Happy Birthday Blog and Islay – Her name is Girl Carmen

Happy Birthday dear Blog…3 years old today and ooh ooh ooh – I’ve just seen that it’s my 50th post too!

Wow and hello September!  I’m more than a little unfashionably late in publishing some of my summer adventures.  In fact my blog has been positively neglected recently.  Well adventures abated (for a few weeks at least!) and I’m chilling with a glass of wine and starting to put it all down on here on the first quiet night in months.

So where to start….WHY ISLAY OF COURSE!  Could it be anywhere else really?!?!  Those of you who know me and/or having been following this blog for a while will know that I fell in love with Islay during my first visit in September 2011.   In fact round about the time when I started this very blog!  Anyway, you can read about my 2nd trip here and my 3rd trip here if you’re interested.  Go on, I’ll wait for you as it’ll give you the back story to this post :)

Ok, so back in July I took my 4th visit to this magical island across the water.  Staying as always in the Port Charlotte Hostel, I’ve become one of the many regular visitors whilst Karl and Lorna who manage the Hostel have become very good friends of mine.    So much happened during this trip that I’ve decided to post a couple of different blogs but I want to get straight to bit that excites me the most.  This time I was on a personal mission to see if I could find out any more about that beautiful old boat that has totally captured me and which I’ve been photographing since my first trip.  Well this time I was in luck.  Here’s what happened and what I found out…

Take one west coast girl, her camera and a bike (thanks Alistair for allowing other guests at the Hostel to borrow you bike – it was brilliant!).  Yes you read that right…a bike and 7 miles of stunning coastal road – and that’s where we pick up the story this time.  I’m on my way to my favourite part of the island – Portnahaven. 2014-09-13_0032 2014-09-13_0033 2014-09-13_0034Leaving Port Charlotte behind I’m on my way and after a fair bit of puffing and panting I can see her there in the distance.  Firstly I freewheel down into Port Weymss and sit on the coastal path watching the seals bobbing and the fishing boats coming and going.  Then it’s onwards…2014-09-13_00012014-09-13_0002At the bus terminus I park up the bike and take in some of the many views that I’ve fallen in love with.  Top this off with the fact that just out of shot to the right here is the An Tigh Seinnse – yip that’s the place that serves the best pint of prawns around!  And they do a pretty mean scone too :)2014-09-13_00042014-09-13_00052014-09-13_00032014-09-13_00092014-09-13_0008Just take a look at those prawns below…well it would be rude not too wouldn’t it?!!   So I sat in the sun, taking it all in and working my way through this heady pint which was accompanied by the most delicious salad and homemade bread.  Gee I can almost still taste them as I write!  Sheer food heaven.

And for the observant amongst you, yes that is a YES van centre amidst the floral shots above.  I was a little surprised that many of the people on the Island were already fully immersed in the Independence debate back in early July whilst it still seemed altogether quieter on the mainland.  Though it seems odd to be writing this now on the night before the Referendum and it’s been anything but quiet on the campaigning front in recent weeks.  Tomorrow Scotland will decide on it’s future and I’m nervous.  That said, it’s heartened me to see so many people engaging in the discussion.  Politics have made their way into the front rooms, the offices, the parks, the street corners, the pubs, the shops, the schools and the street, in a way I have never known.   Anyway, I had some interesting discussions whilst I was there and I hold the greatest hope for everyone’s future on the eve of this momentous decision that we have to make.

But let’s get back to where I was going…the boat!  Oh yeah, and that’s a reflection of the mobile library above too in case you are wondering.  2014-09-13_00062014-09-13_0007As I finish up my delicious lunch and look towards the Boatyard I see a man coming out of the pub.  I decided to ask him if he knew who owned the boat, “Ah, that’ll be Jack yer looking for but he’s no in as I seen him going out the village a wee while ago!”  Well that’s one step further anyway, so I take a cycle round the bay taking in a few shots and meeting a few of the locals on route before I take the bike and head back homewards to Port Charlotte. It’s time for tea :) 2014-09-13_00122014-09-13_0010So not to be deterred I jumped on the bus the following day and headed back to to Portnahaven, and what a day I got for it.  Look at those skies!  I wander down into the Boatyard and watch the local fisherman bringing in their catch.  I shout over to them to find out what they’re bringing in – it’s crab and lobster – which he tells me will be exported to Portugal and Spain.  2014-09-13_00112014-09-13_0017And I wander round and take some more shots of that beauty as she is – worn and tired looking as I see her from a new and different angle.  But it’s time to see if I can find out a bit more of her story.  I knock on the door…no answer.  Then I hear something in the Boat shed and I peak my head in.  “Hello” I call, a man pops out from the back.  “Hi, are you Jack” I say, “yip, that’s me, how can I help?”  “Do you own that boat out there I say?”  “Yeah, how do you want it?” he replies.  “Eh, no…but I do love it!” And so it begins.

I explain that I’d asked in the pub about who owned the boat and that I’m a photographer and blogger and that I’ve been visiting the island for the last 3 years.  I also told him about the photograph I’d taken in 2011 and turned it into a digital art piece called “Beauty in your Brokenness.”  Jack listened quietly – probably thinking “what on earth!”  I rambled on nervously, saying that I was just so drawn to the boat and that I’d love to know more about her story.  Jack graciously obliged by going on to tell me about her.  Jack said he had owned her for about 25 or so years.  Previous to this she was a fishing vessel registered in Stornaway in Lewis and whilst out one day had gotten into trouble in a storm.  She became stranded behind Nave Island off Islay and sadly the damage to her was so extensive that the insurance company had to write her off.  Jack salvaged her to shore and over time began the process of trying to make her seaworthy.  He stopped… 2014-09-13_00192014-09-13_0014“I’ve still got her name, number and ship’s wheel somewhere.  Do you want to see them?  Come on it!” OMG, I’m about to burst with excitement.  “That would be amazing Jack, yes, thanks so much!”  And so I follow in Jack’s footsteps, climbing over boats and parts, past the make shift bar and up to the end of the shed.  Jack climbs up high, and hands me down the sawdust covered signage.  She’s called Girl Carmen.  Next he unearths the ships wheel and the registered number.  I can’t wait to get outside to photograph them next to her.  As I do Jack watches on…”Jack, please will you take a picture of me with her sign?” “Sure” he replies.

“In fact” he says, I must have some photographs of her over the years and can let you see all the work that’s been done to her over the years…if you’re interested?”  What do you reckon my reply was?!?!   You bet I was… 2014-09-13_00152014-09-13_0028So meet Jack everyone!  He wanders outside with packets of beautiful old printed photographs – agh photographer heaven again!  He tells me all about the work he has done to her over the years, and introduces his other love – the little red boat to the left of Girl Carmen.  Yip, that’s Girl Carmen in the photographs below with the white cabin and blue & grey hull.  She’s certainly changed a bit over the years, but she still has so much character in my eyes.  With a bit more information Jack say’s that she’ll never be back on the water now.  I’m a bit gutted.  “So you like boats then?” Jack says, “Eh’m well yeah, sort of.  I haven’t spent much time in them but I’m always interested in wandering round harbours and love looking at them.”  “I’ve built the 2 Skiffs we have here on the Island”  “Oh we have one down in Portobello in Edinburgh I say, “and one in Port Seaton”  “Yeah, that’s the Boatie Blest” Jack says, that’s it I say.  “Yeah, we race them in the regatta” he says.  “They’re pretty good.”   2014-09-13_0025I’ve got some photographs of us building the Skiff if you want to see them, they’re on the computer.  Yes please!!!!  So Jack tells me a bit more about the Skiffs and talks me through the process of how they get the kit delivered from Leven and build the vessels – they are just beautiful works of art.  The first one was called after his granddaughter – Lily Bheag and is red and grey and in July 2012 the second one, called Bluebell made had her maiden launch.  “In fact, if you’re not doing anything tonight you could come down to the pier at Bruichladdie as we’ll be out training in the boats if you want to see them?”  haha, need you ask what I said?  Didn’t think so…So I thank Jack so much for his time and say I’ll probably see him later.  I head on up to the War Memorial on the hill to get another perspective on Girl Carmen then jump on the bus back to the Hostel.  2014-09-13_00262014-09-13_00212014-09-13_00232014-09-13_00242014-09-13_0031What a day…and it ain’t over yet.  I have dinner and mention to a few folks all about my day.  I say that I’m going to head down to the pier and Jerry, Shuggie and Justine decide to join me.  We wander down.  I get to the pier and wander down to a small group standing.  One of the girls turns around and I introduce myself, saying Jack had suggested I could come down.  Helen introduced herself, “haha, I’ve heard you visited Jack today”  Do you want a shot in the boat?  And so it was, off I went.  Gerry joined me and Helen and Tom (one of the fisherman I had shouted to earlier in the day) took us out for a little bit of a row.  It was totally brilliant fun…and quite hard work…but good prep for my sea legs given that I was going 5 days sea kayaking later in the season!!!

Helen, I’m going to take you up on the offer of coming round to Port Ellen the next time I’m on the Island – I loved being out on the Skiff!  Thanks so much for everything guys.  I can’t wait to get back to Islay.  It rocks my world :)

And there it is, another tiny chapter of my time in this amazing place that is Islay, it’s under my skin!  There’s more to tell but that can wait. A future blog will be all about the people I meet on Islay!  So I’ll leave you with a wee shot of some of the inspirations I met this trip.  Introducing Gerry, Shuggie and Paul (from left to right) along with yours truly.

I’m not any less nervous as I finish writing my birthday blog for 2014 but I can finish up by saying – Scotland I love you, you are My Home and I’m thankful every day for that.  Tomorrow will bring change and I hope it’s for the best.

As always, thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a comment etc if you like, Jacqui xx



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