BY the time you read this I should be on Shetland, having travelled there by sea from Aberdeen.

I say "should" because I'm taking nothing for granted. I have, of course, every faith in the ferry company, its vessel and its crew. What I am wary of, however, is my own nautical record and my peerless ability to transform what ought to be an eventless passage into the stuff of nightmares and anecdote.

On this occasion, my travelling companion is a photographer who would probably prefer to remain nameless but whom I shall christen Steve. He is an intrepid chap who has poked his camera into the faces of angry men who have responded by showing him their weapons of malign intent.

Loading article content

Moreover, Steve is "into" water sports and thinks nothing of launching himself among the waves on a flimsy board. But he is also, he informs me, prone to seasickness which, he claims, can be cured by drinking deeply of ginger beer. Since we are sharing a cabin, I do hope this theory need not be tested.

Mercifully, seasickness is not something from which I suffer. Or not as yet. My problem is more fundamental. Ever since I saw Jason and the Argonauts, I have found the layout and language of seafaring inexplicable.

Take "head", for instance. It is navalspeak for "toilet", a perfectly good word that is known the world over. It was once explained to me that "head" comes from the days when there were no such facilities on ships.

Then, if you wanted to unburden yourself, you went to the bow, debagged and did what you had to do as you were dive-bombed by gulls.

Not only was your waste instantly recycled, the wind into which you were sailing also acted as a natural air freshener. Now and then, though, sailors were lost overboard as they struggled to control natural impulses. I can think of no more awful way to say cheerio.

Having said that, I have come close a couple of times to, as it's so colourfully put in The Godfather, "sleeping with the fishes".

The first was on a voyage round the Hebrides in a beautiful boat called a Galway hooker. Why it was so-called I have no idea but I have my suspicions. Over the course of a few days we visited Iona, Rum, Coll and Staffa. My fellow passengers were from all over. One, a stout fellow, lived in London and had always dreamed of seeing Fingal's Cave.

Our skipper parked the hooker in the middle of the ocean and bade us get into a rubber dinghy which would take us to the mouth of the cave.

It was not easy, even for someone as elastic as myself, to transfer from one boat to another. Last in was the Londoner who, for reasons known only to himself, decided to eschew the rope ladder and elected to leap from the hooker to the dinghy, thus sending the rest of us into the air like trampolinists.

It was shortly after this that I booked a family holiday on a motor launch on Loch Ness. Asked by its owner if I had operated one before, I said no. "Not to worry," I was told, "if you can drive a car, then you'll have no trouble with the launch."

I don't drive. Ignominy swiftly followed when I attempted to nip out of a harbour before a tour boat packed with Nessie spotters bulldozed in.

There was a collision and our launch was thrown on to some rocks from which it was pulled by a couple of passing jet skiers. After that, I noticed, my embarrassed son preferred to stay below deck. Or, as I invariably said, downstairs.

But episodes such as these have taught me nothing. Whenever I see a boat I have an urge to leap aboard. I did at Naples one winter and found myself bound for Ischia on a hydrofoil. All I can say about that is thank heavens I didn't have the seafood risotto beforehand.

No less hairy was the trip round Ailsa Craig. Ours was a small boat and we were many. On the outward journey several of my fellow passengers lunched and on the way back wished they'd hadn't.

I clung grimly on to boat's side and stared intently at the horizon which, curious to note, never seemed to come any nearer.