Five go mad in Nigg
Viking, Dogger, German Byte, Fair Isle and finally Cromarty....West 4 or 5, variable 2 or 3 for a time, smooth or slight, mainly fair. What did that mean? Only one thing, of course, that it was time for RRCC to take its annual trip upon the high seas, to visit the mysterious lands that lie to the North of the Black Isle.
There were eight sea-farers gathered at the roundabout - The Hammer, The Boatman, El Parrot, Ian, Iain, Lianne, Innes and myself. Captain Rabbit was conspicuously absent, presumed overboard. Evidence that the days were indeed now getting shorter after the Summer solstice was provided by Innes, who appeared to have got dressed in the dark. Possibly intended as a political statement about the still-simmering kit-gate scandal, he had broken with club-shirt tradition, and was sporting a yellow top, black shorts and white shoes, accessorised to perfection with a Barbie-pink fascinator - sorry, I mean helmet.
We set a course for Cromarty, the Westerly breeze even making fairly light work of Findon Hill. At the summit, the first mutiny - El Parrot. The absence of Mrs El Parrot had meant he had needed to open the bedroom curtains himself this morning, and had unfortunately sustained an injury in so doing - so we were reduced to 7.
We flew along, wind on our backs, and arrived at Cromarty in record time. Iain broke from the pack ambitiously early for the 30 sprint, a tactic which was to backfire, as the wily Boatman once again took the honours.
Quite a crowd had gathered at the Slaughterhouse, mainly comprising offshore rowers, all hoping that the Boatman would arrive and begin dispensing pearls of rowing wisdom. With the assured confidence of someone used to headlining Belladrum, the Boatman did not disappoint - with an enthusiastic audience ready to catch all the names he kept dropping, he had them eating out of his hand as he regaled the crowd with his tales.
Inside the cafe, it had all gone a bit Starbucks, as the ever-friendly lady taking the orders had a new policy of asking for customer's names, to help identify their order. This question completely stumped one of our number, for whom having to remember his name at the same time as count money proved an insurmountable challenge. Rather appropriately, I won't name names to spare his blushes, suffice to say it was lucky his daughter was one of our number, as she stepped in to help him out.
As the inbound 10:45 departure from Nigg zig-zagged into contact with the slipway, Alan disembarked to restore our numbers to 8. This, however, proved to be short-lived, as the excuses soon began to flow. First up was Ian, who had an urgent delivery to make to the airport. Next was Iain, who had an urgent delivery to make of a spare wheel to the Highland Cross, followed by Lianne who couldn't think of an urgent delivery but had forgotten to bring her sea legs. So it was five hardy souls who were piped (OK, whistled) aboard, as the red carpet (sorry, metal ramp) was unfurled. Accommodation was on the snug side of cosy, as we shared the deck with 3 motorcyclists and a car, all marshaled expertly by the formidable lady in charge. The rolling seas did not make life easy for those wanting selfies, but we persevered and, as a result, unintentionally produced possibly the first ever RRCC caption competition - see what you think? The tide was fairly racing, and it initially appeared that the short journey would be entirely taken up with detailed mockery of the Boatman's buss-pass, but then came the shout - "Dolphins on the Starboard side!" - we rushed out of the cabin just in time to see a tail disappearing into the water, sadly not in time to capture it with a camera. The Hammer took a moment for quiet reflection, presumably reminded of the first time he caught a glimpse of an abandoned supermarket trolley from the deck of the Woolwich Ferry...
After disembarking, there were surprisingly few (actually no!) takers for Nigg hill, so the hardy band of five continued North. Waving farewell to Alan at the Nigg roundabout, we turned into the wind for the homeward leg. The brutal (and increasingly strong) Westerly was in our faces all the way home. Demonstrating whistle skills and team work of which John Noakes would be rightly proud, the Hammer alternated the remaining 4-man peleton between chain gang formation and 2+2. Tired legs atop Mount Gerald even put paid to a final 30 sprint, as we parted company in Dingwall.
58 miles on the clock, a great run out with a great group. And the caption competition? Favourite so far is "Julian receives news that Andy Carrol has signed a contract extension at West Ham"....