St Kilda and Hebrides
St Kilda and the Hebrides - Adventure Sailing Voyage
This sailing voyage leads to sparsely inhabited islands, tiny fishing villages, deep lochs and rugged cliffs that will be appealing to nature lovers looking for puffin, sea and white tailed eagles, whales and other cetaceans.
The hundreds of islands of the Hebrides have their own character, are very isolated and therefore entirely self-reliant. This area is rich in seabirds, which usually breed on the steep cliff faces. You will visit unique places that cannot be reached by anything but boat or ship.
The waters surrounding the Hebrides and St Kilda are rich in food. During the crossings between the different islands the chances are high that we will spot whales and seals.
Traditional Sailing Ships Bound for St Kilda.
Vessels we work with that regularly offer voyages that aim to visit St Kilda if the weather is right, and are in a good position to explore the Outer Hebrides as well, include:
Gaff Cutter Eda Frandsen - based in Mallaig.
Historic gaff ketch Bessie Ellen sailing usually from Oban each summer.
Dutch tall ship Tecla likes to use Ullapool as a Northerly base
Three masted schooner Oosterschelde often has longer 10 day expeditions from Oban.
St Kilda an Introduction
On this archipelago we will find hundreds of thousands of seabirds. The island group is very remote and affected by ocean swell so if the weather is too tough for an ocean going sailing ship , then your voyage will continue her exploration of the Outer Hebrides
St. Kilda lies approximately 40 sea miles west of the Outer Hebrides. It is a small group of islands, Hirta being the biggest. As long as people can remember Hirta has been inhabited by the Celts. In the ancient feudal era the island group was in possession of the clan Macleod of Macloud.
For millennia the Celtic community on St. Kilda had been dependant on whatever the island group had to offer.
At the beginning of the previous century the St. Kildans lived exceptionally primitive compared to the rest of Europe. They lived of a few sheep, the agriculture and especially of bird catching. Annually a ship with necessities such as knifes, needles and yarn came to the island. These goods were exchanged for dried birds and tweed.
Tens of thousands of birds were caught every year, especially Auks, Northern Fulmars and Northern Gannets. For food they would make dangerous expeditions to catch the birds and there eggs on the incredibly steep cliffs; especially on the islands in the north (Boreray, Stack and Stack Armin) which are rea
lly no more than steep tall rocks.
One hundred and eighty people lived on the islands towards the end of the 17th century but they only had 16ft boats to get about in. There was not enough timber to build there own craft so these tiny boats crossed the eighty mile passage from the mainland, fancy a try?
The St. Kildans lived in houses with walls made of boulders and roofs made of turf and hay. The earliest houses had no chimneys or windows and they must have been very damp, dark and dingy to live in. In the 1830’s wood and glass were introduced into new dwellings and the old houses became stables and stores. The old feudal Celtic community of St. Kilda was gradually destroyed by the influence the Anglo Saxons from the mainland but the morning “Parliament” persisted. Every morning the men folk would meet on the Village Street and deicide what had to be done that day and who would do it.
Strict Christianity had always been part of life on St Kilda and they also were responsible for the education of the children. At the start of the 20th century stone houses with sanitary facilities were introduced and an attempt was made with charity and tourism to keep the islands going; the main aim of which was to get them enough food to live on. But still the inhabitants were poverty stricken and near to starvation most of the time so that on August 29th
1930 the British government removed the last 39 inhabitants.
In 1957 a military post, which is still there, was built and is now run by Quintec Associates Ltd a defence organisation. The military started out by using bulldozers to destroy most of the old houses.
Also in 1957 the National Trust for Scotland became the owner and made St. Kilda a nature reserve. In 1986 St. Kilda became a Unesco World Heritage Site.
In recent years the National Trust for Scotland has restored some of the houses, the church and the school for accommodation and education on the life of St Kilda. Tourism has been encouraged in so far as it does not conflict with preserving the flora, fauna and wild life of the St Kilda Islands.
St. Kilda Birds and Animals
Twenty species of birds are breeding at St. Kilda, with over a million birds sitting on about 300.000 nests. A quarter of all the Northern Gannets on the Northern Atlantic, about 60.000 pair, are breeding on Boreray and the Stacks.
Atlantic Puffin are the most common seabird in the archipelago; there were once millions of pairs but a declining fish population has dramatically reduced there number.
St Kilda has its own unique St. Kilda Wren, with a slightly bigger beak and a different song; it is estimated that there are 250 breeding pairs and a major sighting for any ornithologist or amateur bird watchers.
Like the Great Barrier Reef, the chain of Outer Hebridean islands runs parallel to the Scottish mainland and protects it from ocean storms. The Atlantic facing coast is an almost continuous strand of sand dunes and machair (grass) whilst the east coast is deeply indented with a maze of islets and anchorages.
There are over 26 islands in the Outer Hebrides south of the Sound of Harris, and at least another 16 islands around Lewis to the North.So even without the prize of St Kilda, there will be plenty of new anchorages to try. Take a zodiac ride under the sculptural arches of Mingulay, see where the TV castaways stayed on Taransay
On the Outer Hebrides we will visit lesser known islands of Miughaiagh and Bearnaraigh, amongst others. The only human inhabitants here are the lighthouse keepers, but there are masses of Auks, Kittiwakes and Fulmars.
During the voyage we will sail as much as possible.
There will also be enough time to go on land to explore the coasts, culture and animal life. The walks we make are based on guests in average condition. When the walks are tougher, we will offer alternatives so that there is always something suitable for you.
An extraordinary 5 minute film of St Kilda, well worth watching full size.
Every year Classic Sailing has a small number of voyages to St Kilda. It’s a great distance out in the Atlantic and the anchorage is not always sheltered.
This makes any expedition to St Kilda weather dependent.
Over the years we have found our voyages heading to St Kilda have been 80% successful otherwise we would not offer voyages to these amazing islands.
But please remember it is subject to the weather being suitable.
Photos (C) R Woodall
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