Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Bowling Beach and Margaret

I’m picking up the blog again after coming somewhat undone with Clyde to C…
Never mind, all journeys are good and it seems I’ll get a chance to gather my waters after all, setting off with Colin and Ann on their barge Missee tomorrow, Wednesday, headed for Ardrishaig. Meanwhile come for a walk on the beach with me… a letter to my sister Juliette.
(You can also see it on the Clyde to Caledonia blog .)

Margaret Donaldson
I learned today of the passing of fellow poet Margaret. What an aching space this will make in our Bank Street Writers group, but I am glad to hear she went peacefully. The poem below is not finished but I wanted to put it up today.

Bowling Beach
Keep this secret Bowling beach to yourself; it’s an Eldorado for mosaic artists like Jane and Julie and for stained glass masters like Joyce. Just before the Erskine Bridge at bowling the River Clyde narrows significantly, and Julie and I believe that boats of old (and, sadly, of today) ditched their rubbish overboard when entering and leaving the city. Tumbled glass and pottery can be found in abundance, and this is where, after the gales of 2 January, I found 46 complete vintage bottles, perfectly preserved in river mud, in which I am now collecting waters of the west coast. She heard a story once that tea clippers from China would bulk up their ballast with that blue and white china (broken or no?) and then ditch it before they docked to deliver their cargo; can anyone confirm or refute?

Letter to Julie

How generous Bowling beach was today! Clambering down to the beach I could tell there were major changes; two huge trees had been deposited in the middle of your stick drawn sand grid, long gone. Standing next to them I raised my eyes to the tops of the wall staves, way above my head, and sensed the volume of water that must have been swirling about this very space … my head under water…. for these giants to drift over and settle here. 

It was a spring tide, low. Extremis. Low low low. I knew it because the timing of the tides has woven into me after weeks and months of watching them and the weather. I still watch the weather… check the winds and their direction. Winds and rain, wonderful rain that flattens waves. So low was the tide that treasures stretched in all directions; I hardly knew where to begin. As I arrived the Waverley was passing, her grand red funnels towering through the trees as she pattered her way to Glasgow along the dribble of river the tide has left.. Richie took fright and bolted away from the beach. I remembered that the last time we were here the Waverley came by when just as fireworks display had gone off at Erskine Hospital across the water… he’d been terrified. Poor chap. Had to keep him on a lead the whole time.

To the high wall  I went first, where we found the stag horn driftwood. Among the scabby plastic I found a whole coconut with a missing eye. Peering in I could see the solid white flesh, perfectly in tact, and when I tipped it up the creamy milk poured onto he beach. What a thing! Where could that have travelled from? A distant island or a fairground in Largs or a passing ship… such stories we could tell! I split it on a rock to reveal clean white coconut…what to do with it?? Couldn’t eat it; much as I love this beach its filth is poisonous. Failure to wash hands after foraging will guarantee a dose of the runs. I could take it home for the birds… but in the end I left it there on the beach.

What other treasures were there? One complete wee green medicine bottle, ancient bits of blue & white pottery (can I put them in your box?) and one extraordinary piece of green tile, well worn. Many excellent bottle necks and just one glass stopper. A tiny round compact, so old that all marks were gone. The little catch dutifully opened as I pressed it but alas, the hinges came apart as it opened, and the dark, odourless, sandy kept its history for a secret.

Richie was leaning forever shoreward in his collar, whites of his eyes straining backwards on his face in relentless anticipation of explosions and certain death at the Erskine Hospital for old soldiers.

The sun was getting on down by now and a wistful sunset began to paint itself on the Clyde. I cast a loving glance ever and again towards the Kyles. Such an ache was in my heart for this firth; not sad or regretful but full and hopeful. It is not done yet. To get a boat for THESE waters, now that would be worthwhile.

I sat on the top of my plastic bag of treasures, promised the river I’d stay there till the curlews cried again in the shallows across the way. For an age that soft crrrr crrrr crrrrrr had carried across the water from the mud flats like a river’s caress. They were quiet now. Only oystercatchers and seagulls shouted to echo the noise in my head… stupid thoughts squawking incessantly.

I sat. I waited. But the curlew didn’t cry. The dog strained in his leash and the cold of wet sand began to creep into my buttocks. 
What’s the time Mr Wolf? 
Two curlews past a heron.

The sun dropped further in the sky, clouding over, chilling. 
Come on curlews I whispered, chastising myself for such pathetic commitment to even this, the tiniest of meditations. In the end the dog began such distraught whimpering, casting back and forth, that I abandoned my vigil with a soft apology to the waiting curlews.

What else did I find? Two tennis balls for Richie, a beautifully rusted big spring and the tiniest bright red apple you ever did see. Perfectly formed. Perhaps the greatest treasure was an ivory and tortoiseshell clothes brush… ancient… bristles all gone to reveal a startling pattern of dark, black holes in contrast to the soft brown magic on top. NOW I wanted you there, wanted to shout LOOK at THIS my Julie!!! And looking up I thought how if you were here we’d come picnic here, spend a whole day… or if not a day a good few hours round this lowest tide, scouring the beach and maybe making wobbly sculptures with our finds. I laughed to think how others might turn their noses up at this filthy beach, littered with tampon applicators and old plastic bottles bleached and blind. But for you and me? A treasure trove! And if you’d been here you’d have helped me wrestle free that fine length of coir rope around the trunk of that well travelled tree. We’d coil it up and bag it and march back to the boat for all the world like two hunters with the low slung dripping carcass of a stag, slain to save the starving village.

Back at the boat we’d brave the rolling of disbelieving eyes as we laid out one precious piece after another on blank, damp swathes of kitchen roll. The air would be filled with happy chat of mosaics made and to be made, or candlestick sculptures of white wax dripping over tumbled green bottlenecks.

Eventually the rolling eyes would shout and the table would be conquered in favour of dinner. Precious blue pottery would be packed into cardboard boxes as you flew back to Canada and I returned to a world of nonsense in which coconuts are not shy of their labelled packets, brushes must have bristles, apples must be largely eaten off pieces of pottery that form entire plates. Bottlenecks must needs be attached to their bodies to make soft glugging sounds as we pour their whisky out.

And boats? Boats must be sold to settle mortgages. Not sit expensively round to welcome home marauding beach parties and tease dreamers into planning voyages of folly.

love, Bev

Margaret Donaldson
You are the dark green of the moss.
Not even the moss but the shadow beneath it,
moss, so damp, long after the rain has been.
You are the brightness of the sun on stone
long after its story has set.

I find you in this sacred ancient place,
find the prints of horses hooves,
myths in soil turning to gallop past
the bark of a thousand trees into
a sky of a thousand blues.

You are the air between the feathers
of  the gryphon swan, the story of
a thousand lives, from knighted lands
long, long ago. A glint
in the storytelling eye.

You are all around.

I was there you said, I was here.
And now I go elsewhere.

BS Aug12

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Prop Repaired

A million thanks to Joe and Teresa for bringing a replacement prop out late last night (getting home to Kirkintilloch goodness knows when he had to be out on the road by 5 this morning) to Davie Waterson for the prop, Davie Morrison for tracking another down, Jimmy and Anne for putting up with running commentary of procedure and panic... Wow how lucky I am to be so surrounded by loving support... And how I aware I am I have stretched it to the limit! Let's not forget Mike who hung around with his indomitable good cheer as I got the prop off and, even as I type, is undertaking yet another arduous bus journey to Rhu to crew with me today.

My writing, you observe, has descended into relatively inarticulate functionality. So tired sweeties but pregnant with stories that I look forward to harvesting. Meanwhile if you want a flavour of the magic go to the breathtaking blog of Gerald... The Frenchman who materialised out of the mist of some mariner's tale on a hand made yacht with a matching dog called Vega. He and his photos are out of this world. Just enter these search words in google and click on the translate option next to the link... Unless, of course you would like to read it in French? keikiwai gerald blogspot

Monday, 9 July 2012

Rhu to Bowli.... Uh uhhhh

A perfect run from Sandbank to Rhu with Graham yesterday , river perfect and flat when Mike arrived today and we set off for Bowling... Bowwwwwwling... Cannnnaallll.... Hoooome... Baaaaaath... I could almost taste the shortbread on Gerry and Morven's wee round table... Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

BUMFFF .... Something hit the prop.... Boomff boomff boomff boomff... Something was not right... Back into Rhu marina... Weed hatch open, one of the prop fins completely gone. No go. Would shake the whole arrangement to bits. But Joe Holland is on his way with 2 props, and he doesn't take no for an answer when it comes to mechanical outcome.

Here's hoping cos after tomorrow the weather closes in again...

Friday, 6 July 2012

cc +61 Dunoon

I've been putting off doing this blog entry, no prizes for guessing why. Peccadillo will not be going to the Atlantic sweeties and there's an end to it. Dunoon is as far as I go. There was rather more excitement in the first 10 legs of the journey than I'd intended for the whole thing, and after the breakdown last Monday I had a little sit down of my own... weighing up adventure versus responsibility. 

Bottom line is that it's one thing to risk my own life, but those of others? No way, and I can't handle her on my own out here. The bob on the Firth of Clyde was not life threatening but the Forth was. And I can see how to make it safe but don't have the wherewithal to make it happen. 

1) at least 6 months to just sit and wait, be available (my crew too) for good stretches of settled weather (it's been a nightmare these past few weeks!)
2) at least 1 large rib (that's one of those large rubber power boats) for company, assistance in the event of breakdown and the occasional push of speed
3) lots and lots of money to pay the astronomical fees of these marinas that charge by length; at 50' I'm paying the same rate as HUGE sea going vessels... no account of the actual size of the boat

Sooooo, as everyone gathers for Falkirk Wheel 10 celebrations and I sing happy birthday to me I look back over it all and think, what a disaster? Embarrassment? Frayed knot sweeties... I sit out here in the Holy Loch (rather too far out to be honest... the wind's picking... force 7 tonight and she's fair gettin shoogled aboot... so that's why the other yachts snuggled right in to the marina!). It's the most beautiful mooring south of Croabh near Oban the boaters say... I sit here with a little brown dog and a fine cup of coffee and think, Peccadillo is not for these tidal waters, not with any dignity... we both knew that. But d'you know what? She's the only boat I have, the one that I know best, and this was my only chance to have a go at it... so we did.

And we've had a grand old time. There's a wee weather window coming in on Sunday so we'll wend our way back to Bowling via a couple of other marinas. It's the canal, but no' the Crinan canal for me!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Day 10: Bowling to Dunoon (Holy Loch) on 25Jun12

Well the story has traveled far and wide already and some of you have even seen it on the
RNLI's Helensburgh Lifeboat Station website
so there's no hiding the fact that we broke down in the middle of the Firth of Clyde. There's a story, of course there's a story... but you're going to have to wait for the full version. Here are the bare bones...

We set off from the Bowling Sea Lock shortly after 1600, a little ahead of the top of the tide at 1725. Our sweet, warm send-off party (Jimmy, Gerry, Colin & Anne) had immediate validation of the furrows on their brows as I turned 50 yards out of the lock and sailed directly over the breakwater (it stands well above water at low tide) instead of proceeding to the exit. What they couldn't see that we were greeted, on exit, by an enormous wave, the wake of a passing tug. I had no choice but to turn and meet it head on or we would have been flipped before we even left to wreck dock. The wee yacht that came out with us was tossed about like a paper cup.

But there we were, off at last. That beautiful river all about us and the exhaust roaring in our ear (Jimmy has made a high extension for tidal waters). Our trusty crew for the day was Mike Storry, Adrian and Billy Billy Billy... singing in the galley again; oh Peccadillo was smiling. At Dumbarton Rock we tested the radio back to Bowling and Alec said the signal was weak so we tested it on the Clyde Coastguard. It's quite something getting past the embarrassment of talking on the vhf radio (yes sweeties, even for me). I mean
Clyde Coastguard Clyde Coastguard Clyde Coastguard 
This is Peccadillo Peccadillo Peccadillo
You just feel like such a pratt. But as the communications progress you come to grasp the reason for all the formality... the form of it that makes it clear who's saying what when in the rush of wind and water... and the roar of the engine. Mike found this exhaust noise most disconcerting and Adrian, and engineeery sort, began to suggest all sorts of baffle solutions. But me? The closer I am to the heartbeat of my engine the happier I am, and she was running so sweet I didn't mind the noise at all.

Anyway, the Coastguard were reading us loud and clear and indeed, just 5 minutes later asked us for assistance as a member of the public had reported seeing 2 adults and 2 children on a raft off Langbank. Ohhh it was GRAND to have a mission, and we duly scoured the horizon (unfortuately looking directly into the sun). Now Langbank is a really shallow piece of water... long banks were built at right out into the wide shallow Clyde to force the water down the main shipping channel and so keep it clear. With Peccadillo's 2' draft we were able to search well beyond the shipping lane though the tide was dropping so we couldn't take too many chances (having used up our luck for the day sailing over the breakwater...).

We never did find the raft though we did see some old timber posts that could easily have been mistaken for people... we abandoned the search and carried on. The sea was slight but the wind, between a F2 and a F3 began to make a nuisance of itself as the tide turned against it. For any other vessel it would be a giggle but the wind resistance and uncomfotable water makes the engine work doubly hard and I decided that it would indeed be Sanbank (Dunoon) and not Rothesay (as we had tentatively hoped) that we aimed for this night. The engine is the bottom line for me and I've come to know when she's working hard... as Joe says, just continuously running that engine for 5, 6, 7 hours... it adds up. The temperature was sitting lovely and I just kept the throttle comfortable but that dastardly wind kept our speed below 5 knots (over the ground), even when the tide started to trundle.

As we passed the Coastguard at Greenock point the sea began to rough up a bit. Although the recorded wind was still relatively slack, there seem to be ribbons of fast stuff that whip along, and then there was the wash, broadside, of those blasted ferries. Anyway, Pecc was managing it all well, but after nearly 5 hours of uncomfortable water I wanted to check the prop shaft coupling (on the nastiness of the Forth a couple of bolts came loose). I asked Mike to ease back on the throttle, count to five (to let the prop shaft stop spinning so I could look at it) and then carry on.

Here was the mistake. As the throttle slowed some shaken up sludge settled in the pipe, and as he opened it again it shlurped up against the lift pump filter and blocked it. The engine died. This is the first time I've heard that sound in 12 years (apart from the time I ran out of diesel). Nothing I could do would get her going again, bearing in mind that getting into the fuel line is out of the question as it is a mighty mission to bleed this baby. Indeed it took the mechanic and I six hours to do so the next day... Joe remotely diagnosed the problem immediately but even after we'd cleared the lift pump we kept heading off on one investigative red herring after another because we couldn't start her... even though the engine was turning over ok. But that was just it... she's a pig to bleed. Won't stop once she's going, but won't start once there's air in the line.

Anyway, blah de blah you're saying, what about he drama bit... Mike called in the Pan Pan (step before mayday - to warn other vessels to stay clear). The police launch was upon us in minutes because we were strategically bobbing in the MOD Submarine lane. They offered to tow us but the Coastguard said they'd prefer us to wait for the RNLI boat from Helensburgh. Peccadillo was beginning to rock rather wildly with the waves from the ferries and passing tankers and I had to ask the Police boat to shield us from them at one point. Note to self: priority in a situation like this to perhaps get the dinghy in the water to try and hold the bow to the waves... she naturally swings broadside and begins to roll really uncomfortably.

The miraculous RNLI men, Robin, Davie and Chris, were there within half an hour... in fact I think it might even have been less, and the Coastguard watched the whole drama unfold from their window! Mike and Adrian leapt into impressive action and Billy defused some of my tension with his unassailable good cheer... the bastard LOVES adventure... I don't think I'll take him again cos I want a BORING trip.

I sent a silent thank you to Jimmy, Scott and Davie Brown with who's help and advice I had attached, with great difficulty, a HUGE tow-rope right the way round the boat (danger of towing a boat like Pecc is that she can just split... or things snap off). What a mission it was but I think the whole setup made it clear to the RNLI that I had approached the journey with every possible caution, and they didn't give me a hard time at all.

Sooooo, as we hurtled into Dunoon at 6.5 knots and Stevo and the Dunoon gang set out to meet up with us in their boat, everyone was just so kind, and so busy, and so enjoying the adventure that the abject humiliation dissipated long before we got there. I marvelled at the energy of these magnificent men in their shiny yellow boots and space-age helmets; at the alacrity and strength of Mike and Adrian skipping over the top of the barge, at the indominable good mood of that Billy boy and at the relentless encouragement I've had from one and all to keep going.

But as this was all going on I stood stunned at the stern... the first time in 12 years that she has so much as missed a beat and this is fundamental to my journey. I dropped down and tried one thing after another... tried again and again to start her... sinking in disbelief. Yes I had cleaned the diesel tanks... I do it every spring (this comment for any of you who might be considering putting yourself in mortal danger by suggesting as much) and I now have a contingency plan for this event. 

But the whole escapade has shaken and drained me beyond measure. Pecc feels tired too, though she warmed to our carresses the next day, Dr Stewart and I as we gently explored every bolt and wire, pipe and charge till she was sitting snug and sweet, purring again and ready to go.

To go? Where do I draw the line between adventure and irresponsibility? I have passed hundreds of boats on my journey so far... less than 1% of them moving. Dare I say the report on the RNLI website was a little pleased to have been involved (not a single canal barge callout since they opened in 1965). And here I am on MY Peccadillo in DUNOON! It's stunning... and I'm going to stop and think... for a week at least. A big think sweeties... what to do... I'm just sooooooo tired after all this preparation and trying to get the money in.... need to rest and think

and write.


Anyway... by way of therapy I did do some writing in Dunoon


Reach for the stars
and feel the ground dissolve beneath your feet.

Watch, wide eyed, as the hard facts of your life
slip out from under your searching toe
and you are left clinging to the spar of the billowing sail
of an unknown yacht
shaft of an arrow let loose to cry

Fade to mist in the suck and blow that is
the air in your lungs,
questionable existence
questioning resistance
to the one hard fact...
that you are everything and nothing

even the questions are no longer your own

all you can do

is keep breathing

Friday, 22 June 2012

Midsummer: Where am I?

Where is Peccadillo and what's going on?
Forgive me the tardiness in blogging but to be honest? I hit a little bit of a brick wall this week. I have been teaching from Monday to Wednesdays (IT Tutor with the Community Department of the City of Glasgow College - finish up next week, phew!) all the way through the journey so far, hosting commercial charters on weekends (what wild and wonderful clients I have had... could this be called work???) to raise money for the trip, organising and partaking in hearty celebrations at the Glasgow (Olypic Flame) and Dunoon (6th International Burns) parties. Colin & Anne (of Missee barge with whom I sail next week) have given up trying to speak to me as I am inveriably hurtling through whenever they catch a glimpse. A positive blur. How about lunch said Anita and I just laughed maniacally in her face saying YEAH, MEBBE AUGUST! (I have since apologised). Between these I have been martialing ongoing hospital appointments (another good blood result, yay!) and trying to get final trappings sorted on Peccadillo for sea state. (yes yes I know sea state is a windy term but i like it for the sense of boat readiness.)

Peccadillo is in Bowling. Gales prevented us from getting to Dunoon for the party (sadly we had to drive there; fantastic bash Billy, but most of the videos need to be censored... Mario!). (The pipers won the competition on Saturday by the way - hurrah!!!) Weather-wise we then missed a wee window this week between relentless lows (they are coming one after another and look for all the world like a stirng of beads that the gods are dragging carelessly across the pressure chart - problems with the jet stream apparently?) They bring gales and nastiness blasting from the east, and as they ease the wind turns West North West agains the outgoing tide that we need to carry us down (wind against tide = waves and we've had our share of those thanks!)

While I have been teaching on Monday's to Wednesday's the water has been like glass, but as Thursdays come so do the winds. There have been brief windows but there's a danger of, even if we make it to the Holy Loch or one of these other posh marinas, getting stuck there for 10 days... at £40/day. It's a sickening sum though I'm beginning to think I might need to bite the budget and risk it.

A window is opening up at last... we will drop to the bottom of the Bowling sea lock on Saturday night, spend the night in there with the gates open and set off with the 0405 high tide. Unless the predictions deviate ENORMOUSLY before then... and it is, after all, the west coast of Scotland so of course they could...

So, speak to you from Dunoon and beyond (hello to the new Russians and Mexicans following this blog!). There should be an article in the Scotland on Sunday this weekend (more about the wee spark but hope Peter mentions Clyde to Caledonia... bet you anything there will be a picture of RICHIE!) and the radio show of course... though I'm a little embarrassed to say until it's in the bag as so many of you had your ear clamped to the radio at 0630am last Saturday! Sorry!

Finally I'd like to share a piece I put together at the Bank Street Writers poetry group on Wednesday. The exercise was to look for inspiration from a piece of writing and then see where it takes you. This one grabbed me, conjured up images of the Custom House on the canal at Spiers Wharf, and the CC life lesson of having been brought to a complete halt by the elements (my schedule is as nothing in the face of the wind - I am sooooooooo not in control any more!). Yes that's right; they put the custom house on the CANAL because this WAS the hub of imports, not the poor old Clyde and the vagaries of it's shallows. This piece also puts me in mind of those I bring with me on this journey, some passed and some here, but all equally present to me. Ray, Pete, Nick (who has now been ordained and his new name is Mai Tri Siddhe), Daz with whom I have been sharing some existential angst and our Johnno who has hurtled off into the beginnings of his breathtaking cycle round an inordinately large piece of America. And John Cochrane for whom we take a song and a prayer to the Corryvreckan as he begins a journey much more arduous than ours.


 La casa deidoginieri - by Eugenio Montale (exerpts)
"The Customs House" - translation by Allam Cameron

Libeccio sferza da aani le vecchie mura
The salted wind whips against the ancient walls

La bussola va impazzita all 'avventura
The compass spins and madness calls

Ed io non so chi va e chi resta
I do not understand who goes and who stays


salted wind on ancient walls
compass spins madness calls
and none of us can know
who goes
who stays

chi va e chi resta

Friday, 8 June 2012

Day 6: The Dark One on the Forth

The day started lightheartedly...

... but after the Kincardine Bridge things went desperately dangerous in a terrible sea... tide ripping out East and the wind gusting well against it, stronger than a force 4, ENE... and we were trying to head ESE to the mouth of the Carron. Donald and Geordie had returned to escort us in the rib but as things chopped up they had to cast off and keep their distance for fear of damaging the rib.

Most of the other boats had been through this water ahead of us, Gamebird being the most remarkable with her tiny dimensions... they were all safely in the sea lock except Colin's cruiser that had stuck in the mud under the M9.  Donald estimates the waves were approaching 1.2m and there wasn't a thing he could do but look on. Peccadillo went so well... rode those waves and took on very little water, and didn't break so much as one mug...but this was not supposed to be the scary bit! I've been so busy passage planning the west coast I'd thought to just tag along on this one! The crew was not safe and sea protection kit was not in place. As we headed for Bo'ness I tried to turn to starboard a couple of times, making for the Carron, but this created such a dangerous roll that at one point the prop left the water and Donald says he had a clear view of the underside of the bows... about a 35 degree list. I radioed the rib to say "I cannot turn"... not knowing for a minute what I thought they could do about it. But at this Donald shot across the bows and raced some figures of eight that momentarily flattened the surface... long enough for me to swing my stern to the wind... and the danger was over.

I'm not proud of any of this. I have been mightily humbled and am grateful for the lesson.

We'd missed the tide for the Carron so moored up on the mud at the yacht club till 2330 when we had enough water to get into the sea lock.

And guess what. Having survived that godforsaken sea and broken not so much as a teacup... as we returned to the sea lock I lost reverse throttle and hit the wall... Everything fell... Went below to find glass everywhere, a candle had started a small fire (the yacht club was only half a mile from the Sea Loch so we had stood down the sea-readiness and had dinner) and it took us till 0330 to clean up. (This after helping Donald pull Colin's cruiser in).

Anyway, pecc hull is fine but I cannot get the throttle mechanism to work...  we wrestled her back to Auchinstarry and I have a charter on today to do day 8, auch to glasgow... We can limp that. But I discovered in tidal waters that she overheated... Resolution to all this? I need to put the big gearbox in, replace all cables and mebbe get a new morse control a new engine... a new story... And all I want to do is sleep... I'm so tired. It almost feels a relief to decide I'm gonna have to call in a mechanic now, but money money money has been flying out in all directions.

Having said that, money has also been coming in, along with warm wishes... There were pats on the back aplenty on the canal bank as the story travelled from east to west... I feel full and still and small in a way that perhaps you only can having stood more terrified than I thought imaginable watching the bows in front of me drop eight feet into solid dark sea. But she rose every time and braved those waves better than I...

... I wet my pants just a little bit.

Day 5: Stirling to Grangemouth in the Jubilee Flotilla

While 1000 boats prepared to assault the Thames our flotilla of 7 canal boats and 12 ribs dwindled... but we set off in more wind than we wanted and made our way to an Idyllic evening in Stirling city centre where the povost promised pontoons would be set up for future visitors... hurrah!!!

Peccadillo played host to

Clackmannanshire Council (01259 452011)
Provost Tina Murphy
Depute Provost, Councillor Irene Hamilton
Councillor Donald Balsillie (Ward 2, Clackmannanshire North)
oh, and Davie Jones... but we were keeping quiet about him.
Yes really... Davie Jones.

Stalwart crew of the day were Billy, Amy and Mario.

Day 4: Falkirk to Grangemouth

Getting ready for we knew not what.

cc +18: Thoughts on a Hot Day with Richie

This was after dropping the Blackies off after their trip. What a day!

cc +14: Falkirk Wheel 100

This journey with Alma Duncan and family was Peccadillo's 100th trip on the Falkirk Wheel. Those bits of film need a little editing though Carolina!

cc +12: Engine Repairs at the Falkirk Wheel

A long night at the wheel.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Day 3: Linlithgow to Falkirk

Now the pace is picking up a bit and I simply haven't found the time to learn youtube editing (Sonia where are you?!!)... I mean how to join these clips. Rather than delay I'm just putting them up now to give you a flavour of the journey as we go. These are all very short clips; the Zimbabweans should be happy about that!

Reason Day 3
To inspire other boaters to get moving on Scotland's Waterways.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Day 2: Ratho to Linlithgow

What a punishing run is the Union; we bucked and yawed our way to Linlithgow and my engine is seriously unhappy. The bigger the water, the happier she is but he Union is only 3 feet deep (and we draw 2)… let’s away to the Atlantic! Oh but the scenery… the view up here (it’s a summit run) feels like a Constable come alive and the yellow rape horizons are difficult to capture on the humble camera. But we tried.

My heart is heavy moving west away from this thriving canal community… a hint of how things could be in Glasgow… boats boats boats… at Ratho, in Edinburgh.

In Glasgow? Nothing. Just li’l ole Peccadillo.

Reason 2 (for doing the journey)
I love this engine, this old BMC 2.5. I love it and know it so well (thanks to the coaching of the Dutch Navy… Joe, Jimmy and Davie), and one of the greatest gifts of my time on the canal has been the growing relationship with the mechanics and vagaries of the vessel and its works. And now I take the old BMC 300 miles to Inverness. “I know what you want to do” said Joe after our last great scare when the fuel pump went… “you want to take that old BMC out to sea and say look what I did, I took that bloody old BMC out to sea, don’t you!?!” And that’s exactly right. I can’t afford a shiny new boat or a zooty new engine… I don’t want one. There’s nothing to beat the beat of the engine you know beneath your feet… knowing there’s a problem just by the sound or the smell of her… and there’s no lottery worth winning than just dropping below, fixing it and then setting off again.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

cc Day 1 - Ediburgh Quay to Ratho

Ratho, and the day started with sun, moved swiftly to sleet and eventually back to sun again. Peccadillo grumbled till the Scott Russell Aqueduct on the outskirts of Edinburgh and then settled to smooth sailing... apart from the bank and wash and uphill climb that is this shallow shallow Union Canal (guaranteed draft only 3 feet!).

Teddy Slateford was rescued from the Slateford Aqueduct
The gathering last night was warm and wonderful and we added voice to what seems to be the interminable shout of that terminus. The arrangement of the buildings has created a great echoing amphitheatre that prompts bursts of song, laughter and inanity from revellers all through the night. I'd rather have that than the sneaky thief trying the door of the boat at 3am in Linlithgow (scared off by the deep throated barks of Richmond Benfield). I have footage of the departure and illustrious crew today but the i-pad is not letting me upload pics or vids.... Nor put line spaces in the blog ho hum, sorry about that! Will add them tomorrow night.

In the blogs of each day of travel I will put a reason for doing this journey. Every time someone asks me i seem to give a different reason and I'm sure I can give thirty; one for each day of the voyage.

Reason 1 
I go because I can. I have this wonderful boat, life in my limbs, the wherewithal and a love for the west coast of Scotland that surpasses the contortions of recommended self preservation that pass for sense in this world of ours that seems to be spinning faster and faster into nonsense.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

cc -1 Edinburgh Quay

A Sadza Send-off with Stevie doing his Exorcist impression...

5 May 2012 cc -1

A Beltane Moon for Blessing
Some mornings I wake up with my arms wrapped round my head as if it's gonna burst. Set off yesterday morning on the Union from Linlithgow to Edinburgh with gearbox running as sweet as a nut... felt we had conquered the world. But the old BMC got warm and once we'd stopped and tightened the bolts on the engine mounts she started growling again... called Jimmy who told me how to check the alignment before attaching the prop shaft coupling and I realise there is no mechanism for such adjustment and that it is some mighty miracle that has kept the thing operating all these years. I must uncouple it again, get under the floor and see if there is some measure of squeezing and releasing the nuts on the rubber mounts that  will give the adjustment I need. Is this at the root of all the gearbox nightmares of the years?  How tragic it would be to resolve it now. Tragic or magic?

Amy was a rock with the repairs on Friday. We had an idyllic run on Wednesday evening to Slammanan Basin, the beautiful picnic site just before it, and I had the best sleep I've had in many years.  Waking to birdsong and no traffic... a sunny day (my poetic and literary skills fail me in the description of happy sunny days... I am much more effusive on the miserable moment, aren't I Dazzie?) So idyllic it was we dallied till lunchtime  before moving off to Linlithgow and the tool bag.

Olivia's Owl
I'd decided to change the drive plate and see if that sorted the gearbox... she's begun slipping soooo badly in the past fortnight. I'd forgotten that the drive plate is actually behind the bell housing so a one hour job turned into 4 (we had to jack up the engine) and then one rogue nut cost us another FOUR HOURS. Unbelievable... with no electricity to employ savage grinders we had to resort to laboriously sawing through washer and nut. Well Amy did. I could only look on as she folded her lovely long limbs into my filthy bilges (I have a bit of a love affair with the oil in my bilges... the quintessential diesel dyke... that some folk don't share... Jimmy cursed me blind for utterly ruining one of his boiler suits when he welded the weed hatch... thought to buy him a new one but do you have any idea how much those things cost? And how minute are the various fitting requirements? There is  a whole world of fashion in working gear that makes Versace look positively cheap!

Our new Grandaughter Hollie Helen Christie just 1 day old
So on cc -1 here are a million thanks to those of you who have crushed yourselves into our  filthy bilges, those of you  who are wending your way to Edinburgh quay tonight to consecrate the journey... and those of you  far away who are holding me tight. To precious little Hollie who has brought such light into the world, to Margaret who is braving the edges of it. And tonight we raise the glass to who? To all the women who ever struggled and struggled and struggled simply to do what thier heart tells them they are here to do.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

cc -5 Music Boxes and Babies!

Hollie Christie
Well well, here's Gil and Moray's baby born just an hour ago...
a baby dragon girl on May Day!

I'm a gogo! Cathy's a granny! Hooray! And there was Gil as large as life at the Falkirk Wheel on Sunday... I can't believe it...

Ahhhhhh - the world is singing today... I never saw granny Cathy so happy... not ever.

 And didn't the family go get me an accordion for my journey... maybe I can learn a tune, David, between Edinburgh and Inverness! And maybe I could sing it in Gaelic Joanna? Babs? Hey Mizzle, what about the moonlight sonata?

This is my mum, Marie Gale, and my dad on the drums I was named after... I wish she was here to show me how to play this thing...

Thursday, 26 April 2012

cc -3090: Mango

Preparations for Clyde to Caledonia have stepped up to an overwhelming pace... and there are stories but most so tedious that recounting seems to be anaesthetizing my listeners. I think I'll give you another chapter instead...

... and a random photograph of the Tall Ship refelected in the new Riverside Transport Museum.


There I was, I.T. training away and rather enjoying all the tea breaks after the break-neck pace of media. I had reached a truce with the uniform, just trousers by now since the bum snatching skirt had been accidentally dispatched to Oxfam (oh dear). This donation was a humanitarian act on many levels, least of all the final recipient. I would surface, occasionally, from the torture of confinement to notice the discomfort of trainees and colleagues trying to maintain a level of courtesy when presented with my butch swagger in a pencil skirt and court shoes. Not only that, but the discomfort definitely contributed to my homicidal mad cow tendencies and one afternoon I threatened a mild group of librarians with nipple clamps if they didn’t get their portfolios finished…

Sadly dismissal of said skirt did not wholly alleviate the crabbiness. Tea breaks are all very well for a while but I started to get restless. I thoroughly enjoyed the training, despite the odd blunder, like a swear word or the time I was warning six rapt librarians of the vagaries of domain registration, citing, as usual, my Scottish Executive example.

“.co.uk is the extension to use” I said “and not the .com which belongs to an American escort agency”. With a flourish I tapped in the .co.uk URL, little knowing that Scot Exec had recently relinquished it in favour of the more appropriate scotland.gov. The American escort agency had happily snapped up the domain and there appeared, on an unsuspecting screen in Aberdeen College, in front of this group of mild mannered librarians, a four-foot high display of resplendent fannies. With a wholly appropriate expletive I leapt in front of the screen, a futile gesture that left many fannies in full view and the rest projected onto me… a most accurate depiction of how I was feeling just then.

But it was back at the office that things were really going awry; I am a homicidal mad cow you know. The crisp-chomping, radio-playing, game-clattering receptionist with RSI finally started wearing her hearing aid, but rather than turning the radio down this gave her the remarkable ability to sing or (heaven forbid) whistle at the same time, often a completely different tune which was delightful. Alas this still didn’t drown out the screeching cooler or crisp chomping. We were moving into winter; the heating went up and so did my temper.

I affected a two-week escape to Zimbabwe in November where, apparently, I took a great big invisible pill because no one wanted to hear my stories when I came back. Now I do go on a bit sweeties, but I did not give up my fabulously glitzy job as a TV buyer to sit and listen to interminable discussion of Survivor. I just don’t do soaps, and when, as a supposed budding media buyer in the fast world of witty and cruel negotiations, I unwittingly gave away a centre break in the Emmerdale bus crash many years ago I knew my days as a TV buyer were numbered. So if I couldn’t get into soaps for a fabulous salary and fast life, I was hardly about to effect genuine interest in second hand opinions of the tea room. Miserable me.

Where does the mango come in then? Well round about this time I was getting rather large. With no airtime at teatime I’d just chomp biscuits and crisps, then go home and reward my crabby self with acres of wicked food. I realised my gluttony had reached an all time high when I was eating a mango in the bath (the only place for it). A morsel of mango fell off the knife onto my stomach. The mango, finding itself on the precipitous slopes of the belly, began a speedy descent towards the water. Far be it from greedy me to lose out on a bit of food, quick as a flash I raised the knife, intent on retrieving the speeding mango, realising in just the nick of time that I was about to stab myself through the heart in the process. Horrors.

That was it. Enough gluttony and girnin’ I decided, I’m removing myself to an occupation that keeps me active, happy, too busy to eat and where I don’t have to wear a suit! I’ll squeeze into one every now and then for a bit of training; you see, between expletives, I’m rather good at it. Yes possums, when you get as old and ugly as me there’s no room for modesty. Just get out there and do what you’re good at, and that’s what I’m going to do, trips on my boat. Peccadillo. Going to make stories rather than sitting waiting to tell them.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

cc -2917: Chapter ? ~ Stockline Plastics

Google Earth Peccadillo at Applecross Street...
I am EXHAUST-ed with repairs and preparations... exhausts on cars and boat giving most trouble of late so my blogging is backing up. Here in the meantime is another chapter... oh, and Peccadillo on Google Earth... she can be found both at Applecross Street (G4 9SP) and on the Falkirk Wheel. I love that. Incidentally, Peccadillo will do  her 100th wheel trip in May as part of Clyde to Caledonia.

... and on the Falkirk Wheel

Stockline Plastics

11th May 2004

It is one of those gentle sunny days that were made for painting boats. And we are. Jim’s tackling the Nolly Barge’s black and I’m sanding down the varnish on Peccadillo’s front door, the deep brown wood coming up a treat. George is pottering backwards and forwards to his car with landscaping tools, and even Seamus surfaces, setting off for town. “Top o’ the morning to you” he waves, the lilting Irish accent making me smile as always. The British Waterways boys hail us heartily as they march back and forth to the workshops, and this is our Applecross Basin neighbourhood. Delicious.

“How was the family reunion in Ireland?” I call after Seamus, striding purposely off in his perennial shorts and sandals. It takes a grim winter to drive him into trousers.

“Ohhhh,” he smiles, “The crack was mighty!”

Gentle Seamus. He is our resident artist. He doesn’t paint or draw, he simply lives his life like a piece of art. His tiny boat is almost completely obscured by a veritable forest of wild plants and strangely sculpted rescue furniture. A bar stool from Lidl, a bird table attached to the top of a length of pine trunk from which stumps protrude like amputated arms, an assortment of lanterns and, if you part the fronds to look at the boat, an enormous stained glass rendition of some catholic scene. The applauding plants are planted in a mad assortment of wooden crates, props that were left behind by the Young Adam film crew, and a couple of metal bins and large watering cans that George probably brought. Seamus has gradually filled them with soil, bulbs and even a small tree rescued lovingly from a garden clearance.

Never a harsh word will I hear from his lips or indeed much that’s excitable. In a few years he will return from a life-changing crusade to Guinea to see the boy he has been sponsoring. With sparkling eyes and lurching heart he will talk of the wonder and the tragedy of that country, and show me the impossibly huge vegetable that was presented to him by the village. A man that travels with nothing but a minimalist rucksack walks into the UK with a fresh Yam the size of a breadbin and no one notices? It is incontrovertible evidence to me that the man blurs between the lines of our reality and some other ether.

He has recently stripped the interior of his boat and refurbished it with raw wood planks, not sanded at all. We all watched with bated breath as he assaulted the inside of his hull with an angle grinder while still afloat at his mooring, but Dar il Helena still floats. The refurbishment threw off his ballast and she was listing dramatically till he strategically placed an old tin bath of rocks on the roof. Smooth round rocks like loaves of bread that George has brought from some landscaping job he was doing. George is always bringing us stuff he’s rescued from clearing out sessions where he’s doing gardens. A stool, a plant, an old bottle, a vase, a rucksack, a lantern. How absurd is it that we liveaboards in our tiny homes feel obliged to rescue so much junk.

Seamus invited me in to see the wood finish in the boat and I was flabbergasted to see that the entire length of one side of his boat, probably a quarter of his compact living space was taken up by thirty or forty lever arch files. It is difficult to describe the sense of suffocation by “stuff” that one develops after living in a confined space for some time. I have file upon file of old phone bills, letters and rubbish, I have them, but in a boat you just have to keep on top of that stuff or you simply drown in it. Such wanton allocation of precious living space is enough to take ones breath clean away. “Seamus! What on earth are these?”

“Newspaper clippings.” he said. “I see these wonderful stories and photographs in newspapers and I can’t bring myself to throw them away.”

I gasped from under that familiar crush of my own hoarded junk, that shifting three-dimensional puzzle that is my living space. “Would you like to see one?” He selected a file at random and handed it to me. Two hours later I surfaced with a sigh. Carefully pasted and sleeved, dated and placed, with a sense of order and completion that you and I could only dream of, was article upon article of sadness and beauty, magic and madness. I was transported. And ever after, when people shook their heads at the “mess” around Seamus’ boat or the bizarre shed-like structure he would build astern in years to come, I would shake my head right back and say “If only there were more like him in this world to put the magic back in.”

It’s hotting up towards noon and I hail Jim. He puts us to shame with his energy, this ex policeman skipper of the Nolly. Always busy when the boat is not out on a trip; painting, washing, fixing. He has the blackened roller on the end of a pole and it’s a perfect day for blacking with no wind and the water, still as glass. If the boat’s not moving and there are no little waves you can get that roller right down to the waterline, save yourself a few months before having to get her out to paint the hull. I can even steal another inch on the waterline by emptying the water out of the holding tank in the bows. Peccadillo lifts her prow ever so slightly till the boat hook is clear. The waterline is the lifespan of the boat. This meeting of water and air is where the worst corrosion happens.

Happily my hull is now squeaky clean and black, having just been out of the water and completely gone over with a miraculous undercoat from Aberdeen. It’s the stuff they use on the rigs and will still show hard as steel in years to come. But there’s a disconcerting side effect to having a smooth flat bottom to your boat.

As I step inside I hear the loud rumble of air escaping from under the boat, a sort of marine flatulence that triggers panic for just the briefest moment, even though I know now what it is. Just after she was back in the water, the first time I heard it, at two in the morning, I went hurtling to check the bilges and the front floor hatch thinking the movement I could hear was actually water IN the boat. I’ve noticed the excessive bubbles of air rising from the canal bottom recently, realising that this is what is gathering under the hull. Naturally bubbles are rising all the time. Many canal routes are built on what were marshy areas many hundreds of years ago and Possil is no exception. So you’d expect gasses to rise up through the canal, but these bubbles are the size of buckets, rupturing the surface so loudly that if you hadn’t seen the silver ball rising you would think it a huge pike. I wonder whether this has anything to do with the heavy storms we’ve had recently, or the excessive sunshine today, or whether they’ve just always been there and I never noticed because they weren’t getting trapped under my hull when the surface of it was all uneven with algae.

Seamus’ savage garden on the quayside sighs in the silent heat. The daffodils are just giving way to a riot of blooms, weeds as lovingly tended as the rest.

I step out into the sunshine with a cloth to dust down the sanded doors and am met with the full force of a violent explosion less than half a mile away. Everything shakes with the double blast; Seamus’ flowers, the surface of the canal, the eyes in my head, and my lungs feel as if someone has punched me in the back. Then silence. Jim and I look across the roof of Peccadillo at each other and look back to where the noise came from. The silence feels like a dislocation in time and I am hurled back to the war years in Zimbabwe, Rhodesia then, when explosions like this were woven into your daily expectation. But there is no smoke, no flame, no rumble and no shouting. Nothing. Till suddenly a surreal pink cloud of brick dust rises into the air. Slowly, deliberately, it starts as a domed, fleshy mushroom, just in front of us where we know the shops are, the Lidl where Seamus buys his mad lanterns.

It continues to rise till it fills the sky and obscures the three blocks of high-rise flats in front of us, continues to rise till the sky seems to darken, and now it is that I panic, imagining that I am living my darkest nightmare of nuclear explosion. No smoke. Just pink dust. I look desperately over to policeman Jim and he says “Ohhh I know what that is, it’s a controlled explosion. They must have brought down a building, I’ve seen that dust before.”

It is a building come down, right enough. What we cannot know is that it was a working factory full of people, not controlled at all. Stockline Plastics has a full staff of sixty, twelve of whom are now trapped under the rubble of the building that collapsed so fast it didn’t even rumble. The noise lasted less than two seconds. Seven people have died already, two more will die in hospital and the rescue operation will last for three days. It seems to be an age after the blast before we hear the sirens...  the whole world standing still in stunned silence.

There will be many theories about what actually happened at Stockline Plastics today. Most centre on the two boilers in the basement, saying that one exploded and blew up the other. One will suggest that the weight of heavy machinery and pallets on the upper floors simply caused the floor to collapse, bringing the rest of the building down with it. The final inquest of the Health and Safety Excutive will decide that the explosion was caused by “ignition of gas released by a leak in a pressurised petroleum gas pipe” and levy a fine of £200,000 on two companies responsible for the plastic manufacture on the premises. As it happens, neither are Stockline although this is how the disaster will always be remembered.

But there is one theory about a “dust explosion”, related to a build-up of methane beneath the building. The article talks of how the recent heavy rains have raised the water table so suddenly as to push methane gases into the basement. Gas in a basement. Just as terrifying as gas in the bilges. If you have a gas leak on the boat you need to bale it out with a bucket, the gas being heavier than air is so perfectly contained in the lower reaches of the sealed hull that it simply becomes more and more concentrated as it forces the lighter air up and out. Such a perfect explosive device, is a boat.

Gas in a basement must be the same. But this report appears briefly in the papers and then disappears; it will be another three years before the final verdict. And when it comes out I sit on the bows on a sunny day, and shake my head. I will think back to this pink dusted May morning, and realise that I have never again seen those great balls of gas rising up out of the canal.

Never as big.


Many thanks to Sue McNally for her patience and editing help on this one.
There are too many links to online articles to paste here; if you would like to find out more simply google Stockline Plastics.