Flannan Islands

27th June 2018

Flannan Islands are uninhabited. I’m not surprised.

They’ve got an automatic lighthouse and two landing places with concrete steps but one set was  washed away years ago and the other is no longer maintained and might not be there even now – but who’s to say?

All the same, I’m beginning to think I live here.

These fifteen lumps of granite looked rather beautiful – in a desolate sort of way – as I approached at sunset last night. There is some grass growing and a lot of white from the thousands of seabirds which clearly think this is the perfect place to call home.

Nevertheless, I passed in the night a few miles off on the way to St Kilda which is also uninhabited but hasn’t always been (where lies a story).

The problem with passing the Flannan Islands at night is that, steering by the wind, what would happen if the wind were change while I was asleep? I could be on the rocks.

The secret here is to work out how long you want to sleep for, then work out how far you could travel in the wrong direction in that time – and then set two alarms to make sure you don’t…

All the same, it doesn’t make for a peaceful night. More than once, I woke before the alarm. Lying there, listening to the water going past the hull, there was a tendency to wonder what should have caused this sudden wakefulness – after all, it appeared that I was not just awake. I was fully alert. Something was up. Was this Chiefy keeping watch?

Of course, it could be the islands themselves. There’s something odd about the Flannan Isles: Every Scot knows the story… how the three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappeared a few days before Christmas in 1900.

Conspiracy theorists had a field day with this one: They had  been captured by pirates, eaten by seabirds, abducted by aliens…

One way and another, it would be foolish to go back to sleep with that sort of thing going on. So, unzip the sleeping bag (God, it’s cold). It’s also dark (wait a minute, I’m wearing the indoor wooly hat which rolls down over the top half of my face the blocks out the light. I’m blundering around in a blindfold).

First check is the plotter which shows the boat still on course, the islands well astern – a group of fishing boats ten miles away – have to watch them; unpredictable things, fishing boats and once they’ve got their gear down, they have right of way over everything else, rather like cyclists in Holland. Pull the hatch back and stick my head out. Now it’s really cold. Boat seems OK, Flannan Islands still there at a safe distance. Doesn’t it ever get dark in these latitudes?

And this happened two or three times – quite apart from the alarms going off every hour, so what with one thing another, it wasn’t a particularly good night. I shall be glad to find some peace in St Kilda.

 

 

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