Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bird of Passage

Working on Briongloid's foredeck on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was in the perfect position to watch the arrival of a sleek low double-ended boat I didn't recognise, coming in the from the open sea with only a singly scrap of sail still flying. At her tiller sat a man in full foul-weather gear who waved a salute as he sailed by up-river. As I worked, I saw the red hull work a few hundred metres up-stream, well clear of the moorings, and drop anchor.

The Ness Yawl "Rat" anchored in the Belgooly river

A little later, I saw a white shape appear above the hull: through binoculars, I saw that an awning had been rigged, using the main mast as a ridgepole. A cruiser then... I hopped in the dinghy, and put-putted over to say hello.

The sleek red shape I'ld been admiring turned out to be a Ness Yawl, a two-masted open boat of about 22ft LOA designed in the double-ended style of a Norwegian Faering by Iain Oughtred, a boat architect from the Isle of Skye. This beautifully-finished example of its type had been built by its owner, Robin, an allegedly amateur boat builder. A slightly stretched version of the original plans, the good boat "Rat" had just been sailed from the vicinity of Fishguard across the Irish Sea to Tramore, and hence, propelled by an easterly gale, to Oysterhaven, in the course of a few hours of particularly intense sailing - lively going, in an open boat. At least, with such a wind, her lack of an engine was no hindrance...

Robin turned out to be a returning visitor to these waters, having cruised these bays several times before, both for pleasure in his own 27ft wooden yacht, and as skipper of a 90ft super yacht - also of traditional design. Robin is well-supplied with good sailing stories, having previously cruised his own engine-less yacht to New Zealand and back (out across the Atlantic, through the Panama canal, across the South Pacific to New Zealand, and home around Cape Horn). This summer, he is taking the diminutive Rat on a cruise of indefinite duration, to waters undecided.

Talking to Robin gave me an even worse case of Sea Fever than I already had. Lucky, then, that I'm due to catch the ebb-tide this coming Friday for a voyage to points westward...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death Trap

Late one evening, I went to the garden to fetch our resident assassin's food bowl. It being after sunset, I saw no more than the silvery outline of the steel bowl as I reached to pick it up - so the soft squishy/slimeyness that met my fingers beneath the rim came as quite a surprise. An inspection in better light revealed a solid mass of slugs on the walls of the bowl, drawn by the rich odor of the protein the bowl had contained. The numbers were really incredible - an infestation of almost biblical proportions.

Dying for a drink?

Revenge for this outrage was swift. Having terminated several dozen of the intruders with extreme prejudice, I deployed my secret weapon near the food bowl's usual spot. A jam jar one third filled with beer, dug in so that the lip is at ground level makes a simple and convenient death trap: it might even be humane. Just a day or two later, the trap had claimed the lives of dozens of drunken slugs.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pipistrellus pipistrellus?

Another surprise outside the door this morning - mouse shaped. On closer inspection, this particular mouse had one sad little wing furled up beside it. Our resident assassin had subtracted a third or so from the whole, but the small snout, reddish-brown back and grey underbelly suggest that I am looking at Europe's most common bat, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, described by Schreber in 1774, with a home range from Ireland to Iraq.


Opening the tiny jaws, I found an array of sharp white teeth. Clearly a regular brusher. This mouth means business though - a night's hunting can account for 3,500 insects. The hunter is also the hunted, pursued by kestrels, owls - and particularly agile cats.

Sources: (i) A fresh corpse (ii) Exploring Irish Mammals, Tom Hayden and Rory Harrington