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Adjusting the mizzen shrouds in Oban.

Note: This is an old post (sort of)...I wrote it four days ago in Oban, so it's kind of outdated, but I wanted to post it anyway. I'll catch up on the rest of the trip in another couple days before we sail for Shetland. This one was written in the cabin of Arcturus when we were moored just off the town's community sailing center, trying to figure out which direction to go. I was probably sipping on a dram of some of that smoky Laphroaig whisky dad and I bought in Port Ellen...when we had the bottle open, it made the cabin smell like a woodstove....

I went to bed last night at 10:30 and it was still light outside. For whatever reason I didn’t expect it to be so light for so long in Scotland. In reality though, we’re only 4 degrees of latitude south of Stockholm, so I really should have expected it. Arcturus is in Oban, Scotland today, roughly 56º North. After three weeks at home in Pennsylvania weathering 100º heat and fantastic thunderstorms (my uncle Scott lost a total of 12 trees in his front yard over the past three or four weeks), we’re happy to be back in the north wearing wool socks and ski hats. And on the really warm days jeans and a t-shirt are acceptable walking around town.

Mia and I spent the better part of two hours this morning trying to decide what to do with the boat over the next five weeks. I bought a Lonely Planet Scotland book yesterday to get some info on Edinburgh and some of the places we’re going (the pilot books we’re using are really just sailing directions, definitely not a cruising guide, so it’s difficult to get the feel for a place by reading them), and it ended up just confusing me. There is so much cool stuff to see and do here. We had decided as of yesterday to go straight for the canal and get on the way to Sweden, trying to make it to the west coast as quickly as possible and use up the rest of our time over there. But at the pub last night I started reading about the west coast of Scotland, kept thinking how one day I want to see these places and then remembering that I’m right here, now. I just have to go there.

So we agonized over what to do. Both Mia and I are good at making ‘gut’ decisions, but in this case, I couldn’t feel it. On top of it all, we had originally planned to go to Shetland, have an article to write about it in fact, so that threw another monkey wrench into the whole thing. Shetland, from my very brief research of it, has over 8000 years of history behind it, is one of the first Viking outposts this side of Norway and Sweden, and is almost too irresistible to pass by. It’s north of 60º north, higher up than Stockholm, and a formidable challenge just getting to (in fact, if you went solely on the advice of the sailing directions, it’s a formidable challenge getting anywhere in Scotland. If you took them at face value, you’d never leave the dock. I have to remind myself that we have crossed the Atlantic twice now, that we are quite capable of piloting a sailing boat).

As for today, we’re about to enjoy some breakfast on the boat (I’m in the midst of making bread – the dough is currently rising in the oven as I write), and then we’re heading a mere 12 miles up the coast to visit a friend who keeps his boat nearby. It’s a replica of Joshua Slocum’s Spray, and I expect it to be very cool.

In the end, we did finally make a decision (subject to change, of course. Actually, that is one of the single best things about travelling by sailing boat – decisions can change on the fly, and you don’t have to stick to a plan, you’d be foolish to). By tomorrow morning we hope to be in the canal, and on Wednesday we’re heading down to Edinburgh with my dad to spend a day and a night exploring the city and seeing him off to the airport on Thursday. We’ll return to the boat and make our way to Inverness, where we’ll pick up some charts and stage for the longish sail up to Lerwick, the main town on Main Island (it’s actually called that) in Shetland. We’re having a go at it, making a little adventure out of it and a mission to take some photos and write that article. We may get back to the west coast of Scotland one day, but it could be a long while until we make it to Shetland, so I’m declaring it a personal challenge, a little voyage of discovery and a real jaunt off the beaten path. We’ll use the time in the canal to rest up and get ready for some real offshore sailing (and look for the Loch Ness monster on the way), and then it’s north north north.

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