Friday, 17 September 2010

Approaching Shetland

Shetland is the most beautiful place in Britain.

An April storm. We had been at sea in winds of up to force 10 for a week, sitting on station 62 degrees north in the Norweigan Sector, unable to do any survey work due to the bad weather. It was my first trip offshore and I had been seasick since leaving Aberdeen, subsisting on water and plain toast. Everyone on the boat was at a low ebb. The boat's video library included a Nicholas Cage film set in Las Vegas. I thought I had heard of it, it had parachuting Elvises - just what was needed! I put it on. But it wasn't Honeymoon in Vegas. It was Leaving Las Vegas, where Nicholas Cage drinks himself to death. The mood was even flatter afterwards. Eventually one of the boat's engines broke down, and we ran for port. I wedged myself in my bunk and tried to sleep, rolling from side to side.

I woke just after dawn. The sea was blue emollient. A sun-bronzed moor and cliff rose, widened, filled the whole western horizon. Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky. The hills of south Shetland were beautiful. Such colour, such variety! Did I not want to jump ship and stride out for a walk on those moors! The earthy land smells were intoxicating after a week of diesel, brine and vomit. I began to wonder that perhaps the offshore life was not for me.

Shetland croft:

Now some people might think that Shetland is bleak, barren, treeless, and storm-swept. But after a week at sea I had rarely seen anywhere more beautiful than this sanctuary from the battering ocean.

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