Friday, February 23, 2018
Hamnavoe

Northlink’s Hamnavoe entered Scrabster Harbour from Stromness, Orkney, just as day was breaking, the sky over the Pentland Firth being a mixture of mauves, lilacs and pinks, none of which were threatening – no ‘red in the morning, sailors warning’ applied.

It was calm enough, at least for the fabled Pentland Firth in midwinter. This time of year, Hamnavoe was only making two return crossings in the day, 90 minutes each way, and was only lightly loaded when I boarded. I counted just two trucks, a few small vans and hardly a dozen cars. It occurred to me that Orkney in the off season was well served. Apart from Hamnavoe, there would be the Pentalina of Pentland Ferries at the eastern end of the firth with a one hour crossing from Gills Bay, Caithness, to St Margarets Hope. Then Hamnavoe’s big sister Hrossey offers a 6hr link from Aberdeen and the Northlink freighters Hildasay and Helliar also linked directly to Aberdeen. And if I had wondered why that long distance link was still attractive to users compared to the short crossing over the firth, my recent drive at night and in poor weather up the tortuous A9 road from Perth and Inverness to Thurso for Scrabster had proven to me that a six hour voyage from Aberdeen direct to Hatston at Kirkwall, was a far more civilised and safer way to cover the distance than that road; especially for goods vehicles. Even a bad sea crossing would be preferable to driving that winding slow road in strong winds and rain, or even snow. Patches of snow were visible on the Caithness hills and a hint on the highest part of Ward Hill on Hoy, the highest in Orkney.

I am not superstitious, which is fortunate, as I noticed I was on the car deck next to a van sporting the name of a company specialising in ‘cremation services’, including “veterinary , agricultural, medical, marine and… human”. A 21st century version of the grim reaper? Instead of wearing a black cloak, a pointy beard and carrying a scythe, he had followed me onto the ship driving a white van. Not an auspicious start to the voyage. A second cause for concern at the passenger reception desk, was that I recognised the ship’s purser. At Lerwick, 15 months before, he had waited with barely concealed contempt while I failed to find the boarding card I had managed to lose in the 50 or so metres between the security kiosk at the terminal and the ship. I think it all came back to him once I had introduced myself. Give him his due, he did not throw me off the ship. As it turned out, this was his fi rst few days on the Pentland Firth after thirty years or so between Shetland and Aberdeen, so as a new boy himself, he didn’t come across as quite so superior or all-knowing.

Despite every appearance of being fairly calm in sheltered Scrabster, as we sailed the bridge announced there would be the inevitable swell coming in from the Atlantic and a fresh breeze so passengers should limit their moving about. And as we approached the spectacular cliffs and Old Man of Hoy, the surf on the shore and rollers we met around the west end of Hoy proved the skipper entirely accurate. For scenery, this has to be the most impressive of all ferry routes in the UK.

As we rounded the cliffs of Hoy and rode the tide into the western entrance to Scapa Flow towards Stromness, to Starboard on the small isle of Graemsay, the abandoned defence installations from two world wars which once guarded the ‘Flow’ were very evident, including gun batteries, searchlight and signalling stations. I recalled that before such wars, Stromness was a strategic port of call for whalers and especially for the Hudsons Bay Company picking up experienced and rugged Orcadian crews before sailing for the arctic whaling grounds and the extreme regions of Northern Canada. On my previous two arrivals at Stromness, the harbour had been busy with diving and charter boats attracted by the remaining WW1 wrecks of the scuttled German fl eet - but not this January. This time, the scene was of a few fi shing boats getting ready to sail with workboats engaged on harbour works and engineering projects around the Flow.

I was due to squeeze onto the Orkney Island Ferries’ Hoy Head on her crossing of the Flow from Houton on Mainland Orkney to Lyness on Hoy, the principle RN shore base of several around the fringe of the Scapa Flow anchorage. Today the Hoy Head besides Lyness serves Flotta oil terminal on the island of the same name at the eastern end of the Flow. The packed car park at Houton denotes where the local Orkney workforce leave their cars each morning to travel to Flotta where their cars would be just an encumbrance. Lyness ferry terminal, however, serves the community of Hoy and South Walls having a population of about 420, South Walls being joined to Hoy by causeway and separated from it by the inlet of Longhope. The ferry, as it is most days, was met by the Hoy and Walls Community minibus and two HGVs were delivering all manner of groceries and domestic fuel.

Some jettys at Lyness are relics of the Navy, one named Golden Quay because of its cost and length of time to construct during WW2. This has been refurbished and is handling renewable technologies including wave generation equipment, but the future may see a major investment for oil rig decommissioning here. Meanwhile, Lyness is a fascinating place not least to see the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre housed in remaining buildings from the naval base including in a WW2 oil tank which once held 12,000 tons of naval fuel. The visitor centre was being refurbished during the off season when I visited, but the manager showed me what she could with great enthusiasm and expert knowledge. There are outdoor exhibits and information to show the extent of the base in its heyday and there is plenty more to draw me back at a later date. The sheer extent of the shore facilities needed to support the largest naval fleet in the world is eye watering.

In WW1 colliers coaled the ships, but oil tanks were built as oil fuel became more prevalent. By WW2 massive investment in tanks holding 100,000 tons was followed by the hollowing out of the Wee Fee mountain behind the base to hold 120,000 tons more. There were gun batteries for anti-ship and anti-aircraft defence all around the Flow, while at Lyness, there was a paravane depot for minesweeping and a large facility for maintaining and storing anti-submarine netting and handling the boom defence vessels and their gear. Dozens of steam drifters and trawlers served as fleet tenders and on guard and inspection duties – and they all needed fuelling and maintaining.

Twelve thousand shore personnel were to live on Hoy including many ‘Wrens’ in what became a naval town with accommodation in huts and more substantial buildings for offices, communications, workshops, feeding and entertainment centres and churches. Many of these have gone, but a great deal remains, some reusable, others roofless shells of concrete and brick.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - March 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Magellan

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Pier Head Memorial to Battle of the Atlantic +

    Battle of the Atlantic Memorial A campaign has been launched to raise £2.5mn to build a national Battle of the Atlantic Memorial at the Pier Read More
  • Benefits of Shipping Power Station Parts by Sea +

    Power Station Boiler Two new 110 tonnes heat exchangers to be used in refitting Centrica’s power station at King’s Lynn, arrived at the Read More
  • Container Ship Fleet Hits 21m Record +

    Port of Hamburg The world's cellular container ship fleet reached a record 21mn teu last November, according to the analysts Alphaliner. Read More
  • Bravery Awards for Pilots’ Actions +

    Michael G McGee and Michael C Phillips Two pilots who brought a burning ship to safety, averting a major maritime catastrophe, have been presented with the 2017 Read More
  • Mammoth Crane Vessel for Obsolete Platforms +

    OOS Zeelandia The Dutch OOS International Group BV has signed a contract with China Merchants Industry Holdings for the design and building Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Ship Adrift in Port +

    Helsinki Bridge Port tugs and members of the US Coast Guard, the Massport Fire Department, Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts State Read More
  • Services Mark Four Chaplains Tragedy +

    Dorchester Services are being held in many communities in the United States this month to mark the 75th anniversary of the Read More
  • Fast Crew Supply Vessel Launched +

    FCS 7011 As part of its relationship with Damen Shipyards, of the Netherlands, the Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark is offering the new Read More
  • First Of Three Self-Unloaders Now In Service +

    Algoma Niagara The first of the Algoma Central Corporation’s three Equinox class selfunloading bulk carriers for the Great Lakes and the St Read More
  • Special US Frigate Makes Harbour Trip +

    USS Constitution The historic US frigate Constitution made a special trip to Charlestown, Massachusetts, on Oct 20 last to mark the ship’s Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Protests at Certificate for Bangladesh Yard +

    Chittagong Shipbreaking Trade Unions and non-government organisations have protested following the move by the Italian classification society RINA to issue the PHP Read More
  • Automated Port Tested +

    Yangshan Deepwater Port Trial operations have begun at the world’s biggest automated container terminal at Shanghai, China. Read More
  • MHI Splits Into Two +

    MHI Nagasaki Shipyard The Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has established two new wholly-owned companies in a major reorganisation of its shipbuilding Read More
  • Fifth Is A First For Japan +

    MOL Truth The first Japanese-built 20,170 teu container ship was named MOL Truth at a ceremony on Oct 25 at the Imabari Read More
  • Sheep Ban After Ship Fails Safety Checks +

    Al Messilah A livestock carrier lost her licence to carry sheep from Australia after failing port state control checks at a livestock Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • Royal Navy ‘Cannibalising’ Ships for Parts +

    HMS Artful UK News Once again, the Royal Navy was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the closing months Read More
  • New Oiler for Canada +

    Asterix Canadian News The Royal Canadian Navy’s long wait for a new replenishment oiler for the fleet is nearly at an Read More
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth Arrives at Home Port +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth British News An event following the 2010 Defence Review many thought would never happen occurred on Wednesday 16 August when Read More
  • Work Starts on Three Warships +

    Type 25 British News After an almost unseemly wait, the Royal Navy can breathe again having held its breath waiting for the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Lake Cruising +

    Western Belle In the English Lake District, on several of the Lakes, there are lake operations all year round. Read More
  • Wrestling Gales +

    Pride of Kent The sight of the familiar P&O ferry Pride of Kent blown aground while leaving Calais for Dover, is a shock. Read More
  • Indonesian Focus +

    Doro Landa To the Far East – PELNI (Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia) is Indonesia’s national shipping company, state-owned and operated, serving the entire Indonesian Read More
  • New FSG Builds +

    WB Yeats Readers will recall Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG), delivered the Ullapool-Stornaway ship Loch Seaforth to CalMac in late 2014, as well as Read More
  • Nostalgic Scout Trip Remembered +

    South Shields Scouts A morale boosting and nostalgic story from not long after WW2 came to my notice. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Ocean Troll +

    Ocean Troll Meanwhile, as the oil price is showing signs of recovery and the future of other oil and gas fi elds Read More
  • West Coast Drama +

    Fame High drama off the coast of Harris in December, when the small Norwegian flag freighter Fame, long a familiar presence Read More
  • Pickle +

    Pickle After the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson in 1805, the Royal Navy sent their fast schooner Pickle Read More
  • Cargo by Sail +

    Tres Hombres and Morgenster At the beginning of October the brigantine Tres Hombres sailed from Den Helder, North Holland, to Zaandam, Amsterdam before beginning Read More
  • From Rix To Stevie Clarkes +

    “Ronrix” leaving for Hull The name Rix is long associated with Humber ports with origins traced to Hull businessman Captain Robert Rix in the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • International Salvage Union: Challenging Times +

    Costa Concordia The International Salvage Union (ISU) is the global trade association representing marine salvors, its members provide essential services to the Read More
  • Hunterston Port Secures Energy Decommissioning Investment +

    Hunterston Port Hunterston Port and Resource Centre (PARC) in Ayrshire has been awarded grant funding from the Scottish Government that could pave Read More
  • British Antarctic Territory – Royal Research Ships +

    British Antartic Ships Stamps One of the good news stories of 2016 was that, against strong international competition, the famous Merseyside shipbuilding company, Cammell Read More
  • MV Glen Sannox, The UK’s First LNG Ferry +

    MV Glen Sannox Tuesday 21st November 2017 marked a very special occasion when Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the UK's first LNG Read More
  • P&O Report Strong Larne-Cairnryan Freight Demand +

    European Causeway Having spent over twenty years in shipping operations between Loch Ryan (South West Scotland) and Northern Ireland, I still take Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Slice Of The Action +

    YachtQuarters For those who find reading about yachts is not enough, and seek a slice of the action, here is news Read More
  • Innovative Itineraries That Make The Difference +

    Scenic Eclipse Whilst it is true that the majority of new cruise vessels emerging from the world’s shipyards fit into the category Read More
  • Hamburg Highlights its Harbour and Cruise Callers +

    Grand Hamburg Cruise Days Parade There are a number of ports around the globe who promote and celebrate their harbours on a fairly regular basis. Read More
  • Pedal to the Metal? +

    Norwegian Bliss NCL has announced that their new build, the Norwegian Bliss, the company’s 16th ship, is set to launch in June Read More
  • Classic with a Twist +

    Project 697 Reminiscent of the beautiful Aurora B dating from 1992, the newly launched 47-metre and somewhat secretive Project 697 from Feadship Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

National Maritime Museum of Ireland

The National Maritime Museum of Ireland is located in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. It is housed in the 180-year-old Mariners Read More
Loch Morar

Empire Ships - An Early Experience

During World War Two, the losses of Britain’s merchant ships rapidly overtook their replacement rate, either from new construction, or Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Endeavour

Clews, Bunts & Reefs

With celebrations being planned next year for the 250 year commemoration of Captain Cook’s first landfall in New Zealand, I Read More
Encounter Bay

Shipping Services between Europe & Australia

In 2019 we will mark the 50th Anniversary of the arrival of the first oceangoing container ship, the Overseas Containers Read More
  • 1
  • 2