St Kilda: A Chance to Experience the Wild Atlantic – May 2019

Saturday. After a long journey, we arrived in the pouring rain to meet our guides Zoe and Matt, and the MV Cuma at Miabhaigh, Lewis. This would be my first time on a liveaboard and fellow Wansbeck Wanderer Scott and I had already argued over who would get the top bunk. He’d won on the basis that I was fairly likely to get seasick, and he didn’t want pebble-dashing during the night. On seeing the bunks, it was probably for the best. I had less than two hands in height between my forehead and the bottom of the bunk above me, and Scott’s head is way bigger than mine!

We were super excited to get away that evening. The forecast looked changeable, so the plan was to steam farther down the coast and find a sheltered anchorage for the night. A joyous encounter with dolphins less than 30 minutes into our voyage had us giggling excitedly and waffling on about good omens. However, listening to how the previous years’ trips had panned out, it suddenly became obvious we might not even make it out to St Kilda. The forecasts were changeable, with wind speeds rather stronger than ideal, yet I’d taken it for granted that the Cuma would provide the shelter we needed. Our massively experienced skipper, Murdo, knew otherwise and understood how fickle and fierce those seas can be, so the decision for if and when we go, would be his.

Sunday. A sheltered night and a misty paddle up through Loch Tamnabhaigh, Bràigh Mòr and across to Scarp gave us a tiny taster of the chunky Atlantic swell coming in from the west. A bouncy run up through the sound and a cheeky surf on the way back made up for the headwind battle back up to meet the Cuma.  Later, another dubious forecast and a plan for tomorrow: “We’ll steam further down the coast to Taransay, we can paddle there and if conditions look ok, it’s a good jumping off point for St Kilda”.

Monday. Dosed up on travel sickness tablets, I settled down on the deck to watch the scenery sail by. 30 minutes after steaming out of the Loch I began to wonder why we hadn’t turned left to follow the coast. Sneaky Murdo had made his decision without telling anybody and we were on our way west into the open ocean. 5 hours later and 2 very seasick passengers (although happily not myself) we approached the first majestic island of the St Kilda archipelago, Boreray. It’s an incredible passage between the island, Stac an Armin and Stac Lee, which emphasises the enormous and vertical nature of the cliffs here. Gannets swirl everywhere in the air and thousands line the rocky ledges as far as you can see. Truly unforgettable!

Steaming onwards, the stunning lush green, precipitously fringed slopes of Hirta come into view. Village Bay affords a decent amount of shelter for the Cuma, and whilst dinner is prepared we go ashore. A short, steep climb up the valley between Conachair and Oisebhal brings the stunning Boreray once more into view. Fulmars hang stationary in the air, ridge soaring, and a glance back down towards the bay reveals the abandoned village with its hundreds of cleits dotted everywhere. I won’t go into it here, but I’d recommend looking up the incredible history of this tiny, isolated island and its inhabitants, it is fascinating.

Tuesday. We paddle out from Village Bay and immediately encounter a 3 metre swell upon rounding Dùn. The long period pushes the waves higher onto the rocks and they explode powerfully in gigantic plumes of white water. The clapotis makes things especially lively and the borrowed Latitude feels especially twitchy. Paddling under the immense sea cliffs is an astounding experience. The variety of seabirds here is fantastic, but the puffins are my favourite. They make me laugh with their dreadful attempts at getting airborne and I wince when they belly flop and tumble onto the too tall waves.

We spend another night in Village Bay, and a fabulous idea to see some dark, starry night skies is formed. Remembering our drive earlier in the week, it hadn’t got dark until around 1 a.m. Scott apparently didn’t trust me to scout the situation first and insisted I wake him when my alarm went off at 1:30a.m. Standing on the deck of the Cuma, in my pyjamas and freezing cold, I saw the funny side; Scott however wasn’t particularly impressed to see that knocking on 2 a.m., it still wasn’t dark and the only twinkling points of light that were visible belonged to another ship which had anchored close by during the night.

Wednesday. The forecast comes in and Murdo makes the call it’s time to leave St Kilda, the long way round. We get a magnificent tour of Hirta, Soay and Boreray once again with its spectacular stacs. I put my camera down this time and soaked up every moment in the glorious sunshine. This really is a special place. 6 hours to reach Taransay and time for a quick paddle before dinner. The Outer Hebrides are stunningly beautiful, however as the weather closed in, St Kilda was going to be hard to beat.

Thursday. After being rocked steadily to sleep on my cabin shelf for the past two nights, the stillness of last nights’ anchorage was strange. We’d all found our sea legs out there and had become accustomed to the constant movement of the boat. This was our last day of paddling and we would journey all the way back to the Cuma’s berth at Miabhaig, where our St Kilda adventure came to an end. The week had gone so fast, and yet our arrival just 6 days earlier felt like a whole lifetime away. How lucky we were to experience it.

Massive thanks go to our guides Zoe Newsam and Matt Haydock, Murdo of Island Cruising, his crew Abby and Iain and those friends, old and new, making every minute amazing. Big Love.

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