Sunday 14th August 2005 - Bangor Marina (Northern Ireland)
18:00 Robin, Ruth, John and I arrive at Bangor,
at the biggest and most important marina in Belfast with about 600 moorings. We
are given a hearty welcome on the floating pontoon by Frank who invites us on
board and meet his wife Muriel, who is in charge of the galley.
Frank tells us that, as soon as the trip is over, Muriel will
be admitted to an orthopaedic hospital in Belfast for her hip replacement.
They keep a little bicycle aboard to help her move around when ashore. I admire
her courage in wanting to face up to this trip despite her painful hip. Frank
gives us all a safety harness, a talk on safety aboard and shows us the
instruments essential for navigation: radar, nautical GPS, two ways radio, tide
and current tables, nautical charts, compass, barometer and ship's log in which
all the events on board have to be entered during the trip. We are then shown
our berths. John and I are berthed in the centrally placed dinette. Robin is
given the single berth aft, Ruth the single fore berth, Frank, the skipper and
his wife Muriel, the double aft cabin with its en suite bathroom. Sea tradition
has it that the captain has the most comfortable sleeping quarters. At this
point I learnt a new English word, on board the lavatory is known as "the
Dinner, prepared by Muriel, consists of "Irish stew", a
traditional stew made with lamb, bacon, potatoes, carrots and onions, flavoured
with thyme, salt and pepper.
After dinner Frank informs us that he has left details of our trip with
the Bangor Control Tower and that owing to the frequently changing weather
conditions in that area during the trip the two way radio will be open for
weather updates. He tells us that he has consulted the tides and
currents tables and plotted our route for Port Ellen, on the Scottish
Island of Islay, about 50 nautical miles from Bangor. We are due to sail at
06:00 a.m. after having heard the weather forecast.
22:00 Frank supplies
us with bits of sheet and demonstrates some knots. The most important knot is
the "bowline", a good holding knot that can be undone easily. Then
there is the "round turn and two half hitches", used normally for
tying fenders to the rails and to tie up the boat to the pontoon. A
toast to our trip with a bottle of Laphrohaig, single malt whisky rounded of the
Monday 15th August 2005 – from Bangor Marina (Northern
Ireland) to Port Ellen (Islay - Scotland )
We leave Bangor marina heading for the Island of Islay, one of the
Scottish Islands nearest to East Coast of Northern Ireland. Sky cloudy but no
rain. Temperature 14 o C. Wind speed twelve knots. There is a
fresh SE breeze.
The Italian windrose
For our "Italian Wind rose " this wind is the “Scirocco”,
so called because in olden days it was believed to come from Siria. In Italy,
traditionally, the name of the wind derives from its direction in relation to
the centre of the Ionian Sea. For us a “Scirocco” is a hot wind that brings
hot humid and clouds, but at this latitude is anything but hot.
Ruth stows away the eight fenders that hang along the sides of the boat.
We head into the wind to hoist the mainsail, cut the engine and unfurl the
jib. Captain Frank is at the helm and details his crew to their posts.
Robin is at mainsail, John and I are at the jib, each to his own winch. Winch is
an interesting word because it refers to Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo invented
the winch (called “argano” in Italian). The story goes that it was the
British,in honour of Leonardo who called it a winch. Ruth is on a fender duty
both on casting off and mooring. Muriel, on top of her galley duties, keeps all
sheets in good order. At hourly intervals Frank details us, one by one, to
calculate and note Slioch's position on the nautical chart. To reckon our
position we use a compass with a magnifying glass incorporated, in order to see
the degrees from 0 to 360. Positions are taken from at least two fixed
objects, e.g. a lighthouse, a marker buoy, a tower, a church, a cliff
promontory, a rock etc. After taking a note of the readings obtained from
two or more of the above mentioned below deck, it is possible, with the aid of
two little squares to fix a position by tracing a line from each point to
where they converge. That is your position in that moment. Nowadays
we can obtain the same results using a GPS satellite, but Frank is an old sea
dog, preferring the old and tried methods to the new technologies.
navigational instruments indicate that the wind is rising to 15 knots and
the boat is making seven knots. After resetting the sails we all sit in the
cockpit and relax. Slioch is slightly inclined before the wind and glides
silently through the water towards her destination. For a while no one
talks. It is pleasant to listen to the waves breaking against the hull and the
whisper of the wind in the shrouds.
seal is sighted about 50 metres from us and shortly afterwards, slightly further
away two dolphins swimming in tandem.
As we sail near the coast a submarine emerges half a mile from us and in
open sea. Frank tell us that in this particular zone of the Irish Sea one can
often see them.
10:30.We leave behind the East Coast of Northern Ireland. In the distance
we see Rathlin Island. On the other side we can make out the Scottish Island of
Islay, our destination. We are leaving the Irish Sea, the North Channel for the
About half a mile out from the Scottish Coast we lower sails and
Frank starts the engine as we near Port Ellen.
We arrive at Port Ellen. It is a small fishing village. Some fishing
boats are tied up in port. Near the quay there is one floating pontoon. We
tied up without difficulty. We disembark to visit the town. I am interested in
seeing the fishing boats close up. One fisherman tells me that the majority
of their catch is made up of cod or haddock. I watch the fisher-folk,
men and women, gutting fish. The fish are placed in barrels. The unwanted
remains go into a bucket. The top
quality fish is sent to the fish market in Glasgow. I can see a seal
swimming near a fishing boat. With its huge head emerging from the water it
seems to be sending a message to the fishermen who understand
immediately. The remains in the bucket are tipped into the water. The seal
disappears beneath the water in search of its succulent meal.
Port Ellen: fishing boats and
the detail of a huge head’s seal emerging from
Muriel prepares an excellent boiled salmon with potatoes and cabbage for
Frank has organized a trip to see the most important and famous whisky
distillery of the island, the Bowmore distillery, that is situated about
ten miles from Port Ellen. We take a taxi driven by Aileen, mother of two
children and wife of a local fisherman. A large and friendly woman with red
cheeks, who during the day helps her husband to load barrels of fish and
the evening escorts tourists around. Half way there Aileen informs us that the
Bowmore distillery closes at 20:30, so it is not worth going there. However,
nearby there is the small village called Ardbag, where there is a smaller, less
famous distillery that produce an excellent whisky. Every Monday they hold a
"ceilidh" near the Ardbag distillery. "Ceilidh” is a gaelic
word meaning a convivial gathering to enjoy traditional music, singing and
dancing. The change of programme is endorsed by all.
We have enjoyed the dancing and singing and climbing into Aileen's taxi
we return to the boat.
Before going to sleep the usual nightcap with a dram of whisky, this
time is a Lagavulin.
Tuesday 16th August 2005 – From Port Ellen (Isle of Islay) to
Departure. The sky is cloudy but dry. The lack of wind means no sails so
we navigate using just the engine. On the left, "babordo" in Italian,
we have the island of Jura whilst in our right, "tribordo" in Italian,
there is the East Coast of Scotland with its lochs. While we sail, I notice a
weather phenomenon, which for me is unusual. However they tell me that here
it is a frequent occurrence. We sail between to different weather conditions.
Clouds and rain on our starboard side whilst on our port side the sun sparkles.
Far away there is a spectacular rainbow.
at Ardfern. It is a small picturesque village surrounded by a small island
with the advantage of being sheltered from the winds. There is an elegant marina
with moorings for 60 boats created by the use of new floating pontoons.
Besides these, there are about 300 boats moored by buoys nearby. They tell me
that this marina is fairly well known due to the fact that the Princess Royal
moors her boat, the "Silver Doublet" there.
We disembark and head for the village centre and the only pub in the
area. Naturally Frank and Robin, as serious drinkers who know their beer, praise
the quality of the local beer. To start with we all try a pint of Arrol's
strong, golden blond double malt with a high alcohol content and strong taste.
The second round a Tennent's Scoth Ale, a beer deeply in colour, strong and
On board, after the pub, Muriel's left hip becomes very painful, so much
so that she is unable to stand. Unfortunately we depend on her for meals. A
glance from my brother in law, John, tells me that that evening I would have to
transform from deckhand to galley chef. As a good italian I would have liked to
amaze everyone with a meal typically Mediterranean. I try to remember my
mother's recipes to make “cuscus”. However Murial tells me that Slioch has
neither "semola" on board nor the spices necessary. I have to think of
something else. Muriel gives me no choice! She informs me that the left over
boiled salmon “must” be used up. I
remember that my late mother, who was known as a great cook, never threw
anything out. When I was a boy and I used to leave pasta in my plate at
lunchtime, she never worried. It went to the icebox and in the evening I had it
for supper, fried together with beaten egg and cheese. It was very tasty!
As head cook I am heartened by the fact that there are plenty of fusilli and spaghetti
on board. I remember a dish that my wife Joanne often prepares. I could call it
"fusilli al salmone all'Irlandese". After lightly frying a clove of
garlic in the pan I add in the salmon salt and pepper and cook it gently. I then
pour a finger of whisky (the Irish touch), leaving it on the heat until it had
almost all evaporated.
Meanwhile I prepare the fusili "al dente".
When the pasta is nearly ready I reheat the salmon sauce and
add a cup of cream mixing it in well. I then add the “fusilli” mixing all
the ingredients together. I sprinkled chopped parsley and a little
"peperoncino rosso" to add taste and colour to the dish. The evening
ends with usual dram of whisky, this time a Caol Ila.
Wednesday 17th August 2005 - from Ardfern to Dunstaffnage
Nautical theory lesson. Frank explains that before making sail it is
important to know your destination, plotting your cruise on the appropriate
nautical chart from a starting point A to your destination point B. Should a
course be a long one containing natural obstacles such as island,
rocks, banks etc. from the starting point A the course must be broken down,
avoiding these obstacles, using set squares and a pencil until arrival
at point B. By adding the sum of the nautical miles plotted and dividing the sum by
the average knots made by the boat, one can calculate the approximate hour
of arrival. It is also necessary to make additional calculation and consult the
tables regarding tides and currents and then by means of the two-way Radio have
an update on the weather conductions along the course. In that stretch of
Atlantic Ocean the strength of the currents can reach over 7 knots. One knot is
1mile per hour. The boat's position is calculated and noted down every hour
on the chart ensuring that the boat is on course. What happens if you make a
mistake in calculating the currents? You could perhaps sail against the current,
and the boat, that seems to be sailing on, is actually almost at a stand still.
Mistaking the tides is even worse especially if you drop anchor to pass the
night in some shallow anchorage. You may find yourself awakening to find the
boat lying to one side high and dry at low tide.
You may find yourself awakening to find the
boat lying to one side ...
Therefore it is of vital
importance to know tides and currents especially in these seas. However nowadays
with the help of a marine GPS, computer connected to satellites, it is hard to
make a mistake. The GPS shows at any given moment the boat's position together
with the coordinates readings, latitude and longitude. The GPS in some way is a
substitute for the nautical chart because it shows depths, lights, lighthouses,
beacons, sunken vessels, banks, rocks, ports, coastal outlines and all that is
important to know for safe sailing.
We leave in a shower of rain. The temperature is around 16o C.
The barometer is falling rapidly, in theory indicating that the condition of the
weather is worsening. The radio on board warns that in our area there is a storm
in arrival. There is a NE wind that in Italy we would call a
"Grecale" because historically it was believed to come from Greece.
Our course for Dunstaffnage is about 340 o. We all wear oilskins,
safety harness and life jackets and, with Frank at the helm, we all sit in the
cockpit, clipped on the lifeline. The lifeline runs from bow to stern and
prevents the loss of crew overboard in heavy weather. We use the engine as it is
not prudent to use sail. The storm is on us. It rains heavily, there is a wind
of about 30 knots, the sea is rough. Slioch rolls and pitches but using the
motor brings us safely on towards our next port of call, Dustaffnage.
The storm lasts about 1/2 hour.
The wind dies away to about 18 knots. Frank tells us that we can hoist
sail using both reefs.
Rain and wind are increasing in intensity again. Our sailing trim is
close-hauled, that is to sail as much as possible against the wind. The wind
reaches 27 knots and it is raining heavily. The boat rolls and pitches. It is
very difficult to keep one's balance. It had been a wise move to reduce the
sail. Nearing the Straits of Jura, Frank, for safety sake, also starts the
engine because we are approaching an area where whirlpools are created, often
formed by the circular eddies of currents due to irregularities on the seafloor.
The worst is passed and the wind has lessened to around 15 knots.
We sail passed the Port of Oban an important commercial centre in Eastern
16:00 We approach Dunstaffnage. Dustaffnage
marina is slightly larger that that of Ardfern. There are several floating
pontoons with about 200 moorings plus another 400 boats on mooring buoys.I disembark
and take a walk along the pontoons to stretch my legs.I remember when I was
little my father Giuseppe (Joseph on English), took me to see the boats in both
the ports of Tripoli and Zuara.
I still remember the
day (as shown in the photo) when we, my parents and I, were in Zuara Marina,
with my older cousin Domenico Ferrante. You can see my mother holding in her
left hand a hard piece of bread , in italian called galletta. This
is the kind of bread the sailors use during their trips. It is very hard
to chow but good enough to keep for a long time.
Zuara Marina 1952 - With my parents and
Domenico Ferrante, my older cousin, visiting a shipyard
That enjoyment of pausing to look at boats has never left me. I can see a
boat with an oddly shaped hull built completely of wood, moored near us. It
seems to be a Viking longboat. I see she has a name “Aileach”. I take some
photos and then call Robin to show him the boat. Robin is extremely interested
to see Aileach there. Aileach is
very famous around here, so much so, that recently a book has been published
about her. Aileach is the copy a Celtic longboat built around the XI Century
A.D. to fight off the Viking domination of the East Coast of Scotland, the area
known as Scotlandfiord. She is equipped with 16 oars, a square mainsail, and a
double tiller at the stern in the shape of semicircle. She was purpose built in
a boatyard in EIRE to prove her sea worthiness in those waters. The experiment
was a success. Her first trip was carried out in 1991from Westport, Co. Mayo, to
Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides, the Islands off the North West Coast of
Scotland. The trip demonstrated that cultural and economic exchanges between the
Celtic tribes of Ireland and Scotland were established from the XI Century A.D.
It is known that the Scottish Gaelic and the Irish Gaelic share common roots in
the Celtic language.
Dinner. Muriel prepares excellent oven roasted breast of chicken with
Thursday 18th August 2005 – From Dunstaffnage to Tobermory
08:30 Another lesson in sailing theory.
John and I consult tables and charts and together with Frank we chart our course
10:30 We take on fuel at the Marina filling
station. I exchange few words with Martin the pump attendant. He is a young,
blond, likeable Polish lawyer from Kracovia, with a degree in international law.
He tells me he is living temporarily in Scotland to study and improve his
English. He found the job in Scotland through the Internet whilst still in
We leave. The sky is clear. There is a 15 knots westerly wind. Once clear
of the Marina and heading into the wind, we raise the mainsail, cut out the
engine and unfurl the jib. Robin, John and I trim the sails. Ruth and Muriel try
out new knots. We are sailing well. Frank praises us and says we have set the
sails well and that Slioch is close hauling well. With the 7 knots of the boat
and the favourable current of 5 knots we are making 12 knots on the surface,
equal to about 22 kms per hour. Slioch is making way well.
Frank hands over the helm to me. We are sailing close-hauled. I keep to
our course of 320o heading for Tobermory. Tobermory is the largest
town on the Island of Mull. We pass
through the sea canal that separates Mull from the East Coast of Scotland. As
Slioch cuts silently through the waves I can feel a fresh breeze on my face. It
is a wonderful sensation to sail through the straits with land so near you seem
to be able to reach out and touch it. The Mull coast is green with plenty of
grazing for sheep and cows. The wind carries the sweet aromatic smell of burning
turf from the chimneys of the few houses that we can see along the coast. The
sun shines in a blue sky. Temperature is about 23 o C. My sailing
companions are enthusiastic about the rise in temperature. They take the
opportunity to take off pullovers and remain in T-shirts and even cover
themselves with suntan cream.
We reach Tobermory. Tobermory is a colourful and happy fishing port. All
the houses are painted in bright colours, blue, red, yellow, pink, green etc.,
which gives an overall impression of sunshine. The BBC for this reason has
chosen the town as the backdrop for the children’s TV programme
“Balamory”, that is very popular in Great Britain. We decide to visit the
town and in the end stop off at one of the numerous souvenir shops to buy
presents and souvenirs to take home for friends and relations.
and Frank tell me they enjoyed the “fusilli al salmone” I made them and ask
me to prepare another Italian dish. I accept. Thinking about antipasti I search
the galley and come up with some sliced bread. I toast the bread and wipe a
clove of garlic over the pieces of toast and so prepare a type of
“bruschetta” that I decorate with olive sauce.
the main I prepare “spaghetti alla carbonara”.
Frank informs us that the day after he wants to head for the Island
of Canna, which is the most northerly of our ports of call, but first of all he
wants to stop at the Island of Rum, to let us visit the Castle. He asks John and
myself to plot our course for Canna, without using the GPS. Once alone we
consult both the currents and the tides tables and listen to the weather
forecast, we calculate that our estimate time of departure is 10:00 o’clock.
After our stop over on the Island of Rum, our estimate time of arrival is around
18:00. I go to bed. I am tired but happy to have learned so much.
Friday 19 August 2005 – from Tobermory to Canna
Set sail. The weather forecast is good. The sea is calm. There is a SW
wind of around 13 knots. In Italy this is the “Libeccio” wind, because
according to the ancient times it came from Libya. With us is a wind that is
generally the forerunner of a bad weather. Our course for the Island of Canna is
about 345 o. The wind is on our beam and, as we are sailing off the
wind we set the sails accordingly.
sail past the Island of Muck and the Island of Eigg.
14:30 We near
the Island of Rum and we sight Kinloch Castle, built in 1897 by a rich and
extravagant industrialist,who paid the workers more money if they wore a kilt
whilst working on the construction.
approach the quay on the Island of Rum with the intention of visiting the
Castle. Frank requests a permission via radio to tie up along side to allow us
to visit the Castle. Permission is granted. However we find out that the Castle
closes at 14:00. We walk round the outside of the Castle and peak in through the
downstairs windows. As any self-respecting castle, this one has its ghosts.
Unfortunately during our visit an army of midges attacks us. The midges are the
guardians of the castle and rout us without truce back to the boat.
at the Island of Canna, our most northerly port of call. Here there is no port,
so we drop anchor sheltered from the wind. I see 4 or 5 houses along the coast,
a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church, green fields, sheep and cows.
over in the galley and prepares a delicious Shepherd’s Pie.
Frank is sitting at the chart table immersed in his calculations for
plotting course and timing cast off for the following day. We are sitting in the
cockpit with a 1/2 glass full of whisky, Lagavulin, Robin's favourite, watching
the sky. The sky is calm. The sun is set and darkness is gathering. The first
stars appear. Behind the hill, in front of us, a glow appears in the sky and
gradually the moon appears. It is a full moon. Its appearance is magical and
because if its reflection in the water it seems that there are two moons instead
The two moons
In the distance we can make out lights from houses and far off bell like
sounds from the sheep and cows grazing on the hill.
I can see Muriel intent on soaking the oats. In another basin she puts
dried and stoned prunes and covers them with waters. She tells me that
tomorrow’s breakfast is porridge, a traditional Scottish and Irish dish. The
oats will soak all night.
Saturday 20th August 2005 – From Canna to Ulva
Muriel is at the stove intent on preparing porridge for breakfast. She
says she has added salt to the oats and brought them to the boil. Now she stirs
the porridge over a low heat until it becomes creamy. She adds the prunes. The
she sews up the hot steaming porridge adding fresh cream at the last moment. She
tells me that prunes and cream are her own special additions to the traditional
weigh anchor. It is a beautiful sunny day with few clouds and the sea is calm.
There is a light 15 knots NE breeze at 315 o. We would call it
“Maestrale” because traditionally it came from Rome, city of command.
Because we are on a SW course, that is 225 o, we are sailing with a
beam wind. Robin, Ruth, John and I trim the sail to the wind. Boom and mainsail
are set slightly to port and the jib eased.
We anchor of the island of Treshnish, a group of rocks. The air
temperature is 26 o. It is considered very high for this area. We
take off our heavy gear and remain in T-shirts. As I run on suntan cream I
admire the aquamarine colour of the sea and I am tempted to put on a swimming
trunks and go for a swim. Good sense prevails over instinct because the
temperature of the water is around 15 o and I am certainly not used
to swimming in seas that cold. Meanwhile Ruth and Muriel have prepared ham,
tomato and salad sandwiches.
suggests practice in man overboard using sails only. He throws a fender
overboard and demonstrates the correct manoeuvre necessary for the rescue of a
man overboard. In turn we all repeat the exercise well enough to meet with
15:30 We motor towards the Island of
Staffa, famous for Fingal’s Cave and the fascinating basalt rock formation. Suddenly Ruth calls out. She has seen the fin of a shark
about 50 metres from us. With excitement she points to the dark shadow of the
shark in movement. Frank immediately cuts engine. The shark seems to move with
menace towards us and we have just enough time to see the huge shape slip
silently under the boat. It is a shark of about 4 metres in length and 90
centimetres broad. We watch it as it moves off undisturbed in search of food. It
is a basking shark. Frank assures us that it belongs to an innocuous breed that
feeds exclusively on plankton. It is a protected breed and he has seen others
like it before. The biggest can reach up to a length of about ten metres.
The basking shark
We reach the Island of Staffa. As all
the islands in the area, it is composed of spectacular columns of basalt,
irregular hexagonal formations created by the cooling and the contraction of hot
lava. These columns are a continuation of another formation found more then a
hundred miles away in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it
that a giant named Fingal ruled the island. His cave is found in the south side
of the island. It was his home.
Carved out by the sea, this cave inside appears to be constructed as a cathedral
built on columns of basalt. It is said that the composer Mendelssohn draw
inspiration from the cave after his visit to Staffa for one of his most
beautiful works , “The Hebrides”.
Staffa Island – Fingal’s Cave
After dropping anchor in a small bay, John, Robin, Ruth and I
reach the island by tender. They consider me
fortunate to reach the island at the first try because they have tried eight
times. This is only the second time they have actually managed it. Previously,
weather conditions were so bad that it was impossible to reach the island. On
our return to the boat, Muriel welcomes us for teatime. She has prepared tea and
biscuits for all.
We reach the Isle of Ulva. We drop anchor in a sheltered inlet in a
channel. In the distance we see two houses. Frank says the Ulva is a small,
privately owned island. The owners are the Howard family. It seems that there
are only 16 inhabitants. The make a living raising cattle, fishing, oysters and
ecological tourism. There are no roads, no motorized vehicles, only dirt tracks
Muriel produces a traditional Scottish dish, called Haggis, for the
evening meal. Haggis is a meal that requires time to be prepared. However she
has three precooked packets, each for 2 persons, bought at the supermarket. She
tells me that it is Frank’s favourite dish, and she gives me the recipe.
Haggis is a spicy sausage made up of bits of lamb and mutton including offal,
which is steam cooked. As an Italian I am fascinated to know the ingredients of
Haggis. Here they are ! Mutton or lamb’s intestine, oat meal, chopped boiled
lamb’s liver, meat broth made with chopped heart, lung and offal, chopped
onion, salt and lots of pepper. Toast the oatmeal then mix all ingredients
together except the intestine. Add the broth. Then half fill the intestine with
the mixture. Squeeze out the air and sew up tightly. Steam cook for 4 to 5
Following this kind of meal, John suggests a dram of whisky this time
Sunday 21st August 2005 – From Ulva to Caol Ila
I awake to see Frank listening to the weather forecast. I see him
thoughtful. The forecast is not good. A gale is forecasted Monday night. The day
is windy but for the moment conditions are fair.
anchor. Head South. The wind is at 15 knots SW. We raise reefed sails. Frank,
always prudent, tells us to take in all three reefs. Practically speaking we are
using ˝ the mainsail and ˝ the
jib. We sail close-hauled. We have done well to reduce sail because the wind is
strengthening and it is starting to rain. While Frank remains at the helm we go
below to put on oilskins and safety harnesses. 09:30. While Frank goes below to
put his oilskin, Robin takes the helm. The wind increases. It is now reaching 25
to 28 knots and despite 3 reefs we are heeling before the wind. I see Robin
looking at me grinning. The boat’s speed and strength of wind is exhilarating.
On our safety lines we move to the highest side of the cockpit to provide
counter balance against the list. In worsening conditions to prevent losing
control of the boat, heeling is reduced by heading into the wind, letting the
sails flap to reduce speed. If the wind continues to increase it is prudent to
lower sails and use only motor. 11:30.To starboard, lost in mist, we can see the
island of Colonsay 12:00. The temperature falls and cold set in. It is raining
heavily. Ruth and Muriel make us along with the usual sandwich a lovely mug of
hot soup, scotch broth, made of mutton, leeks, turnips, carrots, onions,
parsley, salt and pepper.
The wind is still blowing strongly, the rain incessant and, in turn, we
take the helm. We pass by the Isle of Iona, but can only get a glimpse because
the mist has also risen. This island is famous for its ancient abbey founded by
Saint Columbus, an Irish missionary who helped to introduce Christianity to
14:00.We hear the crackling sound of the ship’s radio starting the
weather forecast with the traditional announcement “To all ships, to all
ships, to all ships”. The forecaster warns of a low front in our area and that
the wind could swing around 90 o from SW to NW. The weather
conditions are not improving and Frank is in a hurry to reach a safe haven,
sheltered from both SW and NW winds as soon as possible.
Instead of our planned destination, Port Askag, Frank decides to shelter
at Caol Ila on the Island of Islay, 3 miles north. Caol Ila is in a channel and
has no port. We tie up to a metal mooring buoy shaped like a barrel of whisky.
The current is strong in the channel but we are sheltered near the coast, where
we see some houses and a distillery. Here they produce Caol Ila whisky, the same
whisky we drank a few nights ago. Frank tells me that the name comes from the
Gaelic and means the stretch of the sea that separates the Island of Islay and
the nearby coast of Jura. The distillery was founded in 1846 by Hector
Henderson, who chose this still unspoilt place because of the waterfall of pure
water, using it both as an ingredient for the whisky and for the distillery
Ruth and Muriel prepare another traditional British dish. Fish-pie.
21:00 We are sitting in the cockpit to
enjoy a dram of Caol Ila. The distillery that we can see from the boat is a
construction with a front glass, so we can see the three big copper pot stills
that are used in the distillation of pure malt whisky
Caol Ila distillery
Robin, who is a connoisseur of whisky and it’s history, tells me that
the name “whisky” comes from Gaelic and means “water of life” (aqua
vitae in Latin). Whisky has been produced in Scotland since the XV century A.D.,
if not earlier. For a long time its distillation was considered illegal,
consequently, he tells me with a sly smile in his face, knowing the character of
the Scots, a lot of illegal distilleries were set up. Only in 1823 was the
production and sale of whisky was legalized. The pureness and the quality of the
water are considered essential elements in the making of a good whisky. In fact
many Scottish distillery are found near not calcareous springs. The Scottish
production is divided in whisky made with pure malt, single malt, cereals or
grain and mixed whisky or blended whisky. Whisky made from pure malt is without
a doubt the most traditional and considered the best. Whisky made from grain is
a mixture of malted barley and not malted grain, with a shorter maturing time
that of malt. Blended whisky is the most well known because about 95% of
whisky sold in the world is made up of blended, or a mixture of various types of
I go to bed a thought comes into my head. A week has passed without reading the
daily newspapers and watching television but the most important thing is I
haven’t missed them.
Monday 22nd August 2005- From Caol Ila to Bangor Marina
The weather forecast from the radio on board is alarming. There is a gale
warning for the area around the Island of Canna, where we were two days before
and the more northerly Island of Skye. There the winds are reaching up to about
50 knots. We are slightly worried. We hope that the storm doesn’t reach us.
Frank says that his original programme was to stop over at Glenarm, a small port
on the east coast of Northern Ireland. Stay one night and then head for Bangor
but with a storm in the offing and the low pressure due to continue for some
while, he wants to anticipate the return home. He asks us if we are in
agreement. The question is rhetorical and we reply that we have complete faith
in his judgement. We are about 60 miles from Bangor Marina and if all goes well
we will arrive late in the afternoon.
We motor on with Frank at the helm and the sails lowered. There are gusts
of rain and it is quite cold. There is a strong 30 knots SW wind against us.
There is a rough sea and Slioch is pitching .We are all in boots, well covered
with oilskins and our safety harnesses are clipped on to the lifeline.
John, at the helm, tells us that the motor is missing and there is risk
of it cutting out. We tell Frank of the problem. He checks the engine. He thinks
that the fuel filter is dirty and replaces it. The motor picks up.
The climatic conditions are slightly better. The wind has fallen and the
rain has eased off. We take turning at the helm and slowly we near the Northern
Irish Coast. Muriel, who sings well, sings some Scottish and Irish folk songs.
Her happiness is contagious and we all join in. From these we move to Italian.
Muriel begins to sing “Volare, oh oh”, “Lo sai che I papaveri”, “O
sole mio” and lastly “Santa Lucia...”
Italian I am touched and lend myself to singing as soloist.
We are reaching the Northern Irish Coast and the weather is decidedly
better. There is still a sea on, but it is not raining and the wind has dropped
to 20 knots. Frank for prudence sake, prefers to motor.
We are almost at the end of our trip, we are about an hour out of Bangor.
The wind has dropped away to 15 knots and so we raise sail and cut the motor.
We arrive at Bangor Marina. Our trip is at an end.
Friday 26th August 2005 - the
flight from Belfast to Rome (Ciampino)
I am on the Easyjet flight form Belfast to Rome-Ciampino. Today is my
57th birthday. I am sitting beside the window rereading my notes in my note pad.
The passenger next to me is reading an Italian newspaper. I glance at
the headlines. An increase in unemployment and the Public Debts, A bomb has
exploded in the centre of Bagdad causing 75 deaths. The Hurricane Katrina
has caused deaths and disaster in New Orleans. Depressing news. I go back to
my notes and they lift my spirits. I can lose myself in them. My thoughts go
back to those days on the boat. They have passed so quickly, without
newspapers or television, in friendly company. I believe that those days were
truly magical. From the plane the sky is turquoise and there are strange
cloud formations, illuminated by the sun's rays. While I watch them it
occurrs to me that my youthful day dream, whilst lying at the edge of the of the
sea at the Lido Vecchio, has finally happened and that no one can take this
memory away from me. Meanwhile the plane banks and begins to descend and will
shortly touch down. It is back to normal life and quite rightly so. In a few
hours I will be back with my family. A different kind of enjoyment but a very
great joy none the less.
Our sea trip