Farewell and Ahoy: Log of a Voyage

28 Jul 2011 in Argyll & the Islands, Outer Hebrides, Writing

IAN STEPHEN sets off on a voyage of discovery through poems, stories and music

28th July 2011. Yesterday I took my own tools and my partner’s painting gear off El Vigo – the 50-year-old wooden yacht I’ve been renovating this year. The shipwright who did structural repairs completed his part some weeks ago. She is afloat again and seaworthy though some electrical work has still to be finished.

The first time I visited the St Kilda archipelago, I sailed Vigo there in the company of the musician Norman Chalmers whose grandmother was from Hirta, the Island in the group inhabited till 1930. And Gilles Combet, a cameraman who was wiling to share an arduous adventure in a Spartan yacht, built in Spain in 1961.

Ian Stephen (photo Mats Rehnman)

Ian Stephen (photo Mats Rehnman)

Sailing as a mate on the powerful steel yacht, Elinca, I’ve been able to return several times since then, in a bit more comfort.  The group of islands and volcanic rock stacks appears very different ever time. I have never experienced an area where the impassive islands make their own climate. The mood changes fast. This time I will join the sailing vessel chartered by the Cape Farewell group. Artists and scientists make voyages together and we consider how climate change becomes apparent in particular places.

For weeks and weeks I’ve been completely focused on repairs to my own vessel, El Vigo and to helping bring two traditional Lewis boats, owned by Trusts on the Isle of Lewis, to the stage where they could take part in links with members of the Tall Ships fleet, visiting Stornoway. The rewards have been immense. In spray leaving bows. In clear lines of small turbulence astern. But mostly in friendships, happening through trust and a sense of common cause.

Today, I’ll moor Vigo and return to print out poems gathering in my home which is a former sail loft. They have been sent from poets who come from Mediterranean islands. I’ve been invited to represent Scotland’s Islands by Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library.

El Vigo off Stornoway

El Vigo off Stornoway

Black cotton herring nets were mended where I’m typing now. The poems gathered in e-mails seem to me like migrating herring. I’ve not caught them and they don’t die when trapped in electronic formats. But they do seem to migrate along their own mysterious routes.

I’ll take the texts with me to Lochmaddy tomorrow. They’ll come where the Cape Farewell boat goes –  but with the aim of visiting the Monachs and St Kilda. One of my roles is to share the stories from these Islands with the Cape Farewell group. But I will also have time to read and think and consider why the compulsion to let language ring also brings rewards.

A few years ago, poems made over many years were translated into Czech by Bob Hysek. That close relationship made me reconsider what happens when a poem rings out beyond particular sounds in one language. Now I’m setting out on a voyage through a physical geography. This will happen at the same time as entering into the poems from Islanders in a sea I’ve never sailed. There is no way of knowing if the concurrent voyages will relate to each other. Maybe I’ve learned not to be anxious about this. Not seeking anything in advance of seeing.

I always feel happy and lucky to be in a vessel when the ropes are being let go. I have a very similar feeling now, gathering the poems sent to me to be shared in a new community.

Looking forward to joining a team in Lochmaddy. When that voyage is completed, I plan to travel on to join the poets in Glasgow.

Perhaps Robyn has a mobile phone with a number she can share. Sometimes I compose brief poems on a phone and send at once so they have the immediacy of a log. That is after all a record of a way through water.

Very happy to be in this group and looking forward to joining you in Glasgow, warm thoughts from the town of Stornoway, Outer Hebrides.

Ian plans to send additional material in the course of his voyage from Lochmaddy to the Edinburgh Book Festival via (if all goes to plan) the Monachs, St Kilda and Argyll. For Ian’s text poems written on the voyage, see Farewell and Ahoy Log, Part 2 (link below).

© Ian Stephen, 2011