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"Then there’s also the wildlife," he continued. "I was once on a standing wave in a tide race between two islands, paddling with a friend, and we met a gray seal surfing the same wave. The seal looked up at us, and this sounds bizarre, but in your head you find yourself saying to the seal, ‘Good wave, isn’t it?!’ And his expression seems to say, ‘Yeah, it’s great!’ There’s no need for these seals to surf. They’re not hunting. They’re just playing, like us, for pure enjoyment."

East of Port Ellen, we soon rounded a point and paddled into the cove of the Laphroaig distillery. It was closed to tours on Saturday, we discovered, but we could hear the hum of the machines within. Another mile up the coast was Lagavulin, and beyond that lay Ardbeg—all three produce world-class single malts known for their strong peaty character. For those who care seriously about complex Scotch whisky, this was like having Chartres, Bourges, and Notre Dame cathedrals on one short road for the pious.

As we turned into the cove at Lagavulin, still a hundred yards offshore, a soft breeze brought with it the warm smell of peat smoke, burning in the distillery. The ruins of a 16th-century castle stood high on a point on the other side of the cove. I paddled on. At 50 yards, on the same breeze, I got the first smell, rich and silken, of the whisky itself. There it goes, I thought, the angels’ share.

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