Guests Roger and Josette joined us for 2 consecutive cruises and kindly provided the following cruise report from their second cruise (our 4th cruise of the season and our 2nd visit to St Kilda of the season), which turned out to be an exceptional cruise with amazing weather!
Day 1 Oban to Tobermory 26 May
Saturday afternoon we made our way to the Oban North Pier and climbed onto the deck our new home for the next 6 days – the Hjalmar Bjorge.
Fellow passengers Dave and Jane, Andrew and Penny, Colin, Colm, Jane, Faseny, Josette and Roger were met and welcomed by Skipper Mark, Anna and Steve the Chef. After our safety briefing everyone settled in and looked forward to the voyage.
We left Oban, cruised up the Sound of Mull and enjoying the passing scenery. Mark dropped anchor in Tobermory early evening, and Steve prepared a delicious meal of fish pate, Greek salad and lasagna. Looking forward to tomorrow !
Day 2 Tobermory to Village Bay, St Kilda Sun, 27 May
We all knew that getting to St Kilda is not a sure thing, and that the typical weather and sea conditions can make the crossing difficult at best, or more likely very rough. Sea-sickness tablets a must! Onboard, there was a clear sense of nervous anticipation – how long will the crossing to St. Kilda take and in what conditions ? Will conditions even permit the attempt ?
So far, the weather forecast was favorable… even very favorable, which made Mark a bit nervous. Could it be too good to be true …?! During the first leg to the Sound of Barra, we enjoyed the fortunes of good weather: sunny, warm, breezy with smooth seas. Around 8 am, shortly after passing north of the island of Coll, we encountered dolphins ! A large pod of about 40 individuals rode the bow and along the sides in our wake. They kept us company, entertaining us and putting smiles on our faces, for about a quarter of an hour. We also watched seabirds and Steve prepared a tasty lunch of Greek salad and a tuna-pasta bake.
Forecast for the final leg from Barra: weather – sunny and clear, sea state – calm with mild swell. Decision time for Mark: Yes, we go for it ! The course is set directly for St. Kilda ! So we were off, headed out into the Atlantic. We encountered some swell, but otherwise (and amazingly) a calm and sunny journey. After 10 hours, we could see the gray outline of an island through the mist and gradually features became more and more clear. After cruising 11 hours, 45 minutes, at 16:45 we finally dropped anchor in Village Bay of Hirta, St. Kilda. We made it, and in record time for the Hjalmar Bjorge !
Shortly after arrival, we went ashore in the dinghy. We were met by the St. Kilda Scottish Trust Ranger who gave us a briefing and an introduction to the island and then we were off to explore. We encountered loads of Soay sheep, many with lambs. We were very fortunate to have the whole village practically to ourselves. As it was Sunday, there was no building noise from the MOD site – only the sounds of bleating sheep, seabirds and waves on the shore – idyllic ! Back on board for a delicious meal of Hake, broccoli and banoffee pie.
We all looked forward to the next day!
Day 3 St. Kilda, Mon 28 May
Hirta, St Kilda !
Some of us are here for the scenery, some for the history, some because of a personal connection and others just because it is a remote island. And an amazing island at that. Steve prepared us each a picnic, and then Mark and Anna delivered us safely to the pier. Time to explore ! Most of us started with the gift shop :- ).
Then we were off, together or individually, heading in different directions to discover and explore. Some stayed closer to Village Bay, exploring the historic town, the Cleits and out towards Ruaival. Others went further afield, getting all the way to The Cambir and down into Glen More. Some to the top of Conachair, St. Kilda’s highest point with amazing views. Also great views from the Lover’s Stone and from the Mistress Stone looking across to Dun.
Many of us had close encounters with some of the Skuas. Hiking poles and even waving socks in the air were useful tools to ward off these aggressive birds! We hardly ever mentioned the weather – we were all afraid to jinx our luck! We all considered ourselves very lucky and blessed to be able to experience St. Kilda in such exceptional conditions – dry, sunny, warm, not windy, clear 360-degree views. Unusual and amazing!!
At 18:00 the last dinghy-trip returned to the ship where we enjoyed another tasty meal of bacon-wrapped cheese, chicken breast, sweet potatoes and chocolate mousse. After dinner we were treated to singing and guitar and banjo playing by fellow-passenger Colin. A wonderful way to end such a spectacular day.
Day 4 Sea Stacks Tue 29 May
Morning – Sea Stacks!
After breakfast Mark gave us a great tour of the Hirta coast and the sea stacks. We headed out of Village Bay, along Dun, and then around Hirta in a clockwise direction, past Soay, Soay Stac, Glen Bay, out to Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray. Then back to Hirta below The Gap and back into Village Bay. We enjoyed spectacular views of the cliffs and the sea surging around the many rocks.
And the amazing numbers and diversity of seabirds – Gannets, Fulmars, Skuas, Shearwaters, Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes. All with the backdrop of sunny and clear blue skies.
Afternoon – more time ashore to explore!
After lunch we went spent our final afternoon on Hirta, exploring and hiking – rocks, flowers, sheep, views, and of course more Skua battles ! We even spotted the wrecked WW II remains of the Sunderland seaplane on the slopes of the Glen Mor.
After meeting us at the pier, Mark gave us a real treat. Instead of heading directly back to the Hjalmar Bjorge, we crossed Village Bay for a closer look at, and “feel” of the the cliffs of Dun. Mark cut the dinghy engine so we could listen to the natural uninterrupted sounds of Dun – the smaller songbirds chirping, the gulls calling, the water on the rocks – all wonderfully soothing. Nesting Fulmars, Guillemots, Shags on the sheer rocks and rafts of hundreds of Puffins. We even visited the entrance of a narrow sea tunnel from both sides.
Best view of Village Bay and Hirta: While taking a shower in the main-deck bathroom, head covered in shampoo and looking at the reflection of Dun in the mirror through the porthole :- ). Another gourmet meal by Steve concluded an amazing day
Day 5 St Kilda to the Monach Islands Wed 30 May
Next stop: The Monach Islands, also known as the Heisker Islands. We headed East-South East, gently rolling through the mild swell, looking for sea birds and contemplating the horizon. After about three hours, we spotted the Heisker Light. During the final approach to the Monachs, we spotted spectacular surge and huge plumes of spray from waves crashing on the distant reefs.
Mark dropped anchor in the protected bay of Ce Ann Lar. We were surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches, grassy dunes, turquoise-coloured water, and warm, bright sunshine. If we didn’t know we were in the Outer Hebrides, this spot could easily be mistaken for the Mediterranean or the Caribbean.
After putting us ashore on the beach, Mark gave us a final word of caution: beware the Fulmars nesting under the raised grassy edges above the beach. They can spit! If unexpectedly disturbed, they might launch a putrid, viscous ball of phlegm up to 6 feet. So vile and penetrating that any item coming into contact with this projectile must likely be discarded! Gratefully, no one became a target.
The old ruin of the fisherman’s cottage, views of the lighthouse, the sandy beaches, the colorfully-striped rocks on the beaches, the Black Houses, the WW II grave, the Terns, Fulmars, Oyster Catchers and even Seals make the Monachs a remarkable place. Surprisingly, they are not often visited.
Back on board, we all enjoyed a beverage in the sun while sitting around the stern table and looking back at the beach. We even had a few visits from a curious seal, only 30 feet away. After retiring to cabins, the Hjalmar Bjorge rocked us to sleep while bobbing with the gentle swell.
Day 6 – at sea, Sound of Mull Thu 31 May
Leaving the Monach Islands, first heading West, we encountered some choppy seas with swell, a first for the trip. Finally conditions more typical of a trip out to St. Kilda! After turning South on a course set for the Sound of Barra the sea became more calm as we steamed along on the gentle swell.
Steve kept us well-fed with porridge and toast for breakfast, followed by a mid-morning snack of bacon rolls. Another highlight in the Sound of Barra – our second encounter this trip with a pod of Bottle Nosed Dolphins! Some great shots captured by the avid photographers.
After a light lunch of chili and salad, we had a surprise dessert – the dolphins returned for a third time! Everyone out on deck, many with cameras, enjoyed the spectacle. We were treated to leaps and dives as the dolphins rode the bow and swam along side. We all enjoyed the show put on by these amazing animals.
We continued down the Sound of Mull, past Tobermory and at about 6 pm Mark dropped the anchor in an inlet just after Lochaline. We were all aware of a strange sensation. After a few minutes, we realized that for the first time in 5 days the Hjalmar Bjorge was absolutely still!
Steve prepared a final feast of vegetable soup and fish pie with broccoli followed by fruit salad and the cheese board. After dinner, Colin brought out his guitar, harmonica and banjo, and entertained everyone with original songs. a wonderful way to wrap up the last evening on board.
Day 7 to Oban 1 June
The generators and engines started up promptly at 7 and we were on our way back to Oban. Breakfast was served while crossing the Firth of Lorn, and then we all disappeared into cabins to finish our final packing. The only thing left was to settle bar bills, some bigger than others, and make sure nothing was forgotten.
After farewells to fellow passengers and Mark, Anna and Steve, we all left the Hjalmar Bjorge with memories of an amazing voyage. Being able to reach and explore St. Kilda in such amazing weather and conditions is truly a once-in-a-life-time experience.
(Photos by Roger Weber, Josette Devaud and Mark Henrys)
DID YOU KNOW?
Atlantic puffins have penguin-like colouring but they sport a colourful beak that has led some to dub them the "sea parrot". The beak fades to a drab grey during the winter and blooms with colour again in the spring.