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Firth of Forth

So here we are in the Firth of Forth’s only substantial marina, situated in the ex-naval base of Port Edgar. And here we were 23 years ago, on holiday in our tiny 24 foot sailing yacht when, in August 1986 we were the subject of one of the last SOS messages broadcast on Radio 4. I still have a newspaper clipping from that day, probably the only time I have ever been the subject of a newspaper headline. Actually we weren’t lost, as the headline suggests, we were simply recovering from a long passage on a small boat.

Because of what happened all those years ago this place has some sad memories for us but remarkably the marina here has changed little in that period. And the bridges under which we passed then and now still have the ability to astound and amaze.

The rail bridge is a creation with a shape which is just so individual that it hardly needs the caption it gets when it is reproduced on the Scottish £20 bank note. It is as timeless as when it was built nearly 120 years ago.

But wait a minute! There is something that has changed since we last cruised this coastline. There is an animal we have regularly seen in rivers all the way up the east coast from the Medway to the Eye and out at sea as well – the common seal – which is now present in far greater numbers than 20 years ago. Holy Island is reputed to have a population of some 2,000 and in the quietness of the night it was like some ghostly haunting, their mewing cries coming clear across the water into our anchorage.
In Eyemouth there are some that seem to have become completely ‘harbourised’. In the same way that seagulls will live out their lives in a seaside town, dependant for food on what we give them (bread mostly) or on what they are bold enough to take for themselves, so these seals seem to be living on us too.

A small platform tethered from the quayside forms a stage where titbits lowered from above can entice the beast from the water for our enjoyment.
Elsewhere one fisherman seems to have almost established a bond with one seal who followed his boat from the moment it arrived in the harbour. Then in a quiet corner of the harbour just behind where we were moored we watched as he tempted the seal with small fish from his catch then finally dropped them into its mouth, a scene clearly repeated every day with just the right amount of tease before the feed.
[Click the image for a short video clip.]
The distinction between seagull and seal, and probably what is so engaging for us, is the higher degree of intelligence evident in the seal’s behaviour. Somehow we found ourselves uncomfortable with what we were watching although it is difficult to say why this should be any worse than feeding ducks in the park.

Meanwhile out on Bass Rock life goes on for the thousands of Gannets forever swirling in white clouds over the island. The white cap makes the rock stand out from its neighbours (white being the colour of both the birds and their droppings, such that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other) making it visible from many miles away on a clear day. Unlike 23 years ago, this time it was a fabulous day and we sailed the inside passage, between the rock and the North Berwick shore, in glorious sunshine, surfing down waves in a red boat just as we did then.

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