Friday, 18 May 2012

Spencer RIP 1980 (approx) to 2012

For over thirty years he patrolled his watery domain, a languid fin-flip enough to propel him gently from one muddy little corner to another. Sometimes he'd be difficult to spot, perhaps lurking under the floating umbrella of the waterlilies or maybe hiding in the chinaclay chimney pot that Peter had so thoughtfully chucked into the pond and he'd adopted as his own. He'd spend hours in this private space, sometimes re-emerging backwards by the way he went in, sometimes shooting out forwards. It would be pointless to try to work out what goes in the mind of a carp.

When we first met him in 1984 he had a number of chums, but gradually they went, some saying they'd becoming victims of the visiting herons, others hinting darkly that Spencer had got bored with them, or perhaps just hungry, and had eaten them. Regarding this latter possibility I'm afraid he had some form. Each Spring his peace would be disturbed by a crowd of totally amoral frogs, who would cavort in the most unseemly ways, quite naked, right in front of his pink old eyes. He would get his revenge by devouring as many of their progeny as he could snaffle down and those were among the rare occasions when he showed much of a turn of speed.

In the early years he wasn't called Spencer, that name arrived with his current custodians, but he never answered to it anyway unless the call was accompanied by a scattering of fish feed on the surface.

All thought that with age he had acquired a capacity to survive almost anything. In the prolongued freeze in early 2011 he lay immobile for weeks under several inches of ice, astonishing all with the first tentative flickers of a fin when the thaw eventually arrived. His end came while his carers were off steeping themselves in the cultural delights of Iowa and only a few scales were left as clues. He had grown far too big for the herons and it seems likely that some crafty otters spotted him and carried him off for their tea. I like otters but rather hope that tough old Spencer gave them a nasty case of indigestion.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cold return to Normality

The forecast on the Sunday evening was dire, offering a strong cold North-easterly building up during the day with rain arriving from mid-day. I considered hitching a lift back by road, but that would have left a sense of incompleteness and lack of achievement. Also it's a good old rule that if conditions look possible and you have an escape route you should always go.

My mates for the trip were going back on the sturdy Blue Sky, so the Kelpie's now solitary crew departed just before nine, with a couple of hours of favourable tide left.

Once I had rowed out far enough to get an offing the main was set. 

At that stage there wasn't a lot of wind, so the jib went up as well, but a few minutes later this effort was rewarded when a squall came over and we shipped a bathful of water. Thereafter for most of the day the jib stayed firmly lashed to the bowsprit.

Despite the strongish wind progress was slow, with Kelpie's flat bottom slamming a lot in the nasty short chop, then the waves gradually got bigger and she really got into her groove, charging along with her rail a couple of inches clear, luffing in the puffs and eating up the distance to windward. Operating the new pump was a bit like wrestling with an eel, however.

After a couple of hours Kelpie and I were well into Loch Melfort when a short line forming part of the snotter burst during a squall and the sprit fell down, leaving the rig accidentally scandalised and flapping like mad, quite useless for further windward progress. As it continued to blow very hard I couldn't see exactly what had happened, so stowed the main and got the jib up to see if any progress could be made against the wind. The answer was a resounding no.

I could have reached across to the South shore of the loch, except for the fact that the route to the only stretch with any shelter was totally barred by the lines of black buoys of the mussel farm, fastened with steel wires along the surface stretching for several hundred metres. This is exactly the sort of problem some of us have tried time and again to bring to the attention of the authorities who license these things, to absolutely no avail. The general public have the inalienable right to use the surface of the sea for the purposes inter alia of navigation and recreation, but the Crown Estate, who hold the seabed in trust for us, ignore these rights and make money by granting leases of the seabed. The farm in question, owned by some Swiss investors, was badly damaged in the storm a year ago, turning the lines of ropes into a tangled confused mess and a real hazard to everyone. It's been rumoured that they even got a cash grant from our government to start their operations here, which sometimes makes me wonder what kind of reply we would get if a group of Scots asked one of the Swiss cantons for finance to spoil one of their lovely mountainsides with a similar intensive farm. Surely the Swiss, with no seas of their own, should stick to tax dodging, cuckoo clocks and occasional sorties into the America's Cup?

Downwind from the mussel farm was a nasty lee shore with waves breaking on sharp  boulders. The only course was to run under the jib to the shelter of the point at Arduaine where I got the oars out and had a brisk row round the corner, passing close between the reef and the shore (there's a deep passage there, I discovered) before beaching on a nice sheltered sandy bay. I discovered that one tiny piece of line had let the whole show down, a real reminder of the old adage for the want of a nail .... After some lunch and a walk on shore I quickly got the rig repaired and the Kelpie relaunched.

There now followed a hard beat of about three hours into a really cold North-easterly with occasional squalls of sleet and a real sense of achievement on getting safely moored in time for tea. Once again Walt Simmons' wherry showed her seaworthiness.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Visit to a magical Island

Risking the wrath of our Leader, the One Who Wears the Hat of Authority, I can disclose that it took place again, for the tenth time. By popular acclaim it was probably the best yet, attracting an interesting and varied crowd, who brought a range of craft representing different traditions. The Leader had also allowed in some drascophiles, presumably because they were nice people.

The total secrecy surrounding this meeting ensures that the grassy sward where most of us camp and the facilities of the tiny village cope with the influx. There was no rowdiness this year, mainly because the chief culprit has been on the lemonade for a few months.

I sailed over on the Thursday in nice quiet conditions, the Kelpie loaded to the gunwales with gear, a day early to claim my site and defend it against the banshee. Actually the whole island is infested with wraiths, spirits and such creatures and if you come by road be very careful as you pass the old watermill to leave a hair from your head as a tribute to the elves who live there.

Altogether it's a magical place, with hares the size of dogs lolloping along the main street at dawn and a history that goes back to the times when the seas were the main routes of communication and our islands were centres of commerce and administration. I've posted about all this before, here:- From Toberonochy to the battle of Largs

Here are a few more images.

A ticket-collector's hut?
Someone can only dream
New road to the windmills

On Friday the wind came up but the early arrivals had too much to do to sail. In the afternoon we watched the Mat Ali arrive in a real blow and expertly pick up a mooring.

The blue thing on deck is a collapsible dinghy designed and built by master craftsman Charlie Hussey. Similar to my nutshell, it goes into two pieces for deck storage. I'm sure Charlie will make one for you if you're fed up with having your inflatable stolen or just want a bit of style. Mat Ali is a lovely interesting ship and I've posted about her before, here:- Autumn Visitors

The old Kilchattan Kirk has seen a lot of history, so it was good that a Viking ship could make it,

although the wooden rollers greased with herring are no longer in use to move her about.


Fast forward a thousand years or so, we had the new Oban Skiff on her first proper outing, a fantastic tribute to Adam Way and his local team, who have made an impressive job using flawless larch from a tree found near Oban itself. A lot of the old workboat designs don't translate well into leisure craft, being built for burden, but this one looks really slippery on the water and I'm sure will be a delight when she's tuned up. I intend to do a detailed post on her in due course.

Saturday was a light sunny day, with a picnic lunch on one of the few bays around Shuna still accessible despite the industrial fish farms which are ruining the amenity (and killing off our wild fish, crustaceans and aquatic mammals).

Ken's wee Jig has a new sail this year too.

It was nice to be played back into the bay by the Brother.


Sunday was even quieter and we settled for a jaunt across to Eilann Gamha with a nice reaching course round Shuna on the way back.

There are some great things about this meeting, apart from having one's normal decision-making processes hijacked for the weekend. There's a feeling of mutual help and encouragement, lots of varied conversation, excellent food and drink and a proper ceilidh, this year courtesy of the Brother.

Update 18 May

Thanks to Julia for pointing out that the green hut is the missing lemon shop, per my earlier post here:- The Toberonochy Lemon Shop

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Evening Sun in Argyll

It's been great weather for varnishing and the wherry Kelpie now has a fresh look to her spars.

Also a Portugese theme to her rails.

The sprit rig is great, once properly set up, which has admittedly taken some fiddling about. I've added a little jib on a bowsprit too, as we need some extra sail in the light airs that seem to be promised for this weekend.

When we run ashore for our lunch we disconnect the mainsheet and haul the sail to the mast with the brailing line. Reversing this gets us underway again in seconds.

In the evening, or if it really blows when we're out, we can lift out the whole rig, an advantage of an unstayed mast. Altogether a great system.

It's all looking good this year for that top secret event that may be happening soon.

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water