The Eda Frandsen was already bobbing at the pier in the port town of Mallaig, a good 60 km from Fort William, when the seven of us arrived at the ferry terminal. We were Michele Knaup, Tina Blase, Jan Förstemann, Fritz Miller, Nils Kremeskötter, Hannes Mair and myself, Ralf. On deck, coffee and freshly baked scones with butter and jam were waiting. “Welcome on Eda”, growled a dark bass voice: James Mackenzie, owner of the Eda with 100,000 sea miles under his belt, despite just 31 years as an experienced skipper.
Mel, the First Woman on board and Chloe (who turned out to be just about the best cook north of the English Channel) would go on to surprise us every evening with new delicacies that we would never have expected from English culture. And that in spite of their native origins in Cornwall.
Finally, everything was stowed away and, enthralled by the classic gaffel cutter, we were instructed on the different on-board technical equipment and tangle of ropes for hoisting and taking in the five sails. Mastering this would be the foundation for our trip’s success, because sailing the boat and taking advantage of the favourable easterly wind at full sail meant that everyone had to lend a hand.
“Two-six-heave, two-six-heave”, echoed the choir, before we had hardly left the harbour. All men and women hanging on the ropes, pulling, lifting and heaving until our arms were aching and our lungs were gasping for air. James confidently coordinated the action from behind the wheel, while Mel dove from one side of the boat to the other, trying to compensate for the landlubbers who were just as confidently trying to bring the journey to a premature end. Slowly one sail after the other took shape, first luffing in the stiff breeze before filling out to its full size. The boat slowly heeled while picking up speed and then the first waves spilled across the deck. Some apprehensive glances directed at James, but he signalled: everything’s OK.
Fresh fish with white wine – you couldn’t eat better in a four star restaurant
First we headed out towards the Isle of Skye, into the evening sun, with a light wind driving the clouds over the reflecting water, the islands of Eigg and Rum swimming in a bright blue haze. As the sun set behind the Cuillins, we anchored in the Bay of Scavaig. Our gaze wandered up to rugged mountain ridges, the fading light reflected back as a silvery image of the black cliffs, the dark waters of nearby Loch Coruisk sweeping over the fairy islands. High up on the snowfields, a furious finale slowly burned out; then Scavaig lay bleak and lonely between the walls of ancient Gabbro. On deck Chloe was already expecting us with tea, as she modestly called her opulent dinner. On the menu – fresh fish with white wine or beer. Anyone set on hard-core expedition food would be bitterly disappointed: you couldn’t eat better in a four star restaurant. The only difference – on our boat etiquette of any kind was superfluous and the balmy temperatures meant that we could dine under the light of a million stars in the firmament of the night sky.
At sunrise we were back at sea, our course set for the Outer Hebrides. No clouds obscured the horizon, the temperatures were Mediterranean. Fortunately there was a light breeze so the sails could be hoisted. We let ourselves lazily be chauffeured towards the Hebrides until suddenly, a shout of “dolphins” had us all diving for our cameras. Seven cyclops eyes of different focal lengths digitally recording the marine mammal’s game with the bow wave. Zeros and ones capturing a moment of time and space, solitude and wilderness, on small plastic cards.
Our Climbers and the Sailing Crew (from left): Jan Förstermann, Tina Blase, Fritz Miller, Melissa Williams, Chloe Gillat, James Mackenzie, Michelle Knaup, Nils Kremeskötter, Hannes Mair and Ralf Gantzhorn
Part II of the journey
To be continued…