The person from Padstow

In a bright yellow suit and a little woolly hat, the Person from Padstow belonged in a woodland glade, possibly sitting on a toadstool.

Also, he positively twinkled with ancient wisdom: Sure he had spent the night in Muck – plenty of times – in this very spot. It would be fine. Everything would be fine…

I wanted it to be fine. It was most urgent that everything should be fine. The One Show would be starting in ten minutes…

You might think that for someone sailing alone in the Hebrides in October and calling at the Isle of Muck which, at not even two miles across, is one of the smaller of the Small Isles – keeping up with popular culture might not be at the top of the agenda.

But no sooner had I set off from Tobermory than a text arrived from my daughter at Leeds University: “On The One Show at 7”

It appeared that the BBC wanted to hear how a typical student house was coping with the COVID restrictions – preferably one full of competitively chatty girls.

Now I wished I had stayed in Tobermory Marina with their really quite good Wi-Fi. Tobermory, with its population of 1,000 boasts a Co-Op and a number of rather good restaurants but the EE mobile signal is rubbish.

On Muck (pop: 38) it was non-existent. However, the book did mention that there was a hotel on the island which welcomed non-residents by prior arrangement. Maybe I could have a beer in their bar and use their Wi-Fi – that was if they had a bar and Wi-Fi… and, also, of course, if they were still open in October. The book offered a phone number (but then, if I’d had a signal, I wouldn’t need to call would I?)

The way I saw it, I would have to anchor in double-quick time, blow up the dinghy and go knocking on the door all within 40 minutes. I just hoped Lottie wouldn’t be the first item on the show. Mel C would be first, surely…

And then: What was that I could see in the little inlet? Surely that was a pontoon? Yes, there was yacht moored already. Hastily, I rigged warps and fenders and coasted up inspecting it through binoculars. It was very low in the water – one of those plastic jobs designed for dinghies but it did have proper cleats. I need at least one good cleat: I drop a loop of line over it with one end secured amidships and the other on the cockpit winch. This holds me alongside while I sort out the rest.

Except, in this case someone had left a rope around the cleat, filling it up completely. I circled again and came up on the other side behind a twin-engined RIB. But on this side there just wasn’t enough room – my bow stuck out over the end.

I circled once more – back to the original side. In fact, I circled another three times – that’s how long it took to get the line onto the cleat, poking it with the boathook it in amongst the coils of nasty blue polypropylene.

By the time I was snugged down and ready to go looking for the hotel which, according to the book was a mile away, the Person from Padstow appeared from the other yacht.

I could have asked him if he knew where to find the hotel but something else had come up: Now that I was moored, it was second nature to look at the depth sounder and I was a bit startled to see it reading 5.2metres. I was sure I had made a note that the tide would be going down by 4.1metres.

This meant that at low tide –  at two o’clock in the morning – the sounder would be showing 1.1. Samsara draws 1.5 and with the transducer a bit below the waterline, she hits the bottom when it shows 1.2 (I know this from bitter experience).

In other words, staying where I was, I would be woken shortly before two in the morning with a bump. After all, this was not the East Coast where the first you know about it is when you fall out of bed as the boat heels over onto the mud. No, this would well be a bone-jarring crash as the swell dropped her onto a solid Scottish rock bottom.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the person from Padstow. “I’ve been here three or four times and that’s never happened to me.”

He drew I.2 metres – but he was further inshore than I was. On the other hand, he looked as though he knew what he was talking about. If he was sure, then it was alright by me – even if it was by now, far too late to walk ashore, find the hotel, explain my strange request and catch Lottie’s TV debut. The beer would have to be at home after all.

The beer is a bit of a ritual at the end of the day – served in a glass, accompanied by Pringles – with music and a book. Best of all, I had just started Neil Hawkesford’s long-awaited third volume A Foolish Escape.

But The Clyde Cruising Club’s Sailing Directions and Anchorages was still open on the chart table. Before putting it away, I read once more through the section on Muck. Now I realised why I had a been so surprised to see the pontoon: I had already dismissed it because the book said: “There is a pontoon belonging to Marine Harvest which can be used by shallow-draft vessels and dinghies”.

Shallow draft? That’s less than 0.7 metres. Moreover, we were not ten days past the equinox with one of the biggest tides of the year.

I went and knocked on the other boat: “The book says this pontoon is only for shallow draft vessels and we’ve got a really big tide tonight. I’m going to anchor off.”


And so I did. It was pitch dark by then but the fishermen, being helpful, had stuck reflective tape to their mooring buoys. I found an empty spot and retired to cook up a mushroom stroganoff so that I could have rice with it and try out my new plastic sieve. I’d bought it in Tobermory after melting the last one in a frying pan that turned out not to be cold after all.

At anchor, the motion was much more gentle with no warps to snatch at the pontoon in the swell. Besides, I would be up at 0630 to catch the tide going North. I didn’t want to be woken up at 0200 as well.

I never did find out whether the Person from Padstow got dropped on a rock.

1 Responses to The person from Padstow

  • Hi john we have just read with great pleasure your latest update. It seems you are having a wonderful time. Do take great care though, we remember a tale told to us some years ago by a chap who ended up keel side up somewhere near Where you are. We thought it would be nice to see the area ourselves then realised that there is too much cold wet stuff involved for confirmed land lubbers like us. Hope to catchup soon pands