Josephine’s cruise to the Shetlands 1986

Blyth to Kirkwall

Bruce and Edward
Bruce and Edward

The crew for Josephine’s 1986 cruise were my brother, Colin, with whom, many years ago, I used to sail on an old GP14 dinghy, and Edward Chester, who readers of Josephine’s previous logs, will have encountered on her cruise to Denmark in 1984, and to the Dutch Provinces in 1985. This year we decided to forgo the easy pleasures of the previous years and investigate the open waters of the far Northern Isles, Colin’s ulterior motive was to pick up the odd hint on navigation as he was planning a bare boat charter in Greek waters later in the year, but essentially the three of us had no better motive for the cruise than to give Josephine an outing and have a good time. We allowed ourselves two weeks away from our loved ones, although as we shall see, things didn’t work out quite as planned.


The starting date was Friday 27th June. This coincided with the RNYC Offshore Race. I wasn’t intending to be Race Officer, but matters conspired to make me. I obtained the forecast charts from Newcastle Weather Centre, and since only three yachts decided to start, and Josephine intended going to sea anyway, we began our cruise by anchoring in Blyth Bay, and getting Romper, Mantra, and Bright Eyes off on their course. This small duty performed, we set off North in fine settled weather with the wind a light Sou’easter, and the setting sun lighting the under-sides of the few clouds. Shortly after midnight the moon rose, and at 0400 we brought Emmanuel Head abeam, and laid off a course for Scurdie Ness.

Tod Head
Sunset over Tod Head

The day was entirely uneventful; sun, a light South Easterly breeze and from time to time mist, bringing visibility down to about 1M. We re-sighted land at 2000, just South of Tod Head, and continued up the coast, being treated to a gentle sun-set, and later a more spectacular moon-rise which at first we thought might be a navigation light, there being quite a lot of shipping about. The moon rose into the starry sky, then the night paled in the East and we felt the first warmth of Sunday’s sun. When I went off watch at 0400, we had the Light House at Rattray Head in view.

I woke at 0700, during the change of watch to find we were enveloped in thick fog, Ed had managed to take a position line on Rattray Head, and cross it with soundings, but we were not too sure of our position. I decided it was time for some Yacht Mastering, took a radio position line on Kinnaird’s Head, and headed cautiously on soundings into Fraserburgh. We heard the siren on Kinnaird’s Head, and it was receding astern, when simultaneously we saw breakers ahead, and were nearly blasted out of our skins by the directional siren on the Balaclava breakwater. Swiftly we rounded up to drop the sails, and turned for the Harbour entrance. It had disappeared! By the time the siren sounded again, we were already between the piers. The South Harbour, where yachts usually lie, was closed temporarily for dredging, so we carried on to the life-boat dock and tied up alongside MFV Guiding Light.

Despite the relatively early hour on a Sunday morning, we had no difficulty in buying papers, bread, and even diesel fuel, although that involved a short trip to a garage in an obliging passer-by’s car. Other yachts were lying in the Balaclava Dock itself, and we moved our berth there temporarily, because it was more convenient for taking on water. By lunch-time the fog had lifted, and given way to hazy sunshine, The 1355 forecast was for winds South Easterly 3 or 4, visibility poor with fog banks. Since our destination was the Orkney Islands over 70M away, we were tempted to put to sea. By the time we set the spinnaker we had lost sight of the land, although we continued to hear the siren on Kinnaird’s Head, until well over a mile by the log. The wind was a good Force 4, and slowly backed, making it difficult to hold the spinnaker, which we handed and replaced with the No. 2 Genoa. Things settled down and as Josephine swallowed up the miles we listened to the World Cup Final on the radio. This felt like a holiday, not a usual East Coast cruise.

The 0033 shipping forecast was unchanged. The weather was still dominated by an area of High Pressure more or less stationary over the Northern North Sea. By the end of my watch at 0400, the visibility was pretty poor and we were within 15M by log of reaching the Orkney Island of Auskerry. I had laid off a course for Auskerry, North of the entrance to the String, the passage through  to the Islands’ capital, Kirkwall, rather than Copinsay to the South, because the shape of the bottom makes it easier to find, and there are fewer off-lying dangers. At 0700 Ed reported we had entered soundings at 50 fathoms. We let Josephine continue into 20 fathoms, about half a mile from the shore, and hove-to, fore-reaching slowly to the South. If we listened carefully we could hear the sound of breaking waves under our lee. There was no option but to stop, and wait for the visibility to improve, I dozed fitfully, unable to sleep properly with land so close. Eventually, at 0930 the wind filled in from the East, rolling away the fog to reveal Auskerry 1M to the forth, Copinsay and its “Horse” to the South, and steadily more of the dappled fields of Shapinsay and Mainland Orkney, now bathed in sunshine.

Approaches to Kirkwall

“Up spinnaker and on with the bacon,” came the Skipper’s crisp order. “This is like Greece without the ouzo,” said Colin. By the time breakfast was finished, we were through the String. The spinnaker came down as we rounded Thieve’s Holm, and at noon we moored alongside Judy of Bergen in the harbour at Kirkwall, still only 63 hours out from Blyth. We reflected upon Rodney Mitchell’s family cruise in Stella Peacock the previous year when it had taken them the best part of 10 days to get this far, with persistent gales and engine failure. Fortune had smiled on Josephine! Kirkwall is a delightful spot. We went ashore for sightseeing and happening to pass a garage which hired out cars, on impulse took a Ford Escort for the afternoon. The cost was moderate, £15 until 0900 the following morning. Vroom, vroom, with Colin at the wheel, we were off to Maeshowe and Skarabrae with stops at the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. I had seen these ancient monuments on a previous occasion, on Josephine’s return from the Faroe Islands in 1982, but the sights were fresh to my companions who were suitably impressed.

Skara Brae
Skara Brae

Afterwards we drove down to Stromness and then on to look across Hoy Mouth. Colin is a keen climber and hoped to catch a glimpse of the Old Man of Hoy but it was just out of sight around the corner.

Next morning, Tuesday, we woke to hear the wind whining in the rigging. It was North Westerly 6, and the forecasts had not mentioned it at all, still talking of South Easterlies around the anti-cyclone in the North Sea. Somewhat puzzled, we continued our sightseeing ashore, including the impressive Cathedral of St. Magnus. Mid-morning, we stopped for coffee, and I decided to phone the weather centre at Kirkwall Airport, to see if they could shed any light on the reason for the wind which was still blowing up the dust outside the Cathedral. The weatherman admitted frankly, that he “hadn’t a clue”, but proceeded to give a perfectly rational explanation, namely that there was probably a heat low over the Scottish Highlands, and on previous occasions when this had happened the wind tended to die down during the afternoon. That was good enough to tempt me to sea, so I announced to the crew, “Drink up, you’re going to Fair Isle.”

Fair Isle

At 1300 on Tuesday 1st July, Josephine departed from Kirkwall Harbour, bound for Fair Isle. That is a fairly non-committal way of describing what actually happened. We were pinned alongside Judy of Bergen by the wind, with very little room to manoeuvre either fore or aft. The plan was to turn Josephine’s stern through the wind, by motoring ahead on a slip-spring, and pushing off with the boat-hook, while the crew fended off at the bow. The plan was half executed, when Judy’s owner appeared from his cabin and with a friendly wave, cast off the spring.

I was standing at the shrouds with the boat-hook in my hands, the crew were in the bows and the engine was turning ahead! There was a mad dash for the controls, as Josephine gathered way towards the boat ahead; much revving of engine; and stirring up of the harbour, We emerged from the melee with no knocks, but dented pride, a broken boat-hook, and no option but to motor out of the harbour astern, until we had enough room to gather sufficient way ahead to make a turn into the still very strong Westerly.

Once sorted out, we sailed forth through Vasa Sound, exchanging greetings with the Ocean Youth Club ketch, Taikoo, as we shook out the reefs in the now moderating wind. We sailed across Stronsay Firth into Sanday Sound, eventually leaving the land at the flat and sandy Start Point, with its black and white candy-striped light- house.

The wind died to nothing, and we set off to motor the 25M to Fair Isle. Allowing for the tide our course was 065°C. Ed and I set to repairing the boat-hook, and cooking supper. It was now 1800 and fairly obviously we would make our land-fall in the dark, although at latitude 59° 30’N at midsummer, “dark” is merely twilight, or the midnight “dim” as they call it in these parts.

Skadan LH
Skadan Light House

Before the Orkneys dropped astern, I took a fix on the Light Houses at Start Point and North Ronaldsay. It agreed with our estimated position. At 2000 Colin sighted land still 15M away to the North. Ward Hill, the highest point of Fair Isle is 216m (709ft). As time passed, a second hill appeared to the East of the first. This turned out to be Sheep Craig 131m (432ft). Sunset was at 2230 and we soon identified Skadan Light House Fl(4)30s, which marks the South of the Isle.

Sheep Craig separated itself from the rest of the island and before long we were taking photographs of Skadan Light, with the ferocious skerries off Meo Ness in the foreground, and the red evening sky in the West. There is said to be a tidal race, the Roost of Keels, extending 2M offshore to the South of the island, but our course took us well to the East, avoiding it.

There are three usable anchorages on Fair Isle, South Harbour at the South end is somewhat misnamed. You pick your way in between the rocks and anchor off the pier. There is aleading line, but as one element of it is a “green door”, it is not to be contemplated at night without local knowledge. The other two anchorages are on the North East of the island, formed by the isthmus of Bu Ness. The South Haven is foul with boulders, but is protected from the North; whereas the North Haven is the best holding on clean sand but open to the North East. Apart from these three, the island is girt with rocks and inaccessible cliffs. Before the Light Houses were built at Skadan and Skroo at the North end in 1891, ships wrecked themselves here with dreadful regularity. There is scarcely any warning from soundings, and given the long winter dark, as well as the tendency to fog, the first warning ships might have would be to see a sheer cliff at the end of the bowsprit. The wrecks date back to ancient times, including El Gran Griffon, a flagship of the Spanish Armada, wrecked here in 1585. In all probability, we are now living at the end of the age of the Light House. Most of the Northern Lights were built by the Victorians and Edwardians. The coming of accurate navigation by means of Decca and, when the Americans re-launch the shuttle, enabling them to complete the chain of Navstar GPS satellites, pin-point satellite navigation, will likely mean that Light Houses will have outlived their economic usefulness.

Sheep Craig
Sheep Craig

Shortly before midnight, Josephine turned into the North Haven. Despite the fading light, we easily picked out the leading line, which is the Western cliff face of Sheep Craig in transit with the stack of North Haven.  Two yachts were lying alongside the steamer pier, so we tied up outside them. A tot of whisky in the cockpit, the 0033 Shipping Forecast, and the day’s proceedings were over.

Next morning Colin made a bid for the coveted RNYC Most Northerly Man Over-board Trophy, (readers of Josephine’s logs will recall that Tom Gibbons won this Trophy in 1982, by taking a dip in Haraldssund in the Faroe Islands at 62° 22′ N). Colin’s splash attracted several gulls and a Great Skua, which wheeled over the cliff to see if he was edible. Colin stayed in for a creditable two minutes or so, and emerged a peculiar puce colour claiming he felt a lot better for the experience. The crews of the other boats, Gjoalite from Norway and Modus Vivendi from Germany, were very much entertained. They said they would be leaving that morning, so, as we intended to go ashore, and I didn’t fancy taking an alongside berth unattended, we decided to shift Josephine on to her anchor, just inshore of the Good Shepherd’s mooring, and row ashore in the dinghy.

The Good Shepherd is the Islanders’ mail boat and passenger ferry, which makes a regular trip to Grutness near Sumburgh on the Shetland mainland. The present boat is newly acquired and the fourth of her line. Good Shepherd I was acquired in 1936, and before that the Islanders had no regular means of contact with the outside world. Unfortunately she was wrecked in the North Haven the following year by a Northerly gale. Common prudence and marine insurance underwriters demand the boat is slipped safely when not in use. Originally the slip was at the head of the Haven, and the Islanders had nothing but a hand winch for the task which used to occupy the entire able-bodied male work-force. In recent years the pier has been extended and a new slip with a power winch created alongside it, although that has meant excavating a dry dock out of the cliff. And we think we’ve got problems with dry sailing at Blyth!

North Haven
North Haven, Fair Isle

Josephine’s crew rowed ashore, landing on the old slipway. We walked up the road past the ornithologists’ hostel. With prior notice it is possible to have ashower and a meal there. The name most associated with the development of the island as a bird watchers’ paradise is that of George Waterston, who purchased the island in 1948 with borrowed money, before passing it over to the National Trust for Scotland in 1954. That stopped the de-population which in 1950 reached a low point of just 44. The present permanent population is 70, but in times past the island supported 350. In those days the fishing was much better, with a thriving industry selling dried fish to Shetland as well as to passing ships. Of course the island has a migrant population as well. In Spring and Autumn, the bird watchers flock here from all over Europe, to observe the passing birds, The island seems to be covered with bird traps, although there was nothing in them and we saw very few land birds. On the other hand there were sea-birds in profusion. We saw countless gulls, gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, and some great skuas with their distinctive white wing flashes. They are known as bonxies in these parts.

Post Office
Fair Isle’s Post Office

We walked past the air-strip (Loganair run a twice weekly service in summer) and came to a group of houses overlooking the South Harbour, called collectively, Shirva. As you would expect, the island’s only shop had a good stock of just about everything, except Fair Isle sweaters. The Post Office was a little further. We chatted with Annie Thompson, the Post Mistress, while we wrote dozens of post cards to family and friends. It is not often that one gets to such an out of the way place, and it only seemed proper to record the fact with a few Fair Isle post marks.

We got back aboard for lunch, and at 1330 weighed anchor, and set off the 35M to Lerwick. The wind was East 3, which made for a comfortable passage. The shipping forecast told us that at last the anti-cyclone which had dominated the weather since we left Blyth was declining, and on the next day a frontal trough would pass over Shetland bringing rain, South Westerly winds Force 4 or 5, but with better visibility in prospect.


Josephine crossed the Hole between Fair Isle and Shetland in moderate visibility. The first part of Shetland to be sighted was Fitful Head, on the Western side, which is much more prominent than Sumburgh Head to the East. The sailing directions advise an offing of at least 2M to the East of Sumburgh Head to avoid the notorious Sumburgh Roost. In the settled conditions prevailing, we gave rather less offing than suggested with the result that we passed through a small area of tidal popple. We could see the white water of the Roost proper.

Broch of Mousa

Sumburgh Head was brought abeam at 1700. The cliffs were bare and topped by a radar installation, looking like a giant’s golf balls on a driving range. From Sumburgh it was 9M to the famous Broch of Mousa, a 2,000 year old monument from Pictish times, said to be the best preserved in Europe. The purpose of these brochs is not altogether clear but presumably it was defensive. We would have liked to visit; there is a fair weather anchorage 5 cables North of the Broch on a sandy bottom, but it was getting late and we had a mind to get into Lerwick before closing time.

Supper was served as we passed an area of magnetic anomaly off Helli Ness from where it was straightforward into Bressay Sound and Lerwick itself. Infuriatingly, although Lerwick appears on both Admiralty Charts 3282 and 3283, there is no detail on either. Their Lordships expect you to buy 3291 as well.  The Sailing Directions spoke of an Albert Dock and a small boat harbour, but the accompanying plan did not identify which was which. In the event, entry was simplicity itself. We identified the small boat harbour by the masts of the many yachts lying there.

Dim Riv
Dim Riv

The most interesting part of the entry was that we came up upon a miniature Viking ship, the Dim Riv, which provided the Shetlanders’ contribution to the Newcastle 900 celebrations in 1980. She had her square sail set but we sailed past her effortlessly, as the two crews observed each other silently, one from a modern development of the other’s hull, before exchanging greetings. Another interesting vessel at anchor in the Sound was the Greenpeace ship Sea Shepherd, just in from the Farœs where she had been engaged in disrupting the grindabod or whale hunt. I decided that if her crew were ashore this would not be the best place to boast of having eaten freshly killed pilot whale on Josephine’s trip to the Farœs in 1982!

Lerwick small boats’ harbour

Once inside the harbour the best place to lie happened to be alongside Modus Vivendi, the same we had seen in Fair Isle. Her owner wanted to know all about our strange habit of flying a Blue Ensign with a lion upon it. His name was Rudolph Kohn, and he was a semi-retired mining engineer. His boat’s home port was Rendsburgh conveniently situated mid-way along the Kiel Canal. He was interested to learn that Josephine had passed that way in 1984. The conversation was just progressing to the point where we were to be asked on board for a drink, when the Harbour Master hailed by loud speaker with a peremptory order, “Josephine! Attend at my office”. I hastened ashore, where the Harbour Master explained that the bad news was that the dues for overnight mooring were a steep £7.75, but the good news was that entitled us to stay all year if we wished!  In view of the forecast rain and high winds, I decided the best thing might be to take him up on his offer at least to the extent of staying for a second night. The other useful piece of information was the whereabouts of the Lerwick Boating Club, and an invitation to make use of its showers and facilities while we were in.

This offer went down well with the crew, so we walked along to the Lerwick Boating Club’s new premises, on three storeys, overlooking Bressay Sound. First stop was the showers, and suitably refreshed we stayed for a drink and a chat with the members. They treated us most hospitably. When they found out where we were from, the inevitable question was: Did we know Rodney Mitchell? He had passed this way the year before in Stella Peacock – an RNYC burgee on the wall commemorated the event. Rod’s chief notoriety came from his voyage as”pilot” on the Dim Riv in 1980, as she drank her way down the North East coast from Berwick upon Tweed for the Newcastle 900 Celebrations. It was a relatively rare event for the Lerwick Boating Club to have visitors from England. Most yachts come from Norway or Sweden. Indeed we had come further from Fraserburgh than the Norwegian yachts visiting from Bergen.

We rounded off the evening with an Indian curry in a restaurant at the North end of the town. The waitress turned out to be from Geordieland. She had left her Kenton housing estate to make a new home for herself and her bairns, free from the constant exposure to crime, vandalism and drugs which had been their lot in Kenton.

Thursday 3rd July was our lay-day. We went shopping for food and souvenirs. The town is pretty prosperous, no doubt owing to the oil boom. I had hopes of buying Fair Isle sweaters, but the price of a hand-knitted one, £50, I thought was excessive. Eventually, I settled for Shetland pony teeshirts for the children, and a Runic necklace for Olivia. At lunch time we met up in the Queen’s Hotel, and happened to find John Jameson of RYA Scotland sitting at the next table. He was there to conduct a Race training week for the Lerwick Boating Club’s cadets. In the afternoon, we toured the town on foot, spending an hour or so in the Public Library, where there was an interesting exhibition about Shetland’s wrecks, and the introduction of life-saving measures. Evening found us back at the Lerwick Boating Club for another liberal measure of hospitality, and viewing of the Models racing in Bressay Sound, The Shetland Models are unballasted, open, double-enders of obvious Viking ancestry, except in the yachtsman’s never-ending quest to defeat the handicapper, the more recent designs are constructed with epoxy resins, for lightness and strength, and have fairly extreme pinched-in sterns. The racing seemed keen and I imagine they are a joy to sail.

As we got back to Josephine a light drizzle was falling. The shipping forecast was for the visibility to improve with the wind WSW Force 4. There seemed no reason not to leave in the morning.


At 0930 on Friday 5th July, we got away from Lerwick bound for Papa Stour on the West coast of Shetland. Our course took us past rocky headlands, with isolated farmhouses, nestling in small coves. The village of Symbister on Whalsay looked inviting, but it was still only 1130 and too soon to stop. We made good progress northwards, through Lunning Sound, where we needed to change headsails on account of a freshening wind.

Yell Sound
Yell Soun

We reached the entrance to Yell Sound at 1330, and came on to the wind for a beat to clear a rock outcrop called the Rumble. We cleared the Rumble and were able to free off past the oddly named islands of Samphrey, Bigga and Brother. Down to the South we could see the higher parts of the oil terminal at Sullom Voe. The day was overcast, and the wind freshening from the South West. Point of Fethaland, the Western end of Yell Sound was reached at 1540 and with fingers crossed we passed between the Point and the jagged teeth of Ramma Stacks. The sailing directions didn’t say you couldn’t, but the chart showed no detail.

Once out on the Atlantic side of Shetland we found ourselves beating against a SW Force 5. The ebb which we had carried from Lerwick was due to turn, and give us a fair tide South, even though it would do nothing to help the sea state. I went below to consider alternatives to Papa Stour, having warned the crew to hold the tack well out to sea in order to avoid the dangerous rock of Uyea Bass.

Our options were Ronas Voe, described by the sailing directions as “spectacular, with red cliffs to port and black cliffs to starboard”. The anchorage is 2.5M from the entrance to the voe, by the remains of an old whaling station. Alternatively, we could carry on 3M further South, and spend the night in Hamnavoe, a small lagoon said to provide shelter from all summer weather. Musing over our choice, I was startled by a cry from the cockpit, “Breakers ahead!” Thinking this must be Uyea Bass, I yelled, “Bear away hard” and scrambled up, compass in hand, to fix our position. Much to my relief, the first position line put us 1M to the North of Uyea Bass, and out of danger. “There they are again,” said the crew. We trained the binoculars on the breakers, and were able to see the black backs of a pod of dolphins making their way North. We resumed our course.

After this scare we tacked well out to sea, and after four tacks, brought the island of Muckle Ossa abeam at 1930, passing between it and the mainland shore, making for Hamnavoe. The leading line into Hamnavoe is an old house on the shore in transit with a prominent rock, bearing 153°T. We had difficulty identifying the old house in the failing light. There were three potentially answering the description. The lagoon is protected by a reef, extending south to close to the cliffs. The entrance is narrow, so it is crucial to be on the right line. According to the Sailing Directions a further aid is the hole in the Muckle Ossa, which should be kept open astern, until the leading line can be identified. We could see the breakers on the reef, and I decided to head for a patch in more or less the right place where the seas were lifting but not breaking. Ed was below, puzzling over the Sailing Direction’s reference to the hole in the Muckle Ossa. He looked up from the chart table, and said, “There’s the hole!” We all stared aft, and sure enough there was a large hole visible in the Muckle Ossa.

Once in, it took us some time to sort out the anchors, but eventually we moored to bower and kedge in the Northern part of the lagoon, just past a fish farm. The wind whistled in the rigging, but we seemed snug enough, so we retired below and cooked a mighty feast, getting up a good fug in the cabin while darkness fell outside.

We got away next morning (Saturday) at 0650 in order to make use of the flood around Esha Hess and across St. Magnus Bay. Having failed to make Papa Stour the previous day we now pressed on to Scalloway. The Sailing Directions recommend that passage is taken between Papa Stour and Mainland, because the passage to the West of Papa Stour, between it and the Ve Skerries is affected by overfalls. The Directions said this passage was only feasible in quiet weather, with no wind against tide. We had a SW 4 against a two knot tide, but there was an obvious temptation to hold our tack through the overfalls, rather than give ground to leeward, and then have to make it up again, short-tacking through Papa Sound, which the Sailing Directions said required “great care on account of dangers extending well off-shore on both sides”.

In the event we carried on through the overfalls, crashing and thumping our way South. The conditions were certainly unpleasant, but no worse than Josephine has experienced before. She has a way of protesting, which is to throw the paraffin lamp glass out of its gimbals. This she did, narrowly missing my head. She has performed this protest twice before in my ownership, once on a Club race around Coquet Island, and the other time on a North Sea crossing to Skagen in Jutland. It is a sure sign she is taking a pounding, I almost decided to turn and run for the shelter of Papa Stour, but we soon cleared the worst of the seas, and were able to bear away around the coastline, picking up speed and comfort sufficiently to enable us to heat up some soup for a late lunch.

Much to Colins chagrin, it was absolutely impossible to land on Foula in the prevailing conditions, as he had hoped. He had to content himself by taking a photograph of the faint outline of the last place in the UK where the Old Norse language was spoken.

We entered Scalloway through the North Channel, between Sanda Stour and Hildasay. The sea was calm in the shelter of the islands and the entrance not nearly as tricky as the Sailing Directions made out. Once in the buoyed channel, we found we were in doubt where we should lie. The Harbour under Scalloway Castle was totally obscured by a Faroese container ship and a survey vessel, so we couldn’t make a judgment about whether it would be possible to lie there. On the other hand there was space alongside a fishing boat moored at one of the short piers at the North end of the Bay, so we lay there.

Scalloway was once the capital of Shetland, and looks an interesting place. We laid in stores before the shops closed, and set out to explore. There is a museum at the corner of the main street, and a curious photo-gallery. We ate ashore at the Scalloway Hotel, having first taken hot baths, and afterwards walked around the Bay to the Scalloway Boating Club. The welcome afforded us was just as hospitable as at Lerwick. We were told that one of the Club’s traditions was that visitors were not allowed to buy themselves drinks on their first night in. As the pints stretched out in front of us, we began to wonder if this was a ruse to insure that we stayed for a second night, when no doubt the rule would be reversed, and the crew of Josephine would have to treat the Scalloway Boating Club all night.

The Passage Home

In view of our aching heads after the Scalloway Boating Club’s hospitality I laid no firm plans for leaving. The tide served South until 1400, so I told the crew to sleep in, and if we woke too late to take advantage of it we would spend the Sunday in Scalloway. As it happened, Ed and I woke early. The forecast was SW Force 4 or 5, veering W, or NW Force 6 or 7 later. The prospect of a freeing wind encouraged me to put to sea. Within twelve hours we could find shelter from W or NW winds at Fair Isle should we need to. The depression giving us the wind was moving away North, so we should be sailing away from its influence. With Colin still sleeping below, we put out of Scalloway at 0930 in bright sunshine with the wind SW Force 3, and once again pointed Josephine’s bow South.

Josephine on Good Shepherd’s mooring

Fitful Head came abeam at 1400, and five hours later we put into Fair Isle North Haven, intending to anchor and eat in peace. The anchor chain was fouled and wouldn’t come up through the hawse-pipe. Investigation showed that the chain had burst out of its locker, presumably in the Ve Skerries overfalls. Fortunately the Good Shepherd’s mooring was available, so we picked it up while we sorted out the problem.

After a good feed of chicken stew, we put to sea again to take advantage of what we expected would be a freeing wind. The latest forecast said the wind would veer into the North West, Force 5 or 6 by midnight. If so it would enable us to sail to the Orkneys. The wind did veer, but no further than West Force 4 or 5 which made for a fast if wet and uncomfortable passage South under working jib and double reefed main. Return to the Orkneys was out of the question, the best we could steer without shaking Josephine to pieces was South. Monday’s dawn was brilliantly sunny. We were investigated by a ship, presumably anxious for us, or else simply surprised to find a yacht crashing her way South so far from anywhere.

We raised the land at 1400 and by 1600 had Rattray Head abeam. In calmer water we carried on South, losing the wind altogether off Aberdeen and motoring the last 15M into Stonehaven, which we reached at midnight. The passage from Scalloway had taken 36 hours sailing, mostly to windward at an average speed of 5 knots.

On Tuesday morning we went shopping, returning to Josephine at 1030 intending to put to sea. There was 1m of water under her keel alongside, but when we pushed off, we ran aground almost immediately, on the hump, which has obviously got worse in recent years. Nothing daunted, we re-moored and waited for the flood, while we drank coffee in the sunshine outside the hotel.

Druridge Bay
Crossing Druridge Bay

We got away at noon, setting the spinnaker in a light Northerly, which died. The wind eventually filled in from the South East, backing-Easterly 2. We sailed when we could but had to motor most of the way across the Forth, where the visibility was quite exceptionally good, finally putting into St. Abbs Harbour at 0045 on Wednesday 9th July. At 0800 we were away again, sailing the last 50M to Blyth in eleven and a half hours, with the wind SW 3 increasing to 5 as we crossed Druridge Bay. Thus our two week holiday was truncated to twelve days during which we sailed 720M.  As someone has written in Josephine’s log, “Phew, great cruising.”


Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions

MacMillan Silk Cut Nautical Almanac

Admiralty Charts:

3281 Shetland Islands forth West
3282 Shetland Islands forth East
3283 Shetland Islands Southern 1942  Fair Isle to Wick
2250 Orkney Islands Eastern
2622 Plans in Orkney and Shetland (includes Fair Isle)
115 Moray Firth