This is where I am at home. And, after all these years of absence and homesickness, it’s not on the land of Scotland at all. It’s on this sea loch.
It struck me a few days ago when I was out in the tender on one of my wee rowings-about. It was a bit choppy and I was pulling towards my usual pausing place midway between the harbour headland and the loch’s southern shore – where I’m in the habit of drawing in the oars and laying my head back on the bow – when it occurred to me that, out here in the middle of the loch, I felt perfectly at home.
It’s not that I don’t usually feel at ease here. I’ve been living aboard our sailboat in this harbour, on and off, for years, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed our marginal position, tethered between the mountains and the Minch, between the evolving dock community and the local life of the village: I’ve always been most at ease on the edges of things. I’ve also come to feel very at home on the boat itself. Sailing the seas or coorying up in sheltered havens, its familiar fibreglass hull has become a cocoon, a container, not just for myself but for the skipper whose presence is soaked into every inch of it; a reliable and sea-kindly vessel bearing us onward together.
I’m sitting aboard the boat as I write this on a long still summer evening. The sun has just set and the northern sky is a thin lemon yellow and the sandstone faces of the mountains in the east glow pinkishly in the last of the light. The air is utterly clear and the water in the loch is glossy pink, yellow, and black-green, and almost mirror-flat. I feel at home right now, perched in the companionway, poised between these worlds of water, sky, mountains and folk, but the realisation I had out on the loch in the tender is more powerful. It means that my ability to feel at home here, to feel a sense – however slender – of belonging, does not depend on a particular boat or a particular location or particular company. It depends on me being afloat.
It’s time to find my own craft.
Loch Inver, Assynt, Scotland
9th July 2021