8th August 2020. For the crew of Good Dog our passage to the Outer Hebrides was very exciting. This chain of 10 islands stretches for 156 miles with Stornoway in the NE and Barra in the SW.
When you hear “This is Stornoway Coastguard” crackle on the VHF radio, you know you are in some of the most dangerous seas in British waters. Conversely the staff of Stornoway harbour could not have been more welcoming.
I was privileged to meet Alasdair Smith, the Assistant HM, who had an aura of confidence about him. After 40 years in the merchant navy, an ex skipper of an Oil Drilling Ship and now a ships’ Pilot, you would happily trust your life with him and that is exactly what one American billionaire, Victor Vescovo did in 2019!
When Vescovo launched the Five Deeps expedition (look it up!) to achieve a manned descent to the bottom of each of the world’s five oceans, there was only one man he wanted to be the skipper of his mother ship – Alasdair. An unusual sabbatical!
Stornoway harbour is the complete package of ferries, commercial, fishing, cruise liners and yachts and has a fascinating recent history:
In 1918 Lord Leverhulme (of Unilever fame) bought the whole of Lewis and Harris and had a dream of transforming the island on the back of its vast fish reserves. Fishing fleets would catch fish spotted by land-based aircraft. The output of processed fish would be marketed through a 400 strong chain of retail fish shops across the United Kingdom. A chemical industry would be developed processing seaweed and peat would be used in large scale power stations; The population of Lewis would grow from 30,000 to 200,000 people! Sadly his dream did not come true, one of the many reasons was the treacherous sea that surrounded Lewis – more about this in the next post!
The harbour also houses one of the saddest and most evocative WWI memorials – read the story of the Iolaire in Photo 8 and I guarantee you will cry! Thank you Alasdair for your super friendly welcome, your advice encouraging us to visit St Kilda and for being so cool – chatting in fluent Russian to the ship you were about to pilot. I am sorry we held them up!