A year or so ago, Ms. YAFB and I went down to our local pub for a drink and met one of our neighbors, John. “Aha! Just the people I wanted to see,” he said, ominously. “What are you doing next week?”
In retrospect, we should maybe have treated his enquiry with a little more suspicion. What he was driving at was that at the last minute some people had dropped out of a little sailing expedition he was running on the square-rigger TS Royalist, and they were now desperately short of crew. The fact that Ms. YAFB’s and my experience afloat had hitherto been limited to ferry rides, rowing a dinghy round fishing lochs, and the occasional powerboat trip on Loch Lomond was not an excuse he would brook. “Can we give you an answer tomorrow? - We’ll need to see if we can reorganize work,” we pleaded. Twenty minutes later, we were booked up.
That trip was a hoot. The TS Royalist is a training brig built in 1971 for the UK’s Sea Cadets, and each year John organizes a charter voyage to raise funds to help youngsters from poorer families get the chance to spend some time on her. The deal is that 24 people join the 6 permanent crew and sail the ship themselves - with some instruction and supervision from more experienced hands, obviously. This involves going up the masts whenever the sails need setting or stowing, and living the life of a marauding band of buccaneers rollocking round the coast from pub stop to pub stop while draining the onboard bar of every last drop, getting very little sleep in the cramped onboard berths, and eating far too much. Needless to say, it’s great fun. Last year’s excursion was marked by heavy seas and high winds, not always in a convenient direction, and was something of a crash course. Imagine an encounter group tagged on to a king-size adventure playground afloat and you’ll get the rough idea.
We had such a good time that we fell head over heels in love with the ship and needed no persuading to book up again for this year’s voyage - funnily enough, with six others from our little village on the Clyde, all but one of them living within 200 yards of us, two of whom we’d never met before. It naturally attracts a lot of people who’ve spent time on yachts. My proud boast is that 99.9% of my sailing experience has been aboard the Royalist. She’d spoil you for other vessels. I want one.
The idea this year was to sail around a few of the Western Isles, then return the ship to the lower Clyde for her next assignment.
If last year’s weather was at times quite nasty, this year’s couldn’t have provided a sharper contrast. We joined the ship at Fort William at the beginning of a corker of a heatwave. She’d just traveled down the Caledonian Canal and was sitting at the top of a flight of locks called Neptune’s Staircase in blazing sunshine next to the western flanks of Ben Nevis. I took the opportunity to nip up the rattlings (the ladder-type construction that runs up the lower part of each mast) to snap a picture.
As it turned out, this year’s voyage was more of a cruise than a sailing trip - the strongest winds we encountered were force 4-5, not very long-lived, and not often in the direction we needed, as we’d 200 or so miles to cover.
One of the major highlights was a visit to the island of Staffa, which some of you may know as the location of Fingal’s Cave.
As Ms. YAFB discovered when she tried a bit of singing at the cave mouth, as well as looking stunning, it has amazing cathedral-like acoustics. There was an old gaff-rigged yacht moored off the island at the same time as us, so they made quite a pretty group.
Although we had to motor quite a bit of the way, we did get to play on the rigging a few times a day. Here’s me (on the right) out on the yard having just stowed the fore top sail.
It looks a little scarier than it is, as long as you dont get vertigo, obviously. We had quite a range of ages in the crew, the youngest this year being in his early twenties, and three in their seventies, one of whom will be 80 in three days’ time!
One of the other jobs I bagged was going out on the twiggy thing at the front to release and stow the jib and stick a daft little flag up on the very tip of the pointy end every time we tied up alongside. It has a convenient hammock attached in case you feel like a snooze at any point.
And yes, that’s a waterproof I have on there. We had about half an hour’s rain during the whole trip, and after long days of frying on deck marinaded in sunscreen, it came as quite a relief.
As ever, the whole experience was over far too soon, and we got back home last night. Having spent a week at sea bone-dry and scorched by almost unrelenting sunshine, we got drenched to the skin by a sudden thunderstorm of tropical proportions as we ran to get the ferry home. But when we got there, somebody was extremely pleased to see us.
So that’s where I’ve been, in case you were wondering. And now I have to catch up with what’s been going on after a week without newspapers or a radio, and just a brief glimpse at a telly when we were in a pub that had one.
I’m mortified that Ms. Palin’s decided to spend more time
killing things with her family, as I think a number of us were looking forward avidly to her candidacy in the Republican primaries. But I guess she may surprise us all yet.
I guess Iran hasn’t gotten much better.
It’s going to take me a few days to catch up with reading the posts made while I’ve been away, let alone the shenanigans in the Rumper Room and whatever the you-know-whos have been up to, so if there’s anything else you think I should know about, please do pipe up. And it’s nice to be back.