Well, last year we did the western isles because we had pretty much stretched as far as we could for a two week holiday. Jen wanted to do another big trip, and Robert was keen to take the boat over Sweden - so plans were made. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite pull that off, due to problems finding a home for Honu over the winter in Sweden, so we hurriedly put together a trip to Shetland instead. On our Orkney holiday, Shetland was just a step too far north, and on our Iceland/Faroes trip, it was too far east! However, this time, we already had plans to go thru the Caledonian Canal, so Shetland would be perfect.
13th June: We all made our own way through to the boat on Friday night, after work. After a really small crew last year (4), it was going to be a weird having a full boat again. This year we would start with 8, build to 10, drop back to 8, then 6, and then back to our “hardcore four”. Absolutely no wind on Saturday morning, so a good opportunity to let Russ have his first shot taking Honu out of a berth. Thankfully, we found some wind once we got further out, arriving in Craighouse on Jura around 9pm. Quite a long sail for the newbies, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
14th June: Craighouse was always going to be a quick stop to break up the leg to Oban whilst avoiding the need for night watches. After finally getting our anchor to hold, we sat down and had a beer and some food. I had been joking with Blair (our aussie mate) about swimming in Scottish waters. I decided to remind him of this, and he promptly went below to fetch his trunks. I had a wee think about it and dashed down for mine. Then Ben went for his! Brrrrr! It must be something about Craighouse. I’ve only swam round the boat twice – both times at Craighouse! Anyway, after some chat, we decided that a really early departure would preferred, as it would get us into Oban early enough to spend some time there. I rallied a few of the braver members of crew at 4am and we quietly dropped anchor and headed up towards Oban. It felt quite wierd skippering the departure, the nav out of Craighouse, and then the sail up to Oban. I think its the first time I’ve skippered “end-to-end” without Jen. We arrived in Oban in time for lunch ashore, followed by a few drinks before meeting up with Robert and Chris, who would be joining us for the trip up to Shetland.
15th June: We left Oban at 9am (how civilised!) and got into Fort William around 4pm, where we were due to to drop Ben/Fi off the next day. I struggled to get our anchor to take in the “very good” holding, but were eventually saved from me losing my sense of humour by a wee man in a launch. He was from the local yacht club and advised that there was a buoy available for the night that would take our (rather significant) weight. He led us straight to it, even holding the marker buoy up for our crew! I had a bit of fun trying to get the bow of our 54 foot, 18 tonne boat close enough for the crew to grab the buoy, but being very careful not to hit his wee launch and run the risk of capsizing him. That night turned into a bit of a boozy session. I blame Ben. We played “dirty cup”. I blame Ben for that too. Robert acheived “legend” status by helping Lise out with her rather unfortunate “win”. Then, while the family were having a quiet drink on the bow, we were disturbed (around 11pm) by “the stuff of legend”. Oh dear god. Again, Ben definitely to blame!
16th June: We left Fort William at 9am, making sure we would get into the Caledonian Canal nice and early. The Caledonian Canal is an interesting beast. Miles and miles of canal, stretching the width of Scotland and covering just a silly range in altitude. Jen had me practice yet more of my helming. After getting us safely up Neptunes Staircase, I was finally “getting it”. We arrived in Laggan at 1820, on the west side of Loch Ness and visited the local pub boat for a few pints before dinner.
17th June: Next morning we were up early and headed through Loch Ness and back down the flight of locks at the Inverness side of the canal. We were due to drop Lou/Blair off the following morning, so sadly, we didn’t have time to stop. The canal is lovely – would be good to have more time to explore it.
18th June: After dropping Lou/Blair, we stocked up the boat for our trip up to Shetland and got ourselves ready to depart. It was going to take about a day and a bit to get up there, and we weren’t sure what we would find, so we made sure we were properly prepared. We made our way out of Inverness and did urgent nav to get us out over the bay. Next time, we should probably do some thinking before we head on out!
19th: After a day, a night, and another day, we arrived in Lerwick, Shetland at 1830. There was limited space available on the Victoria Quay, so we came along side a Norwegien boat. They were obviously over for a boys weekend – less said the better. We spent a few days on Shetland, uncovering a distressing lack of pubs and an odd excess of banks! Robert/Chris were due to fly home, so we rented a car, dropped them off and then spent a few days driving around Shetland.
22nd: Time came to leave Lerwick – this time heading for Lewis. We knew this was going to be a long one, so went straight into watches. We past Fair Isle, turned at Orkney and rounded Cape Wrath. As we got closer to Lewis we had some dolphins join us, and then more dolphins, and then, well, they just didn’t leave. We had them playing off our bow for hours!
23rd: We arrive in Lewis late the following night (around 2330). As the Harbour Master pointed out, they’re not really rigged for boats like us. We tied up against a wooden fishermans’ quay. Jen did the calculations for tide and set up a rota for us to check our lines throughout the night to ensure everything went okay. We spent a few relaxing days in Lewis. The weather was scorching!
25th: We left Lewis a few days later just after a hearty lunch. We thought it wise to leave a day early and take advantage of the mirrored seas. This was going to be longest of the legs, so again, straight into watches. To mix things up, we let Russ and Lise take their first turn at being watch leads. It’s a hard leap to make. Basically, up until you take a watch, sailing is brilliant fun. You turn up, someone else does all the planning, and all you need to do is what you’re told. Great stuff. When you start watch leading, you realise that there’s an awful lot of planning to do. Where are we going? When shall we leave? What rota should we use? When should we have lunch? Do we need more sail? Do we need less sail? What’s the weather up to? Where’s that rock? What’s that red light over there? It goes on and on. The first time you try it, it’s exhausting. You go from not really thinking about what’s going on around you to having to worry and think about everything. The good news though is that both Russ and Lise did well. They missed loads of stuff, but the lesson really was to show them the next learning curve. No doubt more on their adventures next time!
27th: We made great time and arrived back to our home berth in Troon at 0840; just in time for breakfast! Jen hadn’t been feeling well on the trip over, so I ended up spending a bit more time than I bargained for. I think it was something like 11pm on the 25th until 9am on the 27th. A very long watch for me! Of course, arriving in the morning on Saturday meant that I just stayed awake, going to the cinema on the way home, before flopping out in my bed that night.
Shetland was a really good holiday for me, but mostly because of the fantastic crew and getting a good opportunity to improve my helm work in close quarters. After doing countless arrivals and departures through the canal and then practicing more in Shetland and Lewis, I really think I came a good step forward. Also, teaching Russ and Lise some of the skills of good watch leading made me think about my own journey. I’ve been sailing for almost 10 years now. I’ve come a long way – both figuratively and literally! Now it’s my time to pass on some of those life changing amazing experiences to the next batch of fresh meat!