Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Norway to Orkney

We cleared the Norwegian coast and settled down to make the best of the light winds forecast. The week it took to cover the 400 odd miles back to Shetland were almost drama free, slow and although I would sometimes look at the chart and cogitate about "pulling in" and waiting for a better wind, experience has shown us that keeping going is a better option. Even if that involves drifting gently. 

 Just two days out we were moving along comfortably in 5-10 knots with the big, light heads'l boomed out and pulling. We were below when a loud bang on the foredeck alerted us to trouble and we nipped aloft sharpish. The multi-coloured ""engine" had ripped, dumping the pole onto the capping rail. Bee ran forward and grabbed the foot of the sail ready to bring it down. Releasing the haly'd we could only watch in dismay as the sail, already split from tack to clew, 
gently ripped from one end t'other and we knew we would be moving a lot slower from now on. Our own fault as we had watched the wind strength increasing, topping 15 knots and more and we should have dropped it and reverted to the genny. Laziness. Of course we missed the NFB (new best friend) sail that now lay in shredded tatters in the forepeak but little could be done about it. 

We drifted, beat and, eventually, motored our way through the oilfield that lay on our route and a day or so from Shetland heard of impending gales for much of this northern area. From the SW of course but not yet. For the moment we had NW winds, picking up and getting us south. The choice was either sneak into BaltaSound from where we'd left or get further south. We chose south, discounted an anchorage on the north side of Fetlar in favour of what looked like decent shelter on the south of the island. It meant beating our way in for the final 4 miles before we settled on a spot that would provide the best shelter. In the end we were there several days and the SW wind backed more S giving us a rolly few nights alleviated somewhat by the reefed mizzen sheeted in to steady us. But it felt great to be back in Shetland and we gazed around happily.


The blow passed and we edged further south, a slightly iffy anchorage at Levenwick turned out to be a cracker, one of the best in terms of scenery and holding and would have been a great spot to sit out that blow. Now we were keen to get south, at least to make it around Cape Wrath and into "home" waters. If we only knew....

With the weather suggesting we might get head winds early in the morning we pushed off on the last of the favourable tide to get down to Grutness. Although it meant arriving in the dark we were fairly confident of getting a spot to anchor, if only because the only boats we'd seen had been fishing boats. So it proved as we snuck in using the radar to centralise ourselves. I say using the radar but it is almost tongue in cheek as it has for some years been playing up. We thought we'd cracked it when we improved the grounding but it was very temporary. By now it would only pick up a target less than a mile away and often only .5 mile away. Then we'd switch it off for 20 minutes or so and get nothing. Frustrating to say the least. We left early the following day and motor-sailed our way down to Fair Isle. Stiff 25k winds and a rapid tide had made for a long, cold morning and the thought of beating against a foul tide to Pierowall some 40+ miles away was ditched in favour of a day or two exploring this small community. First we had to get alongside as the only other boat was tied up in the middle restricting access to all but the smallest. However they shuffled up, telling us they were heading out in an hour or so for Pierowall! Wow - the joys of youth. They did leave and we watched them, from the comforts of the rain swept hillside struggle to get their main up before reefing as the waves bounced them around with seemingly greater force. 

The following a large Norwegian boat came in and we too had to shuffle further forward to create enough space for the soon to be returning ferry. On its return the ensuing scene reminded us graphically of Nain; local people coming down to the wharf to greet the ferry, collect items ordered or returning friends and family. Whilst the Good Shepherd is far smaller than any of the Labrador ships that supply the communities on that coast, the local reactions are mirrored.

Above the tiny Fair Isle Hbr

Both us and the Norwegians left the following morning on their homeward legs. We tried to get south around Fair Isle to give us a better wind angle but the fierce tide made it pointless so we turned, roared back up the way we'd come and turned westish toward  the northern end of Orkney. With the wind forward of the beam and the tides that race through these waters it could have been a bear of a trip but sometimes you get a bit of luck...the wind was freer than we thought and the tides were a positive influence. The vis was poor and once we'd gained the shelter of the islands the last few miles were calmer. The anchorage however looked a tad wind blown and I was easily persuaded by a figure waving from a dock inside the harbour. Pierowall is a small harbour that shelves soon after the pontoons, the wind was blowing straight in and the turning room tight...hmm. Bee was waiting patiently for me to decide which side we would tie to. Ideally it would be better to turn around but with the wind and space that was going to difficult so I opted to go straight in and go port side on. The wind had other ideas, blew us off and past and we had 10 minutes or so have waltzing around as we had to turn the boat in a narrow space without poking the 'sprit though the deckhouse of an idling fishing boat. The crews from the other yots crowded the small jetty to grab our lines as we finally made it alongside. The jetty looked small but was, we were assured, good and would cope with our weight and the forecasted blow. Seems the harbourmaster had seen us sailing up toward the anchorage/harbour and rung down to tell a local where we could tie up to. We were there a couple of nights, filling our diesel jugs from the local fish plant and having a wander around. Most of the other boats had left leaving just us and a small boat. He was bound for Estonia I think and was hoping for a wind reduction before he crossed the North Sea and into the Baltic; we were just trying to knock a few miles off. We left with little wind and motored down to Rapness, a small harbour that is also a ferry stop. We anchored far enough away we hoped for the ferry to come in and settled down to wait. A local fisherman came by and offered us someone else's buoy for the night, but confirmed that where we were would pose no problem for the ferry. And so it was.

The next few days were not enjoyable. We left soon after a strong NW, the seas had not died down and the trip was wet and uncomfortable and as wave after wave seemed to come aboard I opted for comfort and turned for Stromness. Bee felt it to be a mistake; we were out there and if we kept going etc. Plus we would have to get the tides right to exit Stromness. Despite the words written in the opening paragraph I remained deaf to it all I'm sad to say. The entrance was fine although the wind picked up to the low 30's as we approached Bay of Ireland to anchor. No matter. The water shallows to 4 metres or less and the shore is 200 metres away, the holding is good and the wind could blow - we were in. Now, of course, we had to get out. 


  1. Sorry to hear of the demise of the NBF... but great to hear news of your travels. Where for winter?
    best wishes where-ever!

  2. Hi Paul,

    We're in Cornwall again for the winter, heading out we hope with a new nbf in the spring.