I love leaving harbour and heading out to visit a place I have never seen from the seaward side before and this was turning out to be a lovely, lovely day.
Dolphin encounters are always enlightening in some way . An interspecies communication of sorts – perhaps an acknowledgement of each other as mutually benign perhaps
As soon as I see them coming I switch off the echosounder – When you have the sonic abilities of a dolphin. Then surely an echo sounder loudly beeping at you like a perpetually reversing bin lorry lorry must be a bit annoying.
If your are so inclined to rewind and re-watch what just happened between us , you will see that they realised there was something out of the ordinary – they made a 200 yard beeline for the boat, They came close and were soon surfacing noisily upwind so that their delectably pungent moisture laden breath, redolent of health and vigour and the full throated smell of the sea , wafted past our noses. The whole pod, young and old, had a good butchers at Katie and Jill and the cameraman from all directions , arsed around for a moment or two, exhaled upwind of us once more and went off across their familiar hunting grounds engaged in their everlasting quest for fish. Possibly heading for the feeding grounds around the Tay bar – just a score or more miles around the corner.
As humans we can only guess at what it would be like to be able to really perceive a world through sound the way dolphins can
Like any carnivores, a pride of lions, a pack of hyena they know their territory and be keen to check out anything new of different that passes through.
they are certainly clever enough to know the regular local boats by their acoustic profiles –
from the the giant booming slab steel walls of the cargo ships, to the the annoying and almost relentless thrum of pleasure ferries and bridge work boats down around the neck of the Forth,
I am sure they would also get to know the local fishermen – and I expect they are well able to perceive and observe the sailing yachts that cluster around anster and port Edgar on sunny days
But they also have good vision so they still like to engage the number one eyeball on anything strange or weird
And Katie , with her three fluke like keels, canoe stern . deep rudder, cloaca like outboard well and tunnel that must bounce sound around most wonderfully seems to intrigue them in some way – katie is a bit of a dolphin magnet.
The pope first shoved his nose into this fine place in 1160 when a cathedral was built to accommodate the healing bones of st andrew – I say bones – The continental catholics – the french, the spaniards and the Italians kept the most glamourous bits of st andrews cadaver to themselves , you know the jaw, scull, thighbone- leaving the religously minded highlanders to make pilgrimages to the eccentrically electic saintly scottish requiry consisting of a hard to identify bit of an arm. A kneecap three fingers and a tooth.
But it was not all about naievely revering bones – The North sea has always been busy with trade – 36 hours in a fastish ship will have you across no trouble – woollen products and grain one way – timber, ceramics, luxuries such as books and pamphlets the other – dangerous ideas from Martin Luther via the printing presses of Holland and Germany came ashore in the hands of sailors and traders all along this coast – religious texts and tracts and even whole bibles in English came in with the ships
literacy was flourishing among the trading classes – many of the the weavers, brewers, millers and masons were numerate and literate so nearly everybody knew some-one in the village who could read the bible and its associated commentaries out loud to friends and neighbours through those long long scottish nights.
In the face of such dangerous developments the local st andrews catholic holy men soon resorted to what they have always done with relish – they started burning people alive – in the insane beleif that you can burn an idea.
Patrick Hamilton burned at the stake for promoting the doctrines of Martin Luther.
George Wishart burned at the stake for defying the Catholic Church
Henry Forest burned alive merely for posessing a copy of the New Testament …. in English.
Once the catholics were sent packing by incombustible protestant ideas the lovely cathedral was demolished by angry literate bible waving scottish lutherans, calvinists etc etc taking revenge for the immolation of their free thinking heroes.
The last time I came past here was in short lived Centaur number 1 – I was having to get a bit of a chat on to get to stonehaven to meet up with the family.
At the time I remember thinking that it was madness to sail past Scotlands longest river– The tay rises in the far west just a spit in land from Oban it is joined by hundreds, probably thousands of streams and gullies draining some of the wettest glens in the wettest parts of our wet country. The Tay is a hard running affair – when a flood of fresh water coming down meets the north sea coming up then it can get really messy over the bar and even under the bridges.
But I like to sail slowly in beautiful places on beautful days so I generally do my best to avoid rough bars in tough weather.
For me, when it comes to geography, it is hard to beat a good east coast sand bar. They fill up your senses – it is not just the visuals, goodness knows they can be spectacular enough, but it is the power of the surging water as it cajoles and caresses and bullies the reluctantly maleable sand into ever evolving visually harmonious patterns and shapes, you can hear it fizzing and hissing from a mile or more away. Close up you can smell the salty dampness in the air created by the agitated, excited waves and the life which thrives on this ever changing chunk of devastatingly beautiful sinuously sculptured natural real estate.
Bars like this one are wonderful hunting grounds for the top predators – given clean open water a mackeral will nonchalantly outswim and outdodge any seal or dolphin ever born.
But here the strong currents change everything
the water depth shuttles sudden deeps to abrupt shallows – these are places where a flick of a powerful fin or a fluke or a tail or a flipper can confuse a fish enough to level the playing field between raw fishy speed and the graceful cunning of dolphins and seals.
Historically the tay has always been debatable land – Hence the hugely impressive Broughty Castle
over the run of 6 centuries it has flipped control back and forth between Highland scots in league with the French and Lowland scots in league with the english .
It saw lots of action during the delightfully monikered yet disgustingly conducted “rough wooing” and was successfully beseiged by the highland scots and catholic french gunners working together against the lowlanders. The French promptly garrisoned the castle with their own men – an entirely selfless occupation aimed at defending Dundee against against the perfidious protestant lowland scots and their bastard double dealing english allies – and allowed them to control and tax the merhantmen coming into dundee to trade.
Sadly for dundee, as often as not , when the castle changed hands the town was put to the torch by the disgruntled former encumbents – as a sort of parting gift to the new tenants
But Dundee always was an industrious place. They are good at rebuilding. The burnings and subsequent frenzy of rebuilding is one reason why the architecture of dundee is a delightful mish mash of stuff from the past 500 years.
It is blessed with a massive easy to enter harbour – shipping is in its blood. One year they built 200 ships – that is a massive industry involving foundries, ropeworks, canvas mills, barrel coopers, victuallers and picklers. These people were really well organised – Dundee was industrialised long before anyone used the word
Dundee, as any learn by wrote o level geography schoolboy from last millenium will tell you, is famous for three things – Jam, Jute and Journalism.
First the Jam –
Dundee, as a town, did ship victualing on a massive scale – preserving meat, fish, dairy products and fruit was a whole industry. Whalers, men o war, merchantmen all needed massive quantities of preserved food. At some point They clocked that by importing a ship load of rock hard all but rejected cooking oranges from spain – and a shipload of cheap carribbean sugar – boiling them up with some nice local water they could make four ship loads of marmalade. Then they started doing the same for Jam – mostly in giant catering cans for ships and armies.
Now for the jute.
Britains burgeoning trading and military empire depended on barrels and sacks. Dundee was already big in the canvas industry – which is fine for clothes and sails but it is expensive, stretchy, fast rotting damp attracting stuff – making it a pretty rubbish cloth for sacks.
Then intrepid dundee traders discovered Jute could be bought as cheap as chips in India – it could be hand woven, and hand platted . The canvas weavers of dundee had one hell of time getting it to behave in a power driven mechanical wool, cotton or canvas mill. It was tough and not very pliable – but in dundee they discovered that a drop or two of whale oil made it more pliable and it would then run through their machines. The resultant burlap, hessian or gunny sacks were incredibly strong, resistant to rot and abrasion. Sacks became lighter, cheaper and stronger – better in every way.
By now the British empire was a world trading mega-power with an endless appetite for good sax – and at the peak of the trade dundee had 100 steam powered jute mills running almost around the clock.
The first world war was very good Dundee – what with the demand for sandbags and ferrying supplies around – the jute was also used in all sorts of manufacturerd products – lino, mattresses, curtains and carpets. It was all going brilliantly until they invented polypropylene – and that was the end of that.
. … And the journalism bit – the Beano was born in Dundee – as were most of the comics and magazines I read as a child and a teenager. Back to the power of the printed word to change society.
–Now the biggest industry in the city is the university – which, however you look at it is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
That night we spent spent on the pontoons at Tayport safely tucked away behind the massive harbour walls.
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