Monday, 27 June 2016

St Kilda: Morning paddle around Dun and departure - 13th June 2016

This was the second paddle of the St Kilda trip with Gordon Brown on the Cuma.

The day dawned bright with fairly light winds, so the prospects were for a good day. The plan for the morning was to explore Dun, the island off the southern tip of Hirta, with the two islands only separated by a small channel.

Dun seen from Hirta
This guy wasn't expecting visitors - fast asleep!
There can't be many places where you can pack so much adventurous and dramatic paddling into such a small area. The narrow island of Dun is breached by the sea in a number of places leaving spectacular through caves. Some of these are obvious arches, others are hidden requiring prior knowledge to find them or an adventurous spirit!

We practiced the protocol for how to navigate through the caves - one person goes through to check it out, if they survive and come back in one piece, we then determine if it is safe to go through one at a time! We navigated a few caves like this. One cave involved negotiating an awkward sloping roof that didn't leave much room to paddle that then opened out into a big pool. At right angles to the route in, another exit from the pool's cavern was out to the open sea on the west side. This looked far too intimidating to take on, so we reversed our route back to the calm of the east side of the island, but not before Matthew got trashed in the pool by a couple of big waves and had to roll a couple of times.

Entrance to the slanting through cave
Me negotiating the slanting cave - photo credit Gordon Brown
We carried on up the east side of Dun till we got to the large arch. The swell was making this look interesting, and a few of us paddled through it to the turbulent west side. Gordon paddled through and a couple of us then went down the west side of the island towards the gap between Dun and Hirta, the rest of the party decided not to venture through and turned around on the east side.

I'm inspecting the large arch - photo credit Bob Grose
The gap has a number of large rocks in it, and with the breaking waves pushing water through the channels it again created "interesting" conditions. Gordon led us through to show the route and I followed. Once Bob also joined us we re-grouped with the others to determine what to do next. I had a bit of a headache (and also needed a pee - a constant problem on St Kilda with no easy landings!) so I returned to the Cuma that was moored in the bay, but the others were coached by Gordon and persuaded to go through the gap and to return again which led to some excitement.

Approaching the Dun gap - photo credit Gordon Brown
Me negotiating Dun gap - photo credit Gordon Brown

Playing in the Dun gap - photo credit Gordon Brown
Tiff going through the gap - photo credit Gordon Brown
We then had lunch on the Cuma and discussed plans. The weather window was closing, and it looked as though the weather would break the following day with strong north easterly winds. Based on this forecast we all decided that we would like to spend the afternoon exploring Hirta on foot, and then we would have to leave St Kilda that evening to motor over to the more sheltered islands of the Outer Hebrides.

A pleasant few hours were spent exploring Hirta - looking at the old village and a hike up to the highest point that is a fantastic viewpoint. We experienced the plight of the Gannets when we were subject to attacks by the Great Skuas (Bonxies).

One of the unique St Kilda storage Cleats
Boreray from Hirta - the route paddled the previous day
Bonxie attacks!
Soay in the distance
Dun in the distance
Restored village houses
We left St Kilda by a small detour around the west side of Hirta to enable us to get a view of the spectacular west coast. We motored up through the channel between Soay and Hirta and were treated to a wildlife spectacular of birds, a basking shark and a minke whale. It was sad to leave St Kilda after such a short stay, but we managed to pack a lot in and maybe I'll be back one day.

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