Shetland Mainland - part 6: South to Sumburgh

At the Voe of Quarff, I stood above the bay, peering into the mist. Visibility was down to approximately 50m. The swell broke upon small skerries, waves rolling into sight in the thick wet morning air. But of the forecast wind there was little sign, a light south-easterly nosing into the bay.
Off the beach, Chris pauses as the group launched, to pass the first breakers before hand railing the coast south towards Helli Ness.
This prominent headland was the first real obstacle and as we approached the seas steepened, tide and clapotis combining. Visibility was better but poor by any standard as we passed the dark, jagged point, giving a wide berth to the heavy breaks off Dedda Skerry.
Out of the clapotis, with the swell now running at around 5ft from the south-east, we turned on a bearing towards Mousa, running across the waves making good speed. The wind was still light and my thoughts were already turning to Sumburgh. In these conditions we could make much greater distance than I had expected.
Brian picks up the coastline once more as we approach the Wick of Sandsayre. Pleased with our navigation, we stopped here, dripping and steaming in the small museum, discussing our options.Sumburgh Head was still nearly 20km distant, and another five at least would be required to reach a camp after that, but if we could turn Sumburgh today, then the next could see us finish the circumnav...we pushed on, hopes high with a keen sense of anticipation for what lay beyond.
As we drew level with Lambhoga Head, the clag was lifting and the fulmars wheeling, carving on the light breeze which I noticed now, and knew would lift. Time was tight - 6km to Sumburgh and just over an hour before the west going stream would turn. I did not want to turn Sumburgh against the tide, which would then be running straight into the south-easterly swell.
We paused briefly in a sheltered corner of Grutness Voe. Already the first white caps were breaking beyond the bay and I was anxious to keep moving. Handfuls of nuts and berries were quickly washed down before we moved out into the swell once more, committing to the run around Sumburgh Head.
Very quickly the seas steepened, growing by several feet as the clapotis heaved across the south going flow. Passing Compass Head, I watched a large wave steepen rapidly, lifting Brian high before he disappeared - transfixed by the dark wall of water looming above I caught sight of another coming from my right - the waves collided directly in front sending foaming water cascading over my head and shoulders before the bow slammed down heavily into the trough. Sumburgh was proving to be everything it had promised.
Approaching the southern tip of the headland our progress slowed dramatically - I watched the cliffs, their tops still shrouded in mist, - it didn't really occur to me at this stage that the tide had already turned. The water was too confused, waves running and breaking in all directions, to read in the way one might expect normally in a race.
There was no chance of taking any photos around the headland but soon enough we moved beyond the point into the rolling but now smooth waves of the West Voe of Sumburgh.
According to the tidal calculations we had made earlier, we should be able to pass the gap between Horse Island and the Hog of Ness near enough to slack water.
Approaching the gap it was clearly running already, the tide pouring between the low rocks on either side - the east going stream was clearly well established. In hindsight, it was clear that we had pushed against the first hour approximately of the east going stream at Sumburgh Head too - the tide had turned well over an hour earlier than expected.
Surfing to the head of the race, I watched as the full length of Tim's Taran slid down on the back of a wave into a deep trough before he was picked up once more, the wave breaking as the boat pivoted and turned...
I moved up the eddy and then broke in to the flow, surfing the last waves into calm waters beyond. Turning I saw Chris' bow bounce as he surfed through the race - broad grins all round as we gained shelter.
Last to emerge, Brian, follows our cold, wet group into the shelter afforded by Scat Ness.
After a long day that had required constant concentration, navigating in confused seas, we were suddenly on flat water once more. The wind dropped and the fog returned and as we passed Lady's Holm, a sheltered bay proved too tempting an opportunity to camp, to pass by.
It was a long, wet, evening, all of us retreating to the tents as the rain fell in sheets - with the stove going I hung soaked kit from lines in the porch - wringing out streams of water every 5 minutes - three cups of tea later I felt ready to cook and as the meal warmed I looked at the maps and tidal calculations for Fitful Head. No matter how many times I worked through our options, it was clear that we would need to be up early. Another 5.30am start it was then...

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