Tall Ship Sailing: Oban to St. Kilda on the Schooner Oosterschelde

I last sailed on the Oosterschelde in Jan 2018 from Tenerife to Cape Verde where I heard from the crew that they would most likely be coming to Scotland during the summer. When I returned home  I had a look at the Oosterschelde schedule for the coming year and saw that they were planning to sail to St. Kilda in August, an island I’d wanted to visit for a long, long time.  I joined the ship on Thur 9th Aug in Oban where it was moored to the nice new jetty in the harbour.  It was great to meet all the crew of this fantastic ship again. During the initial briefing for the guest crew the skipper, Maarten suggested that the voyage would be planned to try and cover whatever we, as guests wanted to get out of the trip and as someone had mentioned the Corryvreckan we motored through the night and arrived there around 00:30. It was very dark so we couldn’t see much but we certainly felt the effect when we throttled back on the engines.  After messing about at the Corryvrecken for a while we set course for Tobermory and arrived the next morning.  Most of the guest crew went ashore and had a wander around and some of us visited the distillery for the tour and I bought a nice bottle of LedaigWe set sail later that day on our way to Muck and passed the Lord Nelson as it was coming into Tobermory.  We arrived late in the evening at Port Mòr and some of the guests and crew went ashore for a walk, whilst I stayed on board.  Sat morning was beautiful and sunny so after breakfast most of us went ashore to explore the island which is quite small but very beautiful with great views of Eigg, Rum and the mainland.  We joined the ship later that day and set sail for the Talisker distillery  on the Isle of Sky.  A very nice day of sailing in great weather. We anchored in Loch Harport and after dinner went ashore to the local pub, the Old Inn, Carbost.

After spending some time outside enjoying the evening air the midges got the better of us so we heading into the pub to catch the thankfully final ‘tune’ from  a very drunk bagpiper. I got chatting a guy called Marten from Germany who was on holiday with his two kids, so I invited then on a tour of the ship and arranged to pick them up at the jetty at abut 12:00 the next day (Sun).  Marten and his kids loved the tour and thought the ship was fantastic.  We had a short briefing from the skipper who updated us on the weather report and suggested that if we wanted to make it to St. Kilda then now was as good a time as any with a good weather window giving us enough time to get there and back before a major storm moved in from the South West.  So we set sail and headed through the Sound of Harris en route to St. Kilda and I took my turn on the first watch (red) that night. Once we cleared the Sound of Harris it was open water between us and St. Kilda and sailing through the night we caught first sight of the islands looming out of the mist  at around 07:00 on Mon 13th Aug. We anchored in the bay of Hirta  and after one of the crew checked in with the island warden we all went ashore to explore this amazing island. 

As I said before I’d always wanted to come here and it surpassed all my expectations. I knew a bit about the island’s history from books and documentary films but being here walking the village street and going into some of the houses brought it all to life, the hardship, the isolation, the community, the stark beauty and force of nature and a life quite literally on the edge. There is quite a bit of activity on the island as the MoD have a base an NTS station and a resident ranger as well as a number of researchers from Edinburgh University. I got chatting to a couple of the researches from Edinburgh who were conducting a vegetation study  of the plants which formed the main diet of the local, wild Soay sheep. The study of these wild sheep is apparently one of the the longest running mammalian studies in the world. The sheep probably arrived with the first settlers around 4000 years ago and until 1932 they were only on the small Isle of Soay but in 1932 the flock of 107 were moved to Hirta where they have been ever since and now number 1401 and appear to be getting larger. I could easily have spent a lot longer on Hirta but due to the encroaching weather front we had to leave later that day and headed towards the isle of Boreray and Stac an Armin, spectacular rocky outposts to the North East of Hirta absolutely teeming with sea birds. We then set sail again with Dunvegan in the Isle of Skye our next port of call. We sailed through the night back through the Sound of Harris with the lights of Leverburgh and all the warning buoys making it an interesting watch that night. Come the morning the Approaching weather front began to catch up with us and we picked up a fair bit of speed topping over 8 knots at times, which was really exhilarating.  We dropped anchor  in Loch Dunvegan and most of us headed ashore to visit Dunvegan Castle, the clan seat of the clan MacLeod, always worth a visit, especially in the company of a fellow MacLeod from Nova Scotia. It was a really wet day but the gardens were still beautiful followed by a quick dinghy tour around the loch to visit seal colonies, a great day all round. Leaving Dunvegan later that day we dropped anchor on Loch Snizort Beag for the night.  Wed morning was beautiful with light winds in the loch but Maarten expertly maneuvered us around and out to sea under sail alone where the winds picked up significantly and pretty soon we were making over 6 knots on our way to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris arriving there in beautiful weather at around 15:30. Some of us went ashore and checked out the new gin distillery.  We set sail from Tarbert on Thur morning heading for Stornoway with more great sailing, beautiful weather and fantastic views of the Shiants, and  dolphins  which are always a welcome sight. Manon and I spent a good deal of the afternoon  guiding some of the guest crew up to the yards to experience the view in fairly calm conditions. We planned to spend two nights in Stornoway where have a lot of family from my fathers side so I called my cousin Rodney who came down to the ship and I gave him, his daughter and grandson a tour of the ship.  I spent the next day with Rodney driving around the island visiting some local sights and some of his old friends, a great day out and fantastic to catch up with long lost family.  That night after a few beers a few of us headed up to Lewes Castle fully expecting it to be closed, as it was but a really nice guy who was locking up invited us in a gave us a private tour which was fantastic. The community really have done an amazing job on the restoration. We left Stornoway on our last sailing day heading for our final destination of Ullapool. There were strong winds and we topped 10 knots at one point so we made good time which for most of us meant the end of the trip came too soon. Of course the end of a voyage is always a good excuse for a party and this was no exception, a great barbecue accompanied by a few beers and later on some very dubious dancing, including our version of ceilidh-disco fusion, you really had to be there. Sun morning meant we had to leave the ship so we said our farewells to the amazing crew and most of the guests caught the bus to Inverness for onward journeys, a last few beers and goodbyes to good friends it was onto the train and heading home, until the next time Oosterschelde.

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