Kirkwall (Orkney) to Lerwick (Shetland)

Day 52  Weds 20 April:  Seven hours after leaving Kirkwall and a good night’s sleep in my cosy cabin I woke up to views of Sumburgh Head and South Shetland through my port side porthole, reminding me of the origin of the term ‘posh’,  ‘port out, starboard home’, the choice of cabins for the most wealthy on their long cruises down the west coast of Europe and Africa and back again, thus having the coastal view both ways.
So here I am, a posh arrival from way down south, riding a bicycle through Lerwick to the Lifeboat Station, less than half a mile along the shore. Already a busy place at 8.00am. A hearty “Ahoy There” type welcome from Ian, the new ‘Cox’n/mech’, leaning out of the top floor window of the substantial, solid stone Lifeboat Station overlooking the harbour and another big Severn Class Lifeboat.
Ian moved up to Shetland just a few weeks ago, from his previous position as one of the full time crew on what must have seemed an even more remote posting at the Humber Lifeboat Station at the end of Spurn Point. Although still relatively new to Lerwick, his infectious enthusiasm for this new role and his readiness to do anything to help (including offering to look after Fondo for a few days while I enjoy a bit of a break with Claire, flying up from Bristol today) was most appreciated.
So how do I get to Sumburgh to meet my wife, without Fondo? I’ll tell you how. They have things here with four wheels instead of two, and an engine! It’s called a ‘hirecar’. I think I’ve driven one before, a long, long time ago. It’s amazing!  Three pedals instead of two, takes a bit of getting used to but hills aren’t at all tiring. Wind, rain and snow have no effect and when you stop you don’t have to lean it against a wall or a boat or sheep.
The airport, 25 miles south of Lerwick at Sumburgh, was reached in just over half an hour. Unfortunately, not only am I an hour early, a text from Claire now informs me that her flight connection from Glasgow is delayed by over 2 hours. FlyBe. Or, as it’s known in Shetland, FlyMaybe.
No matter. Plenty to do whilst I wait. I’ll drive to the top of the precipitous Sumburgh Head, the southerly tip of the Shetland Isles to look at the light house and see if there’s a line in the ocean to show where the North Atlantic meets the North Sea. Disappointing? Absolutely not. I was thrilled. Couldn’t believe my luck! Just a few feet away from me, hovering on a strong up draught at the top of the cliff, was what looked like a very realistic characature of a fictitious bird species based loosely on a puffin. But too colourful and cute to be true. I was wrong. It was just the first glimpse of one of a large colony of very real puffins. A peep over the low wall revealed dozens of them, almost within reach. Not at all perturbed by my presence, they allowed me to watch them nestling in to their cosy nooks, mostly in pairs. Real rainbow-billed puffins. When Claire’s flight did eventually arrive, I had to return to the lighthouse to show her. She was not disappointed.
The original plan had been to dash back to Lerwick to pick up Fondo and cycle to Aith, the other Shetland Lifeboat, where I’d been invited to join them for the evening exercise on their boat. It was now too late to cycle the 21 miles to Aith over a few big hills. Crushed. Will I never get a ride on a Severn Class ALB? But wait a minute, what about the ‘hirecar’? We could drive there in time for this evening’s exercise and I could do the essential cycle ride tomorrow. Of course!
So we did. We arrived in time for a thrill even greater than the puffin party.
Hylton Henry, the Aith Cox’n, my new hero, welcomed us both warmly and insisted that Claire joined us too, for a full hour at sea. I was only mildly jealous of Claire being offered the helm before me but I soon got over it. I now know how it feels to open the throttles on the biggest All Weather Lifeboat to full power, to do power turns and to use the bow thruster to make the boat ‘turn on a sixpence’. After their practice launch, run & recovery of the smaller Y-boat, I obeyed the Cox’s command “take us back in Steve” with a grin as wide as the North Atlantic.

2 thoughts on “Kirkwall (Orkney) to Lerwick (Shetland)

  1. neilmca April 23, 2016 / 10:42 pm

    Wow! Perhaps the greatest thrill so far, saved for the furthest north lifeboat station. Having seen inside a stationary Severn I can imagine what a thrill it was to unleash its power. Great stuff, Steve. Hope there are photos.


  2. stevenmca April 24, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    Yes, a few photos. Mostly video but editing will have to wait!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s