Why Shetland is a hot spot for yachts

by Alex Garrick-Wright -

The sight of dozens of yachts sailing through the crystal-clear waters of Lerwick Harbour is a familiar one. Around 500 yachts visit the historic port every year, and Shetland is a key destination on a number of long-distance yachting trips and races.

This week saw two such events coincide, as over 50 yachts from the North Sea Triangle voyage and annual Bergen-Shetland Race both arrived at Victoria Pier for some well-earned rest and recuperation.

The North Sea Triangle

Arriving earlier in the week, the 25 vessels of the North Sea Triangle made port after a three-and-a-half day voyage from Den Helder in the Netherlands. The event, which runs every two years, is a round-trip from the Netherlands to the isles (alternating between Shetland and Orkney each time), then to Norway before returning to the Netherlands to complete the circuit.

Migchiel Rietsma, skipper of the C'est La Vie and North Sea Triangle Committee Member, was one of many making the most of a sunny Shetland morning before having to cast off for Flekkefjord in Norway:

“It’s just a short stop-over but the people are very friendly, we’ve had a wonderful time here the last two days… Now we have a city tour with a guide, see something of this place, and the history. Then we have to go!”

Bergen-Shetland Race

The biggest race on the North Sea, the Pantaenius Shetland Race takes place between Norway and Shetland every year: a two-leg race from Bergen to Lerwick and back again. With 30 vessels departing from Bergen, the fastest yachts were making port as the North Sea Triangle sailors were leaving.

Now in its 33rd year the Pantaenius Shetland Race is a major annual event in the sailing world: a competitive but friendly race that evidences the close Shetland-Norway relationship.

The Asiss was first to reach Shetland with a time of 29 hours and four minutes, earning the Blue Pennant – although as the race employs a ‘handicap’ system that balances out the differences between vessels of different classes, the fastest yacht is not necessarily the winner.

Ole Birger Giæver, skipper of the Asiss, said: “It was very windy in the start, but during the night the wind dropped; it was a little bit rainy but nice conditions and we have a good wind up to just a small hole outside Shetland. The rest of the time it was perfect.

“Of course it’s nice to be the first boat, the fastest boat, but we shall sail fast with this boat, and we think that the two other boats that are number one and number two in our class, so we were fastest overall but they were the best.

“I’ve sailed this Shetland race once before. Shetland is very interesting. Nothing like that in Denmark or Norway or Sweden; interesting place to see.”

A prize-giving, organised by the For Shetland Race Committee, will take place in Mareel on Friday night, before the vessels depart on Saturday for the return leg of the race. In the meantime, the crews have a chance to relax, enjoy the sunshine, and see the sights in their brief stop-over.

Each yacht carries a race transponder, and can be tracked in real-time with the free app Yellowbrick Race Viewer: https://www.ybtracking.com/race-app.php

A popular port

Shetland Race committee member Sandra Laurenson explained that Lerwick is a popular destination for yacht crews not just for these large events and races, but all year round, due to the accessible amenities and sterling reputation of the port.

Having been serving visiting sailors and merchants for centuries, Lerwick Harbour is extremely convenient for any sailor. With easy access to Lerwick’s bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, and the chance to refuel, restock or get repairs carried out, yacht crews provide a welcome boost to the local economy

Sandra said it was ‘tremendous’ that so many sailors choose to return to Shetland time and time again, noting that two-thirds of the Bergen-Shetland racers had been before.

“They obviously find something here that appeals to them,” she said. “I think Lerwick Boating Club does a terrific job. It’s well kitted out for visiting yachtspeople.

“There’s a key-fob arrangement they can get, and use the showers and washing machines; there’s all that there, which sailors are obviously needing. They can get their laundry done, they can get showers, they can get Wi-Fi, and they can get a roof over their head if it’s a horrible day. And then, in the evening, the bar is open and that’s quite a good place for meeting international sailors.

“For many years, for the round Britain and Ireland races, Lerwick’s been a stop-off point, and I think, again, it’s partly because the boating club is geared up with the facilities that they’re looking for.”

So, as the isles’ maritime visitors head out on the next stage of their journeys, all that remains is to wish them bon voyage.We look forward to seeing you all next year!

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