Paddlers Forced to Abort “Shetland Bus” Expedition

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Sometimes even the best-laid paddling plans can fall prey to Mother nature. Such is the case with the recently planned Shetland Bus expedition. During World War II, Norwegian fishermen traversed the North Sea between the Shetland Islands and Norway’s west coast carrying agents, saboteurs and weapons in daring operations known as the “Shetland Bus.” On July 16, three kayakers tried to attempt the same stretch, only to be forced back by weather and abort the mission completely after waiting until July 27…

The first kayak crossing of the 388-kilometer open ocean course started as planned on July 16 when Patrick Winterton, Mick Berwick and Olly Hicks launched from Lerwick, Shetland, in honor of the seafaring achievements of all those involved in the Shetland Bus operation and to raise funds for the Make a Wish Foundation and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

 But foul weather quickly turned them back, forcing them into a waiting game.

“We don’t need to tell anyone that three nights in a kayak on the North Sea won’t be much fun,” said Winterton, whose team is sponsored by Kokatat, before embarking “We hope that our misery will help us help others in need.”

The goal for the expedition was to raise over £15,000 for the RNLI and The Make a Wish Foundation. The team is seeking the help from paddlers around the world to support its mission by donating £3.88, or one penny per mile.

The journey was expected to take at least four days and three nights, with the team expecting to get between 2-4 hours rest in each 24-hour period and taking a twenty-minute catnap every four hours. “The best way to stay warm at night is to paddle,” says Winterton, “but it’s also the easiest way to get seasick.”

But those plans went awry due to the weather. Following is their blog report detailing their decision. “I guess ‘once bitten, twice shy’,” says Winterton. “No one can expect to make a crossing of this nature without encountering some rough weather but we wanted to avoid being hit by a force 6/7 on our last day and there was a big chance that was going to happen. Time is up as far as this attempt goes and we will discuss when and if we try again.”

27 July 2011

Tough call; We made the decision not to go late on Monday night. It’s a tough one to make and an even harder one to live with. The deciding factor was the lack of consistency in the weather forecasts. There is plenty to work on as far as equipment and tactics go and that should keep us busy over the winter. Just to rub salt into our wounds the sea is now calm for the first time since we arrived on Shetland. At this stage we would like to thank everyone who got behind this project. Those of you that have followed the site, many who have generously donated to the RNLI and Make a Wish, and especially to the people of Shetland who have supported us in every way possible. Many thanks. We’ll be back. The North Sea is still there for the taking.

25 July 2011

So much for the weather window. It’s being slammed in our faces as we speak with the Atlantic and Scandinavian lows squeezing the North Sea high into a thin strip. We will make our way out to the Skerries today, testing the new rafting system and sea sickness pills. We have no choice but to delay our decision until 1800 today as it is so unpredictable and potentially so dangerous. As it stands at the moment the general consensus is that we’ll need too much luck to make it and there is too big a chance of having to call out a rescue. It’s going to be a difficult decision either way and we’ll keep you posted. Patrick, Olly and Mick

24 July 2011

Latest ETD for our final attempt First light on Tuesday 26th. We’re still hopeful but no sign of a let up in the wind or cold temperatures. The tall ships are in Lerwick and even they have delayed their crossing to Norway which was due to happen today. As we know when the wind comes from the north it blows longer than weather men predict. Our weather window that looked so promising four days ago is now narrowing to the extent that we will have to endure one rough night. The difference this time is that it will be almost impossible to get back to Shetland once we’ve started. To boost our chances we’ve relieved the Lerwick stores of most of their winter clothing. Hats , gloves, road-workers jackets, arctic socks. Confidence is high but we’re all painfully aware of the commitment if we go again. Patrick, Olly and Mick

22 July 2011

Second attempt scheduled for Monday pm or very early Tuesday next week…. The team stays as three. Mick is back on board after deciding it would be worse to miss out on this trip than to miss out on a couple of days work. We’re now busy trying to sort out our rafting system for our first night out which will be rough. Planning to wear dry suits for the first time as we have to stay warm and sleep. The feeling is we need to go before the seas calm down on Tuesday evening or we’ll get clobbered by the anticyclone coming in off the Atlantic that should arrive Thursday. Magic Seaweed will give you some idea of the weather window we’re looking at. Fingers crossed and the fund raising goes on. Patrick, Olly and Mick

22 July 2011

We’ve based ourselves on Whalsay since our first aborted attempt, checking kit, redesigning the rafting system and keeping a careful eye on the weather. Things look good for next week. Once the current system clears we’ll have force 3 to 4 winds with an element of westerly. A departure on Monday or Tuesday is very possible. It is a narrow window but we won’t get a better chance so the team are starting to get excited. The memories of a grim night on the north sea forgotten and we’ve more than caught up on the sleep we lost.’ We’ll visit the tall ships on Saturday and ask them to keep an eye out for three kayaks as they make their way across to Norway. PW

20 July 2011

So we’re back in the luxury of the Bod, Whalsay’s finest bothy. Big disappointment but no one has any doubt that turning round was the right option. Constant NE winds yesterday, waves coming from all directions, and down to 3 degrees over night. In those conditions we’d have been out there for a week with little or no sleep. Had the conditions improved on Monday night we would have been well placed to get across. Two of the five forecasts we had said it would, two said it wouldn’t and one was uncertain. Only the locals knew. The first man we met on landing said in a slow Whalsay accent, “when it comes from the north east it blows and blows and blows”…. It would have been easy enough to plough on knowing that with modern communications we we’re only ever a couple of hours away from rescue. A repeat of the RNLI rescue on our first Faroe’s attempt was not an option. The conclusion is that with the kit and fitness we currently have we need a very good long term forecast to enable an immediate second attempt. With low pressure systems dominating there’s little chance of a second attempt before work commitments force us south. The first priority is to solve the problems we had. The rafting system, the water stowage, drainage system, tent design all need minor adjustments before we venture out again. A big thank you to everyone who has supported and followed us this far. Apologies that we’re not approaching the Norwegian coast, but I think this time discretion was definitely the better part of valour. Until next time. PW

19 July 2011

Despite a good start to the trip the weather deteriorated more than was forecast, so at about 50kms from shore it was mutually decided to go no further. We were very wet with the possibility of hyperthermia setting in and now know that it was the right decision to return. The paddle back was very hard as we were battling strong northerly winds. During the night, Patrick fell asleep and tumbled from the boat which was very dramatic and left him soaking and freezing. We arrived back on land during the afternoon and were glad of a hot shower and a good meal. Tomorrow we will discuss the option of retrying the trip although it sounds like Mick may not be a willing partner for another attempt. Looking at the charts it looks like it will be after Friday before there may be a window in the weather enough to try again. Will update further tomorrow. OH

18 July 2011

We left the Out Skerries at 1500. Straight into the routine of 55 mins paddling, 5 resting, with an extended rest every four hours. We paddled through to 2300, getting within a couple of miles of the meridian. We rafted side by side with fenders in between the boats. Force five winds and a complicated sea pattern immediately loosened all the fastenings, soaked our dry overnight kit and swamped the cockpits. This was obviously going to be a night to remember, for the wrong reasons. Removing the foot rest allows you to slide into the cockpit as far as your arm pit. With one of the tents designed by Chris Reed secured to the cockpit rim you have a potentially cosy nest. With so much drinking water on board our P&H Cetus kayaks we had virtually no free board and every wave sent a slosh of water down our sides as it seeped under the tent and spray deck. The constant jolting of the boats burst one fender, wore through the deck line and almost pulled out the deck fittings. It was obvious we had a few problems and rest, let alone sleep was going to be hard to come by. It was a unanimous decision at 5 am to return and rethink. The chances of all three of us getting across in one piece were slim to nil. PW

17 July 2011

The first day went well. Mick, Patrick & Olly took about 4hrs to cover 33km with the sails up the whole way from Lerwick to East Lunna Voe. There we portaged the kit just a few hundred metres across the peninsula to West Lunna, Voe where the Shetland Bus started all its missions. The current owners (Tony & Helen) of Lunna House, which was Shetland Bus HQ, fed us very kindly and extremely handsomely last night and this morning. The lads left today by 1015 after the media (BBC/STV/Shetland Times) had had a chat and taken some shots, which will hopefully help the cause. They were to paddle to the end of Lunna Ness, then head east to the Out Skerries. It’s about 23 km but the wind is E backing NE, so the going is likely to be slower than yesterday. Other than that, it turns out yesterday wasn’t the official opening of the Scalloway Museum – that’s next year – and the chap I thought was a veteran of the Shetland Bus wasn’t that either! CW

Info: www.kayaksonshetlandbus.com.