It was the first day of spring, Monday, March 21st, time for new things. We were under power now; Swede didn’t feel the need to raise the sail for such a short trip through the Sound of Islay. We made good time though, moving north, motoring up the eastern side of the island.
I stood on the foredeck, my back against the front of the mast, admiring all 360 degrees of Scotland’s beauty. What a wonderful day to begin a new season: blue skies, a crisp northwest wind; a future ripe with opportunity. Magnus Cook was primed for adventure.
“Bring it on, baby,” I shouted into the stiffening wind.
Nobody heard me, not even Swede who concentrated on his approach to our next destination. Didn’t matter; I was stoked!
Glen Watt is a small village a few kilometers north of Humelochan. But more importantly, Glen Watt is also the name of the local distillery, winner of the 2016 Distillery of the Year award at the prestigious Halifax World Distiller’s Competition. Better still, Glen Watt 25 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky won the Iridium Award for best overall Scotch whisky. It sells for 250 pounds per 700 ml bottle ($328US.) It’s the good stuff, for sure. And guess who had the promised bottle in her bag?
The energetic young woman ran towards the end of the dock, waving her scarf, demanding our full attention as we motored in.
While Swede maneuvered the long yacht closer to the dock, I got out the binoculars to look at the woman Swede described as “world class.” She looked to be in her mid-20’s, a lithe and sinuous figure, about 5’8”. Her long, reddish, brown hair, gently curled, hung just below her shoulders. She wore a blue nylon windbreaker which flapped briskly in the Argyll breeze. Facing into the wind, hair off her face, she looked like a photographer’s model posing for a cover shot. Indeed, Eilidh MacEachern was drop dead gorgeous.
“Uncle, Uncle!” she shouted, waving and bouncing on her tip toes as she waited for the boat to move closer to the wharf.
“You’re her uncle?” I asked, as Swede put the boat into neutral.
“No, not exactly,” he said. “It’s just that her father and I were so close, almost like brothers, we were. He was old school; didn’t think it was appropriate for her to call me by my first name. But he didn’t want to get too formal either so “Uncle” was good middle ground. It’s been that way since she was a little kid.”
Eilidh threw her single bag into the cockpit and jumped on board before I even had a chance to secure the bow line. She wrapped her arms around Swede in a big, warm hug.
“Oh, Uncle, I’ve missed you so much. Never stay away this long again, do you hear?”
“As you wish, m’lady,” said Swede, bowing before the young woman. He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Hold on now,” he said. “Let’s tie off first; then we can catch up.”
Eilidh grabbed the stern line, jumped out of the cockpit and ran towards the cleat nearest the stern to tie up Poseidon’s Trident. She moved smoothly and confidently with the efficiency of an experienced sailor.
Marcus came up from below. He knew Eilidh quite well, having spent countless hours with the adolescent Eilidh, sharing food and heartaches while Swede, her parents and their adult friends entertained topside.
“Hello, Miss,” said Marcus, waving in her direction as she finished tying up the boat.
Eilidh sprinted across the dock, jumped into the cockpit and into Marcus’s arms.
“Oh, Marcus, I’ve missed you too, it’s so very good to see you. I’ve missed you all so much,” she said, wiping away a small tear.
I was back aboard by this time and Swede came over to where Eilidh had her arms wrapped around Marcus’s waist in a death grip hug. Marcus, usually so proper and professional, displayed a sincere broad smile, enjoying this long anticipated reunion.
“Let the poor man breathe, lassie, you’re going to kill him,” said the captain.
Eilidh loosened her grip, smiled and kissed him on the cheek.
“We can’t have that. He’s the only one who knows how to make Marcus’s Eternal Nocturnal Raspberry Ice Delight. Please tell me you’ve got some in the fridge. I can’t wait,” said Eilidh, once again, the adoring adolescent.
“Of course I do, Miss. I just made a batch this morning when I learned you’d be here. You know where it is,” he said, nodding towards the galley.
“Hold on! Hold on!” commanded Swede, before Eilidh could jump down the flight of stairs and sprint off to the galley. “I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet. This is Magnus Cook, my new best friend,” said Swede.
“So, you’re the face behind the phone. Or should I say, the face behind the poem?” said the coquettish young lass. “I didn’t think Yanks knew Robbie Burns, let alone be able to recite him. Fess up, Yank, what’s your secret?”
“The truth is, my dearest” clearing my throat, launching my theatrical, big lie, “I could tell you my secret. In fact, I want to tell you, all my deepest secrets. But my superiors at MI6 wouldn’t be too happy. So then, I’d have to kill you.”
“A spy, are you?” she said, playing along.
“Yes,” I said, at my flirtatious best. “Yes. I. Am. But only on weekends and since it’s Monday and I’m on my own time, I’m all yours. The Secret Intelligence Service can wait.”
“Is that so?” she said, locking and loading her beautiful smile. “Yer from the fake C.I.A, aren’t ye? I’ve got news for you, Mr. Yankee spy. If yer think’n that lame flirt will launch my libido, be prepared for a rude awakening from that wet dream yer hav’n. Don’t ye go expect’n a horizontal hula with this lassie.”
Eilidh disappeared below, leaving her razor sharp sgian-dubh (Scottish ceremonial knife) imbedded in my chest. Swede now chimed in with his two cents, pushing the dagger deeper into my wounded heart.
“BOOM!” he said, a tight lipped grin spreading across his face. “The lassie has a way with words, she does.”
“Dang!” I said, caught off guard. “That was cold.”
“Don’t worry about it, son,” said Swede, switching to fatherly, mentor mode. “She’s just testing you; seeing if you can handle it. Lots of people can’t handle a smart, fiery Scottish woman. She’s wants to know if you’re one of them. Just pick your limp dick up off the deck, stuff it back in your trousers, admit she’s smarter than you and hope for better results tomorrow.”
We untied Poseidon’s Trident from the dock at Glen Watt and motored into the last stretch of The Sound of Islay. We raised the sails, turned off the engine and headed north with all those distractions and delays behind us. Or were they?
After 20 minutes Eilidh came topside with a half-eaten cup of Marcus’s Eternal Nocturnal Raspberry Ice Delight and said, “Uncle? I need to ask a BIG favor.”
There were two different courses to John O’ Groats. The first was to sail north, much of the time offshore in the open ocean, around Cape Wrath, which is the northwest tip of Scotland, east along Scotland’s northern coast, through the Pentland Firth and into John O’ Groats. But the course wasn’t the problem, the forecast might be.
Scottish weather is unpredictable, often unforgiving. Swede decided to take a safer and more interesting trip through the Caledonian Canal, the Scottish heartland.
About 100km long, the canal was built in the early 1800’s. It runs through the Great Glen, a fault line in the Earth’s crust, allowing ships to pass from the west coast to Inverness in the east. Only a third of the canal is man-made, the rest runs through four of Scotland’s lochs (lake) one of which is the internationally famous Loch Ness. Although no reliable proof has ever been produced, supposedly, it’s the home of the Loch Ness Monster, who the locals affectionately named, “Nessie.”
Swede programmed our course into the auto-pilot and settled in for a full day’s sail to Oban, a tourist town of 8,000 year round residents. He planned to stock up on provisions: food, fuel, fresh water, etc. and since I was still wearing the same threads I had on when I first emerged, we needed to find a clothing shop where I could buy everything from socks and underwear to shirts and shorts.
Even though Swede’s plan was sound, things were about to change. “So, lassie, this favor you ask? If you’ve abandoned Marcus’s ice cream factory, it must be bigger than BIG. I’m sitting down; have at it,” said Swede.
“I don’t think you ever met her,” said Eilidh, beginning her explanation. “She was a friend of me mum, from way back. Me da didn’t approve of her or even like her, so she never came around much. Her name is Viviane. Does that name ring a bell?”
“No, it doesn’t,” said Swede, reaching back into his long memory. “I don’t remember your father mentioning that name either.”
“After mum and dadaidh died, she started coming around again, wanting to be friends with me even though she’s thirty years older. She’s just weird. I guess she’s harmless. Kind of goofy, claims she’s very ‘spiritual’ if you know what I mean. She never had any money, said it was evil; always wore flowing, wispy, see through clothes; always doing twirly dances like she was a tornado.”
“So yur mum’s old, weird friend is back. What does this have to do with me?” he asks, getting straight to the point.
“It gets better,” she said, resigned to the difficult situation. “Her life’s a mess and she decides she needs to get her shit together.”
“Good,” interrupts Swede, “better late than never.”
“Not so fast, Uncle,” says Eilidh, correcting him. “Here’s her idea of getting her shit together. She starts telling fortunes; says she’s psychic. It starts innocently enough but after six months she’s got a couple of clients, some who are crazy enough to pay large coin, and she makes enough to enroll in a spirituality development session on Iona. Sees it as way to…damn, I don’t know… embrace her inner, shit talk’n twirler?… Whatever. She’s hopeless.”
“This Viviane sounds like she needs to see a psychological professional. You should probably keep your distance from her, lassie,” said Swede.
“I tried, Uncle. But you know those forms you fill out, like when you apply for a job, the ones that ask you to put down a name and number of someone they can contact in case of an emergency? She put down my name and number. Earlier this morning, right after I talked to you the first time, the Iona Center for Spiritual Development called.”
“What did they say?” asked Swede.
Eilidh was upset about where this situation was headed. The look on her face was unnatural, completely unfit for someone so beautiful. Sadness did not become her.
“She said Viviane was asked to leave and somebody needed to come to Iona and remove her from the island.”
“Oh, I see,” said Swede, now unnerved seeing his niece so upset. “What would you like me to do, lassie?” Swede asked, trying to be as supportive and helpful as he could.
“If you could, Uncle, could we please go to Iona, pick her up and get her off that island? Those are good people, they don’t deserve that. We’d be helping them out. Maybe we could drop her off where they could help her. She needs help,” said Eilidh, not pressuring Swede, but with her big heart, asking her equally big hearted uncle if he could assist.
“Lassie, I’d be glad to help,” said Swede, kissing her on the forehead. “That’s why I love you; you’re such a kind person. Beneath the fire and that smart ass mouth of yours, lives a cool, kind soul. You shouldn’t hide that, Eilidh. It’s the best part of you.”
Eilidh was relieved. She kissed Swede on the cheek.
“Thank you, Uncle,” she said. “I’m glad you want to help.”
Her anxiety, now relieved, the fiery, quick witted beauty returned.
“But ye think I should bag me smart arse mouth, do ye? Naw; Gonnae no dae that. How am I gonna keep the Yank on his toes?” she said, elbowing me in the ribs.
Again, I was caught off guard by the quick turn of events. Was this another one of her tests, to see if I could match wits with her? Quick, Magnus, think of something, fast.
“Darl’n,” I said, elbowing HER in the ribs, “you’ve got it wrong. I don’t have toes; I have webbed feet. I’m a duck and I’ll shed your sweet shit like a duck sheds water. You’ll have to do better than that to match wits with me, sweetie. An intellectual knife fight with you wouldn’t be fair; I won’t fight an unarmed woman.”
“Ah -Ha -Ha -Ha!” bellowed Swede, delighted by my response. “Well played, Magnus.”
Before Eilidh could up the ante and respond, Swede changed the momentum.
“Let’s call a truce. I’m sure you two love birds will have many other opportunities to shit on each other but, for now, let’s get to more important things. Like breaking open that bottle of Glen Watt you brought with you. It’s going to be a long day on the ocean and we’ll need to be well fortified. Eilidh, open ’er up.”
Eilidh reached into her travel bag, ripped the top off the brown bottle and poured 3 glasses of the finest single malt Scotch Islay ever produced…neat.
The three of us clinked our glasses together and Swede brought the boat into the wind so we could change course, towards Iona.
Eilidh said, “You’re not one of those wimpy Yanks that needs the fuk’n ice, are ye?
She was a foot and a half in front of me, the closest yet. She smelled good, real good. But I looked her straight in the eye, not wavering because I knew this was another one of her little tests. I motioned with my index finger to come closer, close enough so I could whisper directly in her ear. When I spoke, the wind from my breath blew directly into her ear canal at such close quarters it sent a shiver down her spine. But she smiled and seemed to like this ultra-intimate closeness. I said, slowly, in a whisper only she could hear…
“If I like ice… or if I don’t like ice… (pausing, then blowing into her ear a second time) You’re not going to fuck me tonight, no matter what I say… Right?”
Eilidh let out a hearty, clipped laugh, before pausing a long, long time. Eilidh MacEachern wasn’t some fragile, prissy woman; she didn’t shock easily. She wasn’t going to pretend like she was appalled by my directness. Nevertheless, she wanted to carefully contemplate her answer, trying to think up a good one.
At some level, I think she enjoyed the moment, two heavyweight intellects, squaring off with one another, not flinching when the other delivered a heavy, sexualized surprise.
In the end, Eilidh decided not to go there; the contest, still early. She was content to let it end in a tie and smiled her beauty queen smile. She matched my flirty stare and merely said, “That’s Riiii..ight.”
Eilidh clinked my glass a second time, came close and whispered, “But, Magnus, you didn’t answer my question. What will it be… ice… (Long pause. Then she raised her gaze and met me, eye to eye)…or no ice?”
Wow, this was one, singular Alpha female, in complete control.
I smiled because this was the first time she called me Magnus, not Yank. Nevertheless, there was no hesitation when, unknown to her, I surrendered and said, “Why, neat, of course.