Co-ordinates: N 57º48'22", W 08º33'55"
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 8,8°C
Pressure: 1017 hPa
Wind: 12 knots
Today we had an early morning. I had to get up at 05:30 as our stand-by time was at 06:00 o’clock. Why so early? Because we planned to do a ship’s cruise around St. Kilda Island, before our attempted landing there at 09:00.
St. Kilda is a small island a bit west of the Outer Hebrides, and can be seen as the last outpost of the north western edge of Europe. These days it is a National Nature Reserve run by the UK, and is a World Heritage Site. For thousands of years, people have lived here harvesting the seabirds, fishing and growing crops. In 1930 the last remaining 36 islanders left these “islands on the edge of the world.”
Once I was on the bridge I saw that we had another beautiful day. The weather situation on this voyage is a bit unreal, nearly no winds and often even sunshine. Today again, there was no wind but plenty of sunshine. The Island of St. Kilda was just in front of us and our fearless Expedition Leader asked me to go on the Foredeck. He seemed to be quite excited as he had never managed to get ashore here in the past, and the conditions for today looked perfect.
On the Foredeck I met my colleagues Kara and HP (HP stands for Hans-Peter and not for a printer…). After Robin’s morning announcement at 06:00 the first guests came joining us on the Foredeck. The Captain manoeuvred the Silver Explorer pretty close around the island and the views of the steep cliffs were spectacular in the morning sunlight.
Once the circumnavigation was finished I went for breakfast. Meanwhile Robin picked up two local rangers. After breakfast they gave our guests a quick introduction to the island and its importance. After that we started the disembarkation.
On the island I showed our guests the main route to the archaeological site. Since every guest received a nice visitor guide including a map, I was not really needed. So I went a bit through the remains of the ruins and made my way up to the top of the island. Quite a few guests had the same idea of stretching their legs and enjoying the view from above. It was absolutely worth it. We had an amazing view of the bay and also of the remains of the former settlement. On the other side it went steeply down - we were on the top of the cliffs we had viewed earlier this morning.
Back at the landing site I helped guests embarking our Zodiacs for getting back to the ship. At 01:00pm everybody was back on board and I went for lunch. There was no time for resting as we had to set sail for a nearby rocky island group, called Boreray.
These little islands with its steep cliffs are home to the world’s largest colony of gannets with some 60,000 pairs of birds! Also there were quite a few fulmars nesting there. Our Captain, as usual, manoeuvred us very nicely and closely around the island and we got spectacular views of the breeding spots on the rocks. There was also was a lot of activity in the air. It always fascinates me how these birds manage to avoid any collision amongst themselves even without an air traffic controller. I managed to get quite some nice shots of the birds flying around our ship.
Once we left the bird rocks, it was time for our first lecture. And what could have been timelier today than a talk about birds. So it was my dearest colleague Chris Harbard with his talk “North Atlantic Island Birds”.
We had just a one-hour break before the Recap & Briefing started at 05:00pm. Robin had some plans for the early evening, so dinner was scheduled at 06:00pm. In the Briefing Robin told us the plans for the next day in Stromness. After that some of my colleagues talked about the sightings of the last few days. Chris, our onboard ornithologist, talked a bit more about the puffins we saw yesterday. He got quite a few questions on that topic. Next HP did a small photo quiz on the plants we saw the last few days, and Juan talked about the geology of St. Kilda Island.
After that I had a quick dinner in the crew mess as we planned to look a bit deeper for a new island. At 06:30pm we arrived at Flannan Island. The Silver Explorer has never been there before. But Kara, one of my colleagues, had been there years back with another ship. They had “thousands of puffins” as she told us. So we got quite excited, as the weather conditions were unreal, in a good way. No wind and still (mainly) sunshine.
Once in the Scout Boat we had a quick ride to the potential landing side. We saw a concrete stairway on the rocks going up. But in the lower part some of the steps were missing. Nevertheless we landed Kara and Chris at the small pier to have a look to see if it was safe and if the puffins were there. Meanwhile the rest of us circumnavigated the island. Once we left the landing area, there was a big swell along the coastline. It was a choppy ride and when we got back to the landing side, we were told that there were more or less no puffins at all. No idea why, but they had left. Maybe they all went to the Jubilee Celebrations in London?!? Anyhow, as the landing was pretty difficult with the missing steps and a Zodiac Cruise wouldn’t have made sense with the swell on the most of the coastline, it was decided not to offer another additional landing or cruise here this evening.
But even from the ship we had a nice view of the island group in the evening sun. And I guess lot of our guests were happy to have an early evening after an early morning followed by a day full of activities. At least I was, sort of …