5 July 2013
I have had the idea in my mind that I want to peer under that sometimes flat, sometimes billowing table of the sea with my little camera. It is so ever-present, so huge. And we only see that coloured, shifting plate of water, most-times never sparing a thought for the entire universe that carries on below.
Morag, my house-mum, asks Catriana, who says her husband could take me out on his boat for a whole day, but I only have time for a shorter outing. Catriana asks Iain who will, but our free days don’t coincide. Iain asks Roddy and we make an arrangement. Such is the helpfulness of everyone here.
I meet Roddy and his brother David this morning at Lochboisdale. The wind has thankfully dropped and the sun is breaking its way through. Roddy and his brother-in-law recently lost David’s boat at sea – casting them off into cold water for a full half hour before they were finally found and rescued. I was invited to go along on Sunday with them when they are diving to recover the wreck, but Sunday being the first day of Ceòlas, I am not able to, so David is taking me out today. We are going in Iain’s boat. Perhaps the whole community has been involved in this venture!
I drive the short distance to Lochboisdale where I am meeting David. Work is progressing here on the Stòras Uibhist £10m pier development project.
The community in South Uist are another who have bought their own land. £4.5m to form Stòras Uibhist, (South Uist Estate) was raised from a worldwide appeal reaching £50,000, and funds coming from Scottish Natural Heritage, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Western Isles Council and the Big Lottery fund. It was the biggest community land purchase in Scottish history with 2700 islanders on South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula taking control of the 92,000-acre South Uist Estate.Their pier development project, says David, will be good for the fishermen.
David clearly loves to be at sea. A car accident when he was sixteen has left him unable to work as a fisherman but this, he says, is all he wants to do. He is from a family of fishermen – his father and his father’s six brothers all work at sea. He has tried working in Glasgow in an attempt to do something else, but it is not for him and he has returned to South Uist where his heart seems to truly belong, amidst the wild green hills and the changing moods of the sea.
Roddy and David wrap some green twine around my tripod where I have perched my little GoPro camera. This twine is my extension line enabling us to lower camera and tripod into the sea.
David measures out in fathoms, on a weighted rope and using his arm’s length as his guide, the distance to the seabed. We know then how low I can drop my camera before it hits mud, and we release the estimated amount of twine, casting my precious little device into the deep unknown. It is not without some qualms that I let the twine slip out through my fingers, and the hint of silver is all I can see now as the tripod slips lower into the water until there is nothing, just the twine disappearing and a slight tug from below. It is a thrill to not know what I am capturing on the camera. Whether anything is swimming by or not, I will have at least an image of the deep.
It is fun thinking of other places we can try. We head on to rocky shores and lobster creels, then onto the salmon fish farm where we climb out of our boat and onto the floating walkway around the farm, with the help of the workers there, to lower my camera into the big round nets where the salmon are reared.
We return to shore in the early afternoon as a soft misty rain starts to fall, salty and hungry, skin tingling, fresh air in our lungs, the wind settled in my hair, our eyes bright with enthusiasm and laughter.
I head to the little Lochboisdale Post office where I can get a pot of tea and home-made cake and, with the sea still on my skin, I understand why David wants this life on the sea, and struggles to come to terms with the loss of his preferred career.
I have a wonderful footnote to add to this. Since I wrote this diary, David has started up his own business, offering boat trips with overnight camping, walking or fishing adventures, wildlife cruises and boat trips to the remote islands. He will be a fabulous guide for anyone who goes. Find him at: Uist Sea Tours
To relax in the evening, Mary, one of the Ceòlas organisers, and another generous sponsor of this residency, has invited me round for a lovely dinner. Here I meet Janice and Rosie, a couple of dancers and am invited to their dance performance at Stoneybridge community hall.
The piece they have choreographed is inspired by watching the birds on the machair. As they dance the birds come to life in the hall, sweeping low on the waves or soaring with the wind; Or battling against the wind until they give in and glide suddenly backwards at speed.