Our final scenic cruise to St Kilda for 2015 was a great success. It was particularly evocative because it co-incided with the 85th anniversary of the evacuation of St Kilda when the 36 islanders who remained on the St Kilda Archipelago were evacuated to the mainland at their own request.
Despite occasionally rough seas we made it to our destination thanks to good old Elizabeth G, as stable and dependable as ever, and our wonderful guests who were eager to push on. Our efforts were greatly rewarded with plenty of playful dolphins and two magical days on St Kilda.
Our guests were offered the usual treats on arrival – home-made scones, canapés and sparkling wine. That afternoon we steamed up to Tobermory and had a great number of sightings on our way up the Sound of Mull. A total of 12 different species of seabirds were spotted including diving gannets, manx shearwaters and both great and arctic skua. We also had three sightings of porpoises including a pod of at least five porpoises feeding near the entrance to Tobermory bay. Our first dinner was a fresh couscous salad for starter and delicious salmon for main course.
We had a long steam ahead of us to get to St Kilda so our second day was baptism by fire for our guests as we took them across the Minch. Due to the bumpy crossing a few of our guests didn’t feel too well, but a sighting of two common dolphins that came in to bow ride did cheer them up and everyone fully recovered as soon as we went ashore at Eriskay. We walked along the beautiful beach overlooking the Sound of Barra and enjoyed a wee dram at the famous pub, the Politician. Back on board we were served apricot and chanterelle (picked by the guide and foraging expert Vivi Bolin) salad and roast pork.
Our third day could not have had a better start! As we steamed through the Sound of Barra we saw some big splashes up ahead. A resident pod of 10 bottlenose dolphins called the Barra Boys came shooting over and escorted us all the way through the sound whilst doing flips and leaps in front of our guests. Then we began our long steam out to St Kilda. Unfortunately the sea was a bit bumpy again but by now most of our guests had found their sea legs. We enjoyed watching fulmars sweep past the ship and a steady increase in numbers of gannets was a clear indication that we were heading in the right direction. Soon we could see our destination and after a few more bumpy hours we steamed into village bay with a greeting party of three common dolphins that followed us in. The guests went ashore to explore the village and to try to spot some of the famous wildlife. We walked up and down main street, but no St Kilda wren! On our way back to the pier we then spotted one wren inside the church. One of the guests went inside to flush it out and once outside we got a great look and even pictures of this endemic bird. Once back on board we were treated to seabass served with seafood risotto and Martin’s amazing sticky toffee pudding!
Another great start to the day when one of the guests spotted a fin in the bay which turned out to be a very small Minke whale!! After breakfast the guests went ashore to walk the hills of Hirta. Some headed up the biggest peak Conachair (376m) with amazing views over towards Boreray, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin while others walked to Ruabhal and to the famous Lover’s Stone. We spotted more wrens, a snipe and plenty of territorial great skuas. At low tide we walked along the beach and spotted small shore birds, including sanderlings, dunlins, turnstones and ringed plovers. In the evening Martin has cooked us a lovely beef cassoulet and his famous lemon posset which had the guests licking the bowls!
Another fantastic start to the day when we spotted a pod of about 30 common dolphins in the bay before even lifting anchor. Hirta is fantastic, but no trip to St Kilda is complete without a trip to the sea stacks and Boreray. We set off uncertain if the sea was favourable enough for us to cross. Skipper Rob took the Elizabeth G through a narrow gap between Soy and Hirta which had all the guests with their hearts in their mouths. We assessed the sea and decided it was doable. The sheer number of gannets on the stacks (65 000 pairs!) can only be fully appreciated up close when you realise that what from afar looks like just a white stack is actually white from thousands of gannets! We turned around and started heading back and were very lucky to have the same pod of dolphins as we spotted that morning come to give us a farewell. They stayed with us for nearly half an hour doing fantastic full body leaps out of the water. What a fantastic send off for our last St Kilda trip! Another great sighting was a dark phase fulmar (a dark colour morph which is common in the Arctic). And as if that wasn’t enough we also had the Barra Boys again later that afternoon and they were just as playful on this occasion. What a treat watching dolphins swimming upside down in front of Elizabeth G! And like dolphins we enjoyed our fish that evening in the shape of a very yummy fish pie.
We hopped back across the Minch in another bumpy crossing which had us holding firmly on to our tea mugs. Soon enough we streamed into a very calm Loch Sunart and the guests went ashore to visit the Ardnamurchan Nature Centre. It was a strange contrast to see trees and land birds such as siskin, chaffinches, blue tits and coal tits after just only a few hours ago having watched fulmars and gannets! We imagined what it must have felt like to the St Kildans who actually were evacuated across the Loch to Morven 85 years ago. Back on board we were delighted to find a net bag full of scallops dived by our very own skipper Rob! Martin served the freshest scallops any of our guests have ever had with chorizo and black pudding salad in a dish where the flavours of Spain meet the Highlands!
On our last day we enjoyed a well-earned lie in and woke up to Martin serving up a massive brunch. Too soon (after a few porpoise sightings on the way) we steamed into Oban bay and it was time for goodbyes. Our guests were all very happy to have reached St Kilda despite the rough crossings – it is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Guests Carol and Bill said “thank you for making this a wonderful holiday which has fulfilled a long held dream of getting to St Kilda”.