St Kilda - just to confirm a suburb in Melbourne named after an island in Scotland not the Football team. Then onto Dunvegan on Isle of Skye.

10th - 15th August 

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St Kilda is a group of five islands and stacs around 50nm west of the Outer Hebrides, next stop is New York or Newfoundland. Getting to St Kilda takes some organisation and a lot of luck from the weather. We had sat out in Stornaway for a week in the hope that we would get the opportunity to sail to St Kilda and our patience finally paid off with that opportunity coming on Monday 10th. We headed out at first light to ensure we made the Sound of Harris on slack tide - that time of water rising or falling where it is at its least. That being said the water as we were heading out of the Sound was racing against us up to 3 knots and brought the water to life around the boat. Unfortunately, as has been the pattern for this trip so far we found ourselves sailing to windward and beating for the next 50 nm to St Kilda. Getting into Village Bay on the island of Hirta was very welcomed some 14 hours after leaving Stornaway.

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Not much is known about the earliest of settlers on St Kilda but evidence has been found of dwellings dating back to the bronze age. More recent history is documented about the residents of the island from the 1600s who rented their land from Mcleods of Dunvegan in Skye. Each year a representative of the Mcleods called a Factor would arrive to collect the rent. Rent would be paid from barley, oats, seafood and seabirds and then the Factor would in turn sell the islanders imported goods. Across the island are remnants of some 1400 cliets on all sorts of precarious slopes. These cleats, basically stone shelters, were used to dry peat, store eggs, seabirds and oils. Unfortunately history has recorded that the islanders became dependent on visiting ships that arrived for tourism and defence from the mid 1800s to early 1900s for supplies. In 1852 36 citizens sailed to Melbourne and according to the National Trust for Scotland that is why the suburb of Melbourne came to be St Kilda, being named after the schooner The Lady of St Kilda. This according to the Scottish National Heritage was sadly another major factor in the decline of St Kildas small population. By 1930 the few remaining islanders requested assistance to evacuate the island leading to the end of St Kilda's unique way of life.

In 1957 the islands were given to the National Trust for Scotland who in the same year leased land to the department of defence. So as we came to shore we were presented with the historical main street ruins of St Kilda along side the green military buildings of the defence. It is published by the National Trust that although the military defence buildings may look at odds with the historical ruins of the village the defence do provide the benefit of suppling electricity and water to the remaining buildings used by researchers, as well as supervision during the harsh months of winter. It was summer when we were on shore I take my hat off to those who stay for winter.

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Now that the islands have been a National Reserve for nearly 60 years it is evident that the wildlife has thrived. St Kilda now boasts  the largest colony of Fulmars, Puffins and Gannets for Britain. All we can say is that we were astonished to see so many birds. Puffins generally will be back at sea by the end of July. As we approached the Village Bay we were surprised at how many puffins we saw. The  next day as we walked the cliffs of Village Bay we were truly astounded by the number of puffins parading on the cliff faces. We had carefully prepared Sue and Peter that the chances of seeing puffins this late in the season would be rare. We were so happily wrong. Later in the afternoon we headed out in the dingy to the nearby bird cliffs and the sea was literally alive with puffins. It was impossible to contemplate how many were in view. Absolutely unexpected and fantastic.

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The Ranger of St Kilda had confirmed that we had chosen the best day - perhaps the only day of summer - and as such there were some five other local tourist boats in harbour. One of whom we spoke to confirmed it had been a particularly bad summer for getting to St Kilda - he simply reconfirmed our knowledge that it had been worth the wait in Stornaway. But mother nature was ready to reinforce the instability of weather in this area. We awoke the next morning at 4am to large swells rolling into the harbour necessitating the St Johns Recovery Position to remain in bed. Time to go. 

So as planned we made a 6am start for the Isle of Skye and appropriately the home of the Landlord or Laird of St Kilda, Dunvegan Castle. After a well timed traverse of the  Sound of Harris once more we arrived into our anchorage at the back door of Dunvegan Castle in a mist of Scottish rain. There is no need to guess why Scotland is so green.

Dunvegan Castle has been the home of the Mcleod Clan for over 850 years, built as a defence fortress it did not have a front door accessible by land until 1748. Each Chief has stamped his own development on the castle including the installation of Chimney pots by the 25th Chief in the 1840s. For us the most impressive element of the castle were the gardens. Originally laid out in the 18th century they are obviously well attended to. Be it the drabness of the surrounding buildings and enclosures, or the grey sky mist the flowers in these garden beds when the sun shone briefly were beautifully vibrant. 

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Getting groceries when anchoring out involves a dingy ride. Generally not a wet one but unfortunately we were downwind of the small township of Dunvegan and the tide was standing up against the wind making for a rather wet and chilly arrival which thankfully was forgotten by a warming meal  at the Dunvegan Hotel.

From Dunvegan we have moved south to Tobermory a picturesque harbour on the Isle of Mull. The highlight of the days sail was the number of dolphin pods we had pass us from the moment we left Dunvegan Loch to arriving in the Sound of Mull. It was simply the day of dolphins and recalling how many we saw was simply too hard - we can just say “biggest mobs"

The sea state (3 -4m swells) had determined it wise to hold off our run to  The North of Ireland for an additional day so after an enjoyable day strolling the streets of Tobermory, visiting the local Distillery and our last Scottish pub lunch we are refuelled and re provisioned and ready to sail south. 

Next stop west coast of Ireland.


(Click for more photos)




© SV Katherine 2017      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Faro Portugal with Askari of Australia