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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 . . . .

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cape Farewell


It has been a while since I last posted a blog and I plead pressure of work and a relentless but very rewarding programme.  Although by accident rather than design, my own thoughts are now increasingly turning towards "farewell"  but that's for another post!

 
For the last 3 weeks we have been hosts to an eclectic mix of people from  the Cape Farewell foundation.  The foundation  (named after Cape Favel, the southern tip of Greenland and on the same latitude as Shetland - 60 degrees North) brings together artists and scientists with an interest in understanding and portraying the impact of climate change on the maritime environment and the communities who rely on that environment.  By bringing people together, they hope to encourage a conversation to develop ideas and opportunity to network future projects.  This year amongst other programmes they chartered Swan to cruise the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland.


For me this has been a particularly rewarding 3 weeks.  You may have already read my previous blog on my visit to Long Hope on Hoy in Orkney and this was one opportunity seized from their programme.    You may also already know of, or discern, my interest in personal and particularly youth development through expeditioning and outdoor experience.  Expeditions come in many quizzes and take many forms.  I have long believed it a mistake to think of then exclusively in terms of being some hard core activity in far flung corners of the globe.  Successful and beneficial expeditions are to be found on your door step.  It’s all about purpose and attitude of mind combined with learning and reflection.  Not only has this been within that definition but it has also been incredibly insightful and rewarding for me.  
 
I suppose at one and perhaps mundane level of delivery I enjoyed working with the group leader Ruth Little.  On the face of it she and I might come from very different experiences but right from our first exchange of e-mails I knew this would be an easy and productive relationship.  So I enjoyed the collaboration and whilst I was at one level the bus driver for their expedition, I also had the opportunity to facilitate and help deliver the experience.  The groups (there were two separate ones) contained a diverse mix of interests.  There was the Canadian venture capitalist investing into emerging renewables, there were the poets and playwrights, there was the underwater cameraman, there was the ex BAS marine biologist and ornithologist, writing a PhD on the impact of pollution on deep water systems, there was the folk singer, the sound recordists, the photographers and many many more.  
 
 
Not only did this diverse range of interests make for an exciting mix but more importantly so did such a diverse range of people with their own equally valid perspectives.

Starting in Orkney we cruised several islands before heading to Fair Isle and eventually on to Scalloway, where we started phase2 of the expedition.  Saying goodbye to the phase 1 participants was not easy and there is almost a cynical turncoat experience as you say goodbye to one group and hello to another; loyalty and focus shifting to the incomers.  We then cruised Shetland although we were unable to deliver the expected itinerary as the weather forced several programme changes.  However this flexibility of programme ought to be easily understood as inevitable when dealing with unknowns such as weather.  It can also act as a metaphor for the need to be receptive to changing situations and opportunities in life.   

The crew of the Swan or indeed any boat have a primary responsibility and focus to looking after her and this trumps other aspiration and on occasions meant being unable to take part in the shore side programme. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
However the itinerary did  allowed me some opportunity to join in and also follow my own interests.  So as well as Long Hope other highlights were a solo walk out to Muckle Flugga,

 
visiting the Unst boat haven ( a fascinating private collection of local boats and maritime artefacts)
 
 


Keeping tradition updated and preserved.  sea gull engines on traditional yawls.  local opinion is that the stern mount was less successful. 
 
 
taking the inflatable into caves and through arches around fair Isle

 
, sightseeing in Kirkwall and climbing Orkney’s highest mountain.

 John Rae's memorial in Kirkwall Cathedral.  He was an artic explorer who amongst other achievements discovered the fate of the Franklin expedition

 







At most ports of call the Foundation had already created links with local communities and also with specific individuals who were able to add to the expedition, so whether it was the evening of Shetland dialect poetry and fiddle music or the insight provided by a local archaeologist or an explanation of local approaches and initiatives towards sustainable fishing and marine conservation, we were privileged to fascinating evenings of informative discussion and debate.  Views were freely and easily exchanged, sometimes profound opposite views were debated but always there was a sense of respect and engagement with a desire to understand and learn.

 

Of course such activity requires the odd jar or dram of lubrication!

Now I would like to tell you more but the clock is against me and “tide and weather wait for no man”. So I am going to cheat by providing a link to their web site where you will also find a their own blog page (including one from me) I really do encourage you to get a cup of coffee (or similar) and follow the link below it because I almost guarantee that it will spark at least one, and probably more than one, chain of thought that will leave you richer. 

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