View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 24 February 2012

Ferry woes

After the problems surrounding the ferry Isle of Lewis, which decided to dispute passage with the town of Birkenhead, the lifeline service between Stornoway and Ullapool has gone back to normal. Fellow blogger Tony has highlighted the issues surrounding the freight ferry Muirneag, which was out of action this week either because of bad weather (what bad weather?) or on account of its steering gear being faulty. The Muirneag carries our freight, varying from roofbeams to cans of catfood. However, she is an old lady of the seas, starting life in 1979 and plying various routes in northern Europe before coming to Stornoway in 2002. Muirneag will be scrapped in 2013.

The reason for the cancelled sailings are two-fold. First of all, her manoeuverability is poor, and the fact that she carries light loads means she is high out of the water, making her susceptible to high winds. The second reason goes back just over 6 years, to events on 11 November 2005. Muirneag ventured out to sea, hoping to beat the forecast storm. Unfortunately, the Met Office was late issuing its storm warning, meaning that she was forced to go with the force 12 winds and ended up 60 miles north of the Butt of Lewis, well on her way to the Faeroes. Since that hairy episode, Calmac have been justifiably cautious with her sailings. And I'd rather have Muirneag stuck in port than stuck on the bottom of the Minch.

Muirneag is named after this hill in the north of the island, 4 miles west of North Tolsta.

Friday 24 February

A fairly bright and sunny day, but quite a bit cooler than yesterday. The mercury only just about reached 8C / 46F. The weather in the Southern Hemisphere tropics is calm, with no hurricanes worth mentioning. The two disturbances that the Joint Typhoon Warning Center has detected have little chance (less than 30%) of developing into anything serious.

Dutch prince Friso, second son of Queen Beatrix, is in coma and unlikely to ever waken up again. Last Friday he was buried under an avalanche for 20 minutes, after which he was resuscitated for 50 minutes. Doctors in Austria today revealed he had sustained massive brain damage. The mood in Holland has shifted from quiet hope to gloom. Several public engagements by Queen Beatrix have been cancelled. Prince Friso will be transferred to a neurological rehab unit elsewhere in due course.

I am continuing with my transcription of the Napier Report, a 4,000 page document relating the conditions under which crofters and cottars were living in the third quarter of the 19th century. Having reached evidence that was taken at Inverness in October 1883, I found contrasting witnesses. One decried the crofters in western Scotland as lazy and indolent; the very next witness listed the achievements of his fellow residents in a glen, some 20 miles west of Inverness. Several had become bishops, and quite a few had achieved high ranks in the Army.
In 2007, a statue was unveiled at Helmsdale, 40 miles north of Inverness. Strath Kildonan, just north of Helmsdale, was the scene of clearances in the early 19th century. The statue depicted a Highlander, boldly striding forth to a new life in the New World, ready to achieve great things. And many did so. My point is, however: why were they not allowed to achieve great things on their home soil?