I have been back at home a while now, going through my notes, audio recordings, pictures and, of course, my memories. This had led me to re-live experiences “on the western edge” that felt particularly significant at the time, yet had faded into the background. Revisiting these moments has brought them back into sharper focus…
There was that wet and windy day in Bertraghboy Bay, Connemara. It had been raining since I woke up. The pattering of rain on the deck just above my head was punctuated by the abrupt plops of larger drops falling from the furled mainsail. The noise of the wind in the rigging rose and fell, little crescendos and diminuendos as squalls came and went. In the stronger gusts the pattering on the deck became a loud rattle, and the anchor chain clanked as Coral swung round. Looking out, I could see water pouring down the windows and collecting in little pools before running along the sidedecks and streaming down the drainholes.
The previous day had been a long tiring sail up the coast, spent mainly on my feet in the cockpit. I had arrived late at Roundstone only to discover the anchorage was uncomfortable in the freshening southerly wind. So, rather late in the evening, I had brought Coral round better shelter in Bertrachboy Bay. But today I didn’t have to do anything and I really didn’t want to do anything. I was just hanging out in the cabin doing odd jobs, listening to the rain and reading Tim Robinson’s fascinating book, Connemara: A little Gaelic kingdom.
From time to time I stood at the bottom of the companionway and looked onto the circumference of wet bleakness. In the cockpit, the rain was gradually filling the washing up bowl I left out with last night’s dirty dishes. The ensign flew soggily from the backstay. Raindrops hung brightly from the safety rails, then dropped to the deck. Round Coral the dark greeny blue of the bay was dappled with the splash-marks of raindrops. High grey cloud covered the sky, heavier rain clouds blowing across below. When the rain slackened, the far shore appeared as a dark, scarcely green curve between water and sky, but the Connemara Mountains beyond remained hidden. But soon squalls returned and all I could make out was the nearby fish-farm, a circular black framework skeletal against the water.
All morning the rain persisted. In the afternoon the wind blew up to near gale force and veered westerly. It howled through the rigging and set the halliards drumming against the mast. The sky lightened in the south and west with thinner cloud and streaks of blue. All this I interpreted as signs of the cold front coming through. I watched the clouds racing across the sky, expecting the wind soon to blow itself out. But no, I saw that Coral was slowly drifting and realized that with the wind-shift the anchor was no longer holding firm. I got to work on the windlass hauling up the chain and anchor made heavy by mud and weed dredged up from the seabed. I took the opportunity to find a more sheltered spot on the northern shore. After carefully setting the anchor and making sure all was secure, I retired, rather wet and windblown, to the cabin.
Around teatime the wind finally dropped and through the early evening the sky cleared, the wind dropped to practically nothing and a deep sense of calm settled across the bay. I sat outside with my supper looking at the mountains, purply grey in the evening light. A straight line of cloud cut across the taller peaks and rose above them in curly cumulus, grey underneath and white above. Between the mountains and me lay the poor boulder-strewn farmland of Connemara. The low evening sun caught on some facets of the mountains while leaving others to lurk darkly in shadow. But to my right the cone of Cashel Hill remained in full sunshine, grass green with grey outcrops of granite welling out from underneath. Everything was so bright, with different shades of green and complex layers of curves in the hills, curve upon curve, and an odd little bunch of trees clustered round a house.
As I finished my supper, I realized how the breathtaking beauty of my surroundings – the clear air, the quiet rippling of the bay interspersed with the little shrieks of terns fishing nearby, the expansive view of water and mountains – had gradually permeated my awareness. It was high water of a big spring tide and the bay was full to the brim, lapping at the grassland all the way round. Maybe the fullness of the tide had filled me with a sense of the presence of the world around me.
I sat there thinking, “Maybe this is the pilgrimage. Maybe the point of coming this long way was wait through the rain and wind all day and now to sit here looking at the mountains of Connemara in this quietness, watching the way the clouds hang around the tops of the mountains.”
I am finding the word “grace” is helpful in describing these experiences of wonder at the world. Moments of grace cannot be willed, they arrive unbidden and arrest one’s attention. But of course that whole long, slow day watching the weather had created the conditions in which that moment could occur.