Sunday, November 28, 2010
‘Micro’s’ Cruises No 6 - Holy Island Part 1
This map is reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey
When I think of Holy Island, also known as Lindisfarne, I conjure up pictures in my mind of times long ago. The Island has the remains of an ancient abbey, and its 16th century castle which is situated upon a volcanic mount overlooking a natural harbour, is as imposing now, as it was when first built.
In the 7th century, Benedictine monks established a priory at the southern end of the Island. There they would have found peace and solitude on this outcrop of rock that is cut off by the tide twice daily. Even now, things have hardly changed - apart from the intermittent bustle of summer visitors, intrigued by the Island's history.
Before the tide covers the causeway, day visitors make their escape, so as not to be trapped until the tide recedes again. Their curiosity satisfied, they leave with their impressions of the place and perhaps a trinket or two, a craft item or a booklet to remind them of their short stay. Things were different with me, as I was camping aboard 'Micro' while participating in a DCA rally. I had time to explore the Island and to soak up the atmosphere. Unknown to me, I was to receive a unique, personal experience that could only have taken place at that time.
As a young man I had wanted to visit the Island with canoeing friends. We planned to use it as a base for a short expedition to the Farne Islands. They are a small basalt archipelago situated in the North Sea, six miles to the southeast of Lindesfarne. These rocks are a natural bastion that defies the ravages of the stormy sea, and they are a sanctuary for grey seals and their pups. My ambition was never fulfilled through lack of funds and other demands that were more important.
Many years later I sold a yacht to a gentleman who lived near Perterhead. Part of the deal was to help him deliver his yacht from Southend-on-Sea to Peterhead. Because the yacht would pass close to the Farne Islands, I believed my chance of seeing them and Holy Island had at last arrived, but it was not to be. At the time, they were hidden by dense fog. Although we had an efficient GPS, we deemed it unwise to venture close, on the chance that we might be able to see them. Prudence determined we should continue on our northerly heading and give the Islands a miss.
Journey to Holy Island
More recently, when I read about the Dinghy Cruising Association's Holy Island Rally, I decided to take part with 'Micro', providing she had not been sold, and if the weather was satisfactory. Both criterions were met, and on Thursday the 30th May 2002, I set off, towing the boat behind my faithful Ford Sierra. We dodged dense and dangerous traffic and covered a distance of 327 miles. (My conscience was scarred because of the pollution caused by my car’s exhaust, but I was consoled a little, because the car ran on unleaded petrol. How could I proudly fly my Micro Sailboat Club pennant after such a blatant disregard of what its members cherish - a respect for the preservation of the environment? Ambition and self-satisfaction had shamefully triumphed over ideology, and my weak commitment to the tenants of eco-evangelists. Instead of minimising pollution I added to it!)
Heavy showers caused rainwater to collect in the boat’s cockpit, and unknown to me it managed to seep into the compartment under the foredeck. There I had stowed my clothing and sleeping gear. Fortunately, very little water had seeped into the plastic holdall that contained my sleeping bag, and I dried my wet shirts by leaving them overnight in the car.
By arriving at the Island's causeway before 1600 I had ample time to cross it before the rising tide would prevent me from doing so. High water, being three hours later, made it ideal for launching the boat at the fishermen's slipway. However, when I came to do it, there was a fairly heavy swell. The situation required me to use a length of rope between the boat and trailer. My usual method of launching ‘Micro’ was to back the car until its rear wheels were about to enter the water, but on that occasion the exhaust pipe would have been flooded, possibly causing the engine to stop.
We made it
As I was launching the boat, several American tourists were at the slipway. They were waiting for the small boat that would take them back to their cruise ship which was anchored offshore. One of them was intrigued with what I was doing. He offered to hold the painter until I had parked the trailer; then he observed, in a Californian drawl, how cold the wind was, and remarked that only a Brit would wear shorts on such a day. I politely explained that I was wearing shorts to avoid getting my jeans wet, and as I suffered with Reynolds Syndrome, shorts would be my last choice.
Soon, 'Micro' was high and dry on a nearby sandy beach. The tide was on the ebb, and I was snugly ensconced in my sleeping bag. The rain pelted down and the wind pummelled the tent, but I was safe. I was amazed at what had been accomplished since I woke early that morning. I found it difficult to take in that my home was over three hundred miles away. If I had sailed there aboard one of my yachts, it would have taken at least four full days.
(To be continued.)