Jonty Pearce takes a mixed bag of weather on the chin for a cracking cruise around Shetland and Orkney, including a rounding of Muckle Flugga

Jonty Pearce: We should have had more faith. At the end of last week’s blog our Penguin Cruising Club charter crew were on tenterhooks waiting to see whether our Sail Orkney Elan Impression 434 would be on the Lerwick small boat pontoon at 0800 after her overnight delivery from Kirkwall following a hasty sail drive change – the old one had melted. We were very relieved to see a smiling Brian and his crew who had already refreshed themselves with a good breakfast after an 0530 arrival.

After the usual handover – sorting, victualling, lunching, and general fiddling, including topping off with fuel and water – we finally left Lerwick for an anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Shetland. Our overall plan included a visit to Fair Isle before returning the boat to Kirkwall after visiting some of the north Orkney islands. Our companion boat, Reach North, was chartered from Shetland Yachting and had to be returned to Lerwick by club members afterwards.

We spent the first night anchored inside the north-east channel of Out Skerries. Fog delayed our start the next morning and it was midday before we set off into a brisk northerly Force 6; with two reefs in the mainsail and half the genoa rolled away our pointing was less than perfect, but a couple of long tacks took us into Balta Sound off Unst. It was a relief to drop the hook in Balta Harbour and sit back with a nice cuppa tea without half of it slopping out onto the cockpit floor. We slept well.

I was apprehensive about the winds and roosts (tide races) off the north of Unst, but the day dawned quiet with too little wind to sail. We timed the tide off Holm of Skaw perfectly and had a smooth passage west to Muckle Flugga and its outlier, Out Stack, which form the northernmost point of the British Isles. We passed between them, shutters clicking, before ‘showboating’ around Out Stack so we were able to say that we had sailed ‘over the top’ as well as getting iconic photos of Muckle Flugga lighthouse. We celebrated with chocolate Penguin biscuits (how tame!) before setting course southwest to Cullivoe Harbour in Bluemull Sound.

We were treated to close views of a pod of seven orcas as we continued down the west of Mainland Shetland past Eshaness Lighthouse on our way to Papa Stour. With a forecast blow on the way, we sheltered in Housa Voe to ride it out at anchor. It was not a peaceful night; while we let out our full ration of 50 metres of chain when the wind hit, Reach North dragged and spent half the night circling before they managed a good hold. After an anchor-watch disturbed sleep, and knowing that the near gale would have whipped up the treacherous waters west of Papa Stour, I ordered a day of rest with optional shore parties after the winds eased in the afternoon. The sun came out, and we soaked up the beautiful surroundings and caught up on sleep.

Jonty Pearce: Junk rig?

I apologise for the deliberately misleading title. Rather than a whimsy about the renowned junk rig, I was inspired to…

The seas were quieter the next day, and after an early transit of Papa Sound we turned the corner to the south directly into a brisk head-on wind that, as predicted, increased to a Force 6 before dying back after we had moored up safely in Walls Harbour. Although the morning started with low cloud it descended further after we had set off, later complicating our situation with fog for a few hours. The area of The Deeps offered a safe hideaway and, lo and behold, as we turned the corner into Sandsound Voe the sun broke out to warm an alfresco lunch in the scenic anchorage of Tresta Voe. Our sailing week finished with a lovely reach down to Scalloway where we tied up at the Scalloway Boating Club pontoon to enjoy their well known hospitality.

We now await a crew change as three berths empty to be filled by new arrivals; replenishment of gas, water, fuel and food are our priorities. My morning has been spent sourcing electrical wire and a switch from the Scalloway Meat Company (the chandlery was shut) for a replacement anchor windlass remote; seawater had corroded the circuit board of the unit on board. Luckily this is not a new problem for Brian who has a spare after a previous crew had similar problems. My Heath Robinson unit works well enough to last until hand-back time in a week’s time.

All we have to do now is watch the weather and hope we get a good window for Fair Isle and Orkney.