Sunday, 27 May 2007

Boats: fun after all

Why I hated sailing ... 

I've never been a great fan of being in boats, much prefering watching them. From the hoose, there's a spectacular view of fishing boats and yachts, weaving their way across Bays Loch and going in and out of Berneray harbour. But, rather them than me. Not being a sea-person, and only seeing the sea for a couple of weeks every year for the first 20 or so of my life, it's always seemed an alien, somewhat threatening and dangerous environment.

My previous experiences on small boats have not been great. Most small boats immediately spell "cramped", with a lack of essential facilities e.g. bar, shelter, Wi-Fi internet connection:


My worst sickness - projectile vomiting the length of an onboard shop - happened about 10 years ago on a catamaran between Jersey and Guernsey (made slightly more acceptable by many of the crew also being sick). The year after I went overboard from a yacht sailing off Barbados and smacked the sea painfully. A boat trip around breezy San Francisco bay gave me a bad cold and sunburn simultaneously. I was stung by a jellyfish as I trailed my hand in the sea off Ireland (and a jellyfish sting is real pain). A barge trip on canals for a whole grindingly dull week literally drove me mad through boredom ("Why can't we go faster than 4 mph?" "Every canal looks the same" "If I see one more lock..."). And a journey on a recent birthday to Pabbay, an island a few miles to the northwest of Berneray, turned into an ordeal on the return, as we seemed to make no progress for ages against a choppy, stomach heaving sea.

And what if it rains, or gets choppy, on a boat with no cabin? Not attractive, is it?

Why I now like sailing ...

Yesterday I went to the annual Grimsay boat day, on a whim, with no intention of sailing. Grimsay is a sort-of island, in that strange region between Benbecula and North Uist when you're never really sure which island you are on. The day is the usual village fair mix of tea and cakes, burger barbeque, tug of war, idiots in 4 by 4 tanks parking stupidly, displays, buntings, old people gossiping enthusiastically, and a chance to meet your neighbours, work colleagues and people you get stuck behind in the Coop queue every week.

However, where this day departs from the norm are in the sea activities, based around the surprisingly busy and congested (with boats) harbour and the large boat shed:


The main event of the day is a parade of boats, many restored old fishing or peat-carrying boats. Amongst the array of sailing craft was a Berneray restored boat, the Mor Chaluim, which has been lovingly brought back into a smart and shipshape order by Fred over the winter.

The bright green boat was gently reversed into the water by Donald and Fred:


... and then sailed around to the harbour for Berneray residents to pile on. Despite looking small and crowded, I thought what the heck and piled in. I was originally given a bright yellow life jacket of size small (very witty, am sure)(and yes I did catch the comment about the sudden change in weight distribution when I got on board). This was swapped this for a worryingly thin lifejacket, worn around the neck, that resembled a long red sausage with a warning on one end "Do not pull this string". I didn't.

Then off we sailed, 10 Berneray residents (or 8 percent of the entire population of our island), in a tiny boat with utterly no cabin, bar or Wi-Fi Internet facilities, to participate in the parade. This involved the boats going round in a large circle in a sheltered bit of sea while judges had a good gander at the various entries:


And, surprisingly, this was both relaxing and quite fun. Helped by the banter on board (Berneray irony; you have to be there), and not affected by the lack of a bar (sailing turns out to be really thirsty work), we pottered around for an hour or so. No sickness, no ill effects, no lurching, bobbing, or clinging on to anything. Also, for a while, I forgot all about checking my email, filling my stomach, or whether I should have brought my Nintendo DS with me to pass the time.

Our sailing complete, we disembarked. Then off to the award ceremony, waiting patiently while the announcer went through prizes such as "Best welly thrower" (no, I didn't make that up) before getting to the big ones. And Fred won! Yay Berneray! In fact, he picked up not one but two prizes, which is pretty cool and a reward for his commitment over the winter:


I surprised myself by enjoying the experience big time. And, hmmm, am now considering doing some more boatie things over the next year or so. The boat club here in Berneray have this traditional boat with a great big red sail that looks spectacular as it shoots along the sea, like some kind of Viking warrior ship off to pillage and plunder the barbarian lands of Harris or North Uist. That now looks seriously good fun. Though I need to purchase more suitable attire first (and get some clothes on my next US trip that actually fit) I might, finally, give that a go now. 

Me, a sailor - LOL. Maybe it's time to have a mid-life crisis, buy a speedboat and terrorise the lobster fishermen.

There's more pictures from the Grimsay Boat Day 2007 available in a slideshow format. If you look carefully, you'll see at least eleven permanent residents of Berneray on them.


  1. Now, you're just plain wrong about canal boating. Don't think of a canal boat as a very slow form of sailing, think of it as a well-equipped caravan that your travelling companions can drive while you loll about, G&T in hand. Bored? Go for a walk (as long as it's in the same direction as the boat). Somewhere to stay for the night? Moor near a pub - what more could you want!Admittedly, your choice of travelling companions is important, but that's the same for any holiday.

  2. "... think of it as a well-equipped caravan ..."You've made it sound worse! I don't want to be an aquatic version of Margaret Beckett. The bit about mooring by a pub sounds sensible, though.

  3. carol chauveau29 May 2007 at 00:44

    just clicked on to this blog-brilliant photos-i remember meeting hercules in a hotel in auchterarder,perthshire late grandfather knew andy robins well.

  4. The set of pictures of the boat day are absolutely stunning! Everyone looks so happy. I had a tear in my eye when I saw the picture of the old man and the boy with the trophy - who was happiest?!!!Maybe it's time we made the move. You folk seem to have figured out what "quality of life" is.

  5. Back to Grimsay at Silversprite4 June 2007 at 03:31

    [...] a follow-up to the recent posting about the Boat Day at Grimsay, here’s a couple of other pictures from the [...]