Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Strangford Lough bounty

Last night, a pleasant surprise awaited when I got into the dinghy to cross to the island. There was a clear plastic bag on the stern seat containing something the size of a side plate, and a scrap of paper with 'KEVIN' in big black letters. That was clue enough: the only Kevin I know around here is a very likeable fisherman called Kevin Doherty, who until recently kept his own fishing boat Harvest Home on a mooring in Ringhaddy Sound. He sold Harvest Home last summer but he still fishes this rather pretty canoe-sterned boat, Cushlin, for her owner.

Kevin has passed by the cabin most days through the winter, and the last time I saw him was when I got a call from John Scott, who looks after the moorings in the sound, on another late evening three weeks ago. John told me that Kevin had run out of diesel in Pawle Sound behind Islandmore, and could I give him a tow? John would do it himself but was taking care of visitors after a family bereavement. Anyway I love adventures like that, so despite the fact that I was three quarters of an hour away on the mainland, and hadn't intended to be at Ringhaddy till midnight, I said 'Sure' and dropped everything. I said I wouldn't be with Kevin for an hour or more, but John said that was fine, Kevin had an anchor out and would be happy to wait - he would give him a call and tell him I was on my way.

When I got to the pontoons I left my stuff in the car, jumped into the dinghy and headed south through the moorings. I could see the lights of the cabin off to my left, and decided to land and collect a rope from the generator shed. I called ahead to Lynn, to tell her not to be alarmed when she heard the boat coming in; landed at the jetty and ran round the side of the cabin to the shed. After retrieving a forty foot length of polypropylene, I jumped back into the dinghy and continued my rescue mission.

As I left the confines of the sound, I saw a darkly indeterminate shape coming towards me, off my port bow, which materialised into two shapes separated by a rope: a little white motorboat, and the much larger Cushlin, under tow.

It turned out that Kevin's crew that day was a diver/chef called Martin Rafferty. To fast forward to last night, and the mysterious plastic bag, the operative word is 'chef'; but that evening it was most certainly 'diver', because while I was speeding by car towards Ringhaddy, Martin had decided to get into his wet suit and swim ashore - not to the mainland, which was half a mile away, but to the back of Islandmore. Thence, an energetic hike over the top of Eagle Hill, down to the shore opposite Ringhaddy, and another swim to Kevin's little motorboat, which was tied to a mooring in the middle of the sound. Quite a feat, and as Kevin says, if Lynn ever finds a calling card on the island with 'All because the lady loves..', she'll know the true identity of the man in black silhouette.

So, my services sadly were not, in the event, required. I followed them to Cushlin's mooring just to see them safe, and as they were transferring their catch in boxes between the two boats, Kevin handed me a bag of razorshells by way of thanks. Curiously, we had never tried razorshells during our time on the island, though we have sampled most of Strangford Lough's plentiful resouces over the years. Lynn demurred, as razorshells are one of the few shellfish she isn't keen on, but I cooked them as per Martin's expert instructions and found them delicious - a cross, as Kevin had suggested, between squid and cockles.

Well, last night's plastic bag contained an enormous clam shell containing the flesh of several more clams, cleaned and ready to cook. When I landed at the cabin I called Kevin to say thanks, and he told me that Martin recommends frying clams (scallops) in butter with a splash of Worcester sauce, which caramelises in the pan. We both love clams - Lynn could live on them - so what a treat..

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