Trudi Lloyd Williams: Innocent Pursuits

Environmental artist Trudi Lloyd Williams considers how our use of the Solent for leisure has changed, and the environmental impact of these 'innocent' activities.

Like many local people I am a migrant: originally from North West London, I ‘discovered’ the New Forest and the Solent in my twenties through visiting friends who lived in the area. My weekend visits were mostly spent on the beach or on the water. What a fabulous place to live, I thought!

Being a keen windsurfer, the extensive choice of locations to engage in this from, in virtually any wind direction, was a huge attraction. I grabbed at a work opportunity that moved me down here and my first residence, albeit temporary, was at Lepe Beach. I used to rig my windsurfer in the front garden - heaven! I am sure many of you will have had a similar experience and made your homes in the area.

The Solent is the second busiest waterway in the world, with commercial boats, cruise liners, ferries, container ships, and oil tankers all transporting their cargoes. These are working vessels, like the fishing boats and trawlers who either fish the local waters or pass through. But what about those who, like me with my windsurfer, use the Solent for leisure?

Ghost fishing gear © Trudi Lloyd Williams

Ghost fishing gear © Trudi Lloyd Williams

Water-born leisure pursuits were historically the domain of the wealthy. The first recreational sailing vessels were created by the Dutch in sheltered waters, and East Cowes became the first place to build and race small boats in 1637 - the word ‘regatta’ came from the boat races held on the Grande Canal in Venice. The first English regatta was held on the Thames on 23rd June 1775. The Royal Yacht Squadron was founded in Cowes in 1815. In 1840 the Royal Southern Yacht Club was founded in Southampton’s High Street, and in the next 40 years the Royal Portsmouth Corinthian Yacht Club, the Royal Albert Yacht Club in Southsea, and the Castle Yacht Club at Calshot were founded.

Now there are numerous sailing and water sports centres and clubs around the Solent. Some of the most prestigious sailing events are run in these waters or, in the case of many round-the-world events, start in Southampton Water and pass through. Some of the world’s best sailors ‘cut their teeth’ sailing in local waters, and several towns around the Solent, including Lymington and Hamble, have leading designers in the yacht and marine design business.

Fortunately the Solent is no longer just the playground of the rich. Water sports have become accessible to a far wider audience, and the humble kayak and paddle board now represent some of the most popular activities on the water. These innocent pursuits are making us healthier and happier, but are such hobbies having an adverse affect on the marine environment?

Our earliest vessels were simply carved out of a tree trunk, and a wooden oar propelled us on the waves. Then our skills and knowledge expanded, and boat hulls were made from sections of wood attached to a wooden skeletal framework. The addition of a sail to harness the wind created greater speed, and less manpower was needed.

Huge industries, and to a large extent the British Empire, were founded on our nautical prowess; we were a seafaring nation. The Royal Navy conquered the waves and merchant vessels ploughed their way through the oceans with cargoes of untold riches. These ships were sail powered with wooden hulls, canvas sails, and ropes made from hemp and flax.

The Navy even built a ropery at Chatham in 1788 to enable the manufacture of this much-needed commodity: 2,000 men, women and children worked around the clock, preparing the staple, creating yarn, plying it and then turning it into the finished product. This rope - like the wood and canvas it was used alongside - was all-natural and broke down into harmless components once past its serviceable life. It posed no problem for the marine environment.

With advances in technology, some of which were spearheaded by the windsurfing industry, came carbon masts and booms, and kevlar sails. Boat hulls were made stronger, lighter, and stiffer using composite plastics. Even wetsuits developed from the original rubber suit into thin, super stretchy neoprene. These all seemed to be fantastic advances in going faster on the water, while being warmer and more comfortable too.

But these technological advances have had an impact on the marine environment, the very thing we loved: our watery playground was to suffer the consequences of our ‘progress’. In 2014 Dr Tim Ferrero stated during our collaborative project Jellytastic: "This is a new impact on our oceans, only as old as the mass availability and use of plastics, and we have no historical data to work with." Now, in 2020, the evidence is rolling in.

Spiny Seahorses and Ripping Yarns

Trudi is collaborating with us on an element of our marine project Secrets of the Solent. Together, we're working with local communities to collect plastic marine litter marine and transform it into an inspirational sculpture.

Learn more about our collaboration