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. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A Journey completed?

Scapa flow is immersed in naval and maritime history.  As home to the Grand Fleet in two world wars it is as steeped in Royal Naval significance as anywhere else.  The fleet left and returned to Scapa Flow for the Battle of Jutland.  The interned German fleet was successfully scuttled there under the very noses of the victor.  In the opening days of the second World war HMS Royal Oak was sunk by an audacious U Boat attack.  As an ex-servicemen any of these events would grab and headline my visit were it not for an event in my living memory.

17 March 1969.  I still vividly recall hearing the news of the Longhope Lifeboat disaster.  I was 6 and my sister Harriet 5.  As young sailors in our family boat “Hope” (see blog 15) we were starting to be immersed in the sea and the loss of an entire lifeboat crew hit home and was relevant in so many ways.  The story is better recorded elsewhere but in the face of a force 9 Sever gale, the crew put out to help a stricken cargo vessel manned by men they did not know.  They never returned.  That night the village of Longhope lost 8 men.  In the army we embrace as “brothers in arms” but that night 2 fathers perished along with 2 sons, some of whom also left widows.  Two women each stripped of a husband and 2 sons.  Scarcely a home untouched.  Today the lifeboat coxswain is the grandson of the coxswain lost that night.  Within days Long Hope and its lifeboat family put up a new crew from volunteers who included 5 relatives of the dead men and simply stood up to carry on the maritime tradition shared by generations of seafarers of help to their fellow man in time of need.

We wanted to do something and enabled by our parents we tracked down the local “shoreline” group (lifeboat support organisation).  Harriet and I had letters authenticating us as bona fida collectors and whilst I have no idea how much we raised, we collected both at school and around the village. 

The beauty of the memorial, its imagery, its location and its message moved me to tears.  Inspired by those men, their families and their community, I stood and reflected on the profound impact it had and has on me.  I wished Harriet there.  I feel the dearth of words to articulate the emotion that was woven into that silence.  Memories of friends and events from my own experiences came to mind, they stood out and yet merged into a timeless image of faces, events, impacts, character and I saw clearly how their courage and example has helped shape and inspire me. 
To conclude I want to share two songs that I sang and resonate strongly with me.  Both are sung by my friend Tom Lewis, the "widowmaker " was written by John Connelly.  Now technology has defeated me so follow the link below to Tom's website and hear a sample as well as read the lyrics but below is him singing the widowmaker.

HMCS Sackville written and sung by Tom Lewis
The Widowmaker.  Written by John Connelly and sung by Tom Lewis