Getting a taste for the water
Sailing with city grandchildren is full of surprises
It can happen to the saltiest of us. Our boat-trained children marry, move away, and before you know it you have non-sailing grandchildren. My family spent every summer at Loch Hourn, on the west mainland of Scotland, when we were children; we were in our rowing boat before we could walk. When we weren’t doing family expeditions throughout the loch, we’d mess about in a blow-up kayak, or swim in the sea. In short, we grew up around water; we respected it, but we also took it for granted.
Flash forward 45 years, and the kind owners of ‘our’ cottage gave us the chance to return. I met my daughter and her children in Inverness – Maxwell, now nine, and Ava, aged six. We drove out westwards, with the children’s eyes growing wider with every mile. A deer! Highland cattle beside the road... and then, when we arrived, the fun of turning the Pioneer 12 over and getting it launched. I offered to row it across to the pier, for loading up our baggage, and the children fished out their lifejackets and scrambled aboard.
I knew we were only going half a mile across the part of the loch which dries at low water, but for them it was a huge expedition into uncharted seas.
“Are we going very far out?” Maxwell asked. I pointed out the pier, and his eyes widened.
“Is it really deep?” Ava added. “Have a look and see,” I suggested. The boat wobbled as they crowded to one side and agreed that, yes, they could see the bottom, so it probably was OK.
That reassured them for the voyage to the cottage, and the moment we arrived, they headed for the rocks we’d played on as children. We got the cottage paddle boards out, and I stood guard boat while they messed around – in the shallows at first, then, daringly, out to the point. The next day we made a picnic expedition along to the next bay.
After that, fishing was the big adventure. We saw terns diving, and the sea boiling as mackerel forced the whitebait to the surface, so I grabbed the darrows – a several-hooked handline wound round a holder – and out we went.
“I don’t want to catch anything,” Ava said firmly. “It’s too scary.”
So I put her in the bows, and gave her the job of watching for the splashing.
“Is it a big tug?” Maxie asked. “Would it pull me overboard?”
I reassured him on that one.
“What if I catch a shark?”
“There aren’t any,” I said firmly. “Not in this inner loch.”
We ran out two darrows, and I rowed, while Ava watched.
“Splashing, over there!”
I rowed in that direction. Suddenly, Maxie’s face lit up with mingled excitement and terror.
“Something’s tugging really hard!” At this point his nerve failed. “You do it, Granny. I’m scared to pull it in.”
I hauled up the line and there was a fine mackerel twisting up from the depths. The children edged in to look once it was in the bucket.
“It’s beautiful,” Ava said, looking at its green and black stripes, “like a tiger.”
She took it in charge in the bows, and we dropped the darrows again.
“Granny,” Maxwell said, “I saw a fin! Are you sure there aren’t sharks?” Sure enough, there were two black fins.
“It’s porpoises!” I said. “Dolphins!” They knew about dolphins, and the brows cleared. The fins came closer, and we saw the torpedo shape gleaming pale in the water as one flashed by us.
“That means there are more fish about,” I said, and sure enough there were; Maxie caught two at once, which was all we needed. We ate them, with roast potatoes, for supper.
With patience, I’ll make sea-children of them yet.
‘I knew we were only going half a mile across the loch, but for them it was a huge expedition’
Maxwell and Ava’s first catch of mackerel
Maxwell and Ava have fun in the paddleboats