Lerwick 2015 Convoyer’s report
Racing from Lerwick is not only a big challenge for birds and fanciers, but also for the convoyer – aided by the advisory team around him – who is the key man whose decisions have the power of making a success, or failure, of the race.
.Racing from Lerwick is not only a big challenge for birds and fanciers, but also for the convoyer – aided by the advisory team around him – who is the key man whose decisions have the power of making a success, or failure, of the race.
Darren Shepherd, in his first season working for the North Road Championship Club, had three good races under his belt but he knew the trip to the Shetland Isles was a different ball game to liberating from Dunbar, Perth and Fraserburgh.
In the event he had to hold over the Unikon King George V Challenge Cup birds until the Monday, and a hard race ensued with just nine fanciers verifying day birds, with one of them timing two.
It turned out what many termed “a typical Lerwick” race with some members reporting good returns, and others being very disappointed. The birds, however, reached all parts of the NRCC territory, and invariably were reported to be in good condition on return.
This is Darren’s report on the biggest race of the season for north road fanciers:
Wednesday 24th June 2015
This day was probably the biggest challenge to face me in my convoying career so far, and one of the proudest days of my life, being in charge of the most prestigious race on the North Road, NRCC Lerwick for the Kings Cup. After very little sleep the previous night I was up early to catch the train over to Spalding to meet up with my trusted assistant Merv, who was already looking after the birds. We then loaded them all onto the transporter.
With the birds loaded we made sure we had enough corn for the long journey to Lerwick, waved the members and the committee goodbye, jumped in Merv’s van and arranged to meet our friends from Diane Bonney Transport, Alan and Arthur. They were going to be assisting us and we had arranged the various pick up points to collect other birds on the route up to Scotland. With all the birds loaded, we travelled up to Berwick for the night where we parked up and fed and watered the birds.
I had a brief chat with our race adviser Brian (Garnham) and explained that all was well and the birds were resting. Merv and I checked into our rooms for the night and had a little bite to eat ourselves before bedding down for the night.
Thursday dawned, we were both up bright and early checking the birds. We explained to Alan and Arthur, who were travelling in the transporter, that we would follow them to Kinross to collect all the Ayrshire birds. With the Ayrshire birds loaded, we set off for Aberdeen docks, and arrived at 11:30M, booked in and positioned the transporter in a safe spot where we could feed and water the birds.
At this time I informed the committee that we had arrived at Aberdeen and all was well. Following a photo shoot with a representative of North Link Ferries, we boarded the ferry and set sail for the Shetland Isles at 5:00pm. We arrived 14 hours later at 7:00am on Friday and we had a pleasant surprise as the weather was not bad at all.
We made the short journey to the liberation site where we settled the transporter then watered the birds. I informed the committee members we had arrived in dry weather and it was not bad for the Shetlands at all. Another brief chat with Brian followed to decide at what point we would make contact to discuss the weather for Saturday. Merv and I made contact with our various weather contacts up and down the UK, and exchanged information day to share with Brian.
We were up at 4:45am with low cloud and thick mist. We checked the birds at 5:00am, Brian then made contact and said he had spoken with his contact who had some good information from all of the oil rigs.
Throughout the North Sea visibility was not good and most of the platforms were closed to any air traffic and were locked down until 10:00am. The morning just deteriorated with fine drizzle and poor visibility on the island. Following further discussions with my weather team and Brian, we decided to call a holdover.
I woke again early with blue skies and excellent visibility. Merv and I set about doing our line of flight checks and it was not long before we both said "rubbish."
We made contact with Brian who informed us that Scotland would get rain early morning which would be straight in front of the birds, and most of the country would see rain and unsettled weather for most if the day.
With this in mind it was agreed that yet again a holdover would be called. The birds were fed and again, just like the previous day, fresh water was put on. Sunday evening the Sun started coming through at the liberation site.
Merv and I had done our usual checks ready for Monday and things were looking positive for a liberation. I spoke with Brian at length at 7:30pm and he also had good news for Monday. We both agreed that we would try and get as much information as early as possible on Monday and, hopefully, try and get the birds away bright and early.
I told Brian that if he could not contact me in the morning I had no problem in him ringing Merv as we both work as a team and I may be busy getting information. Merv would then be able to let me know what was going on and I always involve Merv before liberating.
We were up at 4:30am to patchy blue sky with good visibility but no sign of the sun yet. I was soon collecting information from Orkney that it was clear, the cloud base was high and the wind was blowing South West. Further information was collected from Thurso, Fraserburgh and, generally speaking, Scotland was basking in blue skies with unlimited visibility and South West winds.
Weather reports were good for the rest of the birds’ journey.
Brian rang and gave us very encouraging information from all the rig platforms. I explained to Brian that we were still in need of a bit of sun on site, and he told me that, when I was happy, to let him know and we would go from there.
At 5:25am the sun broke through and it stayed open, the wild birds were singing and dancing. Merv and I smiled at each other and started chatting. Merv assured me it would be OK, just let's give it half an hour, he said. I made contact with the local coast guards and got the things up and one last check with the MET office at 5:50am confirmed everything was good. I said to Merv we will start cutting the strings and we were helped by Alan.
I made contact with Brian and said I was happy to liberate at 6:00am and Brian agreed. 6:00am came and away they went in a South West wind, the birds grouped together and headed for home. I looked and Merv and he said "Well done, it will be a tough one for them but they will make it." I was feeling a little nervous, Merv could sense this and he told me to relax and re-assured me. We boarded the boat for home and I was constantly checking my phone, we thought winning birds would start to arrive around 7:00pm onwards. We lost signal for a while and it was not much fun when that happened! Suddenly my phone rang at 8:30pm, it was my good friend Colin Brown, convoyer of the Durham Combine. He informed me that he had spoken with Kev Lawson who had clocked at 8:02pm and was currently sitting 2nd Open. At that point, with this information, I jumped to my feet, raised my arms in the air and shouted, "GET IN THERE!"
The whole boat seemed to stop. People were looking at me in a strange way, Merv bailed me out and explained why I was so happy! We shook hands and both said, "We did it!"