The Piper's Call

On a recent trip to Scotland, I learned that the love we wood boaters in Canada and the USA have for our fine, old vessels is shared by people worldwide.

During this trip to Scotland, I was able to return to and enjoy a four-day stay in the Hay Castle.  I had been at the Hay Castle for just one hour some decades ago as a ten-year-old with my parents and my brother (when I was "no bigger than a post", as they say in Scotland) and our family watched the start of the restoration of the castle.  But, on this recent trip as an adult, I rented and stayed in the restored castle!  I also visited several small sea-side villages where fishing and boating are still a way of life for many people and where the craft of wood boat-building is still practiced and treasured.  Scott Matthews, who designed and built Matthews' boats in the USA for many decades, including "Pied Piper", was born of Scottish parents.

One of the most poignant and meaningful connections I made on this recent trip to Scotland was in a very, very small town at the furthest end of a remote peninsula on the Isle of Skye.  The Isle of Skye is huge, with one mountain range that usually has snow on top year-round.  It is wild, absolutely gorgeous country, mostly unknown and off the usual tourist routes.  But thanks to the internet, I found Seamus and Anne Mackinnon who run daily trips (when weather allows) to visit local small islands, marine mammal and bird wildlife, and historic locations using their boat "Misty Isle", a 41-foot wood boat built in 1967 by Mitchell's of Mevagissy, a highly-respected wood boat-builder in both Scotland and England.  When Seamus and Anne discovered I owned a 1939-built wood boat (the Pied Piper, and built by a Scotsman at that!), they instantly welcomed me as family, arranging a special trip on their boat for me and my traveling companion, and arranging for us to stay at the only local B&B near the village, a croft house built almost 100 years ago, lived in by a most warm and welcoming elderly woman who had been born in that house and had, in turn, raised her family there).  When we arrived, however, a weather front also arrived and the seas were too rough to venture out on the boat.  We stayed a few days in the croft house and explored the region thoroughly, promising to return.  On our drive away from the area, we spotted the boat that Seamus & Anne own out at anchor in a protected cove.

Seamus & Anne emailed us and told how some tourists are concerned about the seaworthiness of their wood boat and about his ability since he's "just a local" .. so those tourists take, instead, the fast fiberglass tour boat that plays a pre-recorded talk on loud-speakers and is owned by a large English company that runs a chain of tour boats in the UK.  Well, let me tell you!  If you ever go over the sea to Skye and DON'T take Seamus' tour, you'd be missing the most delightful wee trip in all the isles of Scotland.  As for Seamus' skill at boat handling, he's been running a fish boat and/or a tour boat there for all of his life (he was born there) as is his son after him.  And if THAT'S not enough, Seamus is a direct descendant of John Mackinnon, the local fisherman from the same village who ferried Bonnie Prince Charlie over the sea to Skye in 1746 in his wood boat, just as the song says.

Misty Isle
Canal boats
Fishing/sailing dory
The Isle of Skye (and its people and boats) is a place I'll never forget.  But, ahhh, then there were the peaceful and charming wood canal boats in the Scottish "lowlands" that we stumbled upon by accident (one for sale which was ever so tempting).  And the fishing boats (mostly wood) on Loch Lomond north of Glasgow, truly one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen.  And then there was the gentleman in the small village of Avoch in northern Scotland who, just the very morning that we drove through and for some odd reason I just HAD to stop and walk out onto the old stone pier .. the gentleman who had just that morning had his more-than-100-year-old 26-foot fishing/sailing dory launched after four years of restoration.  He and I talked for almost two hours .. I could have stayed and talked all day.  The entire trip to Scotland was simply amazing!

So wherever you go in the world .. to a small village in Thailand, to a cosmopolitan city, up a river in the steamy jungles of South America, close by a stunning fjord in Norway or New Zealand, or just across the bay at home to the neighboring marina .. be sure to allow some time to talk with your fellow boaters, some time to stand and stare, some time to connect with what really matters.  But especially, if you ever go over the sea to Skye .. please tell them the "Piper" sent you.


Ann Hay -- caretaker, owner, and skipper of the Pied Piper.