Muckle Flugga on The Shetland Bus
Updated: Jun 22, 2019
If that title does not catch your attention I surrender .... but you will need to read through to the end of this post to find out about Muckle Flugga and The Shetland Bus!!
It has been a little over a month since we returned to Bodø, Norway to start our 2019 travels, firstly south down the Norwegian coast to Florø, our stepping off point to the Shetland Islands and then on to Faroe, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and finishing in Belfast, Maine towards the end of September.
We arrived in Bodø the day before Norwegian Constitution Day, which is marked each year on May 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution of Norway in the year 1814. This important day in the Norwegian calendar is celebrated with much flag waving throughout the country, without any military fanfare, but with a strong focus on youth in the form of children's parades. It was a glorious warm sunny windless day and whilst I spent the day giving the boat a thorough clean from stem to stern, our berth in the centre of town gave me a prime position from which to watch proceedings. My boat cleaning took much longer than usual due to being delightfully distracted by the never ending procession of beautiful, finely dressed, coiffed, primped and painted Norwegian ladies in their national costume !!
The following evening we hosted dinner on board to say goodbye to some of the wonderful people who helped us and became friends during our stay in Bodø - none more so than Idar Henriksen who looked after Ada Hardy for us throughout the winter. I was introduced to Idar a year or so earlier, through a convoluted network of contacts, as someone who might be able to help with minding the boat. I was delighted to discover that he has a love for heritage wooden boats and is the volunteer captain on a restored heritage listed fishing vessel, MK Faxsen based in Bodø.
Faxsen was built in 1916 for cod fishing off the Lofoten Islands near Bodø. She is fitted with a Wichmann Type K 50/100 HK semidiesel with glow head and air start and is one of the few engines in the world of this type that is still in operation. It is a 75HP single cylinder x 45L swept volume engine with a very distinctive sound. Click here for a listen! http://faxsen.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Faxsen.wav
She worked as a fishing vessel pretty much continuously up to the start of WW2 when she was confiscated by the Germans and used as a patrol boat in fjords around Trondheim throughout the war. She played a significant role in foiling one of the many Shetland Bus missions mounted by the special operations resistance group based in Shetland, Scotland (more on that and Muckle Flugga later). Faxsen returned to active fishing after the war through until the late 60's. She is now owned by a coastal heritage organisation with some funding being provided by the Norwegian government.
Idar proved to be an excellent boat minder and a wonderful human being who, along with his close friend Solveig, took great care and pride in looking after our Ada for us, for which Karen and I are extremely grateful. Apart from our formal caretaker arrangements with Idar it appeared that there were at least another half dozen locals who took it upon themselves to check mooring lines and fenders during their regularly daily walks past where the boat was moored. I only discovered this in the days before leaving, when they came and introduced themselves, to bid us farewell and let me know they had been checking everything was OK throughout the winter!
Bodø, without doubt has been the best and friendliest port we have left the boat since starting our travels. Aside from the friendliness of the locals, our assigned quayside berth was minutes from the centre of town, with excellent shelter where we experienced next to zero wear on our mooring lines during our stay. Also, being in centre view of one of the port video cams I could check up on conditions at any time from my computer at home! The port authority was amazingly friendly and helpful and the berthing fees were very modest. Most impressive of all however was that for the first time since leaving Australia I was able to find someone who had the correct fittings to fill my Australian gas bottles - you cannot imagine the hassle involved in getting gas bottles filled as you move around the world. I could write a blog post about this issue alone!!!!
Sadly, but with great excitement and anticipation of this year's adventures, time had come to cast our lines and move on. The first thing we discovered after heading off was that the magnificent warm sunny weather we had experienced throughout last season really had been an exception. This year Norway has proved to be cold, wet and windy - just as every Norwegian we met last year told us was normally the case! Apart from the first 4 days in Bodø where it was calm, warm and sunny we have rarely seen the thermometer above 12C, gone more than 12hrs without rain and rarely had calm conditions. Notwithstanding, this country remains at the absolute top of our "Best Places on the Planet" list - somehow it manages to look as special shrouded in cloud and rain as it does in sparkling sunshine. We will miss the outstanding scenery, the magnificent hiking and the ubiquitous Hurtigruten (translated as "fast route") cruise ships. We encountered one of the Hutigruten ships almost daily during our time here. The company was founded in 1893 as a ferry service serving the length of the Norwegian coast. It now largely caters to tourists but still provides daily departures from every major town on the coast. It was quite poignant and sentimental to cross paths with the MS Lofoten, the oldest (launched 1964 but not the one pictured in my photo below!) and soon to be retired vessel in the fleet as we left Trondheim on our journey south.
We spent a fairly hectic week (for us!) travelling from Bodø to Trondheim where we were scheduled to meet our good friends Garry and Adrienne to join us for the 10 days on our last Norway leg to Florø (our stepping off point to the Shetland Islands). The journey to Trondheim was pleasant (despite the bleak weather) and we enjoyed revisiting some of our favourite anchorages from last year. I was disappointed however to find that the crab trap I had set near Brønnøysund (and forgotten to recover) was not where I had left it. It was probably somewhat optimistic of me to have thought it might have survived the winter.
Trondheim, the original capital of Norway, is a fascinating town with an enchanting 'old town' area and a beautiful cathedral. We enjoyed an authentic (??) Szechuan chinese meal and then stumbled across Tom Waites playing to an audience of heavily tattooed bikies in a nearby cafe! Multiculturalism has certainly taken root here!
On the way south we stopped at Alesund to pick up Simon (a life long friend and keen fellow hiker). Simon will be on board for nearly a month - much longer than our standard '10 day rule' for having friends on board but selfishly because I need a watch keeping hand for the 3 long passages (Norway - Shetland - Faroe - Iceland) ahead. Now with five people on board (5 x POB in nautical shorthand!) we had an uneventful but pleasant and enjoyable passage to our last port in Norway.
The weather gods finally turned our way and we were able to leave Florø on schedule, blessed with almost calm conditions and flat seas for the 220nm passage to Lerwick, Shetland Islands and our upcoming encounter with the Shetland Bus.
I learned a valuable lesson on this passage about the vagaries, traps and challenges of relying on electronic charts. I have been a keen 'early adopter' of electronic charts and navigation software, but have always also carried paper charts covering the areas we are travelling in - as a fail safe backup - even though I never had a need to revert to their use. About 3 or 4 years ago I stopped carrying paper charts and have relied instead on having the equivalent (Navionics brand) electronic charts available on at least 3 separate devices - ship's computer, iPad and iPhone (all three versions supposedly carry exactly the same information). Coupled with having up to six devices on board which are able to give us our exact position on the planet via GPS (3 x ship's GPS for the navigation system, DSC radio & AIS plus one for every mobile phone / tablet device on board) I formed the view that paper charts (which are very expensive and require regular updating) are redundant.
Partway across the ditch between Norway and Shetland, I discovered (by zooming in very closely) that the ship's navigational electronic charts had a gap of about 30 nautical miles which was not covered by the charting software. At first I was not concerned because I believed this was an area of open ocean without hazard - until we received a warning call on VHF radio that we were headed towards the Ninian Oil Field, an access restricted oil / gas drilling area.
After an initial reaction of panic (and embarrassment for having to admit ignorance for not carrying appropriate charts and having to seek directions) I reverted to my iPad version Navionics chart of the same area and found, to my great relief, that 'the gap' was fully covered there. Within a few minutes I was able to confidently respond to the radio message and advise that we would shortly alter course 25 degrees to port to avoid the restricted area. The lesson I have learned from this experience is to make sure to zoom in closely on electronic charts to make sure the projected route is fully covered and check there is not detail that only becomes evident when you zoom-in more closely. Fortunately, in this instance, the version of the Navionics charts I had installed on my iPad did in fact have the area covered. (Interestingly, not zooming-in is what brought one of the most experienced yachting navigator's in the last Round the World Race to grief).
Now you are getting very close to finding out about Muckle Fluggla and the Shetland Bus, because the story is about our destination - the Shetland Islands (referred to simply as Shetland by the locals).
Shetland is the northern most part of the United Kingdom , technically part of Scotland but fiercely independent with very strong Nordic roots. Our arrival port of Lerwick, the largest town in Shetland (pop. 7,500) was 'a world away' from the Norwegian towns we had left 24 hrs earlier - everyone speaks English (or at least a version vaguely recognisable as such!) and the houses are all the same dour unadorned shade of natural stone as opposed to their brightly coloured wooden counterparts in Norway.
Our good friend, Aunty Pam joined us in Lerwick and, having arrived only a few hours earlier off a 24hr flight from Australia, dragged us to Town Hall to experience an evening of traditional Shetland fiddle music. It was clearly an important event in the local community and initially quite entertaining but unfortunately, being in such an intimate environment, made it was impossible for us to sneak out before the performance was over - some 3 hours later!!!
After Lerwick we headed south and then north up the west coast to St Ninians where we enjoyed a wonderful hike amongst the lushest grass, most abundant sheep and impressive scenery you can imagine - the omnipresent 10 DegC temperature, wind and 'light precipitation' were merely a minor distraction!
Our next stop Scalloway, the second largest town in Shetland is where we discovered the story of Muckle Flugga and the Shetland Bus. To keep it brief, and 'on point' as they say, Muckle Flugga has been included in this story only because it is one of the most wonderful place names I have ever encountered and I thought it might catch your attention! It happens to be in Shetland (and is the northernmost point of the United Kingdom) and would no doubt have been an important landmark in Shetland Bus operations. The Shetland Bus is the operational name given to the Special Operations resistance group based in Shetland during WW2, organised by the British forces but staffed primarily by Norwegian fisherman who escaped with their boats to Shetland after the German occupation of Norway. These brave volunteers ran many missions on their small fishing vessels carrying out raids on German forces and delivering arms and special ops soldiers into Norway. Fascinatingly, the bravest and most prolific volunteer captain of the operation, Leif Larsen, made 52 trips to Norway and became the most highly decorated Allied naval officer of the Second World War - without ever having been enlisted!
Apart from the sheer bravery of the men involved, what attracts me to this story is the amazing similarity between the boat featured in the monument and Ada Hardy (our daughter Beck, at first glance, thought it was Ada on a slipway in the background) and the extraordinary coincidence of our friend Idar Hendriksen's vessel Faxsen having played a part (albeit adversary) in the Shetland Bus operation. In a thrice removed kind of sense I feel Ada Hardy has become part of the story as well!
A few more photo's below from our time in Shetland - next stop and next post from the Faroe Islands!