Now on my own

We hugged goodbye, touching each other intentionally and affectionately for the first time that week. I watched as Suzie and Gib walked up the gangway from the pontoon, they turned and we waved a last goodbye, and I was on my own. I turned to do the necessary chores before I could leave the marina: top up with diesel, buy food, re-arrange the cabin for one. Then I untied the mooring lines and backed Coral away from the dock, turning her in the narrow space (with some awkwardness, watched intently by the Frenchmen in the yacht opposite) and motored away from Dingle. On the way out, Fungie the resident dolphin played around Coral is a rather desultory way before swimming off on this own to the middle of the bay.

I hoisted the sail, falling back easily in that self reliance I have cultivated over the years, and set off westward down the bay. As I watched the coast go by, I realised I was on my own for the first time on this whole trip: alone with my own thoughts and my own company; not having to worry about whether the others are happy; not engaged in conversation except what was in my own head.

There was no wind, so I motored past Ventry and Slea Head. The tide through Blasket Sound had turned against me so I took Coral over to White Strand Bay and dropped the anchor off the beach, partly to wait for the tide, and partly to take the opportunity to go ashore. Coral rolled heavily, even though the swell was light, there was no wind to steady her. I struggled to blow up the dinghy and get the outboard in place, but once that was done it took only a few minutes to get to the landing place and find where to tie the painter so it was out of the way of the tourist inflatables that kept roaring in and out. This was the place the villagers landing their curraghs for centuries, a little place of calm on what can be a wild coast; an additional sheltering wall was built in the twentieth century, and a stainless steel chain has been installed to help visitors up the rough steps. But in essence it is the same place.

I wandered round the village for half an hour or so, taking pictures of the ruined houses and of Coral against the background of rocks and the sound. As best I could, I avoided the other visitors. The houses, although tumbling down, seemed to me to be substantial, built into the shelter of the hillsides. As I poked around, going into some houses, walking the paths between them, climbing the rough stone steps, I imagined the children running errands and playing together, thought of the adults visiting each other in their houses, of the close relationships they would have. An enormous amount of work went into creating this community, both in a physical and in a cultural sense. All the work and play and love and struggle. Now it is all gone. I left feeling sad, not really sure if I should have landed or not.

Once the south going stream had slackened, I took Coral north through the Sound. There was quite a swell, and the stream had kicked up some rough water. Coral rolled horribly as we motored toward and round Sybil Point. It was a relief to get into relatively calm waters of Smethwick Harbour next to the massive bulk of Mt Brendan, most of which was lost in clouds.

I anchored Coral in a corner of the bay next to some low cliffs. The bay was practically empty. This is as I had imagined it, I thought, empty, quiet except for the gentle waves against the rocks.

And yet, while I enjoy the quiet of my own company, I miss the conviviality of the last week with Suzy and Gib: the good conversations; the shared interests in ecology; our joint appreciation and excitement at the wildlife and the landscape; good food and enough alcohol to loosen the tongues; and the shared physical intimacy of living together in Coral’s small cabin with the careful respect for personal boundaries.

Conviviality is a good word and an even better way of being. It was a word we used to describe how we were for twenty five years, meeting as five men in the Western Academy, bringing together conversation, food and emotional closeness. Alas, John has died, Peter T has dementia, and Peter H, Malcolm and I know that without them the Western Academy is no more. Thanks to Suzy and Gib for reminding me how important this quality of human being is. It brings out the best in us.

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