Tuesday, 13 June 2017

St Kilda Expedition

with Northern Light Cruising Company
One for the bucket list!

Day 1 Saturday May 13th 2017

A long day setting off from home at 5.30am to give us plenty of time to get to Oban for 4pm, with several planned stops along the way.  We had a good journey, the Motorway was busy but moving, so we arrived in Oban with plenty of time to do some last minute shopping including a pair of shoes for the boat. Once all the shopping had been done we set off to find Hjalmar Bjorge. We found her moored up and being greatly admired by several people walking along the harbour.

Thankfully we were able to drive up to the harbour to unload all our bags leaving them for Skipper, Tim and crew man, Craig to load on board before taking the car off to the carpark. We returned later and met some of our fellow passengers on the harbour before climbing down onto Hjalmar Bjorge, first problem – only it looked harder than it actually was, in fact it was no problem at all!

Once we were on board we were shown to our cabins, did a bit of unpacking 

view from our cabin window

 and had a quick look around before gathering in the lounge and dining area for a light tea – Scones and jam oh yes! 

the boats lounge/dining area

Our skipper, Tim then ran through the safety procedures and general housekeeping with us before giving us the news we had all been dreading. St Kilda looked highly unlikely – strong storm force winds, had been forecast for the next few days which probably wouldn’t give us enough of a window to get over to the islands, we might though manage to get to The Shiants or Monarchs, but for the next couple of days we would take shelter in the Inner Hebrides. It transpired that more than half of the 12 passengers previously had failed attempts at getting to St.Kilda and the trip over to our first evening’s anchorage was therefore fairly subdued (no pressure Tim!). We spent most of the trip over to Loch na Droma Buidhe at the mouth of Loch Sunart out on deck watching the wildlife including a distant view of a Sea Eagle, a porpoise and getting to know some of the other passengers.

Our first night’s anchorage Loch na Droma Buidhe – It appeared that several other boats had the same idea and we shared this evening’s view with several others! 

Once we had anchored for the night our spirits were lifted when it came to dinner, our chef for the week was Karen and she started with a show stopper of Fresh Grilled Langoustine with a garlic and herb butter, unfortunately no photo but it was exactly the type of starter I was hoping for - followed by Salmon with crushed new potatoes and capers and then sticky toffee pudding, the meal was also accompanied by plenty of general chat.  After dinner another briefing by Tim with a weather forecast update and maps - it was still not looking good for St. Kilda.

Day 2 Sunday May 14th

I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to sleep with all the strange boat sounds, in fact the boat was silent, but I couldn’t sleep until people started waking up and walking about! I managed to grab an hour before emerging for breakfast. We woke to this view – 

After breakfast Tim gave us our morning’s briefing, we were to move on to the Isle of Skye and seek shelter in Loch Dunvegan. It would be quite a long trip but it was hoped the other boats which anchored with us overnight would choose other places to shelter from the storm that was heading our way! So we headed off to Skye! And yes Tim was right the other boats went elsewhere. It was a lovely trip with great views,

sailing past Eigg and Rhum 

lots of wildlife sightings including  an Eagle, Common dolphins playing in our bow waves and fabulous rafts of Manx Shearwaters.

We also sailed past by Talisker, which has to be my favourite beach on Skye. It was great to see it from the sea.

Our anchorage for our second night – Loch Dunvegan with Dunvegan Castle in the background 

And it was passenger Tim’s birthday which meant tea and cake and a glass of sherry courtesy of Tim and wife Jenny .
A fabulous dinner consisting of Prosciutto salad starter followed by Roast Pork loin and then a raspberry marscapone cheesecake, preceded another briefing by Tim - storm still heading our way and St Kilda is still not looking likely -  Hey ho!

Day 3 Monday May 15th

My birthday, and not exactly where I had hoped I would be celebrating it but we always knew that we might not get to St Kilda, and just being on this trip and seeing the Hebrides from the sea along with all the wildlife was still fabulous.
Morning briefing, we would stay here until lunch, giving people the chance to go to the castle and view the St Kilda collection if they wanted, or just have a walk around Dunvegan. Then we would move on 5 miles or so around the coast and anchor at Loch Bay.
Seven passengers chose to go ashore but we opted to stay on board and relax.

Dunvegan landing party 

Dunvegan castle

Loch Dunvegan

hauling in the tender
The arrival of rain coincided with the return of the landing party to the boat for lunch. After lunch we upped anchor and set off leaving a rainbow in our wake!

We had a leisurely sail to our next anchorage, slowing down on seeing a mass of feeding seabirds in the distance in the hope of spotting a whale – alas no whale.  We also slowed as we passed high cliffs in the hope of spotting an eagle, again not to be this time.

Coral beach

Our anchorage for the night – Loch Bay

As already mentioned this was my birthday, so again we had afternoon tea and cake and I made a very poor attempt at blowing out all of my candles, it has been a very long time since I have had to do that!  Tim’s briefing gave a glimmer of hope promising we would cross the Minch tomorrow and anchor off North Uist and then for those who stayed up long enough after another fabulous meal there was some whisky on offer -Slainte!

Day 4 Tuesday  May 16th .
Before setting off to North Uist we were offered the chance to spend the morning on land, this time we decided to go for a walk, this was a part of Skye that I hadn’t seen as it isn’t so easy to access, so it was a good opportunity to do a bit of exploring even if it was just for a couple of hours. Again seven of us chose to go for a short walk along the coast – we were rewarded with great views and a Golden Eagle

We returned to Hjalmar Bjorge for lunch and what a stunner!

 Asparagus and chorizo flan with a selection of sausage and haggis rolls, which were brilliant.
After a slow exit from Loch Bay to look out for the Golden Eagle from the morning’s walk, which happily obliged by soaring over our heads before heading off to hunt,  it was then full speed over the very choppy Minch to Cheese Bay, North Uist.  Sea sickness tablets were required by some. (Note to self - if standing at the bow of the boat as it crashes through waves make sure your coat is done up properly!
Bagh Chaise, North Uist

sunset at Cheese bay North Uist 

We had reached the Outer Hebrides and our spirits were raised. Dinner was fabulous again:  Mozzarella salad, venison casserole and mash followed by chocolate mousse, then we had our briefing….
Weather forecast was not good. Although the winds were dropping slightly it was looking as though there was too much Easterly in the wind direction which would make it difficult if not impossible to anchor in Village Bay, so unless the forecast improved over the next few hours St Kilda was not going to happen but we would hopefully be able to get to the Monarchs. 
Determined to remain positive we went to bed.

Day 5 Wednesday May 17th.

Breakfasted and we waited for our briefing - it had to happen today or we wouldn’t get there at all.
Tim was not happy, there was still too much Easterly wind in the forecast and it was still blowing strong. The sailing boat which was also moored up at Cheese Bay had made the decision not to attempt St Kilda but Tim decided to take Hjalmar Bjorge out into the seas to see how it was, so everything was secured in place, sea sickness tablets were again taken, coats and waterproof trousers were donned and off we went to the bow again to enjoy the ride! What was I saying about doing my coat right up? It was brilliant but I got soaked again!!!

So back inside I retreated to dry off and to find just a handful of passengers. Most had decided the best place to be was in their cabins, that was not an option for me- I didn’t want to miss a thing so we sat in the lounge and watched the waves crash onto the boat as we steadily powered through at 8 knots an hour, I ventured up to the wheelhouse shortly before lunch to see how things were going. What a fabulous place to sit and watch. Tim’s comment as we left the wheelhouse was “it will be the Monarchs!”  That was not what I wanted to hear at this stage of the trip – so close!
How Karen managed to prepare any food when the boat was continually being rocked amazed me but lunch was served for those who ventured out of their cabins
A couple of hours later we were still going when the call came up - St Kilda was in view! At some point between lunch and then Tim had changed his mind, there was apparently more Southerly in the recent forecasts and it had been decided that St Kilda was possible after all!
I went back up to the wheelhouse and watched as waves crashed over the boat and at times hit the bell as we approached St Kilda. What an amazing hour – just so very special. 

 Approaching St Kilda from the wheelhose 

and it is all thanks to our skipper

skipper Tim
We had arrived at Village Bay, St Kilda, the first boat to do so for a week! Hugs and tears - now where is the champagne?

Dinner - Mackerel pate, roast sirloin of beef followed by a selection of Scottish cheeses, watched the sun set behind the island and then off to bed – it was going to be an early start in the morning!

Day 6 Thursday18th May
St Kilda
5.30am and we were making our way to the Island of Hirta for 2 hours exploring
Some opted to stay in the village, including a visit to the museum. We headed straight up to the gap, stopping to photograph the Soay sheep and watch the St Kilda wrens and just take in the views when stopping to rest, consequently we missed the sun rise

 but the views across to Stac Lee and Boreray were still fantastic. 

We then descended again, dodging the Great Skuas, to spend some time exploring the village before returning to Hjalmar Bjorge for breakfast

Back on board, breakfast and then off to the gannets of Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray via the Puffins and guillemots at Dun – and not a moment too soon as a small cruise liner with over 110 passengers was arriving as we sailed off.

Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray 

What an experience. The sights, the noise, the smell – thousands upon thousands of gannets, with bonksies flying about looking to pirate feeding opportunities from the gannets. The islands themselves are spectacular.
Then we had the long journey back to Mull, accompanied several times by small pods of dolphins, through the Sound of Barra to Tobermory, where we moored up for the night,

Day 7  Friday19th May
Departed from Tobermory after breakfast to make the sad return journey to Oban.
Tied up alongside another boat which we then had to board and walk across to climb up to harbour and collect our bags which had already been passed over and our farewells were said.

An amazing week with wonderful people visiting a magical place, with huge thanks to Skipper Tim, and his crew Craig and Rosie for getting us there and not forgetting our incredible chef for the week Karen creating all those fabulous meals from this tiny galley.