Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Newbies on Lough Derg

It's always a delight to have Winter Solstice back on Lough Derg. It's a beautiful lake and we have a glorious time until we get sick of the big boats and of apparently being invisible.
When we bought our first boat, a 23 foot Freeman cruiser, there were one or two wash-producing monsters on the lake. This was just as well as we knew nothing. Our only experience was a week spent on a hire boat on the Shannon.

Venturing on to Lough Derg for the first time was both thrilling and alarming. North of Killaloe for perhaps half a mile the river is enclosed by friendly banks on which are houses, trees and other familiar, land-based objects. Then you pass through two markers for left and right and find yourself in the open lake where anything can happen. Water stretches north in a misty expanse. The banks are no longer within swimming distance.

We had to move this boat, then called Towed in a Hole, to a berth in a marina on the south of the lake. At home we feverishly studied our Captain’s Guide, (given out by the hire boat company), and were distressed to learn that in order to reach our new safe haven we had to cross a Hatched Area, marked on the chart as out of bounds to boats because it was dangerous and shallow and possibly contained dragons.

We took advice and learned that if we took a straight course across Tinerana Bay we would avoid all shoals and other dangers. This sounded simple but the harbour entrance was not easy to spot and there were no markers to guide us in. Joe was positioned at the front as look out, anxiously peering into the water, and I drove cautiously forward.

The narrow opening, bordered by tightly mown grass and well-manicured bushes, came into view. We puttered into the small cut and there was the little harbour we had visited by land. At the end of it was our berth and my heart rate finally subsided.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cúirt and Robin Robertson

Back to Galway yesterday for more Cúirt readings. First we went to hear Ian Jack, past editor of Granta and present columnist in The Guardian, being interviewed by Fintan O'Toole. It's always a treat to hear two articulate people putting the world to rights. My attempts at same are always fumbles with no facts or figures at my fingertips and an inability to find the right word until ten minutes too late.

In the evening I went to hear Robin Robertson and Michael Longley. It was Robertson who I'd initially bought tickets for, as Longley wasn't brought in until later to replace the unwell Charles Simic. I ordered Robertson's The Wrecking Light a couple of months ago after an excellent review in The Guardian and was astonished and thrilled by it. Beautiful language and a dark humour make his poems exhilarating. His reading didn't disappoint. I bought his last but one book Swithering and had it signed. I'm always pathetically embarrassed about getting books signed, and didn't ask him to put 'to Nicki' as it seems so false when the author has no idea who you are. This, though, is my own hang up. A fear, I suppose, of being found wanting in some way, or needy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cúirt and 'Three Times Daily'

We went to the Cúirt Literary Festival launch in Galway on Tuesday. I have to admit we had already taken a couple of glasses of Prosecco in our room at the House Hotel but we had a good excuse as this was our Silver Wedding Anniversary. The launch was in the museum and we were a bit giddy by the time we got there. This was possibly as much because the sun was shining and we could all be outside as anything else. I was glad, though, that I'd put on the long-sleeved thermal vest. There was a sharp wind slicing in off the river.

On Wednesday we launched our anthology Three Times Daily. Fifteen of us from the 2008/09 MA in Writing at NUIG had finally produced something physical that we were all a part of. We were very proud and delighted that people came to the launch and even bought our book. If anyone was reading this I'd say do the same. Buy it here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Varnish and big rude boats

Here's Winter Solstice all bright and shiny - on the woodwork at least. And Aoife. She's a dog who always manages to get into the photo. She should be on the stage - photogenic and a proper drama queen.

It was the best weekend for tizzing up the boat and drinking chilled white in the sunshine. We were on Lough Derg for a glorious couple of days. First in Castle Harbour in Portumna, then Terryglass, then down the lake on Sunday.

The trouble with Lough Derg (not of course, everyone's view) is that many of the boats are big yokes that roar up and down the lake putting out a big bow wave. Bow waves are no fun when you're in a relatively small and narrow boat like ours, especially when they come from behind. If they hit you side on you're sent rocking from side to side and the small dog has to panic and shiver and burrow under the covers of our bed.

Some BBs (Big Boaters) are extremely courteous but Sunday's wasn't. Overtook up on the plane. I think we were probably in the invisible sector of the lake because I'd swear he couldn't see us the way he stared away. The only thing to do was stop Winter Solstice and turn so the wash came up her bottom. Not dignified but at least nothing fell over.

So we left the boat in Dromaan, a sweet little harbour near Williamstown. More sunshine please.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sea plane on Lough Derg

There are plans for sea planes on the lakes and coasts of Ireland. Harbour Air are hoping to fly into Mountshannon on Lough Derg, which has caused some concern among boaters and anglers. How would regular flights affect water craft and fishing from boats? An email came into my Inbox. 'I went to the demo yesterday' it began, and I thought of placards. 'I understand there was a protest by some anglers' it said in the next paragraph, and referred to the Garda presence. The demo went on from 11am to late afternoon. This was more serious than I'd expected.

It was only in paragraph three that I read how the demo had been given in a three-passenger plane. The queues were for people wanting a spin around the lake in something that looked like an Airfix model run on rubber bands. It would be wasted on me. I'd have my eyes closed the whole time. I imagine it would be like being trapped in a cable car that had made a bid for freedom. Appalling.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


What perfect varnishing weather. We went to Portumna Castle Harbour in the camper van on Monday night so we could get an early start on Tuesday. It was overalls work. Poor Winter Solstice had looked so neglected when we took off her winter tarpaulin. Slimy cracked decks, green coach house roof, varnish lifting. Yet when we put her to bed in November she was clean and sparkly. Sigh. It happens every year.

But sunshine makes it all MUCH better. We sanded the sides of the coach house using Joe's whizzy cordless sander (Joe) and a block of wood wrapped in sandpaper (me). Half way through the job we moved the boat to Castle Harbour at the top of Lough Derg. The big road bridge in Portumna opened at 12.30, so I took her through while Joe drove the van around. This is a lovely harbour next to the Forest Park, and great for the dogs.

The biggest surprise of the day, even above the shock of heat and unbroken blue sky, was that nothing went wrong. By the end of the afternoon we were hot with sunshine and Winter Solstice was shiny once more. The decks are still green and need painting, but at least we are no longer ashamed of her disreputable appearance.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Solar panel and water dilemmas

A couple of weeks ago the water in the solar panel began to boil. I could hear it from down in the courtyard. The panel went up last summer to provide us with hot water and it did. Scorchio hot water whenever there was even a small bit of sunshine. But now it was boiling. I checked the temperature on the device in the hot press and it was scary. Up to 120C. The water in the tank was only 40C so something was very badly wrong.

The panel was blocked somewhere along the way. We have very hard water and should have installed a water softener, but didn't. Thought it would be ok. With some difficulty Joe flushed through the pipes and solar panel and cleared the blockage. We got a water softener installed and a separate tap for the still-hard drinking water. But now the water is full of tiny floating bits of lime. The pressure tank was shaken up during the installation procedure, and it looks like the limescale has peeled off the sides. So do I drink the water from the drinking-water tap which has lots of bits and sometimes tastes metallic? Or from the softened-water tap that has less bits but more sodium? Or buy water? Ho hum.

More expense I suspect, whatever we do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Name of the Boat

We changed the name of Winter Solstice. She began her life as Tiffin II which seemed like a name for a canoe or other lightweight craft. After that she became Burma Star, which was what she was called when we bought her. This name didn't suit. I’m not sure I can explain why – it seemed like a name for a bigger boat, a rougher-built vessel, not a pretty timber craft with sweet lines like our new beloved. Here she is in the photo above when we first saw her in Poole Harbour. She'd had a recent undercoat of white paint on the coach house sides. We planned to take her back to the wood.

Burma Star arrived in Ireland on the back of a lorry. I was anxious. Timber boats are vulnerable if not carried properly – planks can spring out of place if too much pressure is put on them and I had visions of high seas with lorry and boat piled up in a corner of the ferry, crushed. We had booked her passage with a man from Banagher in County Offaly. He came highly recommended and appeared to know what he was doing, but you can never be sure. There was also her dignity to consider – how would she feel, exhibiting her nether regions as she travelled across two countries?

As we drove to Eamonn Egan’s boatyard where she was to be put into the Shannon, we still hadn't picked a name. Much anguish comes with the process of choosing a new name as you are going to have to live with it for the duration of your ownership. What’s more it will be in the public domain. A favourite pastime for people sitting in a harbour is to watch and comment on other boats. A ridiculous name will cause derision. We had already been through this with our previous boat Towed in a Hole and had no wish to repeat the experience.
‘It’s a good day to be putting her into the Shannon,’ I said. ‘The Winter Solstice.’
‘We could call her that,’ said Joe.