Chapter 7: Aug 11/12 - Loch Ewe to Acarsaid Mor
There was a bit of a hickboo next morning when, the gale having abated none of its zeal, the Skipper's conscience gave the order to get anchors. Luckily for the crew, the hydraulic winch provides the beef for this operation, but it does not excuse the crew from doing their stuff. Tommy Lor had succeeded in bringing the starboard anchor to a position handy for hauling inboard when somebody prematurely cast off the fall of the derrick. The ropes of the fall proceeded to twine themselves lovingly round Tommy's neck. Metaphorically he downed tools and had words with the delinquent. Meanwhile the anchor had brought up a load of sea vegetables: chunks of bladder weed, long streamers of yellow ribbon and green moss. Usually these are detached with a boat hook, but there was no need for such nicety: the wind picked up the whole bunch and hurled it viciously against the wheelhouse windows where it stuck, obscuring the vision.
Now failing to profit by a previous experience and it being an early start I kept my bunk too long and too late. I found myself marooned in the forecastle. "Helen" is a beautiful ship and I would not have her otherwise; but I sometimes wished they had provided an alley way below deck communicating with the civilization aft. It is true, if you cared to risk being mangled by flywheels, incinerated by exhaust pipes and thrown into bilges; you might forge a perilous passage to a trap door in the wheelhouse. I deemed it safer to stay where I was. Do you know what a forecastle is : rare reader? It is the most primitive place in a ship; some call it the 'glory hole'. It is a place of strakes and frames, of beams and planking. You remember that ancient hulk they dug out of an Italian lake. Caesar may have sailed in it. Well, the forepart of that was in essentials much the same as "Helen's". Moreover it is a place of chains and cables, warps and Wellingtons, oilskins and deepsea hats, lockers and floorboards pumps and ladders ceilings and hatches. Here poets may attain the heights of Parnassus, so peaceful, so remote and contemplative is its pristine influence.
If you have ever been put in a barrel and tossed down Niagara Rapids you will have a faint but not inaccurate idea of my reactions during the seven hours of my incarceration in the forecastle. Admittedly mine was a large barrel, but none the less a barrel and a very leaky one. Water poured in through the hawse pipes; it came down in cataracts from the booby hatch. I will not dwell on the matter. I draped the side of my bunk which was the driest place, with towels and at regular intervals I wrung them out to drain into the bilges and amused myself by calculating the number of bucketfuls so wrung.
We lay snug enough in Viking Bay under Beinn Tianavaig at the entrance to Portree harbour and the next morning we very reluctantly put Tommy Lor aboard S.S. Lochinver for his passage south. We were flying the blue ensign and "Lochinver" the Red Duster so here was a nice problem in sea etiquette. What should A do? The Frail happily solved the dilemma by dipping the flag of the Shipwrecked Mariners, a gesture which we hoped would adequately express our feelings of sorrow for his departure and respect for his outstanding seamanship.
On a fine day Portree is a pleasant little harbour and often as now lively with a variety of craft including some neat and trim looking 8 metre Bermudians "Froya" and "Margaret". There was also the easily recognizable Motor cruiser "Ecila" with four square ports, and a number of fishermen and harbour boats. To these was now added "Pandora" who came in with her deck crowded with population. Apparently "Pandora" had been sheltering for several days in the narrow gut known as Kyle Fladday at the north end of Raasay where her anchor dragged in the middle of the night. Poor "Pandora" also suffered from chronic clutch disease a malady which necessitated one of her crew standing by with a baulk of timber to jam down hard on the shafting, while the strong man did his stuff with the starting handle. But for all that she is a fine and most hospitable ship and on this occasion she was acting good Samaritan to some Skye folk who had been taking a holiday on Fladday island and who had been marooned by the storm. This accounted for our mistaking her for a Margate tripper.
From all this it will be correctly inferred that there was a lull in the gale; and just as well for Portree is a poor place in any activity from the south west. On clear days there is a good view of the Cuillins, but they are too distant to afford any screen.
We watered ship at the pier where "S.S. Lochgorm" was also alongside and making the best of the bright interval we held a drying party.
At 17 hours we ran across to Acarsaid Mor in South Rona, the morrow being Sunday and it being customary to seek solitude and repose. For a time we enjoyed the one, until invaded by the Bermudians, but as for repose definitely no. As we came to anchor in that entrancingly beautiful landlocked lagoon; things in the engine room went complete crackers, if you know what I mean. There was a big flash, something shortcircuited, fuses went and the juice from the batteries failed. Moreover a prolonged search failed to locate the trouble. Of course this sort of thing would happen, just when Tommy Lor, who was expert and knowledgeable, and would have been a tower and a solace of strength, had left us.
Dinner in the saloon that night, for all that it was most daintily served and cooked, was tinged with gloom. As matters stood there was no hope of starting the engines and here we were marooned in the middle of a desert island where there were neither stores, water nor engineers. There were many suggestions and speculations. The Frail thought we might light bonfires on the surrounding hills. True we had boats, but we were miles from the nearest settlement and further from Portree and anyhow the weather had worsened again. At this stage the Booster who possesses a humour so dry that it produces spontaneous combustion, began to relate to us some experiences he had had with a couple of Sealyhams. He had taken the dogs with him on a considerable journey and wherever he went in trains or in inns he always encountered dog fanciers and canine experts. These would argue about the points and merits of the animals. Some would affirm that their legs were too short, others that they were too long. They used to get quite heated about it and call each other names; whereupon the Booster would gently but firmly intervene: he said "You know their legs have to be just that length in order to reach the ground".
Moreover by this time the anchorage had been infested with the Bermudians. No reflection on these beautiful little ships but the fact is that there was only decent swinging room for one.