Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Last trip in Ripples

The wee boat's gunwhales are disintegrating, she has a hole in the thwart, and her benches are rotten. Ripples, as we call her, has just done her final journey. Her years of floating service are over. Early in the morning, at high tide, we swept the snow off the blue wooden benches and launched her for the last time. Her last duty was the tour to the caravan to pick up an empty calor gas bottle, up to the bridge at the head of the loch where it was swapped for a full one, back to the caravan to drop it off, and then into a crack on the shore where she will sit high and dry as the tides fall away now that the moon is waning again. Once she has dried out a bit, she will be perched up-ended to live out her days as a shelter, a place to go and sit out of the drizzle and contemplate ripples on the loch. It was sunny as we rowed her up and down the loch, but as soon as she was abandoned on the shore, a squalling blizzard swept in, like the close of a film, as if taking a boat out onto the loch will never ever be possible again.

Monday, 17 March 2008


Each day for the past week I have been gathering seaweed from the shore of the loch. I have a big back basket that I made about 8 or 9 years ago, with help from a friend, at a weekend workshop in Helmsdale. It's a traditional creel made of hazel and willow, and when I strap it on my back I feel connected to generations of women before me who have trudged back up from the shore with seaweed for the garden. I am always amazed by how many strands of nylon rope and fragments of plastic are tangled up in it. I've now gathered 8 baskets full of bladderwrack - one for each vegetable bed, one to mulch the fruit trees and one to mulch the soft fruit bushes - probably enough for this year.

This morning it was low tide, and there was a film of ice on the weed. I watched it disintegrate in the sun, knowing that each sparkling crystal structure, the fractal coastline-pattern of each tiny window-pane, would last only a few minutes more - even if it survived the sunshine, the creeping tide would soon wash it into invisibility. One long, lingering, melting moment later, the ice was gone.

Monday, 10 March 2008


The pontoons at the harbour are being extended so the big boat, Vigilance, which normally spends the whole winter safely tied up, has spent the last couple of weeks in a precarious position on the shore of the loch. Why not on her summer mooring? Because the running mooring for the little boat, Ripples, has snapped and the broken chain can't be replaced until we get some fine weather. To make matters worse, Ripples' gunwhales are finally giving way so her days of useful service on water are over. The replacement boat, as yet unnamed, is not yet ready for launching. We can't leave Vigilance hanging on a mooring in the middle of the loch with no wee boat to row out to reach her.

So Vigilance is tied up on the shore, enduring the storms. She floats at high tide, and is beached as it goes out. Yesterday, as the water level lowered, she toppled over too fast, onto a sharp stone. Water dripped from the resulting hole. This morning, the pressure was down to 960 and it was two days after new moon - the resulting spring tide was enormous. This, coupled with a south-easterly wind, had tugged one of the ropes free. It is nerve-wracking and I'm just an onlooker, not the one tying the knots and wrestling with tyres and fenders.

The tide's been right out and it's coming back in again now. She'll be floating again soon. How much water is she taking through that hole?