AMELIA Dalton was at her father-in-law’s funeral when she got the phone call. And it wasn’t good news.

The Arctic trawler she had bought, named Monaco, to establish her own cruising business had started to sink in the North Sea.

“Off I went up to Peterhead with a background in cooking and antiques to get this boat pulled out of the water and on goes the story of how we converted this 85-foot trawler into a small expedition boat,” Dalton explains.

There’s very little Dalton hasn’t seen or done when it comes to travel. Her latest book, Pages From My Passport, features being abandoned on an uninhabited island, scorpion bites and a host of other adventures.

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She’s organised cruises from Norway to Madagascar but her journey can be traced back to the west of Scotland.

Heading up the coast  

Hailing from Yorkshire originally, Dalton (below) admits that she knew nothing of the sea but that all changed when her father offered her a new opportunity.

“He was involved in raising money for St Kilda for the National Trust for Scotland and he really felt he should see this so he charted a converted fishing boat and insisted I went with him,” she explains.

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“I was living in London, happily married with two little boys but my father insisted that we join him.

“I fell in love with the west coast.”

Indeed, Pages From My Passport is not Dalton’s first book. Her first book Mistress And Commander published by Sandstone Press is about “discovering the glories of the west of Scotland,” as she puts it herself.

Dalton continues: “Places like Rum and the Outer Hebrides are all stunning and I just knew nothing about them.”

Family time

The west coast became a popular holiday spot for Dalton and her family and she explains that it suited her children very well.

It was particularly good for her youngest son, Digby – who tragically died unexpectedly aged eight. 

Dalton explains she had spent two years “wrestling” with hospitals to discover what was wrong with him (below, right, with brother Hugo).

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She fondly recalls how “intelligent and cheerful” he was and how positive an impact being on the boat had on him.

“It suited my little boy very well," she explains. "Being on a boat was perfect for him. He could be part of a different world on there.”

Setting up the business

Over time, circumstances led to Dalton being given the opportunity to purchase the Monaco (below, before and after the conversion) and establish her own business running cruises to St Kilda.

She explains that she persuaded the National Trust to give her company the charter to take work parties out to the archipelago.

“We knew we had a financial basis but no boat and that was six months before the first trip.”

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Laughing as she recalls the memory, Dalton admits that “pretty well everything went wrong that you could imagine,” starting with the boat sinking in the North Sea.

“We had such a tight deadline and the shipyard in Troon had went bust which was so unfortunate. We had two and a half months to convert the boat and I somehow ended up as the yard foreman.

“The boat was lined with such a foul-smelling mixture that a lot of the workforce walked off so we scraped every inch of the hull and eventually made it to sea.

“We had some hairy, exciting, amusing, frightening but generally splendid times running the cruises and doing the charters for the National Trust.

“We also ran the cruises to St Kilda during the summer months and I think we averaged about 15 visits a year. I’ve been 48 times which I think could be a record. It’s such an extraordinary place.”

Things weren’t all easy, though, particularly when it came to dealing with skippers as a woman in the 1990s, many of whom asked Dalton to be their “night-time entertainment” as she puts it.

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“When I said that wasn’t going to happen, a lot of them walked off. Unfortunately, most of them came with their own agenda.”

Picking out a highlight

Dalton’s (below) books are so packed with information that it’s understandably hard to pick out a highlight.

As well as her work in Scotland, she was also hired to create similar island-hopping itineraries internationally.

“I created these trips from the Arctic Circle to the east of India," she says. "Pages From My Passport is essentially a series of memoirs from that time.”

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She says that exploring Madagascar was a highlight and describes it as a “vibrant” and “fascinating” place.

But when it comes to Scotland, there’s one memory in particular that stands out.

“In about 1990, there was a commemoration of the evacuation of St Kilda and a few months beforehand, this gentleman had got in touch from Australia asking for a place on one of our cruises,” she explains.

“His surname was McQueen, who were some of the inhabitants there. The powers that be though had chosen August for this event which is quite a wet month on the west coast.

“Off we went but the weather was shocking and we were holed up in Leverburgh waiting for it to improve. I told the passengers if they went to bed, got in their bunks and promised not to get out we would go overnight.

“The ship was fine, she was built for the Arctic. It was always the people who were the concern.”

She continued: “Once we arrived, I took this man through the village to the house his family had once lived in. Each house has a plaque saying which family was there and he sat down on a stone in sunlight.

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“Right on cue, a St Kilda wren came and sat on the wall and started to sing away. The tears rolled down his eyes and it was just extraordinary.”

Then again, for Dalton, “extraordinary” was never really far away.

Both of Amelia Dalton's books are out NOW and are available HERE