Featured Destination

Shetlands by Sail – Safety pins and Millionaire Island, Trinovante June 2023.

Part 2

Last Chance to sail in the Shetlands this Summer

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Out Skerries, The Millionaire island of Whalsay, Lerwick, 

We left the fabulous Fair Isle behind and took a gentle sail to the Out Skerries, the wind was fluky and finally died out in the afternoon. Using the ‘iron topsail’ we headed for the entrance to Out Skerries using the South Mouth to the Island of Bruray. The skipper John called up the inter island  ferry  which was about to leave and asked if had  time to come in before they came out as the entrance was too narrow for both vessels. Well it was a narrow twisty entrance with a strong  tide flowing in with us. Oooo! You had to know what you’re doing to do that well. Not only did John do it very well but he then parked ‘came alongside’ the quay just in time to give room for the ferry. All very impressive ship handling.

One of the two shops was open, one run by the Harbour Master’s as one of his other jobs,  in which I found in the back of the store on a high level shelf a set of 25 safety pins for 6D That is 6 pence in pre – 1972 currency, so they had been on that shelf for over 50 years, no wonder they were a bit rusty!

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Out Skerries

Leaving Out Skerries

Pipes and an offer of marriage.

We departed Out Skerries and Graham played some pipe tunes on the quay just before leaving. A lady was so pleased to hear the pipes from her house she came and talked to us. Originally from London but more recently from Florida she has spent the last couple of summers on Out Skerries having seen the house for sale on Facebook. A widow with 8 children she was considering seeing if she would stay for the winter months but thought it might be a bit lonely. I did offer to marry her but then remembered I’m already married!

Whalsay: The Island of Millionaires

When we visited Whalsay, the only island we explored under wet conditions, it was just a tad dreich by Shetland standards. Not the full dreich, mind you.

Our first stop was the local shop, which, thanks to the millionaire residents of Whalsay, is probably the finest food shop in all of Shetland.

Museum

We had the pleasure of meeting a local fisherman who regaled us with tales of the island’s millionaires. Now, these aren’t outsiders; they are the very fishermen of Whalsay, and their story is nothing short of incredible.

Imagine, for centuries, they’ve been casting their nets off the shores of Whalsay, adapting to changing times. As boats grew larger and engines made fishing more convenient, their operations expanded. Even with the convoluted tangle of EU and UK fishing policies and quotas, the men of Whalsay always found a way to thrive (We won’t mention those fish landing tunnels in Aberdeen!).

Super fishers

Currently, the island boasts six magnificent fishing vessels that specialise in catching pelagic fish, particularly mackerel and herring. To put things into perspective, in 2018, the pelagic catch for the whole of Scotland was a staggering 284,807 tons, valued at £201,745,000. And guess what? Roughly 90% of that catch came from the sixteen super fishers—six in Whalsay and ten in Aberdeen.

Here’s how it works: You invest a whopping £40 million in constructing a state-of-the-art fishing vessel and securing the all-important fishing quota. Financing such an endeavour primarily involves loans, with a sprinkle of grants if you’re lucky. But here’s the kicker for each of the stakeholders, about ten in number, expect to keep paying off that debt until you step into your grave. The debt conveniently passes on to your descendents.

This unique circumstance has led to the emergence of seasoned skippers who’ve been at it for ages. Each super fishing ship requires a crew of ten, typically comprising the original stakeholders or their descendants. Even if you happen to marry into a super fishing family, your chances of joining the crew are slim to say the least.

Of course, everything goes swimmingly if the value of your annual catch exceeds your running costs and loan interest payments. Speaking of running costs, each crew member is estimated to receive a salary of £100,000 per year, with the skipper likely earning more. To be honest there is not that much to spend your money on in Whalsay. I did see some pretty flash cars but again there is nowhere on Whalsay you can go fast in a car!

It’s hard work for the crew, but only briefly, as the fishing operations only span around three months a year. Accounting for preparation and winding down, the actual catch takes up just about two months. So, you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands! 

The risk

While the current fishing quota is deemed sustainable, any significant changes to UK Fishing policies could spell trouble for the super fishers of Whalsay.

Lerwick

We had a short but good sail to Lerwick the Capital of Shetland. Wow, it’s changed a bit since I sailed here on the Norwegian tall ship Sorlandet to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Shetland Bus. (It’s a wartime story of daring does into Norway from Shetland.)

That is the harbour area has expanded hugely and there are racks of enormous wind turbine towers waiting to be transported to their working locations. While the main oil industry terminal and port is at Sullom Voe there are support vessels and super fishing boats in the new port areas.

One of the great things about sailing in the Shetlands is the tidal range is small, being not much more than 2 metres even on a spring tide. Makes it easier to tie up and for getting on and off the ship.

Lerwick centre has hardly changed and you could describe its high street as quaint in a northern tough sort of way.

Clickimin Broch in Lerwick. Commonly known as the Tesco Broch due to its near neighbour. Definitely worth a visit, just a ten minute walk from the town centre. 

Lerwick Museum is both FREE and fascinating.

Part 3 – Next Up The Noop of Noss and Prehistoric Jarlshof both in the Shetlands

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