Da wind flans in frae Fitful Head
Wast ower fae blatterin seas,
Bit never da lang, lang lippen’d sail
Whaar lycht an lippnin dees.
- From the poem "Flans Frae Da Haaf"
by Laurence Graham
The Scottish archipelago, the Shetland Isles, are comprised of 100 islands and skerries; sixteen of which are inhabited. The low wind-swept islands have no natural forests, although archeological evidence suggests the islands once had shrubs and trees – willow, birch and hazel. After thousands of years of habitation, using wood for shipbuilding, construction, and firewood the islands stand bare and exposed.
The Atlantic Ocean pounds the west coast, forming high sea-cliffs and breeding holes for the many sea-birds that populate these northern isles. Strong currents flow through the straits and around the headlands on the east-flowing flood and west-flowing ebb. Getting the time and weather right to transit is the key to a successful voyage.
From Lerwick we headed north with the goal of rounding the lighthouse of Muckle Flugga – the most northerly lighthouse in the UK. At midday we departed with a westerly breeze. Passing through the narrow strait between West Linga and Whalsay the current was against us at 2.8kn, but eased once through. We timed our entry into Bluemull Sound well, catching a 2.5kn current to travel along at 8.5kn arriving at Cullivoe by early evening. There’s room to anchor to the north of the fishing wharf, but there’s plenty of kelp too. The next morning our anchor came up in a ball of kelp, but we had no issues with dragging and the muddy bottom seemed to hold well.
So the weather forecast wasn’t ideal for rounding the top as a low pressure system was coming in fast with the intention of keeping us holed up for a few days. Wind against tide would cause rough seas, so we headed south to an anchorage at South Ayre where we stayed for a few nights. On the fourth day another forecast south-east gale was announced by the Shetland Coast Guard on VHF 16 so we decided to move to the anchorage at Lunna Voe.
The following day was sunny and breezy so under the watchful eye of a nearby seal, we packed our raincoats, launched the dinghy and headed ashore. Among the stone ruins and small fishing boats, woolly sheep took a break from nibbling grass as young lambs frantically wiggled their tails while suckling their mother’s milk.
From the top of the hill we walked along the short airstrip following the stone dyke, passing along the few houses until we reached the ferry dock. The grass in the fields is green and spongy, almost golf-course quality grass, and the heathland is covered with tiny coastal flora.
The next day after clearing the kelp from the chain we motored along for four hours in light winds until we arrived at Scalloway on the west coast. There are a couple of options to berth the boat at Scalloway and we chose to tie up on the hammer-head of the Scalloway Boating Club. At the bar we met some locals and had a couple of pints while our laundry went through its cycles. The boating club welcomes visitors and has showers, washer/dryer, and is a five minute walk into Scalloway.
So now that we’ve had a taste of the Shetlands, a weather window has presented itself this week and we’ll make our way south to the Orkney’s. As it’s our last night in the Shetlands, we’ll have a beer or two at the club tonight. The June solstice is upon us and the daylight hours will begin to diminish. While I’m still waiting for summer weather, already it feels like we have only a short time left before autumn.