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 Justine's Journal

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Blown to Shetland
Friday, June 30, 2006

We made it to Shetland! We had 2 incredibly contrasting crossings, each of 28 nautical miles by the time we landed. The weather couldn't have been any calmer for the journey from North Ronaldsay to Fair Isle. There wasn't a breath of wind, and the sea was as smooth as velvet and a beautiful deep blue colour where the sky was reflected in it. We let the last of the flood tide tide sweep us to the east a bit before the flood tide swept us west for 4 hours. We chose our ferry glide angle and ended up in exactly the right spot at the SE corner of the approx. 3 mile long island. Although the tidal atlas shows that the tide is pretty much at right angles to our desired path, I think we actually had more tide against us than with us, as we travelled at an average of 3 knots ( slower than we'd have expected in such calm conditions). If I did it again I'd go 6 hours earlier on the last of the ebb as I suspect this would be a bit more favourable. However the way we did it meant that we arrived at Fair Isle just as the tides were reaching the start of a 3 hour slack-ish period ( just in case something had gone wrong with the navigation, or we'd been slower than expected). Eventually we landed at about 9pm after 9 hours in the kayak.

I was feeling a bit ill when we reached Fair Isle, with a sore back and tummy. the next morning I was worse. Alun called out the local nurse who diagnosed that I had a kidney infection. 2 hours later I was on antibiotics and drinking cranberry juice, but the whole of that day I felt week and had pains in my tummy. It was a beautiful bright day with very little wind ( perfect for crossing to Shetland) but I was in no fit state to paddle and we wanted to have a rest day and a bit of a look around Fair Isle, which is a beautiful island with thousands of birds - 10 different species breed there.

After an early-ish night I felt a bit better on wednesday but not really like kayaking 28 nautical miles. We decided to stay another day, but when we got a forecast we realised that our good weather window was slipping away. I felt a bit better and we decided to leave that afternoon. the tides were right for us at 4pm and we would actually get a bit of help from them on this part of the journey. We weren't worried about landing late because it doesn't really get dark here at this time of year, but we were a bit worried about the force 3 SE wind.

As we started off the wind gradually picked up, until it was F5-6. The bad weather that we had tried to avoid had come in early. the sea conditions were exciting, with waves to surf and we made good progress, travelling at almost 5 knots. Unfortunately the tide turned when we were about a mile away from land and suddenly we had wind against tide off Fitfull Head. Our progress slowed right down and we had a bit more urgent surfing to do, but we made it safely to land. We camped at Spiggie Loch on the West side of the island - a beautiful spot. 28 miles in 7hours 15mins.

now its symposium time! I will try to add a few pictures when i get the chance

Fair Weather for Fair Isle?
Sunday, June 25, 2006

Alun and I are in North Ronaldsay, the northernmost Orkney island for the second year running. We've had a great trip kayaking up to here, and have met lots of lovely people. We're having a "rest" day today before attempting to kayak the approx 28 nautical miles to Fair Isle tomorrow. This will be a challenging journey because there are quite strong tides which run perpendicular to the direction that we want to travel in, and there is a notorius tidal race on the south end of Fair Isle once we arrive. Thankfully (unlike last year when we were here) we have a favourable weather forecast, with a high pressure hovering over us for the next few days.

We paddled across the Pentland Firth on Tuesday in about a force 4-5 South-Easterly. It was a bit choppy but there wasn't any swell so it was mostly just windwaves and nothing too big. We were a bit slow packing everything into our kayaks and we left Harrow, near John-O-Groats about an hour after we had intended which meant the tides were getting stronger all the time. We knew there would be a strong current running to the SE when we reached the south coast of South Ronaldsay, trying to take us out to sea. We allowed for this and approached the island from upstream, but the current was stronger than we'd thought and we still had to paddle very hard at the end to make a big eddy on the south end of South Ronaldsay. The tides are incredible around here.

We had hoped to make it up to North Ronaldsay fairly quickly because our mission for this trip is to get to Shetland rather than to explore, but the wind had other ideas and we made slow progress for the first 3 days - in fact we didn't get off South Ronaldsay! We did meet some friendly locals though, and have eaten incredibly well! We happened to camp by a hatchery for arctic char, and were given some undersize ones to cook up and eat. I've never had that type of fish before, which is pink like salmon but not so rich. It was truely delicious. That evening we went to a nearby house to ask for water and spent the evening chatting to the owner about local life, shipwrecks and vikings! He gave us some eggs from his hens which marked the start of our 'porridge-avoidance'. We've so far been given eggs from 3 different people's hens and have been enjoying breakfast delights such as 'fried eggs on rye bread' and poached eggs on burritos! YUM YUM!! Tomorrow, who knows what we'll invent!

After our slow start, we had a monster day from Newark Bay on South Ronaldsay all the way up to Eday island, via the small island of Copinsay for lunch. 35 miles in about 7 hours, with quite a lot of tidal assistance in the afternoon. We still only just made it before the tide turned against us, and had a bit of a ferry glide at the last minute. We arrived at Eday at the same time as the ferry and shouted up to the people on the pier to ask where the pub was! A man replied that there wasn't a pub on Eday, but his wife had a tea room and could cook us dinner, and he'd drive us there and back from whereever we camped. We had a lovely evening with Pete and Chris on the north of the island, and Chris cooked us a mouthwatering bellyfull of delicious food.

Yesterday afternoon we caught the tidal conveyor belt from Eday up the north side of Sanday, and reached over 10 knots at one point. We skirted around the side of a meaty looking tidal race in 'Lashy Sound', enjoying the speed of the water without crashing through the biggest waves. We stopped for a late lunch on a headland and waited for the tide to turn in our favour once more, for the final leg to North Ronaldsay - 25 miles in total ( 19 nautical miles). Last night I was almost asleep in the tent when Alun came back from a water collecting mission and dragged me out of bed to go and meet yet more lovely local people. martin Grey had greeted Alun in his waterproofs and empty waterbottles with 'you must be one of the mad kayakers'. Apparently everyone who is planning to kayak to Fair Isle comes to his house for water, as it's the nearest one to the north of the island! He hosted Sean Morley on his birthday last year and just a few days ago, hosted a guy called Patrick who is paddling solo to all the furthest islands in Scotland. Pattick made it to Fair Isle last Wednesday and is probably in Shetland by now?

The weather is pretty good today for crossing to Fair Isle, a slight northerly wind, but since we have a good longterm forecast, we're resting. Alun is right this minute watching England play Ecuador on the big screen in the bird observatory! I better finish writing and go and see who's winning!!


Menai Straits
Monday, June 12, 2006

We're in training! This weekend we head north to attempt to kayak from mainland Scotland to Shetland. I'm speaking at a symposium there at the end of June so we'll have about 10 days to try to cross the Pentland Firth, island-hop up through Orkney and then hope for good enough weather to do two 25-mile legs to Shetland via 'Fair Isle'. I was recently sent an article about the first people to do these crossings, Karen and Dan Trotter. It sounds like they had an absolute epic and the journey shouldn't be underestimated. It is very windy in those parts and strong tides take you first one way and then the other - but perpendicular to the desired path. To top it off, when you arrive at Fair Isle or Shetland, a large tidal race guards the entrance and you have to summon up some energy to fight your way in. We'll be getting to Shetland one way or another or the symposium organisers will be very upset, and we'll enjoy a week or more of paddling there. I'm really looking forward to that as I've seen photos and the caves, cliffs and birds look beautiful.

Karen and Dan Trotter also attempted to cross from Shetland to the Faroe Islands, 200 miles to the North. Amazingly they managed to paddle 150 miles against the wind and tide but didn't quite make it. We're not even going to try and we'll take the ferry there and enjoy paddling around some more beautiful islands for a couple of weeks!

So this weekend we went for a long paddle closer to home on the Menai Straits between Anglesey and mainland Wales. 'The Staits' is called 'Aber Menai' in Welsh, which means 'River Menai' and it's easy to see why. It's less than 1km wide for most of it's length and the tide rips down there at 5 or 6 knots in places. If you are going with the tide, as we were, it's a great ego boost as you come away at the end of the day having paddled miles and feeling very smug. It's a great spot with lots of places to play in strong currents and big waves. Here are a few photos when it's calm. I'll be doing some filming here for my next video sometime later in the year.

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