Scapa Flow revisited

The re-enactment of the Scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow

bang 2

There’s an element of futility to cruising. You know where you are with racing. You get anxious about lay lines and shifts, luffs and leeches; you shout at each other about string, you lose the race (usually), and then you drink beer and tell lies. But you get better, you get worse, you get lucky, you get unlucky: you are judged and ranked accordingly. Your place in the world order is clear, you have had a Goal, and he Work Ethic has been addressed. It is Leisure With A Purpose.

Cruising has its parallels: you get anxious about anchors and tidal curves, about forecasts and overfalls. You talk nicely to each other about the views, you miss the tide (usually) and then drink wine and tell lies. It can all be very pleasant, but there’s an unsettling undercurrent of pointlessness. It’s like eating a bowl of prawn crackers, or reading a lightweight novel – it’s pleasant enough at the time, but you’re the same afterwards as you were before. Nothing has changed.

As Vladimir and Estragon (those well-known yachtsmen) said: “That helped pass the time”. Well, “It would have passed anyway.”

Since accidentally ending up as guardians of Betty Alan we are learning how to cruise. This means being boring about anchor scopes, holding tanks and heat exchangers, and also addressing this problem of Futility. Following principles laid down by Hiscock, Moitessier, Worth, and Tilman our planning began at the winter solstice by throwing dice, while under the influence of the sacred herbs. Three times the Sibyl called “North”, so north it was, to Orkney’s empty anchorages and light filled evenings.

Enter a Deus ex Machina bearing David McCubbin, one of the ornaments of the Southern Hemisphere. An artist, his medium of choice is cardboard, with which he expresses his love of the machinery of war. The best years of his life were spent sailing navies to ceremonial destruction on his farm pond, and thanks to him we now had our Mission: the re-enactment of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow.

Admiral Reuter sunk his navy in 1919, rather than let his pusillanimous political masters negotiate it away. He did it by opening seacocks rather than with explosives but this was only because the cruel Brits had taken his bombs away. The Australian nanny state has, likewise, taken fireworks away from the people, whereas Britain in this regard is still the land of the free, if occasionally the blind and limbless. We had gathered a small hoard of fireworks for David, all with alarming names – was there really a “Blood Bath” and a “Golden Shower”? – and David and his children Ruby and Jasper scrounged such cardboard and tape as could be found in Stromness.

viking ship 2

Jasper celebrated the pre-history of the Orkneys by giving us a Viking Ship.

naval architect

Sadly no pictures survive of the end of the longship. The naval architect, pictured here, miscalculated the stability curves: it fell off the end of its metacentric shelf and sank on launch.

viking head

God was, for once, in the details.


The blockship. A complete lack of design flair and ornamental detail was the fault of an over-burdened building yard struggling to cope with the demand of the war-mongers. Designed to carry the weight of an extensive mortar battery, it deserved to fail on aesthetic grounds, and did. However the damp fuses of the mortar battery were later dried out and it was adapted to lay down a land barrage.


Jasper shows off the fine entry of the destroyer.


Elegant and sleek (like its creators), it was a great aesthetic success .


and a moderate pyrotechnic success, burning slowly and vigorously before breaking its back and going straight down, visible for yards under the deep water of Long Hope.


But the battle cruiser was a triumph. Brutal and purposeful.


Although even here, in the heart of the military industrial complex, there were pacifists. Ruby, surrounded and appalled by the doings of Men, trying to do her maths homework.

pow bang 2

Ah, such bliss was it in that dusk to be alive . . .

4 thoughts on “Scapa Flow revisited

  1. Excellent! I can’t think of a better reason to go to Scapa Flow. The vessels are inspired if a little less seaworthy than the Betty Alan 🙂

  2. So awesome! One of my favorite projects in school (I was a NavArch major) was building boats out of aluminum and then destroying them. 🙂

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