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Motoring slowly, trying not to break the calm. Seagulls, lolling on liquid glass, too lazy to move out of my way. I steer around some – others move reluctantly.
The light slowly fading – fierce heat of the day in it’s wake. Barra now a low strip of land far away – back between sky and sea. A dark base to highlight a Hebridean Sunset. So much of it. From the tiny wisps of cloud over Mingalay in the south to the misty distance of – where – North Uist? Harris? In the north. This is the Sea of the Hebrides where so many good boats have died in the screaming chaos of a northern storm. My forth crossing this year and I’ve only sailed it once! Motored the rest in total calm! What a summer! I’ll get my comeuppance here one day. My little ketch which has laughed off force 6 and 7 and occasionally 8 down in the Firth of Lorne will struggle here one day.
Hours earlier, and ‘Petra’ lies becalmed ten miles east of Castle Bay as a searing summer day begins to die. The sea is glassy smooth, gulls sit, silent, somnolent. The boat not moving. To go on or back? On – fourty miles of motoring, to return, to loose what little progress made today. All through a torrid afternoon, lying in the cockpit of a listless boat. Perhaps a breeze will come at close of day. It does not. The day fades into day-glow in the north-west. What in Shetland they call the Simmer Dim.
Dusk, 11pm, a dolphin rolls out of the swell to look, ten yards away, then dives. Again he’s there, a moment, he looks at me as he turns, I look at him – we touch, that oh so different mind of his, and mine – then he’s gone, melting into the swell – silent, sublime, so strange. Dolphin please don’t go – oh I want that contact with you again, there’s something I need to learn. But he is gone, I feel bereft. I feel ---. A memory, long ago, of someone on a train – of course, he stirs a memory, no more. But all my life I’ll try to live that soft, that joyous moment once again.
Midnight – dark or nearly so, just day-glow in the north like streaky bacon in an orange glow – no moon but stars.
Stars, deep in the south – one disappears, then more, swamped by the swell. The boat lifts, the stars come back, the boat slides back down into a trough, the dayglow is obscured by the glossy glassy greatness of Atlantic swell. The boat moves on. I should be sailing but there is no wind. I try to make no noise, keep the engine running slow.
But then I find I’m not alone, a movement in the dark ahead. The surface sprinkled with sparks of phosphorescence. Dark shapes against the dark. Dolphins, curving from the sea, drawing comet tails of stardust from the deep. He has come back, with others, to enchant, to play, to thrill me with there life. I know he’s amongst them, they’re rejoicing in the touching that was ours. They’re there – diving neath the bows in pairs, from side to side crossing underneath, to rise and roll and spray the night with fountains of diamonds – for ten minutes or an hour, I cannot say.
I think – they’re loving this, they’re doing this for me, they’re giving me this joy – but why? Entranced I watch, kneeling by the pulpit I can nearly touch but do not try – oh, how to tell them – what can I give?
The dayglow moves round. The lighthouses of Ardnamurchan and Cairns of Coll tell me I’m north of Mull.
The dayglow brightens. Now colour comes to the land. Dark cliffs towering in the east.
Sunart Sunrise – beyond the Loch the hills are golden, pink rock, a fire in the sky – yesterday, not dead just dozing, wakes again, the glory of the highlands – and the fleeting memory of someone on a train----
Tobermory 6am, a hundred sleeping yachts, a womb for occupants who spent a different night.
Unseemly noise, the anchor’s down, the rattle of the chain like a tearing of the fabric of the morning. A heron fishing on the shore, disturbed, takes flight and croaks a warning.
And so to bed, but dolphins, how I wish I could repay the joy, but all I do is tear the fabric of the morning.
About the Author: I have been involved with boats at some level since childhood and got my fisrt boat when I was 45. When I was 53 I bought a 32ft Macwester ketch and lived on her on the west coast of Scotland for seven years before getting a cottage ashore. I spend the winters building small boats, doing repair and maintenance work and making laminated wooden tillers. Summers are for sailing!
Please see my website www.boatsntillers.co.uk