Saturday, 30 January 2010

Friday 29th January

FRIDAY 29th: While there may be some bright or sunny spells, there will also be further showers of sleet or snow. Again these may occasionally be heavy, leaving some accumulations, although during daylight hours these will tend to melt at lower levels. Feeling bitterly cold in the F6-7 N’ly wind. Sea state – Rough or very rough, with a 3 to 5 metre W’ly swell.

Awoke to snow and high winds. The world totally transformed, but also restricted to where I can reach on foot. Walked out to Pund Voe and braved the fierce showers of snow, which periodically swept across so that I could hardly see across the bay. Sat in the snow and drew until my fingers were numb. 
Observations on getting started: Always difficult at the beginning at the start of a new and challenging project, and especially when I've had a month away from painting. It takes so much time to start seeing. I have a plan to make a series of small mixed media works on board that incorporate images of maps/charts/objects with paint and drawing. My problem is that I am a doer not a planner, so until I have all the information assembled and can surround myself with it, it is very difficult to know what will emerge.. but maybe that's just an excuse.. I have spent some time since I arrived wandering about the Shetland Museum & Archive, attempting to contact the museum curator (an elusive chap it appears), so I can gain access to objects that might shed light on the world of the Shetland sea farer and to sea maps and charts - the world of plotting and radar  - which for the 19thC sixareen experienced fishermen would more likely to have been intuitive, as opposed to reliance on any technical aids. (I am worried about offending Shetlanders by using materials inappropriately and that might be sensitive, but then maybe I am being over-sensitive). There is an immense amount of thinking time that has to be worked through, searching for the path through the labyrinth, a quest for sense and form faced with an almost imponderable mass of information and possibilities.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Gloup Disaster

Wednesday January 27th
Travelled by ferry across to Gloup on the island of Yell to visit the site of the 1881 Gloup Disaster. Whilst the day had started fine, as I boarded the little ferry the weather began to changed (as it so often does on Shetland), and by the time I had driven across the island to Gloup the wind and rain had set in. Walking up to the cliffs above the heaving sea I experienced severe wind and sleet, and could hardly push myself forward and keep on my feet. Any drawing was completely out of the question.  Watching the sea rushing in and the waves breaking with fury upon the rocks beneath me It was not difficult to imagine how it must have been on 20th July 1881 when the tragedy occurred. In the dark it must have been terrifying even for experienced sailors, and they experienced what must have been up to today’s equivalent of storm force 10, perhaps hurricane force 12.

That day had started as a "day atween wadders"; strong winds having kept the boats ashore for days, the morning of the 20th dawned clear with light winds, and although there was still a heavy sea running, the men were keen to get to sea. Going over 40 miles to the fishing grounds in open sixareens (six-oared boats), using simple landmarks for navigation, the boats had no warning of the incoming storm.

A SURVIVOR'S ACCOUNT OF 'The TERRIBLE TRAGEDY’, printed in "Shetland News":
"A fleet of about 30 boats was at sea the night of the disaster, 26 from the north half of Yell, most of them from Gloup, with others from places such as Gutcher and as far south as Whalfirth (near Mid Yell.) There were a few among the number out from Unst and Feideland. The night was very fine, and we went off from the land about twenty miles, though it is difficult to recollect the distance after so long an interval of time.
"The storm struck us suddenly, and as soon as it struck we were in a fearful sea, and in darkness, in spite of it being the month of July. In our boat we held to our lines and did not leave our position till we had got all our lines on board. We then set sail and turned for home, sailing before the wind. In such a sea it was necessary to steer for each wave, veering away from side to side according to the precise direction from which the wave pursued us. Two men stood by the sail (a square sail) in order to handle it, both for the veering, and because, if a sea threatened to break over us, the skipper would make them lower the sail, thus easing the boat and allowing the wave to go past us before breaking.
"At last as the day broke (about 4 p.m.) we saw that we were nearing the land -- it was then pouring with rain as well as exceedingly tempestuous, with dark overladen sky. The first hint we got of any disaster was a number of oars floating in the water, for we had seen no other boat during the night. As we approached the haven at Gloup Voe we saw an empty boat driving ashore, overturned on its side, mast and sail keeping it in that position. Then as we entered the Voe itself, we saw a great concourse of people -- wives, sisters, parents, and some children -- gathered on the shore with a great lamentation, and a boat manned by twelve men rowing towards us to get hold of the upturned boat. The people had come from miles around to view what they dreaded and expected, for the storm had broken suddenly in the midst of a fine night, and they knew their men were at sea. When we landed they asked if we had seen any other boats, but of course we said we had not."

Only the bodies of seven men were found. The 58 drowned haaf fishermen left behind 34 widows and 85 orphans. 36 of the drowned men were from Gloup.


Oceanic rogue waves are surface gravity waves whose wave heights are much larger than expected for the sea state. The common operational definition requires them to be at least twice as large as the significant wave height.

Rogue (or extreme) waves are recognizable when they occur, but there is no unique definition of such waves. The pragmatic approach is to call a wave a rogue wave whenever the wave height H (distance from trough to crest) or the crest height ηc (distance from mean sea level to crest) exceeds a certain threshold related to the sea state. This review follows this practice and applies the common criteria  H/Hs > 2 or ηc /Hs > 1.25, where Hs is the significant wave height, here defined as four times the standard
deviation of the surface elevation.

Wave height: total vertical
distance from the wave
trough (lowest point) to the
wave crest (highest point)
Crest height: vertical
distance from the mean
water level to the crest
Significant wave height:
traditionally defined as the
average of the one-third
largest waves and denoted
H1/3; today defined as four
times the standard deviation
of the surface elevation and
denoted Hs.
Information from:  Oceanic RogueWaves

Kristian Dysthe, Department of Mathematics, University of Bergen
Harald E. Krogstad, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Peter Muller, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii

Monday, 25 January 2010


Shetland weather forecast for FRIDAY 22nd: A cloudy, windy start to the day with outbreaks of occasionally heavy rain, accompanied by F7 to gale F8 SE’ly winds. …. Shetland is likely to see the rain and strong to gale-force SE’ly winds persisting until well after dark. Here the rain will slowly peter out as winds gradually ease. Sea state – Rough or very rough, with a 4 to 5 metre SE’ly swell.

Despite what the Shetland Times said about cancelled ferries and battered isles on Friday night, my plucky NorthLink ferry docked in Lerwick Harbour allowing its hollow-eyed passengers to disembark into the cold early morning Shetland air. My journey here was auspiciously in keeping with the aims of the project. I experienced the effect of high winds on the sea, which, whilst perhaps not extreme, certainly kept me awake most of the night, with the noise of the ferry battling against gale-force wind and the constant swell and roll of the boat.

Shetland’s coasts is littered with monuments to the lives of seafarers. This morning I read a report in the Shetland Times of the life of another fisherman claimed by the sea in Lerwick Harbour and valiant attempts made by the Bressay ferry battling in 50knot winds to save him.