A North Atlantic Adventure: Swimming from St. Kilda


St Kilda (Scottish Gaelic: Hiort) is an isolated archipelago 57 miles (92 km) west of the Isle of Harris in the North Atlantic Ocean. It contains the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. One of the seven swimmers, John Dyer, who completed this first ever swim from St Kilda to the Isle of Harris a few weeks ago has kindly shared images of his expedition to The Latitude Magazine.

It was 2:45am and John was dressed in his wetsuit, ready to plunge into the dark ocean waters. It was almost 23 hours into the 57-mile relay from St. Kilda, Scotland’s farthest flung archipelago, to the island of Harris, but the 60-year-old retired fire fighter had kept his nerves at bay until now.

Now he was about swim in the turbulent North Atlantic in the dark. Despite having a pro-kayaker for support alongside him, it still wasn’t a thought John had been relishing since he was informed of his early hour start.

John was part of a seven person team, made up of some of Scotland’s best open water swimmers, who had agreed to Expedition Leader Colin MacLeod’s challenge to scale this watery expanse in a bid to raise money for charity.

John clearly remembers the day his friend Colin called him up and asked whether he “fancied” the swim from St. Kilda. Although John agreed straight away, his wife raised her eyebrows as he put down the phone. “Do you know how far that is?” she asked, “It must be 70 miles!” Reassuring his wife that it was only a mere 57 miles, John began training for the swim.

The seven swimmers would take turns of eight 45-minute swims each. And they were determined to succeed this time around. A year ago the team had made it 22 hours into the swim before being forced to abandon the mission due to dangerous weather conditions in what is the world’s stormiest ocean. This year they had attempted the swim twice in May and July but the waters were again too turbulent.

But now in August, the swimmers were 23 hours into the relay and John climbed on deck to discover a flat, calm ocean. As he dove into the water, any apprehension he felt melted away. “I’ll never forget it,” John says. With every stroke he took, his arms lit up with sparkles from the bioluminescence of the marine life around him.

When the victorious team reached their destination 35 hours later after setting off, John had swum with a minke whale, rode alongside dolphins, and completed the longest relay of his life. So far the team have raised over £20,000 ($30,000) for charity.

You can join LAT_56 and donate towards this outstanding cause by following this link.

Here are John’s amazing photographs and commentary from his unforgettable journey.

Stacks with birds

The dual world heritage site of St.Kilda is an archipelago made up of islands and sea stacs

Sunset at Hirta

Sunrise view over the main island of Hirta, which was home to a small population until they were evacuated in 1930

Stacks of archipeligo

The sea stacs are colonised only by seabirds, as though from a scene in Jurassic Park!

Colin MacLeod

Expedition Leader Colin MacLeod prepares his team to begin the first leg of their swim at 4.00 in the morning from St. Kilda slipway

preparing for swim

Ed Smith prepares to start his swim as he awaits the arrival of the previous swimmer

Leaving St. Kilda behind

Ed Smith and his kayak support, Dave, slowly pull further away from St.Kilda


Colin hands over the swim to Angus for him to do his 45 min swim leg

john swimming

John Dyer completing one of his 45 minute swims, supported by Allan MacDonald


Dolphins escorted the team for most of the journey


This is how to make an entrance into the North Atlantic to start a swim!

John Dyer

John Dyer, the oldest swimmer in the team at age 60, having completed his first 45-minute swim!

Victorious Team

The victorious team at the end of the swim in Hushinish on the Isle of Harris. The 7 swimmers, 3 kayakers and support boat MV Cuma crew of 3 had attempted the journey three times before but on this fourth occasion they triumphed, completing the first ever St. Kilda to Harris swim!

If you have a travel or expedition story, please send them in for a chance to be featured on The Latitude Magazine.

You Might Also Like