Ali’s body was found yesterday (Saturday) in Staffin Bay, Skye, by a member of the public. This wasn’t where it was expected to find him and there had been no official search in that area. Although official ID will have to be carried out by DNA tests, there is no doubt in our minds that this is Ali, from descriptions of clothing remaining on his body. We don’t yet know how long the ID and post mortem process will take.
It is more than two weeks since the Varuna grounded with no sign of Ali. We are in limbo; we know that he most likely died fairly soon after he fell into the sea, and yet we have no body. We’ve been informed by the police today that there will be an intensive search on 17th December (28 days after he went missing) in a specific area well north of Applecross. The search will involve two police teams, lifeboats and the coastguard. The decision to search this place on that date is based on the advice of a forensic oceanographer based in London. But it makes sense to us; we know John Newsome was found in the Gairloch area after he went missing off his boat in the Inner Sound not long after we started fishing. We know Bruce Fewell was found 28 days after he went missing off Plockton in April. It is good to be in touch with Sheila, Bruce’s partner.
Sad to say, since Ali disappeared, another Applecross fisherman has died, after a long and very stoically borne illness. Donald Cameron (Don to his close family and Taddy to most of the rest of us) was from a family which had fished for many generations, and the extent of his knowledge about fishing and the heritage of Applecross was legendary. He had an astonishing memory and was a mentor and role model for the younger generation and will be very much missed. His funeral was on Saturday and Kenny represented the Macleod family.
We’ve decided that we’ll organise a celebration of Ali’s life here in Applecross, but that we will wait till we know the result of the intensive search before deciding the exact date. We think it will most likely be towards the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018. If he’s found the celebration will also be his funeral. If not, we’ll go ahead with it anyway and if his body is found at a later date we’ll have a private cremation.
Life stops and life goes on. Visitors spend time with us and we have (almost) normal conversations, indulge in local gossip and laugh.The dogs need walked and Dougal bounces along as ever, though his mother seems sad at times, missing cuddles on the couch with Ali. The hydro scheme churns out its 2000 KWh plus each day, earning income for Applecross. Kenny produces warm and comforting meals and nags me to give up caffeine. Calum, called home from New Zealand after five years away from Scotland, adjusts to jet lag as he quietly continues his studying. Ruairidh is back in Dundee where the situational judgement test he sat on Friday went all right, he thinks. His fellow students provide good support as does Mariclau by Skype, from faraway Florence. Niall spent the week on a kayaking course near Ballachullish and then, back home with Rachel in Glasgow, he recognised the flooded slate quarry where the course had taken place in the Landward episode dedicated to his dad.
There have been many very lovely tributes paid to Ali on social media, in blogs, e-mails, letters and cards, a Spotify “Songs for Ali” list and in person; we appreciate every one. Most unusual and surprising of all must be the naming of the wind turbine built by the community in Coigach; it is called Varuna, after Ali’s boat: https://www.facebook.com/CoigachCDC/posts/1546302978768351
We’ve decided that we want to use Ali’s blog to let people know what’s happening in the search for him, provide any news and to thank everyone for their support. We can see that there have been several thousand hits on the blog in the last few days and would like to tell the story ourselves through a post or posts instead of providing information to the press to do what they want with. Ali’s blog was a very important part of his life; he used it to work through his own feelings and thoughts as much as to provide information for others. So it is appropriate and helpful for us as his family to use it in the same way.
Ali is still missing; the first intensive search has been called off and it is clear that there is no chance at all that he will be found alive. There is still some official and unofficial searching going on, as and when resources allow. We’re all very grateful for all the effort that people have put into this; the police, RNLI and coastguards could not have done a more thorough and professional job. We are very moved by the commitment of all the local volunteers who willingly sacrificed their time to search the sea and coastline with the hope of finding any sign of him. Thanks to all who have offered support of all kinds, calling in with food and flowers and warm hugs, finding words to say that explain what Ali meant to them and to comfort us. We have been inundated with messages of support. It has really meant a lot.
We want to share some of our fondest memories by posting these photos, including two of a collection of pictures and words put together by the children at Applecross Primary School, next door to our house, which explain what Ali meant to them. The photos show Ali laughing as he listened to speeches at Niall and Rachel’s wedding in July, and Ali with his arm round a new found friend, Anders the reindeer herder from Lapland, who he met in Reykjavik when he was at the Arctic Circle Assembly last month. The photo was taken at a reception hosted by Nicola Sturgeon who headed straight to our group when she came into the room and happily agreed to pose for photos with Scots who were to speak at the Assembly.
Although it meant going down the engine room hatch and guddling about in emulsified oil and water, the heat exchanger is back on and the gear box oil is changed again. Instead of going fishing I decided that the first run out of the moorings would be to check on the long-line. At this time of year there is still a lot of growth in the water and the line gradually sinks as there is added weight which overcomes the buoyancy which keeps the line below the surface and off the seabed. If it is too near the surface the scallops suffer from motion sickness and poor salinity. Fresh water for scallops is deadly unlike mussels and oysters. I have to admit I was pretty nervous thinking the surface buoys may have sunk under but was relieved to find them heavy but in sight. Picking up the first buoy I was pleasantly surprised at the huge amount of scallops on the ropes and the pearl nets
I had filled using the creel caught spat earlier in the year. Looks like I will not be bothering with that monotonous task again. Worked my way around 3/4000 queens,
putting them in clean pearl nets and adding a bit of buoyancy to the line. Looking forward to a new source of seafood next year and good to see there is still a lot of health in the local waters. Made me forget the messing about earlier in the day, I had batteries ashore as well due to long lay off, (a varied load on the dinghy this morning)
although it reminded me of the cold and sore backs of years in the 1990s when the scallop farm was going great guns.
Making my way back to the north lands, a beautiful day and stunning countryside flashing by.Travelling solo as Alison is heading south to spend some time with her Dad. I still have the residue of last night’s stunning visual and sound experience which will keep me going through the mundane routines making even them special. Our accommodation was based on price, 50% reasonable reviews and proximity to the centre, but having a little experience of Front of House can be a curse at times. Like in Iceland you cannot help but gauge how you are treated /helped through your day. Had a wee cringe when I heard the French chappie ask for some tabasco for his scrambled eggs, the waitress had never heard of tabasco despite this foreign person spelling it out for her, going for help maybe was on the cards but he never got his tabasco. Place was clean, maybe not Grace/Irena clean but clean enough and served its purpose, but maybe another venue for Celtic Connections. Booked most of the tickets for a five-day venture in January. Had a scare when one of the key concerts, Mandolin Orange was booked out, at least that is what CC said. I went onto their own website and was fortunate to get a couple of tickets so with Lunasa, Bothy Culture, Lau and a couple of others to be confirmed the winter will be less bleak.
Sights that I never see in Applecross bring home to you how fortunate one is in life. Last night I had the “great” misfortune to run out of battery in my camera, having left my backup at the accommodation and not having a second battery to hand. I called in to Jessops on the way to the station this morning and could not help comparing my good fortune in going to buy a back up battery, paying £90 for the privilege, while thinking about the guy who was making his bed up in the same doorway when we passed the night before.Maybe it helps to think it is a beautiful country and day when you have a home, family and structure to ones life. Passing through the lush farmlands of Perthshire, the bleak, snow-covered moors of Dalwhinnie and the the birch woods around Aviemore one can only hope the homeless chap has a couple of good experiences that will see him through his day. If a ticket machine not accepting my card and a camera battery running out is a problem in my life, I think I will settle for that.
The concert from beginning to end was stunning,
and a rocking good sound. Dhol Drummers, Kora,
Bodhran,Flute and singing were all top drawer.
All familiar as I have seen the Dhol boys with Shooglenifty and have followed the Afro Celts for some time. The cross over of the Celts with the Asian and African sounds seem very natural and the evening was topped off with Griogair singing a fine Jacobean Gaelic song, aimed I think to get people’s feet back on the ground so they could wend their way home. Met up with other guys from Applecross, Sheildaig, Plockton and South Uist with other musicians spotted, a feeling of Scotland being just the right size of country where huge amounts of talent and camaraderie abound. Been asked to write an article and blog post for another site so going to have to put deadline on myself to get both done. May be away for a couple of days……but then something else may happen.
But get home means a trip over our little hill.
On the way south to see and hear Afro Celt Sound System and leaving Inverness behind finally. The ticket collecting machine did not like my Visa card. May be a west east issue. As a result by the time I had picked them up from the ticket office the planned train had left. So now after an M and S coffee, couple of music purchases, Lau and Julie Fowlis, it is south we go. Another difference between east and west is Christmas seems to have arrived on the east coast, horribly early. These little jaunts are essential to life in Applecross where believe it or not one does suffer from cabin fever. However a meander around the community,
and without the dogs allow for some good viewing of colours
and bird life.
Keeping the dogs off the beaches at the time of year is good for the seabirds, enabling them not to fly off trying to avoid mad spaniels and terriers. One or two little hiccups at the Hydro, a couple of tripped switches but no significant lose of power out put. Angus is always about.
It still uses up a bit of volunteer time, getting the key for access, checking over the switches and returning the key and you are three-quarters of an hour down, that as well as a screen clean and before you know it well over a couple of hours are taken up. But to counter balance there is always the views.
Events of the week have involved our Community Council no longer having enough elected councillors to continue, still have to check up to make doubly sure but an election is in the offing. Another meeting this week to progress the Community Company consultation, something that should not surprise anyone as the Community Company is obliged to find out what the Community want and for it to carry out its wishes if it is feasible. There may be consulting fatigue in the Community but this one is quite important as it is a Community led one. Yet more volunteer time but gradually cutting back on the overload.