20 Nov 2015
It is a remote beacon of the British Isles; a group of islands shrouded in mystery which have fascinated generations. And, for the first time, an organised yacht race will make the windswept St Kilda island group its focus – helping 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.
For many yachtsmen and women, these distant isles are a long-held dream, for many it is perhaps something they thought they may never achieve. Now, though, the collective expertise of an event advisory board, consisting of national collaborating partners and relevant maritime organisations like the RNLI and Coastguard, has been assembled to mount a race and event programme which can satisfy this desire to adventure to the edge – and back.
On June 10 next year, the gun will sound on the first ever edition of the St Kilda Challenge. Initiated by Comann na Mara – the Society of the Sea, a recognised leader in the creation of community-led events – this unique contest, which will become an annual event, has attracted proud, prime sponsor backing of Caledonian MacBrayne.
Sailing’s governing body RYA Scotland and the Scottish Sailing Institute, which specialises in the organisation of national and international events in Scottish waters, are closely involved in the project and CalMac is offering significant support. Collaboration partners on the event advisory board also include Ocean Youth Trust, Sail Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, University of St Andrews, Scottish Natural Heritage, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Harris Tweed and Harris Distillery.
Beginning with the arrival of the fleet on June 9, the programme opens with shoreside cultural treats in North Uist’s main settlement of Lochmaddy. Yachts will also be required to register and undergo scrutineering to ensure they meet strict participation criteria. But it is on June 10 when lines will be cast, sails hoisted and crew readied for a parade of sail leading to the race start line in the Sound of Harris. And thus begins the adventure of the year.
The fleet will journey over a total of more than 100 nautical miles of open sea, famed for its wildness, wildlife and unpredictability with the St Kilda archipelago as its goal. Using the islands as their turning point, the yachts will make a rounding and then return to the finish line in the Sound of Harris. If some crews wish to, they can stop their clock and venture ashore briefly before continuing with the race.
By no means lengthy in terms of open water racing, its relatively short distance belies the significant challenges which could be faced by the vessels and crews involved in the June 2016 event. As well as a racing fleet, the regatta will also incorporate a cruise-in-company to allow non-racing yachts to become involved in the excitement of the event. Ashore, meanwhile, there will be plenty to thrill community and visitor alike. Further details will emerge in due course.
A pre-notice of race, including qualifying criteria, as well as an entry form and other event details can be found at www.calmac.co.uk/stkilda/challenge