Views from the Scord

High seas for Tommy

Trondra man Tommy Isbister witnessed an ominous and bizarre natural event on Saturday afternoon as he went about his business on his croft in Trondra.

On what was a fine autumnal day with only a light breeze and relatively moderate seas off the west side of Shetland, he found the sight that met his eyes hard to believe and even harder to fathom as a huge swell rose over the skerries and reefs in the mid-channel between the isles of Hildasay and the Cheynies.

By Tommy’s own description it was as large, if not larger than any storm swell he has ever witnessed in seas he has viewed for many decades and knows intimately.

As he watched perplexed for a continuation of the disproportionate swell the sea returned to a reasonably moderate state and all evidence of the swell dissipated.

“It was very, very odd. I can’t understand it,” Tommy says, aware that there had been moderate swell about the shore all morning. But while making tea mid-afternoon, the white water of the swell caught his eye and he relates: “I have never seen it breaking heavier.”

Not content to accept the unusual nature of what he had seen he sought out boatmen who had been out that afternoon. Reports from other nearby areas came back as nothing unusual, but the account of one creel fisherman corroborates Tommy’s account and further adds to the localised mystery.

Alec John Henry of Burra had a leader of creels on the shallows beside Hoe Skerry, where Tommy had seen the swell, and upon returning to haul them had been perplexed to discover that his leader had been uplifted and deposited across the long shallow reef in a manner that would normally take a prolonged storm, given the weight of modern creels.

The creels were found to be undamaged where they lay, suggesting a brief event. Their positioning required him to cut the leader to retrieve the two ends of it separately, as the reef on which they lay is not navigable in any but the calmest of seas on a high tide. Another leader set only a relatively short distance away at the north of Hildasay remained exactly where it was set on the same afternoon.

In order to find an explanation for what he saw Tommy and family members had gone so far as to seek seismic records from the time of the event amid the prospect of the event being earthquake related, but their search was to no avail.

Examination of the swell records from that period reveal that, while moderate swells of around four metres were happening on the west side of Shetland at that time, in deep waters off the east side there were swells up to 10 metres in height and even unconfirmed local rumours that the pier in Baltasound had been damaged by unusually large swells around the same afternoon.

Tommy speculates that among these acccounts may lie an explanation of sorts in a phenomenon known to the “auld eens” as “upsook”, in which an exceptionally large swell would seem to travel around the coast of Shetland from the side in which it occured to what should in terms of weather and sea state be the lea side. Alternatively, on Saturday afternoon when this occurred there was also said to be a far distant weather system in the Atlantic that may also have been a factor. Either way the story serves as good reason for anyone at sea to be ever vigilant in even the best of conditions.

Musical stars

As the greatly-anticipated Stars in Their Eyes event approaches once more, the recipients of last year’s charitable donation are unreserved in their gratitude and appreciation of the event, its organisers and participants.

The annual variety show, which takes its theme from the TV show and features local performers, has been a sell-out each year in its history, with all funds from it going to worthy local causes.

Last year’s donation of over £1,000 went to Scalloway School toward the purchase of musical equipment. The school, from which there is always a good turnout of performers, has developed a tremendous track record for encouraging young musicians and the donation received has enabled them to expand their range of equipment.

With boundless and infectious enthusiasm and help from the staff, groups and individuals from the school regularly perform outwith the school. Recent outings included performances to the residents of the Walter & Joan Gray Eventide Home, a fund-raising performance for charity at the Lerwick Co-op supermarket by the primary choir and a trip to Montfield Care Home.

The trip to the Scalloway care home exemplifies the benefit of the grant, and direct benefit back to the community, as the performance was made using individual percussion instruments bought with the grant called “Boomwhackers”. When played together they create nursery rhymes for the audience to guess, creating a fun and heartwarming interactive event for all involved.

Other purchases include keyboard instruments and simple to use recording and duplicating devices along with a range of music books and materials, all of which are expensive and would not be otherwise available to the school.

“What a fabulous contribution,” said head teacher Joyce Gear. “We could never have afforded this equipment without it.”

This was the second grant the school received from Stars in their Eyes and a number of last year’s performers came from the school in the form of both pupils and teachers.

Music teacher Jeanna Inkster said: “We are so grateful to everyone that contributed to the concert. It is such a success. It is a great platform for our pupils to give something back to the community.”

This year’s event is to be held over two evenings on 4th and 5th December. One of the event organisers, Kay Sandison, explains the reason for donating the money to the school last year.

“It’s was a really, really good idea for the money to go back into music development at the school where it is appreciated. The school is the heart of the community and so many from the school perform every year at the concert. The whole idea of it is to get folk that might not necessarily get up and perform to give it a go.”

It is in this that both the concert and the school so admirably succeed, to the benefit and enjoyment of the whole community.

Remembrance events

Remembrance Day events were marked in the Scalloway and Tingwall areas with two wreath-laying ceremonies.

The annual Remembrance Service was held at the Tingwall Kirk, with two minutes’ silence at 11am and wreath-laying at the memorial after relevant readings and an address by the Methodist minister. Wreaths were laid by Roddy Anderson for the Royal British Legion and by Brian Robertson on behalf of the kirk.

Later at 3pm the bi-annual wreath laying ceremony was held at the Shetland Bus Memorial on the Scalloway waterfront. The event, organised by the Shetland Bus Friendship Society, began with a welcome to the assembled crowd by society chairman Jack Burgess, followed by an address by Ian Gray, former head teacher of Scalloway School, including some wartime reminiscences.

The Rev Magnie Williamson gave his brief address and a prayer for the fallen and wreaths were laid by Davy Cooper of SBFS, WWII merchant navy crewman Johnny Walterson on behalf of the Scalloway community, Alan Inkster for the Royal British Legion and Emma Eunson for the Scalloway School, accompanied by head teacher Joyce Gear.

After the blessing by Mr Williamson the group relocated to the Scalloway Hall for soup and sandwiches. The exceptionally fine weather was appreciated by all present and noted as the finest for the ceremony since the memorial was built in 2003. Both events drew crowds estimated to be over 50 from the local communities.

Harbour activity

Fishing vessel activity was fairly average in the week to Friday overall, but the week began very quietly with only two boats landing to the markets up to Wednesday.

Thursday brought something of an influx of boats though with six landing the majority of the week’s total. Friday saw two boats landing and the week’s total for all landings came to 1,536 boxes with the highest single landing coming from the Orcadian trawler Keila on Thursday with 320 boxes.

The Banff-registered trawler Discovery was in on Wednesday for shelter and the Buckie-registered Minerva berthed at the beginning of this week for minor engineering repairs.

The local vessel Guardian Angell was towed in by the Venturous on Monday this week after a fault in her main engine left her disabled. She is expected to remain in port for several days undergoing repairs.

The familiar Northern Lighthouse Board tender Pharos overlooked the central village after her arrival on Sunday. She lay in for shelter initially, departing for a time on Monday to return later in the day to take on bunkers and start her helicopter operations.

The 84-metre vessel travels with her own helicopter for delivering supplies, or storing, remote lighthouses around the Scottish coast. She was launched in 2007 and represents a state of the art package of navigational and survey equipment. Leith-registered but based in Oban, she and the NLB’s other tender Pole Star are a welcome sight to mariners as they ensure lights and markers are functioning correctly and navigational information is accurate throughout the isles and channels off Scotland.

Good Companions

Names are now being taken for the annual Good Companions’ Christmas dinner.

The local group for the over-60s are holding the event in the NAFC Marine Centre restaurant. On offer will be a traditional turkey dinner and other options for those seeking an alternative. There will also be musical entertainment throughout the afternoon, with tea and mince pies later in the day before the event closes.

The meal takes place on Saturday 5th December, beginning at 1pm. Names can be entered on a form now available at the Scalloway Post Office, which will be there until 27th November.

The Good Companions hold two events each year for the over-60s, the other being a popular summer day trip by coach to places of interest in Shetland.

Internet awareness

The Scalloway Junior High School Parent Council has organised an information night for Tuesday on the theme of “internet awareness”.

This refers to the very wide ranging subject of internet usage for children and parents alike but focuses on how to ensure that your children can get the most from using the internet while avoiding the range of hazards that could come from uninformed or unsupervised usage.

A subject that crops up regularly in education today is the extremely valuable resources now available online to schools and home users. While school usage is undoubtedly supervised and takes place through networks with stringent security measures already in place, for a home user the idea of letting a child use the internet for long periods of time is far more of a concern in every respect.

With the right measures parents could take comfort in the fact that their child may be getting the best from the internet without undue risk.

The information night will cover such subjects as how to set up your computer to filter or censor internet content, how to use online content filtering, reasonable guidelines on supervision, discussion of jargon like social networking, Bebo, Facebook, Myspace and their relevance, benefits and risks to young and old alike.

The subject may be huge and complex, but the parent council has drawn together a number of informed speakers and professionals to give a well-rounded overview on the subject.

The event takes place on Tuesday in the school’s computing rooms from 7pm to 8pm and all parents are welcome.

Mark Burgess


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