“You have come to the seashore, neither searching for the rich nor the wise, desiring only that I should follow.
See my goods, my possessions; in my boat you find no power, no wealth.
Will you accept, then, my nets and labour?
Take my hands and direct them.
Help me spend myself in seeking the lost, returning love for the love you gave me.
As I drift on the waters, be the resting place of my restless heart, my life’s companion, my friend and refuge.
With your eyes set upon me, gently smiling, you have spoken my name
All I longed for I have found by the water, at your side, I will seek other shores.”
Adapted from Hymn 532.
All I longed for I have found by the water. All that I was looking for I found on the sea.
Here I was sat looking out at the rain pour down the walls and run off the palms, the sky hung low and grey over the island and the sea pounding on the rocky shore, metres from the little white house. The Azores. Way out in the Atlantic Ocean. On my own. Very alone. The silence was shattered violently every now and then by fireworks exploding over the green fields, randomly announcing the start or end of the local festival. The little birds chirped happily in the trees glad of the shelter from this storm passing over the archipelago.
I did not know what to think, how to think. Everything had changed and yet everything was the same. Life continued on.
Stravaigin was 370nm away from the islands by now carrying her crew of three, the captain, lovely soft Stuart and quiet Michael from Ireland and she was surging along at an average of 8knts towards Dublin , her next port of call. I had waved them off three days previously, their faces eager and full of expectations for the next passage, mine was bright to see them off then full of tears once they had let go the lines and turned the stern towards me, heading away to sea. I had sat on the wall and cried a little, not sad to see them go, not worried, not scared, not sad to be on my own, just sad. There was too much ending. It wasn’t meant to be like this. She was supposed to be at home, waiting for my return, waiting for my call to tell her all about the journey, waiting to welcome us back and hug me and make me feel like the most important person in the world, as she does. And she was gone. Gone.
I felt lost. Lost my compass bearing, my anchor, my waypoint, my guidance, my core.
It had all happened so fast, so unexpectedly. Yes she was 90 , many would think, well you must have thought she may leave at any time and in some ways yes I had forced myself to contemplate that but I dismissed it. Not wanting to let that thought in. She was fine, keeping well. Looked after, cared for and happy.
We had left the Balearics in early May and sailed further west to mainland Spain deciding to hop along the coast this time rather than the long continual passage that we had done last year. We had allowed a few days in Majorca as our youngest and his girlfriend were due to join us for a short break however he had been offered an excellent opportunity to attend an academic module being piloted in Finland, all expenses paid so we encouraged him to take it up, his patient and supportive partner doing the same, so we left earlier than planned to make the journey to Gibraltar in good time and get up to Catalonia for the preparations.
Cartagena was our next port of call, a beautiful and intriguing city, grand and with lovely architecture. It seemed old style Spain, proud and full of lovely bars and restaurants. We were booked into the Real Club Nautica which sounded very grand but was actually very affordable and the receptionist was the friendliest and most helpful lady, recommending places to visit and things to do. We listened diligently but knew with only two nights there and our priorities as always were laundry, shopping, water and fuel, we wouldn’t manage any of these but we thanked her and took her maps and brochures. Yet another place to return to. I called Mum as always and told her all about the city and the journey down, she was interested and asked all her usual questions about the weather, was it busy? how as the food? was I ok? I had shared that I was getting a little tired of being away, something I was not vocal about with J, thinking it might bother him although he knew I was in some ways glad the journey was coming to its fruition, I love my home and missed being away from everyone. I told her I would call her the next evening when we were at anchor, as the next day we would be out of reception. All was fine, she had visitors coming and the garden was looking lovely. She was glad I was nearer home and was looking forward to seeing me.
“Bye bye dear, bye bye.”
We were almost a day out of Cartagena, evening approaching when the storm hit, hard, the maelstrom flew around in circles holding me in the vortex, I held tight to the rail, sobbing. J held the wheel hard and pushed the engine full ahead. The waves picked us up and sent us streaming down the other side, the wind blew our voices away. The phone call had come. I was in a storm. I was lost at sea.
We managed to pull into a cove, horrid and swelly, full of mooring buoys and fishing boats but we could stop. Stop and deal. Stop and think. Stop.
I felt for J, helpless, all he could do was make a plan which he did, while I made the heart wrenching calls to our boys.
Everything seemed a blur, unreal. I felt angry, guilty, scared, gutted and wronged. And lost.
The wedding was next week, we all couldn’t wait to tell her all about it, show her the pictures, the videos, the bride’s dress, my ceremony speech, the gossip, share the love of the day. She had already decided she would not go, the whole thing would be too much for her and we had all supported her with this decision and she felt much happier in the security that we all agreed and would share everything with her once home. I was due home on the Monday after the wedding and couldn’t wait. She was so proud of everyone, her grandsons who would be groomsmen and groom, their beautiful girls at their sides. The stunning bride and us, Mum and Dad, a job well done.
Stravaigin carried her grief laden load along the coast to Almeria the next day, a place the captain had found and fortunately offered all we needed, a safe place to leave her and an airport to fly us home.
I don’t remember those days there and flying home, I believe we flew via London but I don’t recall. I remember arriving at Edinburgh and my first born standing by the car with a bunch of flowers and his strong arms outstretched. I collapsed into his arms.
The week passed in a sad routine of funeral preparations, choosing photographs, organising a piper, notifying people which stung every time. It still did not seem real. I had the oddest sense now and again of “I need to call Mum and tell her what’s happened!” I woke in the night, cold and my heart thumping thinking I’d had a nightmare then the sadness flooding in that it was real. My anchor held me fast and kept me strong. Amongst this too were gaps of light and joy as we prepared for the wedding the weekend after the funeral.
Our son flew home from his stag do, kayaking in the Pyrenees for the funeral then back again to resume his preparations and I knew how hard it was for him.
I let the tiny bouquet of bog myrtle fall from my hand, tied in a red satin ribbon, a piece of the ribbon that would bind the young couples’ hands five days later in their handfasting ceremony, onto her coffin where she lay with my late brother, overlooked by the hill top where my late father’s ashes were scattered. Myrtle had been in her wedding bouquet and mine and my eldest son’s bride’s bouquet and I pulled a bit to take out to the Pyrenees for this new bride.
New beginnings, new life. She lives on in all of us.
Two days after the funeral we flew to Barcelona and became caught up in a wonderful whirl of preparations, dinners, wine, families, friends, flowers, talking and laughing. The wedding was deep in the heart of the Pallars, the Catalonian Pyrenees, the spring flowers were adorning the valley floors and the hillsides were a vibrant green. The rivers were full and flowing through the dissections of the mountain reigns and the white water rafters were accessorising the river sides with their colours and energy. We set to ferrying guests around, collecting booze from Andorra and sorting out the venues though everything was well prepared by the couple and her family. The day of the wedding was simply magical, everything they had wanted, planned for a year and a truly special for us and our family. The bride was ethereally beautiful, my son in tears of joy, my youngest piped her through the field by the river and my eldest stood proudly at his brother’s side. I conducted their chosen Celtic ceremony and sat while her uncle performed the ring exchange and rest of the ceremony and drunk it all in, committing it to memory that will last a lifetime. I often stood back throughout the day and as night worn on, casting my eye over the assembled crowd of families and friends, old and young and felt so calm and at peace that there was new life and new beginnings here, a lifetime of adventure ahead of them, surrounded by good people that will help to make their journey a safe and happy one.
We left the party at 4.30am feeling rather proud of ourselves and as I slipped in next to the captain, looking for his warmth on my chilled body, I fell asleep with smile on my face and gladness in my heart.
We left for Barcelona a couple of days later and spent a delightful night with our eldest and his wife who were taking advantage of the occasion to explore the city. He is such a sweet boy, folks at the wedding thought he was a Viking warlord but his large muscles and beard cover a tender heart and a gentle soul. I adore him and his pretty wife who is his angel. Early next morning saw us on a plane back to Almeria and Stravaigin and we sat in the cockpit drinking tea with a look on our faces that read “What just happened?” We hardly had time to reflect and digest, when our first crew member Michael from Northern Ireland arrived and we set to showing him around and settling him in. A retired dentist with three children, a wife whose love is horses, as well as him of course! He was gentle and calm, I knew he’d fit in just grand. A day to restock and charge up, then we headed out the marina and along the coast, final destination for me, Gibraltar.
The next few days were smooth sailing, if a little light for the captain. We motored a lot to boost the speed which was necessary but tedious.
We tried our first anchorage along the coast but it was noisy with tourists and swelly so we went on a bit to another however when we dropped the hook, it kept going! A bit of a drama as the windlass seemed stuck, the anchor was neither up nor down so not holding, the swell and wind were pushing us to the stone breakwater wall and a rather large ferry was steaming in to the channel we were now halfway across! I took the helm and let the boys deal with the stuck anchor, having to winch it up manually with flaked out chain and ropes. Finally the large metal hook appeared and we were free just in time as I slewed her round and headed for the marina. We were coming in whether they liked it or not however it was not a problem and we tied up alongside the outer quay, glad to be safe and secure. I made dinner but took mine ashore and sat on a bollard to eat on solid ground, the events of the past couple of hours having rocked me in more ways then one. The next drama was the fresh water pump filter broke in two, for no apparent reason, so out came the Gorilla glue and a temporary fix was applied. All this happened as soon as Mike had arrived, I scoffed at the luck of the Irish! A peaceful night in Motril with a lovely shower, evening and morning, including my breakfast on the quayside too as the choppy berth was making me ill. I had not felt well since the day after the wedding, extreme fatigue, sore throat and headaches, I put it down to recent events and pushed on.
Benalmadena offered us the next berth, choosing to hop into these marinas as they were reasonably cheap, not the over inflated fees of the Costas we had been warned about, though we realised most yachties prefer the Marbellas and Benidorms where you pay to be seen. We finally saw the Rock looming out of the low coast and I felt a surge of pride as we realised we were back here at the mouth of the Mediterranean. The waters had changed along these last few nautical miles turning from blue to green and very confused with currents running in all directions. It gave us 2-3knts at one point. We pulled into Gib to refuel, our three person team now working well together, I liked Mike’s dry Irish humour and he seemed to be enjoying the trip. It boded well for the next big passage. Cheap dieseled up we sailed round the point to La Linea our Spanish port last year and got a berth only a few spaces along from our original one. I smiled to myself when we saw “Matey’s” boat still there, his offers of cider and plum brandy still being woefully doled out to anyone who passed – although there were ladies clothes hanging out to dry on the rigging – could he have at last found a friend?
It was lovely being back, a feeling of knowing the place, popping over the border in an attempt to buy a charging cable for my phone but no luck so had to buy a cheap replacement phone. I‘m not really a techy person but these experiences teach you that you need communications and it does become a big part of keeping in touch and connecting with the world. We made our escape from Blackpool-by-the-sea quickly back to the Spanish side and enjoyed a tasty dinner at the marina café. We spent a few days there, a big restock on fresh food for the crews’ voyage, three trolley loads and a drama over a taxi back to the boat which ended up resolved but the captain was in a dizzy sweat! I smoothed things over and sent him off while I rode back with the goods piled high in the back of the taxi and walked back to retrieve my bike, still chained to the lamppost at the supermarket. The glamour of yachting, oh yes. Our second crew member arrived, Jan from Slovakia, a young soldier, dad of two little kids and a very disciplined attitude, we unravelled him of that promptly as J poured him a rum and ran over the very laid back plan for the next few days.
Finally our dear Stuart from Islay arrived, off the late plane, trolley bag trundled behind him and a big hug. He had just finished a cycle sportive race of 100miles and was still high on achievement and hungry. He polished off a sword fish steak that would feed us all and sat back, hands behind his head and stated “Ah that was very good”
Everyone found their space on Stravaigin, we had rearranged and restowed things so they had bunks and storage and I spent the last night with them all.
My flight was not due til late morning but they had to get away at dawn to make the tide out The Straits so as the pink sun was rising and the Rock loomed large behind them, Stravaigin and her four crewmen nosed out the marina and headed due west. Next stop The Azores.
I sat for ages watching them go, not sad or worried. Just philosophical. I did not want to sail with them , it was too far, too long with a possible three weeks at sea and the winds were due to be strong, good sailing but not comfortable. I had done my Atlantic crossing, I was very proud of what I achieved and had enjoyed it but I did not want to repeat it just now. I was low and a little weak. I needed time to recover and build up strength. Over these past couple of weeks I had to keep going. Now I could stop. I had learnt that you need to look after yourself before you can look after anyone else and my family needed me. I needed to be strong for them. Yes I had lost my Mum but my boys had lost their beloved Granny and they were raw. Time to go home.
I sat on the airplane seat watching the Rock underneath me and gazing at the white triangle shapes out on the ocean and though there were sad thoughts, there was also happy ones and I felt a pang of desire to do it all again.
It really is such a beautiful world, so huge, vast and exciting with so many good people living in it. We must strive to be happy. If we have the luxury of living on this planet we need to grab the opportunity with both hands and hold tight but also be gentle with our world. High in the sky looking down it looks so small and fragile but from the surface of the seas, it looks infinite. We all deserve our place on it, we come and we go but the time we have on it we must treasure. It is our treasure trove with untold wonders and we must relish each discovery and finding. Perhaps the greatest treasure of all though, is finding ourselves. All I longed for I have found by the water. I found myself on the sea.
Hymn 532. My mother’s chosen hymn for her funeral, found after her passing, hand written, on June 14th 2018. “Lord, you have come to the Seashore”