Fair Isle lies some 25 miles south-west of the southern tip of Shetland's Mainland at Sumburgh Head. Those wishing to travel to the island have a choice of the flights from Tingwall near Lerwick, or the Fair Isle Ferry.
The waters that have to be crossed by the ferry are wholly unsheltered and subject to fast tidal flows: meaning that crossing on a regular basis requires a very sturdy boat and considerable local knowledge. The Good Shepherd IV and her crew, based on Fair Isle, provide both. She is the fourth Good Shepherd to have served on the route, and was built in 1986 at St Monans in Fife.
The ferry was based on the design of an 18m trawler, and up to 12 passengers can be carried on the two and a half hour trip as well as the island's cargo. Passenger accommodation is in a cabin behind the cargo deck, or for the hardy on the open deck above it, behind the wheelhouse.
An indication of roughness of the waters through which the Good Shepherd passes can be seen at North Haven, where between journeys a cradle is used to pull the vessel clear of the water and into the greater shelter of a rocky niche carved out of Bu Ness.
Another clue lies in the seating in the passenger cabin, which comes complete with aircraft-style seat belts. Because when Good Shepherd IV was built the priority really was sturdiness rather than passenger comfort, and even in moderate weather a passage on her can become something of a white knuckle ride.
The ferry operates between Fair Isle and the pier at Grutness, near Sumburgh. Services operate on two or three days each week from May to September. One service each fortnight extends to Lerwick. In winter the ferry only operates on Tuesdays, "weather permitting, or next suitable day". And fares are remarkably cheap: full details of current timetables and prices for all Shetland's inter-island ferries can be found on the ferry area of Shetland Islands Council's website.