By Iain A MacSween
Testament to just how accessible the remote archipelago of St Kilda has become is that many of its visitors each year are Australian.
“We’re finding that we are getting more and more bookings from people who have made the connection between this St Kilda and the St Kilda in Melbourne,” says Seumas Morrison, proprietor of Sea Harris. The Australian suburb which is called St Kilda takes its name from the schooner ‘Lady of
St Kilda’, which was wrecked off Tahiti in 1844.
“The Australian passengers are usually on holiday in Scotland and when they hear there is a St Kilda here they want to go and check it out,” said Seumas.
Sea Harris operates a 16.5 metre Stormforce 1650 vessel, ‘Enchanted Isle’, custom-built for the St.Kilda day trip by Redbay Boats in Northern Ireland. The large air-conditioned cabin has comfy aircraft style seating for 12 passengers, arranged in pairs down each side of the cabin, plus toilet facilities.
The dashboard has Cummins engine instrumentation plus a wide range of Garmin electronic navigation instruments, and with safety of passengers being paramount there is also a video camera to keep a watchful eye on any that are out on the aft deck. Visibility is excellent through the large windows when alongside the gargantuan sea-stacs of St Kilda. This installation gives a top speed of 27 knots, and an economical cruising speed of 22 knots.
Explaining the process for a trip to St Kilda, Seumas said: “When you make a booking you will be given a two-day window. We do three trips a week on that two-day window basis. We go on the best day, so you will either get out on day one or day two. We have standby trips booked in between these days too which run on the spare day of a two-day window, but if you have booked a two-day window you will always get out on the best day available.”
The Enchanted Isle departs Leverburgh at 8am, arriving in St Kilda two-and-a-half hours later, at 10.30am. Passengers are disembarked at Village Bay, where they are met by a National Trust for Scotland Ranger, who will brief them on the do’s and don’ts of their time on the island.
There is a £5 landing charge applied to each visitor to St Kilda, no matter how many times they have visited in the past or even if they are NTS members. “It’s something that they (The National Trust) have done with cruise ship passengers for some time now, and this will be the third season of charging the day trip passengers,” said Seumas.
“As boat operators, we will add that surcharge onto the overall fee of the trip and the National Trust then invoices us for each passenger we have landed.” If all is running to plan, passengers will get up to five hours ashore to explore the majesty of St Kilda at their leisure.
Once back on the Enchanted Isle, Seumas will take them across to the breathtaking island of Boreray, which towers 384 metres above sea level. Here, the boat is positioned almost close enough to reach out and touch Boreray, while hovering overhead are literally thousands of seabirds comprising gannets, puffins, terns and fulmars, among many others.
Despite having visited St Kilda hundreds of times as a boat operator, Seumas admits he never gets tired of the Boreray part of the tour. “If I did then I think it would be time to give up,” he said. “It’s just so jaw-dropping.”
A trip to St Kilda costs £190 per passenger, which includes the new £5 National Trust landing charge, and not forgetting tea and gingerbread cake, a famous speciality which is homemade by Seumas’ mother Flora. Sea Harris will run tours to St Kilda right up until the last week of September, and bookings can be made online at www.seaharris.com.