We greeted our guests on board our 10-night St Kilda private cruise charter with sparkling wine, Mary’s famous scones and Cara, the Chef’s canapés. As we steamed up the Sound of Mull the guests took in the views of Duart Castle, Lismore Lighthouse and the dramatic Morvern Peninsula. We spotted plenty of seabirds already on the first leg of the cruise with gannets, guillemots and a colony of common terns providing enjoyment to the bird enthusiasts on board. On arrival in Tobermory we enjoyed a superb first night dinner of Portobello mushrooms stuffed with haggis for starters, salmon for main course and a berry crumble for dessert.
It was a great start to the day with views of a white-tailed eagle in Bloody Bay on Mull. Rounding Ardnamurchan Point, we were treated to stunning views of the Small Isles with all the peaks on Rum and the Sgurr on Eigg cloudless – a rare sight! Plenty of Manx shearwaters surrounded the waters of their home island (they nest in large numbers on the hills on Rum). Approaching Loch Scresort on Rum we spotted our first cetaceans in form of two porpoises that surfaced near the boat. Skipper Tim ferried the guests ashore so that they could stretch their legs before heading for our anchorage in Canna Village Bay. On our way to Canna we spotted some red deer taking a stroll on the beach on the north side of Rum as well as our first great skua and fulmar.
In Canna we were greeted by the usual crowd of grey seals hauled up on the rocks in Village Bay. Guests went ashore to visit the small village shop while Cara prepared dinner – the Balmoral chicken went down a treat. After such an amazing meal we were all doing great impressions of the lazy seals on the rocks!
With our dream destination in mind (St Kilda!) we crossed the Minch in order to be closer to the Sound of Harris. On our way we had sightings of European storm petrels, much to Colin’s delight – it was his first view of this fantastic little bird. The new marina at Lochboisdale on South Uist was our destination. This is a great new facility for boats in the Outer Hebrides. The guests and crew went shore to stretch the legs and get weather updates. Back on board we were treated to spinach and cream cheese roulade, pork in cider sauce and Cara’s yummy cranachan.
We made our way north along the Uists with a stop in Locheport for lunch, a shore walk and some great wildlife spotting. A golden eagle took flight from the cliffs right next to us and everyone out on deck got to fully appreciate its enormous wingspan. The golden eagle’s larger cousin, the white-tailed eagle, was spotted by the guests on their shore walk. Our evening’s anchorage was only a short hop up to Lochmaddy where the guests spotted an otter in a rock pool right beside the road. We also spotted Arctic skuas giving chase to herring gulls in the bay and plenty of common seals were basking on the rocks around the boat. While enjoying our meal (amazingly tender Aberdeen Angus beef) the common seals provided great entertainment by doing acrobatic flips and jumps in the waters just next to the boat.
With still no break in the weather we decided to hop up to neighbouring island Harris. Despite the strong winds, our hardiest sea watcher Colin spent the whole trip on deck together with Vivi, the wildlife guide. Perseverance and patience often pays off as Colin first spotted a basking shark and Vivi shortly after spotted a large Minke whale surfacing right next to the boat. We anchored next to Scalpay where we hoped to overnight, but had to change our plan when the winds picked up. The guests sipped on sparkling wine in the comfort of the saloon and were served up another one of Cara’s magical meals – cheese soufflé (how did she manage that in the rough seas??), rack of lamb and apple crumble.
The forecast for Friday looked perfect for a dash at St Kilda so Skipper Tim decided to put us in the best possible position for an early start the next day – Cheese Bay off Berneray. The guests enjoyed a walk onshore while Cara prepped for the long steam ahead and cooked the evening meal: Ardennes paté, beef in local beer and poached pears in plum stew. Everyone headed to their bunks early as we were due to set off at 4am the next morning.
The Big Day! We set off at the crack of dawn with four porpoises sending us off before we lifted anchor. Leaving the Sound of Harris behind and putting our bow into the westerly swell we knew it was going to be a bumpy crossing. The swell got the better of some of our guests, but spirits grew with the sight of St Kilda in the distance. The trains of gannets showed the way and as we got closer we had an increasing amount of storm petrels, some of them with a distinct forked tail (Leach’s storm petrel). Fulmars swooped past the boat at very closer range. These silent, stiff-winged birds were the most important bird for the St Kildan’s as it provided food, oil for their lanterns and feather for export. We made good progress and soon Hirta, Boreray and the stacks were all in good view. To the relief of some, the swell died away as soon as we steamed into Village Bay. We marveled at the ruins of the old village nested in the shade of the towering hills of Conachair, Oiseval and Mullach Mòr. The guests were dropped ashore with a packed lunch to explore and marvel at the history, nature and landscape (and to get attacked by bonxies!). Crew also went ashore to hike up to the gap between Oiseval and Conachair. We lay in the sun while looking out over Boreray, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin and the thousands of gannets sprinkled all over them. Fulmars were swooping over our heads from the cliffs below where the cragsmen would have used hemp rope to climb down to catch these precious birds. We couldn’t believe our luck to be basking in the sun on St Kilda after many days of driving rain and wind! Back on the boat we enjoyed a beautiful fish pie while sharing sightings, stories and tales that we had read in the many books written about St Kilda. Some of the guests had spotted the famous St Kilda wren and also what could have been a corncrake.
That morning was the moment the bird enthusiasts on board had waited for. We started off by steaming slowly past Dùn and the hundreds of puffins in the sea beneath it. We rounded the point and steamed along south west off Hirta and went through the narrow gap between Soay and Stac Biorach before heading to Boreray and the stacks. What looks like all white rock in the distance is actually all gannets and gannet droppings, something we were able to smell as soon as we were close enough. But the smell is quickly forgotten when the air fills with birds flying, diving, being attacked by bonxies and gannets perched on every square metre of horizontal rock. St Kilda might have been surpassed by the Bass Rock as the biggest gannet colony, but the uniqueness, remoteness, scale and beauty of St Kilda will never be surpassed! We steamed back east feeling blessed for having witnessed it! Our steam back could not have been more different to the approach – lovely calm seas and even a brief sighting of a pod of rare white-beaked dolphins. Anchoring in Taransay we enjoyed a sunset walk on the golden beaches and finished off this perfect day with a lovely meal consisting of prawn cocktail, Cara’s creamy Thai chicken curry and raspberry meringue.
A long steam from Taransay to Loch Scavaig on Skye was made very enjoyable by a visit to our bow by a small pod of common dolphins. This playful bunch cruised next to us for a good long while providing excellent photo and video opportunities. The guests enjoyed a walk up to Loch Coruisk, one of the most scenic places in the Hebrides at the foothills of the Cuillin ridge. Unfortunately we could not stay the night as we had to replenish the water supply in Mallaig. Cara cooked us some great comfort food: pea and mint sop, haggis neaps and tatties and chocolate fudge cake – it went down a treat!
The waters between the mainland and Eigg are famous for Minke whales and we were not let down as Tim spotted first one and then another smaller one not far from the boat. Everyone rushed out on deck and had great views of these big whales surfacing. A great treat for our last full day. We steamed into Tobermory and went ashore to explore the many small craft shops. In the evening we enjoyed the last dinner after which guests had prepared great entertainment in the form of individual limericks to everyone on board and a song to praise the Crew and the Elizabeth G. There was also an award ceremony to highlight the “best” qualities of everyone on board. The Crew was very touched and thankful – living and working on a boat is always an enjoyment, but it was made even greater by our fantastic guests and their enthusiasm and great spirits!
Many thanks to all of you from all of us!!
The St Kilda private cruise charter for 10-nights was organised by Janis Graham for a group of 12 friends. She said after the trip:
“It would be wonderful to think the opportunity will arise to repeat the experience. In the meantime you can be assured that we will all be telling of our experiences of this amazing adventure to all”.