Saturday, 26 March 2016

Into the Mystic

Smell the sea and feel the sky, Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.” – Van Morrisson

O’Donovan’s Store

The road beneath my feet feels strangely solid, after a month on passage. It climbs steeply from the water side, between close set pastel houses, towards the brow of a hill. Half way to that summit a thickset broad boled tree, branches spread wide, forces Castle Townshend’s high street to squeeze past, one carriageway  to either side of it - like a Jack in the Green indignantly risen through the tarmac to reclaim his natural realm. I pause to gather my breath and stand in the calm shade of the ancient tree. Below me a fleeting zephyr of breeze affectionately ruffles Stargazer’s reflection in the bay.

From my resting place beneath the tree, O’Donovan’s store stands out clearly -  marked by a posey of daffodil yellow gas bottles and a weather beaten petrol pump set before it on the pavement. A gentle murmur of conversational voices carries through the open door. I step inside and pause for my eyes to adjust to the dimmed light. The voices fall silent….a throat is softly cleared…. “You’ve had a long walk up that hill, maybe you’ve come a long way with your boat too.... You seemed to be asleep there all yesterday after you anchored?”

The Traveler's Tale

O’Donovan and his customers gently extract my tale in the friendly Irish way; long considered softly spoken questions, well pondered reflections, nods, smiles, silences, encouragements. I tell of provisioning Stargazer at the head of the creek in Penryn. A place where some boats come ashore to rest, their voyaging over; whilst others prepare to set out on new adventures – and where the rhythm of the tide slows the metronome of life to a reflective tempo.

I tell of sounding into the dimly perceived shelter of The Cove in the dawn twilight, after a night passage to Scilly, and awakening to tropical white sands.

Of Stargazer settling for the night, amid the roosting gulls, in Old Grimsby Sound.Travelers in from the sea.

Of rambles ashore, amid Treasure Island flora - whilst waiting for a fair breeze to carry us north across the Celtic Sea.

Of our breeze arriving, and of hoisting the cruising chute one fair morning; bound for Ireland.

Of  leaving the silent sentinel of Bishop Rock to port in the heat haze of a summer’s day.

Of a night spent romping across a dark shadowed sea beneath a swirling snowstorm of stars. Of the dawn sun gathering pearls of dew, one by one, from Strargazer’s deck in readiness for the day .

….and of landfall in the Emerald Isle. My hosts, in O’Donovan’s, pack my rucksack with fresh milk and bread, recommend some fruit cake and promise me that cruising riches beyond my imagining lie to the west. A fresh buzz of conversation rises from the doorway, as I walk back down the hill laden with provisions and buoyed by anticipation.

Riches Beyond Compare

In Baltimore Stargazer lies to the town jetty, amid the bustle of a working port. A family from Schull rafts gently alongside, after hailing for advice  – then confides it’s their first time out in a borrowed boat. “Slow is good” we agree. I catch the lines of a trawler yacht. The crew have tales to tell – bouncing off rocks on the way in, using an uncharted channel they had heard rumour of….and of a snug ‘secret’ anchorage in Barloge Creek.

In Barloge Creek the song of the Lough Hyne rapids hangs in the air. The muscular shoulder of Bullock Island, where rocky sinews ripple the tawny green slopes, provides our shelter.

A watchful stalking Egret provides our company.

Stargazer comes alive beneath me, hard on the wind bound for the Fastnet, in a jolie brise from the South West. She shoulders her way across the swell, deck drains gurgling, shrouds humming and diamonds of spray cascading back from the bow.

A pod of dolphins torpedoes past, darting to and fro beneath the bow before spearing off northwards. “Come on, keep up, follow us, we’ll show you the sights of the west coast,” they seem to say.

Somnolent seals sun themselves on the uncovering spit…..

…..whilst Stargazer draws breath in the lee of Bark Island. Beyond the green foliage and craggy islands, which shelter Glengarriff, a piercing westerly 5-6 whips white horses down the long arm of Bantry Bay, beneath misty mauve hillsides.

Back at sea, a gull skims the building Atlantic swell. Stargazer swoops north past the black bulk of the wave pieced, guano streaked, lighthouse capped Bull Rock under double reefed main.

A rhythm builds: I put the helm up, Stargazer climbs the wave; we level off at its crest; I bear off. Stargazer surfs downwards, helm vibrating, bow wave climbing aft, speed rising, me whooping! Our view of the 89m Bull Rock is all but eclipsed as I put the helm up to begin our next ascent.

An innocent, post downpour, sun boils saintly white whisps of cumulus off the hillside above Dingle Bay- to welcome us between outstretched arms clad in Irish green.

Ponies streak around the Dingle track, divets flying high behind them, the thunder of their hooves vibrating the ground. Bets are on, faces are intent. At the finishing post smiles are wide for punters and riders alike.

Into the Mystic

I walk through lush rolling countryside, stopping at cottages to ask my way, in search of the Reask Stone. It’s an intricately carved Celtic standing stone become Christian cross. For a time it formed the centrepiece of a drystone built monastery of beehive huts. Now only the reconstructed foundations of the Christian edifice remain. The ancient Reask Stone stands on, proud and mysterious, at one with the enduring timeless constants: sun dappled hillsides, the sighing wind, birdsong, and the unifying blue of sea and sky.

A contemplative peregrine falcon is perched on the sea wall above Stargazer when I return. I sit nestled in the corner of the cockpit - at peace. My arm is draped over the cabin top, the chime of lapping water fills my ears, the sun warms my face, and the wind tousles my hair. Van Morrisson’s song runs unbidden through my mind:

“We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”


  1. Excellent stuff Doug well written I feel like I was along for the trip with you.

    1. Glad you liked it, Ade. The really good news is that the pictures are displaying properly. Looks as if they work if I post direct on line; but not via my phone app. That being so, I'll probably post our May cruise from Poole to Chatham in blocks, rather than daily. Had the charts out today. My favoured route is over to France and up the Normamdy coast. But that's another story.......

  2. Hi Doug a picture paints a thousand words as the saying goes, yeah real nice to see what I have been reading about. Looking forward to the Chatham cruise your planning.