The voice came over the tannoy warning us of our delayed arrival. The swell had strengthened very suddenly as we sailed toward mainland Canada. Entry to the harbour was looking less and less likely.
I can’t say I even noticed anything worth worrying about. It wasn’t until, one by one, the seats around me became occupied that I thought to take a peek out of the window and see what the fuss was about. Night had fallen as we sailed from Vancouver Island and the waves were certainly dancing ferociously but, you know, it was nothing to write home about. When you grow up having your access to the mainland dictated to by the sea’s temperament and the bravery of a captain, it makes you slightly arrogant. Talk to me when we’re sailing sideways and my lunch goes flying off the canteen table. Then we have a problem.
This memory came back to me on Saturday morning, as I sat on the Isle of Lewis en-route to the Isle of Skye. This old Caledonian MacBrayne ferry was venturing off its usual route to Ullapool as Stornoway harbour is readied for its new occupant – MV Loch Seaforth. The sun warmed up as we sailed south and it was so calm that, if it weren’t for the distinctive drone of the ferry’s engine, you’d barely know we were sailing at all.
The Isle of Lewis is retiring from its usual route soon. As I sat in the canteen, drinking a surprisingly nice machine-made latte, I actually felt a little bit sad about it. This old vessel has been the gateway to some of my most significant memories. School trips, summer camp, Mod week, November weekend Christmas shopping, moving away for the first time, weddings, funerals, furious debates on the best place to sit (upstairs, observation deck). It’s a strange thing to feel nostalgic about but, as well as being the source of some of our greatest moments of frustration, the Isle of Lewis has been part of so many of our life journeys. I wondered how many trips we’d been on together. Far too many to count.
Outside the window, beyond the rainbow of turquoise blue sea and the grey-blue shadow of the passing islands, I spotted a huge cruise ship. I realised I didn’t envy those on-board, who only got to experience our island life for a few short hours. Instead, on this day, this beautiful, clear, peaceful day, I wouldn’t have given up sailing on this particular ship for anything. The Sullivan came before it and the Loch Seaforth will take up its mantle as our new portal to the mainland. But the Isle of Lewis will always be a protagonist in our island story.