We did not choose to cruise to the Farœ Islands in the same year as the Falklands Crisis, but the coincidence demonstrated that most people have more intimate knowledge of that island archipelago in the South Atlantic, than the island group lying in the North Atlantic between Shetland and Iceland.
For the record, the Farœ Islands lie about 200 nautical miles north of the Outer Hebrides. The Farœse are descended from the Vikings who first settled the islands in the ninth century AD, although there are records of Irish monks landing there at least a century earlier. The Farœse have their own language, banking system and currency, and the status of a self-governing dependency of the Kingdom of Denmark. They are not members of the European Community, although they have made trading deals with Europe especially for the sale of fish products.
There are uncanny parallels between the Farœs and the Falklands. The climate is similarly inhospitable although the Farœs at 62°N are 450 miles nearer their Pole, than the Falklands are to theirs. The main crop of both island groups is sheep – Farœs means “sheep-islands”. There are few trees. Farœ is more mountainous and smaller but with a much larger population – 44,000as against 1,800. Both are grave-yards for old ships. Falklands’ hulks are relics of the world’s great sailing merchantmen. Farœs’ hulks are the British fishing fleet of the 1930s and 40s. Finally, both have been invaded by the Royal Navy, more of which later.
Planning for the Farœs cruise began in 1980. I managed to sell my Folkboat, Goddess Freya, and began the search for her successor. In my mind’s eye she was a cruiser-racer of about 30′ perhaps 10 years old. I travelled to Southampton Boat Show and went for a trial sail on a Twister. While there I arranged to sail onJosephine of Hoo a 30 sq. metre Stor (big) Tumlaren lying on a mooring in Chichester Harbour.
That trial was pretty unsuccessful. Her engine did not work and in consequence we ran aground on a sandbank and spent four hours in a spectacular thunder storm waiting to float off. What I saw of Josephine impressed me. She was long and sleek (LOA 32′ x beam 8′ x draught 5.5′) built in mahogany with a canoe stern. She had a three quarter old-fashioned “bendy” rig and sailed fast with the feel of a proper yacht.
I did not make an offer straight away, but continued looking. I went to all the East Coast ports but very soon realised that no GRP boat could possibly have Josephine’s style. Come December, I made an offer for Josephine, had her surveyed, and just before Christmas travelled down to the River Hamble to clinch the deal. Josephine came North by road and work commenced on her re-fit.
This was divided into three phases. Phase I, completed before the 1981 season, covered an overhaul of mast and spars, and new sails. The engine was removed, stripped down, examined and condemned, and a new BMW diesel installed. Josephine was launched at the end of May and participated in some RNYC Races, winning the Zeevalk Trophy.
In September 1981 I took the plunge in another sense by marrying Olivia, a friend of over twenty years. The winter of 1981-2 was taken up with buying and selling houses, and moving belongings between them. I moved in with her and then we both moved to a new house.
Along with all this Phase II of Josephine’s re-fit continued. The topsides were cleaned off and varnished, and the deck covering stripped and renewed. This proved to be a mighty effort involving countless man hours of amateur work. By the time Josephine was ready, Olivia and I found we were expecting a baby. Should the cruise be cancelled or postponed? Postponement seemed pointless. The issue was whether Olivia was prepared to stay behind being pregnant while her heartless husband took a four week holiday without her. In the event she backed the cruise, and preparation continued.
The Farœse Tourist Board, Ferdamannastovan, 38OO, Torshavn, was very helpful. The University Library yielded a highly readable book called Atlantic Islands by Kenneth Williamson, which described the author’s stay on the Farœs as part of the British occupation force in the 1940s. Even the RNYC library helped. Rough Passage by Cmndr RD Graham contained a chapter by his daughter giving the account of a cruise to Farœ undertaken on Emmanuel, a gaff-cutter, in 1929.
2. The first leg – Blyth to Kirkwall
The first day’s sailing was a treat. The wind was mainly Westerly, between Force 3 and Force 5. We tramped up the coast maintaining a good 5 knots, periodically changing headsails. On the first such change, a jib-sheet disappeared over the side, but later we got better at it.
By nightfall we had St. Abbs Head abeam, although we were seven miles to seaward of it. Through the night the wind veered to the North East and then died completely. From dawn we motored, bringing Scurdie Ness Light House abeam by breakfast time and picking up a school of porpoises which enjoyed themselves playing around the boat for an hour or more. By mid-morning we had had enough motoring and so put into Stonehaven to wait for some wind.
Sure enough after lunchtime beers ashore and phone-calls home a light South Easterly sprang up and we departed bound for Wick. The ship’s log records we were engaged in sunny spinnakering up the coast, but by evening the wind died, we lost the tide around Rattray Head and so put into Peterhead for the night.
The fishing port is much busier than when I was last there in 1979. Eventually we were directed to a berth in the inner harbour close by the ice-factory. The dock water was filthy, and the cruise nearly came to a premature end when a fishing boat all but sliced us in two as we lay moored. Josephine’s log remarks gloomily, “Evertime one visits Peterhead should be the last, however yachtsmen never make the same mistake once”.
We departed Peterhead at noon on Monday 20th July and on rounding Rattray Head set a course for Wick. During the afternoon the spinnaker was set in a light South Easterly breeze, but towards evening the wind died and we motored for seven hours across the Moray Firth, finally securing alongside at Wick at 0230 hours on Tuesday. We were investigated by the local constabulary, and chatted to two officers in a van until the first signs of dawn across the bay.
After a few hours sleep, we set off again in a light Westerly intending to cross the Pentland Firth to Orkney. By the time we reached Duncansby Head the wind had increased to Force 4 which would give us some problems with wind against the ebb tide in the Firth. All the pilot books advise against small boats crossing in winds over Force 3 or in fog, and as luck would have it we had been in the tide for less than fifteen minutes before the Muckle Skerry and then Duncansby Head were blotted out in thick fog. There was no turning back. The tide was running at five knots and we would have had trouble getting out of it, either back South or off to the East. So we sailed on, with a glimpse of Muckle Skerry half a cable to starboard, and then into the most horrifically confused seas I have ever experienced. Josephine was tossed about by waves rearing out of nothing and by great swirls of seething water. It lasted less than half an hour but it seemed forever. The crew manned the pumps and the skipper concentrated hard on the compass and avoiding the worst waves.
At last Tom saw a vertical cliff to starboard. We all peered into the murk. The “cliff” was moving and had the words Esso Antwerp painted on it. As the stern of the tanker passed by we saw beyond it the green fields of South Ronaldsay and there we were, sailing close-hauled right up the middle of Hoxa Sound, to the safety of Scapa Flow. We soon eased off and headed round the corner to the sleepy village of St. Margaret’s Hope, where we stepped ashore, to stretch our legs, and rejoice in our deliverance.
We walked over the hill to an intriguing inlet called the Oyce of Quindry. Later that night we dropped in at the Murray Arms Hotel. In the tiny bar, the locals, Gordon, Dennis and Tom made us welcome, while Wendy, the bar-maid kept on pouring and pouring the whiskies, whether or not anyone actually ordered anything. Tom was the local headmaster with a position in society to maintain. He explained this to us as he tried to knot his tie which inexplicably always ended up under his left-ear. He obviously found the exercise a strain, for he fell off his stool twice.
The following morning (Wednesday) we awoke early (it turned out to be 1100) and somewhat thick-headedly put to sea in what developed into a twenty mile beat into a stiff Westerly. Apart from difficulty in making sail, no doubt induced by the night of Orkney drinking, we finally settled down with the working jib and two reefs in the main, arriving in Stromness Harbour at 1600 in time for some of the festivities connected with shopping week.
Josephine was visited by a customs officer, who thought we were Norwegian. He advised us that if we wanted to load bonded stores we should do so in Kirkwall, as the extra charges for loading a bond in Stromness were prohibitive. As our conversation ended the expected Norwegian yacht appeared, and the customs man left, as it turned out to give them the same advice.
The shortest passage to Kirkwall lay through Eynhallow Sound, which has a bad reputation for overfalls and tidal races, particularly on the ebb. However we would go through on the flood, with a favourable Westerly wind. To make use of the tides we left Stromness at 0545 hours Thursday, carried the last of the ebb through Hoy Mouth where the sea was very lumpy and turned North. The Old Man of Hoy was just visible through breaks in the cloud to to the South, and we whisked up the coast, in the big Atlantic swell prevailing.
By 0900 we turned down wind and simply flew through Eynhallow Sound on a roaring flood and reached across Kirkwall Bay securing alongside in Kirkwall Harbour at 1130. The Norwegian yacht made the same passage on the same day. She left Stromness three hours after us, punched the flood through Hoy Mouth, and the ebb through Eynhallow finally arriving in Kirkwall at 2000, after a passage so rough it left them all sea-sick. It pays to make Orkney tides work for you.
Friday was spent on organizing stores for the passage to Farœ. I visited Wm. Jolly who deals in bonded stores, and he arranged Customs attendance. We purchased one dozen bottles of Famous Grouse whisky at £1.89 per bottle, and also three crates of beer. I spent three hours constructing a bond-locker in the bottom of the quarter berth, but the customs officers’ collective opinion was that it was the worst they had ever seen, so the bond was placed in a kit bag and sealed in the fo’c’sle. Quentin Mitchell arrived to replace Don McFaul for the rest of the trip.
The weather forecasts were sending us into a deep depression. An enormous anti-cyclone was centred to the West of Ireland, bringing fine weather almost everywhere but with NW5 to 6 for sea areas Fair Isle and Farœ. Having loaded the bond I was determined to go foreign and so telephoned Kelvin Hughes in Glasgow to order charts for Norway, as insurance against our not making it to Farœ. These were sent COD to us in Kirkwall and were delivered to us in the harbour just after 1400 on Saturday.
Saturday morning was spent in loading stores. We borrowed two supermarket trolleys for the purpose and trundled our purchases down to the harbour and on board Josephine. We got away at 1600 and headed across Wide Firth to Westray berthing at Pierowall. Pierowall Harbour has been re-built with European money. We lay alongside as directed by the Piermaster, but it was not a comfortable berth. Mooring warps fouled our rigging, and an acrobatic leap was required to make the ladder which lay to one side of the metal caissons which form the harbour wall.
We met up with the Judson family, whom we had last seen in 1979, on Goddess Freya’s Orkney cruise. Their daughter had married and had a baby son. We three joined them all for Sunday lunch and finally got away at 14.30, bound for Farœ.
3. Orkney to Farœ
The departure from Pierowall was under sail and we headed North through Papa Sound. The sky was overcast, the wind NW Force 2, and the best we could steer was 30° to starboard of the rumb line course. As we cleared the land, we met the heavy Atlantic swell and each secretly wished he had not lunched so well. One worrying aspect was the demise of the Brookes & Gatehouse echo sounder, which ceased to function. Through the night we tacked in a generally North Westerly direction. Shortly after dawn on Monday a position line was obtained on Foula which lies to the West of Shetland. The other notable feature was an oil exploration platform well off-shore. During Monday the wind settled down Westerly Force 2 and we were able to steer the rhumb-line course. By mid-afternoon we were about half-way to Farœ when out of the cloud banked a RAF Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft. They called us up on V.H.F. and accepted our assurance that we were nothing to do with the Round Britain Race. I asked them to report us to Orkney Coast Guard, and they gave us our position. It confirmed our estimated position to within five miles, so we were well pleased.
During Monday night the wind increased and backed into the S.W. so we made better progress. When I came on watch at 0400 we were careering along, just sufficiently downwind so that waves were no obstacle. By now we were picking up a strong signal from the radio beacon on Akraberg on the southernmost tip of the Farœs, the island of Sydero.
The main navigational hazards on the approach from the South are the Munken and Fleserne Rocks three miles to the South of Akraberg. Needless to say the first law of yachting applied; the fog came down with visibility less than one cable.
Just before 1100 Quentin heard the foghorn at Akraberg ahead, and we continued cautiously North. An hour later the fog horn and radio beacon both shifted their bearing to starboard so we altered course to head East until we brought them on the port beam. To add to our problems, the wind had dropped, so we motored in short bursts, turning off the engine to listen for the fog horn.
At last the wind returned, and with it a change in the sea state. The Atlantic swell had disappeared, the sea was flat. Judging we were in the lee of the land, we headed North West, and at last sighted land which we soon identified as the hills of Sydero with a little offshore island called Baglaholm at the entrance to Vaagfjord, the most Southerly harbour in Farœ.
The visibility was still pretty poor so we headed up the fjord to Vaag, a fishing port and whaling station, and tied up alongside in the harbour flying our yellow Q-flag. After a short while a knarled old man with a leather hat came on board to give us customs clearance. He chatted about this and that. “Yes, few yachts came in from Denmark, or Scotland. Were we staying long? Until tomorrow? And then to Torshaven? Hey hey hey!”
At last he took out his papers. He proposed to clear us for four bottles of “spiritus”, two for the skipper and one each for the crew. I protested on the ground that we had hopes of being to entertain Farœse visitors on board. So saying I opened a bottle and laid out our four glasses. “Ah well, three bottles for the skipper”. “No”, I said, “Whisky comes in cases of six bottles.” Eventually compromise was reached at three bottles for the skipper, two for Tom and one for Quentin. Quentin accepted this discrimination philosophically and hoisted the Farœse courtesy ensign. I poured four glasses and together we toasted Josephine’s arrival in Farœ.
Later we strolled ashore. The gift shop sold post-cards and stuffed puffins. We went to the Post Office, a yellow painted building with long queues, and bought stamps. The telephone was in the restaurant, so we walked there and were able to dial through to Newcastle to tell our families of our arrival.
Olivia had gone on holiday to a hotel in PortpatripkT so the hotel too had to be telephoned. I experienced a certain sense of anti-climax, largely induced by the weather. Portpatrick was enjoying a heat wave, whereas we were shrouded in cloud, leaving droplets of water in our hair and glistening on our clothes. The locals seemed unconcerned by the weather. They mostly wore thick long-haired sweaters, which obviously turned the moisture. That evening, after a good meal, I slept. The others went ashore to the restaurant, and heard a Farœse girl singing beautifully in Old Norse, the language of the Islands.
Next day, Wednesday 28th July, was again cloudy, but the visibility seemed a little better than before, so we decided to head for Torshavn, a distance of 30 miles. We made a leisurely start and then sailed down the fjord past the gaily painted houses, turning North up the coast of Sydero passing its many fjords and inlets. We even had some fitful sunshine as we sailed close-by the haystack rock called Lille Dimon. It is 1,355 feet (413 m.) high, and steep-to, with thin grass and hundreds of sheep. The sheep look after themselves, and once a year shepherds come out in small boats to land a party and throw some of the sheep “overboard” where they are collected in the boats.
There is a shepherd’s hut on the island and rumour has it that a mad shepherd in his seventies lives there alone. There are local magnetic anomalies in the area of Lille Dimon, between Sydero and the next island to the North, Sandoy. The pilot book speaks of deflections of between 5 and 8° W.
Needless to say, in this area we entered a fog bank, so in the absence of reliance on the compass, simply steered by the wind, and made a perfectly satisfactory land-fall on Sandoy. There is a remarkable cliff with a hole in it, called Skaalhoved. A Farœse inshore fishing boat came over to investigate us, but soon got bored and sheered off to the village of Skallevig.
We kept on into Nolso-Fjord where in thickening fog we were overhauled by a vessel of the Royal Danish Navy, Vaedderen F349, who responded smartly to our salute. At last, Torshavn came into sight. As we headed for the entrance we were greeted with the firing of green maroons and tremendous cheering from the shore. We really could not see what all the fuss was about, until eight Farœse ten-oared racing boats flashed across our bows and into the harbour. We rounded up in their wake and motored slowly in to a part of the harbour marked on the chart as small boat anchorage. It turned out to be a full scale marina. No charge was made for this facility. Indeed no-one seemed particularly interested in our arrival. Groups of Farœse, some in national dress, strolled around the marina, but Josephine provoked no more than passing interest.
Of course the marina was not intended for yachts, but for fishing boats. The traditional Farœse inshore boat is a replica Viking ship, with a high pointed stem and stern, and low freeboard amidships. Seven planks are used for each side. The modern version is open, but with a highly developed engine box, made to look like a big ship’s bridge with windows. The helmsman stands just aft of the box, quite often leaning on it. Steering is by means of a long pole attached to a tiller bar (a short rod set perpendicularly into the rudder stock) so steering is achieved by means of a push or pull on the pole.
That evening we strolled ate ashore, mingling with the crowds who had gathered in Torshavn for Olavsoku, the Farœse national day. Many of the girls were in national dress, consisting of a full skirt of woven wool, in dark brown with red vertical stripes with a bodice and shawl. The men wore breeches, and “flop-over” hats. The people were walking about greeting each other. There were prayer meetings, and hymn singing, and underfoot the broken glass from bottles of “spiritus”, mostly akvavit imported from Denmark.
The public drunkeness was surprising to us because the Farœs have been ostensibly “dry” since a referendum in 1907. There are no public houses, and apart from a weak light ale brewed locally and sold in grocery shops there is no retail source of drink. Taxpayers with a clean record can order a ration of spirits from Denmark every three months, and there is fairly obviously a black market in drink. Of course the crew of Josephine’s indulgences were amply provided for by our bonded “spiritus”.
Very early next morning, we were given a graphic illustration of the evils of drink. Someone was singing and shouting in Farœse and English. The voice came from seaward of us. We struggled out of our sleeping bags to see what was going on. The voice belonged to a drunken and trouserless Farœman, marooned on a mooring buoy in the harbour. From time to time, he stood up and swayed precariously on the buoy. Quentin public-spiritedly volunteered to row over to him in the inflatable, but before this plan could be put into action, a boat set out from the shore to rescue him, so we never discovered how he came to find himself in this predicament.
Thursday 29th July was the high point of Olavsoku, the opening of the Parliament or Løgting. The 27 members and the pastors of the Lutheran Church were led in procession by the Danish Governor-General, resplendent in ostrich-plumes and dark-glasses, from the Parliament House (a wooden building with a turf roof) to the Harbour Church (a wooden building with a green-painted iron roof).
After the service, the procession returned, and Josephine’s crew took up positions in the main square outside the turf-roofed book-shop, to watch and photograph. The procession ended with the singing of traditional songs performed by a girls’ choir, including the song and the girl heard practising in Vaag. A shaft of sunshine fell on the good-natured crowd which broke up into family groups.
Josephine’s crew went shopping for sweaters (very good value at £15 – £18 sterling) and gifts for families at home. Eventually we wandered down to the harbour, where the rowing boats from the previous day’s inter-island races were waiting shipment back to their respective islands, and then on to the harbour fort of Skansen. This tiny fortress on a bluff overlooking the harbour was the H.Q. of the British occupation of the Farœs between 1940-44.
Denmark was occupied by a sudden German invasion on Tuesday April 9th, 194O. On Wednesday the Farœse Løgting issued a proclamation that the Danish capitulation did not apply to Farœ. On Thursday the Farœse heard reports of a speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the House of Commons in which he said that British forces were “at this moment” occupying the Farœ Islands. Two Royal Navy destroyers did turn up at Torshavn on the Friday. Their commanders went ashore, and made arrangements to land a force of Royal Marines. The Løgting responded by issuing a formal protest against the British occupation, but received the Marines, 200 in number, who were billeted in the town. Had the British not occupied the islands they could have become a supply base for German submarines which would have been a disaster.
The British occupation was peaceful, but must have been painful for the local population, for at its greatest, the garrison consisted of 8,000 men. We detected no trace of anti-British feeling in respect of the occupation, although two large batteries on the foreshore below the fort provide a constant reminder of it.
5. Klaksvik, Eidi, Vestmanhavn
On Friday 30th July, after delay occasioned in an attempt to get the echo sounder repaired, we left Torshavn and made our way North East to the fishing port of Klaksvik on the island of Bordoy. The ship’s log says the entire passage was made under sail subject to a later correction “For sail read power”, and a note by the disrespectful crew “Skipper over-indulged and emotional after Olavsoku”.
Klaksvik lies at the head of a fjord surrounded by steep-sided hills. Needless to say we caught only the occasional glimpse of the lower slopes owing to the prevailing low cloud or mist. Ashore, we found a shop selling not only the ubiquitous stuffed puffins, but also an imposing stuffed gannet. We ate a good meal of fish dumplings in a the cafe by the shore. The ubiquitous television behind the bar was showing an episode of Coronation Street incongruously dubbed into Old Norse, the islanders’ ancient Viking language.
Saturday dawned brighter, and as we headed North up Haraldssund the clouds lifted and at last we felt the sun on our backs.
Tom celebrated by seizing the coveted RNYC’s most-Northerly-man-overboard award at 62° 22’N. He claimed the water was ideal for swimming, but he didn’t stay in long. On the shore we could see the remains of an old farmstead, with terraced fields extending up the steep sided island of Kunoy.
Once clear of Haraldssund, Josephine headed West past magnificent cliff scenery at Kallur on Kalsoy and some remarkable sea stacks, 246 ft (75m) high, at Kollur the North Western tip of the island of Eysturoy, and put into the fishing village of Eidi.
Eidi looked perfect, with its gaily painted houses nestling in the sunshine. The harbour has been recently extended by the construction of a mole, so that it now encloses a considerable area of water. We found a berth on the fish quay, which we were assured would be quiet, the following day being Sunday when the Farœse leave the fish in peace. Ashore, we noticed a door marked “International Work Camp” and investigation revealed a group of young Danes recruited to work on the construction of fish ponds. They received us warily, but allowed us to phone home.
We had come to Eidi to climb the highest mountain in the Farœs, Slættaratindur, (2,867 ft, 882 m.). On Sunday morning we set off just after 0700, walking briskly across the moors along the track of an old Viking road. There were hundreds of oyster catchers, the Farœse national bird, and although for a while the shadow of the mountain kept the early morning sun off us, conditions were good. As we climbed, we entered cloud and so were denied the spectacular views we had hoped for. We found a pinnacle where we rested and then climbed on into the cloud. The summit was reached at 1030, and was a plateau the size of a tennis court. Occasionally we caught a glimpse of Eidi through the cloud, but there was no real view in any direction.
We added a few stones to the summit cairn, ate a Mars bar each, and determined to record our presence for posterity. So we collected stones and laid out “Josephine R.N.Y.C” so that everyone might know we had been there. After half-an-hour we began the descent, quickly dropping out of the cloud. As we looked back to the summit, now 1,000 feet above us, the cloud lifted. If there is a weather god he or she was clearly not on our side that day.
The conquerors of Slættaratindur were back aboard Josephine at 1315, tired and footsore. There was just time for a beer in the cockpit, before changing into oilskins and sailing off again past the village of Tjornuvik, where the Irish curragh Brendan made her landfall in 1976, and then past surely the most spectacular cape in Europe.
Cape Enniberg (shown as Cape Myling on older charts) is 2,474 ft (754 m) high and shaped like a wedge of cheese. It is the second highest sea cliff in Europe) Its seaward face is almost vertical, and we experienced such violent gusts and eddies that we reefed for fear of damaging the mast. The sea was thick with puffins which swam aside to let Josephine pass, almost as if we were an ice-breaker.
Fuglabjorg, the range of mountains which forms the back-bone of Streymoy, stretched away to the South, and in a light and fluky South Easterly we made our way down to Vestmanhavn, of which the Admiralty Pilot states simply, “It is the best harbour in the Farœs”.
The tide was foul at the entrance to Vestmannasund and we had great difficulty in scraping past the headlands. However along each shore there was a distinct tidal counter-eddy. By keeping close to the North shore, we were able to make good progress. There were a large number of hares standing erect on the grass by the shore-line, and the navigator’s instruction to the helmsman was to steer close enough to see the whites of their eyes. On reflection we are not sure hares have whites to their eyes.
At last, at about 1800, the bay of Vestmanhavn opened out ahead of us. We moored alongside a fishing boat on the main quay, and no sooner had we opened another bottle of Famous Grouse, than we were hailed from the shore by a lady with a distinctly Geordie accent, enquiring where we were from. We told her, “Blyth”, and she said she was from South Shields. She declined to come aboard, being dressed in her Sunday best, but her husband did. Their names were Wyn and Jack Joensen, and they asked us up to their house that evening. We spruced ourselves up and dressed in our Number Ones, trouped up to the Joensen’s house, called Hejgun.
They were extremely welcoming, and Jack produced a bottle of whisky of extremely cloudy appearance. He explained he was not a habitual drinker, and the whisky was very old. We sipped it gingerly. He introduced us to the local delicacy, dried pollack (fish) which we dipped in home made ewe’s milk butter and chewed politely. As the sun set in the West, and the lights came on in the houses across the bay Jack told us of his life. He was born in that very house, and as a boy had gone to sea. Returning from a fishing trip to the Grand Banks they had been wrecked and he was the sole survivor. His mother forbade him to go to sea again, but in the war years he had joined the fish convoys to Scrabster. Once again he was sunk, and once again he was the sole survivor. Realising he had a charmed life he had joined a Grimsby trawler and fished with English boats until his recent retirement. It was in England that he had married Wyn.
Their present plan was to refurbish his father’s house as a fit place for their retirement. He realised Wyn might take some persuading to accept the Farœse way of life, but he hoped at least to spend the summers there. He was rather scathing of the new ways of his countrymen. A large hydroelectric scheme based on the lochs in the hills above Vestmanhavn supplied plentiful cheap electricity. Now people were deep freezing fish and sheep-meat and the old skills of drying meat in the open air were disappearing. He was also disapproving of television, which he claimed spoiled the Farœse custom of visiting each others’ homes for conversation in the evenings. Jack’s complaint was that the TV diet of international soap opera would submerge Farœse culture. Having seen Coronation Street dubbed into Old Norse in Klaksvik we had to agree.
The Farœse are immensely proud of their culture. At one level there is the Farœse Academy which deliberately sets out to foster the Farœse language and culture, with essay competitions, art exhibitions, and the like. At a less cerebral level there is the skill of hand-line fishing in the deep waters surrounding the islands, with fish and mutton drying, and the ancient sport of the Grindabod or whale hunt.
Jack had actually participated in one of these not three days previously. Fishing boats had spotted a school of pilot whales at the entrance to Vestmannasund and driven them into the bay. The whales had been beached at the head of the bay where the local inhabitants in rowing boats had slaughtered them with knives and lances. Jack estimated that 20 to 30 had been killed. After flensing the whales, and distributing the whale meat, the carcasses were taken to sea and dumped. The whales themselves are 9 to 12 ft long, and in times past must have provided the islanders with a valuable dietary supplement.
Jack recommended whale meat strongly, and the following morning, Monday 2nd August, we visited his house again, where he took us into his drying shed and presented us with some whale meat and blubber to try. Wyn took us shopping, and introduced us to more Farœse delicacies including fish dumplings made from blue whiting, a popular Farœse catch.
The weather forecast was for strong South Easterly winds and more poor visibility, so rather than visit the bird island, Myggenaes, and Tindholm which figures on Farœse tourist posters, we decided to think of the return passage to Orkney. We had sufficient stores except for bread. There was no bread to be had in Vestmanhavn, so we said farewell to our friends the Joensens and beat down Vestmannasund past the Troll’s Finger (Trollkonufingur), a narrow stack on the Vagar shore; past Koltur and Hestur and into the village of Skopun on the North shore of Sandoy. Towards the end of the passage we lost the tide and had a considerable struggle, until we picked up the counter-eddy close in-shore. The harbour entrance was closed for repair, so we had to lie against the outer wall. It was a rough berth, with a strong surge working in, and that, together with the fact that it was near closing time for the shops, persuaded me to test Farœse hospitality to the extent of comandeering a car and driver. At the third shop visited, I obtained the bread we needed, repaired on board, and with some regrets cast off from the Farœse shore for the last time.
6. Farœ to Orkney
On leaving Skopun we beat in light airs down the coast to Skaalhoved, there crossing the outward track. Visibility was poor, and from time to time the mist turned to drizzle. The inter-island steamer Tiestin crossed on her way to Sydero. As we left Farœse waters I hauled down the courtesy flag. No sooner was it in my hands than the sun shone warmly out of a cloudless sky.
The wind was mainly ESE and light, with occasional drizzle and fog patches. We sailed close-hauled on port tack all that night and through the next day. For lunch we stewed the whale with potatoes in the pressure cooker. Quentin would not touch it, Tom said he could eat it but was indifferent to it, but I found it extremely tasty and succulent. Whale meat is very dark in colour, oily and fibrous but very, very tender. The nearest texture to it in my experience is the ostrich I once had in a restaurant in Perpignan in Southern France – but that is another story.
With a belly-full of whale meat and blubber, I found myself well insulated against the cold and damp during the second night out. The crew claimed that the skipper was even more smelly than usual and threaten to tow me astern. During the second night of the passage South, the fog returned and Josephine suffered a power failure, inactivating the electric log. In the dark the best that could be done was to stream the mechanical Walker log, which we did. The wind continued E or SE with thick fog banks.
By midday the visibility had improved to two miles or so, and we had hopes of a reasonable land fall. However our estimated positions and some rather poor radio bearings on Sule Skerry and North Ronaldsay put us to the West of the Orkneys.
After lunch, I made an attempt to restore electric power, checking every vulnerable connection, and spraying it with moisture repellent. This diligence was rewarded, although I cannot explain precisely what went wrong.
At 1600 as we were changing down to the working jib, the Norwegian cruise liner Iltamar appeared out of the mist and passed close under our stern. It seemed likely she had sailed through the Orkneys (we learnt later she had been to Kirkwall).
Two hours later Quentin spotted land which we soon identified as Marwick Head, by the memorial to General Kitchener upon it. Kitchener died in these waters in June 1916 when HMS Hampshire struck a mine. I reported our position and E.T.A. at Stromness to Orkney Coast Guard, and requested Customs Clearance.We tied up alongside at Stromness, where a Customs official was waiting for us. We had a discussion about how much bond we were allowed, but finally we were cleared to import the remaining bottles provided we drank them before we got back to Blyth.
Next morning, Thursday 5th August, dawned bright and clear. Quentin organised the hire of three rattle-trap bicycles, and we set off to visit some of the ancient archeological sites of Orkney.
First stop was Maeshowe, a Neolithic burial mound constructed in 2000 BC. The entrance tunnel is low and narrow and has to be negotiated at a stoop. The grave goods the mound once contained were looted by Viking raiders in the ninth century. The looters even carved grafitti on the stones of the burial chamber, “Harald the Axeman carved this with his axe”.
From Maeshowe we cycled to the Ring of Brodgar past the stones of Stenness. These stone circles are alleged to have come into existence as a result of an all night party for giants. Giants, as every child knows, are turned to stone if they stay out after daybreak. The Brodgar giants were carousing through the night and although one or two groups heeded the warning of approaching dawn and moved off away from the main circle of dancing giants and giantesses, all of them were caught in the open, and the dancing figures turned to stone.
Next we cycled over the hill to Skarabrae. This village settlement was exposed by the waves of a Westerly gale beating into the Bay of Skaill in 1924, and has now been thoroughly excavated. It is notable for its fine dry-stone walls and its village organization.
After Skarabrae we set off again back to Stromness. Bicycle riding is strenuous for those unused to exertion, but we were cooled by a passing shower. The presence of fresh water on my skin brought home to me the fact that apart from a cursory brush up in Torshavn, none of us had washed for nearly two weeks. Therefore our first port of call on arriving back in Stromness was the Hotel, where we took turns to steep in a bath.
We ate out in Stromness and fell into conversation with a couple whom we invited back on board Josephine for a night cap. Isabel’s grandfather had been Captain of the Garthpool, the last sailing merchant-man of the British merchant fleet until her shipwreck on 11 November 1929 off the Cape Verde Islands.
On Friday 6th August we made the decision to repeat the passage through to Kirkwall, so that Quentin too could say he had “done” Eynhallow Sound. We made a late start, and spent the morning cleaning Josephine and chatting to visitors, among whom were the crew of the Australian trimaran “Twiggy” which had pitch-poled to the West of Orkney in the Round Britain Race. The crew were re-fitting her prior to completing the course.
The tide served at 1500 so we headed North to Marwick Head. As we got there visibility deteriorated to less than 50 yards in thick fog. Over the VHF the coastguard suggested that visibility was better further south, so we turned back and re-berthed at Stromness after seven hours at sea, having got precisely nowhere.
We decided to head through Scapa Flow to Longhope and attempt a re-crossing of the Pentland Firth. On Saturday we motored in thick fog, past the islands of Cava and Flotta, and berthed on the steamer pier at Longhope. Conditions were calm, but visibility so poor as to rule out a crossing of the Pentland Firth. The shipping forecast indicated an improvement with the passage of frontal troughs in the circulation of a new depression which had formed off Iceland, so we decided to shift our berth to St. Margaret’s Hope and wait for better weather.
Spirits were low, so we despatched a bottle of Famous Grouse, and followed it with a mighty feast, which provided an excellent basis for a night’s drinking with our friends at the Murray Arms Hotel.
The following morning, Sunday, I woke early to take the shipping forecast. The skies were clear, but a South Easterly Force 6/7 put paid to any idea of a Pentland crossing. We spent the morning reading, writing post cards, and generally killing time. After lunch we hired a taxi to drive down to Bur Wick and take a proper look at our adversary, the Pentland Firth.
What a magnificent sight! Looking south there were the Pentland Skerries and the coast of Caithness as far as Noss Head. Dunnet Head was the nearest point of Scotland, and to the West we could see the land behind Cape Wrath. Switha and Swona, the islands in the Pentland Firth were clearly visible and the whole was swept with wind and rain squalls, on which the sun sparkled. We took the road back to St. Margaret’s Hope, in awe of the prospect of our crossing.
On Monday 9th August, the wind was SW 4/5, so we departed, under working jib and reefed main, and made a fast tide assisted passage across the Firth. It was rough, but not nearly as frightening as the previous passage. The ship’s log-book accurately describes our progress as “possing in the Pentland”.
We made fast, if wet, progress south. Towards night-fall, having missed the 1750 shipping forecast, I contacted Moray Coast Guard. They strongly advised us to put into Fraserburgh as Westerly winds Force 9 were forecast for Cromarty. We were happy to follow this advice. The passage from Orkney to Fraserburgh, a distance of 70 miles had taken just over 12 hours. On arrival, I discovered that Josephine had indeed been sailing near her limits. The windward highfield lever which tensions the running back stay, and hence the forestay had pulled its fastenings out of the deck.
The next day, I made repairs with assistance in the way of borrowed tools from a local shipwright’s yard. There followed a little scene which is worth re-telling only because it emphasises the internationalism of yachting. I decided it was time to cut my toenails and removing shoes and socks set about the operation on the after-deck. This delicate manoeuvre was almost complete, when I was hailed by the skipper of a French yacht nearby, who had just finished identical surgery to his own toenails, and looking up, observed what I was doing, quite oblivious of him. This coincidence broke any reserve there may have been between us. After showers for the crew ashore at the Fisherman’s Mission, Josephine put to sea again. We sailed her out of the dock, gybing through the narrow entrance. A fishing vessel followed us out and accelerated to overtake us. He had not reckoned on Josephine for as she cleared the land on a broad reach, she too picked up speed and the two boats stayed together stem-post to stem-post for a while until the fishing vessel gave up the struggle and veered off to tend her lobster pots.
On that point Josephine’s crew decided on discretion. The yacht was hard pressed with two reefs and the working jib, so we pulled down the third reef and changed to the storm jib. By the afternoon the wind had moderated, and by evening we had Stonehaven abeam. Tom and I placed link calls to our respective wives, saying we would be home the following evening.
At this stage entries in the log-book become sparse. At 0700 on Wednesday 11th, Quentin has written, “Land identified, probably Cheviot”, thereafter the log entries mention only the salient headlands, and the ever-increasing wind speed. From Castle Point South, we experienced South Westerly Force 6/7. Three reefs, storm jib and engine were all used to push our way South and into Blyth Harbour, which we reached at 2150, in time for an evening beer in the bar of H.Y. Tyne.
We had completed 1,000 miles in three and a half weeks. Farœs cruising may not be to everyone’s taste. It is certainly not for the gregarious, or for the gin and bikini school of yachting. Like every adventure, there was a sense of achievement as well as relief when it was over. I can only hope my sons, Mark and baby Graham (our baby was born just before Christmas), derive as much pleasure from the sport as I have.