The Great Summer sail started early when we (Laura, my brother Jim, and I) cycled the couple of miles to the Sailing Club where we kept our double-ended, clinker-built dinghy. We took the cover off, raised the mast and checked we had everything we needed for the voyage, including cheese rolls and water for lunch.
Launching from the slip was easy as the tide was high. Laura ran back up with the trailer and then waded out to climb aboard. I raised our lug sail, made by my father from a scrap begged from the sailmaker, and we were off. Fortunately, the wind was astern. The dinghy had no centre board so tacking upwind was virtually impossible. When that happened, we had to row, taking it in turns.
We made good time over the first few miles and then headed inshore, landing at the foot of my grandmother’s garden. She had a model dinghy that we wanted to borrow to act as our “tender” on this cruise.
Supplies augmented by gingerbread and scones, still warm from the oven, we set off again. The sun warmed us, as it had all of this summer it seemed, and soon jerseys were off.
We were headed for a point around five miles away where we planned to picnic. Other boats passed us, going in our direction towards the Kyles of Bute, and others heading to Largs, Cumbrae or Arran, or possibly the Holy Loch. Most waved at us, as we made our slow traverse of Kames Bay, especially if there were other children on board.
On this day, I would have been nine and the others eight. We knew nothing beyond our lives in these beautiful surroundings – hills, sea and sky met us every day in all their changing glory and we walked, cycled, or sailed within that landscape as often as we could.
A small yacht sailed close to us. ‘You alright?’ called the skipper. Recognizing him as a regular around the bay, we called back. With a wave, he pulled in his main and his boat skimmed off across the sparkling water.
‘I’m hungry,’ complained Jim.
‘We’re nearly there,’ said Laura. ‘Let’s wait.’ There was a bit of grumbling at that. Even in a small crew, disagreements can break out.
Another half hour and we landed on a shingle beach. Pulling our vessel up, we brought our “tender” in to empty. She probably hadn’t been in the water for twenty years and her planks had dried out and shrunk. She was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship – a scale model of a clinker-built, straight transom dinghy – a work of art made by a friend of my grandparents.
We found a patch of grass at the top of a bank to lay out the food. Cows grazed in the adjacent field, and we could hear lambs bleating further off. I lay back after we had eaten (did cheese rolls ever taste so good again?), and heard the munch, munch, munch of grass in bovine jaws.
Talk was desultory in the heat of the day.
‘Let’s go for a paddle,’ said Laura and soon shoes and socks were off, and we were knee deep in the cool. A water fight started with handfuls thrown, mostly without success. I stumbled on a rock beneath the surface and almost went full length. ‘That was close,’ said Jim. ‘Maybe we better stop or we’ll have to sail back soaking wet.’
At some point during our time here, I took photographs of the others on my new Brownie 127 camera.
Time was passing, clouds were building, and we had to get going. With the wind mostly ahead of us, it would take longer on the return. A mix of rowing and short episodes under sail took us to our drop-off point for the “tender”, which was now a drag to pull behind us. We put her away in her shed and took to the water again.
The final mile was directly into the wind, and many were the blisters raised as we pulled on the oars for the last stretch. By the time we reached the slip, we were cold, tired, and sore. It was almost 6.00 pm and we had been out since 9.00 am.
Our memories are of a magical day and looking at the black and white photos with Laura sixty years on brought it all back. ‘What were our parents thinking?’ asked Laura as she examined her eight-year-old self. ‘Look, we were out all day on the water alone and not a life jacket in sight!’
The day was never repeated. By the next summer, we had progressed to racing dinghies and Laura had emigrated to Canada.