Please select your home edition
Edition
Bavaria C57 728x90

Northern Scotland- Voyage to Orkney and Shetland Isles (Part 2)

by Sheryl and Paul Shard on 23 Jul 2014
Approaching the island of Fair Isle, Shetland Paul and Sheryl Shard http://www.distantshores.ca/
June 21 is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and we experienced almost 24 hours of daylight on Fair Isle. In the wee hours there was almost a ghostly bluish light in the air similar to the light during an eclipse of the sun. It was bizarre to see sheep lying asleep while a few islanders tended their gardens at 2a.m. in a strange twilight. It's hard to get to sleep when it's daylight for so much of the day.

We left the next day sailing north to the island of Mainland of Shetland and arrived in the capital city of Lerwick where there is a very good harbour for recreational boats as well as the commercial harbour. When we checked in with the port authority we were given a key to the Lerwick Boating Club where there were showers and laundry facilities and a very welcoming community of local boaters.


At the Lerwick Boating Club we met up with cruising friends, Liz and Archie, who took us to local events like their dance club dinner for some Scottish country dancing. They also showed us some of the lovely sites around the Shetland Mainland. There are some beautiful beaches in Shetland, but at this latitude even in mid-summer you have to dress warmly to enjoy them.

Of course, we wanted to see Shetland ponies in their homeland. Although small, Shetland ponies are the strongest breed of horse or pony, being able to pull twice their own weight in situations where a draft horse could only pull about half its weight. It's not surprising that they have been the primary pack and saddle animal in the Shetland Islands since the Bronze Age.

Lerwick means 'the muddy bay' or 'bay of clay' in the old Norse tongue. For more than 500 years the Norse controlled the Shetland Islands, but they were given to Scotland in 1468 as part of a marriage dowry. At this time Lerwick was still just a muddy bay — it wasn't until the 1600s that a small settlement started here to trade with and supply the Dutch fishing fleet.

While we were in Lerwick the annual Shetland-Bergen sailing race took place. This is the largest ocean racing event in the North Sea and happens on the last weekend of June. The race goes between Bergen on the west coast of Norway and Lerwick.

It didn't take long before there was a cèilidh going on at the Lerwick Boating Club with tired bodies packing in to enjoy a pint, the company of fellow sailors, and traditional Shetland music. A cèilidh is a traditional social gathering often held spontaneously in Gaelic culture. The music is so joyful it can't help but raise the spirits of even the most exhausted sailors. Meanwhile, race boats were still coming in across the finish line. Almost 40 boats compete in the Bergen-Shetland Race each year, an event that has been taking place for over 20 years. The last of the boats came in around midnight, with light still in the sky.

Following the return race across the North Sea from Lerwick to Bergen on June 26, we set sail up to the Shetland island of Unst with Liz and Archie aboard. It was a great chance to catch up and benefit from their local knowledge.

Unst is the most northerly of the British Isles, in the northern Shetlands. The population of Unst is less than 700 — down from when the military base manning the old Distant Early Warning station was a major economic engine. This is the most northern point of Britain, back in the cold war they set up a station here to warn of Soviet attacks. The station is still there but abandoned. Now tourism is a large factor in the local economy and a special draw is the Hermaness Bird Sanctuary at the north end of Unst.


There aren't many harbours in the Shetland Islands, but the indented coastline means there are a number of anchorages we can use depending on the winds. We lucked out with light winds from the south so we anchored at the large sea inlet at the north end of the island within view of the famous rock, Muckle Flugga, which you have to say carefully. We were in the most northern anchorage in the most northern island of the British Isles. Cool!

One famous former visitor to Unst was author Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson's father and uncle were the main design engineers for the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga. Stevenson wrote Treasure Island — many people say he based the island on Unst. I compare our chart with his original drawing and it is a very good match. We anchored in the bay Stevenson called North Inlet in the story where his hero deliberately ran the Hispaniola right up on this very beach. But today, with south winds predicted we should be safe to leave Distant Shores at anchor here for a few hours. There are hundreds of seabirds — and hundreds of midges too!

Liz and Archie took the ferry home to Lerwick and we set sailed across the North Sea to Norway returning to Lerwick and clearing back into the European Union and the Shetland Islands on July 28.

From there we continued our southbound voyage back to Orkney. (Note: The islanders hate it if you call the islands, 'the Orkneys,' or 'the Shetlands.' You can say, 'Orkney,' 'Orkney Isles,' 'Orkney Islands,' 'Islands of Orkney,' or 'Archipelago of Orkney.' Ditto for Shetland.)


Our first stop in Orkney on the way south was at the small island of Stronsay. We tied up at the town quay in the harbour of Whitehall which is also used by the monks whose monastery is across the harbour on the island of Papa Stronsay. Their presence adds to the sense of peacefulness and timelessness here. In the early 20th century, Whitehall was one of the herring capitals of Europe and a developing boom town. But all is quiet now and although fishing is still important to the survival of the people here, it is on a considerably smaller scale. At the town quay we also have a surprise meeting with Dutch sailor and yacht designer, Dick Coopman Jr., and his wife, Jolande. Paul corresponded with Dick when we were searching for a new shoal-draft yacht so it was a delight to finally meet him and Jolande in person aboard our boats in such a remote place.


Twenty years ago, Jolande worked in Orkney as an archaeologist and wanted to sail back to see the progression of the excavations. We sailed on to meet up again in Kirkwall, the capital city and main harbour, on Mainland to visit the fantastic Neolithic sites with them. Timing the tides and currents around the island of Orkney is tricky because of their strength, and it was also the full moon.


Kirkwall is a Viking town founded around 1035. It has a busy port where the local fishing fleet and island ferries are based. It also has a 95-berth marina which we made our base. The name Kirkwall comes from the old Norse word for 'church bay' but refers to a much older church than the impressive St. Magnus Cathedral that dominates the skyline. St. Magnus Cathedral was founded in 1137 by the Vikings. The beautiful sandstone cathedral is considered one of the finest medieval buildings in the north of Scotland.

From Kirkwall, we make an outing by car with Dick, Jolande, and local sailors from the Kirkwall Sailing Club to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a name given to a group of impressive Neolithic monuments found on West Mainland. Included are the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, and the passage grave of Maeshowe.


Maeshowe is a unique chambered cairn and passage grave, aligned so that its central chamber illuminates on the winter solstice. The side of the entrance is one long solid piece of stone. Centuries after it was built, looting Vikings came ashore in bad weather and left one of the largest collections of runic inscriptions in the world. It turns out that young Viking men were not so different from some young men of today. When translated, many of the messages were typical graffiti about who did it with whom.

The maritime, military and ancient historical sites in the islands of Orkney and Shetland all relate to seafaring people. The wildlife and natural beauty is breath-taking and the navigational challenges, thrilling. Despite the cool summer weather the Orkney and Shetland Isles in North Scotland are fantastic cruising grounds and not to be missed.

Award-winning filmmakers and sailing authors, Paul and Sheryl Shard, have been cruising internationally since 1989. They are the hosts of the sailing adventure TV series, Distant Shores, which airs weekdays across Canada on Travel and Escape Channel and includes episodes on their cruise of Orkney and Shetland. Visit their website at www.distantshores.ca

This feature article is brought to you courtesy of Canadian Yachting magazine, Canada's premiere source for compelling boating lifestyle experiences, travel destinations, boat reviews, tips on gear, marine events and breaking news for sailors and power boaters. Enjoyed by readers in digital, online and print formats six times yearly.

Lancer 40 yearsFestival of Sails 2017 660x82Bakewell-White Yacht Design

Related Articles

The Great Dane dies at 88 + Video
One of the heroes of sailing, Paul Elvstrøm (DEN) has died at the age of 88 years. One of the heroes of sailing, Paul Elvstrøm (DEN) has died at the age of 88 years. Known as the Great Dane, and winner of four Olympic Gold Medals, and many world championships in multiple classes from dinghies to keelboats, Elvstrøm put a footprint on the sport like no other.
Posted on 7 Dec
America's Cup - Kiwi lodges Appeal against Jury in San Francisco Cup
Former Oracle Team USA crew member, Matthew Mitchell (NZL) has lodged an Appeal against a Decision to dismiss his case Former Oracle Team USA crew member, Matthew Mitchell (NZL) has lodged an Appeal against a Decision to dismiss his case taken against the International Jury for the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco. On October 28, 2016, US District Judge Vince Chhabria dismissed Mitchell's claim against the five-person International Jury on the basis that it was lodged too late.
Posted on 2 Dec
A Q&A with Nick Bice about the recent changes for the 2017/2018 VOR
I caught up with Nick Bice, the VOR’s director of boats and maintenance, to learn more about the VOR’s new directions. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Nick Bice, the Volvo Ocean Race’s director of boats and maintenance, deliver a keynote speech to an audience of marine-industry professionals and official Volvo Ocean Race suppliers at the 2016 METS trade show in Amsterdam. I caught up with Bice after his presentation to learn more about the new directions that the race is taking for its thirteenth edition.
Posted on 28 Nov
A Q&A with Sharon Green about the prep work that ensures great images
I talked with ace photographer Sharon Green to learn more about the prep work that goes into each image that she snaps. I caught up with ace photographer Sharon Green at the 2016 Alcatel J/70 Worlds to learn more about the behind-the-scenes preparation work that goes into each image that she snaps. While some of Green’s tips are specific to professional shooters (e.g., helicopter time or juggling multiple camera bodies), plenty of amateur lensmen will be well served to consider Green’s racecourse-proven tips.
Posted on 23 Nov
Dockside with CQS - radical, revamped supermaxi up close
The revamped supermaxi CQS is currently in Auckland's Silo Marina, ahead of her first race on Friday The revamped supermaxi CQS is currently in Auckland's Silo Marina, ahead of her first race on Friday - the White Island Race which will double as Rolex Sydney Hobart Qualifier. Originally the 90ft Nicorette designed by South African Alex Simonis, the new project to upgrade to a 100ft supermaxi has been led by Brett Bakewell-White (NZ) and Bakewell-White Yacht Design.
Posted on 22 Nov
Cabbage Tree Island Race 2016 Video
A warm evening saw the start of this year’s CYCA Cabbage Tree Island Race in a yellow haze with the fleet initially mix A warm evening saw the start of this year’s CYCA Cabbage Tree Island Race in a yellow haze with the fleet initially mixing it with the various twilighters. A 15 knot NNE saw the fleet reach their way through the Heads before heading into the breeze and up the coast. Bow Caddy caught the full fleet out of the harbour.
Posted on 20 Nov
Gladwell's Line - President Croce caught at helm in Perfect Storm
No real surprise that incumbent President Carlo Croce (ITA) was unseated mid-way an eight-year term After a year or more punctuated with issues that should not have happened, it is no real surprise that incumbent President Carlo Croce (ITA) was unseated mid-way through what should have been an eight-year term. Also gone is one of his lieutenants, Chris Atkins (GBR) as Vice President, who remarkably polled 13th out of the 15 candidates.
Posted on 15 Nov
Farr 40s One Design Trophy – Kokomo leads after Day 1 + Video
The first round of the Farr 40s One Design Trophy was contested with less wind than predicted but enough to encourage The first round of the Farr 40s One Design Trophy was contested with less wind than predicted but enough to encourage close racing between the seven competitors. Kokomo won the second and fourth races with Estate Master taking the first and the third leaving Kokomo in first place at the end of Day 1. Bow Caddy was on the harbour and caught some of the action.
Posted on 23 Oct
Gladwell's Line -The America's Cup settlement deal
The 'News' today that Emirates Team New Zealand has won their case before the Arbitration Panel is not news The 'News' today that Emirates Team New Zealand has won their case before the America's Cup Arbitration Panel is not new - Sail-World reported the same story in the first and second weeks of September. The Hearing on the amount of compensation to be paid is yet to be held. So far we have been unable to discover a date if indeed one has been set. Maybe next year?
Posted on 11 Oct
CYCA Lion Island Race 2016 - Race Finish Video
A constant 22 knot southerly wind made for a very quick trip up to Lion Island and back to Sydney Harbour for the CYCA A constant 22 knot southerly wind made for a very quick trip up to Lion Island and back to Sydney Harbour for the CYCA fleet in the latest of the Ocean Pointscore races. Bow Caddy caught the first six boats at they came around North Head on the return leg. Look out for the whales when the whale watching boat is in shot.
Posted on 8 Oct