The Wee Spark gets doon and oot, Part 2

The next day it was mostly waiting for the tide. The Wee Spark was looking shiny and oh so bright, but also a little odd swinging gently up in the air still cradled in the boatlift.
But it’s not as if it needs a lot of water under its wee flat arse, so as soon as the Leven was high enough to drive the boatlift down the slip into it, they took us down and dropped us in.
Time to head home.

It was cool out on the water, there was a welcome breeze and the Clyde was empty, all ours. At Dumbarton Rock there’s a huge sandbank to turn round before you can head up river and you find yourself right in the shipping lane a stones throw from the south bank before you take a hard left.

Calm waters, blue skies and my first time at the wheel out on the river. Bill sat in the sun, Jimmy made tea and I found that the channel isn’t as wide as you’d think given the size of the ships I see gliding past on a daily basis. On the canal, a little adjustment can be seen pretty fast in your course direction, out here with not so many reference points it took a minute to dial in the little extra subtlety I needed.

Then I had it, one hand on the wheel, tea in the other, a breeze in the window and the chug chug chug of vintage diesel power. It was glorious.

I was enjoying the surroundings as much as the driving, or is that sailing, seeing all the familiar sights from a different angle, it’s been a while since I was on the river.
Being so close the the Lang Dyke and it’s stone built buoys is a bit of a treat. It was originally built in the 18th Century to speed up the tidal flow and scour the mud from the river bed to deepen it. It worked perfectly and opened Glasgow up to shipping, now it’s crumbling stones are more part of the landscape than an engineering curiosity, but it’s still doing it’s original job.

We were buzzed by a drone, but no one ever got in touch so I don’t know if there’s footage out there somewhere. The Bell Monument and Dunglass Castle is well seen from the river and with work finally starting on the old Esso site around it, the day where folks can visit are maybe not too far away.
At this point Jimmy was just giving me instructions on how to get into the harbour. “Er, are you sure…” was my first thought, but he seemed unfazed, so what the hell.

There are two white markers cleverly hidden in the undergrowth by the railway on the far side of the harbour which you line up with to come in from the river so you follow the channel. We’re not deep in the water, but still, I was concentrating hard.
In we went, I didn’t hit anything “Hard right” says Jimmy, which sounds more dramatic than it actually was given the low revs and sedate pace. That right turn lined my up with the deep sea lock which would lift us back up into the basin.
The Wee Spark really is wee, but the lock looked like a tight fit. Gentle on the wheel, back on the throttle, we glided in perfectly. I was heading for the cill at the far lock gate, so a wee bit of reverse gear to centre us was all I needed and… stalled it. Revs too low, all thumbs on the controls. Ah dammit.

I loved it. Even on that short run from Dumbarton it was the best fun sitting on that chair with the wheel.

We were in the lock with a family of swans which would not be lured away from the gushing waters by bread, Mars Bar or shouting. The did however bask in cheers and applause from the wee gathered crowd when the water level got high enough for the cygnets to unglamorously chuck themselves over the gap at the top of the lock and into the basin. Swans are so graceful on water and in the air, but put them on webbed feet and given them a slippery obstacle to tackle and it’s a Friday night drunk trying to get on a bus in Partick in the 1970’s.

We were home and the boat looked great, all fresh and I didn’t scrape any of the new paint getting it there. I was buzzing, mildly sunburnt and thirsty. Let’s go again.

The Wee Spark gets doon and oot, Part 1

Boats sit in the water and that water wants to get in and so does the plant life swirling around in it, so your hull need cleaned and repainted to keep things watertight and rot free. But your boat sits in the water.
So, you if you want to get into it you’ve got to get out of it. That’s where a trip down the Clyde come sin, a sail down to Dumbarton to Sandpoint Marina to get lifted out and onto shore for a frantic couple of days work. We were hoping the sun would shine.

The crew for the day was Jimmy, Bill and John, the usual suspects. The Wee Spark was in the canal so had to come down through the lock into the top basin, drop the mast and funnel to get under the broken and therefor unopenable bascule bridge then get prepped for going through the sea lock into the harbour and the river beyond.
This prep was putting the mast and funnel back up and waiting for the tide while enjoin tea and pieces on the deck while waiting for the tide.

 

We had a wee bunch of well wishers to send us off when we got into the sea lock. The Wee Spark draws folk in and just makes them smile, it’s quite something.  Even water in the air pipe going to the whistle meaning the cheery toot as they sailed into the harbour was actually a gurgley squeak was endearing.
Off the went with me waving a white hankie as the chugged away onto the Clyde.

I swapped the hankie for my phone pretty quick though “Can you see that coming up river, huge bow wave?”
They did and were getting ready for it, but the speeding tug threw on the brakes and passed the Spark safely. That would have not been fun.
Fair play to the tug captain and good observation spotting them, but they shouldn’t have been horsing on like that.
However, it was back to the motor and down to Dumbarton to wait for them.
I didn’t have too long and they made quite an entrance, that wee splash of colour stands out well on the crags of Dumbarton Rock.

The boat lift is quite a machine. It drives into the Leven, cradles the boat and drives back out with it swinging inside the frame. The Spark is surprisingly beefy at eight tons but the lift has a forty ton rating so this thing is strong enough not to notice us and it has no cross bracing except at the drive end. I’m always dead impressed by it.
More impressive is the convenience of it as they leave is hanging at a good working height to get into the flat bottom and get it prepped for painting. We were all scrapers and wire brushes until Frank who was working on his yacht offered his pressure washer. Oh happy day, hours saved, knees saved and never was a bottle so well deserved. Bless you sir.

The intense heat dried the hull fast and by the time dusk came we had two coats of black on. We sat by the Leven with fish suppers raided from the High Street, tea in dirty old mugs, faces dirty and a just a little sunburnt.
Job nearly done, just got to get back in the water tomorrow and race for home.

The Black Knight*

I’m thinking getting this phone one of my better 2020 experiences. I was coming back from a wee church heating callout and while the road was clear all the way when I turned into the village I was straight into a wall of fog, proper horror movie style.
I could see the sun fade in and out of thinner fog patches and it looked magic, dead atmospheric. I knew I wanted to take some photies.
But it was nearly tea time, it was baltic and I knew if I went home for a camera I’d put the kettle on and be sucked into the couch with it being particularly heavy centre of comfy gravity whose pull any orbiting object is too weak to resist.

I was dressed warm and bright, one is as important as the other. Where to go was the next puddle to jump. I’m always at the beach, I didn’t have the keys of the Wee Spark on me so I couldn’t get into the harbour so the derelict Scotts of Bowling shipyard was an obvious choice. I hadn’t been in there for months, so it was worth a wee explore anyway if I didn’t get any photies.

Ice and snow everywhere but a lot of footprints too once I’d slipped through the gap in the fence. Mostly left by neds I think, it’s an accessible but still out of the way place for ne’erdowells, but there’s folk come in for fishing too as there’s deep water by the piers and it’s still a decent venue for urban explorers although there’s less and less evidence of it’s previous life now, more birch trees than steel and concrete now.

It was lovely. The river had a blanket of fog although looking behind me a hint of blue sky and the outline of the hills could be seen. Some hibernating butterfly bushes sat like they were ready to pounce, their once violet tipped arms reaching out into the frosty atmosphere for my wallet and phone.

The skeleton of Frisky Wharf was fuzzy and indistinct, with no horizon and no southern shore the timbers just floated in the grey. The grey warmed though, the sun pressed through as it got lower and while the light felt warm in colour if not sensation, the shipyard faded to black under my feet.
It was eerie. And utterly joyful.

 

I clambered onto the slip over snow crusted trees and debris to get to the waters edge. The concrete block I had my eye on pulled me onwards and over the ankle breaking terrain like it was, well a summit. Or a pot of fresh coffee. Or an unexpected vintage Karrimor Ebay listing. Odd that, I think I just get excited at stuff. Nice to know that although I might be broken I’m not one dimensional.

It was magic, I loved watching the sun sink away like a torch on a frozen windscreen. The water was rippling but quiet, the only sounds were the occasional burble as a bird dipped or surfaced nearby.

I eventually headed to the west side as the sun faded, just in case something esle was happening. I’d seen the best of it though and I was striding back home with a phone full of shots and frozen fingers. Aye, the camera’s got proper buttons.

I love getting distracted. Weather is awesome.

*amusingly, it’s actually purple.

Age of Minority

It was a little muted as we slipped from twenty to twenty one. The three of us were happy to be together, to be healthy, but beyond the front door, the world is still a whirlpool of chaos and stupidity ready to catch an ankle or a sleeve and pull you in. It’s a new year, but nothing has changed but the number.
No New Year dinner at the folks, a socially distanced hello in the cold morning air and steak pie back at home for us.

It’s brutal, but we stick to the rules because we’re protecting our vulnerable family members, ourselves, everyone else. I will speak more of this concept with a detailed explanation from experience with graphs and diagrams of why it’s dumb bastards are perpetuating this nightmare time. It’s not the government, it’s not a conspiracy, it’s not even the virus itself, it’s stupidity that’s keeping the train rolling. And it drives me mad.

And then there’s Brexit too. Christ.

We had a little light in the dark though, the rather perfectly named Wee Spark. I’ve been a more frequent visitor of late, keeping Jimmy a little less worried about it as he’s been either shielding or watching my mother with here new hip. Aye, that was an unexpected pre Christmas joy after an ASDA car park mishap. What a year.
But I’ve been going aboard for a little peace too, it’s a happy place, no matter how many times I bang my head on the low insides.

This evening the three of us went with cuppas and snacks and lit the fire as the sun sank and the sky’s blue was washed away by the blackest of cold, clear winter nights.
The stove lit first time and warmed fast. Coffee and toasted shortbread helped smooth the mood as the steel hull had sucked the life out of EE’s 4G for the girls.
I had my new Black Sabbath book made of old fashioned paper, I was just fine. In fact I got a pile of books for birthday and Christmas this year, it’s magic.

Oh aye, birthday, I’ve been 52 for a couple of weeks. So has Linda, we were born minutes apart in the same hospital in ’68. And here we are. What’s the chances.
52 is grown up I think? I think I’m feeling that anyway. A wee bit at least.

I think we’ll be seeing more of the Wee Spark. I like it here. And I’m learning how to drive it solo. Steer it? Ach, it’s early days.

And 2021? I suppose we’ll be seeing more of that too. It’s already a shitshow if you look at the news.

I reserve the right to maintain an easily accessible pot of joy and wear an unlikely hat of optimism though. It’s my thing after all, and I mean look at the weather? Alright!

N-n-n-n-nineteen

I had the place tidy, not a dirty mug nor a balled up sock to be seen anywhere.
I hit the road with a clear conscience and a dirty windscreen on my way to get the Girl in time for the new year.
We were meeting at Stirling, it was as good a place as any as she traveled back from here other grandfolks in Fraserburgh where she’d been for a few days.
Holly’s spent every Hogmany since she was wee up north, this year she wanted back home in time for the bells. Happy dad is happy.

I arrived really early, imagine that, and parked up at Kings Knot just below the castle, seemed like a good place to see the fireworks which had concided with our meet up. I was right too, within half an hour the locals were jammed into every parking space and gap on the kerb.
The Girl and Joyce arrived just a bit after the nick of time, but we jumped into the back of the truck to get some shelter from the wind and we had juice, snacks and fireworks.

The redneck look fits us well, but it was cold and there were a few miles to go.
The back road was dark, deserted and drizzly, the year was grinding out its last hours determinedly.
Ah, but you can touch me any more you bastard. The truck stuck to the narrow, windy and wet road despite its natural propensity to stick its arse out sideways in this situation.
We were soon home.

Jimmy however had decided to take the Wee Spark out to sound a whistle at midnight in the spirit of the old days of shipping on the Clyde.
I got my boots back on and walked out into the dark.

I stepped on board as the year died. 2019 started out to the beat of antique diesel engines and the clink of glasses, and of course the shrill, breathy howl of a steam whistle.

Onward.

The Pakora Pirates

A wee family trip as far as the first lock was our Sunday adventure. We put four packs of Mrs Unis’s pakora in the oven when we left the basin and by the time we got to the end of the line they were almost ready.

The sun was setting and the temperature was dropping but we were roasting inside with a well stoked log fire. The dim light and the wood paneling added to the coziness and it was sleepy eyes that cast off for the meander back to the basin.

Of course it being Scottish Canals who do absolutely no maintenance on anything on the Forth and Clyde Canal, given that that think they run a property letting agency with an inconvenient waterway running through it so they have sat on their hands so long the canal is now closed to coast to coast navigation, the prop got choked with uncut weed and we had to pull the Wee Spark into its berth with ropes in the dark.

Still, it was a fun end to the day for the three generations of Macfarlanes. The best of times and just on our doorstep too.

Jimmy versus The Script

Jimmy, who is my dad if it’s not obvious, is leading a huge flotilla of boats eastwards on the Forth and Clyde Canal right now. He ‘s sailing the Wee Spark, the replica Clyde Puffer he built in the workshop, and as ever it’s attracting all the attention.
STV have him hamming it up for the evening news right here.
Jimmy waving a spanner at you in an alarming manner, it’s just like when I was an apprentice.

In a very tenuously linked story, Halle Berry’s big fancy trailer is parked next to our workshop as they do some fliming up at Overtoun House. I swear she’s following us around, last week she was all cold and miserable outside the bank in Glasgow when we were doing out business admin, now she’s queuing for coffee at the BP garage in Milton. Maybe.
Haven’t seen Agent Smith yet.

Manowar, born to live for evermore!

Jimmy took his hand-built Clyde Puffer, the Wee Spark, down to the tall ships race at Greenock a couple of weeks back. Four canal boats went with the notion of wandering around the harbour shooting the breeze and sharing a dram with the folks from around the world, but as expected the harbour master did everything but send a U-Boat out to stop them getting near the big boats. However, the crews of the Tall Ships were crawling along their bowsprits with cameras to get a shot of the famous Wee Spark, so honour was saved. Until it temporarily beached on a sandbank the next day, but hey, that’s what puffers were designed to do, that was the only way to get a cargo shifted on an island with no harbour, beach your vessel and load and unload when the tide goes out. Simpler times.

I should be looking at the pipes, but stuff around the pipes is distracting me. Always look sideways, that’s where the interesting stuff is.

I have discoverd Gumtree.com, it’s like local ebay where you don’t mail stuff, it’s all cash and haggling and visiting other peoples houses.
I got a Flying V for cheap on there, it’s a cheapo 2002 “faded” model, basically it’s Gibson cutting corners to shift product, plus this one had a broken headstock, a rubbish bridge pickup installed and various other niggles. But, it came with an original late 70s/early 80s case. Ah the joy of a challenge.
I stripped the hideous red finish off, which was like they’d melted red candlewax all over the guitar and repaired the break with clamps, a very small drill and a syringe full of Titebond. It’s difficult to get a syringe with needles you know, turns out modellers have their own kind from Deluxe Materials which is nice, not sharp either, the needles are flat-ended which suits this application very well, doesn’t stick into the wood too easily.
I’m doing the nitrocellulose respray when I get the chance, a coat here and there, couldn’t resist a mock-up with the parts to see how it was looking though. I always thought folk who use tools all day and then use them again for recreation were daft, but you know what, it really is quite relaxing. No customer to spoil the fun maybe?

Good luck tae ye!

Outdoors again, and nowhere near a mountain. It looks like getting the miles in on the bike is taking over at the moment, but I’m heading to the Arrochar Alps as soon as there’s a gap in the weather. I’m not missing taking a right turn at Tarbet on Loch Lomond though, I’ve seen enough of the A82 for a wee while.
Instead, I watched Jimmy get the Wee Spark towed along the canal by a horse for the first time which was fun. The Wee Spark is a 1/3 size Clyde Puffer which he built in our workshop and is now a legend in the world of boats an’ that.
Holly got to pat the horse and was very pleased with that, and the speed at which the horse could pull the boat was frightening, horses are badass.

I did many hours in the saddle as well, racking up 60km on Sunday, with about half of it in the rain. The new bike feels good (that’s it above) and covers the ground well for a full-susser. I’ve dropped a good bit of weight off it already since I replaced some of its low-rent stock items with the good kit off my old frame, and I’ll get another kilo or two off it before the WHW trip as well. Bikes are the realm of the super-geek, tinkering, replacing, fettling, improving, feeding that bottomless pit that eats your money and laughs when it’s still “Hmmm, not quite right yet”.
The glorious apparel I’m sporting above is a Honey Stinger/Big Agnes team jersey that was presented to me when I was through at the UK HQ a few weeks back. I’ve worn it a few times now and it’s actually really good. The fit is spot on, the zip goes down to my navel and the fabric is pretty much all-conditions specific. And I thought that cycle gear looked crap and performed as convincingly as a hamster on a stick. Being wrong is good.
The photie above also captures the moment when I was distracted whilst waiting for the timer to go off and was thinking “That dug coming towards me is helluva big…”

I took a wee run around the harbour on the way home after tearing round the woods on the singletrack with the last of my energy as hunger took a firm hold. It was both dismal and magnetic watching the greys shift and change as the rain flowed over the water and onto the hills.
I was soaked to the skin when I got home, and decided to have a bath to enjoy some of that therapeutic stuff that baths are supposed to provide. I fitted a corner bath in our Mickey Mouse bathroom to save space however, and jammed in there with bubbles and myriad toys and tea-set components I must have looked like a murder victim in a wheelie bin.
Still, with my feet sticking out over the side, I fell asleep with Rammstein’s Reise, Reise on the iPod, quite happy with my lot.