From the misty isles – Work Party 3 update

Poor Donald and Work Party 3 on St Kilda are still having bad weather, here’s Donald’s latest blog, and the last from the island:

Weather continues misty, light rain and with the hill tops in mist – this has gone on for 2 weeks now. The joke is playing a bit thin! Enough said.

The Saturday night quiz went well, and as teams were drawn up at random, I can say with complete confidence, that Work Party members were on the winning side. Each team had to give itself a name, and from this a cunning plan arose. Our cufflinks in the form of Puffins should immediately be renamed “Pufflinks”, advertised as only being available on St Kilda, and the price increased to £10. No sooner was this suggested than Kevin, the St Kilda Archaeologist, bought a pair at the old price.

Yesterday was spent finishing the outstanding tasks and generally beginning to clear up. At the same time, as our minds turn to the end of our stay on Hirta, we began making our mail boat – a tradition that nearly all work parties follow. From the distribution of those mail boats which are found, it is interesting to look at the journeys some of them make – anywhere from Lewis to Norway!

This tradition is based on the first “mail” which was the idea of a sailor in an Austrian registered vessel which foundered in 1877. The sailors were taken in by the St Kildans, and in January the islanders knew that they did not have enough food stocks to keep them till help might come. The first mail was a letter addressed to the Austrian Consul in Glasgow. The letter was put in a tobacco tin (I think!!) and fastened to a sheeps bladder, then thrown in to the sea off Hirta. That first mail was picked up on the island of Birsay!! If it had missed that, the next stops might have been Fair Isle, Shetland and then Norway. The letter was posted and the sailors were rescued.

Yesterday we too began making our Mail Boat – which resembles the Titanic in a certain, low, light, and as long as you squint at it through lowered eyelashes, and use a bit of imagination – a picture of our beautiful liner will be posted at the launch showing her in all her glory. So…. Yesterday, everyone write their cards to go in the mail boat – the picture shows Ed, our painter, writing his card. As I write, the mail boat is sealed, undercoated, and is having its first coat of gloss.

The mouse continues to be a popular photographic subject, and as usual our pet mouse comes out on demand when ginger snaps are on offer. Yesterday, we found a baby, and got lots of pictures – these will follow at the end of the week.

Yesterday was also shop stock taking day, and after the cruise ship departed, Gael and Laura did a complete stock take. This is quite important as over the last 2 weeks, we are running down on stocks of some books – among others, that excellent book by John Love has sold out, and John was here with the cruise ship yesterday. Last time we met each other on Hirta (2 years ago), I asked him to sign our stock of his book – an excellent selling point in the shop.

The sheep also make interesting subjects for photography, and one this morning reminded me of a fairly well known pop singer. That little forelock hanging down one side looks very familiar, sadly I can’t quite remember the name.

This morning Angus on Orca 3 offered to take us round Hirta and over towards Soay. The rather rough seas meant that we sailed round the east side of Hirta. We were joined by Rachel and Charlotte of the sheep project, the St Kilda Archaeologist and the warden, who returned to the mainland this afternoon.

As we began by crossing towards Dun to puffin land (“Pufflinks”, available only on St Kilda….) the front of the boat became a very popular place. As we curved round the east side of Hirta, a basking shark was spotted – ok the pic is rather small, but was a rather large basking shark! On the pic you can see the fin on the LHS and the tip of the tail on the RHS.

Angus took us through the gaps between some of the rocks and Hirta – an interesting experience, and something I have never done before. In one of the pics you can see a smallish gap – we went through that. I said to Angus, “I suspect that you have done that before”. He replied, “Yes, but never in this boat!”

Round by Soay stac and its arch looking through towards Hirta. On our return (or perhaps lack of lunch), clearly got to Rachel, who started to eat her camera case.

After our return, with the top of Oiseval (just) in view, a few of us decided to at least make the top of Oiseval. We got to the Gap and down the mist came. Visibility was very poor, and after sitting for 15 minutes, we retired for a late but welcome lunch.

The final blog will follow on Thursday evening, and once I get reception on my phone, I will send Julie a pic of the mail boat.