They say Scotland will provide all kinds of weather all year round. Well, it has held true so far this week for our team heading towards the archipelago of St. Kilda. With a lot of motoring on the first couple of days we were delighted to be able to leave the Iron sail "off" for a day.
Heading out of our anchorage on the Ross of Mull we decided to try sailing off the anchor. With the engine on to aid bringing up the anchor and for safety we hoisted the main in light winds of 10-12 Knots. Successfully leaving a beautiful anchorage under sail was a nice tick in the box as well. Now onto the next leg of our trip which was going to tick another box!
With our Yankee One (our largest headsail) raised it was a Northwest course for Gunna sound. Our mission, which we chose to accept was to sail our Clipper 60 ocean racing yacht through the sound. With favourable wind and again the engine on standby for safety we successfully navigated the sound and entered the sea of the Hebrides.
It wasn't long before we stared feeling the swell running in from the North Atlantic. We knew there were some higher winds out to the west which would be bringing in even more swell so it was all eyes on sail trim as we headed for our anchorage for the night in the gorgeous Vatersay Bay. Watching the trim on all three sails of our cutter rigged Essex lady (Taeping was built in Essex!) meant the time soon passed.
With some dolphin friends popping up to say hello as we started to feel the swell ease behind the lee of the outer Hebrides Vatersay Bay was a welcome and pretty amazing sight as we stowed our sails and dropped anchor just in time for a hearty dinner.
Waking up to winds gusting up to 40 Knots we definately made the right decision to stop for the night. With time to relax, cath up on some sleep, play cards, dominoes or just enjoy the atmosphere it wasn't long before, right on cue of the forecast (for a change), we saw the wind swing from South to West and ease. It was time to go, our mission to get to St. Kilda was on!
With the anchor onboard at 2pm in the afternoon we hoisted the main in the shelter of Vatersay Bay and motor sailed out through the sound of Sandray. Once clear of the sound, and it's obstacles, it was time to hoist our Yankee One and head for Village Bay! With the winds and sea state easing after the previous nights spell of higher winds we were keeping 8-10 Knots average boat speed so decided the staysail could stay on the deck this time! With sunshine overhead and spirits high we trucked on into the North Atlantic. Watching the land slowly disappear behind us and with clear skies we were soon watching ahead for signs of the famous archipelago.
It was just before 10pm that we spotted Boreray first. Right on cue some friendly, playful dolphins popped along to say hello, or was it welcome! Arriving at dusk it was time to drop the anchor, have something to eat and head off to our bunks. Tomorrow was set aside for time ashore.
With breakfast over, wash bag, towel, change of clothes and some munchies packed it was time for us to set foot on the stunning archipelago of St. Kilda. Ferried ashore with Taepings super quiet electric outboard we were met by a member of the National Trust for Scotland team. Welcomed and given some advice on how to most sensitively interact with this amazing place it was off to the showers for which we were more than happy to make a donation to the trust in return for their use. Refreshed it was time for exploring the lovingly restored historical buildings and taking a walk to the cliffs. With thousands of years of history interacting with modern communications and military installations the contrast, at times, can be difficult to settle in your mind. To say this place is stunning is, quite simply, a gross injustice. It has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Back onboard Taeping and with dinner and weather checks completed we discussed tactics with the skipper. It was agreed that we would complete a "St. Kilda Circumnavigation" before heading south east for the whisky rich island of Islay. With the anchor up at 18:00 we headed anti clockwise around the Archipelago. With stunning cliffs, rock formations and some interesting wind gusts coming off the land it was a brilliant way to complete our adventure to St. Kilda. Now it was time to set course and look at a sail plan which would give the crew a (relatively) smooth overnight sail. With full main and staysail hoisted and the wind of 15 to 20 Knots just forward of the beam we found the sweet spot and with boat speeds in the region of 8-10 Knots settled in for the night watches.
With the sun setting late and an almost full moon rising it never got completely dark, however the sense of adventure sailing in the North Atlantic in a 60 foot ocean racing yacht at night was ever present. Passing the trips 400 Nautical mile mark to the south west of Tiree we were getting a great sense of what life is like on an ocean racing watch system. For us this would only be a single 24 hour period of being on or off watch so just a little, albeit eye opening insight. This also saw us pass south of the favourable weather system where the wind dropped to below five knots. Unlike an ocean race however we were able to start the engine and motor sailed towards Islay.
Our sights were now firmly on the tidal gate on the South West corner of Islay. Our challenge now was that we were far too early and the tide would now be against us. Running at 4 Knots plus this was going to be a slog! With some revision to the passage plan, a check on the winds (which were hardly reaching five knots now) and the sea state slight skipper decided to run along the eastern edge of the overfalls to pick up a bit of a lift from a back eddy. With GPS speeds varying by 4-6 knots for a couple of hours we were glad to reach the back eddy and get round the corner where the tidal influence dropped dramatically and we were back at 7-8 knots boat speed for the last leg of our trip into Port Ellen. With fenders and ropes at the ready we were soon tied up and in the pub for a celebratory drink!
With a day ashore to explore Islay in the schedule for the 20th July and the passage plan in place for the final day's return to Kip it will be another early start to catch the tide around the Mull of Kintyre to finish off our 2019 St. Kilda Challenge.
Stay tuned for the final voyage update as we make our way back to Kip Marina and track our progress online here.