St Monans was on our list because of a book by Christopher Rush called Hellfire and Herring, a paeon to his grandfather and growing up in St. Monans. It’s a wonderful book and I heartily recommend it.
This is the best photo (above) I’ve taken – and will take, I think – of the trip and I’ll leave you with a passage by Christopher Rush for the moment.
The Next World
In his most scripturalist phase, before he failed, George taught me the bible in the direct and vivid style of an old whaler; only occasionally referring to the big book itself. He also liked to combine seamanship and religion in the spirit of his generation and his grandfather’s.
There were no ornaments in George’s room. But on one of the walls he had hung a large painting of a ship, which he called the Gospel Ship. It was not a fully-rigged vessel – it had twenty four sails – but on every sail and key part of the ship there was an apt quotation from the bible. He made me learn the names of the sails and parts of the ship, and with my eyes shut I had to tell him the quotations, chapter and verse, together with the references, on every part, and on any part that he might pick out at random. This went on for many Sundays for many years. There were fifty references altogether and I can still do this behind closed eyes.
The ship was guided by the morning star, shown blazing in the sky, with Revelation 2.28 printed underneath.
And I will give him the morning star.
At its stern a lighthouse revealed the rocks it had come safely through, and round the white tower was written the reference Psalm 119.105,
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
A flock of seabirds followed the ship, carrying a message from Ecclesiastes 10:20,
A bird of the air shall carry the voice.
Every one of the twenty four sails and each of the masts bore its text, and every working part of the vessel was appropriately inscribed, as were each of the ship’s flags. Along the hull of the ship were written the words,
Though billows encompass my way, yet shall I fear not.
And at the very bottom of the picture was a little couplet:
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea.
The sea in the painting was suitably stormy, to fit the caption, and it wore an ominous frown that reminded me of the second verse of Genesis, known to me before I even knew myself, describing the primordial chaos that reigned before God took the universe in hand. Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. God was invisible but the sea revealed something of his angry expression, and it was those broken masts and spars that frightened me more than anything else in the entire religious scheme of things.
How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?
It equated damnation with drowning – and for the impressionable child who just happened to live surrounded by the sea, it represented an ever-present threat.
How to light a pipe.
1) Shear off some stuff from your block of tobacco. Remember kids, in this instance it’s the opposite of cutting your wrists, you slash across the road not down the street.
2) Crumble it up with your fingers like you’re senile and rolling your own poo balls in the retirement home.
3) Stuff it right up your pipe.
4) Get your pipe stuffer and really stuff it right in.
5) Light that shit.
6) Puff on it.
7) Really really stuff it in, give it some welly.
8) Puff on it, and if necessary light it again.
9) Sit back.
The boyz on the form took nothin for answer and the ship on the wing grew harold.
I wrote that years ago, probably drunk transcribing something from a film I’d misheard. I still don’t know what it means, but found a place for it here, if not a context. Gibberish gives good title.
The approach to Dunbar is really impressive, and the harbour entrance is really fucking impressive. On one side you have Castle Rock, which is like Marbella for kittiwakes, and the other side is another really huge rock thing. It feels all sea going and oo arrr me hearties penetrating it, and using my hanging on technique (see 8 last chapter) I’m feeling well sailory entering the passage.
This chapter’s turning out to be quite lusty, isn’t it?
So thrusting forth into the harbour proper – and in spite of my hanging off the side of Hope in my watch cap and sea boots and sailor’s slop – and even shouting at him that we’d bribe him with fresh smoked mackerel if he gives us a better space – the bloody harbour master tells us to raft up against some other boats in the “visitors” area of the harbour. Rafting up means that you have to tie your boat onto someone else’s boat in order not to float away, and doing it is a bit like the moment when you’re introduced to your cellmate in prison for the first time.
Our cellmates are a disgustingly healthy German couple who, although lovely, I suspect are so liberal that if they caught me masturbating they would aks to join in.
The rules of rafting up are thus :
i) put loads of fenders (boingy boat protector things) out to make it seem like you care whether you damage their boat or not
ii) when you’re walking across someone else’s boat to get to the shore, always walk round the front not the back so you can’t see in the cabin and catch them masturbating, lest they aks you to join in.
I can’t remember much about Dunbar. I did get a little Scotland frisson when I walked past Davy Henderson of the Fire Engines on the high street, but the rest of the time I was all hiding away from the Germans. We went there in order to pick up water and electricity for the boat but due to our rafting, we’re too far away from everything to be able to get it. Our fenders squeak against the German’s boat and it’s more sleepless nights.
I’m starting to really hate the voice I started writing this in.
Quite excited that we’re now in the Firth of Forth proper, we set out in the morning for Anstruther. There are rumours that water and electricity are available there. There is a huge har (sea mist) and it’s difficult to navigate, but it lifts to reveal the Bass and some other rock with poo on it in the bluest of blue seas. The sea has done this a few times, it goes so blue and weird and oily that it looks just like special effects, and produces a kinda Life of Pi upon the brain. The sea birds line dance around us.
The jellyfish are running things in the Firth of Forth, as I presume they are everywhere else. Fuck you, sharks, we’re the kings of the ocean now. William Burroughs once wrote : “you, thing, jellyfish soon” and he was right. The highend chefs are already trying to cook them up. Soon there won’t be anything left in the sea but jellyfish, so best get your gardener on and start growing chillies now cos jellyfish taste like shit. But they look like wicked CGI when they bauble past.
Anstruther is much bigger than I expected. It’s even got a fun fair which says on the side “Better than your husband’s ride”. Saucy. People in Anstruther are mad friendly. Really. Mad friendly. Even more friendly than the punk lad with the Scissor Sisters T-shirt in Amble who RANG HIS HOUSE to ask his peeps if they knew of any cafes open in Amble on a Sunday. Blud, he RANG HIS HOUSE. They’re even more friendly than that.
Within seconds we get invited to an 80th birthday party on a boat.
Things about Anstruther :
i) the people in the marina think the harbour master is pig ugly. It’s not true.
ii) trying to have a shower in the only public toilet in the area is really, really weird.
We give the 80th birthday people and a lady in a shop – who has kindly agreed to freeze some water for us for our ice box – some of our smoked mackerel. It’s quite a cunning ruse as they’ll never be able to trace where the food poisoning came from, and feels good to have gone from zero to potentially eight on our murderometer.
So, when we’re ringing Anstruther to try and go in there to raid their water and leccy, we accidentally ring the harbour master in Pittenweem. The books and internet who know say that recreational boats can’t go in there, but the harbourmaster in Pittenweem gets all village on our arses and is like “Why are you going there? Come here” and invites us for the weekend. So although Anstruther is nice and that, we’ve already killed there and so we move on.
Pittenweem is like a real harbour. It has big scary boats and big scary men who piss over the side of their boats when you’re watching and wink at you and make jokes about buggery. It has fucking notches cut in the side of the rock of the harbour as footholds and seaweedy slime ropes for you to hold onto when you climb up out of your boat. Pittenweem is way hardcore and, even though made very welcome, and we’ve been invited by the harbourmaster and all, it feels like we’re kinda in the way.
A boat rocks up in front of us and it’s two guys who go deep sea diving for razor clams. One of them goes into the town with a bag full of something, presumably living, and comes back with a crate of Stella under his arm. I apologise to our neighbours for, like, existing and they’re all “ach don’t worry about it wee man” but we decide to move on the next morning.
Pittenweem rockpools have winkles on their winkles and Paul gets about 1000 of them. I still have a minor ugh at eating one footed things but it’s not a sick up ugh. It’s not picking them out of their shells with a pin that grosses me out, it’s the little black, erm, door that you have to discard. The little black door things are fucking horrible, and I’m picking them up off the boat for days.
So Pittenweem is doing very well thanks and doesn’t need any Hope, so we slit the throats of the two deep sea divers by climbing on their boat after they’ve passed out from the Stella and head for St Monans.
St. Monans is kinda one of the reasons we started this trip, so it’s gonna get a chapter to itself.
10 things the novice sailor should know :
1) The boat isn’t going to capsize. It’s a boat. It’s specifically been built to be on water, fool, so stop worrying.
2) That big wooden thing that swings across the deck with the sail on it? It’s called a boom. because that’s the sound it makes when it decapitates you.
3) If hearing other people poo freaks you out, this isn’t the life for you.
4) If you fall off the boat, especially if sailing alone, you will probably drown. Just deal with that as a fact and move on. There’s a reason why sailors never used to learn to swim.
5) Seals aren’t fucking cute. They are the reincarnations of dead sailors and will lure you to your doom. Don’t be fooled.
6) I wasn’t joking about number 6. Have you heard them en masse? They will suck out your soul through your eyes.
7) Navigation is all done by computer nowadays. Sorry. I know that’s disappointing. It’s much easier though.
8) One hand for yourself, one for the boat.
9) Buy a fly swatter. Cabin flies / they must die.
10) Things happen slow at sea.
“Hope is a waking dream.”
There’s this duck family/colony/tribe/gang in Amble harbour. Paul thinks they’re mallards but I don’t think they are. We feed them on Ritz crackers and they hover round the boat like dogs. We get soppy and feed them these disgusting 79 pence frangipanny almond cake things that we bought in weakness in Heron Foods, which is kinda like the northern equivalent of a pound shop.
Frangipanny almond things are like the duck crack and they go super mental for it, fucking fighting each other and everything. I hope ducks aren’t allergic to almonds as I don’t want to see the baby ones explode, stomachs distended with cheap cake. Even though I write this in St Monans, which is a long, long way away from Amble, I look out of the porthole and there’s a family of ducks by the boat. I swear they’ve followed us here.
Beaching leg hole duly repaired (we think…more of that later), we head for Craster. The weather is immense and it’s beautiful sailing. Craster is where our former harbour journey begins proper for me really, as we are going in cold – just on information and pictures on the net – and from what we know, it’s not used much any more.The sun is in our eyes looking toward the land and we can’t see the harbour for toffee.
Find it. Craster harbour is super tiny. Like, there’s only two other boats moored up there against the walls and there’s barely room for us in what we think are the safer places in the harbour. I’ve never done this shit before – and although I’m getting pretty good at standing on the side of the boat hanging off (see number 8), it’s hard holding a rope, holding onto the boat and making sure the boat doesn’t smash against the wall. Thank God I’m not learning how to do this on rougher waters.
I spectacularly fail to hook a rope around a ladder and Paul gets off the helm and does it and we tie up against a wall. A dapper older gent in an Italian tailored shirt with natty stitching is looking over the side, we ask if it’s safe to tie up here, he says sure and hopes that we don’t have any illegal immigrants on the boat. His fears will be reinforced later when he smells the curry we’re cooking on the boat.
Turns out we are quite the wow in Craster and we are pretty much in constant conversation with people all the time we’re there. Turns out – from one lovely lady we speak who leans over and talks to us in the boat – that only about one new boat comes in to moor in Craster a year now, and hey we’re it, so alot of the locals / people here for the season – come out and chat. Most of the people who we speak to don’t live here anymore, but have had family homes here for generations. Two of the local guys tell us not to go to the pub overlooking the harbour (the landlord’s a cunt, apparently – hey Craster pub owner! this is what your community think of you, get the feeling you’re doing something wrong?) and so we take a walk up the road (over the arch, about a mile) to another pub on their suggestion.
After about a mile and a half (“bet they tell that to everyone who comes in the harbour, they’ll have sacked everything off the boat by now”) we find a lovely place, and walk in to find natty Italian shirt man sitting by the bar. He swears he got a lift there in a car but I know better and that he
a) took the smugglers cave route
b) jaunted there using his super sea powers
Either way it’s well creepy and I’m impressed.
In the morning we speak to Mr Bromwell – pictured earlier – who tells us his life and how the seals started forming gangs and robbing the salmon nets when the herring was fished out of the waters. I want to tell him that the same thing has happened with the kids in cities, cos all the herring’s gone from there too, but he’s on a roll and it would be a crime to interrupt.
We meet a lady – cycling past – who comments on our fisherman’s ganseys and says she used to knit them. Her grandfather sailed the last sailboat out of the Humber. Everyone here has memories of fishing, everyone’s sentences have ghosts.
There’s only one boat operating out of Craster now.
The shop selling Craster kippers (smoked herring – a delicacy up there with any other delicacy – although the herring is now shipped in from abroad) is closed, we’re too early, but we ask in the smokehouse and, explaining our situation (we have to leave, like, now, or the tide will be against us) we get some from the smokehouse guys. The kippers are amazing. We like Craster.
The journey from Craster to the Farne Islands is just again again idyllic idyllic. We have 4 sails up, and Paul lets go of the tiller and Hope sails herself. This is like taking your hands off the steering wheel and the car staying on the route you desire. Being in a boat solely powered and directed by the wind is a preternatural experience, and is everything the Buddhists talk about when they talk about the way of things. It’s as deep as the ocean we’re sailing upon, and, aside from experiencing God being Love at a Grateful Dead concert (I know, I know), it’s one of the few bits of spiritual stuff I can hold truck with in my life. Paul says Hope sailed the best sail of her life that day.
It fits then that we approach and moor at the Holy Island, a place – from the sea at least – of such unfathomable beauty it’s pointless to describe. We anchor in the harbour between the old monastery and the castle, and dinghy across to the island. Robson Jerome is filming a TV series and is the talk of much talk in the pub. Little witch, I write “Hope” in the sand on Lindisfarne harbour in Ogham.
We dinghy back across to the boat and, as they are filming looking across the harbour, our dinghy passes behind Robson Jerome. I give him the finger, shouting “Former Harbours, motherfuckers” and ruin their shot. The sound of seals brings uneasy sleep (see 5 and 6.)
The journey from Lindisfarne to Burnmouth, we catch ten mackerel. When you hear the phrase “they jumped in the boat”, it’s not far off, we dropped a line and they were there in seconds. Burnmouth we again tie up against a wall, though the harbourmaster is there and takes our lines for us, saving me the ignominy of another failed attempt.
After a chat with chirpy harbourman about the forthcoming lobster season – they are just starting to appear – we settle in and perfect our brining and smoking of the mackerel, using a brine of salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne and everyday seasoning, smoked with damped mesquite chips.
Leaving in the morning, the sail is again again again idyllic idyllic idyllic. We pass close enough by St Abbs Head to feel like we’re skimming its crags, a Sao Paulo of seabirds above us.
Usually at night before I’m about to sleep, closing my eyes, I get visions of lands I haven’t seen before. Beaches, mountains, usually natural landscapes with maybe small clusters of houses, often these are seen from above, as if I’m flying over them, but sometimes I’m close to the ground, zooming through woods or whatever. Some would call this remote viewing, scrying in to other places without being there. Some people in the secret services have made a living from selling what they think they see as being important, or believable.
At sea, my landscapes have disappeared. When I close my eyes I’m getting lines of…people…, who I instinctively feel are women. They are shrouded, heads covered, and the light is behind them so I can’t see their faces. They’re all looking out at me, even though I can’t see their eyes. It’s a melancholic image, and has recurred enough for me now to miss them when I don’t see them. They’ve never come before, the widows of the taish, holding strong against doom; mourning passing tradition; crying for the death of herring; the death of everything.
Past the cybernaut of Torness nuclear power station, we head for Dunbar.