Holland to Ardfern - bulletin eight
Eyemouth to Peterhead, Peterhead: Oh bugger, Buckie, I'm getting confused.
Crew - Totty, Broontroosers, Sha Sha and then and Curt and Margaretta Gardmo-Hult.
A quick tour of Peterhead, so cold that it is known as Bluetoon to
its natives, left us convinced that it's only virtue was a proximity to
Rattray Head, the massive headland that marks the North-East of
Scotland (not quite, but nearly; there's still the terrible Pentland
Firth - Totty) and leads round to the Moray Firth, Cromarty
Firth and Inverness. What romance, what wild Northern isolation, what
names to be savoured and rolled around the tongue, what adventures,
what privations, what heroism to reach so far, 1000 miles of......(Shut up
and get on with it - Totty).
As we arrived in Peterhead, the winds were rising from the South,
promising a stiff blow overnight, but Don was enlivened by the notion
that it was only 10 miles to Rattray Head and the blessed shelter from
Southerly winds round what he kept calling 'The Corner'. "When we round
The Corner, the waves will subside to the most friendly of ripples, we
shall be sheltered from the Wrath of the Deep and the savage blasts
will abate to the balmiest of zephyrs. Yes, friends, in The Land Round
The Corner there will be a wonderful paradise of white cliffs, unending sunshine and bluebirds, with a Vera Lynn trilling on every headland and even the occasional sighting of a Julie Andrews warbling in the sunlit uplands....." (He's gone totally barmy - must be the drink, Totty).
So here we are, in the largest fishing port on the planet; the wind is NNW, Force 5; it is a temperate 9 degrees; there is a brilliant arctic sun, and it is nearly Midsummer. What shall we do? Yes! We will go and buy some prime fresh fish, straight from the boat and have a seafood feast!
We stomp off into town, animatedly discussing recipes, sauces and suitable wines. A cursory search does not throw up the eagerly imagined fishmonger's stalls, laden with ice and gleaming fresh cod, haddock, monkfish, plaice, bream, bass, halibut—all interspersed with lobsters, langoustine and oysters—the sort of thing you expect in any small French town.
Anxious enquiries soon elicit the fact that nobody can think of a fresh fish shop in the town. (“Aye! It is a wee bit of a shame that they can't sell the stuff here anymore!”) There is, we are told, a small shed, run by granny McTavish, tucked away in a remote back street. (“Weeell, ye go down theeeere, terrrn left and then right, through the little alleyway and it's the green door at the end.”) But there is absolutely no sign of life or of there ever having been life in the shed. Poor old granny must have croaked.
Here we are in the largest fishing port etc, etc and you can't buy fish! Eventually we get a taxi to the supermarket, and get our fish there - landed in Peterhead, transported to London, and shipped back to the supermarket. A superficial analysis of all this says that madness prevails and Peterhead is getting less value out of its fishing than it ought to - why on earth should there not be processing of gourmet fish products, superb restaurants, and so on. OK, it's a bit out of the way for London, but a couple of Rick Steins could soon put the place on the map.
Robbed of the buzz of choosing our fish on the market, we return to the boat, dump the food, and set off for the evening delights. The first place we come to shows all the exterior characteristics of a derelict hotel, the sort of place you might expect in a near-deserted, worked out Australian mining town. Closer examination reveals that there is a cellar bar, and as no better alternative shows itself, we enter cautiously.
At the bar are a barman and a very large man with very long hair, and a remarkable array of silverware on his hands, sort of filigree rings x10. He and a silent chap are watching Italy play somebody in the European Cup.
Totty regards boat trips as a blessed way of escaping football and other silly games, but her interest is momentarily engaged by finding that an Italian player is called Totti. However, even this discovery does not delight for long, and we all slump towards apathetic silence.
Our reverie is broken by the arrival of a vision of beauty, who turns out to be the evening barmaid. This young woman is drop-dead gorgeous! Furthermore, she seems to be refreshingly unaware of the fact that she would be the preferred choice of 10 good red-blooded males out of 10 over any supermodel. She chatters to the by now thoroughly un-apathetic male clientele in a friendly, approachable kind of way.
The conversation randomly unearths the fact that her day-job is that of dental nurse. “Some contrast!” says Charlotte, “I take it that you do this for the money rather than the scintillating conversation?” “Oh absolutely”, says the radiant vision; “I am doing this for a very serious purpose, namely to raise the money for a breast implant.”
The silence that follows this revelation is fractured only by the sound of several males choking on their beer. Eventually Don and the large man with the rings recover their composure simultaneously. “What in God's name do you want to do that for?” they croak. “Because they are too small”, says she.
This provides the big man and Don with the opportunity to visually inspect the objects of contention, and the friendly lass is willing to twirl a couple of times to make sure that all angles are covered (no touching). The net result of all this is a clear failure to agree.
The men become increasingly insistent on the fact that she ought not to meddle with two such perfectly formed orbs (assuming that they are, as she contends, real). The owner of the brilliantly proportioned bust is adamant that they should be not just bigger, but “really big”.
In the end, there is no way the conflict can be resolved, and Don and Charlotte issue forth into the evening sunlight, with Don still shaking his head in disbelief. “Anyhow”, says Don eventually, “I quite like yours”. “Only quite?” says Charlotte. “You know what I mean “, says Don. “I think so”, says Charlotte.
“All the same “, says Don, “She has no need whatever to......” “Don't you think you have exhausted the subject?” says Charlotte. “I suppose so” says Don, “Only...” “Shush”, says Charlotte.
Enough... Time to leave Blootoon......
On the morrow, we are out of bed by 5.30 am, and leave harbour by 6.00, bound for Lossiemouth, which is round the corner on the Moray Firth, and well on the way to Inverness. (The name of the Sea Area we are in is Cromarty---somehow, this sounds very far away and venturesome).
As we steamed eagerly between the massive pier heads of Bluetoon
harbour, it became apparent that the 10 miles to the Corner was going
to be no cakewalk - for some reason, probably God's eternal plot
against Don's equilibrium, a bloody great swell, (6 feet at least -
Charlotte) had risen from the South and we had to roll our way across
it to get sufficient offing from the nasty tidal up-wellings that
happen off headlands.
Nautical diversions: 'Taking an Offing' - going at least 10 miles
offshore to avoid headlands, with their threatening 'Overfalls' - (3 to
5 miles for normal people - Totty).
Once we are clear of Rattray Head, which is nearly on the corner of the Moray Firth, things settle down, and we relax into a gentle jog. The air of calm and smooth progress is not rattled by a weather forecast that predicts strong winds later in the day - we will be tucked up safely in harbour by that time.
“Is that seawee...?”, says Don.
Clunk. Bonk...silence, went the starboard engine.
“No, it was a very large lump of rope”, says Charlotte. “S--t”, says Don.
There seems to be no alternative, so we call the Aberdeen Coastguard, tell them of our problem, and turn round to flog slowly back to Peterhead on one engine. (It is hugely comforting to know that the Coastguard are there at the far end of a VHF radio, and that they can summon lifeboats, helicopters, other ships and aircraft at very short notice. Any government which seeks to save money by cutting back on the Coastguard service loses our vote instantly.)
We watch the Peterhead Power Station chimney getting closer and larger for a long time, and eventually creep back into harbour. As we approach the marina pontoon, the harbourmaster comes out to take the ropes. Don, forgetting the excellent advice given by the very man waiting for us, attempts to do a bit of directional fine tuning, and puts the remaining engine astern. “Graunch”, goes the port engine, as the loose end of the rope entwines in the remaining free propeller. “Double runny s--t, and chronic diorehhea”, says Don. But the boat was feeling kind, and just crept to rope throwing range, so we got tied up safely.
“Don't you worry”, said the harbourmaster, “I've done it myself several times”
What then followed was a scene frequently found in Ireland.
Just to tune you all in, one of the clever things about lifeboats is the two large holes over the propellers, which can be accessed from inside the boat. Our old boat also came with a ferocious-looking weapon, designed to saw rope. Beefeaters at the Tower of London have similar armoury.
Back to the plot.
The word that we were in trouble spread rapidly round the marina, and all sorts of helpfully-inclined people arrived out of thin air, each with his own unique ideas.
Soon Don and Charlotte are shoved to the margin of the animated crowd, who vigorously debate the various courses of action that might be followed. From time to time, one individual gets into pole position, lying flat on the deck with his head down the hole over a propeller, and pulling, sawing or hacking at the rope, whatever his particular remedy might have been.
After a while, Don and Charlotte leave them to it, and go to take the advice of the marina manager, a man who looks as though he knows a thing or two. “Ye need a diver”, he says decisively. So a call is put out to a local diver, who, it seems, is currently occupied hauling his lobster pots, but who will come when he is ready.
The helpful manager then strides to the boat, and shoos the “helpers” away. They go reluctantly, soaked, cold, but still engaged in vigorous conversation about the best way of clearing rope. We settle down to await the diver. After a while, a rather smooth rigid inflatable boat driven by a smart-looking chap in a wet suit comes alongside the pontoon.
“Are you the diver?” asks Don. “I'm Inland Revenue”, says the smart chap. “If you are using a local diver, make sure you pay them by cheque, and not cash, most of them don't pay tax, and the off-duty police, who do it for pin money are the worst”. Don tries to look like a person who has never heard of the notion of tax evasion, and is horrified by the revelation that some people prefer cash to cheques. The Revenue man smiles a little frostily, and cruises off.
We resume waiting. Time passes. Now and then, a boat crosses the harbour and we perk up, but then it goes about other business. So much for our early start!
“I think something is really coming our way”, says Charlotte after an hour or so. Into view round the corner comes a marvellous apparition. It lists a little, and is held together, so it seems, by a judicious mixture of rust and red lead paint. The craft comes smartly alongside and ties up. It is called “Lady Jane”!!
Aboard “Lady Jane” are three characters. One is older, and is stocky, animated, and manages to be both bright-eyed and cross-eyed at the same time. Steering the boat is a large, grinning and also cross-eyed youth. (The harbour master later says that the diver and his son come from a large family of “characters”, who frequently show their mettle on Friday and Saturday nights. He also hints that comments about being cross-eyed are unwise.)
The diver, for it is he, leaps lithely on to “Deneys Reitz”, looks down the holes, says that we have caught a truly formidable piece of rope. “Guid for business”, he says. “I'll bet you put it there yourself”, says Don. “If I were to dae that, I wad nae go a' the way tae Rattray Heid”, says the diver, “I wad put it in the harbour and save time”.
In a trice, our man is back on the good ship “Lady Jane”, and his dresser, another youth, helped him into a remarkably ancient-looking wet suit, and an enormous pair of flippers. He looked like a sort of marine Hobbit. In no time flat, he tipped backwards into the water, bubbles came up the two inspection tubes, and several huge pieces of rope were handed up from the depths.
It took him five minutes to clear both propellers, and then a trail of bubbles meandered round the harbour. When he had finished his tour of inspection and finding no treasure trove, he changed on “Lady Jane”, and was back on our boat in very quick order. “All clear, and nae damage”, said he. “Are you sure?” “Yon boat is built like a tank, there's nae damage”.
“Now, are ye rich?” asked the diver. “Well, I was before I started to convert this boat, but now I'm extremely poor”, replied Don. "An' dae ye pay by cash or cheque?" "I prefer cash, it's less trouble", says Don. “Fair enough,” says the diver, “I'll charge ye the puir man's rate”.
And that was it; off he lurched in “Lady Jane”, a true professional, a great humorist, and a man who undoubtedly pays his taxes.