Fair Isle

A couple of nights ago, KP and I took the Ferry from Kirkwall, Orkney, to Lerwick, Shetland. Cabins had been booked, so we were able to lay comfortably for the duration, sailing at midnight and arriving at our destination for 7 o'clock. NorthLink, the company which operates the service, was keen to warn us about choppy seas, and notices were affixed to walls about not wandering unnecessarily. I noticed that my cabin was well supplied with the scriptures and a good supply of sick bags. I settled down to bed and found the gentle rolling of the ship conducive to sleep; I surmised that this is what it might feel like to share a large waterbed with a fat friend given to heavy breathing.

At 4am, as we approached Fair Isle, which is roughly halfway, the seas grew rough. At one point I felt myself sliding six inches further down my bed, as gravity responded to the ship’s rising. Heavy, rumbling noises I could hear, too, which my half-awake mind determined were icebergs being struck. Up and down we swayed, back and forth we rolled. I assumed the cups and kettle would be all about the floor, but they stayed in their places; they were either specially designed to withstand such motion, or it had not been as bad as I thought. As dawn approached and Shetland drew near, all again was calm and still. Other ferries that week had been cancelled on account of the rough weather, so I am grateful our booking was honoured, despite Fair Isle’s malignant swells.

The rough seas that woke me and terrorised my imagination were also the means of our national defence some four to five centuries ago. On 27 September, 1588, the Spanish Armada’s flagship, El Gran Grifón, was shipwrecked in the cove of Stroms Hellier. The 38-gun ship’s 234 soldiers and 43 crew were stranded on Fair Isle, some dying, a few eventually returning home. Although I have sympathy for any threatened by the seas' fury (especially after that night), it should be noted that these soldiers would have forcefully returned this land to Romanism; countless fires would have been fuelled by English Bibles and Protestant flesh, for those ships bore hundreds of Catholic priests, friars and Inquisitors, all hell-bent on extinguishing Reformed Christianity. Those rough and choppy waters might have woken me from much needed slumber, but they providentially protected gospel freedom four hundred years ago. Had they succeeded, it would not have been a copy of the scriptures left in my cabin, but a crucifix and a tortured conscience.

O God of our salvation, thou wilt answer us with fearful signs in thy righteousness, O thou the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are far off in the Sea.
Psalm 65:5, Geneva Bible, 1599

Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and said in this manner,

I will sing unto the Lord: for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and him that rode upon him hath he overthrown in the Sea. 

The Lord is my strength, and praise, and he is become my salvation. He is my God, and I will prepare him a tabernacle: he is my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The Lord is a man of war, his Name is Jehovah.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also were drowned in the red Sea.

The depths have covered them, they sank to the bottom as a stone.

Exodus 15, Geneva Bible, 1599