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Under St Kilda’s blue blue skies


They say that the dreams of children become the memories of adults and that when we sleep we once again relive those moments of our childhood through our dreams. Those children that grow up beside the sea are often dreamers of far off lands and magical journeys, their minds are open to the miracles of nature and the bigger world beyond the waves. They are not afraid of the sea, to them it’s their friend and companion and from which they draw inspiration, while its restless churning fuels their desire to travel.

On the skyline I marvelled at the mist covered tops of St Kilda that mystical island that often lay hidden from view for most of the year until on clear days when the mysterious blue light seemed to bring it closer, so close that you could almost touch its stacks and cliff face with your hands. I remember an old neighbour telling me about St Kilda and looking to the sky and pointing out the smoke trails left by jets flying over the Atlantic telling me that all those planes that passed landed on St Kilda on their way to America. It’s strange to think how even then, St Kilda was shrouded in mystery and how its very presence influenced the minds of all that came to know it.

It was strange reading the impact St Kilda had on its people and how they clung to life at the gates of the new world, cut off from civilisation and the outside world for months on end. How they endured darkness and inclement weather and risked life and limb to survive by scaling the cliffs to harvest the fulmars and gannets and collect the eggs of seabirds. How when visitors arrived in the late 1800s, the islanders hid in their homes till most had gone, a primeval people living in a primitive world.

I think on how visitors brought illness and disease to these islanders and how their very presence changed a way of life forever, till eventually a people became displaced and dissatisfied with what they had known before. Does it sound familiar? It should for it is still happening to this day across the world as indigenous peoples are systematically removed or become a burden in the name of progress. In St Kilda’s case in 1930 the people themselves finally gave up the ghost and left their home at their own request to make a new life away from St Kilda. I can only imagine what it must have felt like looking back to the world they had only known and the foreboding they must have felt in their hearts and minds as they headed to a new world of the unknown.

Often on my travels I met those lucky few who had managed to reach this kingdom and listened for hours to their tales of wonder, wildlife and contentment at reaching what they described as paradise on earth. Every word describing St Kilda was like a musical note in my mind creating a harmonious melody that carried me away on the crest of a wave to this enchanted place. I listened in awe as they described their first glimpse of the islands and how their sheer scale made them feel so insignificant and humble in the middle of the Atlantic. Each face seemed filled with a sense of pride as they relived their journey. Time and again and with each round of tales the waves grew higher, the wind blew stronger, the voyage more extreme but always the ending made it worth it, to be at rest in the village bay at St Kilda.

For many years I yearned to reach this place and so often I failed due to the unpredictability of Atlantic swells and weather, like so many others have done before I just could not get here. I could have done a day trip, but St Kilda deserves more time than a couple of hours to absorb its magic. Suddenly I was given space aboard the “Elinca” a 67ft yacht skippered by Captain Angus Smith and his son Innes which left from Lochmaddy in the Isle of North Uist. They were going to St Kilda for three days, two nights at the end of the world and for £350 paradise was affordable.

The wind was blowing a stiff westerly at 35 knots, a breeze in the Hebrides and when asked how long the wind blew Angus simply replied “as long as it likes” I immediately knew this was a skipper who would get us there wind or no wind and that it would be a real adventure. The sky was clear yet the low grey clouds that hung to the Lees was menacing and unwelcoming but I did not care nothing would stop us now.

As the anchor lifted and the boat swung out into the bay and Innes calmly unravelled the sails with the agility and dexterity of a seasoned sailor and we were under way.  The Elinca cut through the water with ease and a quick look back saw Angus with a broad grin at the helm as he effortlessly sailed the yacht out into the open oceans. Suddenly the billowing of the main sail increased our speed to 10 knots and we were racing with the wind. Winches were cranked and released, ropes were slackened and tightened and coiled, till suddenly everything was calm and we were sailing out into the raw Atlantic. Yes the Atlantic that unruly child of nature that so influences the lives of the people living on its periphery.

My fellow comrades were from Germany, England, Skye and Glasgow drawn together as strangers by the raw appeal of St Kilda on this adventure of a lifetime. As the waves curled around the bow and flung a crisp spray into our faces I felt alive and invigorated. The taste of salt on my lips and the sting of spray against my skin, natures gel in my hair made it more exciting. It was as if the ocean was waking my inner soul from years of slumber to enable it to truly experience this voyage to the edge of the world and the unknown.

As we sailed at speeds up to 10 knots and the waves seemed bigger than the boat at times, from the bottom of the troughs we searched for a horizon and watched large waves rise above threatening to engulf us. But just as soon as they threatened mischief the Elinca rose on the wave and once again we could see the horizon and the sky. Nothing fazed our skipper Angus as he calmly talked to us about this voyage and the wonders that lay in store for us at St Kilda. Being a Gaelic speaker I could converse with him in his native tongue and which seemed to bring a sparkle to his eyes as he relived tales of his voyages to this remotest of outposts. This is a skipper with more than 150,000 nautical miles under his belt and a man whose calm instilled the utmost confidence in our most novice of sailors that this was a voyage to be enjoyed rather than endured.

From below Innes appeared with mugs of hot tea and homemade cake made by Angus’s wife Catriona for all voyages and which was well received by all. Sailing creates an appetite for food and adventure and nothing tastes better than homemade food. By now we were sailing close to the Hasgeir islands 8 miles of the coast of North Uist and out further into the awesome Atlantic. These islands are the last outcrops before St Kilda, once past them it’s like journeying into the unknown. Outside the comfort zone of most travellers and past the point of no return with the next stopping point St Kilda.

As we sat at the stern with Angus and Innes, St Kilda rose before us, nothing spectacular, yet at more than 30 miles away obviously something special to be viewed from so far. Suddenly a breaching whale moved to the portside and we all watched in silence as this wonderful creature popped up to take a look at this group of travellers, it was a Minke whale and once of the most common whales in these waters. “Seems its heading to St Kilda too” Angus said with a smile.

As we sail closer to St Kilda its magnetism keeps us hypnotised for the last 10 miles of our voyage. Its presence has taken over our will and we are all lost in our thoughts at what being here means. Around us fulmars glide low over the water and around the yacht as if guiding the Elinca home to Village Bay and St Kilda. Puffins scurried to our side and plop beneath the waves as we glide by and the calling of more than a million seabirds welcomes us with nature’s chorus adding voice to that melody of childhood.

The whirring of cameras, the rustling of bags, the restless movement of all on board as they try to absorb all that is unfolding before them as they try to capture every angle, bird and scene. No words are spoken yet all react in the same manner and with glazed eyes they peer upwards and into the pale blue sky unable to lean back far enough to see the tops of the cliffs.

Angus calmly asks Innes to lower the main sail when we draw closer and as we slow down to a gentle sail. The Elinca seems to dip its bow into in the steel blue water in silent fashion, it feels like we taking part in an ancient ritual like possibly its first settlers more than 6000 years ago. Even the wind, our constant companion for 41 miles seems to have deserted us. From the cliff face comes the mewing of kittiwakes and squawking of guillemots while above the sky becomes peppered with gannets whose erratic cries seem amplified by the sheer face of cliff face vanishing into the sky before us.  

Sailing without a sound beneath the cliff face the Elinca feels diminutive and irrelevant; we are mere specks on the ocean to those birds nesting high on the crevices and them a minute dot against the grey faces of the cliffs to our eyes. Seals congregate in sheltered bays of jade,  their heads bobbing on the surface as they watch with curiosity as we sail by, their daily routine of basking and cavorting beneath the waves interrupted for a mere moment.

Soon we see village bay before us and suddenly there is a flutter of the heartbeat and the beating becomes loud in the ear as adrenalin kicks in as the realisation of a life time of dreams is almost over and soon we will be on St Kilda. As the bay opens before us and the rows of ancient houses start to appear, the Elinca drops anchor and soon we are at peace in Village Bay and the heart of St Kilda.

Words can never truly express the feelings of being here, but what I do know is it is certainly worth it as we gaze at the rows and rows of stone cleits that vanish into the skyline, the school is there, the houses that the people left in 1930, yes it’s all here and more. It’s not quite what I imagined; it’s wilder and incredibly temperamental yet exceedingly moving as a mist rolls down Connacher towards the village as if trying to hide it from prying eyes. It feels incredible to be here where once a proud people struggled to tame the land, I listen for their voices on the slight breeze but all I hear is the sound of nature and the mellow tune of the ocean surging against the rock and across the reefs, a St Kilda lullaby almost rocking us to sleep aboard the Elinca.

I see St Kilda as a three part journey; firstly the voyage, for without the effort and the ocean to cross it would just be like any other destination. Secondly the experience of being ashore on St Kilda and what it means to be there and finally the spiritual journey we all take having witnessed this incredible archipelago.

For me there is no better way to experience and reach St Kilda than aboard the Elinca .This pedigree yacht has all the comforts required for overnight journeys at the edge of the world and with Angus and Innes looking after your needs it is a wonderful experience. From April to October you can book your three day package at www.beyondthebluehorizon.com  or www.hebridean-adventures.co.uk  and with daily flights from Glasgow to Benbecula and Stornoway and seven day sailings from Uig to Lochmaddy aboard Cal Mac, getting to paradise and St Kilda is very easy. So why put off your voyage of a lifetime to St Kilda. Trust me you won’t be disappointed. Book it now.

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