ST. Kilda May 2023

Ian Gardner, Chris Llewellyn & Nick Worthington – Sub C Divers Club.

I wanted to share my overview of our recent expedition to St Kilda 40 mile west of the Hebrides off the Scottish West Coast.

I have had a burning ambition to go here for many years but have always been made aware how difficult it can be to get there, how changeable the weather can be and many factors have to be right to “make an attempt” on St Kilda.

I had contacted all of the charter boats I was aware of but nobody seemed to be going there anytime soon.
I had even started planning my own trip there using our club rib as my quest to go was very strong.
I had heard on the grapevine than an expedition was being run by Andy Hunt – BSAC’S expedition officer / co ordinator.
I contacted him and he said there was no spaces, but after some negotiations and some others not being able to make it this allowed three of us from Sub C Divers made it onto the boat. The Clasina. A great boat and aweseome captain Bob.
At last I was bound for a trip to St Kilda 3rd May 23 – so excited.

This is a quick overview of our trip. On arrival we were met by Andy, Bob and a few of the other divers boarding and loading kit onto the Clasina moored at Ullapool.

Chris and Nick and myself are what I’d call good club divers…all Open water instructors and Chris Advanced Diver; myself & Nick Dive Leaders.

The minimum criteria for this trip was Dive Leader with a statement to be very competent in swells and mid water DSMB deployment.

We felt comfortable with those requirements, but as we watched re-breather after re-breather and some nice twin sets get loaded, we began to realise we were in some pretty top notch company…

Then we also discovered 3 of the squad were also First Class Divers… so no pressure then for us open circuit twin 10’s or single & pony guys…..

Once aboard acquaintances were made. What a great bunch -all from lots of different backgrounds and areas of the UK…. Some from Orkney, some from Isle of Wight and anywhere in between.
So now to the diving!! ….. it read in previous reports it can be challenging and the need to be fit to dive adventurous dives.
Well that was very true. Over the next 10 days I found myself in massive upsurges heading towards the surface followed by the opposite and being pulled down again, DSMB’s going in many different directions from divers just a few feet apart.
We dived on some spectacular reefs and wrecks en route to South Harris.
Here we waited overnight for the weather check and then we were away.
Conditions looked favourable and Bob and the Clasina took us west into the Atlantic. Fantastic – we had made it to St Kilda in good time to dive stack Lee….wow….amazing, deep, blue water.
Stunning wall dive below thousands of gannets nesting high above us….spectacular.
We dived the stacs Lee and Mena, Boeray, Glen Bay, and signature St Kilda dives like The Saw Cut….
All amazing.
Unbelievably, one of our crew Nic, inadvertently discovered a brand new arch, never ever discovered or dived before.He was given the honour of naming the site….But as Nic was struggling with kit etc and weight on the particular day, we came up with a great name from that day forward the site is known now as “Glass Back Arch”…😀😁, its written in history now.
We managed to get ashore and explore the island somewhat.
Having read the history of St Kilda I could visualise some of the things they did and endured. It was surreal to walk in the old houses that remain and even see the names of the families, the number of children in that particular house, all pretty bewildering on how they survived. The last residents of St Kilda were withdrawn in 1930. Village Bay set a very atmospheric outlook as the mist hung low over the hills.
The new born Soay sheep and everything about the place was what I’d expected, and what I was hoping it would be. Magical.
After a couple of days here all of which was amazing. Bob told us the weather that was coming was going to be worse than bad with no place to hide…
Defaulting to safety first we headed on back to the shelter of the Hebrides and continued our diving around Skye,Taransay also the rest of Hebrides. We covered wrecks, walls, reefs and drift dives under Scalpay bridge. All of which were brilliant.
Having got to know everyone, there were 3 of us on the boat at various stages of Advanced Diver. Andy capitalised on this, but helping us plan and then manage the dives,regular briefing and de briefing took place which again helped us alot, and we were rewarded with a few ticks in our qualification books.
I learned alot, sometimes not even about diving from a great bunch of divers with a passion for the sport.
There was so much knowledge on that boat I can’t begin to compute it all myself. From techie to open circuit diver; First Class to Sport diver or Dive leader everyone got involved and went the extra mile to make things happen and work.
This wasn’t a “normal” hard boat trip for me. It was as described, an expedition….”an attempt” on St Kilda. Oceanic diving….The diving was challenging, 10 days,2 dives per day in big swells, that I haven’t experienced on that scale before.
On our way home we all agreed we had gained so much from the trip. More knowledge, planning, managing and good practice routines – for example keeping some divers onboard kitted up in suits with fins and masks available even after they had finished their dive. This was incase other divers surfaced in distress – they are there to assist immediately….!
A great expedition, learned so much that I will take with me and pass on.
Thank you to ALL involved.
Ian Gardner
Sub C Divers BSAC 1206.