Do we have to?

Sam Llewellyn discovers that sometimes the waiting is better than the journey.

Sam Llewellyn discovers that sometimes the waiting is just as good as the journey.

We set out for the summer cruise from a harbour in northwest Scotland. There were three boats out of the normal four. The fourth was somewhere to the south of us, and had promised to catch up if we waited for a night in the anchorage behind the island at the end of Loch Hourn.

It would mean waiting. We would wait, of course. But really we wanted to be heading north. Each of us thought, ignobly but secretly, ‘Do we have to?’

We sailed up the Sound of Sleat, and the anchors plunged into the clear black water in the lee of the island. In the last of the light a seal came to look at the three strange hulls lying in its territory. The night came down.

The waiting began

Next morning the waiting began. There seemed plenty to do. There was a dodgy halyard to replace.

I sat in the cockpit inhaling the fumes of the coffee pot, and thought about this and that as the lay of the old halyard opened, accepted the strands of the new halyard, and went up the mast and through the sheave.

Then there was the eye splice for the shackle, and a trial hoist of the sail.

While it was up, it seemed like a good idea to go for a short sail, and while the short sail was going on it seemed foolish not to have a go at a mackerel. So it was lunchtime before we came back to the anchorage.

Impatience tweaked at my mind

Someone on one of the other boats said that they had got a message from the latecomer. He might not turn up today. Would we mind hanging around until tomorrow? An ignoble impatience tweaked at my mind: do we have to? It was noticeable, though, that the thought had less power than before.

I looked at the mast with the new halyard, the charming order of the tiny cabin. Out there the Sound of Sleat was heaving with wind over tide.

In here the breeze was a zephyr, and the glassy surface was unruffled, and half a cable’s length across the water was a charming island on which I had never landed.

I pulled the dinghy from the locker, blew it up and rowed ashore.

The anchorage lay below

Above the stony beach gnarled birch trees crowded down to low crags. I began to walk round the island’s margin. There was a path, narrow but definite, following the cornice of green turf that overhung the miniature cliffs.

The wind from Sleat was blowing in my face as I followed it. Suddenly I came out onto a sort of plateau of rock.

There were shells – a sea urchin, a big red crab, and some fish bones. And beyond them, galloping busily down its path, the humped shape of an otter.

I scrambled through the trees to the top of the island. The anchorage lay spread below, bright and cheerful, my boat and my friends’ boats neat as ducks in the tennis-court-sized mirror sheltered from the ripple of the loch.

There were four boats instead of three

The last member had arrived. Ahead, I caught myself thinking resentfully, of time.

I scooted down the hill and along the foreshore. There was a perfectly good deck brush in the wrack at the high water mark.

I presented it to the new arrival as he sat with a cup of tea, blinking the salt of the passage out of his eyes. ‘Thanks for waiting,’ he said. ‘Let’s go.’

I looked at the anchorage, the boats, the island, the inner deeps of the loch. ‘Do we have to?’ I said.

Sam Llewellyn