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 all female 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!
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.
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.
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.