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.
Meet the crew ›

Read posts by



Video highlights

Watch video highlights from the expedition ›

Narrative as one member of a wee expedition

I’ve put some kit in my rucksack. There’s a camera and a phone charged up but I don’t feel much  like  sorting the spaghetti of  leads in and out of video cameras and recording gear. There’s also no need to take the navigation box. Someone else is doing the driving this trip. i catch the 1235 bus from round the corner and that should connect with the Sound of Harris ferry. Maybe my friend Donald will be on duty. I’ve sailed to the Monach islands twice. Each time it was with Donald, a skipper of the Berneray community boat Sealladh. For years he was talking about the trip – a short reach out into the Atlantic side of North Uist, in an open boat. And one weekend we made  it as a small community and inhabited  islands by camping and building drystone stoves for cracking fires.

Next time, we brought along a man who was raised on the Monachs.  Children came out in a fast rib (there’s an image) and Angus “Moy”  simply remembered when the school building  was a school. I asked him  for the Black John of the Blizzard story and he told us that one and more.

I join a steel yacht, fitted out for research in Lochmaddy tonight.  We plan to sail to the Monachs and on to St Kilda.

There’s a mantra we use, as a team, on my own vessel and on the  community boats I sail as one of a growing team of skippers -“All plans provisional.” Even on the East side of the Hebrides you’re never sure. Katabatic winds dive off Neist point and  crash tide acceleraating round the headland. the Sound of Shiants jumps up in a very lively manner and stops boats when winds back. But the west side  is something else. if anyone really understands the chamges of tidal current in the  Sound of Harris, please advise me. And even large powerful vessels  have to run for it if there’s a change of wind direction, out at  Village Bay, Hirta.

But of course I’m thinking of previous trips to St Kilda, in various  vessels. I navigated there, the first time, in brave El Vigo,  returnign via the Flannan Isles. i was commissioned to write a play  to be directed by Gerry Mulgrew and felt I needed to see the archipelago and the waters. But maybe i’ve been able to think more clearly when someone else has been doing the driving. Murdanie guiding the Cuma through the gap in  Soay sound. Angus Smith taking long Elinca to a gap between Boreray and its neighbouring  cold volcanoes.

I’m sharing images taken from crewing for Donald and Angus, at the Monachs and Boreray, St Kilda. And Norman Chalmers’s  shot of the glimmer of Flannan Isles light, from a bouncing yacht on a building sea. But I’ve only a few provisional ideas of what I’d like to explore, this trip.

There will be an eclectic group of artists and scientists as well as navigators aboard. I know Mary Smith well, her voice and her stories, brimming with knowledge and the finding of pleasure in people from home and away. i’ve never met Julie Fowlis but her voice has filled this kitchen often, courtesy of the Bose speakers.

And Ruth Little, associate director of the Cape Farewell project will be aboard. I look forward to continuing conversations with a dramaturg who knows the risks involved in shaping narrative as well as the clear gains.  I hope to continue this small narrative as one member of a wee expedition. Now I’m off to print out the texts  sent to me from  other island poets.  I only trust electronic storage so far. it’s like charts –  the digital world is bloody wonderful but it”s good to have a bit of  paper too.

Author: Ian Stephen


Joins the expedition for week 3 Ian Stephen's poetry, short fiction and non-fiction have been published in many countries including Australia, Canada and the Czech Republic. He has published many collections of poetry and one of short stories. He travels widely to perform his poems and stories and to tell traditional stories and his work often involves navigation.
View profile ›

Recent posts by Ian Stephen

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

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 ›