Sunday, July 3, 2016

J/122 MOONSTRUCK Wins St Kilda Challenge!

J/122 sailing St Kilda Challenge race (St Kilda, Scotland)- After 100nm and almost exactly 23 hours at sea, MOONSTRUCK TOO, Gordon Lawson’s J/122, took victory at the inaugural St Kilda Challenge- a race to the northernmost outposts of Scotland.

Organized by North Uist’s Comann Na Mara, the challenge brought together 27 yachts from all corners of the UK and beyond to a far nook of the Western Isles with a long-held and shared common goal – to reach the alluring, mysterious, rugged cliffs of St Kilda. One of the most beautiful regions in all of the United Kingdom.

St Kilda island off ScotlandSt Kilda (Scottish Gaelic: Hiort) is an isolated archipelago 64 kilometres (40nm) west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. It contains the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.  The largest island is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the United Kingdom; three other islands (Dùn, Soay and Boreray) were also used for grazing and seabird hunting.

Back to the sailing story.  So, despite having been at sea for such a prolonged period, it was a nail-biting finish between Grant Kinsman’s Sigma 400 Thalia and Port Edgar Yacht Club’s MOONSTRUCK.

Thus, ensued several hours of nervous waiting for the final yachts to arrive and the much-anticipated results – and when they came, they were exceptionally close. In the end, MOONSTRUCK prevailed with a corrected time margin of five minutes and 50 seconds over her rival; an astonishingly tight result after such distance, and so many vagaries of tide, swell and fickle breeze.  It was a real testament to a very long night of grit and determination in some very difficult conditions.

St Kilda island in fogIn all of the hundreds and hundreds of hour of planning which had gone into this short 24 hour race, it had been expected that the yachts would probably have to dig deep to overcome some perilous seas and howling wind – so typical of even summer weather in this notoriously exposed and blasted outpost of the UK. There were strict guidelines in place about how much wind could actually thwart even a start. Inclement weather could have seen the flotilla shore-bound while the racers were set free to pit their wits against the elements. They could all have made the journey for nought.

What had not been expected was yachts peaking at a mere seven knots, struggling against a sometimes unpleasant swell, crews toiling from fatigue and occasional seasickness as windless conditions made fast progress near impossible.

“Sailing in conditions like that is much harder than racing hard in heavy weather,” said race officer John Readman. “It is very hard work to keep morale up and attention span lively when you are wallowing in the sea like that with barely a breath of air and no real sign of any to come.”

St Kilda Challenge starting lineOf the 15 racing yachts that started, seven of them judged that discretion was the better part of valor and joined the cruising flotilla – allowing the luxury of switching on the engine. Of the cruisers, just a single one– Sea Fever– actually made the determined journey to St Kilda under sail.

And yet, despite a voyage which had clearly taken its toll and after a well-earned nap, there was universal praise ashore from the participants– both the racers and the cruisers.

In the flotilla, those unknown to one another have now enjoyed an experience which has turned them into friends. For all of them, getting ashore on Hirta – the main island of St Kilda, and the only one which was inhabited– was the stuff of dreams!!

Rachel Vejar and her husband Alvaro from Inverness joined Mick and Sally Ineson from Yorkshire on their boat Casares for the journey as part of the cruise in company. The two couples had never met before– Rachel and Alvaro were introduced to Mick and Sally the day before the challenge began. And were invited to join them.

St Kilda island beach“We tried sailing but there wasn't enough wind,” said Rachel. “The boat is a cruiser and without a spinnaker we were hardly getting anywhere.  As the main objective was to land on St Kilda we just motored there. We loved the journey, and like many people, going to St Kilda has always been a dream of mine.  It was great to just land on the island and have a walk round.”

Her story mirrors that of many others having experienced the grandeur of St Kilda and the pleasure of sailing in company.

Phrases like “a mission accomplished” and “a real sense of pleasure and achievement” pervaded across Lochmaddy’s packed marina. It was an epic in ways few had considered, but an epic adventure nonetheless!

wild sheep on St Kilda islandMost regattas are run by yacht clubs or sailing organizations.  However, the St Kilda Challenge was run not only by sailors, but by a whole community. A community which had a vision many years ago and has worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition. The committee vessel was the local fishing boat “Harmony”. The “escort vessel” for the starting line was the Leverburgh Lifeboat.

The shoreside events explored the rich cultural heritage of the area and produced a festival to remember. Born and brought up on North Uist, internationally acclaimed Julie Fowlis was proud to return to her roots at the weekend giving a fabulous concert treat. There were plays and films, there was music and food. There were friendships renewed and new ones forged.

J/122 Moonstruck crew celebratingIt was, plainly put, a simply smashing success!!  Next time, we want more of you J/SAILORS to join us!!

“We are exhausted but thrilled,” said Comann Na Mara chairman Gus MacAulay. “The intention is to make this a biennial event, so we will start planning for 2018 shortly.  In the meantime, though, we know that we have done a good job because the participants have told us so. After so long waiting for this to happen, just to hear that everyone enjoyed it has made it all worthwhile.  There was great camaraderie among the sailors and a tremendous buzz on North Uist. We simply could not have asked for more and I would like to thank all those who helped and collaborated to make it happen!”

The challenge brought the windswept St Kilda Island group into focus– helping to highlight the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site, recognized for both its natural and cultural significance, in what will be the 30th anniversary of it receiving its designation in 1986.

Wild puffin on St Kilda islandSailing’s governing body RYA Scotland was involved with Clyde Cruising Club providing race management expertise, and CalMac  offering significant support as proud prime sponsor. 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.

But, perhaps the greatest achievement of the St Kilda Challenge was that a small community in a extraordinarily remote area,  pulled together a dream so fascinating that the rest of the country (and a few more besides) wanted to join them!!  We LOVE our FRIENDS in St Kilda— back at you soon with more help and love from friends worldwide! :)

For more information about St Kilda and Scottish National Heritage sites, please contact Fiona Holland, PR Manager, Caledonian MacBrayne- +44-(0)7885-268775 or go to  On behalf of Comann Na Mara, the photos are courtesy of Island News and Rachel Vejar.  Further information about a major sponsor- CalMac- is available here-