Tales from the Trail: St Kilda
Join us for our weekly blog as we share experiences from sites along the Hebridean Whale Trail - this week Abi takes us on a journey to the far-flung islands of St Kilda, and shares a magical encounter with minkies in the mist.
This summer I have been fortunate enough to crew on a boat called the Cuma taking people to the edge of the world. Don’t worry I’m not an “the Earth is not round” fanatic, really, I’m talking about the most Western Isles in the British Isles, St Kilda. This remote set of islands have captured the imagination of many and the hearts of many others. It isn’t hard to understand why when after 5 hours of sea passage Boreray appears from the sea mist like this.
St Kilda is a group of islands and stacks who have the highest cliffs in Great Britain and along with that 1000s of seabirds. One of my most memorable moments was a day shrouded in sea mist. The tops of the cliffs were invisible, and visibility was only 50m at the most around the boat. We had 12 sea kayakers on board, the other crew Euan and the skipper Murdo. The sea kayakers were going to sea kayak from the main island Hirta over to Boreray, roughly 6 nm, and we were going to give them a head start and then follow them. It is strange waking up in the sea mist in village bay and not being able to see the island that surrounds you. Some fulmars float on the water out of the sea mist towards you every now and again but apart from that everything is still.
The sea kayakers got on the water after a warm Scottish breakfast and set off. That left us the crew to get on with the cleaning. About an hour later we set off to follow them. It is said if the sea mist does not lift by 12pm, it won’t lift all day. This was one of those days. We lost sight of Hirta as we headed towards Boreray. I sat on the bow of the boat on the anchor box as we sliced through the calm water. The birds surrounded me, gannets diving, fulmars squawking, puffins flapping and skewers mobbing. It was so magical, it felt like I was in a dream. Suddenly a ‘poof’ and a minke whale surfaced to the right of me and then disappeared. Obviously, the usual scream and almost tears was my reaction, looking back at the wheelhouse to make sure Murdo and Euan had noticed. Both had but were dealing with it a lot cooler than I was.
We met up with the sea kayakers in a sea cave on Boreray, one came onboard and as they paddled the perimeter of the island, we went around to a bay on the other side to wait for them. Another minke whale was noticed out to sea as the mist raised for a second and then dropped again. Of course we did what any other person would and followed. Murdo cut the engine and we floated in the mist surrounded by the birds calls. We all stood out on deck watching the ocean.
Just like that we were surrounded by them. The excitement was real within all of us as we watched these beautiful creatures breathe. It was so magical, it felt like we were the only people on the earth with these whales and birds shrouded in mist. The whales stayed around for about half an hour.