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 . .  . .  


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Reflections on Norway

These reflections have been written over time and indeed the very essence of reflection is that it changes over time as things take on new meaning or a different perspective.  However a consistent theme is that Norway was not what I expected and on balance a disappointing trip.  But before latching on to that disappointment it requires clarification and expectation.

First off is that I had anticipated that it would be the highlight of the season for me.  I have over time and experience developed ideas about youth development and sail training, indeed I have already blogged about some of those influences.  I have also recognised that “my” model is different from many of those used by other organisations.  I have to face an unpalatable truth; my model didn’t appear to deliver in the way that I had hoped or anticipated.  So much of the reflection is trying to understand why and more importantly how to use that analysis to build and develop future models.

Before doing so its really important to reiterate that the trip had its high points, for example the entering and leaving of Skudeshaven are two obvious but not unique examples.  So a word that keeps reappearing in my thinking is “inconsistent”.  Its also very important to recognise that might apply to me as much as I might want it to apply to others.   That brings me to a second point.  I wonder if you have ever listened to a politician being interviewed after an unsuccessful by-election campaign?  So often instead of acknowledging just how badly they have done, they attempt to portray the result as being the result of “mid term” or unique local factors.  In doing so not only do they lose credibility but until one can be honest with oneself then remedies are even harder to find.  So however tempting, I don’t want to rely on a belief that my model is correct but local factors meant it didn’t work well on this occasion.  I think I need some more fundamental honesty in the balance of analysis.  There were though two points of learning that also need to be weighed in context, both of which were I believe unhelpful.  Firstly during the crossing to Norway many of the trainees were very seasick and the watch system broke down and the afterguard finished up standing the watches; did this create an impression that trainee participation was either voluntary or at least not essential?  Secondly in previous years the sail train Shetland charter has taken part in either “Nordic Sail” or a tall ships race, both of which have strong youth emphasis.  This year the programme was different and included two “sea festivals”; neither had youth participation as a focus and were arguably a distraction from sail training and establishing a more conducive routine for the trainees.

Field Marshall Slim (of 14th Army and Burma fame) said (I Paraphrase) that there are no bad soldiers only bad officers.  I don’t think it’s an unquestionable truth but it is a reminder of several points; firstly that leaders set both direction and tone and secondly that they are accountable and responsible for success and failure.  (You might remember one of my mantra’s from LTTA was “take responsibility for your actions and I must live by my own rules.  So what could I have done differently?

An interesting start point might be the result of a feedback exercise I played.  You ask every member of the crew to list a positive feature about their ship mates, these are then merged and each crew member gets a list of their positive qualities as seen by 14 other people, often this is great for people with low self esteem or self image.  An extension of this is to ask them to list an area for improvement.  These are collated and a common thread identified and then these are presented positively to those who ask to see them and can then be used to set a SMART goal.  The common theme for me was to relax more.  Faced with this information there are two responses, firstly to deny it and either attribute it to their inadequacies causing the stress that leds to not being relaxed or to write it off as a not unexpected view of any teenager talking about any adult in authority and the second is to roll with the punch and recognise that it’s a valid opinion based on how (in this case) I come across and how I could change for the better. 

So I hold these thoughts as important in any analysis.

One trend that I noticed was that trainees tend to place their own interest above the collective interest.  It manifested in many guises, from helping themselves to a second helping before establishing who else might want seconds or offering to serve others, reluctance to proactively engage with chores such as cooking let alone washing up.  Most people were ill disciplined in keeping their kit tidy and put away.  (now this might have those who know me shouting pot kettle black but others will know that on a boat I tend to the opposite extreme, “a place for everything and everything in its place”  not only is this essential for harmonious communal living but its also a major contribution to safety.)  On deck a not uncommon reaction to be asked to take the wheel was that they had already done half an hour.  Arguments between port and starboard watch members as to work sharing were regular occurrences.

Another trend was that of the afterguard including myself and that’s the tendency to take over.  So if for example a watch is reluctant to engage in cooking, what should the reaction be?  My instinct is to say “ok we go hungry”, but there are practical considerations to this response!!  It is a moot point as to how an adult steps in but my observation would be that we are too ready to step in and take over.  At times I found myself being silently critical of others doing this but then recognised it in myself with the attempted justification that “being on their back” would be detrimental.

Perhaps there is a further consideration here.  My majority previous experience had been in Greenland with BSES (as was) and with LTTA.  Both these shared the attribute of being longer expeditions of circa 6 weeks (in the case of LTTA 6 week legs) and the greater isolation and need for self-reliance in each case was a significant factor.  Another that makes me uncomfortable is the civilian versus soldier comparator.  For a long time I have held the view that typically we make more of the differences than we do of the similarities.   I am therefore reluctant to say that participants in LTTA stepped up to the mark more readily because they were soldiers (of broadly the same age group) but I am beginning to think that this might be relevant and if it is then it suggests two things, firstly military training does do more than impart hard skills but also reinforces soft skills such as collective behaviours and proactive engagement and secondly that my trying to bench mark against what I know is achievable within the military community is not a level playing field and sets an unrealistically and therefore unhelpful aspiration as to what is achievable.  This is just as uncomfortable because it implies a glass ceiling and is at odds with what I actually believe.

I also note that in both Greenland with BSES and LTTA there was a far greater incentive for active participation and standing by was simply not an option.  Necessity is a great driver but it is also a stick rather than a carrot and away from motivation is typically less successful than towards motivation.  I can’t believe that youth development relies on stick more than carrot – although it has its place it is not I hope the predominant one. 

And yet there is for me an unaccountable positive.  Two parents have told me how much their children enjoyed and benefitted from the experience and I have met 3 trainees walking in Lerwick, none of whom have run from me and all of whom have chatted positively about the experience.  Perhaps there is some truth in the notion that different people benefit differently and in different ways and in different time scales.  I hope its not me clutching at straws to make a comfort blanket.

So I am left in something of a conundrum and although I could write more I think I’ll stop here.  I have no doubt that I will need to think about this some more and if you have any thoughts then please do share them with me.

In the meantime it’s off to Orkney . .

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Norway Part 2

There were two interesting points en route to our anchorage.  Firstly a chart that would not accept WGS840 GPS data and secondly a high speed reverse as we approached a 19 M high cable with our 22M mast.  WGS840 is the commonly used model of an assumed centre of the earth from which Lat & Long from GPS satellite are derived, however unless a paper chart is using the same model then positions cannot be directly plotted.  This effectively negates the GPS (unless its recalibrated to chart datum) and forces the adoption of tried and tested navigation methods. 

Our chosen anchorage was well sheltered and after a little instruction allowed the use of the inflatable by trainees.  By concurrently giving them freedoms and limitations this safely confers responsibility on them and allows for a certain amount of peer led enjoyment and learning without those “fuddy duddies” of the afterguard.  There was much bravado about a morning swim but overnight this evaporated.  We took the opportunity to take our MOB training to another level.  This included the recovery of an unconscious casualty, represented by “FRED” (Fire and Rescue Exercise Dummy).  MOB is often seen as a technical sailing skill to bring the boat back to a floating fender that is recovered by boat hook and often at a speed that would be totally unrealistic and dangerous to a real person.  Additionally recovery to the deck is seldom practiced and talked about fleetingly as difficult.  People also forget that once recovered to the deck both casualty and rescuers are still potentially someway from a successful outcome, first aid and getting someone below may still be problematic.
  So after conducting an exercise in rigging “handy billies” and rescue strops, we ran a short exercise to recover an unconscious casualty from the water to the deck by placing Fred in the scramble net and rolling him up the side and on to the deck.  In line with the total drill we then practiced drinking a reviving cup of coffee. 
After coffee break we rigged a footrope to the bowsprit and gave people the opportunity to go out to the end.

On conclusion we packed up and left the anchorage.  This required two concurrent jobs, recovering the inflatable from the water and shortening anchor.  Both are lengthy jobs and I was pleasantly surprise by the way the two watches worked to complete both in well under my estimated time.  It was in fact a highlight for me and left me wondering why it was not always the case.  However life is often a series of compromises and the next one for me was the selection of Jopeland as the next destination, primarily because it has a ten pin bowling alley – something that Shetland does not (whose the winner?).  Although arriving late I agreed to play bowls and much to my disappointment held my own in the match.  A planned barbeque on a nearby island was cancelled when “rain stopped play”.

The following morning we headed back to Skudeneshaven for the festival.  Scott ran the passage and boat as an exercise in preparation for his “day skipper” course.  He handed over to me only at the entrance to the harbour.  By now over 300 boats were in the harbour for the festival.  What followed was the most challenging alongside mooring I have ever done

It went well for two reasons; firstly because I was able to go and look at it in a Norwegian work boat, so had a clear idea of what we were facing and was able to brief people and prepare properly and secondly because the crew excelled and performed far beyond my expectations and anything I could have asked for.  The result was a performance that personified the ability of a group of individuals to act a s a collective team and achieve something extraordinary. 

The next two days were spent at Skudeneshaven festivale.  The festival would not have been my choice of how to spend either my own time nor that of the expedition.  That said of course it’s not about me and we did some great things, such as sending trainees aloft on the bosun’s chair. 

Additionally we made new friends and true to form Swan attracts attention and admirers where ever she goes. Once again they performed outstandingly as we firstly prepared and then manoeuvred out through the crowded port but having done so they appeared to lose interest and went back into passenger mode.  A consequence of the friendships we had fostered was to be given a contact at the museum and hence the privilege of mooring alongside the village. One trainee had identified a Viking museum and settlement reconstruction at Avaldsnes and when we slipped on Sunday morning this was our destination. 
long house outside and in
Avaldsnes was an ancient centre of power on the west coast of Norway and is believed to have been named after the legendary King Augvald, King Harald chose Avaldsnes for his main royal estate in about 870 making it the oldest royal seat in Norway and in 953 King Haakon fought the sons of his half brother, King Eirik Bloodaxe and in the wake of victory unite the kingdom of Norway.  

What followed was a most interesting afternoon combining re-enactment and exhibitions recording the creation of Norway at the end of the Viking era and the transition from Pagan Gods to Christianity. 

During leadership through The Atlantic I had sailed from Antigua to Bermuda and then up the Eastern Seaboard through Boston Halifax and St Johns before arriving in Greenland, Iceland and hence Norway.  In the West Indies and North Americas I had been struck by how the British influences, values and attitudes had been exported and instrumental in shaping the “New World” and are still very disenable.  Further North the influence was Scandinavian (or is it Nordic?) and the Viking influence is as disenable there as the British one further south.  Suddenly I could also see how the same Viking influence had shaped parts of that British influence.  Here in Shetland the two influence again meet and are evident.

From Avaldsnes we headed to and overnighted in Haugesund, our last stop in Mainland Norway.  Next morning I was able to make quick but interesting visits to two museums in the town befor meeting my own deadline to be back on the boat and prepare to slip for a final visit to the Island of Utsira. It’s a delightful island with a small population in a tightknit community of fisher and farming folk leaving an on the surface idyllic lifestyle but in reality I suspect a hardy one.   Time precluded a long stay and after only 5 hours ashore and supper, we slipped with our curiosity satisfied as to the nature of an island that has not just one but two shipping forcast areas named after it. 

North Utsera

Utsera Central
North Utsera
The just over two hundred mile return crossing was considerably kinder to Swan and crew than our outward leg.  It wasn't only Fred who perked up . . .

and although we needed a reef it gave time for reflection and consideration of the experience whilst we took in the view. 
In my next missive I will reflect on the trip and share my thoughts on its highs and lows.


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 . . . .