Saturday, 28 May 2011


Image Above: The bay from under the boat

Location: Isle Of Erraid, Mull, Scotland

There are warnings of gales in Malin, ……………

The storm was beyond merely waves, gusts of wind and rain; it had taken everything for its own. Ocean and air mixed in equal parts with spray and rainwater moved as if a single solid entity bending what could be bent and beating the unresponsive. We had made what preparations we could, clearing debris, weighting gates and taking our boat out of the water, but still there was an expectancy that something would give.

In the bay a single boat tugged violently at its mooring like an unbroken horse plagued by the unfamiliarity of captivity. I watched it from the cottage doorway, through windows, from the street, the pier and as I moved about the settlement. In truth I was waiting, but to some extent we were all waiting, all those who had seen the boat, and stepped out or in from the storm. Our concerns had become common currency, we asked or informed those we met about the boat in the bay until it became a greeting of sorts.

I know little about storms, for the most part I find them unfathomable, they lack the curve of sanity. To unpick their crime scenes is often senseless, who would take a block of granite weighed in the tonnes and shift it like a child’s toy while leaving the fragile heads of daisies un-cropped. To some extent nothing matters, faced with these odds, everything becomes at best just a guess or superstition, people have tied gates only to lose a shed or the bonnet of a tractor. Trawler men, out in the north Atlantic have rules for these days, and they tell their wives not run washing machines or stare soup, everything can be counted in or equally disregarded. I like the idea of hanging washing out as if it could prevent the felling of a tree, but all bets are off, and still the boat pulls at its anchor.

By mid afternoon the tide, which had been pushed by the wind until it had passed far beyond the chart predications, had begun to ebb. The swell from the sound no longer passed as cleanly into the bay as it had, as the shallow water kicked up waves into breakers. It didn’t help that the wind was following or that the boat was moored in the channel where the confused waters of the bay empty back into the sound. The boat no longer had the chance to recompose itself between crests and cut its bow cap through the top of every fifth or sixth wave scattering spray horizontally. This would be the hardest time.

The power cut came as the storm reached its peak, a few moments later the bars on my mobile phone disappeared and then the voices on the battery operated radio turned to hisses as the signal was lost. The world was shrinking back from the island we had broken our mooring cables and drifted into the eye of the storm. Phil came to find me and we headed into the garden to retrieve the doors from the poly-tunnel which had somehow spun their frame, ripping the plastic cover in the process and leaving them flapping in the grass. We wrestled them back into position and I left Phil hanging on to them while I went to find a hand drill and some screws in the darkness of the tool shed. We fixed the doors, Phil tapped over the gash and then we added fish boxes filled with soil to weight the frames.

When the dinner bell finally sounded on the street its tone was almost lost to the storm or maybe it was just someplace further off. I watched people braced themselves against the wind holding on to hoods that ballooned like spinnakers as they made their way up the street to the community’s dinning room. Despite the lengthening daylight and the room’s large windows, candles had been lit along with a fire in the grate, winter had returned. We ate and talked about the storm, other storms from the past, the swell in the sound, the cows who had spent the afternoon pushing their weight into the granite walls for shelter or to lend support, and then we talked about the boat.

Later when it felt as if the storm had began to ease I walked down to the pier to check on our own boat. The tide had not dropped as it should and I was concerned that as it turned and came back in it would rise and continue to do so until our boat, which had been pulled far above the high tide mark, would re-float. The electric winch, moaned a little as the last few yards of steel rope were wound onto the drum, pulling our boat further from harm. I walked to the end of the wide pier as if it was a tightrope making sure each step held contact and grip. The boat still out in the bay had made it through the worst of it and now it was just a case of hanging on. I watched out of compulsion and then in a brief moment its anchor rope went slack and it drifted with the wind and waves. I waited, unsure if it had just pulled its anchor a little, but the rope continued to sag and the boat gathered pace. I waited a little longer.

Collecting myself I ran back up to the street along the track watching the boat move like a balloon freed from its handhold and then the wind and tide took it from view. I found Steve on the street and he grabbed his wellingtons and followed. We half ran down the track to the bay. The boat was rocking gently on its keel in safety of sandy shallows. We bailed and then tethered the boat once again as a small group arrived from the street. Some had just come out for a walk others had seen the boat was missing from the bay and followed the wind and waves. It was safe now, and the watching was over.

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