I am back home and only now is it hitting me quite how extraordinary the last few days have been. The sailing, prayers, communion of seals and birds, the thrill of the sea, the wind and the sun, and my two dear sailing/motoring companions.
Here are a few of my thoughts.
I sometimes feel faith can be seen as a spectator sport, attending church, admiring holy things, being moved by and supporting those more fully involved, but from the sidelines. But no chance of that here! Jim and I as fellow crew, had to step off the land and onto the boat, a step of faith in the boat and Andy’s skill, and putting our trust in God. As the boat left the harbour and went into the open sea I felt very small, very fragile. There is something in having to face your deepest fears, accept who you are and your mortality, on a boat. There is nowhere to hide, you show your true self, and see the hearts of your companions.
Although I wanted to sail with the others on a steady beam reach from Edinburgh to the south of England with no complications, I have learned in my life not to expect, but accept where we are. And be surprised!
One of the highlights was while waiting for the new starter motor, Jim and I took a boat trip in the Firth of Forth to Inchcolm, an Island with a hermitage of St Columba, and later an Augustine Monastery. And as I sat on a ruined wall of the Abbey, looking out to the sea with the bay entirely commandeered by sea life, from the furthest rocks, I heard the seals singing. It was clear, mournful “oh/oo” sound, and recognisable notes. I sang back, copying their notes, and they replied, or it felt they did. I wrote short hand notation in my diary, and when they were quiet for a while, I sang again, and they responded – this lasted for at least half an hour. This felt such a privilege. And I thought how close their music is to old Celtic songs/church chant and maybe this inspired the early monks…
We waited a day for the motor to arrive and be fitted (such a sweet sound when it purred into action!), then, as the wind was light we motored rather than sailed. That was fine – I enjoyed my turn at the helm, and the thrill of being at sea. But then at night with wide swell, thumping waves, to-the-bone coldness and the smell of diesel I succumbed to the dreaded seasickness and to the cold, despite many extra layers and the gentle kindness from Jim and Andy who steadily kept the boat ploughing through the waves all night long.
Morning brought unexpected delight with Andy unfurling the sales and Rival Star leaping into action. We joined the puffins, gannets and gulls in harnessing the wind and skimming over the waves. Such joy! I worked out how to boil the kettle, how to use the toilet, and found the stock of chocolate bars and Adèle’s fruit cake. Heaven!
Then the wind dropped, the engine stuttered into action, and the long roll of the waves made canny Andy suspect storms on their way. So despite our ardent wish to continue, the wise decision was made to go to harbour in Newcastle. The engine cut out just as we entered the harbour and we managed to glide to our mooring, passing a blue heron standing in the shallows.
This also meant we could over a couple of friendly beers, get to know each other, and what a privilege to travel with such interesting, talented and kind men.
The following day, the electrical storms took out the whole of York station and was so glad not to be at sea in the strong winds and rain. It took me eight hours to get home but I felt held every step of the way. And now as I reflect on Andy’s beautiful poems and the haunting melody the seals sang to me on Inchcolm, I feel that for me personally more of my life is open and given over to God. Thank you fellow Navigators of Faith, and God speed.
“May your Light surround us
May your Love enfold us
May your Power flow through us,
Where we are, You are, and all shall be well”