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Issue 21 - A life on the ocean's wave

Scotland Magazine Issue 21
July 2005


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A life on the ocean's wave

Dominic Roskrow explains his love for boats

I love boats. Always have done. Always will. Any type of boat will do: rowing boats on lakes, sailing boats, historic tall ships, liners, I don’t care; the combination of water and vessel is one that draws me back again and again.

And there’s nothing I love more than being surrounded by water, especially when it’s wild enough to be just a mite scary: the West coasts of Ireland and Auckland, New Zealand, for instance. Or the South West of England around Cornwall, where scores of ships have met their end on the ragged rocks, some lured there by wreckers, others manned by smugglers or pirates.

A fanciful, romantic view of the sea?

Quite definitely, and I often tell people that in another life I would have been a fisherman, oblivious to the very real dangers and abject misery that many fishing fleets face up to daily.

But I can’t help it, and despite the fact that I have a very international perspective on life, being on a boat is when I’m most aware of the fact that I come from an island race.

Many of my happiest memories involve sailing or being on the sea; from watching the catch being brought in at dawn in the English harbour of Grimsby (ruined slightly by the fact that they only caught five fish, two of which were luminous green) to sailing on the Classic Malts Cruise off Scotland’s West Coast last year.

And it’s that attraction to water and boats, I think, which prompts me to get out to the Western Isles as much as I can.

This all came to mind while sat in the drearily depressing Kilwinning railway station on a very wet and cold summer’s day waiting for the train to Ardrossan Harbour and the ferry to Arran. I’d been up since 4.30am, I was tired, hungry, cold, wet and fed up. And yet just the thought of getting on the ferry was enough to lift the spirits.

Caledonian MacBrayne – Calmac for short – tends to be the butt of some affectionate jesting. The catering in particular comes in for stick.

But for me walking up the passenger gangplank, or better still, clattering by car in to the ship’s belly as a blur of bright light, metal walls, oily rope and chains and yellow-jacketed ferrymen flash by, is the starting gun for a holiday. Even when I’m working.

The whole experience is a joy. They announce that the doors are shut and the ferry is to leave. And as soon as it does they open the bar, as if mainland rules no longer apply and we’re now operating outside conventional law.

My latest trip – once again a regrettably short one – was to Arran, and the weather was dreadful. So the ferry rocked and swayed, the sea took on an even broodier depth of grey, and most of our view was screened behind the squalls of rain and dark, threatening cloud. I reckon that Western Scotland is the only place on the planet which actually looks better in such conditions.

And even when the squalls and wind drove most indoors and to the safety of the bar area, I made the effort to go out front and watch the seas spray off the bow and the white surf seeth beneath the surface.

I have found that no matter how miserable I feel, such exhilaration sends vitality surging through the body and the cold air that rushes in to the lungs reflates the spirit like nothing else.

At the Arran distillery they told me that they never stop noticing what a wonderful place they live in, or take for granted the beauty around them. I can relate to that.

And every time I step off a boat of any sort, I’m counting the days until I’m back on water again.