Focus on St Kilda Expedition 17th to 23rd June 2017

Guests Sue and Paul have provided the trip report from Hjalmar Bjorge’s third successful visit to St Kilda of the season:
The big question – did we get to St Kilda? Of course we did! This was thanks to Skipper Tim’s expert seamanship, favourable winds and the wonderful, robust, Hjalmar Bjorge.
 
Saturday 17 June. Oban to Tobermory, raining.
10 of the 12 passengers boarded at the North Pier but the remaining two unloaded their luggage, left to park the car and returned to see the boat sailing away! Happily it was only being moved to the mooring and the dingy was soon dispatched for them. After introductions, a safety briefing and scones and jam, we were off.
 
We were a mixed bunch – two couples, 4 single travellers and a friendship group of 4 men. 2 Americans, 1 Australian, 3 Scots and 6 English. We had varying levels of physical abilities.
Tim was skipper, Craig and Rosie were crew, and Lynda was chef.
 
We sailed up the Sound of Mull to a mooring at Tobermory. Our first dinner was wonderful (as all the meals were) – mozzarella salad; lamb cutlet, spring onion mash, roasted veg;  Eton mess. Much wine and whisky was consumed, to be regretted the following morning!
Wildlife highlight: White tailed sea eagle.
 
Sunday 18 June. Tobermory to Taransay, raining but brightened up so we got sun by the afternoon.
Tim wanted an early start (it’s a long way to St Kilda) and must of us weren’t prepared for how rough the sea would be, particularly those who had enjoyed the alcohol the night before. There were very few takers for breakfast. However things calmed down as we approached the Outer Isles and the lunch of lasagne was enjoyed by all.
 
After 10 hours we reached Taransay, uninhabited but the site of the BBC reality TV programme Castaway. This is a beautiful island and we landed the dingy on a lovely white beach, had short walks and then moored overnight.
Wildlife highlight: two golden eagles flying over the boat during dinner.
 
HBj at Taransay by Paul PaddockLanding at Taransay by Paul Paddock
 
Monday 19 June, Taransay to St Kilda, overcast but soon brightened up.
Another early start but this time we were prepared. We knew the crossing to St Kilda would be rough so we’d had showers the previous night to be up in the saloon or on deck before the boat set sail. Lynda had a few more takers for the breakfast sausages today. It was a six hour sail to St Kilda, during which it brightened up, and when we got there – wow! I found it quite emotional to finally arrive at Hirta and see the deserted village. We were put ashore, Cleit at St Kilda by Paul Paddockeach with a great packed lunch, and after being greeted by the NTS warden, we could spend as long as we wanted on the island. Many people climbed the hills (and got attacked by the Great Skuas –  Bonxies) but a new friend and I found more than enough to interest us in the village and the museum. The crew were excellent – they got everyone ashore and arranged pick up times to suit everyone’s needs – 3pm, 4.30 or 6pm.
 
We moored in Village Bay overnight for another delicious dinner and drinks to celebrate our arrival.
Wildlife highlight: The Soay sheep all over Hirta.
 
 
Tuesday 20 June. St Kilda to Lochmaddy, light cloud followed by sun.
The crew took some of the guests ashore again in the Stac Lee by Paul Paddockearly morning for a fInal visit to the village. For the first time we were able to have a leisurely breakfast before leaving for a fantastic cruise out of the bay, round Dun, through the channel between Hirta and Soay and then round Boreray and the stacks. Personally, I thought this was the highlight of the trip – seeing the thousands of sea birds was fantastic.
It was then a long sail back to Lochmaddy, North Uist but the sea was fairly calm and the sun was out – glorious. We had fantastic views of Harris , North Uist, Skye including the Cullins, and Rum.
Wildlife highlights: puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, gannets etc round St Kilda islands; sighting of a Minke whale on return crossing.
 
Gannets by Paul Paddock
Wednesday 21 June. Lochmaddy to Carbost, overcast.
We didn’t go ashore at Lochmaddy as Tim wanted to press on to Skye. After crossing the Little Minch we had a lovely sail down the coast of Skye, passing Neist Point lighthouse, Macleod’s Tables and Macleod’s Maidens – three very impressive sea stacks. We then moored at Carbost and some people went ashore to visit the Talisker Distillery, the pub, the oyster shack or just to go for a walk to look for wild flowers.
Wildlife Highlights: a pod of common dolphins bow riding as we approached Skye, a sea eagle on a nest high on the cliffs.
 
Thursday 22 June. Carbost to Tobermory via Canna, raining, soon stopped but dark cloud all day.
The bay was like a mill pond as we left. We looked for the sea eagle where it was yesterday but no luck. We soon located it though, as it swooped over the loch and caught a fulmar in mid air. What a rare sight! We then crossed to Canna for a two hour stay, armed once again with packed lunches. Most of the group walked across to Sanday where Tim picked them up in the dingy but we just visited Canna House, the pencil tower church and the café, which to our delight was licensed!
 
Then it was quite a long journey back to Tobermory where we tied up on the pontoons. Although it was raining again, most people ventured ashore to the shops, the pubs or the cash machine to enable us all to pay the bar bill! After a wonderful final dinner of Chinese starter, beef stir fry with noodles banoffee pie and cheese and biscuits, it was time for a ceilidh. The Scots led the singing with loud choruses of ‘‘Donald where’s your troosers?’ and ‘The Railway Porter Song’. This involves a porter who can help you change trains for anywhere in Scotland ‘unless you want to go to Tobermory’. Will the Hjalmar Bjorge ever be allowed on the pontoons there again?
Wildlife highlights: the sea eagle catching a fulmar in flight, a red deer down on the shore on Mull.
 
Sea Eagle taking fulmar by Paul Paddock
 
Friday 23 June. Tobermory to Oban, overcast.
We set sail early for Oban and Lynda served an enormous final breakfast of sausage, bacon, haggis, black pudding etc whilst on the move. The bar bill had to be settled –it was the biggest ever known on the boat, by a long way! By 10am we were back at the North Pier in Oban to unload and say our farewells.
 
All in all, a wonderful trip. We achieved the objective of reaching St Kilda and also visited four other islands – Taransay, Skye, Canna and Mull. We totally missed the heatwave in the rest of the country but we got good weather on St Kilda and we learnt that the Scots have at least 50 different words for rain! With very many thanks to Tim, Craig, Rosie, Lynda and the marvellous Hjalmar Bjorge – probably the best boat in the world!