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Issue 8 - Onthecrestofawave

Scotland Magazine Issue 8
May 2003

 

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Onthecrestofawave

MAXWELLMACLEODSHARESTHESECONDINSTALMENTOFHISADVENTUREONTHECALEDONIANCANAL

It’sgreatfinallytogetinthesailingrecordbooks.Yep,Imadeit.Single-handedacrossScotlandinwinterina21-footsailingyacht.Probablythelastyachtofthe2002seasontomakethe60-milelochandcanalrunfromFortWilliamtoInverness.EllenMacArthurshiftover.Wha’syerSirFrancisChichesternoo?NowIcandiehappy.

Stay-at-homekindoffolksmightaskwhyIwasnutsenoughtomakethe60-miletripinthemiddleofNovember,giventhatIhaveaperfectlygoodroadtrailertotakemy40-year-old21-footuptoherInvernesswinteringyard.IcertainlythoughtIhadmadeaweeerrorinjudgementwhenIwokeuponthatseconddayoftheepicvoyage,tieduptothealuminiumjettyattheweevillageofFortAugustus,exactlyhalfwayupthecanal.Itwaspishingitdown,Lochabersunshinebythegallon.

Mindyou,FortAugustusisagreatweevillage,oneofhalf-a-dozengemsbisectedbythe150-year-oldcanal,andinthesummermonthsitiswell-servedwithcycletracksandboattripsandshopsandpubsandallkindsofutternonsense.

Butitwaswetthatmorning.Andcold.Andwindy.Imean,we’retalkingforcesevenshere,eveneights.

Ithadnotbeenapleasantnight.WhatamItalkingabout?Ithadbeenanutterlyhellishnight.TheremusthavebeenfolkssleepingoutonthepavementsofBombaybeingsnuffledatbyrabiddogswhohadhadbetter.

Myfirstproblemthatnighthadbeenwhattowear.Now,yousee,whenyouaresleepinginaweeboatinthemiddleofagale,youcan’tjustliethereallnightthinkingnothing’swrong.Nosir,youhavetobeupwithyourweetorchintherain,checkinglines,checkingyou’veturnedthegasoffatthecylinder,andthatnonastymenarecomingtostealtheboat.Iwish.

Andwhattowearforsuchrisingsisquiteachallenge.Puttingonyouroilskinstakesages;goingupinyoursky-bluethermalsisunwisewhilsthoppingaroundonthepontoon,wrappedupinthestormjiblikesomecommunity-careversionofMahatmaGhandi,andwillcausetalkinFortAugustus.

Andthenyoucan’tgetbacktosleep.Ididmybest.Idrankwhisky.Ireadabook.IphonedawomanIsort-ofrememberedinNewYork.Itturnedoutshedidn’trememberme.SoIdrankmorewhisky.Andreadabook.IwasthatlonelyInearlyphonedthespeakingclocktoconfirmitwasstillonly4.30am.

Andstillitrained.Andstillthehalyardsclackedthemastandtheboatgraunchedandgroundawayattheedgeofthedockuntilthefenderssquealedlikeowledrabbitsandthemooringlinespingedandjuddered.

AndthenIhadacallfromGod.Well,notGodexactly,butOrkneyAlastair,theskipperofthefishingboatthathadlainbesidemethenightbefore,andwhoturnedouttobeGod’sdirectrepresentativeonthatwretchedmorning.

Now,Alastairisalegendinhisownlifetime,afishermensogiftedintheartofstorytellingthateventhegreatGeorgeMackayBrownusedtositathisfeet.

AndtherewasAlastaironthedockatsevenbellowinglikeabullthatifIcouldonlyeasemyselffrommystickyscratcher,hewouldbuymeaheart-attackbreakfastatthenearesthotel.

Whataman.Whatagiftforgoldenprose.Attackingblackpuddingswithgusto,heregaledmewithstoriesofhowinearlierdaystheCaleyCanalwouldseefishermenrunitsentirelengthinaday,workingthelocksandsingingshantiesastheyburledthewindlasses.Ofhowhe’dseensea-goingtrawlerspunchingintosquadronsofshortwavescomingoutofFortAugustusandturningbackwithscupperedscuppers.Talesoffishingskipperssowickedtheywouldscareswackmentotearsandjessiestoquit,boatssotoughthatthemenwhobuiltthemneverhadtobuydrink.

SoonIwastitteringathisnonsense,andthenlaughing,untilfinallyIwasthathappythatIwasreadytofighttherain-seededgale.AndAlastairwinkedandtoldmenotto.

Hesaidthatthegalewouldbeoverbythefollowingmorning,andthatmybestplanwastospendthedayattheFort.InthemorningIshouldwalktotheheadland,gazeupthe20milesof300-foot-deeplochandplanwhatIwoulddoineveryconceivablecircumstance.It’slittlewonderthatthestorytellerswouldsitattherighthandoftheclanchiefs.Thefollowingdayitwasgrand.Justgrand.IndeeditwasprobablythebestdayofsailingIhaveeverhadinmylife.

LeavingFortAugustus,Iwasthrilledtofindthemid-morningwindrisingatmybackandawhitewintersunbathingmewithwarmth.SoontheCoinbrawasgurglingwithpleasureandIwasjumpingaroundlikeamonkey,raisingspinnakers.

LochNessisindeedanextraordinaryloch.Nevermindtheruddymonster,thisisaspecialplace.Soblack-deepthatscientistsareforevertrawlingitsmirkydepthsformarineoddities,sosilver-longit’shardnottobelieveyouareatsea,andsohauntinglybeautifulthatasummer’sdaymayseeasmanyas100charteryachtsplayinginitsloveliness.

AndintheafternoonthegloriousCastleUrquhartcameintosight.IndozensofLochNesscrossingsIhaveyettomanagetosailpastwithoutdroppingintowanderdreamilyarounditsoncebloodybattlements.

Gazingupatthehillsbehindthecastle,IrememberedhowlastspringIhadwrittenapieceaboutcyclingalongthenewpathrunningthe70-milelengthoftheCaledonianCanal,agreatweekendofgaspingupsteepinclinesandthenroaringdownstunninglysteepforesttracks.

Imadetheshortjourneyovertothesmallcommunity-runharbourofDrumnadrochittorestupforthenight.Thisexcellentfacility,whichcostsamere£6anight,isperfectforvisitingboththecastleandthedynamicvillageofDrumnadrochit,andispopularwiththosewhohiretheeasilymanagedcanalcruisersrunbyCaleyCruisers.ItisalsoabaseforLochNessMonstercruisers.

Andsocamethemorning,andwithittherealisationthatitwastobemylastonthejourney.Withaheavyheart,Iwanderedupthelast10gloriousmilesandthroughthecanalsofInvernesstoourwintermooringyard.

SailingdowntheCaledonianCanalinmidwinterishardlyanactivitythatIwouldrecommendtothecasualvisitortoScotland,butIhadenjoyedthechallenge.

Forthisiswildcountry.Rawandwild,andpopulatedbyathrawnracewhooftengettheirpleasuremorefromfellowshipthanmaterialobjects,morefrommusicthantelevision,andmorefrommeetingthechallengeofsurvivalthanbuildingupsumsofmoneyinthebank.

Youknow,Ilovethisland.AndthissummerI’llbetakingCoinbraoutofthatmooringyardandsettingoffagainonmywanderings.

Icanhardlywait.