The Ambler

Amble's Community Newspaper: News & events from Amble in Northumberland – The Kindliest Port.

Amble’s water music flows into Tyne

l-r: Nick Spurr, waterwheel designer David Wilcox and Amble Boat Yard team

Amble Boat Company spent the winter building a most unusual structure, which is set to attract hundreds of visitors on the River Tyne in Newcastle. Two Amble businesses were kept busy for several months constructing Flowmill, a 14 square metre musical tidemill built with wood and steel.

Nick Spurr of Amble Boat Company and Kris Burnett of KB Surveying tendered for the work and beat off competition from six companies, one Dutch and five located in the North East.

Workers at the Amble boatyard constructed Flowmill which consists of two steel catamaran hulls connected together and upon which a timber frame mill house is attached. A giant wood and steel waterwheel drives internal artworks which in turn create sounds. The entire construction is powered by green energy. KB Surveying was responsible for the building regulations and structural supervision.

The entire structure is being floated from Amble quayside down to the River Tyne at the end of February. (Update: on Tuesday 28th Feb to be precise. You can follow the journey via Twitter @Flowmill and @Trackaphone and the #flowtow hashtag.)

Flowmill is the brainchild of the Owl Project and Ed Carter, who also oversaw the whole ~Flow project.  Ed told The Ambler, “It’s been a fantastic experience working with Nick and his team up at Amble Boat Company. I think it’s fair to say we approached them with a project that wasn’t similar to anything they had built previously, so the speed at which the project went from the drawing board to launch is a real testament to the skills of the people involved. On top of the quality of the work, we’ve had an incredibly friendly reception on every visit, and topped off with a lot of ice cream!”

Nick explained how the Flowmill works. “A giant waterwheel turns on the ebb and flow of each tide” he said. “The wheel drives through a gear box which drives a generator. The generator creates electricity, which is then stored in batteries. There are also solar panels which add to the power input. This electricity powers the musical instruments, which are more like art. They interpret the changing characteristics of the water – things like salinity, speed and turbidity – all these are turned into sound, which is then transmitted through wooden horn-like speakers.”

Flowmill was constructed at Amble Boat Yard. Photo by Nick Spurr

Flowmill will be installed at Newcastle quayside opposite the Baltic. It will be open from 25th March for members of the public who will be able to walk around the floating structure and see and hear the artwork.

“All six of our staff have worked on it through the last five months, ” said Nick.  “It’s been a tremendous project. Right from the beginning it captured our imagination. Everyone involved has been very enthusiastic about it. And of course it gave us a meaty contract through the winter, so we could maintain our employment levels.

“We all got quite attached to it, we’re sorry to see it go.”

~Flow is part of Artists taking the lead, and is one of twelve extraordinary public art commissions funded by the UK Arts Councils for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad to help celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic GamesCultural Olympiad.

You can find out more about the Flowmill and the ~Flow events here

Anna Williams

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2 Comments

  1. Wonderfull, me and my brother have seen the start of the construction of the Flowmill when we had motor problems last year and were forced to stay with our boat some days on the land at the Amble Boat Company. But we got to know a group of wonderful people we will never forget. We had no idea of how it would become and it is nice to see it ready. Now we have to find the sound somewhere.
    Best regards,

    Pim Leemhuis (Netherlands)
    Hans Leemhuis (Italy)

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