Jonny Sayers was looking concentrated and trying to find James Haigh in the binoculars 800 meters away so that they could sight a straight line over the distance and tell the rest of the team where to put the guide string that was essential to the sand drawing. Communications were being zipped down the radios but we seemed to be having serious problems. There was an uneasy tension in the air.
Jonny turned to me: “It’s not working Jamie, they’re putting down the string, but because it is so long it’s not keeping straight and is blowing away in the wind.” The whole process was taking far too much time and we were already behind with it. Without a base line, all the measurements of the drawing are flawed and it is pretty much ruined. The sea was humming with an 8ft swell, reminding us that it was still there and would be turning around in three hours to pursue us. It was now 11am.
I looked down the line and could see what Jonny was referring to, the string just bowed out about 10 meters. “OK, this isn’t working.” Our plan was drastically flawed. I searched for my radio: “James, this is Jamie, are you receiving over?”
“Yes….we’re having problems with this baseline Jamie” James is not easily perturbed but I could feel the urgency in his voice.
“I know, the baseline isn’t working, send everyone back to this part of the beach, you stay where you are.”
James then came in on the radio again: “Send everyone back?”
I paused, taking another thought on what I was doing, I pressed the receiver, “Yes, send everyone back, but you stay where you are.” At this moment I saw an attractive young woman hovering behind me. I had seen her on her telephone earlier and Andy Firth who is our new technical manager had identified her as our contact from Island Records. I had not yet met or even spoken to her as Andy had taken care of everything whilst I was in Holland. She was the person who was commissioning the project and who had hired a helicopter to take a photograph of the image on completion that would read TO THE SEA – JACK JOHNSON, with the release date beneath.
I turned back to Jonny Sayers. “Jonny, when everyone gets back we’re going to just measure and place in the markers for the drawing directly, without the string as reference. Use that flag pole to sight on, we don’t need the string.”
I turned around to the young woman. “Hello, you must be Olivia. I am Jamie.”
After I’d assured her that everything was fine I went about trying to explain to our team of 14 that we were abandoning the original plan and using another method. It is a very daunting moment to turn away from what you know into the unknown when there is no time to think, just do. So off went the team with a new task; I kept back the teams of Jo Billingsley and Andy Moss. Andy Moss is a man beaming with friendliness and indefatigable energy that you would not tell at first glance with his handle bar moustache, piercing eyes and Brian May flowing black hair. “Mr Moss, I need you to make the line by the sea opposite the base line, forget the measurements we don’t have enough time, just do it by eye.” His eyes widened a little at the prospect of not measuring, but then settled again to the task ahead, eyebrows narrowing in acknowledgement to take on the challenge. And so off he went carrying in hand his red plastic bag of worldly goods in place of his electric guitar. I needed Jo Billinglsey and Jason Lynn to start with the actual drawing. She had the first letter to make which was a T, 50 meters in length and 30 meters wide. In total this image was going to be 800 meters long and 90 meters deep. The first drawing we ever made was 20 meters long and 15 meters wide, and here we were attempting to make something that was 240 times bigger than the one we originally did only three years ago. At this moment it seemed impossible and the pressure of contracts being broken and helicopters flying over an empty beach was looming. But we were not going to give up that easily:
“Jo, get your drawing materials together, sticks, rakes, measuring tapes and guide lines.” She nodded with her characteristic enthusiasm and went off with Jason to gather her weapons. The drawing phase had begun.
It was not a surprise to me when I saw that this too was too slow. Jo is extremely talented, but I had laboured her with a method that relied too much on guide lines and measurements. I glanced around to see how the base line was going; currently the whole team except Jo’s was absorbed in it. It was now 11:30 and we should have started drawing an hour ago, low tide was at 14:20. Each letter now needed to be made in only half an hour, a frightening task. I looked on at Jo and Jason, with determination they cracked on, but the speed in which they could work seemed futile; we would not finish the drawing in time. All this use of measuring tapes and pink lines was slowing things down.
A lesson that I once learnt with sand sculpture in my early days dawned on me. I once made a 400 tonne Mayan temple and measured everything implicitly. My colleagues mocked me for this, saying, ‘why don’t you just use the length of one of your tools to measure with.’ I looked at a rake lying redundantly on the sand and promptly measured it. 1.5 meters long, I couldn’t believe it. This was perfect as most of the measurements were multiples of 3’s. I then started measuring small distances with only my rake, placed in a marker stick and then measured in another marker that was 50 meters away to the bottom of the letter. The previous method was then to place a string in between the markers to give a straight line to rake by. But could I draw a straight line over that distance without a guide string? We had no other choice, this had to work. I boldly took my rake and attempted to draw straight over 50 meters, keeping my eyes on the little stick stuck in the ground 50 meters away. Finally I reached it and with an intake of breath looked back over the line I had just made. Unbelievable. A little bendy, but of no consequence, the tractor would take care of that. I placed in more markers and travelled the distances, in 8 minutes I had made the letter H unaided with only the use of a rake and map. It suddenly dawned on me that I was surrounded by brilliant artists who did not need string. “Jo!, forget the string, just draw!”
From this point on the tables turned. Jo rapidly took charge of the new technique and promptly finished the letter T with ease. I was finally able to awaken the dormant beast of the tractor that had been waiting quietly for its moment in the shade of the cliffs. With a nod to its master the tractor roared into life and drew up its mighty form beside me with its giant rake in tow. The master opened the door and I said “Just rake between the lines.” The master nodded, closed the cab door, and with a roar the tracker sped off and began to paint between the lines, tearing up the beach as it went. We were over an hour behind, but the first brush stroke had been made.
I grabbed my rake and began to make the letter E. Afterwards, I called on the radio to have everyone return to me once the baseline had been completed. The great Mark Yates and his team had already begun the letters that had curves using an entirely different technique and this at least was a great success. They were flying along in their steady way. Soon Warzier Mirza, Andy Firth and Andy Moss returned to me. I showed them the new method.
The look of despair that had painted our faces earlier was suddenly replaced by hope and the realization that we did have a slim chance of doing this.
“That’s a piece of piss Jamie!” cheered Andy Moss.
“It is, forget the strings and measuring tapes. Just draw.” I was fortunate at this point also by the people I was surrounded by. In times of hopelessness some people will simply give up on a project that is seemingly doomed to failure, whereas others will simply get on with it in the hope that I or another will think of something and that we will prevail. I am a very lucky man as my team is full of these kinds of people and it is a quality that I look for in a person. To this end we had not lost too much time and our new methods could save us.
Two hours later and I got a radio message from Andy Firth. He seemed anxious. We were by this stage almost finished with the drawing phase: “Jamie, are you receiving over?”
“This is Jamie, receiving over.” I began running towards Andy Firth who had been doing a great job of co-ordinating the team. He was currently working on the numbers that were the date below the letters and quite close to the sea, he was not far away
“Jamie, I’m worried about this tide”. This I could see on his face as I came closer, usually so calm Andy looked genuinely worried and strained. I clipped the radio onto my belt as we came into shouting distance.
“Me too, the tide was due to turn only ten minutes ago, but it looks to have done so earlier. It is definitely coming in now.” The race was on; our great moon orbiting 384 thousand kilometres away was now dragging the sea back up towards us.
I looked behind me to see where the tractor was. It was doing a fantastic job and had covered so much ground. My first instinct was that we were doing great but then I looked at the plans and realised that he was only on the end of the first phrase. The sheer size of this image had tricked me, he had indeed done a vast area, but it was in fact less than half of the drawing.
“What’s our ETA on this?” asked Andy.
“I’m not sure, the sea should stay for a while, but once it turns it will gain momentum and race in.” It was currently only 30 meters away from the bottom of our numbers which themselves had not been completed yet.
Andy looked grim. A small rake in his hand and this vast area to rake “I’m afraid that the sea will take the numbers before we finish the letters.”
“That could well happen.” I replied. I reached for my radio. “This is Jamie to Mark Yates, are you receiving over?”
A calm voice came over the radio. “Aye Jamie Lad”
“How long have you before you have finished the curved letters?”
“We’re on the last one now”.
“OK, when you’ve finished I need you to come back over here and begin raking.” It was now all hands on deck.
The moments that passed from then on were filled with running around letters with a rake. This seemed futile when we had a tractor, but it was making a difference. I went up to the beast and spoke to its master. “Time is critical now. The sea is only 15 meters away from the numbers and we need to finish these letters before it gets them. At this moment I just need you to rake as much area as you can and we will come after you and fill in the details.” The master made a sharp nod and shut the cab door, off he went.
We soon finished raking the numbers by hand and I had everyone except Andy Firth charge to the remaining letters. “Andy, you stay by the numbers and watch the sea.”
“But what if the sea starts to take the numbers before you’ve finished the letters?”
“Then you must call the helicopter.”
And so on we went, all of us charging round raking full 50 meter letters by hand, Mark Yates breaking his with his efforts. James and Jonny exhausted as they had been cleaning up after the tractor, but still raking on.
Andy Firth came through on the radio. He was standing by the numbers. “Jamie, I’ve been measuring how far the sea is coming in every five minutes and we have not got long. What is our estimated time of finishing?”
“Very soon now. Make the call Mr Firth.” Soon, the whole team was on the final letter N raking the sand, only the lone Andy Firth who with his partner Helen had worked so hard organising this whole project was not there. He was acting as guardian against the sea, willing it to stay at bay for just a few moments whilst the helicopter was scrambled; hoping that it would not take the precious numbers before we finished. At this moment I looked around me to the faces of those involved and saw sheer delight and disbelief as we were on the eve of achieving what four hours ago seemed utterly impossible. Although our bodies were aching we raked for the shear enjoyment of it.
And then the hum of our bird in the air. “Jamie, are you receiving over.”
“Yes Mr Firth, I’m receiving over.”
He was excited. “Look to the sky.”
“I’ve already seen it”
“Have you finished the last letter yet?”
“We have indeed Mr Firth, we have just finished raking the last letter, OVER.”
“WHOOOOOO,” I couldn’t see him as he was so far away, but I feel he was probably jumping with joy at that moment.
Whilst the helicopter buzzed around we made our way up the cliff to get a glimpse of what we had achieved. On the way up I saw Olivia again with a chap I assumed to be Scott. I had heard lot from reading the emails between Andy Firth and them but had never written or spoke to them directly. This is testament to my faith in Andy and Helens ability to run a project with me quietly directing in the background and making plans. There is no way that this project could have gone ahead without them, I would have simply had to have said no as I was in Holland and couldn’t have prepared for it. It is great to have a team. Not just for the practical element, but for the fact that we are able to so readily bounce ideas off each other and encourage one another. Oliva and Scott were ecstatic by what we had done, and the photographer in the helicopter couldn’t believe what he saw when he came over the horizon. After shaking hands and saying goodbye we paced up the rest of the hill. The whole team was already there looking onto our work. I looked over Jo’s shoulder to see our work. I could only make out the last three letters of Jack Johnson’s name, not because Jo was in the way, but because it was so big. S O N is all I could read. Incredible.
Even though we faced difficulties, we had revolutionised the way of drawing in sand that day. We have moved onto a new level where the image is so big that you can no longer see the people on the ground, even the bulk of the tractor is hard to make out. I also learnt a clear lesson brought on by severe pressure. If the method you are using is not working and will not achieve what you need to achieve, then you must stop using your time on it and think of something else.
The spirit of the sand drawing is overwhelming. It was only the next afternoon that I actually saw the final image from the helicopter. It was in my inbox the previous evening, but I was in no hurry to see it and went to bed instead. I was enthralled with that euphoric feeling that always comes with these drawings, we were totally set against at one point but were not defeated and together overcame the problems and were victorious , it is the journey that you take with the people involved in that moment in time that is the key and the joy. The image itself is just a very tasty cherry. Today I spoke to Andy Moss and he said “I still cannot believe that we did it, I just cannot believe it!”
To the Sea! and to everyone that was involved!
By the way, I think this was the biggest beach sand drawing in the world. Heads up on that one if anyone know different.