It’s 5.00am and the shrilling of the unwelcome alarm and the unexpected darkness outside bring me quickly to the reality of the day ahead. I’m going to Lundy, on my own, and the world is gripped by a pandemic.
Preparing for the trip.
Any other year and this would be part of a bad dream to wake from, I’d get up at a sensible time and prepare for the day ahead to watch our ship, the MS Oldenburg sail with hundreds of excited visitors, heading to Lundy to enjoy the fantastic spring weather and wildlife, a welcome relief after a particularly gruelling UK winter. Instead, the world has stopped and Lundy is closed. The Oldenburg is sitting forlornly in the dry dock waiting for a replacement rudder stock from Germany, although news is hopeful that she’ll escape soon and return to her former glory, supplying the island and maintaining that most vital of links between the island and mainland. The islanders unusually have Lundy to themselves, but the Marisco Tavern is closed, most of the team are furloughed and just six people are keeping the island running. Fortunately there are no signs of anyone with symptoms of the Coronavirus and social distancing is in place, to help prevent the rapid cross infection that would undoubtedly follow should it reach the island.
An aerial view of Lundy.
My trip today is to take vital stores over: medical supplies, mail, milk, bread, fresh fruit and veg, petrol and various other necessities. Because of the virus I’m sailing solo although I have welcome assistance from relief Captain Paul Gyurgyak to load the boat in Appledore. After a forecast check we’re loaded and by 7.15am I set off, heading out over the bar on the most beautiful of mornings with the open sea in front and rising sun on my back. Thankfully the sea is reasonably flat as I’m well laden and I’m at peace with the world. A surprised coastguard acknowledges my safety radio check, and gives assurance that someone is looking out for me during the 60 min passage.
Lundy appears in the distance as Derek crosses the water.
The crossing is bliss, the sea flat and the madness of the mainland is quickly left behind. Apart from a thick bank of fog mid-channel, the trip is uneventful and the “Tempestuous Isle” finally looms out of the mist. The mist burns off quickly with the rising sun and I’m greeted by island manager Rob Waterfield and cargo co-ordinator John Lambert on the jetty both wearing disposable gloves which brings me back to reality.
Carefully loading the supplies.
After unloading at a distance and mooring the boat, we tuck into a welcome flask of tea and breakfast which Rob has kindly brought down, whilst keeping a distance from each other. The chaps load the Land Rovers and to keep apart I elect to walk up the hill, which I always enjoy doing as part of my normal arrival ritual. There’s an uncanny silence though, even for Lundy. Walking up Millcombe and through St Johns alone is a bit surreal. I’m used to Lundy being closed every January for maintenance, but it’s strange and sad to see our beautiful buildings sitting empty in the sunshine, almost pining for someone, anyone, to open the door and fill them full of life and laughter again. On reaching the village, the newborn lambs are enjoying a freedom not previously experienced by island sheep, as they gather in numbers around the front of St Helens - a new flock for the church!
The village is deserted apart from Richard Goodman, a member of the Lundy maintenance team, making the most of a rare opportunity in good weather to carry out repairs to the windows of the Marisco Tavern after the winter storms. During the lockdown Richard carries out regular checks of the properties to ensure that they will be ready for visitors when we re-open. After a much-needed brew, Rob and I take a walk through the village to meet some of the team for a quick catch up. The mood on the island is high and it’s clear that the islanders feel very fortunate to be safely isolated, but are equally concerned for the island’s future without much-needed income. Everyone is looking forward to the day that the Oldenburg returns with a full ship of visitors again.
The MS Oldenburg.
It turns out to be a blazingly hot day and after meeting up with Sue, Rob’s wife, we head up to Jenny’s Cove, keeping a healthy distance apart at all times. The island doesn’t fail to impress, with curious Sika Deer, our wild ponies and Soay all crossing our path on the way. I can’t help but wonder whether they realise that the island is unusually deserted. At Jenny’s, it is the main seabird nesting season and from a distance, warden Dean Woodfin-Jones can just be spotted on the slopes amongst his beloved birds, binoculars glued firmly to his face. A man at peace with his feathered world, whether in furlough or not.
After a hearty picnic lunch, we wander back to the East Coast and the village, passing the highland cows and farm en-route. Farm assistant Tom Carr shows us his latest arrivals at the lambing shed and it’s a joy to watch spring lambs bouncing everywhere. Such a shame that there are no visitors around to see them this year. Approaching the village, I’m watching the weather, as although it’s still hot and sunny, I can see it starting to close in from the west and sense the wind beginning to pick up. Time to go. Rob makes up the mailbag for me to take back and we head for the landing bay, enjoying the silence and clear skies above. The island feels more remote then I’ve ever known it, and I’m reluctant to leave, but know I must. I know that I’ll return soon, with others, to enjoy the most special of places. Lundy is ready and waiting for you.
The crossing from Lundy.
A quick check of the boat, a call to the Coastguard and I’m on my way home, Lundy quickly slips behind me as I fly across the water, un-laden and free. Any emotion I feel at leaving quickly disappears as the sea mist returns almost immediately and I hope that it’s just a bank, mid channel. The Bideford bar is notorious at the best of times and not a pleasant prospect to cross alone in fog. The mist thickens and I’m forced to steer by electronics and grateful that I checked the web for other shipping movements in the channel before leaving. After what seems like an age, (but is actually only 30 minutes), I reach the Fairway Buoy off Appledore and thankfully the mist begins to lift as I near the mainland. I can finally see, and carefully steer my way through the narrow channel into the estuary, where it’s a different world of sunshine and calm again. As my adrenalin level drops back to normal, I feel both a sense of relief and achievement, having delivered the vital stores and made the 23-mile solo crossing. Lundy always brings out a range of personal emotions and feeling of indescribable wellbeing in me, and my hopes are that the island will thrive and continue to do so for my children and theirs.
As I pass the lifeboat, my mobile phone rings unexpectedly. My wife Lyndsey who also works for the Lundy company has been watching me come in from our house which overlooks the sea. ‘What do you want for tea?’ she asks.