Irish debacle - Bulletin two
First, another Master Class in the "Art of Impeccable Cruising" series. This lesson is entitled "How the impeccable crew prepares for the rigours of the sea".
The week before the Departure, Totty celebrated her 70th birthday. A great gathering of children, grandchildren, step-grandfathers, step grand-mothers and step-children convened in Ardfern, arriving with copious stocks of fine wines to add to the extensive cellars of Campion Cottage. One minute's walk from the cottage is the "Galley of Lorne" (yes, you guessed right, its a pub), a fine place to lay the foundation for an evening of overeating and gargantuan wine consumption. The four days of celebration were topped off by a grand dinner at the Crinan hotel, where the beers, wines and malts bill far exceeded the food, despite the fact that the food is superb and a mite pricey.
Eventually, the throng departed, leaving Charlotte and Don with several visits to the bottle bank (we were doing this at the same time as the owner of the pub - our quantities of empties far exceeded his).
Now, dear friends, surely the crew of Deneys Reitz - average age 69 - must have taken their ease before the rigours of the great Quest. Not a bit of it! The night before a 6 am departure, now supplemented by Peg Leg Hamilton, we were at dinner with a neighbour and others, consuming a glorious roast of beef, with marrow bone jelly and lashings of crispy beef fat, washed down by enormous glasses of claret and finished off by strawberries and clotted cream and of course several decanters of port.
But the next morning at 6.30 prompt a bedraggled crew, occasionally burping, farting and emitting low groans, was to be seen heading south down Loch Craignish in the direction of the North Channel and Northern Ireland.
Broontroosers immediately engaged the autopilot and got in first, "Why don't you two keep watch and I'll just get a little kip", said he. The others, who had exactly the same idea, looked furious.....
So, once again we committed ourselves to a long haul down the Sounds of Jura. If this seems rather world-weary, let us say that the scenery was spectacular, and the bird life fantastic, with whole squadrons of gannets spiralling and peeling off in spectacular vertical dives, causing tall plumes of spray as they entered the water.
Don, as usual, falls into a reverie, a sort of internal monologue. This one was called "Why don't people think?" The line of argument went... "Lots of people seem to go through their lives without bothering their brains very much. They seem to find it more comfortable to espouse catch-phrases, headlines and fixed positions on issues, than to wonder what lies behind the packaged stuff we are fed by banks, consumer product companies, the media and politicians.......
"Don", says Charlotte, "There's a boat approaching."
The boat in question is a large, fast and grey launch, which has sprung from the Sound of Islay. It crosses our wake and swings in behind "Deneys Reitz", slowing to take a position about 50 meters behind us. The radio springs to life. "Yacht 'Deneys Reitz'," says a deep Scottish voice, sounding a little like Sean Connery, "Report your port of departure, and destination". We give this information, and he asks for our home port, the name, in full of the owner, who else is aboard, and what the purpose of our voyage is.
There is a pause, and the voice comes on again... "Donal Richard William Young, Charlotte Elizabeth Young and Ian Hamilton," it says, "Have a good trip, and enjoy the rest of your holiday". At which juncture, the launch turns away, accelerates violently, and speeds up the Sound of Islay in a welter of foam.
We are somehow comforted by this encounter; at least somebody is keeping an eye on the bad people who smuggle arms and hard drugs. Now there's another reverie..... "Why don't the powers that be discriminate between cannabis and hard drugs, and stop making idiots of themselves by trying to pretend that there is a "ban" on hash, which is no more damaging than alcohol, and enjoyed by a large spectrum of people. At least, let us have some objective research on the stuff....". This further reverie is interrupted by Charlotte wanting a little intelligent conversation, then by a further weather bulletin (from Belfast Coastguard, not good, wind rising through Force 5), and the need to say good-bye to Scotland, in the form of the Southern coast of Islay.
From our position we can see a truly inspiring panorama. Behind to the left is the coast of Islay, with the Paps of Jura, looking just like a pair of handsome breasts, (shades of Peterhead!) in the background. To the right, further away, is the Kintyre peninsula, stretching far to our south, and ahead, just visible above the horizon, is Rathlin Island - Ireland!
More gannets show up, and perform mass dive-bombing exercises. A noticeable swell begins to get up from the South-West.
Cut to one hour later, and Rathlin Island is getting perceptibly closer - and the swell has doubled in size, so that the old boat is nodding its head vigorously, and throwing the odd lump of green water over the bow.
As we approach Rathlin Sound, it is obvious that any fond hopes we had of avoiding the Race are fatuous. This race is made particularly nasty today by the fact that the tide is flowing into a stiffening Westerly wind, together with its accompanying swell.
From a near distance, we view the violent scene of whitecaps and general disorder with grave distaste. "Well", says Totty, "We can't avoid this, best just get on with it". "F£*&$%+", says Don.
There follows an extremely unpleasant hour, during which the boat, Hamilton and Totty are quite untroubled, but BT makes a bit of a scene, jumping about, winding the wheel, and swearing. At one stage, he manages to pull a hamstring muscle, and makes a right old fuss about that! The race is big, turbulent and nasty, but eventually runs out of steam as the entrance to Ballycastle harbour comes closer.
We arrive in Ballycastle; the wind drops; it is a pretty harbour, and a pretty town. Charlotte interviews Don for yet another cinematic masterpiece on video. "How do you feel?" she asks. "Better", says Don. "Do you like Ballycastle?" asks Charlotte. "Yes", says Don. "Was there something you didn't like?", asks Charlotte. "The Race", says Don.
This Oscar-winning performance is interrupted by the arrival of a friendly and extremely English-sounding chap with an invitation to drinks on his yacht. At the mention of the word "drink", Don and Hamilton immediately perk up.
We are royally entertained (in many senses of the word) by the owners of a large and newish yacht. We discover that our host's family owned a shipping line, that his father used a Line ship as his holiday yacht, that the family had a founding interest in Liverpool (???), that they had never heard of squat lobsters (nor had we - they were delicious, and, as always, had until recently been thrown away as vermin). The conversation ranged widely over a wide variety of subjects, finishing with the revelation that they described motor boats like our previous craft as "patio doors", they didn't believe that one should cruise very far until the boat had at least two years to get "run in ", and we should get out of 'Europe'. We kept our own counsel on two topics and loudly wondered where Britain should be towed to 'get out' of Europe!
After more than two hours, we lurched back to our own boat, having had an enriching and amusing evening thanks to our kindly hosts. Says BT to Hamilton: "Must write down some of his best sayings!" Hamilton, staggering with mirth and Shiraz, burbles: How about "One's factotum is awfully good with boats".
The early morning shipping forecast gave us 24 hours before the weather really broke, so we crept out of Ballycastle harbour at the crack of dawn, bound for Carrickfergus.
As we slid by, our friends and benefactors of the previous evening waved us warmly off. As the Race was having a well-deserved rest, just leaving a small whirlpool to bid us goodbye, we were very quiet to avoid disturbing it.
The coastline as we passed was full of interest, with many outlying rocks, islets and lighthouses. Lots of places for people who want a bit of peace and quiet! "Cottage to let", says Charlotte, "Secluded and ideal for writers". She is looking at the one building on an otherwise barren rock, two miles offshore.