So it is finally here, the first oyster seed! Tha gu dearbh!
First seed you say? Yes, our first delivery of commercial seed has arrived and is now bedded down in its new home in the loch.
The delivery date has been approaching for some time now and it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that we waited for the delivery to arrive. Excitement to finally get this operation off the ground and trepidation in regard to all the things that could go wrong; I had a couple of pages of work arounds and contingencies jotted down just in case things did not go to plan.
When dealing with the sea, time is always one of the biggest issues, you can not fight against the tide and if you try you shall always lose. As such we had a very tight window to work with and it was going to be a stretch to take delivery, get on site, prepare the baskets and get them clipped onto the lines all before the tide turned and made it impossible to do any work.
Our seed was coming from Guernsey in the Channel Islands and was due to arrive at Inverness airport at midday and you can probably guess what happened next, flight delayed. Fortunately it was only held up by an hour, any more than that and plan B (2am start on Friday morning) would have come into play. The seed was combined with another delivery and courier for the other part told me that he was delivering the rest to Tongue in north Sutherland which is a fair old drive from Inverness airport, at least an hour more than we have. I was left thinking that the farmers in Tongue shall definitely be using their plan B!
Then I was off trying to get from Inverness to Dundonnell in good time, dodging tractors and caravans that seem to fill the road at this time of the year. After a fair run I arrived just before 3pm and had 2 hours until low tide and so about a 3 hour window to get everything done.
Now the next issue to be faced was that ‘my partner in crime’ for the practical operations, my Dad, could not make it on this occasion. As well as missing a hand to help with processing the oysters this created a difficulty with the boat. Although the boat can be launched solo as at this point retrieving it up the slipway is a two man job. Thankfully for me our good friend Alasdair, the estate gamekeeper, was about and said he would give me a hand when the time to get the boat out arrived.
So it was down to business, I wrestled the boat into the loch and started looking out the 100 odd baskets that I would need. At this point Alasdair appeared, he had decided to come early to help me and he had even brought helpers, a family of four who were staying as guests at the estate, and what a godsend that was. After a brief chat on what was required everyone got busy sorting and loading the baskets with seed and in no time we had filled the boat and I was setting sail on the first trip over to the lines.
Myself and young helper Magnus arrived over at the lines and quickly attached all the baskets and then hot footed it back to the boat house to get the second, and as it turns out, final load. By the time we got back the tide had dropped and the boat was close to grounding but as a result it meant all the ‘happy helpers’ could wade out to help clip the final baskets on the line, and at just after low tide it was job done!
Well almost job done, given all the time I had saved with the free help I decided to grade a handful of my trial baskets as they have been somewhat neglected of late. The happy upshot of this was that as there were more than enough oysters to fill the new baskets, I had plenty left over to give to my helpers as a reward for all their hardwork, it was the least they deserved and they seemed more than happy with the deal.
And so it was back to the boathouse and after brief tidy up the boat was quickly winched up the slip and stored away in her shed and everybody went home happy, perhaps me more so than everybody else. The extra help was just what I needed and if they had not arrived, mmm, well let us just say I would probably have been looking at one of those contingencies I had written down.
On reflection this has been a real watershed moment for us, after all the hard work and preparation we finally have commercial seed in the water and it finally feels like we are farming oysters.