Spooky at St Kilda

St Kilda is a spooky awesome place, surprisingly large for those of us who normally only see it as a tiny dot on the Admiralty chart. It comes into view as far as 40nm out, rising on the horizon like a fully rigged sailing ship. The sun was setting directly behind the islands and a measure of the latitude and time of year was that it rose again scant hours later, just to the north east of the islands.

ST Kilda in the gathering dusk

The islands were abandoned in 1930 with the islanders being evacuated at their request by the UK government. That brought to an end a history of habitation reaching back to the Bronze Age. The islands only ever sustained the most marginal of existences, with the keys to survival being Soay and Boreay sheep, seabirds form the cliffs, and their eggs.

The islands were abandoned in 1930

The passage out to the islands was a rolling bumpy ride in disorganised sea. Trilleen, in her downwind rolls was altering her heading ±15 degrees or more. I am grateful to the professionalism of the bridge teams of MS Spitzbergen and Ms Boreal, two cruise ships which were on a reciprocal(ish) heading with me, while overtaking each other. Especial thanks are due to MS Spitzbergen for coming no closer than 1.5nm as Trilleen was fully rigged for downwind work with preventers on and it would have been a substantial pain to have to alter course significantly

MS Spitzbergen in the Dusk

The islands rear up, sheer out of the ocean, rising to heights of more than 200m. The cliffs are a deeply textured, scree infested grey, interspersed with patches of rich green, fertilised no doubt by the millions of seabirds that call these islands home.

The islands are a weird mix of rich green and sheer cliff

The slopes of Boreay seemed entirely draped in white, From a distance it could pass as the draping of guano that accompanies every seabird colony. But viewed through binoculars the white is revealed as thousands and thousands of nesting gannets.

Gannet Colony in the St Kilda Archipeligo

The swells were carpeted with these graceful, efficient and deadly hunters, resting on the water giving Trilleen insolent side eye, or carrying unfeasibly large chunks of seaweed back to the island for nest building. Closer in skittish puffins lay in rafts on the water, skittering away, diving or flying in their most curious way, at the slightest disturbance.

Gannet hunting

Village bay is among the sketchiest anchorages known to sailing in the UK. The bay is a bare scrape in the side of the rock, only viable because of its strongly holding sand bottom. The slipway is of necessity reinforced steel the only way it can survive the full violence of the Atlantic which throws itself into the bay and the islands.

St Kilda landing slip. THe interface has to be steel to stand up to the weather

The bay is remarkable, filled with grey, empty, ruin of the abandoned village is falling into history in a carefully curated and appropriate way under the care of the National Trust of Scotland and Scottish National Heritage. Soay sheep graze everywhere – these amazing hardy sheep which made life possible for the villagers now wander through he ruins and fields serving only as lawnmowers for the islands keepers, purposeless ghosts, shadows of their former central role in life on the islands.

St Kilda’s village falling into quiet history

The uncertainty of the anchorage was illustrated by the professionals of Maursund, a former LCVP form the Royal Norwegian Navy who had failed to effect a landing just before I had arrived due to greater than forecast swell, and were maintaining a bridge watch which radar turning and engines flashed up. They were due to have another go the next morning and very courteously pointed out that I would get run over as I was in the run in to the slip – No issue since I was to leave early the next morning.

MAuRSUND, Landing Craft Utility, formerly of the Royal Norwegian Navy

Sadly the best small boat anchorage has been colonised by tour boat moorings. I don’t grudge them their work, or living, but since both the boats which arrive had very excellent anchoring set ups its a shame that they have found it necessary to put ground tackle down.


I didn’t venture ashore. Tired after the night passage from Eriskay and the passage west about the islands in the gathering dawn as the wind died, I was glad simply to sleep, and marvel in the wonder of the place from my deck. With my mobility impairment it’s unlikely I would have wandered far from the landing slip, and for solo visitors the boundary of the village is as far as the Factor wants people going to ensure safety is maintained. Another time, when the rare factors of meteorology combine to make approach possible for Trilleen I’ll visit and land.

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