REPORTAGE. In Orkney: among currents, whalers and… a glass of whiskey/3


Giovanni Porzio is one of Italy’s greatest reporters and a passionate sailor. In his book “The Sea is Never the Same” he has recreated the essence of reportage, that is, “reporting” from a voyage news, but also stories, feelings and images. Here is the first installment of his trip to the Ocardi Islands! (HERE YOU CAN FIND THE FIRST PART, HERE THE SECONDPART )

Day 4: Clouds, clearing and weak southerly wind. The long wave of the Atlantic begins to enter from the northwest as we re-assemble the North Minch passing the starboard side of the Isle of Lewis, the northernmost of the Hebrides. At noon the point marks 58°04′ north latitude. Bass gannets dive headlong from great heights onto the sardine shoals when, in mid-afternoon, we face the mouth of the fjord where we will spend the night, in Bad Call Bay, the Bay of Bad Landing. The entrance, in fact, is fraught with obstacles.

The cellars of the Highland Park distillery
The cellars of the Highland Park distillery

We steer carefully between rocks, outcropping reefs, and shallow water. Then, past a roadstead full of salmon-farming ponds, we penetrate a lovely bight, enclosed on all sides and protected from all winds, surrounded by islets covered with moss and purple heather, gliding over the surface of a still, shiny, oily sea. On waking up, bad news. A low pressure is coming over Scotland, and Météo-France predicts southeast winds of 20 to 30 knots with gusts to 40. Michele decides to anticipate the crossing to Orkney: setting sail at 12:30 p.m. we will have 20 knots across to Cape Wrath, Scotland’s extreme offshoot, then we will go upwind with starboard tack for 70 miles to arrive the next day in the Kirkwall Channel, the archipelago’s capital, in favor of the current.

And parading at a safe distance from the dreaded Pentland Firth, one of the world’s most dangerous sea arms: In the strait where the Atlantic pours its mighty mass over the shallows of the North Sea, gale force winds and currents up to 10 knots raise prohibitive static wave walls, create eddies and sudden, violent storms. Many ships have sunk in those waters. Along the coast, the scenery is spectacular: stacks, rocky headlands, and high cliffs overlooking the ocean, populated by colonies of birds. Ravenous and aggressive brown-feathered skuas attack gull nests. The petrels brush their sharp wings against the crests of the waves, which at the Cape Wrath transverse swell and cross.

The anemometer reads 23 knots. We run upwind at 7 knots with reefed mainsail, foresail and reduced yankee. During the crossing I get the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, and it’s a wonder, even though it’s freezing cold and the breakers breaking at the jaw cover me with spray: green-purple sunset lighting up the horizon until after midnight, a sliver of red moon, shooting stars all over the place, and the polar almost at the zenith!


Discover all of Giovanni Porzio’s reports in his book “The Sea is Never the Same!”



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