NEWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: SEPTEMBER 2008 ::

Mon 1 Sep | Scarp and Skiport  Hjalmar Bjorge departed Taransay at 0800 this morning giving guests three hours ashore on Scarp where a golden eagle was seen overhead. Guests were met by David and Lesley, the island’s summer residents, who directed them to the site of a Viking water mill on the SW of the island. 

Mark also took several photos of two war graves on Scarp so we can send them to The War Graves Photographic Project as requested earlier this year. The headstones mark the resting places of deckhand DJ MacLennan who was a Royal Naval Reserve aboard HMS “Duchess of Montrose.” He died on 18 March 1917 aged 32, and of pioneer D MaClennan, Royal Engineers, who died on 15 November 1918 aged 44. Above: site of the two headstones on Scarp by Mark Henrys

A few days after we published the above photo we were contacted by Gary Steel who has been researching the life of his great-grandfather, William Brown. William died when the “Duchess of Montrose” struck a mine near Dunkirk and was, like the rest of the crew, “lost at sea”. Those lost at sea are now only remembered as inscriptions on war memorials. Gary tells us the Navy had a very strict “no repatriation” policy and, as such, it is a mystery how William’s shipmate Donald J MacLennan ended up being buried near his family home on Scarp…

 

From Scarp the boat travelled to lovely Luskentyre on Harris where guests enjoyed an evening beach visit and Graham’s birthday was celebrated aboard. Above: waves crashing over a semi-submerged rock by Mark Henrys

Zuza encountered half a dozen common dolphins in the Sound of Barra before sailing north for Loch Skiport (South Uist). About 40 common dolphins were seen off the entrance to the loch; they were bow-riding and being very silly.

Tue 2 Sep | Dozens o’ dolphins @ Dunvegan  Hjalmar Bjorge anchored off Pabbay in the Sound of Harris. Guests went shore until lunchtime; this was the first time we have landed our passengers on this island. They then headed south to the Monach Islands where weather conditions were good enough to stay overnight.

Zuza sailed into Loch Eport (North Uist) for lunch with guests going for a walk up the hill afterwards, A golden eagle was seen. In the afternoon the boat sailed over to Skye and near Loch Dunvegan around 50 to 100 common dolphins came over to welcome Tim home! He had never seen dolphins in this location before and they stayed with the boat for quite some time.

Wed 3 Sep | Whale skeleton discovered  Zuza guests went ashore at Dunvegan Castle for a few hours this morning with a couple of them going on a guided tour of the castle, garden and standing stones. They then enjoyed a gentle sail in sunshine round to Loch Bracadale and anchored off the Talisker Distillery at Carbost. There was a superb sighting of three sea eagles in the loch. Photos below: (left) Dunvegan Castle photographed from Zuza by Heather McNeill (right) sea eagle in tree by Richard Thurlow

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hjalmar Bjorge guests were raring to go at 0600 this morning in order to have a decent time ashore on the Monach Islands. Some went onto Ceann Ear, some to Ceann Iar. 

Mark made a spectacular, but not entirely unusual, discovery in the form of a whale skeleton. It was the remains of a beaked whale so likely to have once been a Northern Bottlenose Whale, a Sowerby’s Beaked Whale or a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. It made perfect sense to Mark (and an excited Hannah!) to take the skull home with him although our guests were less than impressed to find themselves sharing the tender with a stinky, decomposed whale head. Once back onboard the offending item was securely wrapped in bin liners and the tender de-stinkified. Above: Mark with the whale skeleton at the Monach Islands by Ron Dyson

Hjalmar Bjorge left the Monach Isles around 1000 and headed south through the Sound of Barra encountering our friends, the dozen bottlenose dolphins (including Cyd). They arrived at Vatersay around 1530 and the guests went ashore for a walk until early evening.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thu 4 Sep | Twinned at Tobermory  Hjalmar Bjorge weighed anchor at 0700 and was at Mingulay for an 0830 breakfast this morning. Guests spent the morning ashore where a golden eagle was seen. They then motored round Berneray and Barra head where a second golden eagle was seen above the cliffs. Four common dolphins bow-rode the boat about 18 miles east of Mingulay and the boat arrived back in Tobermory early evening. Photos: (above left) one of today’s common dolphins (above right) yesterday’s bottlenose dolphins, both by Mark Henrys. (below) the tail, dorsal fin and nose (just) of a basking shark by Richard Thurlow

 

Zuza guests saw a basking shark en route to Rum on a very sunny day today. Guests went ashore with a packed lunch and joined the Kinloch Castle tour. They then travelled down to Tobermory and tied up alongside Hjalmar Bjorge on the pontoons.

Fri 5 Sep | Good-byes in good weather  The two Marks (skipper and cook) and crew Izzy waved off our twelve guests from Hjalmar Bjorge today after a sunny week at sea. We have definitely had the best of the country’s weather over the last three or four days, with plenty of sun of decent temperatures.

Zuza is still out, it being the second last day of their cruise. Tim and Heather sent guests ashore for a few hours in Tobermory this morning while they waited for the wind they knew was coming in. It did, and thus the yacht had a good beat down the Sound of Mull and into Loch Creran, where an extremely civilised evening playing bridge was enjoyed.

Sat 6 Sep | Welcome back  Zuza made her way up to Corpach today in rough, choppy conditions which slowed the boat down to 4 knots at times. Perhaps Tim and Heather were pre-warned by a stunning “red sky in the morning”. Guests departed with more arriving tomorrow. Right: red dawn by Heather McNeill 

In Oban Mark, Ylva and Anna welcomed Craven Marine Salvage Club back for another week of diving, shooting (clays), golfing, fishing, whisky sampling and general merriment. It’ll be a tough week for the crew, this one. Poor them. Hjalmar Bjorge anchored overnight in Loch Buie.

Sun 7 Sep | Scallops, stone circles and seals  Four of the Craven Marine Salvage Club did a scallop dive in Loch Buie this morning before the group and crew went ashore for a walk to the stone circle and the mausoleum at Laggan. They met up with some of Hannah and Mark’s old neighbours from their years of living in Lochbuie. The vessel then headed south to Colonsay where it berthed overnight. Right: a friendly local at Colonsay by Mark Henrys

Mon 8 Sep | Communication conundrum  Hjalmar Bjorge left Colonsay after lunch and anchored in Bunnahabhain Bay where some of the guests went on a tour of the distillery. Mark took some of the party out in the inflatable to see the semi-submerged wreck of the “Wyre Majestic” – now owned by John who is onboard this week – at Rubha a’ Mhail. Hjalmar Bjorge then went into Port Askaig where Mark called Hannah from a phone box as there is no mobile phone signal in the area.

Tim called in the evening to talk to Mark which caused Hannah to scratch her head about how to raise him (without his mobile phone as an option). She decided to call The Port Askaig Hotel where the woman who answered the phone very kindly offered to shut up shop briefly and head down to the boat to pass a message on. Mark phoned home, got the message, spoke to Tim and everyone was happy.

No joy acquiring a European-standard hot water element for Zuza in Fort William this morning. The yacht travelled from Corpach down to Ardfern today where a sea eagle was spotted off Loch Spelve and an osprey was seen taking a fish! Guests went ashore for a walk and made use of the showers at Ardfern Marina.

Six guests joined Zuza in Corpach this afternoon but the boat stayed put instead of cruising down Loch Linnhe for an hour or so. A problem with the hot water boiler unhelpfully only emerged late on Saturday so Tim is hot-footing it into Fort William first thing tomorrow in the hope he can resolve the issue.

Wed 10 Sep | Clay pigeons and a golden eagle  Hjalmar Bjorge stayed at Port Askaig yesterday and the guests hired a minibus to go on a tour of Islay. They left this morning and headed up the Sound of Jura to Crinan stopping en route for a clay pigeon shoot off the bow of Hjalmar Bjorge. Mark, Ylva and Anna all had a go too. A golden eagle was seen (below) and survived to tell the tale. Mark also saw a minke whale breach twice in the Sound. Below: golden eagle in the Sound of Jura by Mark Henrys

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hjalmar Bjorge went into Crinan lock for the evening. Mark met a Scottish guy who came over to the boat to ask about its provenance. Turned out he was living in Norway in the late 60s and worked for the family of Hjalmar Bjorge hence his interest in the name of the vessel.

Zuza was anchored in Loch Sween last night, near Achnamara. It was very windy in the night, blowing a gale, and Tim spent much of the night on anchor watch.

Thu 11 Sep | A cruise to Croggan  Mark left Crinan and travelled, via Fladda, north to Loch Spelve. They anchored off Croggan where some walked up to the old village and some did a dive. The boat stayed in Spelve for the night. Zuza endured a second windy night last night, this time in Loch Melfort. Today they travelled to Lochaline where a golden eagle was seen. Right: Ann and Graeme aboard Zuza en route to Loch Melfort by Heather McNeill

Fri 12 Sep | Peculiar porpoises  Hjalmar Bjorge left Loch Spelve this morning and headed for Oban, round the south of Kerrera. The boat stopped near the entrance of Loch Feochan for another clay pigeon shoot before continuing into port. Guests disembarked but not before Hannah wangled a bowler hat off Lindsay! Quite why Lindsay had a bowler hat on the boat in the first place is another story. 

Zuza tied up alongside Hjalmar Bjorge briefly while she refuelled, then set off north, as she is due into Corpach tomorrow to finish her penultimate trip of the season. Right: Watching the seaplane land in front of Kerrera, Oban Bay, from Zuza by Heather McNeill

The yacht managed quite a bit of sailing this week, making 10.5 knots under half a genoa, in 25 to 30 knot winds most of the time. Today was the first day this week they got the mainsail up! The boat anchored at Ardgour having experienced an unusual phenomena – porpoise choosing to swim around the vessel. They are usually very shy creatures and tend to keep their distance.

Wildlife Extra, the online wildlife newsletter has an article this week about the practice of seals being shot around the coast of Scotland, an activity which is neither illegal nor monitored. Read their article here or visit the Advocates for Animals campaign for protection for seals which could be realised under the proposed new Marine Bill (Scotland’s first) currently out for consultation.

Sat 13 Sep |  An ending and a beginning  Hjalmar Bjorge guests had a good sighting of a sea eagle being mobbed by gulls on the way up the Sound of Mull. They anchored for the evening in Loch Drumbuie where there was a picturesque sunset and a full moon. Anna borrowed Mark’s camera and got some lovely shots as their evening travels progressed. Below: (top) clouds reflected in the sea (bottom) the setting sun, all by Anna White

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Zuza finished a week long trip today as 12 guests were invited aboard Hjalmar Bjorge for a short 4-night end of season cruise. This last week aboard Zuza has not been without its challenges (lack of hot water and a generator that was playing up) and our guests were notable for their constant good humour. Thanks to Paul, Jackie, Graeme, Ann, Pat, Liz and of course Tim and Heather for ensuring the week went well, despite not everything going to plan! Tim and Heather enjoyed the company of guests keen to learn to sail, tie knots and study navigation before dinner! Below left: drinks and charts before dinner by Heather McNeill
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun 14 Sep | A day on Canna  Hjalmar Bjorge left Loch Drumbuie early this morning arriving at Canna so guests could have a full day ashore with packed lunches provided. They saw both golden and sea eagles on their walk and stayed overnight on the pier. Above right: another lovely sunset tonight at Canna by Mark Henrys

Mon 15 Sep | A wild whale chase  Hjalmar Bjorge left Canna at 0700 for the Cairns of Coll, usually a good spot for cetaceans but nothing was seen. Ditto around Lunga. Lunch was taken in Gometra Harbour at midday and then they headed south to Loch Scridain, on the west coast of Mull, to look for a rare Northern bottlenose whale and calf which have been much reported in the press over the last few days. Unfortunately they seem to have gone back out to sea so no cetaceans for our guests today!

Tue 16 Sep | Bountiful birds  Hjalmar Bjorge weighed anchor in Loch Scridain at 0700 this morning and cruised round to Loch Buie for lunch via the Sound of Iona. Guests went ashore and saw both sea and golden eagles. Back on the boat they went round the coast into Loch Spelve where more golden and sea eagles were seen, plus a red deer stag on the beach and three marsh harriers.

Wed 17 Sep | Eagle au revoir  Last night’s technicolour sky preceded a glass-like sea state in Loch Spelve this morning. There followed a good sighting to end the cruise for Hjalmar Bjorge guests – a first year juvenile golden eagle in winter plumage was seen off the mouth of the loch. The boat paused while guests watched the young bird’s activities for about 20 minutes before heading back into Oban where everybody departed after brunch. Below: (left) last night’s sunset (right) early morning glass-like sea surface today, both by Mark Henrys

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The sightings list for this short cruise included: gannet – sea eagle – golden eagle – robin – buzzard – peregrine falcon – goosander – cormorant – siskin – common seal – otter – kittiwake – fulmar – curlew – grey heron – red deer – marsh harrier – bumble bee – water shrew – Highland cow – raven – feral goats – porpoise.

Fri 19 Sep | Scotsman article  Good to see Hannah quoted in The Scotsman today alongside one of Mark’s great dolphin shots, in an article about the paper’s quarterly nature survey (below). Our contribution referred to the fact that dolphin and basking shark sightings have been frequent, with large numbers of each species seen this year. Only minke whales seem rather thin on the ground.

 

Sat 20 Sep | Exhausting!  Hannah and Heather were onboard Zuza today preparing for tomorrow’s fortnight long charter. Hannah had plenty of work to do with domestic tasks and Heather had her work cut out with a substantial shop followed by the unenviable task of stowing everything onboard. Hard work although this was put into perspective by the triathlon held in Fort William today. If we had cast our eyes over the water we might have seen the athletes completing their last task of the event – running up, and down, Ben Nevis after a 2 km loch swim and 90 km mountain bike ride…

Sun 21 Sep | Birders and a bow-riding bottlenose baby  Michael and friends turned up to join Zuza this afternoon. They have chartered the yacht for a two week bird-watching adventure, hoping to spend time out at St Kilda and other remote islands, looking for unusual migrant birds which have been blown off course. They joined the boat in good form, having seen two osprey over Caol this morning. After locking out the yacht ventured down to Loch Creran and an otter was seen at the Corran Narrows. Below: (left) Chris mixing up “chum” using cat food and cooking oil – mmm – and (right) throwing it overboard in the hope of attracting hungry seabirds. Photos by Heather McNeill

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hjalmar Bjorge guests had an encounter with a bottlenose dolphin and calf just off the Green Isles, near the wreck of The Rondo, in the Sound of Mull. The calf was young, about three feet in length, and although the bow-riding was undertaken with great gusto, the adult turning on its side eyeing up the boat and passengers, it was obvious she (presumably) knew where her baby was at all times. Below: bow-riding bottlenose dolphin and calf by Mark Henrys

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mon 22 Sep | Dolphins reappear  Hjalmar Bjorge guests were diving near Insh Island in the Firth of Lorne today and while they were in the water the bottlenose dolphin and calf reappeared. It was the same two seen yesterday, about 20 miles away. On the trip down the Sound of Mull this morning a sea eagle was seen sitting on the rocks of the Grey Isles and later in the day a pair of golden eagles were seen off Loch Buie. Tonight is the group’s last night onboard as they depart tomorrow in Oban. Below left: bottlenose dolphin and calf by Mark Henrys

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Zuza guests have had a calm start to their holiday and the forecast looks promising. An otter was seen at the entrance to Loch Creran this morning, followed by three sea eagles on the rocks of the Grey Isles near Lochaline, then four common dolphin bow-rode on the way to Eriskay where the yacht is now anchored. Above right: common dolphin beside Zuza by Heather McNeill

Tue 23 Sep | Sizeable swell changes plans  Zuza left Eriskay this morning, coming across a single bottlenose dolphin upon entering the Sound of Barra. Toward the end of the Sound there were a dozen more. Tim plotted a course for St Kilda but it became clear that the 9-foot swell was going to make the archipelago an impossibility. The forecast also suddenly changed from good conditions to the threat of gales. All agreed to change course and the vessel headed what was now due east for the Monach Islands. Whilst out in the Atlantic the boat encountered three pods of common dolphins, each group consisting of about 40 individuals. They saw (or presumably heard) the vessel from about a mile away and could be seen changing direction and making a bee-line for the yacht so they could bow-ride.

Tim described the Monach Islands in late September as “wall to wall blubber”. It’s grey seal pupping time and this is Europe’s biggest grey seal colony (the second largest in the world) with up to around 9000 pups born here annually. Right: seals on the beach at the Monachs by Heather McNeill

Wed 24 Sep | 100s of wailing babies!  A day ashore on the three islands that make up the Monachs for Tim, Heather and our guests aboard Zuza. Heather reckoned there were 350 to 400 grey seal pups on the beach this morning, all wailing loudly…she even saw one being born. She was quite amazed at how far inland the massive pregnant cows haul themselves to give birth. Tim turned a corner and came face to face with a rather cross female who proceeded to give chase, well sort of, as best you can when you weigh ¼ of a ton and have no legs…

Coincidence or fate?! We got a call from Dorling Kindersley earlier this week asking if we could provide some photos for a forthcoming wildlife book, specifically images of seal pups at the Monach Islands and the islands at autumn time, as these had proven hard to find. Not only is Zuza on location but there are some brilliant photographers onboard with excellent photographic equipment. Michael today uploaded a selection to his website – www.michaelmckee.co.uk – and these three are our favourites. Let’s hope DK like them too. Photos: (above) grey seal pup by Michael McKee (below left) windswept islands by Trevor Warrick (below right) seal pup by Heather McNeill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thu 25 Sep | Last days of cruising  We welcomed guests onto Hjalmar Bjorge today for the last cruise of the season aptly called “Last Days of Summer”. Included in the party are Giles and Kate who just got married last Saturday so congratulations to them! A good excuse for some celebrations at sea. The vessel anchored in Loch na Droma Buidhe (Loch Drumbuie) for the evening.

Zuza departed from the Monach Islands this morning. Guests saw a few interesting birds out there including a golden eagle, peregrine, red-throated diver and sanderlings which do not breed in the UK. They are winter visitors and passage migrants journeying to and from their high Arctic breeding grounds. An attempt to land on Pabbay was abortive (too much swell) and they continued to Lochmaddy.

Zuza guests went ashore this afternoon to watch for birds. In order to watch a bird without disturbing it you need to create your hide where you can – behind trees, hedges etc. Our guests found the residents of Lochmaddy extremely helpful and accommodating in that they kept getting invited into people’s gardens to take shelter. At some stage in the afternoon one lady was most insistent that Michael not only spend time in her garden but have a guided tour of her vegetable patch as well!!!

Fri 26 Sep | Windy weather  Hjalmar Bjorge left Loch Drumbuie this morning and headed for Ardnamurchan Point. Approaching the lighthouse there was a big swell which would have caused a lot of discomfort had they continued up to Canna as planned. Guests decided they would rather stay locally, and have less swell, so they set off for Calaich Point on the north coast of Mull. Mark dived on a maerl bed and brought some loose fragments to the surface. They then continued to Tobermory where an otter and a mink were both seen on the rocks near the pontoon.

The services of a diver were also required up in Lochmaddy for Zuza today. The prop had been making some funny noises yesterday and Tim thought it might have rope wrapped round it. For reasons which are unclear Heather was voted to investigate further by “diving” under the boat – by which we mean holding her breath and submerging herself under the freezing cold water without any proper gear on. Brrr! Unsurprisingly she wasn’t able to see much so some bloke called Shaggy turned up – with proper diving kit – to determine the nature of the knocking noise.

Michael, Chris, Trevor, Alan and Leo hired a car in Lochmaddy today and visited Benbecula and the RSPB reserve at Balranald. They spotted the snowy owl which has been resident since June plus merlins (the UK’s smallest bird of prey) and a rare American golden plover. Three otters were seen in the harbour back at base and the group kindly took Tim and Heather out for dinner to the Lochmaddy Hotel this evening.

Sat 27 Sep | More literary leanings  Thanks to Fi for sending us this book. “West Coast” by Kate Muir tells the tale of Fergus who grows up in poverty on the remote Scottish coast to be tempted by life in London and all that it promises… In the acknowledgements Kate writes “My thanks also go to…Northern Light Charters for the voyage to St Kilda…” which was taken a couple of years ago. The book has been well reviewed, one critic saying Kate writes with “charm, wit, style and intelligence,” so why not get a copy?!

Hjalmar Bjorge guests got to go fossil hunting today. Once anchored near Lochaline they went ashore and found the cliff which is embedded with gryphaea. Also known as “Devil’s Toenails” these are an extinct type of oyster shell. A golden eagle was seen as well as a couple of otters ashore.

Zuza had a good sail down to Castlebay today with Chris taking the wheel for much of the journey. There were common dolphins off Grimsay and once anchored the guests went ashore on Barra. Once again they commented how friendly everybody was in willingly inviting them into their gardens so they could get on with their bird-watching.

Sun 28 Sep | Golden eagle and deer  Half a dozen porpoises were seen at the entrance of Loch Aline from Hjalmar Bjorge this morning. They were still visible at Lady Rock, about six miles away. There was a great sighting of a golden eagle – a first year juvenile – near the entrance to Loch Spelve mid-morning. Everyone watched it in flight for about 20 minutes and at one point it flew very obligingly over the heads of a couple of red deer hinds standing on the hillside. Guests then went ashore at Kinlochspelve for a walk to Ardura. Photo: golden eagle and red deer hinds at Loch Spelve by Mark Henrys

Zuza departed Castlebay and sailed over to Gott Bay, Tiree today in breezy but sunny conditions. Basking sharks were seen off Castlebay and Tiree.

Mon 29 Sep | Very rare tern spotted  Zuza stayed put in Gott Bay today and our guests hired a car to explore Tiree amid fairly torrential rain. As they were on the move Trevor (who was driving) shouted, “Gull billed tern!” and slammed on the brakes. Everyone piled out and hid behind the car to view the bird – an exceptionally rare sighting in Scotland. After a short time they realised they would get a better view from a bit further down the road but didn’t want to start the engine again in case it disturbed the tern. So one got inside and released the hand-brake, two got behind the car and pushed it along the road whilst the other two crept along the road, hidden behind the vehicle. No wonder the people that passed by stopped and asked them if everything was okay!

Reporting the gull billed tern gained the group some kudos as this species has only been recorded in Scotland nine times before. Following the group’s find and their distribution of this information, twitchers from all over the UK (and possibly beyond) including the Argyll Bird Recorder, will now be hot-footing it over to Tiree to see this rarity. Below: one of Tiree’s beautiful beaches by Heather McNeill

 

Guests disembarked in Oban from Hjalmar Bjorge today after the last cruise of the season. Last night there was another excuse for a celebration onboard involving cake and booze – Jackie’s forthcoming big (okay, 50th) birthday! Hjalmar Bjorge is out next weekend for her last charter of the year – a dive trip.

Tue 30 Sep | Tiree proves tops  Our bird-watching guests are delighted with Tiree and are keen to stay a bit longer. Last night’s forecast made it clear though that Zuza could not stay put. The group decided to hire a self-catering cottage for two nights and then travel back to Oban on the ferry where they will meet up with the yacht once again. Before they parted company Heather prepared their meals and packed them up so they would the minimum to do once ashore. Zuza set sail and ended up in Tobermory this evening.

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