Drifters

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Wind and waves set a double-ended, lug-rigged fishing boat to plunging through the white-capped rollers off the coast of northern England and Scotland.

Soon, the crew will be setting their net and working the tide, resuming the ancient dance of fish and fishermen.

Marine artist Christopher Blossom takes us back to the late 1800s, when boats of this type — called zulus — dominated the fishing scene. Running about 40 feet long, the boats carried a double lug-sail rig. The main mast was generally as long as the keel, and the mainsail was big, extending well aft; the smaller mizzen was used primarily for steadying.

The zulu, Blossom says, combined qualities of two older types: the scaffi, with its short keel and raked stern, and the fifie, which had a plum bow and deep forefoot for weatherly performance and a longer waterline for speed. With the advent of steam-powered capstans, the zulu grew as long as 70 feet.

It was a boat made for hard work. Beginning at the turn of the tide, the crew set out nets as long as a mile. As the boat drifted in the tidal flow, the crew slowly drew in the nets, taking out the fish and flaking the net for its next use.

“Drifters worked out of Yarmouth and Lowestoft,” Blossom says. “They were sailed by men of extraordinary skill, by any measure. I envisioned these drifters heading out in a fairly stiff evening breeze to set their nets. Since there is a good breeze, they would most likely set downwind ... you can see that the distant boats have already turned off the wind.”

The dramatic bursts of white spray and the foam on the waves are eye-catching contrasts to the deep blue of the water.

“I use [foam] as a method of defining the planes of the water’s surface as well as a design element to lead you into the painting,” the artist says. “Not too subtle in this case.”

But effective.

To view this and other works by Christopher Blossom, visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Call ahead for gallery hours, (203) 521-1099.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue.