Once we were
settled in the hotel I rummaged through my gear. I couldn't send him out there
with just a few plastic trolling lures and some Japanese tuna feathers.
"You'll want some of these," I said, handing over hooks, swivels and
mighty two-pound sinkers. "Bait we'll get out there," I said. "What
do we want the sinkers for?" said Mike, puzzled. He was a long, long way
from the blue-and-purple sea and the gentle ocean swell of Malindi, where the
tomorrow," I said, and we moved into the bar to chat with the locals. It
was fairly quiet, with not more than a dozen serious whiskey-and-wee-heavy men
ensconced. How were we to know, as we yawned politely at 11 p.m. and said
goodnight on account of the long day at sea that awaited us on the morrow, that
even then the main task force was crowding noisily into transport outside the
Stromness Hotel—which had borne the brunt of the early-evening assault—and was
preparing to move on to the Standing Stones? It was on this first night that we
learned the truth about Rooms 5 and 6.
In the morning,
though, Mike was still smiling. He worked his way through the salted Orkney
porridge at breakfast and demanded a fish course, as well as bacon and eggs.
Then he was away to Room 5 to prepare.
At the festival
rallying point, the pier at Stromness, a thin gray drizzle of rain soaked in
from the southeast, and it was hard to tell where the sea ended and the sky
began. A drab, uniform army of 50 anonymous competitors stood around, shrouded
like seagoing nuns in ankle-length oilskins and heavy capes and sou'westers.
Mike stood out amongst them like some exotic bird of tropical plumage in his
gay baseball cap and tricolored anorak. "The draw," he was saying,
rubbing his hands together in impatient anticipation. "Where do we draw for
We walked over to
where a red-faced Orcadian was calling off names from a soaked clipboard.
"Smith and Gammon," he barked. "Both of you in the Delightful."
No one had spoken to me like that since I left the Air Force, but Mike's high
spirits were unaffected. "The Delightful?" he caroled at the wet
throng. "Anybody seen the Delightful?"
It is commonly
said that the Scots, and for the moment that includes the Orcadians, have no
sense of humor. That could be so. But whoever christened the Delightful must
have had, at least, a finely tuned sense of irony. Broad, black and tarry, she
was rubbing herself against the wall at the bottom of the harbor steps, 26 feet
of ancient lobster boat, reeking of diesel, entirely without shelter apart from
a tiny doghouse. Welcoming us aboard was smiling Skipper Hamish. who
courteously stood aside as, loaded like Christmas trees, we skidded and
slithered down the weedy steps and lurched across to a precarious foothold on
the gunwale. Safely aboard the Delightful, Mike had his first moment of doubt.
"Where do we sit?" he whispered to me. I didn't give him the reply his
question merited. "There'll be so much action when we hit those
halibut," I said, "you won't have time to sit down." But Hamish had
overheard. Deftly he reached into the doghouse and swung out two fish boxes
that until an hour previous had been brimful with angry, trussed crustaceans.
"Here you are, gentlemen. You'll be comfortable now whateffer."
I always like to
have a good long discussion with the skipper before setting out for a new
fishing ground, and I like to be clear about what I am in for. So,
"Halibut," I said, "I thought we might try for a halibut this
The words seemed
to wash past Hamish. "Halibut, yes, halibut," he said, savoring the
word. "My brother have caught fine halibut. I mind him coming into the pier
here"—he pointed at it so that there should be no mistake—"with five
halibut one time that covered the whole of this deck." He pointed at the
"So we'll try
the halibut this morning, then?" I persisted.
right, it is a fine fish, the halibut," said Hamish. "It is a long way
to go for the halibut."