Farewell and Ahoy: Log of a Voyage, Part 2
IAN STEPHEN continues a voyage of discovery through poems, stories and music
29th July 2011. I’ve put some kit in my rucksack. There’s a camera and a phone charged up but I don’t feel much like sorting the spaghetti of leads in and out of video cameras and recording gear.
There’s also no need to take the navigation box. Someone else is doing the driving this trip. I catch the 12.35 bus from round the corner, and that should connect with the Sound of Harris ferry. Maybe my friend Donald will be on duty.
I’ve sailed to the Monach Islands twice. Each time it was with Donald, a skipper of the Berneray community boat Sealladh. For years he was talking about the trip – a short reach out into the Atlantic side of North Uist, in an open boat. And one weekend we made it as a small community and inhabited islands by camping and building drystone stoves for cracking fires.
Next time, we brought along a man who was raised on the Monachs. Children came out in a fast rib (there’s an image) and Angus “Moy” simply remembered when the school building was a school. I asked him for the Black John of the Blizzard story and he told us that one and more.
I join a steel yacht, Song of the Whale, fitted out for research, and the Cape Farewell team in Lochmaddy tonight. We plan to sail to the Monachs and on to St Kilda.
There’s a mantra we use, as a team, on my own vessel and on the community boats I sail as one of a growing team of skippers – “All plans provisional.”
Even on the East side of the Hebrides you’re never sure. Katabatic winds dive off Neist point and crash tides accelerating round the headland. The Sound of Shiants jumps up in a very lively manner and stops boats when winds back. But the west side is something else.
If anyone really understands the changes of tidal current in the Sound of Harris, please advise me. And even large powerful vessels have to run for it if there’s a change of wind direction out at Village Bay, Hirta.
But, of course, I’m thinking of previous trips to St Kilda, in various vessels. I navigated there, the first time, in brave El Vigo, returning via the Flannan Isles. I was commissioned to write a play to be directed by Gerry Mulgrew and felt I needed to see the archipelago and the waters.
But maybe I’ve been able to think more clearly when someone else has been doing the driving. Murdanie guiding the Cuma through the gap in Soay sound. Angus Smith taking long Elinca to a gap between Boreray and its neighbouring cold volcanoes.
I’m sharing images taken from crewing for Donald and Angus, at the Monachs and Boreray, St Kilda. And Norman Chalmers’s shot of the glimmer of Flannan Isles light, from a bouncing yacht on a building sea. But I’ve only a few provisional ideas of what I’d like to explore, this trip.
There will be an eclectic group of artists and scientists as well as navigators aboard. I know Gaelic singer Mary Smith well, her voice and her stories, brimming with knowledge and the finding of pleasure in people from home and away. I’ve never met Julie Fowlis, but her voice has filled this kitchen often, courtesy of the Bose speakers.
And Ruth Little, associate director of the Cape Farewell project, will be aboard. I look forward to continuing conversations with a dramaturg who knows the risks involved in shaping narrative as well as the clear gains. I hope to continue this small narrative as one member of a wee expedition.
Now I’m off to print out the texts sent to me from other island poets. I only trust electronic storage so far. It’s like charts – the digital world is bloody wonderful, but it’s good to have a bit of paper too.
Text Poems by Ian Stephen
The Harris bus is short
Pensioners banter long in the tooth
Not a claw to be seen
But my mother said you’d often see a goose on a seat
as the gear got a grasp of the side of Clisham
eyebright and kidney vetch
but it’s ladies vetch that thickens milk
by rye and bere and a colony of corn buntings
dulse dulls in dry warmth
it will shine maroon in broth
as residue of other seaweed tribes
filters to ragworm and in turn to dunlin
willieways come quietly close
delicate until punching pressure
not like a baby
It’s a particular three individual spears
dipping and trimming in nearly
and in present documented light
two islands of a known group
are bare to
but you know they possess summits
in drizzle and
a whole neighbour
machair spills a rough greening to the sandline
this is where sea gets eroded
but it kicks back on the other side
repells boarding boulders
tosses them like pups
a long way in
the harling’s gone so you see the join
bricks over stone
maybe one shift of scale was enough
market catch or temperature
will most of our developments look like
the accidental balance
the trapped fall of three chimney stones
fraying loose ends
of glass cloth
so copper holds
our stainless stuff
is fast up
this tidal creek
lichens have a grip
a weft of salt
© Ian Stephen, 2011
- Ian Stephen
- Cape Farewell
- Farewell and Ahoy, Part 1
- Farewell and Ahoy, Part 3
- Farewell and Ahoy, Part 4
- Farewell and Ahoy, Part 5