People often ask how we get supplies on to St Kilda. Many smaller items are sent out by helicopter but large, bulky or heavy items are delivered to the island by boat. During the summer months a ramped landing craft (RCL) makes a dozen or so trips out to the island. The RCL is a flat-bottomed vessel and has a ramp that can be lowered rather than a normal bow. This makes it difficult to control and very uncomfortable in rough seas which is why the boat only comes to St Kilda in very good weather.
Bottom photo - Mickey MacCormick - the RCL is tiny in comparison to the cruise ship
The first three RCLs of the season brought freight including some supplies that are needed for works on the Factor’s House later in the year. Freight is unloaded using the CASE and it usually only takes just a few hours before the RCL is on its way again.
Photos: Mickey MacCormick
Normally the boat lowers the ramp onto the beach and the CASE drives across the beach to the ramp and the slipway. But, the lorry delivering the new recycling and waste skips would have become stuck in the sand if it had tried to do this so the RCL had to come much further up the beach. When it left there was a large depression in the beach that was obvious even from the top of Conachair.
Top/Bottom photo: Mickey MacCormick
Fuel is also brought by the RCL. A very strict procedure is followed when transferring the diesel as any errors could be disastrous for the marine environment. A safety boat is deployed before the RCL arrives to ensure any emergency action could be taken without delay.
The fuel transfer process takes several hours and the boat completely beaches leaving itself high and dry.
Top photo: Angus MacDonald - High and Dry; Other photos: Fuel line
Of course, the RCL poses a potentially biosecurity problem because, in theory, rats could be stowed away and come on to the island while the ramp is lowered or more likely in the containers that it delivers. To prevent this, the RCL is checked for rats before it leaves and the Ranger team on Hirta place rats traps at strategic points within Village Bay.
The traps are baited with a block made of chocolate and wax; the chocolate is irresistible to rodents and the wax allows us to examine the shape of any teeth marks that might be left. One of the NTS team on the island also has to be present at the slipway when the RCL beaches itself to keep an eye out for any scuba diving rats that may come ashore. The traps are then checked twice a day for five days. Thankfully, the only thing we've ever found in the traps is a meadow pipit and it was released unharmed.