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Respect for the sea

[58.56958454786523, -3.91475205195922]
Mandy Haggith

The following poem (and pieces of poem-ish writing) was written using the words and phrases of project participants in meetings and interviews, some online, some in person, in response to questions about their experiences of swimming, paddling and sailing around the coast of the northwest Highland Geopark area (i.e. the north coast and west coast…

I like exploring all the out of the way places,

coves, cliffs, bays, rock stacks, sea caves. 

You can get to islands which you can’t get to otherwise. 

I love to land on an island, spend a few hours wandering around. 

Some were inhabited once, now just ruins. 

It is tremendous to have the whole island to yourself

with all the views of the mountains of Sutherland

and all the wonderful wildlife – seals, otters, birds.

I often go on my own. 

The local club is important, it’s a social activity and it’s safer, 

but on my own I can go where I like, stop where I like,

there’s no pressure of speed and it’s quiet. 

You’ve got to get the weather – not too windy, no big swells –

and the tide’s a big consideration, we get ferocious tides.

I did once have to get rescued on the North Coast. 

There was an easterly force 3 helping me along

with occasional big swells coming in

and you have to watch big swells

because they can break unexpectedly. 

I chose a gap between rocks,

which probably wasn’t wise,

because just as I was going through

one of those big swells broke and I capsized. 

I didn’t manage to roll. 

I should have been able to self-rescue, but I tried and couldn’t. 

My paddle float strap had broken so I couldn’t fasten it on. 

You get exhausted very quickly trying to climb back in the boat. 

I had a dry suit on and without it I’d have gotten very cold very fast.

Even so, I decided the safest thing was to swim 

to some rocks, get out and call for help. 

It’s fairly remote. There was no VHF radio signal. 

I got a weak mobile signal but my phone had got wet so I lost it. 

Fortunately I had a personal locator beacon and set it off. 

That’s what alerted the lifeboat.

You go out in conditions you think are OK

then suddenly find its bigger than you like

and you’re in something you’re not at all happy with. 

Even on a reasonable day, with all the kit and training, 

things can get tricky, quickly. 

You need a lot of skill and experience to paddle this coast.

Every year I gain more respect for the sea.

(With thanks to Ben MacGregor)