Shetland, Fair Isle & Orkney (The Northern Isles) [legacy]

Note: as this is a legacy page, we are no longer checking the links periodically. The information and links (if they still work) are here for interest only.

After crossing from Ålesund Norway to Lerwick, Shetland Islands, we spent an enjoyable 2 weeks exploring what must be one of the nicest cruising grounds in the world.

As an EU member, both the Shetlands and Orkneys have the same legal system as Scotland within the EU.

  • Customs and Immigration Formalities
    Yachts arriving from Norway, Iceland or the Faeroes will be entering the EU upon arriving at Lerwick and must deal with the appriate formalities. The Lerwick Port Authority where yachts check in will direct yacht skippers as necessary.
  • Money Matters
    We used a combination of travelers cheques, banking machines and charge cards. They all seemed to work interchangeably. One point to note is that travellors cheques are hit with a surcharge of about 5% by the British banks, therefore changing a bulk of cheques at a vendor’s outlet has its advantages.
  • Buoyage
    British bouyage is generally very well set out and conforms to international standards.
  • Weather Forecasts
    We .



The culture of the Shetlands is permeated with the sea, no point on land being more than 10 miles from the ocean. Lerwick is a major crossroads for high latitude yachts to or from northern Norway, Faeroes, Iceland, and Greenland, and enroute to southern points. The Shetlands coast is highly contorted with safe anchorages located indiscriminantly. Car rental in Lerwick is very reasonable and sites such as Jorkhof, St Ninian’s, the tourist boat to Mousa Broch, and Luna Floe can easily be seen in one day.

Lerwick N 060° 09′ W 001° 08′

Lerwick is home to the rightly world famous Lerwick Boat Club. Guest yachts tie up on the quay wall in the harbour. Water and electricity are available on the pontoon, the nightly charge is £5 and up based on length. Showers and laundry are located at the Lerwick Boat Club in their basement, £1 for a 15 minute shower – keys are available from the Port Authority or the Club for a £2 refundable deposit. It is worth noting that virtually no charts are available in Lerwick and the yacht chandleries are not very well stocked. There are multiple major ship yards for the fishing fleet and they can undertake most any repair. Some of the most helpful, friendly and kind people we have met cruising are in Lerwick. On the crest of the hill in Lerwick is the library with excellent internet facilities available. Cruisers should note that no chart agents remain in Lerwick. Slightly north of Lerwick center, just past the power plant is McNabbs fish sales with a cornucopia of fresh, smoked, marinated and preserved fish – highly recomended.

Scalloway N 060° 09′ W 001° 02′

Scalloway has a boat club which runs a guest pontoon on the north, portside as you enter the harbour. The swell can set right into this harbour during a sou’wester, which is the predominant wind, so it is worth seeking a place on the inside of the pontoon as the pontoon breaks some of the chop. Showers are available.

Mousa Broch N 060° 09′ W 001° 08′

Mousa Broch is a large Iron Age stone tower, about 10 miles south from Lerwick on the island of Mousa. A small bay on the west shore of the island is about 1/2 mile north of the broch and has sand and kelp on the bottom. In very still weather this could be used overnight, otherwise it is best used as a lunch stop. The bay immediately in front of the broch has a rocky bottom with very poor holding.

Luna Floe N 060° 09′ W 001° 08′

Location of the operational base for the Shetland Bus during the second world war. Not much is left to view in this lovelly anchorage.

Fair Isle


Fair Isle is technically under the Shetlands Council but is administered by the Scottish Department of Agriculture. The south of the island is crofting with the Scottish Government as landlord while the north of the island is a bird sanctuary. There are north and south harbours with the north harbour being preferred in the predominant southerly winds. A quay is found in the northern harbour while the southern is for anchoring only. Rafting will be necessary if more than 4 or 5 yachts are in harbour. On entering the North Hamn, a mole has been built out from the land on the left hand side as entering thereby joining the stack (which is to be used as a transit point) to the island proper. When we entered in failing light this was not clear until we were very close in.

North Havn N W



The culture of the Orkney is much more agricultural than the Shetlands due to the rich soil making up the islands. The Orkney Council has announced a marina to be built in Kirkwall a year or two ago but other than an artists rendition of what it will look, there is nothing else to see. The harbour has been changed significantly with respect to the Clyde Cruising Club Cruising Guide to the Orkneys and the harbour approach is now dredged to handle the large car ferries which link Kirkwall to Aberdeen. The entry to the inner basin where yachts will raft up is on the west side of the pier which has been built since the Clyde Cruising Guide was published (in fact the entry light shown in the Clyde Cruising Guide is no longer operational). The harbour is heavily used, primarily by fishing boats. A floating pontoon is at the innermost point but is reserved for use by visiting cruise liners, in between cruise ships the fishermen utilise it. When we were there boats were departing an arriving around the clock making for a bouncy and noisy harbour. Moorage charges are £10.46 for four days whether you stay one or four, but this fee covers any port in the Orkneys meaning you have the freedom to move between harbours for up to 4 days before paying again. Showers and a members bar are located in the Orkney Sailing Club across the street from the floating pontoon provided for the cruise ship passengers, £1 per shower. Water and electricity are available within the harbour. Keys for the facilities must be claimed from either the Sailing Club or the harbour master, when we visited there were not enough keys for the number of visiting yachts.

· “Bere Bannocks” from Stockan & Gardens bakery of Kirkwall

Kirkwall N 060° 09′ W 001° 08′

We were surprised to find that purchasing charts and guides over the counter was impossible in the Shetlands and Orkneys although any product could be ordered from Aberdeen. We ended up ordering our charts for collection at a post office further along our route. Yachts chandlers are not that well stocked as most parts are ordered from Aberdeen and come up on the night ferry.

After returning from Norwegian waters it was comforting to see the diversity of wild life in the waters of the Northern Isles (and in fact in all of the Socttish waters). Seals, whales, porpoises, numerous birds and the ubiquitous puffins. We were surprised how small the puffins are, we had assumed they were the size of penguins.

Sail Scotland for information on sailing in Scotland, both on their website and by printed publications.

Shetland Heritage website and also various printed publications. The historical record of the Northern Isles is very rich and we found the books available well worth purchasing for the clarity they lent. The tourist centres and book stores sell these books.

Shetland Tourism has a website with a variety of links on activities and services in the islands.

The Cruising Guides for Shetland and Orkney published by the Clyde Cruising Club in the late 70’s are now getting dated for certain harbours, however to the best of our knowledge there is no more modern publication.

Only British Admiralty charts cover the northern Isles with 3 charts for the Shetlands and 4 for the Orkneys.

The Farfarers by Farley Mowat presents a interesting proposal for interpreting the cultural developments and movements surrounding the Northern Isles. Admitedly most based on hypothesis based on archaelogical findings in all the northern Atlantic Islands and North America.

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