Wednesday, 21 January 2015

On the ocean, off the ocean

We took our boat Happy Daze out of the sea today. We left her in until November, and had some fabulous sailing early that month, but intended for her to be lifted out to spend the winter on hard standing. But we needed a calm day for the harbour staff to be able to lift her out, and basically there hasn't been one since November. Until today! So out she came, at dawn this morning.

In Pytheas' day, back in the Iron Age, they would have just hauled their boats up the beach after a high tide. No cranes, no hydrolic lifts. Around the shore here you can still see the dimples in the ground, known as nousts, where boats have been sheltered for centuries past. I walked down to one of them a couple of days back, at Camus na Fraoich (Bay of Heather) and watched the sea pulsing.

Sometimes it is hard to imagine how life may have been more than two thousand years ago. We know that the shore was important, and symbolic, but what did the people who lived here back then believe about it? Did they worship the sea? Did they fear it more or less than we do? They would have known it far better, I guess, and some of them at least must have had vast knowledge of how to navigate across it in order to take Pytheas on his journey.

I say 'take Pytheas', because it seems highly unlikely that he was sailing his own boat on his journey. Although he was an experienced mariner and had sailed extensively in the Mediterranean, there can be no way that a boat and crew used to working those waters could have coped with the high seas of the Bay of Biscay and North Atlantic and the huge tides and currents of these shores. So I assume that he travelled with boats that regularly plied these waters, hitching lifts or somehow persuading ships to give him passage. What kind of vessels were they, I wonder, and what purposes were they travelling for?

There are so many mysteries and so much different now from then. But the sea itself, that hasn't changed so much. Out on the water, I find it much easier to imaging the Iron Age. The currents and winds probably follow much the same patterns now as then. Most of the sea life has been around much longer than we have, although it was probably more abundant then than now. And the sounds and smells of the ocean are exactly as Pytheas would have experienced. I like knowing that I can watch the ripples, and make that connection back to his time.

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