia in that small fishing vessel! She said they even saved the lives of those on board a sinking yacht during a stormy night, even as they risked there own lives doing so. She was a wonderful, sea going salt with a fiery glint of a life lived beaming from her eyes.
Later, I set up my easel and began painting the scene of the storied boat at the dock. I began in the center, laying in the darks under the dock and around the hull, that would become the armature from which the rest of the painting would build from. As I was forming the hull in paint, I noticed some people arriving on the lonely dock, one of them wearing a red sweater. Oh no, I thought, they’re leaving! The elder woman and her crew readied the boat and in minutes they were off, motoring past as I quickly painted a few details while the boat was on the move.
I waved to the two crew members bringing in the ropes. and to the helmsman, the woman in her red sweater standing just behind him. She was looking straight ahead, chin up and out onto the sea.