Our time in Scotland was ebbing. This was not due to any seasonal constraints but to the fact we were, possibly, illegal immigrants on a boat that was, possibly, smuggled into the country; it was making me more nervous the longer we got away with it…if indeed, we were getting away with anything.
We always do our best to follow the rules, but getting a handle on Europe’s deep drifts of laws was like excavating an ancient archeological midden of bureaucratic effluent. Enforcement by individual countries seemed to consist of border agents periodically scooping up a handful, throwing it around, and then checking what got stuck to whom. With six months left in the tropical hurricane season and at least five months of boat projects to prepare for crossing the Atlantic, we decided the best way forward was to keep a low profile and head for the most remote part of the country that seemed to care least: Ireland.
Kara engaged the newly-functional steering vane just outside Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay. We sailed into the waters of Northern Ireland (also, somewhat reluctantly, part of the UK) and then across the ostensibly “open” border into Ireland proper; a neat little international sleight-of-hand which, I hoped, might excuse our lack im- and emigration documentation.
The run across the top and down Ireland’s West Coast was marked by tall cliffs, deep sea caves, a refreshing absence of laws, light breezes, excellent anchorages with free guest moorings, and, most memorably, a perplexing lack of opportunities to dispose of refuse. Kara was–as is her inalienable right–buying the occasional six-pack of tomatoes which always came nestled in styrofoam, wrapped in cling-film, and further buckled into cardboard. No problem, I thought, but neither inside nor outside the stores were there rubbish bins. Ditto around town, on the beach, or at the harbor. After hours of walking the streets in search, the baby had soiled two disposable diapers which, suddenly, did not seem particularly disposable in Ireland.
We finally found a phallic green plastic container hose-clamped to a sign post at a tourist overlook, but it was capped with a shiny domed hat which suggested that the diameter of an acceptable article of refuse be no larger than a cigarette butt. Kara had just knocked the cap off with an elbow–oops!–and was stuffing in the diapers when passing locals protested quite strenuously. “Use yer own bins, damn it! It’s a paid service!” But their only suggestion was a landfill 30 miles inland (“it’s rather difficult to find, too–say, where’s your car?”) After similar experiences in a series of small towns, we were soon nostalgically enjoying the aroma of roasted garbage over driftwood beach fire for the first time since Alaska.
As we neared the Southwest corner of Ireland, three startling things came to a head all in the same week. First, Ireland ran out of water. While we’d been enjoying an unheard-of multi-week run of sunny weather, the Irish reservoirs–really just a membrane of peat draped over rocky outcrops that oozes water into small creeks–had been baking dry. Once I knew what to look for, it was apparent that the spongy grassy/root mixture that makes up most of Ireland’s greenery had shriveled, pulling away from the stones and leaving them sitting in wells just like melting snow. The unfavorable surface area to volume ratio of this watershed meant that supply had gone from comfortable to critical in days.
Second, about the time I was sounding Sentijn’s water tanks and wondering how Baby Dean’s bedtime routine might go without the bathing element, my parents flew in. This storm had been brewing for quite some time; they hadn’t seen their grandson in a year, I’d been reminded regularly. And given that Baby Dean was only a year old, I suppose I can see why they might have been impatient.
My dad wasted no time in pointing out the shortcomings of my little 4-stroke outboard–which were many, I had to admit. Each time it failed to start, or the carburetor needed cleaning, or the fuel needed to be drained and exchanged for fresh, he would start with “You know, back when I was a boy I had this Johnson…” His Johnson, I was informed, was larger and much more reliable than mine. It was a two stroke, and it was always ready to go; in fact, it would start even if you just looked at the starter cord. And while it was only eight horsepower, it could tow four water skiers simultaneously and went forty knots on smooth water. He’d take it fifty miles from land for deep-sea fishing because it never failed, nor did it ever require maintenance or repair. Twenty years, he’d had that outboard, and now that you mention it, his old Johnson never seemed to need any fuel either.
Third, we were boarded by the Irish border police. Twice. We’d sailed at least half of the country’s coast without seeing a single figure of authority. Suddenly, as we rounded Dunmore Head, we found an angry swarm of matte-black attack RIBs buzzing angrily in the smooth waters of Dingle Bay. One peeled out of formation, paralleled our course, and no fewer than five armed agents leapt aboard. It was an intimidating display of staff, equipment, and skill (even if applied to the border rather unevenly). Now quite nervous, I dusted off our unstamped passports and engaged my most harmless smile. The head agent glanced at the stack of passports, judged it to be about the right height for the number of people on board, slapped me on the back and welcomed us to Ireland.
Then we all took some selfies.