By Dave Broom

Searching for sea legs

Dave Broomdiscovers life on the ocean waves.
That’s more like it.” Had I really said that? The bosun’s jaw dropped.It takes a lot to render him speechless. Then he grinned – a more common occurrence. “Did you hear that? We have a convert.”I’d blurted it out unconsciously, but had meant it. We were underway, the Kings of Leon were on the stereo, the sails were up and we were scooting down Loch Sween. Was it just a day ago that I’d faced my fear of water and done what I swore I would never do – get on board a yacht and crew on a leg of this year’s Classic Malts cruise?In my mind sailing was elitist – all blazers, white trousers and strange caps with anchors on them. And I don’t swim. I’m Glaswegian. We don’t do water.Well think again. I’ve learned a lot since I staggered on board with a bag which was, for some reason, stuffed full of boots. Such as you can’t haul a winch without a rope. That might seem to be stating the bleeding obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make – and it’s a good maxim for life.The strange angle wasn’t that scary either as long as you sat on the opposite rail with the Skipper yarning about music, books, basking sharks and islands. He talks of St. Kilda, of seeing a shifting shrieking shroud of whiteness. Gannets. An island composed of gannets.We anchor and go in search of the still. The commodore tuts at our continuing blind adherence to fantasy. There’s no sign of a still of course, but there is a superb old chapel, a meditation hole (which I get stuck in) and heart-stopping views across the Sound Of Jura.We set sail for Lagavulin under a cobalt sky arcing over Argyll. The coastline opens up in a new way to me, revealing hidden lochs, bays and beaches all tilting to the South-West, to Ireland. Ancient sea routes travelled by monks, smugglers, fishermen and yachtsmen. A sea alive with people, with possibilities, with whisky as currency, as lubricant, as part of life.“We mistook a CalMac ferry for a distillery once,” says the bosun, a-propos of nothing. He has a habit of doing that. “Almost ran into it.”The commodore looks over the top of his sunglasses, a sure sign some barbed comment is not far away. “How could you have mistaken the aroma of chips and diesel for that of Ardbeg?” I wonder. The commodore looks over his sunglasses once more.Late that afternoon we edge through the Ardmores, just the sound of the water past the hull, the riffling of the sails, the snorts of seals on the weirdly shaped rocks. We slide cautiously past Dunyvaig Castle and into Lagavulin Bay.“Fancy a cigar?” said the cabin boy, a yachting virgin like me, opening a box of Havana’s finest. Great though it is to arrive, I can’t wait for the next leg up to Oban.That night ends up in an impromptu akvavit tasting with the skipper of Salka Valka and making mad plans to do an akvavit cruise around the Norwegian fjords. Are there distilleries up there? “No. Does that matter?” he says. We decide it doesn’t.Elitist? Tell that to the people I was sailing with. Down to earth, all ages, in all manner of craft. People in love with life, with the sea, with space. No pretensions, no snobbery, which when you come to think of it is pretty much what whisky is about as well.