By the time this picture was painted Lowry was, by the standards of 1967, quite a rich man. While he could not bring himself to abandon the faintly grubby and squalid two up and two down cottage which served him as residence and studio in the small town of Mottram-in-Longdendale in Cheshire, he did not stint himself in terms of holidays. A man of the North-West to his fingertips he took little pleasure from his North-Western surroundings no matter how often he painted them. But his real pleasure was the North-East coast near Newcastle-upon-Tyne and South Shields and he invariably stayed at a modest hotel, The Seaburn, on the coast at Roker.
My wife and I visited him there a couple of years before this picture was painted and he gave us lunch before I got down to the business of recording him for a major radio documentary about him for the Third Programme (as Radio 3 was then known). The lunch still lingers in my memory as one of the worst meals I've eaten anywhere in four continents. Tinned tomato soup, not very fresh fish, soggy chips and tinned peas followed by what was called 'English Trifle', so that I had to fight off indigestion while playing with the controls of the BBC's recording machine. But once he got talking, the gastronomic atrocity faded away as his mental gears engaged and he tackled the sea that so deeply engaged him and truly frightened him. While the ferry, with its big, belching smoke stack is painted as if it is a mobile, marine factory, dominating the other ships as it they are themselves small industrial buildings this is really a superb rendering of the sky and sea, so close to each other in spirit and yet so different in technique. With the recording reels turning I asked him for his view of the sea;. "The sea, well I like the sea for its own sake. I'm very fond of the sea...". But when I asked why, in addition to being fond of it he was also actually frightened of it, he responded: "Well, it comes in, comes in and comes in. There it is, this vast expanse, and I often wonder and often say to friends, I wonder wouldn't it be dreadful ... what would happen if the sea suddenly didn't ... the tide didn't turn and the sea came on and on and on and on and on what would it be like? Wouldn't it be wonderful just to see it? Awful isn't it?"
There have been critics and fellow painters who have dismissed Lowry as a primitive, a naïve artist but I've never come across a primitive who could paint skies and seas with the skill and power deployed in this canvas. Turner himself would not disown such work. Lowry was once asked if he would classify himself as a Sunday painter, to which he replied that he was indeed a Sunday painter but a Sunday painter who painted every day of the week.