Weighing Anchor: An artist at sea

Artist Jules George has undertaken several trips with the Royal Navy during the past four years. From the Middle East Gulf to the Falkland Islands, he has documented day-to-day life on board HMS Argyll - a Type 23 frigate - and HMS Tireless - a Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered submarine.

Here, George recalls the events surrounding some of his pictures.

Image copyright Jules George

The patrol boat lurches, smashed by waves, as we close in on a fishing dhow - a traditional wooden boat - in the Strait of Hormuz on a routine investigation. We're following in the wake of our mother ship, HMS Argyll - a colossus that towers over other craft around it. I'd joined the Royal Marine boarding team hoping to document this search. It is easier said than done, as the boat bucks under us. I struggle to hold on with one hand, clutching sheets of waterproof paper in the other.

Finally, I find a few scant moments to capture the events, which form the basis of this oil painting.

Image copyright Jules George

HMS Argyll has made many trips through the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow passage between the coasts of Iran and Oman and one of the world's most important crude-oil shipping lanes. November 2011 coincided with a tense political standoff between Iran and world powers over Tehran's nuclear programme. Iranian forces had responded to threats of military strikes against its nuclear sites with warnings it would shut the vitally important waterway.

Image copyright Jules George

Because of the Iranian threats, the ship was on permanent defence watch. Iranian navy patrol boats sometimes tried to harass Argyll, shining their lights onto the bridge or approaching too close. On another occasion a "go-fast" motor boat hurtled towards the ship. Warnings were sounded. Tensions rose. The encroaching boat then changed trajectory: crisis averted.

Image copyright Jules George

The interior of HMS Argyll is a rabbit warren of corridors, ladders, hatches and doors. Two Deck formed the main artery of the ship through which crew scuttled back and forth carrying out their tasks, day and night. It took a while to learn the best routes around, and I was still discovering obscure, hidden spaces at the end of my last trip on board.

Image copyright Jules George

In contrast to the rest of the ship, the quarter deck - a covered area to the stern - was a sanctuary of calm, permeated only by the hypnotic and soothing sound of water that churned in the ship's wake. With little personal space on board, it offered peace and tranquillity, and I spent many hours drawing there. The netting is to prevent sailors from falling overboard.

Image copyright Jules George

During my time with HMS Argyll, I joined a reconnaissance team on board the ship's Lynx helicopter on the search for what it called "contacts of interest" in the Gulf of Oman. It was the first time I had seen this vantage point, and it revealed a unique perspective of the ship and the vast sea spanning in all directions. We were following what we thought was an Iranian naval vessel. It later turned out to be a Pakistani naval ship.

Image copyright Jules George

In March 2012 I joined HMS Argyll in the Mediterranean for her final leg home after a tough six-month deployment. I wanted to witness the ship's return to Devonport via the Straits of Gibraltar. Passing through Plymouth Sound, the excitement amongst the ship's company was palpable. The crew were dressed in traditional rig, and to the sounds of bagpipes they had returned to their families and their other lives onshore.

Image copyright Jules George

My first sight of HMS Tireless - a Trafalgar-class nuclear-powered submarine - was at the explosive-handling jetty in Coulport, western Scotland, in December 2013.

I was instantly struck by the dark and mysterious beast lying dormant in this eerie, cathedral-like floating dock. Like an animal tethered in a cage, the image belies her destructive powers. A few hours later, we left port to face an increasingly belligerent Atlantic Ocean. When drawing the submarine, I was asked not to include certain details, for security reasons. It added to the mystery of the subject and became a painting about not being able to paint.

Image copyright Jules George

I climbed the ladder and out of the hatch to join midnight watch-keeping on the bridge of HMS Tireless. She had surfaced and was driving through rough seas which threw larges waves over us. Looking back, the two figures on watch were silhouetted by the glow of the white ensign flapping in the wind and a flashing orange beacon. Wanting to capture this moment, I clambered below to retrieve my materials. My sketchbook had earlier been soaked and was drying out in the engine spaces.

Image copyright Jules George

Around 100m below the surface on board HMS Tireless, these young recruits were revising for their final tests, which if successful, would mean qualification for their "Dolphins" - official recognition as a submariner. This image shows them sitting or leaning on the boat's Tomahawk missiles and torpedoes. Submariners call this place the "bomb shop".

Image copyright Jules George

I re-joined HMS Argyll in the Falkland Islands in June 2013. She had been deployed on operations in the South Atlantic. There was much activity on deck as the ship weighed anchor from Port William and put to sea. In the distance is Mount Tumbledown and Two Sisters, historic battlegrounds in the 1982 Falklands conflict. My thoughts wandered, imagining Royal Navy ships involved then and in the Battle of the Falklands on 8 December 1914, which had anchored in this same spot.

Image copyright Jules George

Standing on deck at night, you hear the perpetual sound of the lapping waves. It transported me to any age or time, a mood enhanced by the moonlight, with only the lights from ashore, or oil platforms lit up like Christmas trees, or passing ships to remind you - near or far - of life beyond.

An exhibition of the work, Weighing Anchor: An artist onboard HMS Argyll and Tireless, runs until 8 March 2015 at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth.

You can see more of Jules George's work on his website.

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