Seven of us left Toward sailing club last night. Paddling under a star-filled sky. Heading up Loch Striven, the sea was flat calm, the only sound the ‘flip flop’ of paddle strokes and the idle chat of people getting to know each other.
It was a fabulous night. The setting sun had put on a show of apricot, pink and Naples yellow and when the sun had eventually gone down and the night had settled in, it was eerily calm; where navigational buoys seemed too large in the dark as we paddled by them.
It must have been about half ten as we crossed over to the Isle of Bute, the darkness had deepened, and we could only see our companions by the light sticks they wore, and the person we were in conversation with, was just a voice more than anything else. In the middle of a paddle stroke, mid ‘flip’ or ‘flop’ a call came out, ‘Phosphorescence!” And looking down, into the paddle stroke whirlpool, a little firework display in blue was taking place.
As we got closer to midnight the show became brighter, and by the time we got back to the harbour, we sat in our boats, the bioluminescence making artists of us all as we sat in our boats and drew curves and made splashes each reluctant for the night to finish.
The phosphorescence which we experienced last night off Toward, was caused by bioluminescent plankton. Although lots of microscopic marine organisms produce luminescence, last night we probably encountered dinoflagellate, (which in Greek means, ‘Whirling’ – which appeals to me.) Tiny one-celled plankton, organisms which use a chemical called luciferin (from the Latin, Lucifer, ‘light-bringer.’) to produce light. Although scientists are not completely sure, it’s believed the plankton use the as a defence mechanism to draw predators towards the creature trying to eat them. I should have remembered that last night and I may not have been quite so enthusiastic in efforts to splash or it could be their way of attracting a mate. Much cheaper than roses. Either way, if you get a chance to see them you should, a bamboo cane at Toward Beach would do the job.
If you would like to learn a little more about bioluminescence, paddling at night or the Toward Sailing Club, I have added some links below: