Robert has always wanted to sail to St Kilda, so its seemed like a good basis for a sailing trip. But, unfortunately, St Kilda is only accessible in certain weather conditions. We sat in the pub one night thinking of how we could organise the trip, and what we would do if St Kilda wasn't a goer. After all, its a long way to go to just come back again. It was round about then that Jen produced perhaps the most famous of our boat quotes ... "well, if we cant get into St Kilda, then we're already half way to Iceland".
A plan was born ... its just a shame nobody thought to check a map first!
The Iceland holiday really started long before we set foot on the boat. As our first offshore sailing expedition, it was important that the boat was ready. We prepped various bits of the boat, bought plenty of spares, stocked up on non-perishable foods, and all sorts of other activities. Jen and I even went along to a Sea Survival course, which although very useful and imformative, turned out to be fantastic fun!
We left Troon early one Friday morning in a fresh breeze, and promising sunshine. Shortly after leaving Troon, we logged on with Clyde Coastguard and notified them of a our plan. We got absolutely fantastic sailing weather all the way to St Kilda. The wind on the first day was a constant force 5 south westerly. The day after, a force 4 blowing from the west, and finally a nor'westerly breeze to get us into the bay at St Kilda. Absolutely perfect conditions for anchoring off there too! Fantastic! Roberts colleague Al has tried to get to St Kilda three or four times, so for us to have such an easy job of it on our first attempt really showed how blessed we had been. I think he was just happy to finally make it!
The trip from Troon to St Kilda was just over 250 miles, and took 45 hours (17.5 of them at night). An average speed of 5.5 knots - not bad!
We arrived at St Kilda around 5.30am - so after completing the necessary ships duties, like having our all important arrival beer, everyone's first priority was to get some sleep. Around 9 or 10am, we blew up the dinghy and got ready to venture ashore.
Once the most remote community in Britain, the islands of St Kilda rise out of the Atlantic some 40 Nautical miles west of the Outer Hebrides, forming the last outcrop of the northwest edge of Europe. People around the world have long held a special affection for these islands with their poignant history, dramatic scenery, spectacular seabirds and lonely isolation.
We took a walk around the small village, looking in each of the abandoned buildings. Its a very strange experience wandering around, and sad to read of the islands troubled history. We all then took a walk up to the top of cliffs, where the islands once risked their lives catching birds - one of the few natural resources available.
We were due to leave that evening, so we headed back to the boat and a few of us got a couple of hours extra sleep before our next leg ... Iceland! Gulp!
We left St Kilda the night before, around 8pm. There was very little wind, so we spent the first few hours under engine, plowing into the emptiness of the Atlantic. Within a few hours, there was nothing to see but water in all directions. Due to the time of year, and how far north we were, it never really got dark. This certainly made night watches more pleasant, but didn't half mess with your body clock!
By mid-afternoon, the wind was freshening, so we pulled out the sails. For the next 2 and a half days, the wind blew a steady force 3, 4, or 5 from the south west. All this time, we stayed on port tack, maintained a course of 290/300, occassionally putting in or shaking out a reef to match the current winds.
I cant really explain what it feels like to spend such a long time on the boat. There's something so calming about only having to worry about the boat, eating, and sleeping. We saw the occassional tanker on the horizon, but otherwise we had the Atlantic to ourselves. By 7pm on Tuesday, we were half way, but nobody was evening thinking about land fall yet. Hundreds of miles away from the nearest land, we saw some of the biggest dolphin pods ever. 20-30 of these gorgeous creatures would zoom in from mid ships and spend an hour playing in our bow wake. You just cant do a scene like that justice.
We arrived in Reykjavik at 3.30pm after sailing 815 miles, and a tremendous 137.5 hours at sea. I clocked up 53.5 hours of night hours - easily doubling the total of all our previous sailing trips and holidays combined!
Iceland clearly doesn't get many visitors to their marina. They had a single long pontoon for visitors, and a number of small pontoons for the locals. The marina staff shifted us around a bit, until eventually letting us moor up on the inside of their visitors pontoon. They were initially reluctant, as we were just shy of half its length! They were originally suggesting a wooden pier, but we found that it become submerged after sitting there for a few hours. Needless to say, that wasn't going to be "suitable" for either the short or long term! All in all, the boat was going to spend 2 months in the same place, so we pushed quite hard to get a good berth.
Iceland takes customs quite seriously, and within a few minutes of mooring up, they arrived at the boat, giving us a pile of paper work to fill out, and informed us that they would be back in a couple of hours to lock up our booze. Well... best to drink up!
So, Al was an absolute star, and took charge of counting our rations, and working out what ratio of wine to beer to spirits we might want. Chris was also brilliant, keeping all the crew stocked up with as much beer as we could drink before the inspectors came back. As it would happen, it was quite a few hours before we got another visit. So, when they finally arrived, we were all uhhh... "merry". I think my favourite moment was when Al offered the lovely officers a drink from our "contraband" boxed wine. Al had cleverly kept this out of the counting. They were very nice about it all, but sadly, they couldn't stop for a drink ;-)
The delivery crew only had a couple of days to spare before our flight home, so we checked out the local pubs, worked out where the shops were, and well, mostly checked out the local pubs :-) We would have plenty of time to have a proper look around when we came back in a couple of weeks anyway.