…’Michael Row The Boat Upside Down!’…

…it was all of at least 50 years or so ago, but it’s amazing how the mind can re-conjure with precision the whole event… at the time I worked and lived in Tobermory, on the beautiful Hebridean island of Mull… I had been here just long enuff to acquire sufficient fluency in the Scottish Gaelic language that still prevails there… my singing prowess fortunately married my ability in the language, and I became  a bit of a ‘circuit ceilidh’ singer… one weekend, a ceilidh invitation came to go across the water to Oban for a ceilidh in the town… accompanying me were Joanie and Fiona Mackenzie, possessors of angelic voices (even to this day) and both with astonishing ability to harmonise beautifully with any song in English or in Gaelic…and their father, the master of Scottish fiddle music, Pibroch Mackenzie... of course, it was on a weekend, so it wasn’t necessary to get leave from the Clydesdale Bank where I was a Trainee Financial Master of the Universe… the Saturday night performance went well, and the next day, Sunday, dawned into a vicious storm with a howling gale… the usual Sunday schedule for the large MacBraynes ferry, the  M.V.Columba, was cancelled… so what to do? I had to get back to Mull for work on Monday morning… we knew that the small motor launch that took the Sunday newspapers from Oban across to the island would prob’ly run, as it was skippered by the legendary Cailleach Spencer, an aging seadog of a lady for whom tempests held no fear…  we managed to persuade her to take us with her on the paper run… also in attendance was the Lady Maclean, the wife of Lord Maclean... she had been in Oban attending a gathering of the Red Cross for which she was the president in Scotland… she wanted to get back home to Mull and her husband in their castle at Duart that Sunday also… the resultant trip will stay in my mem’ry forever… Pibroch, Lady McLean the two girls and myself were seated in the rear of this 20-foot long vessel, in a small cabin, over which Cailleach Spencer threw a tarpaulin to keep out the excess sea spray… and it was needed!…

…the trip across normally takes around 45 minutes… the crossing that Sunday lasted three and a half hours… after the first few minutes ,. the motor launch edged out past the shelter of the Oban harbour and the weather hit us full on… the waves were crashing like thunder rolls on the roof of the cabin… up front, our undaunted skipper was alone, steering the boat toward her destination… imagine being on a giant roller coaster for three hours, and not seeing the world around you… our stomachs flayed around from our toes to our skulls… it was beyond scary, and a journey I would never knowingly undertake ever again… but we were in it, and had to deal with it… we started to sing, to try to keep our spirits up… and even changed the words of the song to ‘Michael Row The Boat Upside Down!’... after what seemed like an eternity, we docked at the pier in Craignure, and stumbled ashore, jelly-legged, and high with the adrenaline of gratitude… the next day, while working in the bank, a messenger arrived and delivered to me a personal handwritten letter from the Lord Maclean, thanking me and the girls for our courage and for having kept the Lady Maclean from devolving into total panic… little did he understand, we did it because we too were absolutely terrified… to this day, I don’t like being on anything other than calm waters when I’m afloat… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!



Filed under Blether, Scribbling & Stuff

8 responses to “…’Michael Row The Boat Upside Down!’…

  1. I just have to hear the words Caledonian MacBrayne to be filled with a longing for the islands and the seas – but our few little trips have been very pleasant. I would have been sea sick one minute into your voyage and never recovered.


  2. That’d cure anyone’s desire to ‘take to the sea’. 🙂


  3. Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Is it any wonder Seumas left for sunnier climes?


  4. I’m definitely not a seafaring gal! What an unimaginable, horrible experience! 📚🎶 Christine


  5. That was scary. Ms. Spencer was one dedicated woman. She deserved a medal for bravery and expert boating 🙂 — Suzanne


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