Shetland Mainland - part 5: Paying the price

The previous evening's forecast had called for light to moderate northerly winds and we were all anticipating a helpful push south towards Sumburgh. Unzipping the tent it was immediately clear that things had changed. A brisk westerly was pushing directly across the channel to our little bay on Bressay - but conditions seemed benign enough and the day started well.
Passing a ruined croft on Bressay as we approached Lerwick...
...to land beyond the slip of the Bressay ferry - an early stop necessitated by the need to refill water bags. I was also looking forward to some fresh supplies from the shop. Sunday. I'd forgotten what day it was - it simply wasn't relevant. Until we wanted the shop.
Surprising how such little things can knock morale - I got back on the water and immediately discovered a large blister on my thumb. Annoyed and lacking a suitable knife I bit the dead white skin to release the fluid, strapping a length of electrical tape around the offending sore, before continuing the short crossing to The Knabb. Remembering a visit to Shetland many years earlier, when I had stood on The Knabb with many hundreds of others to watch the Tall Ships pass, I plodded on - another short crossing to the Ness of Sound and then another to reach The Nizz.
Passing this small, rugged headland we headed out across Gulber Wick where the wind quickly built, funnelling from the higher ground between Run and Mossy Hill. Nothing to be concerned about though, just another breezy bay - but as I crossed, I was pushed further off shore and before long I turned the bow into the wind to regain the shelter of the cliffs. I was slowing, making little progress, the cliffs a fraction too far...
My paddle grew heavy and as the spray began to lift I felt felt the first twinges of anxiety. My hands were numb and my head felt cold. A wave of nausea passed quickly but by now I knew things were far from right. I was making no progress toward the cliffs and ferried against the wind, aiming for the point around 2km distant. I paddled on auto-pilot, with no power beyond that required to keep moving, slowly, towards shelter.
I could see the others watching, waiting, and after what seemed an age I passed by, unwilling to stop, I simply needed to get ashore. Feeling steady once more I plugged away into the East Voe of Quarff, to land eventually on the shingle at the back of the voe.
I was exhausted, annoyed and confused. It wasn't the paddling, nor the trip so far. I had paddled further in more taxing conditions than these, yet I was spent.
The winds increased a notch again, funnelling through Quarff - a brief glance at the map tells it's own story here - the steep sides of Scrae Field and the Sheens of Breitoe gather any westerly wind, which spills into the East Voe of Quarff, and now, with uncertain landings ahead, rising winds and no reserve, I knew it was dangerous to continue.
Options were debated and talked through from every angle, but eventually the right course of action seemed obvious. Camping in the bay was a poor prospect and meant pitching immediately infront of local houses, while our starting point, Hamna Voe, lay directly opposite on the west coast - an easy walk or hitch. All relief to be off the water forgotten, I was gutted, and settled amongst the boulders to make a brew as Tim and Brian returned for the cars.
I had known when we started the trip that I was run down. On the ferry north I had simply shut down, exhausted. For two days after arriving I had shivered, even in the sun as Brian swam from a shingle beach. By the morning of our departure from Hamna Voe I had felt stronger but not 100% fit, stubbornly refusing to accept that I needed to rest. I had paid the price and now, with our trip suddenly over it seemed, I felt awash with conflicting emotion.
Yet a good meal that night, a hot shower and a long sleep...
...followed by a lazy day in the sun at Sumburgh Head left me wondering what all the fuss was about.
By the second day following our arrival at the East Voe of Quarff I was back on track and paddling an unladen boat around Muckle Roe, exploring the caves that rival those even of Papa Stour, my strength seemed to have returned.
There followed a period of internal debate - had we 'broken' the circumnav. attempt? Were the two days merely rest days? Did it matter? I think the ideal is a trip that remains unbroken - living from the boat for the period that the trip takes. But then, if a rest day is made more comfortable by collecting a car and making use of a camp site, before the trip is continued, is that really any different? I came to the conclusion that it is more a question of remaining true to the challenge you have set and embarked upon, if that is what you wish to claim you have acheived. And by 'claim' I do not mean to anyone necessarily, other than yourself.
I concluded that no advantage, aside rest, had been gained, and my resolve to complete the circumnav. remained. Tomorrow then, we would return to Quarff.
A F5 wind from the south-east was forecast along with thick fog, but even a short day would place us far enough south to tackle Sumburgh and Fitful the day after that...

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