Here Comes the Rain Again

Here comes the rain again,
Falling on my head like a memory;
Falling on my head like a new emotion.

The Eurythmics

Very appropriate today to start with an Annie Lennox song, after all, she is as Scottish as they come.  😊

Raising our heads from our pillows and looking out of our window this morning, we saw the inevitable clouds and hoped that it would at least stay dry today.  On the shore we could see a distinctive white building that proclaimed itself to be the famous Jura Distillery – we had been advised yesterday that we could visit here after breakfast before the Glen Tarsan continued on its way.

After getting washed and dressed in warm clothing, we took our pre-breakfast coffee out on deck and looked around.  The grey clouds rolled restlessly in the sky, buffeted by the gusts of wind, and the Red Ensign at the stern of the Glen Tarsan stood out straight from its flagpole – but at least it was dry.

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast once again; on this vessel breakfast is the main meal of the day, with a lighter lunch. This morning we were served a scrumptious meal of succulent Scottish kippers accompanied with newly-baked bread and fresh lemon.

On the way back to cabin #1, we retrieved our waterproofs from where they’d been hung to dry out yesterday, and once more got ready to ‘disembark’; Trevor looked out of the window and remarked “here comes the rain again” which (a) formed the title for today’s blog and (b) meant that I would be singing that song for the rest of the day now.  😊

Back in the saloon we found that five of the seven of us had opted to go ashore, and the prevalent sound became the popping of snap fasteners and the ‘swish, swish’ of waterproofs and the muffled sounds of voices behind our masks or scarves.  We then proceeded, one by one, out onto the deck and down the iron rungs onto the yellow fibreglass liberty boat for the short hop across the bay.

Off we roared, the little boat bouncing and skimming and smacking the waves, the wind blasting our faces and hands and the sea spray taste of salt on our lips.  It only took about five minutes before we reached the shore, and we were each helped out of the boat by Max as we handed our lifejackets over.  We were told we had about an hour to spend here.

The five of us headed purposefully towards the Jura Distillery, where no-one seemed to be about.  We could smell a faint whiff of malt and oak and could see the ‘filling room’ with copper containers and wooden barrels but, as we turned the corner the first thing we saw was a notice in the window saying “Distillery Closed to Visitors”.  (Damn you, Covid-19!)  Here we were, in Jura, and we couldn’t go to the distillery!  ☹

Never mind though, the village (you couldn’t really call it a town) looked lovely, with a fantastic rugged coastline and undulating road, and gorgeous little chocolate-box dwellings.  There was a general dealer which sold absolutely everything, a café and ice-cream parlour which also sold local hand-made souvenirs, and a single-storey white building with a hand-painted sign letting us know that this was the Jura Community Centre.

The tide was partially out, and with it came the evocative scents of seaweed, fish and ozone.  Small boats leaned at an angle in the sandy mud, and the blue and grey clouds reflected on the water, so it was hard to see where the sky ended and the sea started. The whole effect was utterly charming.

As we saw the liberty boat approaching once again, we all went down to the small landing stage and boarded the rocking vessel for the short return journey to the Glen Tarsan.  Once again, we bounced and skimmed over the waves, and I was able to get some fantastic shots of the Glen Tarsan at anchor, made all the more authentic by the sea-spray hitting the lens of my phone camera.  😊

Approaching the Glen Tarsan from the tender, off Jura

Once we were all back on board, Skipper Dave raised the anchor again and soon we were underway once more. We watched the bow of the Glen Tarsan rising and falling, rising and falling, as she carried us ever-closer to our next exciting anchorage, which we’d been told was off the island of Islay. Now I wonder what Islay could be famous for…  😉

We enjoyed a delicious light lunch of home baked cheese and onion quiche accompanied by a fresh green salad, washed down with local beer, and spent some time pottering around in this lovely little vessel that had very quickly felt like home.

Soon we heard the familiar change in engine pitch, the clanking and screeching of metal on metal as the anchor chain was dropped, and the increased fervour of the wind as it threw flurries of rain against the windows of the Glen Tarsan.  We once again returned to cabin #1 to get into our inevitable waterproofs for the tender ride ashore.  😊

This time, we had been told that the Lagavulin Distillery, whilst not open for tours, was open for us to experience some whisky-tasting and have a look around the shop.  The liberty boat holds six passengers and two crew, so if we all wanted to go it would have to make two trips.  One passenger took one look at the weather and, wisely perhaps, chose to remain on board, so it was spot-on with the six remaining passengers all raring to go.  😊

Outside on deck, we were once again assailed by the elements; the gusts of wind and the flurries of rain that stung our cheeks.  For the first time, I was actually glad of my Covid mask as it helped protect my face from more than just Covid!  The half a dozen or so iron rungs that we had to descend to the small pontoon shifted and clanked against the side of the Glen Tarsan, and I watched as the pontoon became awash with the waves.  Gripping the railing for dear life, I inched my way down to the bottom step, where the helping hands of Steve the engineer and Max the bo’sun aided me onto the bobbing boat.  One by one the six of us boarded in a similar manner and Derek, the passenger who had so far not been ashore, made us all laugh when he questioned his sanity at getting onto a “Tupperware tub” to go ashore.  😊 😊

Well, we’ve never known a tender ride like this before.  All we could see of each other was our eyes from beneath our cagoule hoods and above our masks.  With Steve at the helm to the rear, and Max at the bow holding the ropes, we set off over the waves towards Islay.  We bounced, skimmed and smacked onto the waves while great cascades of sea water splashed up and over us, all of us laughing hysterically in exhilaration, despite the fact that any second now I expected my teeth to be jolted from their sockets.  This was the ultimate white-knuckle ride!  Above the noise of the wind, the sea and our laughter Steve the engineer sat nonchalantly at his wheel; after all, it was just another day ‘at the office’ for him.  😊

Soon we arrived at the small landing stage and it was a matter of perfect timing to jump ashore at the exact second the gunwale of the tender was level with the land.  Like six drowned rats we dripped our way along the road to the entrance of the Lagavulin Visitor Centre and rang the doorbell.  A very pleasant lady opened up, asked how many there were of us (six) and invited us in one by one to have our temperature taken and sanitize our hands.  We then had time to look around the Lagavulin shop and taste this exquisite 16-year-old single malt.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not a whisky drinker at all, but this stuff was something special and, on swallowing, it sent delightful warm tendrils emanating from my stomach out towards my chilled limbs.

We bought a bottle of the whisky and some tumblers with “Lagavulin” engraved on them to give as gifts; in fact, most of us bought something.  What were they packed into? Paper carrier bags!  Whilst shops have rightly stopped using plastic carriers, we wondered how we were going to get our boxed whisky and other items out of the shop, across the bay in the liberty boat, and back onto the Glen Tarsan without the whole lot disintegrating into a soggy mess.  😊

While we were waiting for the tender to return, three intrepid souls decided to walk the two miles to our next stop of Port Ellen, while three of us (including Trevor and I) elected to return to the boat.  We offered to take the whisky back for those who wanted to walk, and we held the paper carriers under our cagoules as best we could while we waited for Steve to return.  I joked that I could just imagine the headlines “Vessel goes down off Islay with consignment of whisky – three missing”.  😊

The return trip to the Glen Tarsan was not quite as rough and we all made it in one piece.  As we made our way back up the iron steps we needed both hands, so Max the bo’sun said to leave our whisky and he’d bring it in for us.

Back in our cabin we thankfully got out of our wet things; I can certainly vouch for my cagoule’s claim on the label that it is “100% waterproof and wind resistant” because I was perfectly dry underneath.  As we’d already told Dave the Skipper that the other three passengers would be picking up the tender at Port Ellen, the Glen Tarsan prepared to get underway… and prepared to get underway… and prepared to get underway.  We could hear the engines but we couldn’t hear the anchor being raised, and we were certainly taking a longer than usual time to get moving again.  Shortly afterwards Trevor, who had gone to investigate, returned and said that a fan-belt had snapped, and the engineer Steve was currently repairing it.

Next, we could smell a sort of hot rubber smell as the new fan belt took hold.  Dave the Skipper came along, wearing his blue overalls, and said that the problem actually lay with the anchor-winching gear and not the engine, and he was having to hand-winch the anchor.  We were stranded at sea!  😊  Meanwhile, the three passengers who had decided to brave the elements and walk along to Port Ellen must have wondered where we were, but someone got word to them that we were running late, so they took refuge in a handily-situated hotel.

While all this was going on, the indefatigable Mags conjured up some home-baked scones with jam and cream, all washed down with some good, freshly-ground coffee.

Eventually the Glen Tarsan set off again, and made her way around to Port Ellen, where we were reunited with the other three and eventually everyone was back on board again, with lots of laughter and tales to tell.  Port Ellen would be our anchorage for tonight, so no more white-knuckle rides on the tender for today.  😊

While the vessel was stationary (or at least as stationary as she ever got, slowly turning on her anchor) I took a refreshing, hot shower, blow-dried my hair and changed into clean, dry clothes.  Thus rejuvenated, Trevor and I wandered along to the saloon, where a cold beer was in order before our pre-dinner canapés of smoked salmon and cream cheese mini-tortilla bites.

Dinner, as ever, was delicious and consisted of the poshest fish ‘n’ chips we’ve ever had:  a melt-in-the-mouth lemon sole, minted mushy peas and hand-cut skin-on chips.  This was followed by a lemon and Limoncello ice cream topped with a fresh strawberry, and finally the yummy cheeses, where I sampled a Scottish blue cheese called “Blue Murder” and a mature cheddar with truffles.  It was all washed down with chilled house white wine, and followed by the inevitable whisky.

At this point, our skipper Dave appeared and explained that there was another mechanical fault – this time our water desalination unit was faulty and we would have to wait until Wednesday to get the part we needed brought out to us.  He said we still had around 1,000 litres of fresh water available, but to use it sparingly.  I joked that we’d just have to live on beer, whisky and wine until then.  😊

To make up for the “inconveniences” we’d experienced today, Skipper Dave would buy the next round of drinks:  the Glen Tarsan’s version of the Captain’s Cocktail Party.  😊

As if to compensate for the relentless wind and rain, Mother Nature decided to bestow upon us a spectacular sunset across the sea loch, the mellow rays radiating out from behind a cloud and leaving a golden path on the darkening sea.  It was truly wonderful.

Sunset over Islay

Night-time falls late in May in these northerly latitudes, and even after 10.00pm there were still snatches of blue-tinted light among the clouds.  The engine and generator on board Glen Tarsan had stopped by now, and a gorgeous peace descended as I went outside on deck for the last time before returning to our cosy cabin. What a day it had been!  😊

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