Tag: st kilda

The Lure of Scotland

The Isle of Skye

Helen Walker and her love of the Scottish Isles.

At VentureSail Holidays we pride ourselves on offering experiential holidays on board classic ships and adventure vessels in remote and often lesser-travelled locations. Each vessel is skippered by a passionate individual, all of whom hold a strong affinity for the locations in which they sail, often hand picking ‘secret’ spots along the way to share with guests. And ex-marine research vessel Zuza is no exception, her  crew has Helen Walker at the helm and here she explains why she returns to the Scottish western isles year after year.

“Having sailed all over the world, I can say with conviction that the west coast of Scotland is where my heart lies. Each departure from Oban offers so many diverse opportunities to explore this stunning part of the UK. In total, there are 790 islands in Scotland and each one varies in culture, language, music and whisky. These islands are home to some of the finest distilleries in the world, producing malt and peak whiskies, many dating back hundreds of years, and we offer some specialist whisky tours – which always make for a popular voyage!

However, it is often the spectacular wildlife which leaves me spellbound. In a single day we can experience otters, basking sharks, various dolphin species and world class bird life. The Shiant Islands and St. Kilda boast colonies of tens of thousands of gannets, puffins, fulmars, guillemots and more. Just a short cruise from Oban, continues Helen, lie the Treshnish islands where guests are often able to sit and observe puffins in very close quarters, watching their comical movements as they go about their day to day life. A voyage to Rum proffers Manx shearwaters whilst keen eyes will invariably spot the magnificent golden and white tailed eagles. Our crew are some what of enthusiasts and will generally be found perched on the deck, binoculars in hand!

Minke whales in the Hebrides

It’s not just the fantastic wildlife that continues to lure Zuza and her crew back, the breath taking scenery never ceases to amaze. Mountainous green peaks cascade into the ocean, lush green islands are dotted in the ocean, each fringed by white sandy beaches; dramatic rock formations, that appear to have been sculpted by hand, rise up from seemingly nowhere whilst huge sea lochs enable guests to step ashore and follow trails along some of the most wild and extraordinary scenery in Europe. And as the days draw to a close with picturesque sunsets, eyes are drawn heavenwards to the dark skies, scattered with starts and occasionally the dancing iridescence of the Northern Lights.

granite stacks in the Hebrides

If the smaller more accessible islands have captured Helen’s heart, then is it the far flung volcanic St. Kilda archipelago that has latched onto her soul. Shrouded in mystery and legend, the isles lie approximately 40 miles from North Uist, and are the most westerly archipelago in the Hebrides. Serving as a World Heritage Site, they have lain uninhabited since 1930 and the remains of human civilisation, which dates back more than 2,000, can still be seen today. The impossibly breath taking scenery boasts some of the highest cliffs in Europe, perched somewhat precariously on which are large colonies of rare and endangered bird species – nearly one million seabirds are thought to be present at the height of the breeding season. Their isolation, naturally gives the islands a vulnerable feel, with the Atlantic swell crashing on the shores and historic remains nodding to what once was. These storm swept islands are a powerful reminder of just how small we, as humans are, and visiting here them is a particularly humbling experience for me.

human inhabitation remains on St Kilda

Due to their remoteness, the St. Kilda isles can be tricky to visit yet Zuza has been custom built using the latest modern materials that modern technology can offer and this means she is able to take guests to precisely these remote destinations, day after day. And this is one of the many reasons I so enjoy being her skipper, concludes Helen. The comfort she offers whether under sail or motor combines comfortable living with fast sailing and that is so satisfying [as a skipper]. As a qualified sailing teacher, I am always on hand to offer some big yacht sailing experience and Zuza is perfect for those wishing to learn. She really embraces my passion for sailing alongside the knowledge that my guests are safe and comfortable. I am able to share some of my favourite spots on each voyage, delighting in the wonder and awe on their faces. The weather always has the final say but my aim is to be flexible and plan the day together with my guests each morning. For me, there really is no place like western Scotland, the magic, mystery, scenery and wildlife are never lost on me and as each season draws to a close I feel the longing for the next one to begin.

Hebridean Insight: The Small Isles

Collectively known as the Small Isles, this pretty little archipelago plays host to a vast amount of wildlife – and each island in this collection is very different from the next. Just 153 people live on these islands and transport links are tenuous, making them quite isolated. They’re perfect territory for boat exploration; many of our cruises will show you around by water and you’ll also be able to explore on foot.

Rum

Rum is the largest of the Small Isles, which should make it a Medium Isle, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring. Rum is 40 square miles in area, and conceals the main village of Kinloch to the east, where just over 30 people reside and a small primary school educates the handful of island children.

The rest of the island is uninhabited by humans but a huge population of red deer are free to roam, studied intensely by field ecologists in various areas of academia. Watch out for them (the deer, not the field ecologists) and the wandering wild goats and ponies too.

red Deer scotland small isles

Eigg

One of Eigg’s greatest qualities is its eco-friendliness: it generates all of its power from reusable sources and has a traffic light system of power usage, so its 105 inhabitants know when the reusable power is at its most abundant (think windy days or blazing sunshine) and when its at its most scarce.

This clean energy powers a microbrewery, producing 7 distinct ales and lagers, and a restaurant, bar and several craft shops – quite remarkable for an island of relatively small inhabitancy and stature. It’s just 12 miles square.

Historically, Eigg has been tossed and tumbled through the hands of various clans, religious sects, invaders and wealthy landlords – relics from these eras including churches and chapels can still be found dotted all over the island. Eigg’s tumulus history makes for some fascinating reading. At present, Eigg belongs to its own heritage trust, but political murmurings still cause the occasional tremor, as natives feel they are unfairly treated in comparison to the friends and family of the trustees.

Muck

Muck is the baby in the family of the Small Isles. It’s just 2.2 square miles; less than the distance from the Houses of Parliament to the British Museum! She’s famous for her porpoises and seals – even the name ‘muck’ is derived from ‘mouch,’ meaning ‘swine’. The ancient word for porpoise was ‘mereswine,’ so the island was likely to have been named after its first maritime inhabitants – a rarity in terms of ancient place names, which normally derive from geographic features.

Muck has a permanent population of 27 people, and has several holiday cottages and a hotel. It’s the only inhabited island without a post box.

Seals in the hebrides

Canna

Canna’s population could easily double if a couple of small tourist boats arrived on the island at once; she’s home to just 18 people! Being mile across and 4 miles wide means Canna is long and thin, which makes for an amazing coastline habitat for a plethora of wild birds, including peregrine falcons and merlins. Rare butterflies reside inland, which benefits from relatively little human footfall.

Canna harbours some of the best-preserved Bronze Age relics such as huts, walls and pottery – a perfect place for archaeology lovers to engage in some of their own detective work.

She’s linked by land to the isle of Sanday, which is walkable when the tide permits. 

 

Life as the Skipper of Zuza

Helen Walker is the skipper of Zuza, heading up an all-female crew as they sail the South African yacht around Scotland. Here’s what she has to say about life on board this fabulous vessel…

Why I like skippering Zuza

Zuza is a modern boat, custom built using the latest materials modern technology can offer – this makes her unique; truly one of a kind! One of the many reasons I so enjoy being her skipper is the comfort she offers whether under sail or motor. She combines comfortable living and fast sailing so that she can take you to remote destinations day after day, and as a skipper this is really satisfying. It embraces my passion for sailing alongside the knowledge that my guests are safe and comfortable. Zuza is also able to reach particularly remote destinations that other vessels her size can’t, thanks to her bilge keel design, and the 2 powerful engines enabling superb manoeuvrability. Wind and power: the perfect combination!

A bit about me

My love of all things sailing started in my teenage years, when I discovered sailing dinghies in the Lake District… I was hooked! A yacht sailing holiday in the Balearic islands led to me taking my day skipper ticket and volunteering with the Ocean Youth Trust. This enabled me to log sea miles and learn on the job from a multitude of highly skilled and diverse skippers on lots of different sailing boats. My first professional role at sea was as a flotilla skipper on the beautiful Dalmatian coast in Croatia. The next 20 years saw me in a variety of skipper roles from Brixham trawlers in Devon to the round-the-world challenge boats. I qualified as a yacht master instructor in 2003, enjoying the challenges in this role hugely and working my way up to cruising instructor trainer.

One of Zuza’s many perks is that she caters for all experience levels of sailing – whether you’re a complete novice looking to learn or a seasoned sailor wanting a new experience. However, if you simply want a holiday on a lovely comfortable yacht with stunning scenery, food and company, my crew work hard to anticipate your every need and make you want to visit Scotland Zuza-style year after year.

What makes Zuza comfortable

Another really unique aspect of Zuza is the completely enclosed cockpit with its 360 degree windows, so no matter what the weather, you’re right in the hot seat warm and dry. This is where the helm is, so you are welcome to steer Zuza and learn about all the navigation or simply sit back with tea and cake and watch the world go by.

Unlike most modern yachts, Zuza has sturdy hand rails around the entire deck providing easy walking, and lots of places to sit comfortably while wildlife spotting. If you fancy a swim, there’s a diving platform which is also used for boarding outer tender for daily shore excursions. Three steps downstairs brings you to our large saloon where breakfast and dinner are served – lunch depends on the day! The saloon also has wrap around windows and large hatches, and a servery where you can help yourself to fruit and biscuits and drinks. On the saloon level, Zuza has two ensuite cabins, where you can lay in your double bed with the hatch open watching the stars at night or dolphins during the day. Down another three steps is a corridor past the engine room and washing machine (which are enclosed completely) to two twin cabins (which can easily be adapted to become singles) and another toilet with a shower.

zuza-double-cabin

What to expect when booking a holiday on board Zuza

I endeavour to plan a comfortable voyage visiting new places everyday, of course the weather has the final say but my aim is to deliver the itinerary you have booked as weather permits. I like to be flexible, and we’ll have weather forecasts each morning, so over breakfast we can plan the day together. You may have a desire to go somewhere nearby and I will do my best to make this happen, likewise feel free to make contact with VentureSail prior to the voyage to discuss.

A typical day onboard Zuza
Breakfast is usually served at 8am, with cereals, toast, porridge, fresh fruit, and yoghurt followed by a cooked option. This is also where the plan for the day is discussed, along with the latest weather forecast.
We’ll have lunch whilst sailing, and it varies but you can guarantee there’s always lots of it! Soup and homemade bread, cold meats, salad, quiche, baked potatoes are just some of the options. Some days may be a packed lunch as we are ashore walking or just sitting on a golden sandy beach, followed by an afternoon tea of cake or scones with tea and coffee if underway.

Dinner is served between 1900 and 2000 and usually at anchor, having returned from a shore excursion to a hearty meal of local produce perfectly cooked by our onboard chef. A dessert or deluxe cheeseboard with drinks and coffee while we talk about our day winds up another VentureSail experience.

Zuza-saloon area-guests

Why I love the west coast of Scotland
After sailing in so many seas around the world I can honestly say the west coast of Scotland is where my heart is! Sailing from Oban offers so many diverse options to explore this stunning corner of the planet. There are 790 islands in Scotland which vary in culture, language, music and, of course, whisky! The wildlife here is spectacular and a photographers dream. A single day can bring otters, many species of dolphins, basking sharks and as for birds… there’s no place like the Shiant islands or St. Kilda for colonies of tens of thousands gannets, puffins, fulmars, guillemots and more. Just a short cruise from Oban takes you to the Treshnish islands, which is the place to get up close to puffins, or to Rum where the Manx shearwaters breed. One of the greatest, almost guaranteed sightings is that of golden and white tailed eagles – first mate Sarah is a bit of a fanatic and will be on deck spotting most of the time!
Outer Hebrides