MacPhail – 25.7.19

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The voyage of last week’s column continued on the sunny Saturday morning from the island town of Tobermory.

After fuelling up and loading the boat with Andrew’s supplies – which as usual, would have sufficed for an Arctic expedition with a good ceilidh every night – we headed by Rubha nan Gall light, across Bloody Bay, out the Sound of Mull, past Ardmore then Cailleach Point and set our course for Scarinish, Tiree.

Leaving the confines of the Caledonian Canal, Loch Linnhe, the Firth of Lorne and the Sound of Mull to reach the open sea brought a progressive and powerful feeling of freedom.

Connection with the sea is common among those brought up in or living in coastal communities. Having been raised next to the sea, on an island of seafarers, with a father who was in the Merchant Navy and then a fisherman, an uncle who was a fisherman, two others who were in the Merchant Navy, a grandfather who was a Master Mariner, having a brother who is a fisherman, and having made wholly or part of my own living on the sea for more than 10 years, it is inevitably deeply ingrained in my psyche.

The prevalence of reference, symbolism and language of the sea present in my song-writing occurs subconsciously and even when I try to lessen the “sea content” it somehow seeps in like the tide against King Canute!

It is difficult to describe the feeling of being back on the sea under your own control to those not familiar with it, but as the Tiree Passage opened ahead of us to the Westward, there was nowhere else on the face of the earth I would have preferred to be.  The familiar sight of Ben Hynish and Ben Hough on the horizon gave the customary prelude to the emergence of the “Land Below the Waves” and thoughts of home.

We had planned to stay on Tiree for TMF on Saturday night, but a very good friend from Benbecula whom we hadn’t seen for a long time sent word that he was able to get to Barra to meet us that night.  So after a quick visit home to be fed, we headed through the Gunna Sound and set our course for Castlebay with the intention of returning to Tiree the following night to catch the climax of the 10th TMF.

Barra played a very important part in the early days of Skipinnish as much of the summer of ’99 was spent there when Andrew and I first got together to form a band.  It was before we even had a name and we have some amazing memories of that summer!

Coming in past Muldoanich and turning to starboard as Castlebay opens to the North still fills me with excitement borne from that first summer spent playing in the Craigard Hotel.  The people of Barra and Vatersay have a strength of character and identity that is more pronounced as a population than any other geographically defined group of people I have encountered. Among their many attributes is a unique ability to welcome and to celebrate.

Such was the way of our time there that the St Olave remained tied to the pontoon in Castlebay until Monday afternoon when we eventually managed to escape to make it back to Tiree just in time to catch the TMF after-party that night!