The ferry from Port Ellen is running 45 minutes late tonight, due to a very high tide causing problems with the loading of lorries at Port Askaig earlier on in the day. As always with late ferries, there are few folk aboard. Those that are are mostly in the recliner chairs or upstairs in the observation deck where they can stretch out and sleep.
The seasonal-sister ship to this – I am aboard the Hebridean Isles – is the Isle of Arran, which has a little-known lounge on the embarkation deck where the habitual sleepers are to be found. But the summer season is over and the Isle of Arran is away to her wintering grounds leaving the good old Heb Isles in sole sway of the Sound of Jura and West Loch Tarbert.
With the late sailing from Port Ellen, the first call to the cafeteria was also the last as the crew were eager to go off-service and clear away the catering. I chose the roast pork, which came in a rich gravy with a hint of apple about it, the sort of diced vegetables that we called “Russian Salad” at school and a good portion of chips. 9.30 is late in the evening for a meal, but I’d been a long time since hot food at lunchtime.
Quiet, late evenings like this are when the crew relax a bit as well and some of the boiler-suit brigade emerge from below the waterline to join in the general craic. Today was also crew-change day, so some of the faces from the morning crossing had disappeared to be replaced by others; half the crew get changed each week after their two-week stint aboard.
I like the late crossings for the peace of the night. There has always been something special about night work for me. I think it’s a sense of having care for a sleeping, vulnerable world when the air is still, the moon holds her court among the clouds and the noise of the day is hushed.
Soon after leaving Port Ellen, and having safely stowed my supper, I went out on deck to a magic scene. The squally rainclouds had cleared , the wind had dropped and what was left was a mild, almost balmy breeze. The moon was left peering through a high, thin patchwork quilt (Oh, where is my Guardian “Clouds” wallchart when I really need it!) and the distant masses of Kintyre and Antrim could be discerned against the hazy sky.
I watch the lights in our wake. There, to the left, is the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse with a slow, steady beat of white. Further astern is the Rathlin Island, marked by its easterly white and westerly red lights. A car passes somewhere across Rathlin’s bulk, adding its movement to this littoral constellation.
Moving in front of the Rathlin lights and, by parallax much closer, is another light. This one has a more urgent rhythm of six short and one long flash before its dark wink. This, a crewman informs me, is the Otter Rock. I will have to find it on a map or a chart to place it now, fixing the constellation of sea-lights in my mental firmament.
And again people disappear from the canteen. There’s only me at one end, in my habitual seat, and one half of a retired couple at the other. The other half, wearing a ghastly flat cap, has gone off on some peregrination leaving her to some precious peace amongst the pages of the Daily Mail.
This quietness and calm is in stark contrast to this morning’s seven o’clock sailing from Kennacraig. In the midst of the normal cargo of public servants, German and Japanese whisky-tourists and commercial drivers, suddenly appeared a horde of teenagers bent on getting first place in the breakfast queue. There was a football tournament on the island today and teams from the three closest high schools on the mainland came over for the fray. They were well-behaved kids, which was just as well given that their teachers ignored them for the whole of the crossing. It’s reassuring to see normal, cheeky, well-behaved youngsters do no more than chatter and play cards – not a single one of them even seemed to want to go outside for a smoke, which was great to see. I hope they had a cracking day.
My day’s been good too, thanks for asking. I got done all that I went over to do and a wee bit more besides. I learned a lot more about oysters and met some nice folk, generally conducting some good business for a change.
Given that I’ll be home about quarter-past midnight tonight, I’m rather glad that I arranged to have tomorrow (Friday) off work. I can lie in and get up when I like; so long as there’s food for Her Maj when she gets home, there’ll be peace and harmony. We’re looking forward to a whisky tasting in the village hall tomorrow night with Islay’s Bruichladdich being the star of the show. Can’t get too blurred at the edges, given that I need to get down the road to Glasgow early on Saturday; getting the car serviced and joining (for my first time) some other Scottish bloggers at the blogmeet. I suppose I’d better be a good boy, avoid drinking and go home to my darling that evening. Much better than facing “questions in the house”!
So, what started out as a note to records a sea-scene at night, has become an eight-page ramble through retrospection, introspection and anticipation. Perhaps it’s just been the pleasure of writing with a pen again …