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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Rescued by Zorro’s mum

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Zorro just managed to escape this picture

‘When the infection is joint by high fever and shivers, this could indicate blood poisoning – a serious affliction in which medical attention is urgently needed.

Alexander reads aloud from ‘The medical handbook for outdoor pursuits’, while the rain pours down on the tent.

‘What are we going to do?’ I ask weakly.

The ring finger of my left hand is throbbing, looks violently red and is warm to the touch. This is bad. Alexander looks worried at me as he examines the red line forming on the inside of my left arm.

‘We need to see a doctor’, he mumbles and rumbles through the maps to find the right one, the one of this bird-watching-paradise-island on the west coast of Scotland. Alex examines the map. What are the options?

Scourie is the nearest town. But we don’t know if there is a doctor or perhaps a bus that goes to Ullapool, a bigger town 43 miles south of Scourie. Maybe we can hitchhike? It is Saturday, not the best of days for a medical emergency.

“What’s the time?’, Alexander checks the tide, ‘Until 11 o’clock we have the tide against us. No use to go now. Better have breakfast.’

The rain is not really helpful in this situation. Alex goes outside to get the breakfast stuff and extends the tent with a tarp.

‘But I am really not hungry!’ I protest. The thought of hot porridge is not ever appealing to me. ‘You got to eat something’, Alexander argues back. I know that tone of voice, no use arguing against it. He is in the crisis-solving mode. I am the crisis and he’s going to solve it.

I do my best with the porridge but it is quite a task.

‘The rain will ease shortly’, Alexander dictates as he watches the clouds. ‘We will move when it clears.’

Okay, I start dressing in slow motion, avoiding my damaged finger. I am exhausted after this exercise. No way I am able to roll up the sleeping bags and mattresses. Alex has to do everything. As I move in inactivity, Alex grows in efficiency. He is like Action Man in full swing. I feel grateful towards him for taking care of me with a small tinge of guilt.

At eleven we change into our kayak gear, another big task where Alexander has to help me in my tight fitting wetsuit. I want to laugh, for an outsider, this must look hilarious, but I haven’t got the energy to laugh.

The boats must be brought to the water. With my last strength and power of will, I carry the boat with my right arm. Alexander helps me in the boat. With a tow line, he connects my boat to his. I can hardly hold the paddle but I grid my teeth and go for it. In the water between the island and the mainland are some tidal races. Action Man Alex pulls me through all of them, I put my paddles in and out of the water just for show.
We float into the secluded bay near the town of Scourie and land on the rocky beach. Alexander immediately starts looking for a spot to put up the tent. We might be here for a while.

Am I hallucinating or do I really see Zorro on the beach? There is this guy with a long black coat and a big hat, throwing rocks in the water while a dog is happily jumping around him. He looks quite out of place in these natural surroundings, so I must be imagining things…

No, he is for real. Alexander walks up the beach, while I hang on his arm to go to the town, but Zorro is too cool to notice us.

As we walk up the road we pass a woman in a car, busy with her cell phone. Good, there is a signal, we can call someone if that is needed.

Alexander asks someone on the street if there is a doctor in Scourie. It is definitely a local, with only one tooth left in his mouth he mumbles directions we don’t understand. A little further up the road, we walk into the village store.

‘Are you alright, dear?’ the friendly elderly woman behind the counter asks.

‘No’, I answer truthfully.

The emphatic question makes me want to collapse in a heap at her feet and sob her shoes wet. But we are on a mission. As I stand there like the living dead, Alexander explains how a blister got infected on my hand and asks where we might find the doctor.

‘Och, she won’t be in, there is a weekend schedule’, the lady answers. We buy some ibuprofen, just in case.

We walk up to the surgery and read the notices on the door. No one home.

I sit down on a bench while Alexander walks up to the bus stop to see if there is a bus going to Ullapool. No bus, sobbing seems to me the right thing to do at this moment.

‘We will have to hitch-hike,’ Alexander concludes. I am staring at him with unseeing eyes. The whole idea sounds very unattractive to me. The only thing I want is to sink into a deep sleep where I don’t feel anything anymore.
‘Let’s walk back to the surgery to try some of the telephone numbers’, I propose.

With the mobile phone in hand, we start calling the emergency number when a car pulls up the drive. A woman gets out and asks: ‘Are you the doctor?’ She looks at me expectantly.

I’m wearing my trousers now for four weeks, I’m covert in stains, fever sweat on my upper lip. I couldn’t look less like a doctor.

‘No, not really.’ Alexander answers. ‘Is there a doctor coming?’
The woman explains how she forgot to pack her medication and she called the doctor from the car. She, her son and the dog are up here in a self-catering cottage.

‘Is Zorro your son?’
She looks at me puzzled and then laughs heartily: ‘I must tell him this! I want him to lose this ridiculous look for quite some time, but he won’t listen to me.’

A land rover stops near the surgery, the door opens and a pair of green wellies, a tartan skirt followed by a wax coat gets out of the car. Is this the local veterinarian?

‘Who is the patient?’ the wax coat asks full of energy.

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This story took place while staying on the island of Handa.

A birdwatching paradise on the west coast of Scotland