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Cruise July 2018

Sailing to St. Kilda

David, Lynn, Mike, Phillip, Neil and Charles
David, Lynn, Mike, Phillip, Neil and Charles

Our crew of six, led by Phillip and Neil, started the week in style by enjoying a fine dining experience at The Digby Chick restaurant, which set us up for the week ahead.

Sunday dawned warm and sunny for our 55 mile leg down to Lochmaddy on North Uist and we were delighted to have a sighting of a Minke whale whilst sailing. The weather deteriorated en route to cold and wet but fortunately had cleared to glorious evening sunshine by the time of our arrival. Lochmaddy is a delightful bay where we picked up a visitors mooring and enjoyed the long Hebridean evening light with the sunset being at 22.30pm. The nights were never truly dark.

Monday was our day to journey through the notoriously hazardous Sound of Harris, which divides North Uist from South Harris and then on to St. Kilda. We smoothly exited the Sound due to Neil's excellent navigation and the crew following his instructions "Do exactly as I say - Do not use your initiative!" We had an easy, sunny crossing to St. Kilda, which was only interrupted by the sound of a slipping alternator belt. An hour's hard work by Neil and Philip meant that we were then safely back on track for our arrival at St. Kilda.

The approach to St. Kilda was spectacular as the high cliffs came into view and we eased into Village Bay, the only anchorage for the island. With only two or three other boats anchored that evening and in full view of the abandoned village surrounded by hills on three sides, this is a truly memorable anchorage.

Tuesday was Exploration Day. Landing on the shore, we were met by John, the National Trust Warden and given written instructions of the Do's and Don'ts for the island. These included such warnings as "If dive bombed by Great Skuas, hold your fist in the air" - prescient advice for Philip.

The hillside features mostly ruined stone walled cottages but two have been restored and are used as a small museum and a tiny cafe. The islanders were sadly evacuated in 1930 after declining population and ill health made the community non-viable. They had previously survived by collecting eggs and sea birds from the sheer cliffs - the birds were dried and stored in beehive-shaped buildings called cleit, many of which still cover the hillside.

The path up to the highest point of the island was very long and steep but it was worth the effort for the spectacular views and then a well-earned rest.

The descent was punctuated by the Great Skuas with their near 5 ft wingspan swooping down to chase us all away from their nests and they seemed to have a particular dislike for Phillip.

St. Kilda is home to around 1 million seabirds, in particular Puffins, Skuas, Gannets and Fulmars.

With no phone or internet signal, we had one major problem - how were we to know how England were doing in their World Cup quarter-final match against Columbia?

Fortunately John, the National Trust Warden, came up trumps. John put his football friend on the VHF at the end of the game and he gave Phillip a suspense-filled two minute summary, following which a very loud cheer was heard around the bay.

On Wednesday, after a second peaceful night anchored in Village Bay, we had a grand sail in fine weather on a single tack and a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the boat added to the enjoyment of the day. We anchored in a spectacular bay behind the island of Scarp, where a dinghy outing to the Caribbean quality beach was only marred by one crew member taking an unintended dip. Luckily nothing was hurt but pride.

On Thursday, we left our beautiful bay and headed back eastwards through the Sound of Harris. To everyone's delight, we were able to sail using the cruising chute in bright sunshine down to Lochmaddy for another night there.

Friday was our final leg and saw us return to Stornaway. A second fine meal was had that evening at Digby Chick, where we were joined by the following week's crew.

All in all, an amazing week. Thanks to all the crew especially to Phillip and Neil, our expert skipper and mate.

About the author

Charles Wellingham

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