NEWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: JUNE 2008

Sun 1 Jun | Smidge of snow on slopes  Zuza finished a cruise in Corpach today as Hjalmar Bjorge travelled from Tobermory north to Loch Rodel (seeing a couple of common dolphins in the loch entrance). Zuza was a little late coming into the sea lock as there was not enough water and they had to wait a wee while for the tide to rise. 

The yacht tied up in her usual berth on the canal not far from Ben Nevis. Despite weeks of hot sunshine, and it being 1 June (already!), there is still a smidge of snow on the highest slopes, right. The yacht is back out next Saturday. Photo: Hannah Thompson

Guests had a good week aboard including experienced sailors Coby, Alison and Sheila, all of whom have previously owned their own yachts. Mention must also be made of Barbara who whiled away quiet evenings knitting. Whilst others normally chose to read Barbara was busy creating sweaters for a School Fund charity in Nepal that she is involved with. This week’s six night cruise facilitated a small jumper while last week’s nine night cruise, for which she was also onboard, was long enough to knit a large jumper! Barbara has now knitted 17 sweaters in all.

Mon 2 Jun | St Kilda visit  Both Hjalmar Bjorge and Elizabeth G made it out to St Kilda today with their double load of 24 divers divided between the two boats. Mark’s group saw a minke whale on the outward journey and two excellent dives were undertaken. The weather was looking “moody” – see photo – so it’s likely they will only stay one night enabling two dives to be done today and one in the morning before departure. Photo: Mark Henrys

Wed 4 Jun | Scallops for starters  Hjalmar Bjorge guests had lunch in Loch Eynort, Skye, today and travelled to Canna in time for dinner. The guests dived for their own starter – scallops – which Ylva prepared. Yesterday they departed from Carbost and on the way out of Loch Harport three or four common dolphins were seen.

Thu 5 Jun | Minke off Muck  Hjalmar Bjorge guests spotted a minke whale in the Sound of Muck today. It was visible for only about five or 10 minutes but did come close to the boat. The boat disembarks guests in Oban tomorrow and welcomes another 12 onboard on Saturday. Photo: Mark Henrys

 

Sat 7 Jun | Canna declared rat-free  More than two years after the last brown rat was spotted, the island of Canna is being declared “rat free.” Environment Minister Mike Russell visits the island today to mark the end of the National Trust for Scotland’s three year project to eradicate rats which were threatening the local seabird populations. The successful eradication programme involved experts from New Zealand, 4200 bait stations, lots of poisoned wax and a large team of volunteers. During the project 130 Canna fieldmice were relocated to Edinburgh for their own protection. Read more on the NTS website.

Hjalmar Bjorge picked up guests in Oban today and Zuza also started a cruise from Corpach. The former is hoping to reach St Kilda this week although strong winds are forecast for at least part of the week. That means Zuza should manage some good sailing then, their target being the Inner Hebrides. They anchored in Kentallen Bay this evening while Hjalmar Bjorge is in Tobermory.

 

 

 

 

Zuza is shown in Corpach and sailing early in the cruise above. Photos: Dorothy Salter

Sun 8 Jun | Zuza: dolphin whisperer  Zuza headed north to Loch Sunart today and en route observed a local whale-watching day-trip boat hard up against the rocks of Green Island in the Sound of Mull. Upon closer inspection half a dozen bottlenose dolphins could be seen near the other vessel. Tim applied the brake to slow Zuza down and instead of working soundlessly it emitted an odd squeaking noise under the water (not sure why, technical thing, don’t ask me!). Immediately the dolphins abandoned the other boat and made a bee-line for Zuza by which time she was turning away to continue up the Sound. Having “pinched” the dolphins they stayed with Zuza bow-riding for a good 20 minutes or so. Photos: (above) Heather McNeill (below) Dorothy Salter

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hjalmar Bjorge departed Tobermory early this morning and arrived at Canna around 1030. Guests had a good three hours ashore (panorama below) before they set sail for Lochmaddy. One of our guests was pretty seasick on the way to Canna but, considering she felt very travel-sick on the bus on the way from Perth over to Oban, perhaps this wasn’t surprising! Photo: Dave Pattison

 

Tim chose a quiet anchorage in Loch Drumbuie (Loch Sunart) for overnight. In the middle of the night, however, the wind unexpectedly changed direction and Tim got up to check Zuza was holding fast, which she was. A nearby yacht did not have such a good holding though and, around 0400, Tim had no choice but to wake everybody up by bellowing across to the oblivious boat owner that his vessel was dragging its anchor and was on the move.

Mon 9 Jun | Grim weather throughout  Today was a pretty rotten day weather-wise and Zuza guests opted to spend the day around Tobermory as nobody onboard had visited there before. A second night was spent in Loch Sunart this evening, this time near the isle of Carna. 

The windy weather was Hebrides-wide today as Hjalmar Bjorge departed from Lochmaddy this morning in an attempt to cross to St Kilda but turned back in rough conditions. The forecast was SW 6 – 7 which can be very unpleasant in Village Bay. Nice sunset in Lochmaddy that evening though! Photo: Dave Pattison

Tue 10 Jun | A pass on puffins  Today Zuza travelled round the north of Mull headed for Lunga and the puffins. Unfortunately there was just too much swell to land on Lunga and the boat went into Gometra harbour instead, below. Photo: Dorothy Salter

 

Hjalmar Bjorge crossed the Sound of Harris and anchored at Taransay today (below), ready for another St Kilda attempt in the morning. South of Whale Rock four white-beak dolphins were seen. Photo: Dave Pattison

 

Wed 11 Jun | Where’s the water?  In the Outer Hebrides Mark spoke to other charter boat owners and they all decided to give St Kilda a miss. Here at Northern Light Charters, however, we like to go the extra mile for our guests and Mark departed the Sound of Harris around 0600 this morning determined to get out there. It was a pretty lumpy ride out but the vessel arrived in Village Bay at 1200 which gave everyone a good long afternoon ashore. Hebridean Princess had been in the Bay but left at lunchtime and thereafter Hjalmar Bjorge had the place to herself – nobody else making the attempt. Photos (below, top row): John Barber (below, bottom row): Dave Pattison

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a bit of a water crisis out at the archipelago. We’ve had such a lengthy period of dry weather that St Kilda is starting to run out of fresh, clean drinking water and the base is down to 25 tons. Half of the base have been evacuated off the island and the National Trust for Scotland have cancelled the next work party.

Zuza guests were landed on Iona this morning (photo shows Zuza and another yacht anchored off Iona) whilst Tim and Heather stayed onboard to do a few tasks. Shortly after returning to the yacht Heather looked up to see three dolphins shimmying past the boat. Too bad the guests missed them! Back onboard they went south through Corryvreckan whirlpool and anchored off Craignish overnight. Photo: Lillian Dilworth

Thu 12 Jun | St Kilda stopover  Having arrived at St Kilda yesterday lunchtime Hjalmar Bjorge anchored in Village Bay overnight. Mark left early this morning, again departing around 0600, as the vessel is due back in Oban tomorrow. A long day’s steaming saw them anchor in Ardtornish Bay for the night.

Zuza guests enjoyed some good sailing through Cuan Sound today and up into Loch Spelve for lunch. Fast sailing inevitably creates wash around the boat and Heather snapped some arty shots through Zuza’s portholes whilst underway today. Photos: Heather McNeill

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guests saw a golden eagle in Loch Spelve. They then travelled on to Loch Creran for the evening where two more goldies were spotted.

Fri 13 Jun | Ship shape  Friday the 13th but no bad news to report. Hjalmar Bjorge finished her St Kilda trip in Oban today and Zuza finished her Inner Hebridean sailing cruise in Corpach. Nothing went wrong. Nobody fell overboard. Nothing disastrous happened. If I had to pick one “bad” thing from today I guess it would be that despite one of our guests trying to keep it a secret that she went to St Kilda to celebrate her 70th birthday, we found out! And Ylva baked her a shortbread heart. Which was presented to her in front of the crew and other 11 guests. So, sorry if we embarrassed you, I suppose it was a bit underhand…  

Sat 14 Jun | Both back out  An overnight changeover for both vessels. Hjalmar Bjorge boarded 12 guests in Oban this afternoon including Nigel, Elaine and Leslie who all travelled with us last year. Zuza boarded seven guests in Corpach including Bonnie and Dawn who have come all the way from Canada to join us. There was a brief sighting of a minke whale close to Loch a’ Choire this evening.

Sat 14 Jun | Coastguard on strike  The Coastguard have obviously got a taste for strike action since their first ever 24 hour strike (over pay) in early March. They are on strike for the next seven days and will only respond to emergency situations. Virtually all mariners rely on Coastguard weather forecasts to enable them to safely plan their passages but striking operatives are unrelenting telling boat owners to get weather forecasts off the internet. Which is fine if you have a laptop and (mobile phone) modem with network coverage, e.g. you are NOT in the Hebrides. 

The Coastguard’s Mission Statement says, on their website: Our vision is to be a world-class organisation that is committed to preventing loss of life, continuously improving maritime safety, and protecting the marine environment: Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas. We reiterate that the Coastguard ARE responding to emergencies but how can this be done to their best ability when, for example, they are refusing to accept vessel “passage plans” this week? Normally they insist that all vessels submit these. The reason for these submissions is that it can helpful for the Coastguard to know which boat is where, and who can be called upon for assistance, in the case of an emergency.

Boat users to a man (and woman) support the Coastguard and recognise they do a fantastic job, frequently in very difficult circumstances, but the VHF radio has been buzzing all day – day one of seven days of strike action – with anxious seafarers saying they simply cannot condone this potentially life-threatening action.

Mon 16 Jun | Double dolphins en route to St Kilda  Hjalmar Bjorge left Tobermory early yesterday morning for the Sound of Barra and St Kilda. About three dozen common dolphins were seen as they approached the Sound then, once through, about six white-beaked dolphins were seen. The crossing was pretty lumpy but they arrived safely by late afternoon. Today everybody is having the whole day ashore with packed lunches provided. There’s “some weather” coming in early tomorrow morning but as it is meant to pass through in a few hours Mark is intending to sit it out.

Leaving last night’s anchorage at Arinagour, Coll, Zuza guests saw four basking sharks close by. En route to the Outer Hebrides, whilst travelling through Gunna Sound, another eight were seen. As the yacht sailed toward Eriskay some amusing bottlenose dolphins were spotted. They were not that close to the boat, perhaps half a mile away (visible with binoculars), but still provided entertainment. One in particular was jumping out backwards and behaving in a very silly fashion. There was no room for Zuza at Eriskay so they continued up to Lochboisdale. The weather today was pretty grim and much compensatory imbibing of alcohol was undertaken in Lochboisdale (evidence above right). Photo: Bonnie Gallinger

Spare a thought for the good people of Coll who are paying £1.43 a litre for diesel and £1.37 for a litre of petrol at the moment, right. Photo: Kathryn Pearson

Tue 17 Jun | Springwatch Sea Life  Perhaps you saw the Springwatch Sea Life special on BBC2 at 8pm last night? If so you’ll have heard Kate Humble talking about the Government’s draft Marine Bill that, amongst other things, would allow the creation of Marine Conservation Zones to protect a network of habitats. It’s not a clear-cut subject and there is much debate between conservationists and people who work the seas for a living (such as fishermen and boat operators) about the best way to practice sustainability. Click on the BBC website to read a little about the programme and find links to the Marine Bill and other marine conservation issues.

On Thursday 19 June look out for the first of a three-parter called “Britain’s Lost World” focusing on the natural beauty of St Kilda. It is on BBC1 at 9pm.

Hjalmar Bjorge has had a second entire day at St Kilda with no other charter boats in sight. “The weather” did indeed come up overnight and this morning and it was quite uncomfortable on anchor for a time, Mark having to shift the boat to avoid the worst of the swell in Village Bay. Photos: Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

However guests enjoyed a second whole day ashore and will have a tour of the other islands and stacks before they leave in the morning. For some insane reason Ylva and Rhona (who is covering for Lindsay this week) decided to go swimming in Village Bay.

Zuza spent the morning in Lochboisdale before heading up to Loch Eport where guests disembarked and went for a walk in the afternoon. Barnacle geese and red deer were seen. The sun came out and subsequently provided a pretty sunset. Photo: Heather McNeill

Wed 18 Jun | Suspiciously sparkling Sarah  An early morning tour of St Kilda’s islands and stacks for Hjalmar Bjorge guests with the boat departing thereafter. The wind patterns have conformed to forecasts but have been stronger than anticipated so definitely time to go.

The water shortage at St Kilda is starting to become pretty serious. They are down to 10 tons of fresh water and, although the Electron is due to deliver a mobile desalination plant to the base, this won’t be for another two weeks. As usual Mark extended an invitation to warden Bill and ranger Sarah aboard Hjalmar Bjorge. Bill, however, was evacuated off the island (due to the water crisis) before he could visit this time. Sarah came over not only for dinner but also a hot shower – Hjalmar Bjorge and Zuza both have their own desal plants. The lack of water on Hirta means that showers and, heaven forbid, baths, are being timed to be as short (or shallow) as possible. Sarah reported that her shiny, clean, fresh appearance caused some suspicion amongst those who didn’t know she’d been off the island…

Zuza visited Scalpay today where guests went ashore before continuing onto Meavaig (Harris) for the night.

Thu 19 Jun | Seabirds at the Shiants  Zuza spent most of the day at the Shiants. Hundreds of puffins, guillemots and razorbills were on the water which Tim and Heather were very pleased to see. Their last visit (about a month ago) saw far fewer birds so this is a very good sign of healthy populations. Peter got a photo of puffins on the sea surface, below, where the water looks greeny-yellow from reflecting the lichen on the rocks. Photo: Peter Christopher

 

A basking shark had been seen on the way in and after putting the guests ashore Tim and Heather took the dinghy for a closer look. The shark was curious about the inflatable and circled it about three times, close enough for them to have touched it if they wished. Unfortunately it had gone by the time the guests returned. Photos: Heather McNeill

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

They raised the anchor and set off for Portree for the night. On the approach, in the Sound of Raasay, close to the Old Man of Storr, 20 common dolphins bow-rode the yacht for a time, below. Photos: Peter Christopher

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fri 20 Jun | The BBC “discover” St Kilda  And nobody else has ever been there before!!! Or at least that’s what you might think having watched last night’s “Lost World” programme on BBC1. The photography was wonderful (as one has come to expect from the BBC) but the images shown were very carefully chosen. Arriving by boat in Village Bay the first thing you see are the modern 20th Century additions – the electricity generating building, the tarmac roads and the hutted camp, with canteen, bar, showers and toilets that provide a home for those servicing the missile tracking station. And there can be quite a lot of people around, up to 100 in one day. None of this was apparent from the programme.

Robert Hanks writing for The Independent agrees (thank you Barbara for sending the article to us). He begins: “I used to feel rather cross with Bill Oddie for being mean to Kate Humble on Springwatch, but five minute into Britain’s Lost World I was coming round to his point of view. Humble was off to visit the islands of St Kilda, stuck out in the north Atlantic, west of the Hebrides. It is, Humble announced, “the most secret place in Britain”; when the inhabitants evacuated the place in 1930, they “left behind a place full of secrets”; and now, along with Dan Snow and Steve Backshall, she was going “to explore, to experience and to unravel the secrets of St. Kilda”. Look, the place is marked on Ordnance Survey maps, it’s been the subject of a well-known film by Michael Powell and documentaries on Radios 3 and 4, and it has its own, quite long and detailed Wikipedia entry. It’s not as if they were going to spend 10 days wandering around the laboratories at Porton Down. St Kilda is only a secret if you define secret as “not previously the subject of a three-part prime-time terrestrial television series”, which is not what it says in my dictionary.” His whole review can be read here.

Ronnie, a regular Northern Light Charters guest, also pointed out that St Kildans could not swim. So, unlike presenter Steve Backshall (only too keen to get his kit off and dive into the freezing water), the St Kildans would have had to leap off a small boat directly onto the steep rock face of Boreray.

The second episode of the three-parter, focusing on what lies under the water, is being shown on BBC1 on Thursday 26 June at 9pm (subject to football coverage) and the final part can be seen on Friday 27 June at 7.30pm, again on BBC1.

Some of Zuza’s passengers enjoyed a bit of retail therapy in Portree this morning. On the way out there was a fabulous sighting of a pair of sea eagles – Heather reckons it was the best sighting she has seen and she’s seen a lot! On the way to Isle Ornsay Tim and Heather made sure they told the guests about the “Gallery an Talla Dearg” which is well worth a visit. They headed straight there once ashore but unfortunately it was shut as a new exhibition was being hung!

Hjalmar Bjorge finished a Focus on St Kilda trip in Oban today. The vessel sets sail again tomorrow, for the last of five weeks back-to-back, before the crew get a week off.

Sat 21 Jun | And yet more bow-riding dolphins This morning, off Mallaig, Zuza encountered around 40 common dolphin which bow-rode the boat for about 20 minutes, right. There were also hundreds of shearwaters on the water off Arisaig. This evening Zuza went on Hjalmar Bjorge’s mooring in Tobermory harbour while Hjalmar Bjorge anchored close by. The resident otter was seen on the slip at Ledaig. Photo: Heather McNeill

 

Mon 23 Jun | Wonderful wildlife  Zuza finished a nine night Outer Hebridean Sailing Explorer cruise today. Guests experienced mixed weather this trip (its moods captured by Peter, below) but this was compensated by a great variety of wildlife sightings. Guest Alice provided a species list below. Photos: Peter Christopher

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Birds that were seen during the trip included: great northern diver – red throated diver – fulmar – Manx shearwater – storm petrel – gannet – cormorant – shag – grey heron – greylag goose – Canada goose – mute swan – shelduck – mallard – eider duck – buzzard – white-tailed sea eagle – oystercatcher – great skua (aka “bonxie”) – herring gull – greater black-backed gull – kittiwake – common tern – Arctic tern – puffin – black guillemot (aka “tystie”) – common guillemot – razorbill – swallow (internationally now often called “barn swallow”) – house martin – pied wagtail – blackbird – song thrush – wheatear – rock pipit – whitethroat – chiff chaff (probably seen, definitely heard) – jackdaw – hooded crow (aka “hoodie”) – starling – house sparrow – chaffinch – coal tit – dunnock – wren.

Mammals/fish: grey seal – common seal – common (harbour) porpoise – bottle nose dolphin – common dolphin – minke whale – otter – red deer – hare – basking shark.

Selected flowers – Alice adds that this list is no way comprehensive but represents just a few highlights: orchids (common, spotted, marsh (probably Northern), fragrant) – bog asphodel – common butterwort (insectivorous) – sundew (insectivorous) – tussan – slender St John’s wort – lousewort – yellow flag iris – marsh marigold – ragged robin – creeping jenny – thrift – sanicle – white water lily – foxgloves.

Mark nipped over to St Kilda today aboard Hjalmar Bjorge in a “weather window” of fairly strong winds forecast all week. The group were very keen to go but it will probably be a fairly fleeting visit.

Tue 24 Jun | Short St Kilda stopover  Indeed a quick overnight visit to St Kilda for Hjalmar Bjorge guests. They managed a couple of good dives before heading back to calmer waters. Dolphins were seen in the afternoon and the evening anchorage was Loch Bracadale on Skye. Photos: Mark Henrys

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Yesterday, due to the water shortage, and subsequent evacuations of personnel, only three people were left on St Kilda. Today Sarah, the ranger, returned making four. The Electron is due out shortly with a couple of tankers of water plus a desalination plant.

Thanks to Morag for sending us this snippet from a newsletter from Outside Edge, the outdoor sports shop in Oban, which illustrates the effects of the extreme dry weather that the west coast of Scotland has experienced recently. Dave writes: “June and I were up in Lewis last week and the peat is being cut ready for the fire in the winter. It normally takes 3 months for the peat blocks to dry out but it is currently dry in 3 weeks.”

Fri 27 Jun | Finished after five weeks  Hjalmar Bjorge waved good-bye to Holborn SAC in Oban today ending a five week back-to-back run. Week one weather did not permit a crossing to St Kilda but the last four weeks have seen Hjalmar Bjorge out at the archipelago. Holborn SAC managed a quick visit to St Kilda at the start of the week and spent the remainder of their days onboard dodging about the Inner Hebrides in equally dodgy weather to get their dives in. Photo: Mark Henrys

Today marks the last of Tim and Heather’s few days away from Zuza with a full complement of eight guests joining the yacht tomorrow for a nine night cruise.

Sat 28 Jun | Zuza cruises while Hjalmar halts  A full complement of eight guests joined Zuza this afternoon including regulars Norman and Valerie. Hjalmar Bjorge is having a week off having delivered a five week run. Lindsay managed a week off when Rhona covered for her but Mark and Ylva will certainly be glad of a few days break.

Sun 29 Jun | Sheltering near Shuna  Not great weather so some gentle pottering about in Loch Linnhe for Zuza guests was the order of the day. They went ashore on Shuna Island (north of Lismore; there’s a ruined tower house to visit) and also poked their noses into Linnhe Marine on the mainland where there is a replica of wooden sailing vessel “Spray.” This sloop-rigged-fishing-boat-ocean- going-cruiser was sailed by Joshua Slocum during the first ever single-handed circumnavigation of the world completed in 1898.

Mon 30 Jun | Birds and a basker  The weather cheered up a bit today so Zuza headed north in to Loch Nevis. A basking shark was seen off Lismore and a pair of sea eagles spotted near Ardtornish. Three Pomarine skuas were seen off Ardnamurchan and in Loch Nevis a pair of golden eagles were sighted. And one of Heather’s fillings fell out…

news from the previous month [ May ]