Project Description

“I sailed once with an Orkney man
In Clay’s old packet ‘Kubla Khan’
A deal o’ years ago,’ said Dan.

“A feller full o’ quare old tales
He was, of wrecks in the winter gales,
An’ singin’ seals, an’ stranded whales.

“A decent shipmate too … he’s dead –

Lost overboard off Java Head
A deal o’ years ago,” Dan said.


Year of Coasts and Waters

The sea runs through just about every aspect of life in Orkney, whether the winter gales leaving dried salt on the windows, or sparkling summer light on the water. For the Year of Coasts and Waters we have a varied mix of many aspects of the sea – of gale-lashed fishing vessels, of singing seals, of tidal turbines of today, of women who hear the music of the sea and women who build ships to sail on it.

We take a fresh look at the old selkie legend of transformation – it speaks of a process of changing shape to adapt to the world of humans or of nature at will. The need to do that has come to the fore with today’s challenge of environmental damage and waste material. Can we apply a transformation to route our waste from the landfill, to instead turn it into a resource, or shapeshift it creatively into a thing of beauty?

We also link up with islands worldwide – to the Nicobar and Andaman Islands and St Helena and Tierra del Fuego – in a special presentation of community developments in energy. And we reach out along the old sea-roads of the north to music from women composers, and reflections on landscape and community, from Orkney to Greenland.


September 3September 9

Orkney Camera Club respond each year to the Festival theme, and this year had an even bigger challenge – to do so online; and they have responded in splendid style. Their exhibition Orkney’s Coastal Waters is a delight, as you can see by going to it on the Artsteps site.


September 3 → 5:00 pm6:00 pm

The science behind harnessing energy from the sea. What are waves and tides and how do you capture their power? What impact does ocean energy have on the surrounding environment? What progress is being made by ocean energy technology developers? David Darbinyan and Joshua Lawrence of EMEC are joined by Calum Miller of Orbital Marine Power, who reports on the progress of the Orbital O2 turbine.

Orkney is pioneering the production and use of green hydrogen, and is the location of a first-of-its-kind integrated energy system trial. This evening’s speakers bring the latest news of pioneering projects – generating hydrogen from tidal energy, decarbonising lifeline island services (ferries and aviation) and key industries (distilling), and integrating the energy system across Orkney’s islands. Neil Kermode, Richard Ainsworth and James Ferguson of EMEC are joined by Gareth Davies of Aquatera.


September 4 → 10:00 am10:45 am

From Rockall to Faroe, Iceland to Greenland, the 19th-century Shetland boats – the Faroe smacks – sought the cod shoals. They used baited lines, then salted the catch on board. Dried salted cod from Shetland was sold to the Basque country, and live cod (kept in tanks) to the London market. They also smuggled Faroese brandy and tobacco. John Goodlad, who has worked in the seafood industry all his life, tells the story of “ordinary people who did extraordinary things”.


September 4 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

She was one of the most powerfully-armed ships in the world, built for the Swedish king Gustav Adolf’s wars in Europe, but on her maiden voyage in 1628 she capsized and sank. But after more than 300 years underwater she was located, and raised in 1961, and put on display. Her timbers had been wonderfully well preserved through the heavily polluted Stockholm harbour water, and she is the subject of much study – as the Vasa Museum’s research director, Dr Fred Hocker, explains.


September 4 → 5:00 pm5:45 pm

Svalbard, far to Norway’s Arctic north, is an island group with glaciers, fjords, reindeer, seabirds and also scientific research. Dr Alison McLure, back from her second expedition, shows images of landscape and wildlife in a sometimes bleak yet breathtakingly beautiful setting.


September 4 → 7:00 pm7:30 pm

Take the ferry from Stromness to Moaness pier, and walk up the brae to the Hoy Kirk for seaweed soup for supper, with a recipe here for you to prepare at home in advance. Then sit back and enjoy some music, with the story of Jimmy o’ the Bu’s Polka, with memories from his grand-daughter Jean Thomson and his tune played by six of his great-great-grandchildren, including the fiddle that he played on. Then we hear the story of settlement in Rackwick from archaeologist Dan Lee.


September 4 → 8:30 pm9:30 pm

Nordic Viola presents reflections on female experience of landscapes and community from the Northern Isles to Greenland in music by women composers for string quartet. Highlights include ‘Machair’ by young Highland composer Lisa Robertson and music influenced by Orcadian history and the Hardanger fiddle style by Gemma McGregor. Greenland’s only classical composer, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, reflects on winter whilst English composer Lillie Harris depicts the full fury of a Shetland storm. Anna Appleby’s evocative ‘Hrakningar’ includes migrating geese from Iceland, and American Jocelyn Hagen offers a new take on the haunting Icelandic lullaby ‘Sofðu Unga’. There are new tunes reflecting on motherhood and the wild Orcadian weather by traditional fiddlers Margaret Robertson (Shetland) and Fiona Driver (Orkney),


September 5 → 10:00 am11:00 am

Research students at Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Island Technology give short talks on their work in topics like marine resources – and an opportunity to enjoy the view over Stromness harbour!


September 5 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

A beaver-chewed timber from North America, a sea heart from the rainforests of the southern Caribbean. A skate’s egg case, a lump of paraffin wax, and a lobster creel tag from Newfoundland. Martin Gray, who runs the Orkney Beachcombing page, describes the wealth of treasures that wash up on an Orkney shore and the searching and foraging quest that has taken Orcadians to the shore since Neolithic times and before.


September 5 → 9:00 pm9:30 pm

Orkney storyteller Tom Muir tells a selkie story from North Ronaldsay. Katarina Juvančič sings The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry, accompanied by guitarist Dejan Lapanja, and then a song in similar mood about a Slovenian girl taken away by a water-sprite. Anne Sinclair from Fair Isle describes some of the island’s shipwrecks and introduces a song from the group Fridarey.


September 5 → 9:30 pm9:45 pm

The old selkie story found in Orkney and elsewhere around the coast of the British Isles tells of shapeshifting between the human and natural worlds, in the uncertain boundary world of the shore. This performance piece by artist Selena S Kuzman, specially created for the Year of Coasts and Waters, merges in a poetic way the folk stories of the selkie people with the transformation of waste materials and our deep connection with the sea and the land.


September 6 → 10:30 am11:15 am

There’s an opportunity to explore the island in 360-degree photospheres, and learn about its natural history and cultural heritage. Hidden within the photospheres you'll discover multimedia gems of all kinds for you to enjoy from home. Sail from Stromness with Katy Firth of Stromness Museum and enjoy the view of the harbour. On the island you will see Sandside Bay and the lighthouse, and views across Hoy Sound, and hear more of Graemsay's story.


September 6 → 11:45 am12:30 pm

Orkney’s waters can provide spectacular sightings of marine mammals, but research so far has been limited. Orkney Marine Mammal Research Initiative was launched this summer to undertake long-term studies of cetaceans in Orkney waters and gather information from public sightings. It plans to work alongside other UK organisations such as Seawatch Foundation. Emma Neave-Webb, with a wealth of experience in surveying marine mammals in Sanday and elsewhere, describes the life of cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – whales, dolphins and porpoises. She is joined for questions by Karen Hetherington and Imogen Sawyer.


September 6 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

Dr Tom Rendall takes a journey from his native Sanday, where the shore sweeps out in great sandy bays like Otterswick and Backaskaill, to the coast at Scapa and its views across the Flow, with Birsay and parts of the East Mainland as well. He looks at the impacts of the sea upon island communities, with readings from Orkney writers and a song from Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon.


September 6 → 2:00 pm2:45 pm

We’re off to the shore, to Warebeth and Birsay, for a creative and informative family-friendly session of shore-inspired fun. It’s hosted by artists and foragers Katherine Diaper, Rebecca Marr and Fiona Sanderson, and marine ecologist Dr Andrew Want, and they say that all ages are welcome. They want you to make plant brushes, and paint with shore-sourced pigments. Forage along the coastline and feast on your finds. Get up close to shore creatures. Photograph the beauty of seaweed. And they’re going to round off with foraged food around a beach fire.


September 6 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

Emma Neave-Webb joins us from Sanday to show how to identify the various types of cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – found in Orkney waters.


September 6 → 8:30 pm9:15 pm

Music inspired by the sea, presented by its composer, Lochaber musician Ingrid Henderson, in conversation with the head of NatureScot’s marine unit, Katy Gillham. The music was created for a new music and audiovisual show for the Year of Coasts and Waters. Mixing newly crafted music and song with ancient Gaelic melodies and powerful imagery and animation, it explores themes of ocean currents, migration and environmental impact as well as celebrating the rich marine life around us and the deep cultural connection of coastal communities to the sea. Music by Ingrid Henderson (harp/fiddle/vocals), Anna Massie (guitar/fiddle), Megan Henderson (fiddle/vocals/piano) and Conal McDonagh (Irish pipes/whistle).


September 7 → 10:00 am10:45 am

Neolithic mariners in north-west Europe may have employed a fundamental nautical engineering principle, says Dr Mark Cooper of the University of Washington, Seattle – sailing with ballast. Using a long, knife-shaped megalith as the central hull of a trimaran would have increased stability, as well as speed and cargo-carrying capacity.


September 7 → 11:30 am12:15 pm

From one of the industries traditionally most dominated by men come stories of an 18th-century shipwright, a 19th-century propeller designer, a pioneer marine engineer and a WW2 shipyard electrician – and all of them women. Their newly-discovered histories are revealed by engineering historian Dr Nina Baker, who was herself a Merchant Navy deck officer, and highlights the role of women in engineering today.


September 7 → 2:00 pm2:15 pm

Join Selena S Kuzman and Anthony Harley on their day adventure to the Moray coast, hunting for beach treasures, with images of the sea. Learn how to make a selkie’s ghost net bracelet from washed-ashore pieces of fishing nets, amongst other examples of finding creative uses for reclaimed coastal waste.


September 7 → 3:30 pm4:15 pm

Orcadians working for the Hudson’s Bay Company over its three and a half centuries have had to use a wide range of vessels – York boats and canoes, ocean-going ships and paddle-steamers on lakes and rivers. Naval architect Dennis Davidson and former boatbuilder Len Wilson tell the story of the boats and the design principles behind their success.


September 7 → 7:30 pm8:15 pm

Award-winning wildlife cameraman and photographer Raymond Besant takes us on a tour of Orkney's coast, from cliffs and geos to sandy beaches, and the varied birds and mammals who live and feed there in a world of wild weather, orcas, otters, seabirds and seaweed.


September 8 → 5:00 pm5:45 pm

The tall ship Pelican of London is in Orkney, carrying out research to tackle marine challenges, in the tradition of HMS Beagle, launched 200 years ago. With other stops including St Kilda and Shetland, it’s setting the scene for the visionary Darwin200 project that hopes in 2021 to take scientists and conservationists on the route of Darwin and the Beagle. Five young scientists aboard the Pelican – Joe Ellison, Shaolin Casey, Penelope Martinez-Halmen, Aoibhinn Lynch and Abigail Cundell –join us with news of their research amid life under sail.


September 8 → 6:30 pm7:15 pm

Why do they sing? How do they learn their songs? Is there a connection to music more generally? Dr Luke Rendell and Dr Ellen Garland of St Andrews University’s Sea Mammal Research Unit describe the latest insights and explore their implications with composers Emily Doolittle and Alex South. This is followed by a performance by the Kapten Trio of Emily Doolittle’s piece Bowheads, based on the songs of the bowhead whale.

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