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Laurie Goodlad - What Swan Means to Me

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29 March 2021

Continuing our monthly features, successful local tour guide, writer and blogger Laurie Goodlad, shares her memories of Swan – from her restoration to taking part in the Tall Ships Races. Laurie is a long-time supporter of the Trust and, once travel restrictions relax, we plan to work together to offer a new half day sail, highlighting the growth of Lerwick.

My first memories of the Swan are from childhood. I have hazy memories of Swan being worked on under canvas in Lerwick and lovingly brought back to life. I was itching to get underneath that canvas and see what was happening, as sailing was something that had always fascinated me.

I first had the pleasure of sailing on Swan in 2002, when I was 15. It was a Christmas present from my dad, who knew I was desperate to sail. We sailed across to Norway to the Haugesund Jazz Festival, and it was such a memorable trip. We swam in Norwegian fjords, had barbecues on the deck and tasted freedom away from home for the first time without parents.

The second trip I did was much longer. We sailed on Swan for a month as part of the 2004 Tall Ships Race and, to this day, it remains one of my most treasured memories. Sailing from Lerwick, we went down to Belgium, where we joined the race in Antwerp. From Antwerp, we headed to Aalborg in Denmark before joining a cruise in company from Aalborg up to Stavanger in Norway, stopping in a different Norwegian port every evening.

I can’t tell you how special these memories are. I made some really good friends on the trip and had some truly incredible experiences. The highlights are too numerous to list, but a few that stand out in my mind for various reasons are; dancing a strip the willow on various piers in Belgium and Norway, climbing to the top of Preikestolen in Norway, sleeping out on deck and listening to the hustle and bustle of Antwerp’s busy nightlife, watching all the ships under sail as we began the race and meeting a man and his wife in the Red Light District of Antwerp. That in itself isn’t unusual, but his wife was a mannequin, and they had a massive row in the pub. He then left, returning without his wife but with a screwdriver instead.

I kept a diary of the race which I look back on now and again. Everyone on the boat was involved in the diary, and they all wrote in it. Inside are various race maps, postcards and keepsakes from the race glued or sellotaped on every page – the yellowing sellotape, a reminder that it’s more years ago than I’d care to admit and that I’m no longer in my youth! I think I was inspired to keep a diary after reading various sailing logs in some of the books I read, particularly Maiden by Tracy Edwards.

It’s funny reading back through the diary. I describe Antwerp as we sail in as “dingy” with “every building falling apart and pavements covered in weeds”. But, this proved to be such a fantastic city and one that I’d love to revisit. It struggled to pick itself up after the Second World War, but it had the biggest heart and a real authentic feel. It was what a European should feel like – and there were no British tourists, which is always a bonus!

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Diary excerpts

Friday 16th July

Saw six or seven dolphins playing at the bow of the boat at about 6.30 am; they were huge. Andrew got good photos. We are in the middle of the North Sea, passing a lot of oil rigs.

Saturday 17th July

Just came off watch (4.15 am). It was cold, rainy and dark. I had to do the Boston two-step to warm up!

Monday 19th July

We went to a few charity shops, and I found a bright pink dress that nobody likes, so I bought it for the crew parade on Thursday.

Friday 23rd July

Managed to sleep till 10 today as Andrew was shopping and didn’t haul us out of bed.

Sunday 25th July

Grant had the skitter

Monday 26th July

Just got up to go on watch from 12-4 pm, and our position is fourth in our class and eighth overall! Our speed was poor today, and Astrid Finne is in the lead.

And then we lost the wind entirely.

Pauline says, “we move no breath or motion, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”

Willie took out his fishing wand and got a mackerel.

Glenn has a split personality – he is either Thunder or Glenn. Thunder is nicer.

Pauline made us all pancakes, and we slept out on deck for most of the night. It was good because the stars were out and we saw lots of huge shooting stars.

Friday 30th July

We had a buffet on the boat with lots of stuck up business people

Monday 2nd August

We left Aalborg today at 2.30; there were hundreds of people seeing us off. The musicians were playing, and everyone on the pier was clapping.

Ian’s watch is good, he learns us a lot about chartwork. We were on watch from 8-12 at night. It was an okay night, making about 7.5 knots under engine and sail. We can see Sweden and Denmark.

Saturday 7th August

Slept on deck last night and got rained on, but the heat from the sun dried it quickly.

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I enjoyed that, as part of the crew, we had to take up a watch and were hauled from our beds frequently for the 4 am red-eye start on deck. We had to maintain the boat, scrub and oil the decks, and make sure the ropes were perfectly coiled when we were in port. It was a working holiday and one that I picked up so many skills on. We were encouraged – and, for some, taught how to cook. We had to scrub toilets, wash clothes and learn how to plot a course on a chart. On deck, we learned how to read a compass, steer a course and tie a knot. I still take great pride in the fact that I can tie up a boat better than my husband.

Swan, Andrew, the skipper, and all the crew gave us these skills, and they did so with patience and care. I left Swan feeling part of the family and a capable hand on a boat.

As a youngster, Swan gave me my first taste of freedom and independence, and I would encourage anyone to do it; you will never regret it!

Swan represents a part of our history that is long passed and mostly forgotten within living memory. I think that we must preserve her. There is no better way to learn the next generation about Shetland’s past than by showing them. We’re told when we’re writing to “show don’t tell” – this should be applied to teaching too, and Swan is a fantastic teaching tool.

Swan helped give me the confidence to move south and head off to university, and, most importantly, the memories and friendships are ones that I will carry with me forever.

I was asked what “Swan means to me”, and this is such a huge question. She means the world to me. I feel a tug on my heartstrings every time I see her in the harbour as she evokes so many strong memories.

I really hope to see Swan preserved into the future so that the next generation of young Shetlanders can enjoy some of the experiences that we did on board.

Follow these links to donate or volunteer with the Trust.

Anyone can sail on Swan, for details of trips available to book check out our upcoming trips

To find out more about Laurie, check out her website

Links to other personal stories of Swan:

Andrew Manson

Heather Gray

Maggie Adamson

Ewan Hutcheson & Liam Slater

Gilly B

Andrew Halcrow

Joseph Kay

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