Friday, April 24, 2015

Shetland Islands

First things first:  Some photos from Shetland

     What I saw of The Shetland Islands seemed prosperous (many are employed in either petroleum/gas or fishing), very clean (not sure whether that is a cultural thing or the frequent gales blowing all the trash from the windswept islands), and a bit bleak (the landscape, that is.There are no trees, and the grass was rather straw-colored.). The locals I met were very friendly (drivers waving as they drive by) and generous. I had more than one drink bought for me, and if I already had a full beer, they were happy to buy me a whiskey to go with it. I was also given a delicious lobster by a friendly fisherman on Whalsay.
     I only visited three places (I confess it was a bit chilly on Twister and that that swayed my decision to head back to Bergen and the shore-power-powered fan heater rather than explore more of Shetland.): Lerwick on the island of Mainland, Symbister on Whalsay, and Out Skerries. Shetland was settled by Norwegians back in the day, so norse words abound in the names - Lerwick = Leirvik = clay bay or muddy bay, Whalsay = hvaløy = whale island, Skerries = skjær = reefs/rocks. The Out Skerries is a group of small islands with a population of 55 by one residents estimate. Unlike the other places, Out Skerries appeared to be in decline/decay. Fishing is the only industry, they are somewhat isolated, and the population is possibly below critical mass. A ferry which comes a few times a week but is often prevented from entering the somewhat treacherous harbor by the weather. Whalsay is home to many of the Shetlands big fishing trawlers. In Lerwick, I met perhaps as many people not from Shetland as locals. The oil terminal at Sullom Voe employs some, and the construction of a new gas terminal has brought a new batch of workers. Many of these are housed on a hideous zebra-colored barge from The Netherlands and a cruise ship.

      On the return passage, I was able to transit through both the UK and Norwegian sector of oil rigs
in daylight (On the passage to Lerwick, I was awakened in the middle of the night by the AIS alarm alerting me to a ship on a collision course with me. It was one of the rescue boats that hangs around the rigs, apparently trying to divert me from getting any closer to one of the UK rigs. A bit stressfull in rough weather and at night. Couldn't be bothered to talk to me on the VHF radio either, bastards). In fact, the whole homeward passage was pleasant with rather tradewind-like conditions (excepting the temperature). Took me a bit under two days. Twister held up well, and I quickly became reaccustomed to life at sea. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Shetland Islands

     Twister did not set any records in the ca 200 mile passage to Shetland. She arrived Lerwick, Shetland Islands, (Scotland, United Kingdom) the evening of Thursday April 16 three and a half days out of Askøy (Bergen), Norway.
Bergen looking lovely after a fresh dusting of snow
     I won't deny being more than a little nervous on departure day: the forecast did not promise a fast and comfortable passage and it had been more than a year and a half since Twister had sailed the open ocean. As is often the case, the anticipation was worse than the reality, but it was not trade wind sailing (ie downwind). The lowest moment was the afternoon of the first day. As always, the inside passage of the Norwegian west coast provided comfortable sailing. Soon after passing Marstein light (which marks one of the main entrances to the fjord system around Bergen) and entering the open ocean the northerly breeze died, but there was plenty of confused seas left over from days of strong wind from various directions. Twister was pitching and rolling with great gusto and the sails were slatting maddeningly. It's a special kind of irony being tossed about due to lack of wind as one is dreading upcoming gales. The southerly breeze arrived around sundown and was soon blowing at gale force (just an estimate). Twister made fast work of the first 100 miles, but then, as forecast, the winds turned westerly. The next two days were spent beating into and tacking into the westerlies making slow progress in the desired direction (west).
Using the storm jib on the inner forestay made for much more comfortable sailing than using a small patch of the roller furler genoa. The winds eased the evening of day 3 (Wednesday) and by Thursday around noon, they had died, leaving Twister 30 miles from Lerwick and 20 miles to some nearer islands (Out Skerries) but which I suspected did not have pub, the population being around 10. Grudgingly I started the engine and motored most of the remaining distance (some sailing with intermittent puffs of northerly breeze) to Lerwick. 
Land Ho - Isle Of Noss
Two Sailboats From Bergen - Twister and Statsraad Lemhkuhl
     As I pulled into the rather cozy (ie tight) small boat harbor, nature (which had been calling most inopportunely) became insistent and I managed to maneuver Twister back into the larger main harbor before I had to run below and leave her to her own devices for a minute or two. The joys of singlehanded sailing ;)    Fortunately we did not run into anyone or anything and in short time we found a nice floating pontoon to tie up to and soon your humble blogger was belly up to the bar at a nearby pub enjoying a proper pint and later a deep-fried haggis. 
     Friday morning I was surprised to see Statsraad Lehmkuhl, a 3-masted brig from Bergen, dock nearby. She apparently took two days from Bergen. 
     I arrived The Shetland Islands just in time to enjoy some (I suspect) unseasonably nice weather for the next  couple of days (see weather map below - The Shetland Islands are directly under the H in the high pressure system). 

Shetland High
Update Saturday 18 April: Departing Lerwick this afternoon. Heading to Whalsay (Whale Island), only 12 or so miles to the north. Then a visit to The Valhalla Brewery on the island of Unst (father north) might be in order. If I feel intrepid after that, the journey will continue counterclockwise around Shetland. If not, then I may take advantage of the moderate westerlies forecast for the later part of next week and head back to Bergen. In any case, I may not have internet access for a few days or more, possibly not before returning to Norway.