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Wick IV – George McKay: 12 June

4W160613-2 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).

160613It 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.


The Highland dancers warm up

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”.

4W160613-3This 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.


Wick Lifeboat

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.

leafchart-1Margaret 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…

10 comments to Wick IV – George McKay: 12 June

  • You are a busy bee Gordon! Lovely leaf pattern too.

  • Lois

    I’ll trade you another quote –

    If you had to choose between your husband and an endless supply of yarn – what would you knit first?

  • Julie

    A vivid statement, Margaret.

    VIctoria, BC, Canada

  • Jane

    I think you are on a definite winning streak here, Gordon, what a good pattern and on such a good colour for it! The Johnston Collection must be a very interesting assemblage indeed.

    Margaret’s gansey looks wonderful against that background. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, it’s now clear to me that if the Johnston photos had been fully accessible decades ago, then Caithness ganseys would be celebrated today every bit as much as those from Whitby or, yea, even unto the Hebrides. But such is fate! I hope to flag up and chart out some of my favourites in the coming months (years?), and so do my best to bring them into the light.

  • lorraine

    Gordon- Lots of history in your part of the world. The nearest we have is Nova Scotia, but like you, I am an admirer from the land. An unfortunate experience on a Catamaran made sure I stay dry.

    I do like that leaf pattern, and may Margaret wear her exquisite Gansey in good health.

  • Gordon

    Hello Lorraine, well, I guess I am skewed more towards history as preserving records is my job. But since I’m currently able to bring that to bear on my one of fishermen’s jumpers, there’s something of critical mass going on just now!

    I have something of an inner ear complaint—usually fine, but motion (especially vertical motion) leaves me feeling woozy and nauseous. It sounds extreme, but sometimes if i go up many floors in a lift, it takes me several minutes before I stop feeling as though I’m still ascending, and I’m not quite sure where the ground is. Very strange. On the plus side, it means I never regret deciding not to be an astronaut when I was younger!

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