Scottish Field

DRY DOCK DESPERATIO­N

Disappoint­ed to find that his boat needed repaired, Guy Grieve headed for Oban Marina, and was pleasantly surprised by the humour of those he encountere­d

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Though it pains Guy Grieve to bring his boat in for repair, he is pleasantly surprised by what he finds on land

As a fisherman I can say – with bitter authority – that there is little more depressing than having to lift one’s boat onto the hard for a refit. Aside from the pain of seeing the pitiful state of your pride and joy, it is a time during which money swiftly flies out, and nothing comes in.

In such instances, one can but dream of matching the luxuries of Jacques Cousteau. During his own desolate boatyard periods, he famously locked himself in darkened hotel rooms. Instead I have found myself sleeping in the cramped, damp forward cabin, quietly panicking about costs and my complete lack of manual skills, which might have alleviated some of the sizeable bills I have had to foot.

Annoyingly, some of my dear friends working at sea around me are insanely competent, with a few who are actually qualified chief engineers as well as fishers. I console myself that I at least have a knack for diving scallops, but this morale boosting tid-bit means nothing when you’re on the hard and out of your depth.

The west coast of Scotland is dotted with boatyards which all sit like spider’s webs waiting to catch fat summer visitors. And when they’ve caught them, they suck them dry. Now the yachties can generally afford it, but hapless small-scale fishers like me really suffer.

Recently I was casting about to find an operating base off Mull for our old boat Helanda and decided to give Oban Marina a shot. The marina is based on the north eastern tip of the tiny island of Kerrera in an incredibly sheltered bay named Ardentrive. It is run by Sam and Robin who have managed to create a friendly, easy-going atmosphere, combining it with a positive and proactive boatyard operation.

Examples of their big-heartednes­s are myriad. During a dark night last November for example my two divers, who happen to be brothers, had the most almighty fight. Drunk, they were creating an immense nuisance of themselves. Anywhere else, the police would have been called in, but instead Sam bravely intervened, separating the tight ball of fraternal aggression that rolled about the pontoon. Further diffusing the situation, she placed one of the hooligans in a berth on an empty boat belonging to the yard. I was called at 3am, and made my way over relieved that no one had been killed.

Of course I’m sure the place has seen a few red-blooded types in its past when it was the base for RAF Oban, supplying flying boat protection for convoys and submarine detection. In fact much of the old base infrastruc­ture can still be seen. I often look out over the place and imagine what an incredible sight it must have been to see the Short Sunderland Mark I flying boats taking off and coming alongside in the bay.

As an aside, a dear friend of mine – David Stinson – was once involved in the salvage of a Sunderland off the west coast of Kerrera. Tragically it had been a fatal accident. During the diving the pilot came out to see the spot and not long after David had surfaced he made his way over and asked what could be seen. After listening patiently he asked, ‘You didn’t by any chance find my pipe down there did you?’ What a tough generation that was.

Anyway, I digress – the point of this piece is to tell anyone who has a boat, working or not, that they should dodge the profession­al web spinners and ‘no cash, no splash’ brigade and instead head for Oban Marina for the simple reason that here they will encounter humour, humanity, good food and a genuinely eccentric managing couple whose way of doing business belongs to another gentler age rather than this present po-faced grubby time.

“My two divers, who happen to be brothers, had the most almighty fight

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