A trip on MARLIN from Liverpool to St. Kilda

MARLIN is a dive boat that usually does day trips out of Liverpool to dive the wrecks in Liverpool Bay: 3 hours out, 4 hours diving, then 3 hours back. See Liverpool Marine Press for books about these wrecks.

I have wanted to visit St. Kilda for a long time - the usual way is to hang around at Oban until a weather window arrives, and then set off. It takes all day to get to Oban by train and then there are still 130 miles to go to St. Kilda. This was going to be hard to arrange, so I calculated that I could make St. Kilda, starting from Liverpool, in about 3 days since it was around 360 miles away[325 miles as the crow flies]. As I would be single-handed, I would stop for each night. However, there are lots of daylight hours that far north in summer. After loading up with extra plastic fuel cans, Marlin has a range of well over 400 miles at a 7 knot cruising speed. After some research on refuelling options, this plan seemed feasible. So, when a high pressure system was building over Scotland, I set off.

On Sunday 21 June 2009, this more ambitious trip set off from Liverpool. First stop was Port St. Mary on the Isle of Man - arriving in time for a pint at the Albert.

On Monday 22 June, the long leg from the Isle of Man to Portrush on the North coast of Northern Ireland passing the Giants Causeway. In order to arrive in time for refuelling (5.30 pm latest) this leg was at higher speed. Some fog at times, especially trying when crossing the overfalls in Rathlin Sound. After refuelling (diesel, food, beer and shopping),

(hover mouse over image to read title)
Giant's causeway

MARLIN on the fuel berth at Portrush

a short hop across to Islay - to spend the night at the anchorage of Portnahaven (just inside the Rhinns of Islay).

On Tuesday 23 June, when the fog had lifted, I could see the seals and lighthouse from the anchorage.

Seals on Eilean Mhic Coinnich off Portnahaven

The lighthouse on Orsay at the Rhinns of

Set off into Machir Bay (through the tricky North entrance to the anchorage and then inside Frenchmans's Rocks - with 4 knot adverse current) to take a look at the wreck site of the Otranto (fond memories of long ago). Then past Skerryvore

Skerryvore Lighthouse

to Castle Bay on Barra.

Just North of Skerryvore I came across a pod (or is it group, school,...) of basking sharks. There must have been over 10 of them - several being very close to one another.

Basking sharks

Basking shark coming to eat me

For more on basking sharks (big files) see here

Ashore at Castle Bay (temporary berth alongside the ramp) for beer and food (no shops open). Then on into the Sound of Barra to an anchorage Inner Oitir Mhor (basically just off the airport runway - which is itself the beach).

Wednesday 24 June. This far North in mid-summer it doesn't get fully dark at night. Here is the view from the anchorage at dawn (4.30am).

Dawn in Barra Sound

Through Barra Sound into the open Atlantic. Five foot swell but little wind so no problem. St. Kilda in view - into Village Bay by 13.30. Destination accomplished.

St Kilda

For more info on St Kilda click here

Uist Outdoor Centre had brought a group of visitors (including 4 sea kayaks) from Loch Maddy in their high speed rib and the 2 crew were waiting on their boat in the Bay. They agreed that one of them would cox my boat so I could get a dive in. I dived near the Saw Cut on the SE edge of Village Bay. Nice viz and lots of life. More similar to Cornwall than to anywhere else I have dived.
  Then inflate dinghy and row ashore to small quay. Wander around village - in shorts and T-shirt.

MARLIN in Village Bay   MARLIN in Village Bay


over 360 nautical miles, 55 engine hours, mostly excellent weather, all for one dive and then there is the journey back...

Thursday 25 June. After overnight stay in Village Bay, off to the nearby island of Boreray with its associated stacs (Stac Lee and Stac an Armin)



skua   skua

Then via Sound of Shillay into Leverburgh on Harris for food, drink, shopping and fuel. (Fuel courtesy of fishermen). Shopping was a 15 minute walk from the port (which is the port for the ferry to Berneray which is now connected by road to the Uists).

There were a lot of pot buoys in the Sound of Harris and at slack water they can have a lot of rope on the surface - as I discovered. After towing one chain of pots for a while, I was able to unhook them from the skeg. A local pot fisherman told me he has a rope cutter on his boat - and he uses lead weighted rope near the buoys so that it sinks and is less of an obstacle. But not everyone does that.

Then across the Minch to Skye - passing Neist Point.


Then down through the Sound of Canna to anchor in Tarbet Bay on Canna, since wind was an easterly fresh breeze.

Friday 26 June. On southwards between Coll and Mull to Staffa - to take a look at Fingals Cave.

Fingals Cave

Then through Sound of Iona - weather was a bit too boisterous to land on Iona (also too many tripper boats),


past Colonsay to enter the Sound of Islay. The adverse current was strong so I increased speed and stopped in Port Askaig. This now has a new harbour reserved for fishing boats. I was told I could stay until a boat returned at 8pm - so I had enough time for food and a drink in the nearby pub. The wind was quite strong and gusty so getting into the small harbour was tricky. The ferry skipper lent a hand with my ropes and gave me some "local knowledge": that the current would be much less on the Jura shore.

I was able to carry on south against the current with this tip - and decided to anchor for the night in Plod Sgeirean (reached through Caolas Port na Lice). Accompanied by 2 yachts, this was a sheltered spot.

Saturday 27 June. Down towards the Mull of Kintyre (Hello Paul)


then on down the North Channel to the Isle of Man. I stopped briefly in Port Erin for chinese takeaway and beer takeaway (in lovely weather)

port erin

Through Calf Sound


to overnight anchorage in Castletown Bay.

Sunday 28 June. Across to Liverpool, arriving in time to lock in to the Marina at 3.30pm.

So a 1 week trip from Liverpool to St. Kilda and back. Fuel was around 90 gallons out [more since one higher speed leg] and around 60 gallons returning. So quite a cost - but modest compared to most other ways to get to St. Kilda. And the weather stayed excellent all week. Definitely worth it.