Monday, 3 May 2010


Image above: A yacht moored in Tinker’s hole
Sunday 11th April

The day had begun under a band of vaporously thin pink light that hung over the northern horizon. With altitude the pink graduated through white into the blue spectrum before deepening to meet the edge of the night that still clung to the dome. From the cottage doorway I traced the line of Mull’s central mountain range to the cliffs of the Burg and then out to Iona; a strip of landscape separating the sky from its counterpart, the waters of the bay and sound. This view is the reward for a street that presents itself to a northern sky, some mornings I walk collecting reflections from the cottage windows, each a new vision of perfection.

Having passed the vernal equinox the daily position of the sun’s rise and decent had begun to make the slow march north. Gradually the idea of a sunrise and setting becomes folly, for by midsummer at this northern latitude the sun briefly dips below the horizon before continuing its seemingly unending orbit of the island.

By nine the sun was beginning to make its presence felt although it was struggling to burn away a mist that had resigned some of the distant islands to familiar outlines. I collect fuel, fishing tackle and slip away from the pier in reliance heading towards the sound. As the boat settles into its hull speed an arc of clear water spreads between the bow and stern waves distorting the shallows beneath. Visions of the sandy seabed come briefly into focus as if viewed under a magnifying glass or through a seer’s ball, before vanishing with the wake. Over the starboard bow the long arm of Easter Island’s beach has been exposed by the falling tide. The sunlight scattered by the sherbet sands and low water shines as if the island itself is still being forged in white heat. The tide still has an hour or so to run its ebb before the two halves of the island will briefly be reunited, the dividing waters having shrank back to form a central lagoon. Ahead the thin mast and low-slung hull of a yacht shelters below the shaded granite walls of Tinker’s Hole. As she swings on her mooring the sun catches her broadside, highlighting her like a gull against a passing squall.

At the far end of Tinker’s Hole I finally slow the engine to meet a heavy chop drummed up by the distant swell. There seems little point battering a course through the crests so I slip into the shelter of American Island before bringing the boat out to meet the swell in open water. She rises and falls comfortably despite my apprehension, I wait looking for a sheltered spot to fish but the current chooses for me as the boat drifts into Hell’s Kitchen, its outer reefs for once providing some protection.

In a single action I swing the tip of the fishing rod over the gunwale and release the guard from the reel. The weighted line and lures smoothly pull away from the spool as if unravelling a cashmere sweater. Ten or twelve meters below the lead weight touches down and I imagine a thud or the dull clank of metal on rock but in reality the only clue given is a slack line. Winding the reel I draw in the slack and lift the weight a couple of feet of the bottom. Now the work begins as I lift the rod and let it fall back, a simple movement I repeat with the relentlessness of a nodding oil derrick.

My vision of the world beneath is at best a montage of Jacques Cousteau’s films, memories of snorkelling, depths inked on charts and the time it takes for my weight to reach the bottom. I construct a map based on this rudimentary data and hold it more as something to aim for than fixed like the reefs or rocky shores. In half imagined gullies fish lurk or maybe stacked up in formation over some knoll as they hang in the tidal currents that whip around the island. Into this world I cast my line as a small act of faith.

Just as the weight serves to carry the lures into the depths it also gives tension to the line, a couple foot up from the lead a knot sends a small branch of line three inches out to a lure, a hook dressed with packing twine, insulation tape and nail varnish. Another eight inches up and the next knot repeats the pattern, altogether the rig holds four lures. Ignoring the translucent line the lures should appear like a small shoal of fish, all that is required to bring them to life is animation. Ten metres above as I lift the rod the lures spring to life rising and falling like an aquatic puppet show; this is fishing.

I drift in the current searching for an audience, the first tug comes as a wake up call and then bang another hit. I am connected, the urgency transmitted through the line and rod. I pump the rod back and then lower it to reel in the slack, after for or five strokes a silver flash emerges from the gloom beneath swinging pendulum like against the pull of the line. Clear of the water the fish becomes languid as if momentarily in awe of the this strange new world, unhooked in the fish box it briefly tries to swim but finds no density in air to aid its propulsion. I return the line to the sea.

Image above right: Reliance on the move
Image Below: A box of saithe

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