Most folks remember turning toward a parent at some point in their youths and begging, “Tell me the story of you and daddy.”
A large portion of the answers are wistful and romantic, including flowers, courting, stolen moments and an earth-shattering occasion of someone down on one knee.
Several may incorporate the loading of a shotgun.
But not very many will involve an island chieftain announcing to his potentially new son-in-law (the Scandinavian Prince, Breakana) that the only way this out-of-town barbarian was going to join the family tree was if he could spend three nights in a boat surviving one of the world’s seven most dangerous whirlpools.
According to legend, or the ‘half in his cups’ fellah on the Islay bar stool next to me, our visiting Viking warrior consulted the island’s local wise woman, whom we all know from our own past experiences simply needs to gaze into a reflective pool of water, a crystal ball, or a blazing fire to find the tidbit of advice that will help us succeed with our quest.
The diviner advised the young hero to fashion three ropes, one for each of the deadly nights of seething seas. These would anchor his small boat back from the blood-thirsty hug of the whirlpool.
The rules were thus: the first rope should be fashioned of wool, the second of hemp, and the third … find a maiden of pure virtue, tell her she’d look fabulous with a pageboy cut, and use the leftovers to make a cable. Strongest stuff ever, apparently.
Our strapping soldier did as counseled, managing to convince his dewy damsel to part with her locks and plait her tresses.
Night one—treacherous, but survivable. Thumbs up to the lads on shore.
Night two—the hemp just held, probably a bit better than the suitor’s bladder. Shaky, but resolute, he signaled his willingness to follow through.
Night three—armed with his desire, his determination and the dreadlocks of his beloved, he set out to prove his worth, pitting his competence against the brute forces of swelling seas and mighty magic. Confident he had what he needed to sustain his life, secured with the knowledge that his betrothed was as uncharted as the seabed beneath him, it came as a jarring shock when the rope of her hair snapped and the vortex engulfed him.
From the shore, his fellow Vikings watched in horror as the sea swallowed their leader. Turning to the fair lass, one warrior, eyes wide with understanding, clutched his heart and asked, “Did you not tell him you were a pure and untouched maid?”
The girl looked aghast. “I thought he asked if I was sure that I could braid!”
And so goes the story, which I may have fleshed out a little, about the “untamed spirit of Islay,” Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan. Described as powerful and dangerous, it’s an undeniable magnet to anyone in search of something out of the ordinary, a precarious flavor profile, a journey only a few will dare.
And I’m living to tell of it.