Last Night in Lerwick

8 June 2011

Lying in my bunk on Polar Bear’s final night in Lerwick. Just had yet another wonderful meal — though the least great and most expensive of our time here in the Shetlands — and the northern twilight at this late hour peeks in the hatch above. I’ve really dug my time here in the Shetlands but it’s time to go.

What is it about here that I’ve enjoyed? Among other things, the region is starkly beautiful. It’s a bit like Alaska (as I suspect all such high-latitude places are to some extent) but it’s more civilized, to a certain extent (British folk laugh when you say you consider the Shetlands civilized). There are roads, cultivated fields, towns, societal plusses such as museums and restaurants and culture. But there’s also brutal weather, cold water, rugged landscapes, hard people and a long journey to get to mainstream civilization. The Shetlands are like a grown-up version of Alaska: the roughness is still there but there’s an appreciation that maybe you’ve earned some of the good things at this point in life. I will definitely come back here someday.

And when I do, I’ll be sure to do more exploring. The old saying about cruising is that it’s really just a case of performing boat repairs in scenic locales; we’re not doing any repairs, per se, but there’s still a ton of work to do. And it never seems to be that we can do everything in the course of a day and have another day to go exploring. I’d have liked to have gone for a hike or rented a bicycle, and there are a couple of brochs — Iron Age ruins that are world renowned — hereabouts that would have been great to visit.

I did head over to the west side of this island a couple of days ago. A quick cab ride over to the Atlantic Ocean side brought me to the village of Scalloway, home of the appropriately named Scalloway Castle. Built in 1600 by Patrick Stewart (who knew he’d done anything before “Star Trek: The Next Generation”?!), what’s left of the stone fortress looks out over a natural inlet from the sea and was cool to wander around. You could really get the feel of what it was like: the rooms were restored well and the sense of festivities in the great hall was really palpable. The village itself had a nice hotel/restaurant where we enjoyed a couple of pints in delightfully warm sunshine before returning to Lerwick.

I’ve already mentioned the great food here; that’s another plus to Lerwick. And the downtown region really is quaint and cute, with stone buildings (including a city-hall clock tower on the hilltop overlooking the harbor that rings out on the quarter-hour with EXACTLY the same timbre as the bells at my prep school back in New Hampshire), slate-covered pedestrian-only streets, and friendly, open locals (including, it must be pointed out, far more attractive women than the 10-times-larger Newcastle area had on display; must be the Nordic blood from way back).

But it was here on the dock in town where I had my first experience with what it’s like to be an American abroad in this day and age. We moved Polar Bear back to the floating dock yesterday afternoon, after an enormous Princess cruise ship left (the cruise ship launches use the pontoons so we visiting yachts have to move while they’re here) and one of several Norwegian sailboats tied up a few feet in front of our bow.

I was securing the lines on the dock when the captain approached. He was an older guy with a stereotypically colorful sweater and wool captain’s hat and, seeing my Alaska magazine T-shirt and hearing me speak asked, “Are you American?” “Yes,” I replied. “And the captain’s Dutch,” I said, pointing to Boogie up on deck, “and the boat is English.” The guy sneered and stepped past me to talk to Boogie; fine by me, I was busy and could have cared less about the sudden thaw in the guy’s demeanor.

He asked Boogie if he spoke German — in German — and when Boogie said yes, continued on, saying that German was easier for him…and that this way the American wouldn’t understand, would he? I looked at him, paused for a second and deadpanned, in German, “a little.” I then told him, also in German, that I had lived in Germany 20 years ago. The guy looked like he’d seen a ghost before catching himself up and, mock-saluting me, said in English, “You must be a soldier then” Rather than throw him in the harbor I simply said, “No, a hockey player” and went back to the lines.

So yeah…it’s time to head back to sea. I’m anxious about not getting to more fully explore this area that has quite definitely captivated me; I’m longing to get out and do/learn more about operating a modern yacht; I’m getting grief from Euros (another Norwegian sailor at dinner a week ago started in on the whole America/Obama/wars/Afghanistan thing after a few drinks so I’m a little nervous that this is gonna be the response once we reach Norway); and it’s just plain time to move on to the next place. I’m on this trip for adventure — to see new places — so let’s go.

Game plan is to head out around 10am or so tomorrow (Thursday); should be in Bodo, Norway, sometime Monday. With four watches to cycle through, I’m hoping to get writing more during my down times. I’ll post all that once I reach Bodo. I’ll post this right now and get some photos up in the morning before we leave.

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