The mind wanders on a yacht... could a logbook entry turn into a whisky-heist thriller?
Akind person gave me a new logbook a while ago. It is a big blue thing and its pages are divided into boxes for passage plan, number of people on board, weather forecast, course steered, course over ground, engine hours used, point of sail and possibly, though I have not yet got that far across the page, preferred brand of breakfast cereal.
This comes as a bit of a shock, previous logbooks having consisted of remarks scrawled in pencil on paper charts.
First time out I rose to the occasion. I leapt to the chart table and started scribbling, confirming that the crew consisted of me, the weather forecast said something or other, and the course on sailing from the lonely white-sand anchorage of Oronsay was somewhere about south. I then decided to ignore the boxes detailing fuel consumption (we were sailing) and number of ginger biscuits remaining in packet.
Back in the cockpit I gazed at the passing scene, which was characterised by plenty of water. A seal was watching. I took a photograph. In the distance, a black back rolled in a trough, terminating in a hooked fin. Minke whale. I took another photograph. I made a cup of tea, the traditional onboard mixture of Earl Grey and Nambarrie. The habit of writing had grown on me, I found. I made notes about all of it, adding sketches and snippets of verse. It was the kind of colourful detail that would go remarkably well in this winter’s Log Competition, in which dry recitals of course and speed provoke attacks of yawning, but whimsical details about whales and teapots are just what the doctor ordered.
It then occurred to me that there was probably more scope here for a more serious kind of diary, not to be put in for club prizes, but along the lines of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, which is based on logs he kept on his voyage to Tierra del Fuego and the Galapagos in HMS Beagle.
Those rafts of shearwaters sitting on the water, now. Were they on their way to South America for the winter, or had they collected there out of mere sociability? And is that Great Northern Diver in the middle of the shearwaters having an identity crisis, thinking it is a shearwater itself, or is it just short-sighted? There was much food for thought here, and material for further research. I chronicled it all.
The Sound of Islay was coming up, a narrow gut of water that is a serious tidal gate. I noted the course change in the log, finding it a bit dry and dull. There was nobody to talk to, and not much wildlife. We were, however, passing the Port Askaig ferry terminal. It occurred to me, the mind wandering, that millions of quids’ worth of whisky travel from the legendary distilleries of Islay down that modest slipway and into the thirsty world. It then entered my mind that if persons of ill-will were to hijack a ferry carrying a few trailerloads of whisky, they could be in for a major payday. In real life I write thrillers set on the sea, and the ferryport scudding by on the western shore looked like a launchpad for something pretty page-turning. What, for instance, if it was remorseless Russian goons who hijacked the ferry, but the hijack plan went wrong, and in the middle of it all was an ordinary yachtie like you and me, with normal hopes and fears, who suddenly found himself surrounded by hoodlums of an appallingly violent kind? How would yer man react, torn between his duty as a citizen and the fact that he was suddenly in possession of several million untraceable quid, and him needing a new gearbox?
Rushing to the chart table, I hauled up the notebook and started to scribble. A few months later, it has turned into a book: Singlehand, it is called, and you can get an ebook of it from Amazon or a physical copy from www.bookharbour.com, should you be interested in spending time in the company of people you would not like to meet on a dark night, and staying up well past your bedtime to find out whodunit...
At this point I realised that four knots of tide were washing us towards a rock, and the plotter was broken. I needed to work out distance travelled and in what direction, and make some sort of tidal triangle. Back to the new, dry, dull blue logbook. Boring. But important.
‘If persons of ill-will were to hijack a ferry carrying trailerloads of whisky...’
Port Askaig on the Isle of Islay – where the seed of a story was planted