In July 2011 Cape Farewell embarked on a month-long expedition by boat across the Scottish Islands, bringing the notion and experience of expedition home to the UK, with an exploration of island ecologies and cultures, and of the strategies for sustainable and resilient futures being implemented across the Scottish Isles. More ›

The Crew

The expedition crew of 40 includes island artists, storytellers, film makers, playwrights, architects, designers, musicians, community leaders, social scientists, ecologists, marine biologists, oceanographers, poets, acclaimed Gaelic singers and a chef.
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Video highlights

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I made a pact with myself last night. After spending the day seriously regretting my morning decision to not wash my hair on my one day in two that I can use Song of the Whales shower facilities, I told myself to make the most of the biodegradable washing soap that I have brought with me and embrace a swim in the could Scottish bay of Tobermory in which, we are moored. Song of the Whale is a self-sustaining vessel and as such she makes her own water.  However, with so many of us onboard we are rationed to a shower every other day.  Unable to stand another day with dirty hair and too stubborn to accept the kind offer by Jo to be taken ashore and find a warm shower in the local public facilities, I collected myself on the bathing board located at the vessels stern. Tentatively sticking a few toes into the water I make a decision: a slow entry down the ladder is not going to cut it. So, backing down two of the ladders rungs, I let go and launch myself backwards into the water.  My breath is gone as the cold shocks through my body.  Stunned into a sudden alertness, which dispels the sleepy stupor that a late night and deep sleep in a small stuffy cabin has induced, I swim briskly around the boat a couple of times until what feels like a million needles pricking my skin is gone, and is replaced with, a more bearable, numbness.  Clambering back onto the bathing deck I sit down leaving my feet in a position that allows them to be submersed in the sea as Song of the Whale gently moves with the light swell that has made its way into the bay. Time to try out this biodegradable soap.

Perched in this way I find myself looking out towards the boats moored behind us, and the coastline behind them, which is in turn backed by a dramatic grey sky of varying tones. It is so peaceful and calm here. It feels different sitting at this level, less than a meter from the sea’s surface.  Antoine, who has braved his early morning dip for two days running now described it well, he tells me later: ‘you tune in’.

Back on deck and now shivering in a towel, I look around and note other towels draped over the side rails. Moving indoors to warm up, swim shorts and more towels adorn handy metal ladders.  As the day progressed, this suggestion of domesticity increased as wet trousers, shoes and waterproofs were draped around the vessel – mostly in our cabins.  These draping’s have enabled Song of the Whale to take on a familiarity as our everyday practices have been imported, altered and re-invented in line with the space and resources available onboard.

Author: Libby Straughan


Joins the expedition for week 1 Libby Straughan is a geographer currently working on an international project jointly funded by the AHRC and NSF, which is conducting research into the process of collaboration between artists and scientists.
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Sea Change Programme

Puffin from the Bird Yarns project, part of Cape Farewell's Sea Change programme.
Grown out of the Scottish Islands Expedition, Cape Farewell’s Sea Change is a four-year programme of research and making across Scotland’s western and northern isles. Sea Change involves over 30 UK and international artists and scientists, working collaboratively and independently to consider the relationships between people, places and resources in the context of climate change.... Read more ›

A timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be

Community Energy Scotland’s annual conference offered a timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be.  It was reported on some research into how different countries are taking forward the development of renewable energy. The study looks at several European countries including Scotland, as well as five states in America. The most striking feature... Read more ›

First there was an island – then there was a boat

Shiants 2
“First there was an island – then there was a boat”, so begins a poem by Shetland writer Laureen Johnston.  Since owning my first boat at the age of eleven, I have been an obsessive explorer of islands, the smaller and more remote the better.  Once, in the grip of a sudden attack of aquatic... Read more ›

‘On these isles’

Lawrence has a 7am coffee break after feeding cattle.
‘On these isles’ is a project by photographer Ed Smith, whom we had the great pleasure of meeting when visiting the Island of Eigg. Ed has spent large periods of time on Eigg and other Inner Hebridean isles capturing life there in pictures. Have a look at more of his images and this project at... Read more ›

A gaelic song

Mary Jane Lamond, Jo Royle and Julie Fowlis Video by Ruth Little

Cape Farewell – we know what to do, can art help us get on and do it?

The following is an excerpt from Sara Parkin’s article found on the Forum for the Future website. …I was fortunate enough to join the crew for one week of a four week tour of Scottish Islands, starting with Skye and Canna before crossing the Minch to Mingulay, Barra and South Uist. The weather was kind,... Read more ›

Islands and Visions

Eigg Barbecue on Song of the Whale
There is a sea view when travelling from Eigg to Mallaig where you have a 360° vision of the Small Isles, Skye, the mountains of Scotland, Mull and, far into the distance, the Outer Hebrides. At 6 am yesterday the grey of the sea bled into the numerous blues of the mountains all dramatised by... Read more ›

Annie Cattrell and Jo Shapcott in conversation about week 4 of the expedition

Annie 1
JS Annie, what is it about islands? AC I like the fact that there’s a larger proportion of sea than land mass visible. There appears to be a completeness and self-sufficiency about the individual islands even though they are all distinctly different. There seems to be a big distinction between uninhabited and inhabited islands –... Read more ›


Photo by Sion Parkinson
(1) On the crossing from Ullapool to Stornaway on the Calmac, I wrote myself a list of rules, a set of behaviours that would concentrate my efforts, or assuage any guilt from any feelings of impotence, in my seven days aboard the ship. (1.1) Rules: (1.1.1) Take photographs, more than you need to, get in... Read more ›


Cotton Grass marking  Dwelling Rona
It was my birthday when I went to Rònaidh first. A place I wanted to see since I was little but I had always missed the boat. It is about forty miles north of my house near the Butt of Lewis. I went on the sixth of August aged thirty eight on the yacht ‘Song... Read more ›

Mary Arnold-Forster

Skye architect Mary shows the house of Fred Taylor she designed and reflects on the progress on Eigg and other green based aspirations for the islands architecture and energy supply.   Video shot by David Buckland     Sketches by Mary Arnold-Forster

Farewell and Ahoy: Log of a Voyage

Photo by Mary Smith
“Back in the kitchen.  A new group has joined Song of the Whale. There is an overlap of crew, Cape Farewell folk, and the artists and scientists who will sail together this coming week. They are planning to sail to North Rona, the Shiants and the coasts of Skye. But I’ve left the ship though... Read more ›