Shetlands to the Orkneys, Tuesday Sept. 18
Tuesday afternoon and we’re moored at the dock in Kirkwall, Orkneys and battoned down tight with extra lines at the bow and stern. Tell you why in a second.
We spent Sunday in Lerwick, a cold, wet day with nothing open. I had looked forward to finding a laundromat and getting my two week backlog washed and dried and on doing a Google Maps search discovered that while there was only one laundromat to serve the town, nonetheless there was a laundromat. I took a taxi from the docks with my bag of laundry, making sure to keep the taxi window open! and arrived at my destination only to discover that it was closed on Sundays. Fortunately I had kept the taxi so back we went to the ship to find that Gijs had asked everyone to make a small pile of essentials only and they would be washed in the ship’s only washing machine. Reprieve! We also were given fresh sheets to change our bed linen, our current set having been used since we left Iceland so all round, a day to celebrate. I was able to make a small dent in my unwashed clothes with the ship’s washing machine but since its been wet and rainy since Sunday I have been trying to get them dry on the little radiator in my cabin which is only on for brief periods at night and they were finally dry enough this afternoon that I can start using them.
We left Lerwick on Monday morning after breakfast and since the wind had shifted into the south, the direction we needed to sail, we raised only the staysail and the mizzen and motor sailed to Fair Isle, our mooring point for the night. The weather seemed to be brightening and we left Lerwick under bright, clearing skies but once past the harbour mouth the weather closed in with high winds and little intermittent squalls which brought rain occasionally mixed with sleet. It was quite cold and the sea was filled with an endless succession of two metre swells coming from the south west so they passed under us from our starboard side causing the ship to roll and wallow along at about 6 knots. I have not needed my Kwells since the first night of the trip but I had to resort to them on Monday morning’s passage. It was perfectly fine on deck during our watch, being able to see the next swell coming and rolling with the roll of the ship, but below decks it was a different story. Under sail, the motion of the ship feels much more measured and predictable, but running with with the engine the motion just feels much more random and unpredictable and everything seems to be swaying in a circle, not a happy thing to watch! Additionally, walking is difficult, and one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself really is the operating principle. In the galley of course, managing hot pots on a stove that is reeling from side to side is treacherous for the cook as is serving yourself and trying to carry a plate filled with hot food from the stove to the table. It’s hard not grab a burner when you instinctively try and reach for something to stop yourself from falling when the ship lurches. You really have to plant yourself and wait for the roll and then use the very small breathing space at the top of the roll to take the couple of steps necessary to move. Navigating any distance is a series of timed bursts between rolls.
We arrived in Fair Isle in mid-afternoon and moored at the only dock on the island big enough to take our ship, in a very small, protected harbour, about 4 kilometres away from the only village on the island. On the cliffs above the little harbour is a large wooden building, the Fair Isles Bird Conservancy, which I’m convinced is the location that was used in Anne Cleeves book in the Shetlands series where Jimmy Perez’s fiancé was murdered. The Conservancy does a lot of avian research and there there is accommodation for scientists who live on site while carrying out their research just as it was depicted in the book.
Because we were docked at the islands only mooring we were up at 5:30am to unmoor and head to sea, the Island’s ferry was going to be docking at 6:00am and we had to be well clear. Gijs motored off-shore and put the ship downwind while we raised all sails except topsails, and set off at about 6:30. The wind had shifted westerly in the night and he was hoping that we would be able to sail down to our next port of call, Kirkwall in the Orkneys. However the wind wouldn’t serve, too shifty and swing back to the south and so at 7:30 it was down with all sails bar the staysail and the mizzen, and back under engine power, really too bad. Quick breakfast and back on deck at 8 for our watch and once again we were entering the same wind and wave conditions as on the previous day, wallowing, pitching and rolling. We had fifty nm’s to cover and today there was some urgency. There is a gale forecast for our area arriving some time later in the day and continuing through tomorrow so we needed to get to Kirkwall, beat the storm and prepare for the coming weather.
The first two hours of our watch matched the prior day’s sail but at about 10 the wind dropped significantly, the swells flattened and the sailing motion became very much easier, cheers all round.
One interesting event occurred during our watch. I had noticed, when we were about 3 hours into our watch and out of sight of land, a small brown bird fluttering around the boat, disappearing out of sight for minutes at a time and then circling the boat again. I was sure that he did not belong out there, certainly in current weather conditions, and wondered if he had been caught in the wind and being so small had been blown offshore. He clearly wanted to land on the ship but was too nervous to do so. This continued for about 20 minutes and then, I imagine, being too exhausted to fly any longer, he dropped onto a length of electrical cable running flush along the top of the chart room roof and about 1 metre away from the three of us on watch and on the helm. Our visitor turned out to be a little wren who perched on the cable for about 5 minutes, fluffing its feathers, taking deep breaths and getting itself sorted out. It then flew off and was not seen again, really hope that it gathered enough strength to get itself back home, brave little creature.
We arrived in Kirkwall at about 4 and immediately put out extra mooring lines as we await the storm. We expect that we’ll be here for the next two nights while we wait out the weather.
Let you know how things turn out in my next post.