Over 40 years ago Ewan Mowat received a call from a neighbour that something strange had been washed up on the shore at Sandvoe in North Roe.
Ewan duly went to investigate and what he found was a palette-like structure supporting a buoy and a sealed coffee tin. It was a St Kilda mailboat, having travelled hundreds of miles by favourable currents to reach its destination.
The tin was subsequently opened and the mail sent on. Ewan says there was a bit of a “stooshie” at the time, the Lerwick office thinking it should have been brought to their attention immediately. Ah, town versus country. Not much changed there then. I can remember the original craft displayed at the Shetland Museum at the Lower Hillhead in Lerwick.
So then, we move on to the beginning of this month and Ewan embarks on a “cruise” aboard the Swan with a motley crew. The destination is St Kilda and there is no guarantee of getting ashore, but thankfully the crew does.
Others to follow were not so lucky, but not to worry, this will not affect Ewan’s plans. The former skipper of the fishing boat Aspire, now a wood turner of some credit, has with him a fine craft named the St Kilda Mail Boat, fashioned from an “acquired” oak crash barrier post.
We had finally reaching the sainted isles, a world heritage site. We had punched down the west coast during which time most of the crew of between 12 and 14 had gut issues, and it was time for a relieved crew, bathed now in sunshine and safely at anchor in Harbour Bay.
It was an eclectic mix of folk including ex-fishermen, a vet (these patients are talking back), a “canny stravaiger”, various sons of the “big kirk”, twins and even a singing cartoonist, to write out their postcards to send on the real epic voyage to be cast upon the sea, to end up who knows where.
We return to a kind of message in a bottle with sophistication. Ewan was now at the other end of a journey that he had come across all that years ago. There was not to be one mailboat but two. Another member of the crew, Alan Anderson from Burra, had already sealed his mailboat with a fiver visible on the top (just to gain people’s attention). I myself addressed my postcard to my estranged dog Max Gordon as I knew he would never grumble if it never appeared.
The boats were set adrift at the same spot where the original islanders (who were evacuated in 1930) would, after being cut off sometimes for months at a time, in desperation try to contact the outside world.
As we departed St Kilda the mailboats seemed to go their separate ways, leaving the crew to ponder their fate. It was suggested that they may get as far as a nearby cave and years hence be discovered by archaeologists who would have to re-assess our information technology progress.
Meanwhile Ewan and the crew wait. I wonder where the mailboats are now. Hopefully they will turn up.