Monday 21 July 2014

Duffers but not drowned.

Dau.II and I spent two days over the weeklend out on Lough Derg, the lake in the middle of Ireland which is one of several that is both fed and drained by the mighty Shannon.  Readers from Ukraine and Russia may now snicker at the epithet ‘mighty’ when applied to the Shannon which is a paltry 360km long and for the last 200km falls only about 20m.  So it is only mighty in the parochial sense that it is Ireland’s largest and longest river. This Lough Derg should not be confused with the other Lough Derg which is a place for catholic for ritual pilgrimage, penance and fasting.

We were learning to sail. Along with rugby, squash, cricket and shot-putting, sailing is something “I have done” but not for more than 40 years. So I was expecting hoping it would be ‘like riding a bicycle’, something once done never forgotten. Dau.II has never engaged in any of those sports, so was by the old definition a Landsman rather than an Ordinary Seaman, let alone an Able Seaman. We arrived in Dromineer the night before, so I again had the pleasure, at 0700hrs, of seeing the lake in its mirror-glass mode.  As far as the eye could see the lake was utterly flat.  When the working day was ready to start there was a ripple or two but the lake-shore trees were without a flutter, which I think makes it Beaufort windscale Force 1, maybe Force 0.5.

On the first day, with zero wind, our instructor taught us how to start the out-board motor, which we might need anyway to get out of or into harbour or out of a fix like being caught on a lee-shore, dismasted or in a terrible hurry to get to the nearest bar for a pint.  It’s tricky enough, but no worse than a chain-saw and less likely to cut your leg off.  Then we motored out onto the lake and practiced coming up to the quay a few times.  In contrast to driving a car, there is no brake on a boat; but if you approach land at an oblique angle at a sufficiently low speed then you can turn the boat at the last moment so that the boat-side kisses the quay-side and you can step lightly ashore. No jumping allowed.
After that we returned to base for a cup of tea and some instruction on the theory of sailing.  I’d never had that formal instruction – when we were nippers we had learned how to sail in the apprentice mode – going out with someone more experienced and learning by doing.

We also learned a few basic knots. Knots are a good example of compromise.  A knot needs to be secure under the action of natural forces and readily untied when you need to release it. You could moor your  boat by whipping out a hammer and whacking a dozen nails through your mooring rope.  Nothing will shift that including yourself when you want to get out on the water again. Some knots work well only with static ropes while others will tolerate a lot of movement and still be secure. These you need: reef-knot, clove-hitch, round-turn-and-two-half-hitches, bowline.

Still not much wind but we headed out aNNyway to find some; preferably not one of those gusts that precedes a squall of rain.  Suddenly in the middle of the lake and in the middle of a windless doldrum we realised that it was lunch-time and we were all Hank Marvin’.  So we hauled down the sails, fired up the outboard and headed into the harbour at Garrykennedy which is 150m from Larkin’s bar which serves as fine a bowl of chowder as you’ll find East of New England.  That was a pretty good day.

The following was good weather for Duffers.  Sunny spells rather than a broiling hot sun; no rain; wind between Force 1 and 4 variable; the whole day to play with. We headed across the county border which runs down the middle of the lake and went to Co. Clare for lunch. Mountshannon is a strange village that has turned its back on the Lake, so that from the marina there is no visible shop or pub. You’d imagine that there were more people willing to make an honest penny from the owners of these €100,000 motor-boats that tool up and down the Shannon all summer.  There’s got to be more to the potential transactions than charging €7.50 for a toasted sandwich and double that for plate of dinner.   Where’s the water-front café selling ice-creams hand-over-fist and cappuccinos to go.  They have one of those in Dromineer and it appears to be doing a land-office business.

After lunch we beat back across the lake a little faster than we'd gone across because there was a little more wind and we were a little more competent. And despite still being duffers, we did not drown. Just a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you.

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