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Celtic Tiger Cub, Sighted on River Shannon, 2004 by Esther Hoad

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Esther Hoad

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August Bank Holiday sunshine made the river’s brackish water shimmer and sparkle as we cast off from the public jetties at Carrick on Shannon. We were onboard a forty-year old fiberglass cruiser, salvaged from a sinking and coaxed back to life – our beloved Iruna. We kept her original name, it’s bad luck to change. There was plenty to find fault with: after sealing all apparent leaks, lying in bunk avoiding rain drops was unpleasant, but we cherished her, clunks and all.

Saffy, our dog, always looked resplendent onboard in her fluorescent lifejacket. She loved the Iruna too. All along the Shannon waterways, for many seasons, she drew the attention of holiday boaters with long-lense cameras.

‘Ein hund in einer Schwimmweste!’

With Ben at the helm, we headed upriver. Below in the galley, I peeled spuds. Through the arch of the town’s bridge, with the boat rentals at Carrick Craft behind us, I lit the gas ring and Ben gradually increased speed. Saffy was beside me, alert and sensitive to the Iruna’s engine revs, and ready to perform her ‘deck checks’. Soon, she confidently hopped up and out through the open sliding-door of the wheelhouse, her Terrier claws tick-ticking along the narrow starboard side-deck.

I smiled as she passed, eye-level with me at the cooker. She paused, then continued to the bow, the galley window growing misty with condensation from the boiling spuds. Satisfied that all was well, she completed the circuit, hopping back into the wheelhouse through the open portside door.

The high-pitched revs of a speedboat, racing downstream towards us from Drumharlow Lake, caught me off-guard. Saffy hopped outside again just as the speedboat passed, thrusting spray high on either side of its bow, a proverbial ‘bone between its teeth’. Whacked broadside by the speedboat’s large unnecessary wash, the Iruna lurched to port, my pot of boiling spuds bounced over the cooker’s steel guardrail onto the galley floor, and I leapt sideways.

‘Dog overboard…’

It wasn’t Saffy’s first dunking; they were narrow side-decks after all. I ran up to the wheelhouse as Ben turned the boat, engine in neutral, drifting downriver towards Saffy. Outside, I grabbed a boathook and lay on the foredeck. Leaning over the portside, I stretched out, placing the boathook beneath the loop on the ‘Schwimmweste’ and lifted her safely aboard. I rubbed her dry with an old towel we kept tucked inside the wheelhouse. It stank of wet dog. Saffy looked contrite and shook herself while I consoled her.

‘You’re a good girl.’

Stepping back into the wheelhouse, I slid both port and starboard doors firmly shut. Saffy went below to her bed in our cabin. Standing beside Ben at the wheel, I gestured towards the galley floor.

‘Look at the mess … I narrowly avoided a nasty scalding.’

‘That’s new money for ye. Probably yon lad’s first time out with his new toy. No idea of its power. You can always tell who was raised to boating because …’

I interrupted. ‘Because they’ve manners.’

Ben smiled and kissed me.

‘Glad you’re okay.’

He adjusted our course and increased the revs, while I started the clean-up and, once more, we headed upstream towards our weekend destination, Lough Key.

(c) Esther Hoad

About the author

Esther Hoad lives in County Leitrim and worked as an Adult Educator. Following a life changing accident in 2013, she had to retire. She journaled her way back to the land of the living. Just before Covid19 lockdown, Esther read a commissioned piece at an International Women’s Day event. In June 2020, she was long-listed in the FISH memoir competition. She won the Leitrim Guardian Literary Award 2020, and received first prize in 2015 for her poem, Atonement. An eclectic mixture of life experiences informs all Esther’s writing, making her a braver better writer. She chooses to live in hope.

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