IT is a test of endurance and skill in some of Britain’s most remote and treacherous waters.
Organisers of an inaugural race to Scotland’s furthest flung archipelago are giving sailors the chance to make history by embarking on a sea route many view as “unattainable.”
The St Kilda Challenge will see the first ever yacht race held from North Uist to the isolated island group and back again.
Described as a “dream” event for maritime enthusiasts, the race will span a distance of around 100 nautical miles and cover the hazardous swells of the North Atlantic, not to mention potentially dangerous weather conditions.
St Kilda was occupied for thousands of years, but unforgiving conditions on islands and the surrounding seas meant that it was depopulated 85 years ago.
Now, those behind the new race home they can raise the profile of the islands while also fulfilling the “lifetime ambition” of ambitious sailors.
The event, which will be staged in June next year, is being organised by Comann na Mara, the Society of the Sea, based in Lochmaddy, North Uist.
The group’s chairman, Gus Macaulay, explained: “North Uist is the closest landfall to St Kilda, which is some 45 miles to the west.
“For so many sailors, a journey to St Kilda is a long-held dream but many have seen it as unattainable, just something to plan in the long dark winters in the sure knowledge of never living it out.
“However, we realised that, with a carefully crafted and organised race run by a committee of experts and supported by some key businesses and organisations, we could put in the structure to bring together a group of like-minded yachts people, potentially from all over the world, and run an exciting regatta to these mysterious islands on the outermost fringes of the United Kingdom.”
Comann na Mara’s venture is being supported by ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, the Scottish Sailing Institute, and governing body the Royal Yachting Association Scotland.
The route will begin at Lochmaddy and it is expected it will take sailors around 24 hours to complete it, depending on the conditions.
While the course is relatively short compared to other yacht races, Mr Macauley said it would present “significant challenges.”
The race will be open to all but organisers are creating a qualifying criteria and safety standards for yachts and crews.
The initiative is also being backed by the National Trust for Scotland, the conservation charity which owns St Kilda.
Alexander Bennett, its general manager responsible for overseeing the islands, said he “envied” the opportunity being given to those who will have a chance to approach St Kilda by sail, “just as generations going back thousands of years would have seen it.”
He said: “Not only is this a unique event that could only be staged in Scotland’s western approaches, it will help to highlight the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site, recognised for both its natural and cultural significance, in what will be the 30th anniversary of it receiving the former designation in 1986.
“The term ‘national treasure’ is now overused, but that is exactly what St Kilda is, and we must continue to remind people of its importance if the support and recognition necessary for this special place’s long-term wellbeing is to be obtained.
“This is exactly what the St Kilda Challenge will achieve, as well as being an amazing experience in its own right, and it is why we commend it.”