We took off from Glasgow, the cloud cover finally breaking as we flew out over the North Sea to Sumburgh airport and the news that local traffic was causing a slight delay. Our pilot announced that we would fly up to Lerwick harbour for a birds eye view of the Tall Ships, my first since they had left Waterford. Then a bus trip from the airport to ‘Solbrekke’ my B&B in Sandwick and a note on the door…..“Gone to town back later, your room is down the corridor on the right”
The view from my window looked straight over the bay to Mousa Island and the 2000 year old Broch that resided there. The landscape soft and flowing, sculpted by the wind and rain, no trees, I couldn’t say I was living out in the sticks but there were plenty of sheep and rabbits.
My host returned and I cadged a lift into town, I hadn’t eaten since early that morning, the smell of fish and chips heavy in the air as I walked along streets named King Harald, King Erik and the Closs or lanes that ran down to the quays, Nicholson, Greig and Pirate.
I expected to meet a Viking any minute. After some Food and a walk around the boats I found the appropriately named Viking Bus Station and checked out the times – the last bus had gone so a cab home, made a mental note to get a timetable and checked the cab fare before boarding (thoughts of Danegeld on my mind) but all was well.
Throughout the week the weather gave way from sunshine and showers to strong winds and decreasing visibility, I wondered if the tall ships race might be postponed. The Shipping forecast predicting northerly winds force 5 or 6 occasionally 7 and in adjacent sea area Viking severe gale force 9.
After the Captains Briefing on the Saturday a press conference was called to announce a 24 hour delay, a relief ! Although the Class A ships would cope, the smaller vessels would have had a very hard time indeed and the smaller media boats wouldn’t venture out at all. It also meant I would miss my flight and the next available seat was not for another week.
Sunday arrived with strong winds, the spray rising above the island of Mousa, grateful for the cooked breakfast I wandered down to the beach for a walk, deserted except the pier for the ferry to the island, a few small houses and ‘Sand Lodge’ parts of which date back to the 1600s, it was used for many years as a home by the Bruces of Sumburgh.
On Monday at 3pm as arranged, the ‘Julie Rose’ down from Unst and picked us up at the small boat harbour by the Lodeberries, the old houses by the sea once used by fisherman and smugglers of yore. Our skipper Davey and mate Edmund had brought some guests, a couple from New Zealand, although born and bred in the Shetland, Laurie and Mary, now retired were visiting family. I boarded with three other photographers one all the way from San francisco. The weather was overcast and visibility very poor as we set out into the Bressay Sound, it was 1500hrs, the race due to start at 1700. As we headed seaward we were soon passed by the naval vessels who would form the start line and the ship NLV Pharos with the media onboard.
Predicting where the ships would cross the line is always a bit tricky at least until the last minute. There is always a “No go zone’ (NGZ) by the windward start boat that no one is allowed to enter. The ships as one would expect usually pass fairly close to the windward mark, the NGZ marker preventing any chaos that might otherwise occur.
As we moved into position the MIR (Russia) crossed the line with her sister ship the Dar Mlodziezy (Poland) close behind, followed I think by Eendracht, Pogoria and Gloria. Aboard the ‘Julie Rose’ we steadied ourselves with difficulty as we attempted to keep up with the fleet, there was still a bit of a sea running the swell noticeably larger as we left the lee of the land, a strong northerly wind and two photographers already feeling sick. Mary sat quietly in the saloon, petite, demure, her hair immaculate, she was a beacon of calm, her eyes bright, watching the events as they unfolded. She must have thought us all mad.
I had been yelling instructions to our skipper Davey who by now had dropped into the vernacular with Laurie and Edmund translating our demands, ‘stills photography’ being a precise science under these conditions. Davey responded superbly despite the difficulties.
A photographer tumbled and had to be helped up another was seasick and out of action. The ham rolls were passed around. Gloria was looking very graceful, the wind suited her better than Waterford, the Schooner ‘Gulden Leeuw’ (Netherlands) flying with 3 of her 4 topsail set and the Norwegian barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl at times hull down, hidden by the swell. Another photographer joined the sick list, the rolls came round again, egg this time.
We were traveling first class, the ‘Julie Rose’ handled the conditions well. We covered the Dutch Schooners ‘Eendracht’ then the ‘Wylde Swan’ who ended the race first on the water. Then the Dutch clipper brig ‘Morgenster’ and Europa also known as the ‘Ocean Wanderer’ a nick name acquired through her ambitious winter voyages to Antarctica and tall ship racing in the summer. We were back to 2.5 photographers as we headed for the Norwegian full rigged ship ‘Sorlandet’, no sign of the ‘Christian Radich’ well… she is a witch, then the German barque ‘Alexander von Humboldt’ with her green sails providing a welcome contrast to the grey skies, she was eventually first in her class (A).
25 miles offshore with the fleet spread far and wide it was time to head back, welcome news for two of us at least. A couple of pints in the ‘Lounge’ in Lerwick famous for its traditional music then back to my B&B the very comfortable ‘Solbrekke’ in Sandwick, head down and ferry to Aberdeen tomorrow then train home, about 36 hours.
MV ‘Julie Rose’ Muckle Flugga Charters http://www.muckleflugga.co.uk