moorings

It’s always leaving, that’s what this sailing life is. It’s making a fresh friend and then casting off the lines that tie you and drifting away into the dawn.

I love so much, that’s my problem. I moor myself readily to each new dock in each new harbour, my heartstrings and dock lines pulling tight in the wind. And then we’re off again, your unattachable heart merrily seeking the next temporary destination while I’m still trying to undo the knots I’ve looped myself ashore with. And it’s not just people I grow fond of: the rounded hills at the mouth of the loch across the sound, the sudden misted glows in the sky behind the boat yard, the night-time curve of the village lights around Marine Road… And that grey-cloaked heron croaking by each eve, and the wee rock pipit flitting from deck to deck in the mornings, and the eiders which are always paddling about, calling to each other in incessant gulps and gargles.

So now, at the end of another winter’s berthage, I’m brimming over like this bay at this high tide. I used to be a solitaire, but there’s something about these groups when you find them – the friendly marina crew, the happy gang of harbour staff, the quick communities of sailors sharing docks and drams – all these sea friends and shore friends; all this coming and going in my heart.

Port Bannatyne marina, Bute, Argyll, Scotland
11th April 2018

Ophelia

A great grey roll of cloud lies over the mainland. Over the island, the noon sun is salmon-red, sidling eyewards in quick glimpses between snowballing white clouds. The boats are rolling about, lurching in their berths, jerking as the lines tug taut, as the wind stiffens and rises.

It’s hard to take a wind with a human name seriously. Yet Ophelia excites me, fraying my nerves to a quiet frenzy as her wheeching whine conducts itself through sixty-odd riggings. The noise builds in a strange sheer crescendo. The motion builds too, the boat becoming increasingly restless in her cramped quarters, straining at her moorings, sending my heart shuddering in its hull with each jarring heave. She wants to be released, wants to ride herself free on this great gusting abandon. And I do too, though instead I keep holding on, obsessing over our lines, loosening and re-looping them repeatedly as I try to find the perfect balance – enough slack to have room to move yet enough tension not to stray.

Oh, but it’s tempting – although in this wind we’d be on the shore before we had time to raise even the head of the sail. Patience, I tell myself. It’s not time to cast off yet. It’s not time to let go.

Port Bannatyne marina, Isle of Bute, Argyll, Scotland
17th October 2017

kindliness

Sea of the Hebrides: The skipper often comments on how sea-kindly Ara’ Deg is, how well her hull is shaped for the sea. Slim-bodied and long-keeled, she rides the water gracefully, large seas as well as calmer ones, maintaining direction and momentum and moving with and round the waves rather than against them.

Sailing in Ara’ Deg, we become sea-kindly too, the sea abrading the hard edges we’ve built up on land, gradually smoothing and softening us. As it always does, lapping and licking with gentle admonishing waves or relentlessly pounding us under steep surges of nausea, the sea wears us down, breaching our resistance, until we are humbler and kinder, until we are less.

Lochinver harbour: The sea smooths but the wind sharpens, tearing strips off us and whittling the edges of our words until their slightest glance will draw blood. We’ve come in from the open sea and are tied up to a dock but the wind screams through, cold and shearing and unrelenting. And so we lie here, straining at our ropes, underslept and restless, waiting for a lull, waiting for kindness to return.

Castlebay to Lochinver
2nd May 2017

Castlebay

on a calm mooring
on a calm morning

Castle Bay, Barra, Western Isles, Scotland / Bàgh a’ Chaisteil, Barraigh, Eilean Siar, Alba
22nd April 2017

northward

We’re hanging out here with the eiders and oystercatchers, the heron and a few noisy gulls. We’re waiting for our flu to subside, for the winds to shift, for the tide to turn. And when they do, we’ll be gone again, north again, hopefully further north than we’ve ever been before.

The sun’s cool and golden now, settling slowly behind the various western peninsulas of the mainland. Will it be thinner in the north or more substantial? And what will we be? Still light-driven nomads of sorts, I guess. As I suppose we all are, continually moving in time if not geography, forever following the sun.

Ettrick Bay, Bute, Scotland
10th April 2017