hogmanay

It was an awkward night. I didn’t know anyone in the hotel bar so I propped myself up against it and drank Glenkinchies a little too quickly while trying to make conversation with the karaoke singers when they came for refills. Midnight finally arrived with free drams and cubes of tablet and, after shaking hands with enough strangers, I went outside.

The moon hung above the eastern arm of the town like an old lamp, huge and half-lidded, kept company by a few tiny white stars. Bulging black waves banged heavily at the harbour wall beside me, their hefty slap reverberating round the deep indent of the bay. And I felt like the stars, far and high and distant from the glad swelling tides in the bar; and cold in this country that I thought was my home.

Millport, Cumbrae
1st January 2016

on the hard

Ara' Deg on the hard

Our boat is out of the water now and we live poised on a slim keel. Winds bring a subtle rocking motion as our fibreglass hull shivers and flexes on its stand, and my mind invents or imagines more movement, having accustomed itself to living in the slow shudders of the sea.

All my instincts tell me it’s unnatural to be perched up here, high and dry, set on a slivered wedge of fibreglass and ballast, held up by five thin metal supports. We sit on reclaimed – or recreated – land too, a concrete boatyard filling in what used to be a fine sheltered curve in the bay.

I can see the water from here though, pale under the night sky beyond the fishing boats and harbour wall; and across the loch, behind the lumpy hills, the bright rose of the northern sunset glows steadily. Suilven rises on the other side of us, a visible lump in the starboard portlites, marking our position here, on this concrete plain between the hills and the sea.

Its presence eases my disorientation and as I get my bearings Ara’ Deg slowly starts to become a home again. The streamlined bulge of her hull shelters our rusty bike and the tools for whatever boat job we’re currently working on, and there’s space for our car parked neatly beside. Hoses and electrical cords wind their way across the yard to her various openings, and we fix and clean and paint her, in anticipation of her saltwater return.

Ara’ Deg herself seems to be in no rush though and, as she adapts to her new surroundings, they adapt themselves to her. A hooded crow took up position first, cawing loudly from the top of the main mast our first morning here, and a collared dove sat calmly on our lifelines for a while one eve. This afternoon I found a sparrow clinging to the rope I had tied to the halyard to stop its blocks clanking against the mast, and swallows are constantly zipping around us in graceful forked swoops.

From up here I can also see – and hear – more of the five raucous herons which nest in the crowns of the conifers atop the rockface that backs this yard. And there are mammals too. Rabbits hop around in the twilight and, at various times of day, a young stag – just a couple of inches of velvet antler beginning to branch – wanders by, pulling at the tiny trees that are springing up by the fences and harbour outbuildings.

These are not creatures I am used to seeing from a boat, and they are welcome. Not so much the midges though, and I take to our new oars and little shell of a tender to escape them and to get my heartsful of the water which I miss living on. It comforts me to get glimpses of my familiar marine companions too – the blond-faced seal, the cormorant, and the vomit-splashes of jellyfish drifting beneath me in the blue, for these are mostly sunny days here, on the concrete, on the sea.

Lochinver harbour, Assynt, Scotland
10th June 2014

out on the breakwater

A few gulls call, Spanish or French fishermen drop fish crates into their rusty boat, the bulging moon rises. Suilven and Canisp rise beside it – and the rampart of Quinag at my back – and on either side, long lumpy heathered lands reach out into a rippling glassy sea.

Although I have no permanent abode, I am here.

I look around, and glance back to our boat, which is rolling gently in the floating docks, secured by woven ropes wound onto cleats by my lover’s hands.

We are always held by something.

Lochinver harbour, Assynt, Scotland
19th May 2014

storm light

It’s amazing light. Storm light. Smoking yellow with a grey underglow, and moving moving moving. The seagulls are loving it – hanging whitely in the thick air above the masts and the jetty, wheeling down by the waves’ feet beyond the breakwater. The waves in the bay are whipping into whitecaps, and out past the entrance of the loch the horizon is foaming white and crashing higher than the islands that guard it. White! White! The sea’s frothing at the mouth and the sky’s whipping up a frenzy! Gates of rain are sweeping across the water, side to side, long grey curtains lashing.

The massive white fishing boat that trawled in here late last night now gleams in a stately manner out round the breakwater, and a small local rustbucket drifts in. What a night it was in the wild west wind! Hail thrashing against the portholes as the fronts moved in like horizontal waves, and all the boats creaking and straining at their chains and ropes. The harbour men were down in the afternoon, trussing us up fast to the cleats, and all night the masts clanked and the lines yanked and rattled, and the old heavy oak boat in front of us slapped the water and groaned. But this morning we are all still here in our floating dock cradles.

The wind has become more northerly though, and I could barely face against it just now, rounding the corner from the harbour, trying to reach the Lochinver Mission for a cup of tea after my run out to the headland. Walls of rain were smashing in across the bay and the wind was blasting the rain on the ground in sudden sheets towards me – it moved in wet flashes under my feet – like walking on lightning.

The Mission is in some shelter from the sea, however, and sitting inside with soaking thighs, a shining red face, and a cup of tea before me, I notice the trees outside are barely moving and – for a moment – a soft rainbow appears, glows, and vanishes.

But in my seaward ear I hear the wind still howling.

Lochinver, Assynt, Scotland
18th November 2013