Alexander’s boat

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It was the most dreich of dreich days. In the fifty shades of rain common to Scotland, this rain curtain had droplets thicker than mist but with the same density of mist. Weather to stay in the tent for a day.

‘Hello, good morning.’ We hear someone say.

Alexander opened up the tent. Outside our tent stands a friendly old man, a teenaged boy and an energetic dog.

‘I saw your tent yesterday evening, but it was already late. I thought it was better to greet you this morning.’ the old man starts.

We get out of the tent in full rain gear and start chatting. The old man, not wearing any rain gear and also called Alexander, told us how he took over the fishing shack and boat from his elder brother. Fishing for lobster to supplement his pension. At times he will fish for Pollock and bring some of the catch to the elderly in the community up the road. The twelve-year-old boy is helping him, just to have some entertainment in the summer holiday.

‘Are you going out today, fishing for the lobsters?’ I ask.

‘Yes, there are a few pods in the bay that need emptying but the tide is going out and I’ve got to fix the boat. The engine is not running great.’ He answered.

‘I love to see how it works, can we join you on your boat, this afternoon?’ I ask expectantly. ‘Och aye, if I get the old girl fixed.’ He said, pointing to the boat.

Patiently we wait in the shack, the boat is apparently not easily fixed. Time enough to make some good pictures of Alexander’s boat. The boat lies on its side most of the afternoon, waiting for high water. Just when we expect that it will not happen and start planning dinner, the old Alexander is ready to go out.

It is great, we haul some creels like a real fisherman at work on a lobster boat. Four of the lobster and two crabs are kept aside, they are missing some legs or claws.

‘They are dinner.’ The old Alexander decides. The rest of the lobsters are stored in the holding cages close to the shack.

We return after 22.00 o’clock. Back in the shack, Alexander cooks the lobsters and the crabs. We are provided with an old rusty hammer and two lobsters each. We crack this luxurious food on the dirty wooden floor. The funny thing is that Alexander does not join in this lobsters eating feast. He prefers his dinner with white bread and baked beans. We end the evening at midnight with a wee dram of whisky.

It was a great day, meeting people, learn something new, share a meal in the most dreadful weather ever.

As a tribute to this lovely elderly chap, my younger Alexander made a watercolour of his boat.

Charlotte Gannet

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Silence is a troublemaker

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‘Our thinking is like a boat on the water, pushed along by the waves and influenced by the wind.’

Hazrat Inayat Khan

And what happens to our thinking when the boat is on the water but there is no wind nor waves and only silence?

What does it do to your mind if this happens at the start of the trip, scorching sunshine and a temperature of 30 degrees? Yes, this does happen in Scotland! Blue skies, no wind, no waves.

My thoughts go haywire in the boat! I’m towing all the work I did not get round to do before the holiday, in a plastic inflatable boat behind my kayak. My boss is staring stern at me, like a figurehead on the bow of my boat. There are colleagues hanging on my paddle whispering things to me that slipped through my fingers. And I’ve got students clinging on at the back of the kayak. Some whining, others crying or looking seriously displeased. All blunders and mistakes of the school year pop up like seals next to my boat scaring me half to death each time they emerge.

Kayaking is a hazardous buzziness in fair weather, silence is a troublemaker in my head.

In windforce 4 or 5, with a bit more waves, the occupants of my boat cannot hold on in these conditions. I’m way too busy to pay them much attention, let alone rescue them!

My boss will be bashed from the bow of the boat and one by one my colleagues can not longer hold on to my paddle. My students stick around for just a bit longer, they need windforce 6 to wash off the back of the boat.

The sturdy imaginary inflatable boat lingers around until week three of the journey. It needs to be punctured on some rugged rocks. As I don’t want the plastic thing to litter the beach, I stow it deep in a recycling bin. #befantasticpickupsomeplastic, as my contribution to clean oceans!

With the weather fronts coming from the ocean, also the silence drifts slowly in from the south-west. With every paddle stroke I make, life and thoughts slow down. The vast nature around me nurtures my soul. Silence becomes bliss.

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Do you regognise this thought proces during the holiday’s? How do you cope with annoying thoughts hanging around like a cloud of angry midgies. Leave me a comment.

The love boat

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A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

— Albert Einstein or John A. Shedd.

I always tell my kayaking students, jokingly, ‘the best thing about this sport is that it allows me to yell and scream at my spouse’. And it is true, a rough sea and strong wind demand short, loud and well verbalised commands. But there is more to it. So in this blogpost, I will dig into the way’s, how getting your feet wet with your significant other will built a state of strong emotional attachment or love.

The landscape we travel through, with its rough exterior, it’s old ways and it’s fascinating lighting, invokes not only feelings of romanticism towards it, but also to each other. During our ‘working life’ Charlotte and I already do a lot together; walking, inline skating, kayaking and cycling are part of our standard routine. We always share our dinner. But over here, in this rough landscape and the self-reliant way of travelling, the relationship becomes more symbiotic. It would be so much harder to do this alone and there is a real need to tune into each other’s state of mind, especially during exciting sea states.

I truly noticed this romantic aspect when we took a friend on the two first weeks of our Orkney trip. She was a single woman at the time. Somehow, at least not continuous, I did hold a more reserved pose towards Charlotte. Less holding hands, fewer kisses. When the friend left and we were together again the trip became this over compensated, sweet, sticky romantic thing. Later, to explain it to a good friend, I described these three weeks as ‘The Love Boat experience, just like in the television series from the 1990’s’. So let’s explore our different facets to this love story.

One of the most simple aspects I see are the shared stories we created together. The encounters, with people and wildlife. The romantic sunsets and enchanting landscapes we linger along. The tough and testing times and circumstances we suffer. It builds a shared narrative and forms the basis of a strong “We-ness”. Besides the narrative that grows there is also the learning by experience together, that bonds. We are so used to teachers teaching us, where knowledge is transferred from a person with knowledge to one without. But out there you explore and experience together and learning becomes bouncing concepts and ideas of each other and therefore the learning is experienced as growing together.

But, like it is with all cruises, it’s a package deal and has limited space. Being locked in by the rain on a 1.2m by 2.1m tent floor, less space than our double bed at home, for a whole day. It requires flexibility in both limbs and mindset. Wiggling around each other to get some form of cooking done, arms through a small hole underneath the tent seam, a dangerous flame of the petrol stove just outside the tent. This excitement is alternated with the more intimate moments of trying to have a wee in a decapitated cider bottle on your knees in the cramped vestibule of the tent. Yes, normalising new standards, it’s all part of the game. For example; when I said once, ‘I love you’ after dinner, Charlotte said ‘Why?’. My only answer at that particular moment was ‘I love you because you believe that spoon is clean enough to use next time after you lick it off’. Like it is normal to do the dishes in that way.

Part of the package deal is also dealing with each other’s negative moods. I can be too eager and willing to move faster. Being with me for more than half a day stuck in the tent can be a pain. But the worst flaw in my nature is the dreadful cases of going home blues. Silent or emotional, with strong mood swings. I hate returning home. Charlotte, on the other hand, can be indecisive at times and in an ‘I want to go but not too wet please’ mode after a day stuck on shore by wind or rain. In most cases, there is no winning decision in that situation and it can clash with my impatiens. So it is a case of acceptance, not aggregating the mood too much and learning to ignore the unworkable bits of each other.

For me tuning in Charlotte’s state of mind is a key component for a safe journey. As part of the navigation, on and off the water, there is always the check; how much is too much. I really had to learn, a challenging day is not measured in wave height alone. Three days after we passed the Great Race, in high waves we crossed to Colonsay in relatively small waves. But Charlotte’s perception was the complete opposite of mine.

Rest me to only tell you about the symbiotic aspect of the relationship/journey. In the testing conditions of camping in Scotland, there can be a need for a fierce efficiency. Outrunning the rain in putting the tent up or cooking on the fire with limited space and a sandy ‘counter top’. It requires constant cooperation the one keeping the fire going and cooking while the other is cutting the vegetables in the right order and pace.

So who would have known that one of the good tips for relationship building would have been to carry a 75-kilogram kayak over often slippery rocks and twice a day? Some of the readers might say: “this is not possible with my significant other!”, but remember you have to train. I started with the simple stuff; like just catching her bicycle after a strenuous uphill climb on route to Santiago de Compostela.

One thing that shocked me the most is that she stopped taking my love tokens. I like to beach-comb her heart shaped boulders and stones. But Charlotte believes my love will sink her ship.

 

Charlotte I love you!

 

Alexander.

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The naked lady on the beach

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Look just a bit behind the set of teeth, the naked lady is on the beach!!

Travelling by kayak involves a lot of changing from one outfit to another. Usually, I have a dry set of clothes on land and a wetsuit when paddling on the water. This means that I have to be ready to change outfits anywhere. Since it is unlikely to find changing rooms or toilets in sight, I will stand in my naked backside in towns, parking lots, along roads and public beaches…everywhere,for the whole world to see…

Oh noooo, it’s so embarrassing!!  On a wet skin nothing goes on easily, clothes are always inside out and because I want to dress fast, I put my shirt on the other way around. I am quite conscious of my body shape. I just know that everyone will see me and have an opinion about my body. Off course I have a six pack! But it is well hidden underneath some other layers of body tissue.

I can sympathise with people who change their clothes underneath a towel but I have not enough room in my kayak to carry a towel that size. On the other hand, the towel thing is such a hassle, I can guarantee everyone will be watching. Looking for the moment the towel drops at the most inconvenient time. That will stir up some laughs.

My husband is always angrily commenting: ‘Stop acting ridiculous, nobody’s watching’. But then again, every time I have to change my clothes, even when it is in the middle of a forest and haven’t seen anyone for an hour, on the most awkward moment, someone passes with a dog, trying not to look.

Once I had an entire Tiree tourist boat passing by while I was changing into my wetsuit, never saw them coming. Arriving on the island of Tiree I heard I had quite a reputation for being ‘The naked lady on the beach’. That is too much of a coincidence, I think I attract it. Just think about all those holiday pictures the people on the boat made of me and my naked ass.

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During the years I got a bit fed up with being so stressed out about it every time. Was my husband right? Is nobody watching? Is it all in my head, the negative thoughts, the panic? So I tried to relax a bit more and change quickly and efficiently without the stress, and just mind my own business instead. I must say, I felt a lot better.

Today when we arrived at Inver Tote on Skye there were a lot of people visiting the derelict dynamite factory and the beautiful waterfall. Not all tourists came down to see the factory close up and were using binoculars. Coming out of the sea, naturally, I had to change into my land outfit. So I did, without even thinking about all the tourists. Only realising it when I heard a lot of whistling and cheering.

This only enforces my reputation of ‘The naked lady on the beach’ and I am proud of it! I have come a long way. Nowadays I am happy to make somebody’s day when I change my clothes.

Like a virgin -touched for the very first time

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I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn’t know how lost I was
Until I found……

-Madonna-

It’s intriguing how some text sometimes sounds so appropriate with the experience you have. After the very first day at sea, on our own, it felt like the first bit of the lyrics of this Madonna song. I was touched, to the point of being emotional by the awe and beauty of the scenery. I also felt relieved, although I was quite well prepared for the navigation, I still didn’t know what to expect. But at the end of the day, it all came together, like I found my passion.

Although fanatically*, we kayaked for just under two years now. The sea trips we made were visits across the Wadden, to the islands north of the Netherlands. Most of them, however, were guided by others. In the spring I had carefully introduced our club instructors to the idea that we were going to paddle in Scotland and they were not surprised or worried.

Starting this holiday in the Great Glen looked like the safe option, only to discover that Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy provide very little shelter from wind and waves. Also, the Caledonian Canal was quite hard to paddle. You are not allowed into the locks with your kayak, so there’s a lot of portage with heavy boats. Fed up with the locks we were eager to start on our sea trip and did quit the Caledonian Canal at the Gairlochy Top Lock.

So after a top-up of supplies in Fort William, we pack the boats near Strontian at the “Ceann Loch” (meaning head of the Loch) of Loch Sunart. This is our very “own” first trip on tidal water and we are excited. I have studied the Yachtsman’s Pilot to the Isle of Mull (Imray, Martin Lawrence) to the last letter.

The trip along the shores of Loch Sunart is pleasant. The narrow channel at Eilean Mor creates some interesting currents on the ebb tide. We also encounter our first seals, who are popping the curious noses out of the water when we pass. After the lunch and pushed along by the flood, we dodge the submerged rocks at Coal Charna on the east side of Carna. The eddies and whirlpools draw the rocks out on the water’s surface. In most cases, we could also pass over them in our kayaks but we are careful, courtesy of the current we have 2 knots of extra speed.

We enter Loch Teacuis for a good exploration. The flood drives us to the head of the loch. Returning to the direction of Carna is more of a challenge. Halfway, at a narrow section, there is a threshold of water, with the water level on the outside of the loch clearly higher. We need to push hard to get out of southern part of Loch Teacuis. At Eilean Chulaig we are out again and there is time to relax. The scenery all around us is breathtaking; the sun shines on the rugged wilderness, cute little seal pups with lovable faces surround us on the water, on the island fluffy Herring gull chicks waddle through the purple heather. Touched by the awe of the moment and relieved by the belief that we will be capable to successfully complete the trip, I am overwhelmed by emotion and it’s hard to hold back a tear that rolls over my cheek. All the training, all the preparation and all the reading about overfalls and submerged rocks, had built up into an apprehension and excitement. But now I could let it go, here in this moment of beauty and wonder. We found something that we really loved doing.

We leave Eilean nan Gabhar and start our approach to Carna, the island where we will sleep. The pilot states for this area; “The passages either side of Carna are among the trickiest bits of rock-dodging anywhere on the west coast, and there is still some doubt about the position of some of the rocks. In both passages, the tidal stream runs at 2 1/2 knots spring”. Still, we meet a man standing on the bow of his quarter million motor yacht. He shouts at us in despair “Do you have any idea what the safe passage is here?”. I can only tell him, that this is not the best place to be with a boat like his and that he should take a kayak or read his pilot.

While I bag my first Scottish Island, I think to myself; do not be afraid to go, the rewards are great. But practice your kayak skills and for the navigation bit; study like a nerd, from a book if that is all you have. You always can cut down on the information bit by bit, when you observe the system and get to know it more and more.

 

*By fanatically, I mean, kayaking twice a week and with a lot of courses and larger trips. Our training area is the Rhine river where large barges and the current make unpredictable waves and eddies. We had about 4000 km under the belt before we left for Scotland. As someone who is instructing people in the art of kayaking myself now, I can see that it’s difficult to reach a level where it’s comfortable to do your own trips out at sea, within two years. Besides the ‘on the water’ experience, I also studied a lot about navigation and the sea. I would suggest that you always consult an instructor or experienced kayaker before you set out and conquer the sea.