It is a warm day, the sky is blue, the sea tranquil.
I am propelling myself through turquoise waters in the manner of a one armed mermaid.
I say one armed because in my other I am holding aloft a pint of milk.
As you may have guessed I am on a mission (I am not normally inclined to swim around in the ocean holding pints of milk clear of the water)
It started out with the simple task of fetching a friend (I shall call him Tom) a pint of milk from the village (I was cycling there anyway for my own shopping).
I had no idea that, between the time I had made the offer and the time I returned there would be a change of scenario. That his boat would go from sitting on dry sand and easily accessible, to being afloat in a few metres of water.
I stood on the shore and called and called but no bearded face appeared on the distant deck, no far away figure clambered down the ladder into the small dingy tied alongside the boat and rowed over to me.
So I did what any selfless mermaid would do. I swam out to the boat with my delivery.
I love boats. I grew up in them and from the time I was about ten, I was more than able to row an 18 foot clinker built lake boat. I also did so without a life jacket and I never fell in.
But as I grew older I realised that boats may not love me as much.
Or maybe it was because I deserted those simple rowing boats for bigger ones. Yachts for example
‘Come sailing in Carlingford’ (this was from Tom, the pint of milk chap)
I couldn’t refuse.
The invitation had such a ring to it!
I pictured white trousers, striped ganseys, those fancy deck shoes and I packed a picnic to fit such an occasion.
Baguette, brie, figs, pâté and wine and I headed north in my flowery summer dress.
Now I must mention here that flowery and flowing are my way of dressing whether I am climbing a mountain. cycling a bike across France, or being out in a boat.
When I arrive at the quay Tom’s girlfriend, (whom I shall call Jane) was already there, dressed in the correct gear for a day at sea. (everything she wore was labelled ‘regatta’).
Beside her stood a man, who looked at me (or rather at my flowy dress) with a mixture dismissiveness and dismay.
After being introduced to him (I’ll call him Paul) we set out in the dingy for the boat.
Jane leapt from the dingy like a Giselle, landing lithely on deck and to be fair, despite my dress I too managed to clamber on board without losing my footing or my dignity. Much I’m sure to the disappointment of Paul who gave me the distinct impression that he would have liked me, not only to fall in, but to float very far away.
On board, Jane instantly began to do important looking things. Tying this, loosening that, unfurling the other.
Feeling the constant disapproving glare from Paul and needing to show that him that I too was a proficient sailor, I hissed at Tom
‘Give me a chore’
Take the jib out of that bag’ He instructed, nodding to a large canvas bag lying on the foredeck.
Throwing a look at Paul which said ‘See I’m an accomplished sailor too’ I lifted the heavy bag and shook out the sail with vigour.
Unfortunately as soon as I put the bag down (in order to unfold the jib), it blew overboard and began drifting away on the water.
Tom immediately lifted anchor and with an oar, started to swing the boat around, Jane clucked anxiously as Paul grabbed the boathook, and leaning out caught hold of the bag pulling it on board. He then made (it seemed to me) an unnecessary show of hanging it out to dry. Attaching it firmly to the rails with two pegs.
I could swear he was smirking.
Pretending I didn’t notice (such a fuss over a bag) and turned instead to unpack my picnic basket.
I saw Paul eyeing the bottle of wine. ‘Silly me’ I said gaily ‘How did that get there? of course we won’t be drinking wine, it would be against the rules of safe sailing, falling drunkenly over board and all that’
Suddenly he smiled and beckoned to me. Lifting a wooden hatch in the deck, he motioned me to look in and there lay about twenty bottles of red wine stashed neatly side by side.
‘I brought them back on a recent trip from France. May I add a few to your picnic’. He asked.
As we sailed out into the bay he told me about his sailing trip on his own boat to France, Relating his story in an awkward halting way and mentioning his demeanours and trials at sailing, in such a disarming way that I began to realise he hadn’t been ‘looking down on me’ at all, it was just his manner.
‘A nuclear physicist’ Tom informed me later.
We became friends or as near to friends as I can be with a physicist.
But my sailing trips didn’t always turn out so forgiving, sometimes I didn’t even manage to get on board.
A year or two after the sail bag event, we are all camping in the west in our usual spot.
Tom enquired if I’d like to go for a sail. So sitting myself in the stern of the dingy (in my blue flowery flowing dress) I allowed him to row me out to the boat.
When we reached it, the hull seemed higher than the last time. I gazed up at the outward curve apprehensively.
‘I’ve changed my mind’ I said ‘I think I’ll skip it this time’
‘Not at all, you’ve done it before. you’ll be fine’
So I stood on the ledge of the dingy as tom steadied it and stretching high, grasped hold of the railing of the boat. I somehow got one foot up on the deck and hauled myself upwards.
‘This is easy’ I think, getting my second foot up. I am just about to swing it over the railing when my first foot slips and before I knew it my second one followed.
I was now hanging helplessly from the railing. Tom started to manoeuvre the dingy back under my dangling feet to give me a foothold but I couldn’t hold on any longer and letting go I dropped into the water.
My dress billowed around my waist like a giant bell and as I swam to shore, it expanded and contracted much akin to the propelling motion (and appearance ) of a large colourful jelly fish.
‘It’s no use! go without me’ I call dramatically to him as I reached the shore, dragging my dripping form across the sand towards my tent.
But Tom is not one to give up or laugh or in any way be perturbed by a mere ‘man overboard’incident .
‘Go and change, I’ll wait here’ he calls back. So I do and return (this time in a pink flowery flowing dress)
and once more he rows me across.
This time I manage to get on board and without further ado we sail off into the sunset.
And so last Sunday night, knowing I was safe from any of the above, I traipsed (hobbled with on my damaged knee) through Dublin city, passed the tourists and the eclectic shops, the bicycles and down the cobbled lane ways of temple bar to the IFI cinema to see a film I have been waiting for with much anticipation.
The Camino voyage!
A documentary about a boat. A naomhóg to be exact and the four men (artists, musicians and poets) two of whom had built the traditional craft and all of whom were rowing it on its journey from St James gate in Dublin down the liffey all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
I cried and laughed my way through it.
The visuals were supreme. Shots of the fragile craft, a basket really, dancing on the immense, sometimes turbulent sea.
And the sounds! The familiar (from my years of rowing) rhythmic creaking of rowlocks. The splash of oars as they broke the surface of the sea.
The music of the box accordion, guitar, bodhran, played sometimes melancholically, sometimes with jolly vigour, but always pulling at my heart strings. The fluidly spoken Irish. The songs, the words of the poets as they described their thoughts on their journey, all stirred memories within me.
My youth spent rowing Irelands lakes. My teenage obsession with Thor Heyerdahl and the Kontiki voyage. Hearing, as a Mother busy rearing my daughters, about Tim Severins ‘Brendan voyage’.
Then finally my own pilgrimage. Cycling the yellow bicycle from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, not on water but beside and always associated with it as I made my way slowly, pedalling my recovering body across France.
And though not as exciting or as adventuress, I understood that feeling of purpose every morning, when setting out each day on a continuing journey.
And suddenly a yearning has come over me. I need to go arowing again.
óro mo bhaidín
ag snamh ar a’gcuan
óró mo bhaidí
faighimis na máidi
agus teimis chun siuil
Óro mo bhaidín
Óro mo churaichín ó
Óro mo bhaidín.
Oh my little boat
as she glides in the bay
oh my little boat
lets get the oars
and we’ll row on
oh my little boat
oh my little currach
oh my little boat.