It was Wick Lifeboat Day on Saturday so we joined the crowds down at the harbour and braved the bunting and watched the Pipe Band. There’s something about the skirl of the pipes—it always makes me want to take the ancestral claymore down from the mantelpiece and engage in a mild spot of border reiving (though as it’s 300 miles to the English border, then again perhaps not).
It was a cool, grey day, and the strong east wind blowing in off the sea eventually drove us from the quay onto the marina, to visit the Isabella Fortuna, the restored fishing boat belonging to the Wick Society. Now, I’m not much of a lad for boats as a rule—I get seasick in the bath and just looking at choppy water is enough to give me that “elevator going down, lunch coming up” sensation my loved ones have come to dread—but we had to pay our respects to the old girl.
While we were admiring the restoration work one of the volunteers came over and engaged us in conversation—recounting tales of sailing her in heavy gales, nine hour journeys that ended up taking over twelve, while I felt my lunchtime croissant rising like mercury in a barometer. Then we got onto the subject of Wick’s “Black Saturday”.
This was 19 August 1848. A sudden overnight storm had caught the fishing fleet unawares and as the boats desperately ran back for the safety of the harbour many were wrecked in the bay, their crews drowned, and all in sight of land while their loved ones looked on helplessly. 37 men died here that day.
It was a terrible event, and I’ll talk more about it another time; but I think about it sometimes when I look at the cheeky grins on the faces of the fishermen in their ganseys, staring back at us down the lens of time in the old photographs. It was because of Black Saturday that more seaworthy vessels like the Isabella were built, with full decks; and it was also the reason Wick got its first lifeboat—beginning a sequence leading all the way to the one we celebrated on Saturday.
Now, you may not have noticed, but there’s a new gansey this week. It’s another Wick pattern from the Johnston Collection (well, it would be rude not to), which also appears in “Fishing For Ganseys” on page 25. I’m using navy yarn from a very old sweater I never liked, which Margaret ripped out for me and de-kinked. It’s 368 stitches in the round (or 46 inches at 8 stitches to the inch.) I’m thinking of doing a traditional non-indented neckline and high collar.
Margaret was also kind enough to chart out the pattern for me and knit a swatch while I was busy finishing her damson gansey. As far as I know this is another pattern that has never been publicly charted before, the leaf effect really effective in navy blue and a nice variant on the more usual herringbone.
Finally this week, I’m going to leave you with a great quote I came across (it’s an old joke, apparently, but was new to me, and has the ring of truth). Question: Why will the sun never set on the British Empire? Answer: Because God doesn’t trust the British in the dark…