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Life's journey has been varied. As a 30 year career soldier its been geographically, emotionally and intellectually nomadic, at times exciting, sometimes frustrating, its had highs and lows and it has challenged me, sometimes beyond what I thought possible. On the whole I have been lucky. I've developed a reputation for being unconventional, even unorthodox. I've made mistakes, plenty of them. Success and failure have left their marks. I've been able to develop my passions and interests. From the office to the trench, from ocean sailing to Antarctic exploration, from the philosophies of Kurt Hahn to the lyrics of Tom Lewis, and much more besides and between. Now I want to share them.

I am trying to bring meaning and sense to these experiences, learning from the past so as to signpost the future, not just mine but anyone else who might benefit vicariously. This blog, set in Shetland sailing aboard "Swan", a 100 year old ex herring drifter delivering youth development and sail training opportunities for young people, is a living reflection on that journey.

To share it read on . . . .

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Norway Part 1


 

Immediately prior to departure for Norway, Swan had been at the Portsoy Scottish Traditional Boat Festival.  The name hints at the importance of the event in her annual calendar and indeed she is paid to attend.    Portsoy is a picturesque small harbour and town on the north coast of the Murray Firth.  The festival follows the expected format of such events with craft, food and music now almost more evident than the boats.  Also attending was the herring drifter “Reaper”. 

 
 
Reaper is a lug rigged boat and larger than Swan.  The other evident difference is their current roles.  Reaper is a museum ship and makes no attempt to comply with the code of practice for passenger vessels.  An example of which is that she does not have a guard rail fitted.  She is therefore a far closer representation of the “authentic article”.   This hints at a continuing debate in all “preservation societies”, preservation for what?  There are many possible answers and my own take is “preservation for purpose”.  In other words decide the purpose and then preserve.  It chimes with the military emphasis on “get the aim right and the rest will follow”.  Within the Swan Trust, Portsoy is also spoken about in hushed tones because it represents a challenge for skipper and crew in entering a very tight harbour with very limited time afloat.  Local krill boats vacate but their mooring buoys and rising pennants reduce engine use and it was therefore necessary to warp her out.
warping her out


2, 6 heave!
 
 
It was therefore with some satisfaction that Swan both entered and left harbour without mishap, the more so that the latter was in very public gaze and rising winds with a nasty swell running.
 

 
Taking local advice and noting the crew capabilities, we headed down the coast to Buckie and a more secure berth in which to lie storm bound for 24 hours.  Even here the waves were crashing over the breakwaters.

The planned 36 hour timetable between return and slipping for Norway was always tight – the more so that there was also an Operations committee meeting but when the weather Gods intervened, it became unachievable.  The trainees reporting time was slipped from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning and it was 1500 hrs before we slipped Lerwick and headed out through the Bressay Channel into a rising wind.  The forecast for sea area Viking was 5-7 possibly 8 for a time.  However initially we did have every stich of canvass flying but by midnight we had dropped the mizzen and jib and run in the bowsprit.  We were to finish with 2 reefs in the main. 
Force 8 and 2 reefs in the main.
Whilst Swan simply rode the waves and was alive, the same cannot be said for her crew. 
No one was as sick as Fred
Those too ill to work had a miserable experience in their bunks and those well enough to work were dead on their feet with the additional work of looking after and covering for their shipmates.  There is no complaint here since it as a crew that we live and survive. 
 

Closing the Norwegian coast in reduced visibility was a challenging but welcome experience.  The winds had fallen away dramatically and we were now under motor.  The crew started to surface in various degrees of consciousness.  For most the proximity of land and the promise of Stordfest produced a rapid recovery.  Delaying our arrival so as to join the “Parade of Sail” gave us some time to practise man over board drills.  Initially using the traditional fender we progressed to yours truly in the water.  This also gave us opportunity to rehearse the normally neglected drill of actually picking up a person from the water to the deck.  In this case we assumed a conscious casualty able to help themselves. 

“Stordfest” was a bit like a big Portsoy and is hosted in Leirvik which you will not be surprised to learn is twinned with Lerwick and has the same derivation and meaning; muddy bay. 
 
For me there was the frustration of discovering that “Blackberry” phones aren’t supported in Norway.  In fact the frustration turned to inconvenience and then to release.  Once you accept that there is nothing to be done, you can enjoy the reality.  Swan proved something of a point of interest and we hosted many hundreds of admirers.  We were also welcomed on board other vessels, many of which are old friends to Swan and in some cases to me as well since they had visited Shetland earlier this season. 

 
The traditional sailors activities of drink and singing flowed although of course the former in suitable moderation.  It was also an opportunity to make new friends.

One such friend offered to show us part of the local area and his 300 year old house.  By coincidence it was in the same bay that that we had practised MOB drills a few days earlier.  Faced with a time issue and assurance that we could lie on the pier head we approached gingerly.  The result was not one of my finest moments.   With hind sight it would have been far more sensible to have anchored and gone ashore with the inflatable, which is what we did but only after having cleared the prop of a fouled rope and the assistance of our own inflatable and a local boat.  With Swan in a somewhat exposed anchorage with poor holding, I remained aboard.  Once ashore the others discovered that this was not to be a quick visit.   I hold to a maxim of taking opportunity but this was a finally balanced call between enhancement and distraction.  Back to perspectives!!  However an upside was the opportunity to sail of the anchor.  This gave me a real buzz and challenge but I still don’t think the trainees appreciate the significance of what they did.

One consequence was a later than hoped for arrival on the island of Espevaer and it set in motion a train of events that culminated the next day in a “show down”.

Having been told to be back on the boat at a certain time the trainees arrived 30 minutes late. This combined with a general apathy of engagement meant that I did not let it pass.  I told them that not only were they late, but no one had apologised and all had simply sat down waiting for Peter to serve tea and coffee.  I also told them that I did not hold grudges and that we should draw a line under it and move on.  Later that day we returned to the ring for round two.  One or two were again feeling a bit sick but the others who were fine were behaving like passengers.  No attempt to look after their friends or interest in running the boat and an expectation that “we” should be doing it.  This time I was less restrained about their attitude and that if they wanted to be passengers then they could be passengers on an aircraft back to Shetland I invited comment (as I always do) and was pleased that two people in particular offered three comments and whilst I think only one of their points of detail had merit, their willingness to speak out was testament to their own confidence and they did give an alternative and helpful perspective.  I’m not sure that morale was high but the air was cleared and we were all able to take account of others perspective.  In this sort of situation it is not helpful to dwell on issues but rather to take the opportunity to gain understanding and “get on with it”.

The air cleared we went into a lesson on helming.  There was an uneasy truce on the boat but deciding that manoeuvre is more effective than attrition, I let matters rest and that night we put into the delightful fishing port of Skudeneshaven on the southern end of Kamoy.  It’s a delightfully place and combines a picturesque waterfront of traditional fisherman’s houses with a thriving maritime town industry of ship building and fishing. 
 
 
The next morning I initiated some of my aspirational add ons.  Hahn notes the distinction of training for and through the sea.  This trip is about the latter and so In an attempt to encourage team working and communication skills, the watches were tasked with writing a blog for the sail train Shetland web site and preparing a presentation for the other watch. 

 
The presentations were about differing aspects of sailing Swan and also acted as a confirmation and reinforcement of their knowledge.  In the afternoon, with the challenges of yesterday behind us we sailed to Stavanger.  It was a great sail although the wind died towards the end and tacking was not to everybody’s taste or enjoyment.  Still harmony and laughter had returned and that is worth a very great deal. 

The next day after completing boat chores, there was an opportunity to explore Stavanger and whilst some went off to search out Burger King and “Macy Ds”, I headed for the maritime museum and then a museum recalling the fish canning industry; a truly fascinating and thought provoking visit on how fish, smoke, tins and wealth were intertwined. 

 
 Sadly neither visit was long enough to do justice to either place. I also squeezed in a brief visit to the Cathedral. 
 

And then the boring part.  I gave people 50 minutes notice to get tidied up and be ready to slip immediately after one of our “big” neighbours.  To much excitement I explained that we would go to anchor and take the opportunity to use the inflatable In fact people appeared on deck after 50 minutes and expected it to be all right.  There was no time to adjust lines or brief people on departure.  So it wasn’t all right.  The result being that we didn’t slip and were delayed until after the next big ship left.  It was hugely frustrating and disappointing.
 
 

To be continued . . . .

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