Speedwell of Rhu Ship's Log

28 th of July to 1 st of August 2011 - Fair Isle

Crew : Helen and Andy
Destinations : North Haven.
Distance : 29 miles

We left our anchorage just after 0900 and expected to get to Fair Isle around 1600. However, the wind was favourable and we made 7 to 8 knots on a close reach. It was a very satisfying sail and we were alongside on the pier in North Haven by 1330, rafted up on a Swedish yacht that had just arrived. The cliffs at the entrance to the harbour were stunning. The famous bird observatory had recently been rebuilt so looked much better than the photos we had seen. The harbour was quite small with a bit of swell coming in due to the north westerly winds, but it wasn't too uncomfortable. We were aware that the ferry, The Good Shepherd, was due to arrive at some point and a little concerned that we may have to move. However, we needn't have worried as the local people came down just before the ferry arrived and helped us to move the boats back a few feet.


The following day we visited the observatory where we booked in for supper. We also watched as volunteers herded the sheep off the hills for shearing. The plane had just arrived with a group of visitors to the observatory and we were told that we would be welcome to join any of the activities they had on at the observatory during our visit. We then went on a long walk around the northern cliffs to the lighthouse. There were lots of puffins and spectacular cliffs with a couple of gannet colonies. We then headed up to the highest point of Fair Isle just as the mist came down. Fortunately it was quite thin and we sat and watched as it gradually cleared, giving us fantastic views of the whole island, south to Orkney and north to Sumburgh Head on Mainland Shetland. The hills had many great skuas nesting with babies starting to fledge. They didn't take too kindly to us. Mostly they just seemed to swoop down to take look at us, we only got seriously dive bombed and screeched at once, but we did have to keep an eye out and needed to duck quite a lot. Later on we had showers and a communal supper, where we met some of the visitors staying at the observatory. Although, from our point of view there seem to be loads of birds, it is not a busy time for the observatory. Most of the serious bird watchers come in the spring and autumn, in the hope that they might see a rare migrant bird blown off course.


The next day we walked around the cliffs on the east coast, past Sheep Rock. This is a grassy topped high cliff, joined to the island only by a sharp ridge of rock. Until 1977 sheep used to be hauled up on top by ropes to graze the grass. On the south side was another a gannet colony. Most of the 70 people who live on the island live on the south side where the land is divided into crofts. There is one shop and a museum. There is also a small airport which has flights to Mainland Shetland and Orkney. Most of the provisions are brought across by the ferry, The Good Shepherd, which goes to Lerwick 3 days a week.


The Good Shepherd (IV) is a very sea worthy ferry, designed to cope with extremely bad weather, which it needs to be. It goes out throughout the year, however, for most of the winter it has to be winched out of the water for protection. Apparently it is fairly well known for inducing seasickness in many passengers, so I was glad to be on Speedwell.During our stay other boats came and went, including The Good Shepherd, which was berthed in front of us on the pier. As usual the topics of choice were, inevitably, the weather and direction of travel. We had a very interesting catamaran called Tortuga rafted up to us for a while and were to follow the Dutch couple, Ronald and Marijke South for a few days. They left Fair Isle the day before us. We spent our last day visiting the shop and museum and walking the west coast, before visiting the puffins for one last time.

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