Canna is one of the Small Isles, the others being Rhum, Muck and Eigg, jewels in the Sea of the Hebrides. We were cruising in company, Linda, Herb, Dave, Jim and I, all of us in open boats, one each. Round the back of Rhum the sky joined up with the sea and turned a nasty threatening grey. By the time we got into Canna harbour, which is, thank goodness, perfectly sheltered, it was blowing most of a gale. We put up the tents on the boats, rafted up, cooked supper (you do the potatoes, I'll make the stew. What out of? Whatever I can find. Beans, mostly) and set the anchors for the night.
It was at this point that we discovered that the bottom of Canna Harbour is made of mud of a consistency similar to thin porridge. The night drew in. The rain came down. We dragged. Our shore transits slid past each other with awful speed. We reset anchors. Still the transits slid. We went to plan B. Linda found an empty mooring buoy, Herb another. Jim, Dave and I, noting that the tide would be low in the middle of the night, headed for the shallows of the shore, pulled up our centreboards and ran our boats up the beach. The wind shrieked in the shrouds. We lay in our sleeping bags and dodged the drips from our tents and wondered why we did this cruising thing.
Then it was morning. It was a good morning. The sky was high and blue, the breeze a zephyr from the south. Each of us crawled to the surface of the world and ate breakfast and waited for things to get dry. After breakfast up went the mainsails, out came the jibs, and finally, for balance, the mizzens. We proceeded out of the harbour. A choir of seals sitting across the water on the shores of Rhum set up their usual eerie howling. We ignored them. The little fleet pointed its nose northeast, and shrank to tiny tan triangles on the broad blue sheet of the Sea of the Hebrides, heading for the mountainous saw-edge of the Cuillins.
A big swell, left over from the previous night's blow, came lolloping in from the west. The boats knifed through the water clean and smooth, perfectly balanced. It was a fifteen-mile sail to Loch Scavaig, our target for today. It took a little more than three hours. We slid into the pool inside the natural rock breakwater at the foot of the mountains, anchored, rafted up for lunch and pondered the meaning of life.
What, we asked each other, had each of us done that fine sailing morning? Linda had been taking photographs, because that is what she does. Herb had been thinking deep thoughts in order to make them deeper. Dave had been organizing his life and reading a book, and I had been thinking about writing one. Jim had been listening to the Test Match, and having decided on a second breakfast had been doing quite a lot of cooking. In fact, he said, it had turned out to be one of the great mornings of his life. It had been an excellent sail. England had beaten the Australians hollow (this was some time ago, obviously). And best of all, he had on the bottomboards of an open boat, at sea, in a five-foot swell, using a camping stove, fried three eggs, his previous personal best having been two.
This was recognized by one and all to have been quite an achievement, so we paid him our compliments. Then we ran the boats up on the stony beach at the bottom of the cliff and topped up our water containers from the waterfall.
Sam Llewellyn, Editor, Marine Quarterly
Photo credit: Unsplash