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Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
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The Sounds of Saturday

The 8 o’clock alarm beeps me into wakedness and the ritual of switching on the electrics and the VHF to get the weather forecast swings into action. Such is a typical Saturday on our boat but today is slightly different. It is flat calm and the forecast offers only variable light winds so there is no rush into action to get out and sail. Put the kettle on and enjoy a lazy start instead.

The kettle is soon bubbling – it was deprived of its whistle only days after purchase – it was far too piercing. That first cup of tea in the morning on the boat is pure nectar – I don’t know why but it tastes different to a home brew.

After tea I curl up in my sleeping bag and snooze for a while with only sounds to report the outside activity.

The Kerrera moorings

I hear a dog – not barking but harrumphing – a deep throated, half hearted cross between a growl and a grunt in an appeal to its owner to get a move on and open the door to let it in.

A shag which stands sentinel on a nearby buoy dives into the water with a splash then makes only light plopping noises as it dives very close to the boat looking for small fish & crustaceans.

The heterodyning moan of a fishing boat passing on the far side of the Sound of Kerrera is a regular morning call but is a bit later today – do anglers have lazy starts? The sound of boats is distinct from that of cars – they have a  constant engine note and their passage is denoted by getting louder then softer with that clear Doppler shift as they pass. Cars on the other hand accelerate and brake and the engine sound rises in pitch then falls frequently as they negotiate the changing road – the tyre noise adds to the melange that identifies them.

The crows on the cliffs above the road are disturbed by something – could be the Peregrine that we see regularly – they chack-chack & clatter around the concave rockface which amplifies and echoes the sound into a cacophonous outburst. There is silence for a while, not even the lapping of waves on the hull on such a still day. Only the ships clock – a would be Chronometer - ticks in the background.

Then a bloodcurdling screech cuts the quiet – a harsh, gritty, shouting alarm call followed by a long drawn out cry of a heron announcing its intention to land on its territory and take up its statue stance on the shoreline. I can’t look at herons without likening them to the flying dinosaurs of The Lost World.

The sunshine pours in through the open hatch and on the still air comes the Bing Bong of the tannoy on the Cal Mac ferry departing from Oban – it announces the start of the safety message in Gaelic then English as she pulls away from the RoRo terminal and heads out to Mull loaded with Iona pilgrims.

Another boat sound begins to build but this is nearer and its an outboard – higher pitched and more urgent. It passes close to our boat, which rolls gently in the wake making slight splashing noises in complaint at being disturbed. The engine then slows to tickover and stops and the voices of the occupants become clearer. I conclude they are visiting a nearby mooring where divers store shellfish until they are sold. The clattering of bags of shells confirms the diagnosis. Then from nowhere one of the divers breaks into song, he has a clear strong voice and the melody is easily identifiable as a shanty derivative. Only a few words can be positively identified – divers & scallops – but it is obviously an improvised song about their current occupation. It lasts for about 4 verses but then the boat starts and they roar away to sell their catch.

It is the first time I have heard a genuine spontaneous work song and lifts my heart sufficiently to make me think of getting up on this lazy Saturday on the boat. What a rich way to start the day.

© Keith Ratcliffe

October 2010

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