23 November 2013

23rd November 2013

T-shirt, shorts and bare feet for the first time today! The few crumpled rags of clouds dotted around could offer the sun little resistance to warm everything up and by 1030 the cabin temperature was 23 degrees. I rigged a fishing line today as well. The lure was a plastic squid so enticingly well made I could almost eat it myself. Surely it would be irresistible to any fish in the area. I paid it out and could see the lure astern and for the first hour I was checking it every five minutes waiting for a bite. The second hour was probably every fifteen minutes and now six hours later it’ll probably be a can of something for tea again tonight. I’ve actually seen very little wildlife. I haven’t seen one dolphin yet or any flying fish. Birds were something I could almost guarantee seeing everyday last time, almost at any hour of the day, but they have been very elusive as well so far.

We had the wind ahead of us all night as we made our way south. It was no more than a F3-4 and was a fine and settled night. I was up several times to check that we were clear of the Salvegem Islands that lie to the north of the Canaries. But we were able to hold a course SSW and I didn’t see the islands at all. Our noon position puts us about 110nm north of Palma the most NW’ly of the Canaries. We should pass there tomorrow.

The book I’m reading at the moment is A Shetland Country Merchant by Robert L Johnson. It’s more of a booklet really at only 63 pages. It details the life of James Williamson who ran the shop at Linkshouse in Mid Yell in the mid 1800’s. Besides the normal business of running a shop at that time they sold virtually everything from needles to anchors, cotton thread to mooring ropes and oatmeal and flour in bags that ranged from the size you could carry home in your pocket to “bolls” weighing 140lbs. I remember the Hamnavoe shop in the sixties and they had to stock a huge range of goods to supply an island without a bridge at the time.

A merchant of James Williamson’s time, besides supplying the local folk with all their groceries and other needs also acted as a money lender to supply those men heading away to sea a loan to get on a ship or arrange to supply goods to the family before the man was able to secure a passage on a ship and send home some money to pay him back. Many Shetland men went to sea then as there was so little work at home. Any money sent back was commonly sent to the local merchant and several letters have survived to give some indication of where men were headed to at that time and what they could afford to send home.

Quite a number of the letters were sent from Liverpool from seamen usually outward bound. They were sailing on full rigged ships bound for ports all over the world including Melbourne, New York, New Orleans, St. Johns and Quebec. One man wrote there were seven other Shetland men on the ship he was on.

Daniel Scollay on his way back to Yell from Liverpool wrote to James that he intended to come home,”…to see my family and then if God spares my life and health I will proceed to California again as soon as possible”. The route he would have taken to get there would have been almost exactly the same route as we are on now; past Madeira and the Canaries, across the equator and down to Cape Horn. Then up the west coast of South America and on to California. It was one of the major shipping routes of its day.

So we will be sailing in the wake of Daniel Scollay and the hundreds of other Shetland men who have passed down this way over the years. We’ll be doing it in a lot more comfort than they had. I have a good variety of food aboard, warm oilskins, a dry bunk and I can speak home almost every day. It’s a very different and far cosier world than the one they had to live through 150 years ago. I’ll sit on deck and drink a toast to them tonight and pour a drop over the side as well as a sailors toast.


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