Goodbye Orkney; Hello den Norske Weg

You may find a map of Orkney to be of use when reading this postcard.... here's a little one and if you click on it it will display a bigger version on another page, so you can jump backwards and forwards to it when we mention another place.

Sunday 29th May was our last chance. If Dick was to get to Lerwick in Shetland, 150 miles away, in time for his flight back to Birmingham on the 1st June, then it was now or never time. It wasn't actually raining - at least not by Orcadian standards - and the wind appeared to be moderate so we decided to go. Robin spent an hour surrounded by tide tables, tidal atlases and charts and eventually determined that we should leave Stromness and sail up the west coast of the Orkney islands, around Noup Head on the northwest corner of Westray, and then make northeast to the Shetlands. He calculated we had two tidal gates to hit, one off Fair Isle and an earlier one off Noup Head at 15:30 hrs, just six hours after departing Stromness at the 09:30 slack water.

Coming out of harbour into Hoy sound, the northerly wind seemed stronger than its rated 25 knots and a forecast came through predicting gusts of up to 35 knots. So John and Robin spent a merry half hour on the pitching splashy foredeck rigging the special forestay and storm jib. Then they came back into the dry cabin, absolutely soaked, and put their wet weather gear on. Right idea; wrong sequence!

In the rough stuff of the entrance to Hoy sound it became clear that plan A was not viable and the options were either to go back, or to go clockwise round 'Mainland', (as the Orcadians call their largest island), into Eynhallow Sound and thus get on the Easterly side of 'Mainland'.

Plan B offered opportunities for sheltered sailing and a good jump off point for a direct trip to Norway. It didn't help Dick much, as we weren't going to Shetland after all!

It was hard pounding up that exposed westerly coast. We passed the ancient settlements of Scara Brae and Birsay that we had visited by car. Why did these ancient peoples decide to settle on this difficult coast, rather than the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow? Late in the morning Robin was delighted but surprised to find that we were getting a tide lift around Brough Head. There was talk of eddies but Robin disappeared below and re-appeared to announce the embarrassing, but basically good news, that he had mistakenly identified the slack water in Hoy Sound as associated with Low Water Aberdeen instead of High Water Aberdeen. As a result we did not have to wait till 16:30 hrs for a favourable tide into Eynhallow, but could enter at once - indeed we were being sucked in. Once in the shelter of the sound, our bit of rough was over for the day and, the dangerous overfalls being only operative on the ebb, we cruised down the placid waters between vivid green islands to a pleasant anchorage on the south side of Shapinsay and dinner of local beef, roasted peppers, carrots, parsnips and a delicious mature broccoli.

Dick hit the phones and by morning had rescheduled his travel plans, to the delight of the shareholders in the airlines who were privileged to carry him, now back south from Orkney instead of Shetland. The cruise over to Kirkwall lasted forty five minutes. We tied up in the new marina, said a sad goodbye to Dick and commenced refuelling and re-victualling for a long passage. The diesel had to carried aboard in 5 gallons drums and Somerfields benefited enormously from the absence of bonded facilities as we took their entire stock of Cabernet Shiraz.

In the late afternoon sun we set sail NE amongst the islands; up Vassa Sound, across Stromsay Sound leaving Eday to port, and on up the East Coast of Sanday to the most north-easterly anchorage in the Orkneys - Kettletoft bay. Vaughan produced a traditional repast of haggis, tatties and neaps washed down with whisky and Guinness, before we embarked on a quick trip to one of the two pubs that serviced this village of four houses. The pub contained a bunch of escapees from elsewhere in the British Isles - some of whom had been in the pub for almost as long as they had been on the Island. There was Mike from Newcastle, who sobered up the more he drunk: Chris the fisherman who agreed to meet John at 6:30 the next morning with a fine deal in crabs; Gail from Belfast who wanted to leave it all and come with us to Norway; Jane who could have modelled for Edward Munch's 'the scream'; and who had been about to go home and make her family tea since noon but had just not got around to it; sexy Lesley in tight blue trousers who had brought her kids from Tunbridge Wells to grow up in the carefree Orkneys, but who had left them in the care of her partner whilst spending time in the pub ('You can always find work here if you really look - I sometimes do an hour behind the bar myself' and she did; after closing time); Mike the fine upstanding owner who forgot to throw everyone out at midnight; some builders who had come to do a spot of painting and decided to stay on; and Fred the tourist here for the fishing; but yet to catch anything more edible than Lesley. Lives are lived peaceably here, in the comforting knowledge that the police cannot get on the island after the last ferry has left.

We were so overwhelmed with hospitality, that it was a bleary-eyed crew who staggered out of bed the next morning. Chris the fisherman was not on the quay either. We raised the anchor at 07:30 and set a course for Utsira (of Shipping Forecast fame), 226 miles to the East. It was a bright sparkly morning, the wind blowing a steady 15 knots from the North. A while later we were passed by Chris off out to his work.

Now what had we forgotten to do? Answers on a postcard please, to reach us before the next episode.

We made good speed, broad-reaching at around 6 knots under full sail. We passed Fair Isle, leaving it 15 miles to the north of us, with the top half of the its mountains visible - a view the Vikings must have had when crossing to raid or rule. Breakfast was scrambled egss on crusty brown buttered toast. Visibility was excellent; we could just about make out the cliffs of Shetland 35 miles away. In all we could see around 4000 square miles of sea - and we were the only boat in it all. Around 5 in the afternoon, we were joined by a pod of porpoises; after toying with us for half an hour they left in a swirl of tails. Dinner was beef and potato stew simmered with bay leaves over a low light. As darkness, or what passes for it, descended, we shortened sail to mizzen and reefed Genoa. A libation was poured to Neptune with thanks for his compassion as we crossed the Greenwich Meridian. A couple of ships passed in the night. Just after dawn we started to pass through the Beryl and Bucklands oil fields, then later John and Vaughan executed a close sail past the Norwegian gas platform Heimdahl. 'Goddag Norweg!' The second breakfast was boiled ducks eggs with brown bread and butter and coffee. After lunch (roast beef and tomato sandwiches) the wind lightened and we started to motor sail. George, our loyal and faithful helmsman of so many trips has finally gone on strike a few minutes earlier; we hope to change his mind when we get to harbour, but for now its all hands to the wheel.

As I write Vaughan is preparing a light curry of Austrian sausages, swede, potatoes with wild rice onions and tomatoes; to be followed by fruit and the Voltair cheeseboard.. The plan is to anchor in the North Harbour of Utsira in the early hours of Thursday and have a whisky. If you receive this you can assume we have.


Love to all, from the reduced crew of Voltair: Frank, John, Robin and Vaughan

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