MacPhail: setting sail on a voyage of nostalgia

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Around New Year, I covered in this column thoughts of my 2019 resolution to free up some days to visit and spend time with people whose company and friendship I have enjoyed, valued and found inspirational over the years.

The drudgery and debris of the insignificant clutter of everyday existence often prevents us from spending our time doing things that are truly important to us. Such was the case with most of the year so far. With the new album and all that entailed and preparation for the Skipinnish 20th anniversary concerts, we had to keep the throttle down and none of my good intentions was acted upon.

Having recently turned 40, the band turning 20, it being 20 years since my father died and many friends passing away over recent years, I have felt converging forces compelling me to act on these intentions and last weekend we did.

I am writing this on Tuesday morning aboard our boat, St Olave, as we pass south of the Gunna Sound bound for Ardmore Point, down the Sound of Mull and back to the mainland. I am down in the accommodation, Andrew is on the wheel and as I feel the boat cutting through a calm and shimmering sea, I am filled with the magic of these past six days – the places we have been, the tunes we have had and the people with whom we have spent time.

The first leg of the voyage when we left Loch Lochy and came down the canal on Thursday morning set the tone for the rest of the trip. On board were Andrew’s father, David, and two of his friends. Of all the multifaceted and indefinable factors that have allowed Andrew and I to maintain a good working partnership coupled with a close friendship in our 20 years of adventures together, his parents have played a very important role in that.

David often tells me that my articles – and, in fact, myself – are full of nonsense and he’s not one to enjoy praise so I expect a good ear-bashing for writing this, but one of the best things about having the boat is getting the chance to spend some time with himself.

I’ll go no further on that other than to say his help in many things and his influence over years is hugely appreciated.

The next day, from Dunstaffnage, I continued alone up to Tobermory where Andrew was joining me on Saturday morning. Entering Tobermory Bay always fills me with a warm feeling of nostalgia and as I came through the Dorlin Gap on the way in, all the memories of childhood trips across here, music festivals over the years, and my first year living away from home were all flooding through my mind.

The presence of the remains of dad’s boat, the Alice Robert, lying below the sea by Calve Island was powerful as I turned to port and headed for the new pontoons. That night the crack and stories were excellent and a lot of them filled with reference to dad and his times in Tobermory long years ago.

Andrew came aboard the next morning and, after loading supplies and fuelling up, we headed to the westward. In next week’s column, I’ll continue on the voyage.

We missed many friends whom we had hoped to see and there are many other places still to go, and many more people to meet up with but the trip gave a deeply enjoyable few days and has given me an even stronger impetus to make more time to enjoy the human connections that have been the making of our characters and the fibres of our lives.