Meteorological terms: “Better” and “Soon”?
Guid friends, relatives and associated dogs (Bob and Alfie),
Any inaccuracies in the typoaing are due to the fact that the boat is rolling 30 degrees - and it's tied up in Tobermory Harbour, a haven of safety and comfort after the rigours and dangers of anchoring in exposed lochs in the West. Dreams of peace have been rudely interrupted by the sudden appearance of a vigorous swell from the north, just one of the many little surprises that assail the brave seafarer. Consequences include spilling of wine and beer, scalding by hot tea, assault by flying kettles and sticking forks in self by missing the plate.
A football manager once described one of his players as "Dogshit" because he "got all over" the field. We too have been all over. But thoughts of renaming the old boat after canine ordure have been driven out by coming on a yacht anchored in the harbour on the Isle of Canna. This boat's name, blazoned on each side, is "Now You Are Living In Us, JESUS". It is known to some that the crew of Deneys Reitz are not religious, but Broontroosers has developed a full range of completely neurotic superstitions such as only wearing dark blue nether undergarments when going to sea, frequent finger crossing and never changing his socks, blue of course. His suggestion of following the example of the Jesus people and renaming the boat, "Now I'm living in Blue Underpants. OH JESUS!!", was listened to patiently by the Navigator and curtly rejected.
However, once again, we get ahead of ourselves. Last communication was from an invisible Tobermory harbour or somesuch place. But, heartened by Met Ace Bartlett's foretelling of Good Weather To Come (but hold on, don't wet yourself, not quite yet), we set sail with good heart in the direction of the thrice dreaded Ardnamurchan Point, gateway to the North and Far West and procreator of terrifying swells. At first, all was relatively calm, but gradually it dawned on the quailing Broontroosers that All Was Not Well at the point. This was signalled by the creeping development of ever larger waves coming from at least three directions at once, causing bucking and rolling that pleasured only the boat, which as usual shoulder-charged and head-butted every frothing monster, throwing salt water in all directions like an elephant having a bath. Frequent changes of course to avoid rolling were instantly defeated by another steep-sided horror looming out of the bloody murk from a direction totally unconnected with that of its predecessor ( the visibility had decreased to about 50 metres by this time). Broontrooser's ironic remarks to the effect that having the juxtaposition of his heart and liver changed violently in a cross between a roller coaster, wind tunnel and cloud chamber was just what he had come to sea for were coolly dismissed by the Navigator, who averred that things would "get better soon". This led to an acrimonious debate about the exact definitions of "better" and "soon" which so occupied the crew that they didn't notice for some time that things were getting better. So we continued whilst rejoicing about the potency of blue underpants (Well, that's what he rejoiced about, Nav.) in a decreasing sea with improving visibility to Loch Nevis, home of a pub unconnected by road to anywhere, but which is constantly packed with hardy walkers and yachties. At this time of year, they seem to be mainly hearty types from Yorkshire, clad in stout boots, parkas and greeting each other with "Eh Oop, nice drop o' reain". But later on there is an invasion of investment bankers, lawyers, property developers and the like from London, discussing the coming season at Glyndbourne loudly. They are all there ostensibly to participate in yomping, but are probably in reality hatching nefarious deals and sharing information on bonuses. We pointed this out to one of our fellow drinkers in the pub who offered to lead a commando raid from the sea to 'take a few of them out', now that he knew where they were hiding. Another suggested that banker stalking would be quite a successful business proposition. So the evening passed enjoyably to the accompaniment of good conversation, food and wine.
The next day was not one of Bartlett's best, the visibility being two feet, but we left the loch by radar and were greeted by more leaden rollers bounding out of the full Atlantic to the west until we were able to turn and run into the well-named Sound Of Sleat ( its a sort of hissing noise) and progressed towards Kylerhea, the sound between the Isle of Skye and mainland of the 100 knot tide which we hit at the right time thanks to the Navigator's skills with a tide chart. Thus to Plockton, a beautiful village with spectacular gardens and a totally unexpected gale in the harbour. From where the bloody hell did the Clyde Cruising Club get the idea of describing it as "secure and well-sheltered" in their Cruising Directions??.
DR in Plockton Harbour
But next morning, all was calm and sunny, so off to the Isle of Rona (pop. 2) and Big harbour, a truly beautiful anchorage untroubled by crowds as Bill Cowie and his partner (the pop.) were friendly if approached but busy with many things, like taking care of a large island.
Readers will rejoice that we approach the end of "Deneys Reitz's" early summer cruise. This year's Hebridean adventures have been particularly character-building and have included:
- A major sanitary triumph. The breakthrough in understanding of the functioning of ordure pumps has so far yielded permanant results and seems to have persuaded other potentially rebellious appliances to stick to their knitting and continue to function. An old Swedish ditty says it all about the current happy state of affairs:
"The crew's content,
Their needs are met,
With a happy, clappy toalett!"
- Near disaster caused by poor inventory keeping, and the Navigator's insistence on anchoring in remote and incredibly beautiful sea lochs with exotic names miles from garbage disposal, shops, pubs or restaurants leading to an almost catastrophic shortage of wine, gin and tonic. But we just made it! Nobody was more pleased than Broontroosers by the distant sight from the sea through the binoculars of the Tobermory Co-op, with its copious wine and spirit department as we rolled our way into that pretty harbour to the clinking of empty bottles and the delicate odour of week-old garbage.
- Weather in almost indescribable varieties. We have had thick fog; which totally obscured the fantastic cliffs of NE Skye, gales of up to Force 9 (we were cowering in a loch at the time), rain in all its forms from thick drizzle to the horizontal stair-rod variety and..... latterly a week of almost calm, blistering hot conditions when the sun would have cracked the pavements, had there been any. But the main memories will be of surprises, some of them unpleasant. How, I ask, can the flat calm of a sheltered harbour be transformed into a frothing maelstrom in five minutes and then back to calm 30 minutes later? And why did the malevolent creator of such nasties choose the very moment that Broontroosers was rowing the dinghy to the boat?? The next ten minutes was just like the rowing machine in the gym, pulling like hell to go nowhere, bloody waste of time and energy.
- Sea states ranging from gut-loosening rollers to absolute mirror-like calm. Tides are quite ferocious, with a tidal range of up to 6 metres. With many narrow sounds and channels between islands, the tides can get up to 11 knots, far faster than the boat can go. And when the tide runs against a strong wind, the size and ferocity of the seas thus created has made the West a place of legend. Even far out to sea the tide can run at 3 knots, slowing the old boat to 5 knots forward progress. If we get the tide wrong, much is the mizzling and whingeing from Broontroosers - "We're going nowhere, wasting diesel, we'll never make it etc" (Too right. Miserable git. Nav).
- Wildlife in magnificent profusion. Navigator Totty had never seen a whale because these monstrous but cunning creatures had always chosen to put in an appearance, leap out of the water and fall back with a huge splash just as she was seeking comfort in the lavatory. But this time, off the west coast of the Isle Of Skye, a kindly monster showed himself to her, swimming round the boat several times before going about his business. It was probably about the size of the boat at about 50 feet, almost certainly a young Minke. Then there were dolphins, porpoises and giant squid ( No, not giant squid. Nav) in profusion, sea birds in squadrons: Puffins, Gannets diving vertically for fish, Guillimots, Razorbills, Fish Eagles, Ravens croaking like ancient smokers, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, Gulls of all kinds and the odd sinister Great Skua. On land deer and big feral goats abounded together with inquisitive hairy Highland cattle, the calves looking like fawn-coloured balls of wool.
- Amazing sightings: This is the time of year for even more exotic sightings. The Scottish Islands Malt Whiskey Distillery Cruise begins imminently. Several dozen crews of hardy yachties visit more than a dozen distilleries on many islands over a two week period. Last year amazing sightings were reported: low-flying rose coloured whales, dolphins mounting foredecks and singing "We Are Three Sheep Who Have Lost Our Way, Baa, Baa, Baa" accompanied by synchopated tailslapping. But the most amazing reports of all, normally reported towards the end of the cruise, are of gentle, sad giant squid, dressed in various tartans who sit on yacht coachroofs singing mournful songs of the deep.
- Interesting people. The typical west Coast yachtie is a bit weatherbeaten, dressed in stocking cap and nondescript clothing. Yachting round here is a male-dominated sport, with crews of three or four good drinkers. There are couples, but the Navigator is unusual in being the Joint Skipper, a concept that causes puzzled looks. Yachts are mainly quite large and well-used, and alas, predominantly French and Swedish-made. This is all a far cry from the pink-trousered brigade commonly found sloping around the Solent. The near-defunct British yacht-building industry was said to be run by such people. An observer described their assessment of market trends as being carried out by one set of chaps in pink trousers talking only to another. Thus they missed the growth of flotilla yachting, modern manufacturing and other new-fangled nonsense, leaving the field to the Swedes, French and Germans. Sad.
- Our favourite 'people' encounters are first the crew of a dilapidated rather rusty metal yacht from Gdansk in Poland, which was attracting quizzical looks from fellow yachties in Oban harbour. Broontroosers casually mentioned to the skipper, an elderly fellow who had a crew of rather plump women and one minute and very scruffy bloke, that the brave "Deneys Reitz" had visited Gdansk in 2001. "And", said Don politely, "Where have you sailed from?" "Iceland", said the skipper, "And before that Trondheim (300 miles N of the Arctic Circle). Now we take her back to Gdansk, because crew and boat tired". Iceland..........!!! Trondheim???? The other story was from some yachties with whom we got into conversation in a pub. They recounted meeting an elderly couple in a modest yacht. The man was quiet and unassuming and the conversation strayed into what people had done before retirement. "And what did you do"? enquired one of the yachties of the pleasant old fellow. "Oh, I was in the navy", said he. "And what did you do in the navy?" Well........ I ran it", said the retired admiral...........
- The Kingdom of the Gaels. The Scottish Western Isles have a long history, most of it bloody. Every island has a story of bloodthirsty massacre, black treachery, rape and pillage; every lonely rock way out in the Atlantic the relic of a chapel or monk's cell. But the history is mainly Gaelic, as can be understood from the names of sea lochs, to wit: Lochs Na Beiste, Scresort, Clash, Snizort, A' Chair Bhain, Tuadh, Staosnaig and Feochan, to name a very few. If we tell you that Croabh is pronounced Cruve, the difficulties of the non-Gaelic -speaking visitor can be appreciated.
So that's the end of the first half, as Met genius Bartlett said. He reckons we're one-nil up at half time because we survived and we'll drink to that. The trip was a success because of the wonderful quality of Bartlett's forecasts of winds and sea states, the accuracy of the Navigators's pilotage and of course the character of the old boat. Raise a glass to all.
Now ashore in the cottage. A familiar experience - the bloody bath and toilet drains are blocked! Imports from the boat have been put to work, a bloody great plunger and some stuff from our boating times in Germany, "Drano Power Gel; Gegen hartnackigste Verstopfungen". "Lost Haare und sinkt durch stehendes Wasser". That will sort it!!
More much later...