The Outer Hebrides are viewed as wild, rugged and desolate, but also a jewel-like place, where few have trodden.
And one Western Isles community organisation has brought the dream of visiting the area closer to reality for many in the form of the St Kilda Challenge yacht race.
The inaugural event launched in 2015, with the first regatta taking place the following year.
Bolstered by excellent feedback from competitors and visitors alike, organisers Comann Na Mara and race managers Clyde Cruising Club have taken the plunge to commit time and funding to a second event – vowing to make the challenge biennial thereafter.
And, at a launch event on board Tall Ship Glenlee in Glasgow this week that commitment was officially confirmed.
The regatta and its associated shoreside festival has the support of Holyrood’s cross-party Marine Tourism Committee, and chairman Stuart McMillan MSP was present to underline the group’s backing.
Last year’s event was a welcome economic boost for North Uist, with 30 yachts bringing dozens of crew ashore, while the festivities on shore also attracted further visitors to Lochmaddy.
The 2018 edition of the St Kilda Challenge already promises to build on the strong foundations of 2016’s inaugural event, with the addition of a third fleet and indications of a substantial increase in participants.
In addition to the racing fleet, which uses the islands of St Kilda as a turning point on a 100-nautical-mile long course, there is also a cruise-in-company fleet which leaves the start line at the same time, but has the ability to anchor in Village Bay at Hirta on St Kilda to go ashore – the 30-strong entries for 2016’s event were split half and half between the racers and the cruising flotilla. Both will assemble in Lochmaddy and set off from a start line in the Sound of Harris.
A third fleet of racing yachts will set off from Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland in 2018, participating in a 200-mile-nautical race, again using the St Kilda islands as a turning point, before finishing up in the Sound of Harris .
Comann Na Mara chairman Gus MacAulay, said: “We are truly excited about making the event bigger and better for 2018 and look forward to welcoming many more people to North Uist before sending them on their way to the great adventure of the St Kilda archipelago.”