Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Westray Regatta

Westray is the most north westerly of the Orkney islands and its annual regatta is a long established annual event drawing entries from across the Northern Isles and indeed further afield.  There are however one or two unique features that make this regatta different.

In no particular order. 
The regatta draws a wide spectrum of competitors.  This includes a class for the modern day cruiser.  Much to my delight I learnt that there is no arguing about handicaps or the like.  Instead and to my mind refreshingly so, competitors go out to enjoy the sailing rather than protesting the rules or concerned about outperforming each other – it rather chimes with Hahn’s notion that it is better to compete against one’s self than against someone else.

There was a vibrant fleet of dinghies of all ages – that’s boats and competitors.  When it comes to corporate social responsibilities there are few companies who could match Orkney Ferries who laid on a bespoke free ferry to transport dinghies and competitors from Kirkwall to Pierowall. 

It will not perhaps surprise you to learn that of most interest to me were the traditional clinker built skiff and yawl boats. 

There is a strong Norwegian influence and I could not help noting both the similarities and differences with my own inherited clinker open boat “Hope”.
 Hope; happy in her home waters and playing in the mud
Each has evolved to suit its own local conditions and each is a tribute to how our forbearers understood the requirements to best suit those conditions and uses. 

The skiffs have upright curved stems and a straight sternpost set at 45 degrees to the keel. 

The yawls were of shallow draft with broad beam and the stern less raked than the skiffs.  The stem is curved and raked forward at the head. 
Swan was not part of the racing but congratulations to Scott and Ailish who crewed aboard one of the boats and took line honours as well as first place in two races.  Swan was busy as a visitor attraction with a constant through put of people and despite the friendly rivalry that exists between Orkney and Shetland, there is also a sense of kindred spirit as they unite to form the Northern Isles.

Of course the whole was rounded off with the equally traditional regatta social events.

Here there is more emphasis on local tradition which includes not only fiddle music and dancing but also the strong Viking influence.  Now some might consider Viking heritage in the Northern Isles to be a timeless celebration of forbearers of great daring but as this next photograph shows even the landing of raiding parties for "rape ,plunder and pillage" are subject to health and safety risk assessments and management considerations !
 Viking Marauders with battle axe and lifejackets
and of course there is the tradition of  “galley burning”. 
To the hardened galley burners of Shetland this might all be rather tame but to the outsider it was new.  I could not help feel somewhat sad for the selected boat.  She was clearly beyond repair and her last flourish was a fitted Viking prow
and hurled torches sending her to Valhalla. 

A sadness perhaps, but no more so, and arguably less so, than the indignity of the alternative slow demise rotting to oblivion. 

The weather Gods delayed our departure but gave opportunity to explore a little and to make friends with the local community and visitors before slipping out late on Sunday night and heading back North to Shetland.

Some of you will know of Andy Bristow, either directly, through me or through this blog.  He was skipper of the first British Army Antarctic Expedition and I have written previously about the profound impact he has had in mentoring and shaping me.  We last saw each other in late May as he was heading north to Svalbard aboard his yacht Atlantis.  Whilst we were in Orkney, had we but known it, he was within a few miles heading for Cape Wrath and home.  He has recorded his journey in his own blog which can be found at .  Its an inspiring account of an extraordinary adventure and is testament to the philosophy that I am trying to espouse.  His photographs are quite fantastic so please do find time to have a look, I promise you that it will be time well spent.
Whilst in Orkney I was surprised to see a waterproof jacket with a Topsail Rigging logo. 

TS rigging are based in Maldon and are emerging as one of the premier traditional boat rigging companies in UK – indeed they were the prime contractor to rerig the Cutty Sark (although don’t get me started on that one . . .!!) So it emerged that a Shetlander and member of the Viking “Jarl squad” to boot had been a rigger on the project. 

At first glance Shetland might appear remote but seafaring is a tighter knit community than you might initially imagine and so on the most nor’westerly of the Orkney Isles I found myself yarning about Essex smacks and rivers!!

At the end of this week we slip for a return to Norway and then its back to Orkney.  I will endeavour to keep you posted . .  . .  


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