Last weekend on the promise of warm weather and flat seas we went to see our boat. The complicated rigmarole that unfolds whenever we venture north has calmed down and become part of the flow that carries us onto her deck. Flow seems a good description, as we are never quite sure exactly what will unfold when we set off from home. We create a stream of events designed to carry us in a certain direction and hope for the best. Arriving on board on Friday evening was an easy welcome, all the hours of work we had put into keeping Shemaron clean and tidy during the summer were paying off. After lighting the stove, propping up the mattresses and hanging the duvets around the fo’c’sle to air we went over to the pub for an hour before retiring. The morning was sublime warm and still just as the forecast had promised, we replenished the fuel tanks and left for Ayr. The only two flying Lancaster’s left in the world, the visiting Canadian Lancaster FM13 and our own British Lancaster PA474 were programmed to make a fly-past over Ayr beach.
Once we were out of the channel the sea condition was livelier than we had anticipated but the sun shone down on our starboard side and we were a happy crew. As we approached Pladda we could see flattening water ahead, and we took the opportunity to go below and put the kettle on. The flat water however only lasted a short distance; on our approach to Ayr bay we were tossed around so much so that we stayed together in the wheelhouse not wanting to risk the deck. We stopped to wait for the planes, every now and again we wallowed in a nauseating roll and Chris had to stay at the wheel to keep Shemaron on track. After a while we got word from the shore that the planes were grounded due to low cloud in Coningsby. This was disappointing news we had to turn round and begin our journey back to Campbeltown.
We had onboard with us a fellow Lancaster enthusiast who remarked a little time into our tense return that we came out of Ayr Bay “lashed to a whale”! This remark made me laugh and although comical was right on the ball we were tipping violently into the waves and rolling alarmingly on the swell. In the wheelhouse we braced ourselves against the windows, doorframes and anything else that we deemed strong enough to keep us from falling. Even when the sea calmed the wind brought torrents of spray that danced along the gunnels before washing over the deck or dashing against the wheelhouse window. We had the side windows open so we could see and we were sporadically showered with salty droplets. By the time we arrived in Campbeltown harbour we had been on the go for ten hours, it was a battle from start to finish! We slept as long again!
Our second morning was as beautiful and still as the previous with no hint of wind in the harbour, and we had not given up hope of catching a glimpse of the planes. We went up to Rhu Stafnish, the site of an old radio station near the Mull of Kintyre, with clear views over the sea, in fact we went twice and we were lucky second time round. We were sure we could hear engines when we arrived but it was only the wind through the derelict buildings. In the end we saw them before we heard them, small dots on the binocular lenses, flying steadily towards us.
Our sighting of the two Lancaster’s may have lacked the drama of an airshow fly-past but it seemed to me to be more evocative. Watching them approach from over the sea as people must have surely watched for them returning over the English Channel all those years ago provoked much thought. The steady low-pitched drone of their engines grew louder as they drew closer; the sound always stirs my emotions. We stood where the heather was about to burst into flower with insects buzzing about our feet; the planes banked, caught the sun on their wings and flew on over Sanda Isle towards Ireland. I offered up a little prayer for all those men and boys who never came back and for those who did because they carried the burden of it through the rest of their lives.