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  • Writer's pictureAsha

Safe Haven

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

We arrived in Peterhead after 22 hours of motoring from Fair Isle on the 24th of September. This will sound repetitive considering other accounts of our journey but I felt so happy watching the elaborate shape of Fair Isle disappear into the distance. This combined with a sunny calm morning and forecast for favorable winds gave us wings and smiles and all the good mood necessary at the start of a passage. Well, the forecast didn’t deliver the promised wind and we motored into the night. Mark instructed me at the beginning of my midnight shift that should the wind pick up we can turn the engine off and slow down as we were quickly approaching our destination and that would mean entering Peterhead port in the dark. Towards the end of my three-hour shift  the wind was at last doing what it was supposed to do way earlier so I moved the throttle into neutral and gave Mark a mini heart attack by doing so because he jumped up, overwhelmed with fear, thinking that the engine had failed! Sorry…

Mark joined me in the cockpit as my shift was nearly over and tried to settle into the sailing mode but it started raining and the sea was disturbed so instead of rolling about out there we decided to approach Peterhead in the dark. The engine came back on and we started our approach. Mark called the port authority a few miles in advance and we were granted permission to enter, which was confirmed just before the entrance to the port. Mark has previously visited Peterhead and was able to navigate to the marina. I am grateful for that as I couldn’t understand the instructions over the VHF given with a Scottish accent, typical to the east coast and very much incomprehensible to me, or make out where we were going. Soon enough we were moored safely onto a pontoon and happily went to bed, without setting any alarm. What a treat after listening to the cacophony of lines and fender screeching and rubbing on tires, waking us up now and again and forcing us into mid-night checks to ensure Altor was still safe.

The time in Peterhead marina has been a treat not only for the possibility to sleep without worrying about the safety of the boat, but also catching up on my favorite laundry and having unlimited hot showers. Heaven! Well, the laundry might have caused a bit of a misunderstanding when the dryer ate my tokens and we devised a line in the laundry room to dry the clothes but not to worry, clothes got dry and folded away until needed.  

The town itself looks very monotonous with the same color houses and buildings made of brow-greyish stone, but don’t let the dull appearance distract you from the colorful history. My two personal favorites discovered during our exploration are the history of Alexander Ellis, a successful solicitor and Baron Bailie – the equivalent today of a Provost, and the old prison. One might think those are on the two ends of the spectrum of law – one on the giving and one on the receiving, but it’s not exactly like this.

Let me introduce the solicitor’s story first. In the mid 1700’s he had a fine new townhouse built at the bottom of Broad Street beside the harbor. The house included some of his unofficial business activities. For Alexander Ellies wasn’t just a magistrate and Bailie. He also controlled the biggest smuggling network in Peterhead. The government levied high taxes on luxuries like tea, brandy, Dutch gin and tobacco. Alexander had a thriving and illegal trade in all sorts of contraband. As a Bailie, he controlled the local militia, whom he used to divert attention from his activities. The new house boasted a secret passage from the harbor, and hidden rooms where goods could be stored. Other hiding places were located beneath the sandy floor of the Town House, where the Bailies met. Alexander was charming and helpful when the Excise men arrived in 1778 to search his home. Although working on a tip-off, the customs officials failed to find the 4 hogsheads of rum, several chests of tea, and two hundred weights of tobacco hidden behind a false wall in the cellar. After the search, the Bailie invited them to dinner. The food and wines were excellent, and the Excise men left praising his hospitality. When they had gone, their host went upstairs to signal to the smuggling ship “Crooked Mary”, to let the crew know the coast was clear. He was the lucky one.

The second most interesting story, and the story of the unlucky ones can be discovered on a trip to the prison museum. The idea to build a prison in Peterhead stems from the need to build a breakwater around the port. Sounds like a long round trip to achieve the goal but there is a method to the madness. The authorities didn’t know how to build the breakwater and it was a dangerous task so obtaining necessary manpower could prove impossible, however they figured that prisoners do not have a choice if burdened with an impossible task. Acting on this bright spark a prison was built, and the inmates were used to build the breakwater. No rest for the wicked.

It seems that our peaceful stay in Peterhead is coming to end and tomorrow we are planning to sail further south, which brings another step closer to our “square one” and reunion with our friends and families. 

Sunset, Peterhead Port

Peterhead Marina

Peterhead Marina

Peterhead Port

Sunrise over the entrance to Peterhead Port

Breakwater around the small fishing port in Peterhead

Fair Isle disappearing in the distance.

Feria of colours over the North Sea

Fishing Port in Peterhead

Peterhead marina

Sunset, Peterhead, Scotland

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