EWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: JUNE 2009
Mon 1 Jun | Heatwave on Hirta Zuza guests got a tour round the stacs and islands of St Kilda today although thick fog prevented clear views. That said, the glimpses of the tops with Boreray in the sun was rather atmospheric. Despite the fog the bird numbers were still good. The yacht made her way back to Village Bay via Soay as mist dramatically rolled off the cliffs of Hirta.
Guests went ashore, with packed lunches, for six to seven hours. The mist cleared off Hirta giving spectacular views from the top of the island across a sea of low-lying fog in all directions, with views of the stacs coming and going in the fog. Most of our guests climbed Conachair to make the most of the views. Photos above: (top left) fog rolling over the cliffs of Hirta (top right) Boreray and the stacs in low lying mist, from Hirta (below left) mist under and sun over Boreray (below right) cleit on Hirta with thrift or sea pinks. All photos by Heather McNeill
As is often the case there were a lot of aggressive Bonxies on the tops, apparently coming in from the Shetland Islands according to someone on the island writing a PhD on them! Several snipe were also seen, some golden plover and a good variety of flowers including “midsummer men.” Right: Bonxie (great skua) attack by Heather McNeill
Despite the fog it was surprisingly hot in the sun with one day boat recording in excess of 34 degrees C (94 F) on the back of his vessel.
Closer to home local man Mark Carter has gone on hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of seals which are being shot around our coastline. You can follow his blog here. He has also launched a petition at No 10 which you can sign here.
Tue 2 Jun | Wind and white-beaks Another early start for Zuza, in the fog once more, which then cleared to a rather grey morning. Four white-beaked dolphins were seen briefly as the boat made her way to Scarp. The planned excursion ashore was abandoned due to wind racing through the gap so instead they sailed down to Taransay which turned out to be perfect timing. The sun came out and guests spent three hours ashore during what evolved into a beautiful afternoon.
Wed 3 Jun | Double dive charter 11 divers boarded Hjalmar Bjorge today in Oban for the first of two back-to-back weeks of diving charters. Weather permitting the boat will be heading for St Kilda.
Zuza headed into Loch Rodel for lunch today and guests got a few hours ashore to visit the medieval St Clements church. They then enjoyed a good sail north to a new anchorage, north of Loch Seaforth, where a sea eagle was seen.
Thu 4 Jun | Shiants and sea eagles Zuza headed over the the Shiants today. There was quite a swell running and three guests chose to stay onboard while four went onto the islands. A couple of eagles were spotted, most likely juvenile sea eagles. The afternoon became sunny and guests and crew enjoyed a gentle sail to Eilean Fladday on the west side of Raasay. En route a minke whale rolled under the hull of the boat. Below (left) fulmar on nest at the Shiant Islands (right) a following sea off Raasay, both photos by Heather McNeill
Hjalmar Bjorge left Tobermory at 0400 this morning with the intention of going straight out to St Kilda. However the current sea state and weather reports forced a change of plan and instead they went into Soay Sound. As the boat approached the first dive site of the day – a wall on the SW corner of Skye – a few common dolphins come over and played around the bow. The second dive was on the stacs of Macleod’s Maidens off Idrigill Point, Loch Bracadale whereafter Hjalmar Bjorge anchored at Orbost for the night.
Fri 5 Jun | Skye stop-off Zuza’s first port of call was Portree this morning where guests had a couple of hours ashore. There was a brief view of a sea eagle as the yacht left Portree. In the afternoon a brisk sail was taken under the Skye bridge, past Kyleakin and Kylerhea to Sandaig in the Sound of Sleat, where Gavin Maxwell lived for around 10 years. A black throated diver was seen at Sandaig.
Above (left) Zuza approaches the Skye bridge by Heather McNeill (right) Zuza sails past Kyleakin by Rob Ware. Rob is a photographer and friend of Heather’s who kindly sent us the image above, right. Check out more of Rob’s photos of Skye (The Misty Isle) – and the self-catering property he runs in the village of Ord on Skye – by clicking here.
Hopes of reaching St Kilda were dashed again for Hjalmar Bjorge guests as the winds strengthened today. First dive today was An Dubh Sgeir followed by the wreck of the “Doris” off Neist Point where a few minke whales were observed feeding.
Sat 6 Jun | Dash to St Kilda Hjalmar Bjorge crew and guests had a bumpy night on anchor in Moonen Bay last night but this morning they made a run for St Kilda. There was a fresh NE wind blowing which didn’t make for a particularly comfortable journey out there. Upon arrival guests dived at An Torq on the west side of Hirta.
Zuza spent the day sailing, from Sandaig in the Sound of Sleat down to Lochaline on the Morvern peninsula. Helpfully the wind was behind the boat all the way south. Two sea eagles were seen off Tobermory.
Sun 7 Jun | Dive St Kilda – variable vis Hjalmar Bjorge guests dived the arch at Sgarb Stac out at St Kilda this morning. The vis wasn’t good – the silt had probably been stirred up by recent weather. In the afternoon they took a walk ashore on Hirta and then after dinner they dived Duncan’s cave (west side of Hirta again). All the divers enjoyed this site and the vis in the cave and tunnel was excellent. Below: Hjalmar Bjorge on anchor in Village Bay, St Kilda by Mark Henrys
Zuza berthed at Oban this morning to take on fuel then crossed the bay to berth in her usual spot on the pontoons at Oban Marina on Kerrera. Our guests departed on the midday water taxi.
Mon 8 Jun | Departure with dolphins A quick and early dive on the west side of Dun, St Kilda, before the long run back to Tobermory where Hjalmar Bjorge berthed alongside the pontoons shortly before 2100. Blue skies and a fresh breeze made it an enjoyable journey. North of the Hawes Bank around a dozen common dolphins came and bow-rode and played round the boat for about 10 minutes. Photo: common dolphins beside Hjalmar Bjorge at Hawes Bank by Mark Henrys
Zuza guests arrived for (hopefully) a second St Kilda trip following last week’s successful visit. Five of those arriving today – David, Dot, Patrick, Maureen and Kerstin (from Sweden) – travelled together on the same cruise on Hjalmar Bjorge last year. Zuza motored up to Tobermory for the evening.
Tue 9 Jun | Eriskay and Oban Hjalmar Bjorge guests dived the wreck of “The Rondo” in the Sound of Mull this morning en route to Oban where the boat berthed around 1100. Brunch was served en route and guests left Mark, Mark, Hannah and Anna (there’s a poem in there somewhere, surely?) to prepare the boat for another 11 divers arriving tomorrow. Sadly for us Lindsay, who worked for us for a couple of years but was onboard this trip as a guest, didn’t offer to stay and help!!!
Zuza travelled to Eriskay today by combination of motor and sail. Dolphins were seen in the distance and guests had a couple of hours ashore.
Wed 10 Jun | Dolphin escorts Zuza travelled through the Sound of Barra this morning and was once again accompanied by the resident bottlenosed dolphins. The yacht then motored all the way out to St Kilda. Three storm petrels were seen on the way and after anchoring in Village Bay, Tim and Heather put the guests ashore for about four hours walk on Hirta.
11 divers joined Hjalmar Bjorge today for an early evening cruise up to and into Loch Sunart.
Thu 11 Jun | In, and out, of Kilda Zuza guests took a cruise round the islands and stacs of St Kilda today with the highlight – not – being a large dead seal floating about on the surface of the water.
The sea was very lumpy off the stacs so, with a forecast for easterlies on Friday and a good breeze from the right direction, the yacht crew decided to head back toward Harris. This proved to be a good decision and for the first time they sailed all the way from St Kilda to Taransay. They were assisted by a surprisingly large running sea for the amount of wind. A minke whale spotted a few miles from Taransay. Above right: Tim setting the sails as the yacht leaves St Kilda. Below (left) big seas around the stacs and (right) running sea as the yacht leaves St Kilda. All photos by Heather McNeill
Hjalmar Bjorge is making a run for St Kilda today as there seems to be a 24 hour weather window. Looks like it might blow again but Mark is anticipating that the wind direction means they’ll have shelter out at the islands.
Fri 12 Jun | Seabird report: Scotland hardest hit The Wildlife Extra website says a new report published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee has revealed major declines in many UK seabirds since the late 1960s. The report states that overall seabird numbers are down 9% in the UK (since 2000) but in Scotland, where the majority of the UK’s seabirds occur, numbers are decreased by nearly one fifth (19 per cent). The decreases in population are down to poor breeding success for some species. This is being attributed to plankton populations, which underpin the ecosystem of the North Sea, changing fast because of warming waters. Read more here.
Wild Scotland, of which Northern Light Charters is a member, has decided to champion the plight of the Scottish Wildcat this year. It is our last remaining native cat species and there may be as few as 400 individuals left in Scotland but we just don’t really know. Highland Tiger aims to help wildcats through practical conservation and research. They also develop educational materials to improve awareness of wildcats and captive breeding facilities support the wild population. Have a look at their website and please consider supporting this struggling species.
No word from Hjalmar Bjorge so presumed still to be at St Kilda. Tim and Heather took Zuza guests for a day’s visit to the Shiant Islands today with the evening’s anchorage in Loch Claidh on the border of Harris and Lewis. Plenty of seabirds in the water at the Shiant Islands plus one mad kayaker – bound for the Faroe Islands – who was fishing for his lunch! Right: evening anchorage in Loch Claidh. Below (left) razorbills on the surface of the water at the Shiant Islands and (right) Zuza leaving Shiants. All photos by Heather McNeill
Sat 13 Jun | Dunvegan dolphins Zuza is at Isay in Loch Dunvegan today. As the yacht was coming into the loch around 100 common dolphins turned up to welcome Tim home. This is the second time this has happened in this location. He must feel like the Pied Piper of Hamelin! The weather today, and the forecast for the next few days, is “flat” which, in theory is great for being at sea (no seasickness!) but not so great if you want to sail.
Above (left) one of the Dunvegan dolphins (right) Dunvegan Castle reflected in the loch, both photos by Patrick Lowe
Sun 14 Jun | Baby basker seen Mark and his diving guests left St Kilda at 1500 today aboard Hjalmar Bjorge, having spent the best part of four days and three nights at the archipelago. They had a pretty rough journey out there and a couple of jolly lumpy nights on anchor. The quality of the diving was not great to start with, due to silty waters, but this improved each day with the best two dives of the visit undertaken today before their departure.
A couple of minke whales were seen on the way out to Boreray and the first basking shark of the season was seen in Village Bay yesterday, a little juvenile that swam around the boat for around 30 minutes.
Zuza encountered more common dolphins whilst travelling past Neist Point today – another 100 or so, perhaps the same pod that hang around Loch Dunvegan. Also two minke whales were seen at close range. Right: dolphins, with the reflection of Zuza in the water, by David Brown
Mon 15 Jun | Obliging sea eagles These two sea eagles posed happily for Zuza’s guests at Loch Harport today then, as the yacht was leaving, they did a fly past… just to make sure everyone got a really good look at them!
And Rum it was…although frustratingly the yacht arrived just a little too late for guests to take the guided tour of splendid Kinloch Castle. En route to Tobermory for the night, more common dolphins were seen between Rum and Eigg.
Hjalmar Bjorge spent last night in Loch Rodel and travelled south to Tobermory today, meeting up with the crew and guests aboard Zuza this evening. Hjalmar Bjorge also encountered the Neist Point dolphins today, about two dozen, so they may be a different pod to the hundred or so that Zuza have seen a few times in recent days. Right: dolphins off Neist Point by Mark Henrys
Tue 16 Jun | Happy families How cute is this? A pair of Canada geese with 21 goslings tootling past Zuza in their evening anchorage tonight, at Port Ramsay, Lismore. An enjoyable sail today for the yacht down the Sound of Mull to Lismore with this lovely (gor-geese?) finish to a cruise which ends tomorrow. Photo: family of Canada geese at Lismore by Patrick Lowe
Hjalmar Bjorge finished a trip today. Back from St Kilda, our 11 divers were safely deposited in Oban. Hjalmar Bjorge now has two days off.
Wed 17 Jun | Rain rain, go away Can’t complain really as there’s been very little of the stuff in recent weeks. Zuza motored over to Kerrera today in dreich conditions where guests waved good-bye. Heather and Tim are back at sea a week on Friday whilst Hjalmar Bjorge sets off again this Friday.
Thu 18 Jun | St Kilda stooshie The National Trust for Scotland have reacted to plans by the Ministry of Defence and their contractor QinetiQ to control the site on Hirta, St Kilda, remotely. This forms part of a proposed £50m saving plan. NTS, the owners of St Kilda, claim QinetiQ staff also help to protect the environment of the remote archipelago and stated that they would struggle to maintain the cost of upkeep by themselves. Read more on the BBC News website.
Other news – Carbost Pier Ltd is a not for profit business that aims to save the Carbost Pier in Loch Harport, Skye, from demolition and then gather resources to improve marine facilities at Carbost for leisure and commercial uses. The company is in negotiations with the current owner to acquire the lease and undertake much needed repairs. Read more and see if you can help here.
Sat 20 Jun | Mooching minke Hjalmar Bjorge boarded guests in Oban yesterday in rather frightful weather, taking them up to Tobermory for the evening. This morning the boat headed north, through the Sound of Eigg, making for Rum. In the Sound a minke whale spent about 20 minutes fairly close to the vessel, circling, it seemed aware of where the boat was at all times. After the encounter guests went ashore on Rum for a couple of hours. Below: The curved back and head of the minke whale in the Sound of Eigg, by Mark Henrys
Sun 21 Jun | Breakfast mutiny! Mark heard yesterday there was a decomposing minke whale on a beach at the north end of Rum. Given his previous form with dead cetaceans the guests insisted he absolutely did not go and collect it! Lucky for them he couldn’t locate it so their nostrils will not be filled with the smell of rotting whale blubber for the next five days.
Instead Hjalmar Bjorge cruised over to Canna where everyone went ashore with a packed lunch. Both golden eagles and sea eagles were seen.
Tue 23 Jun | Scallops for tea Yesterday was foggy and rainy with poor visibility. Hjalmar Bjorge travelled from Canna to Arinagour on Coll where guests had the afternoon ashore. Red-throated divers were seen. The night time anchorage was Gometra harbour, equally as foggy as Coll, although a couple of sea eagles were spotted through the mist.
This morning, at about 0500, the fog lifted and it turned into a beautiful day. Guests saw an otter feeding before they had their own breakfast, then it was time for a venture ashore, on both Gometra and Ulva, where a couple of golden eagles were seen. Mark dived for some scallops while the guests were on dry land. They then departed, via Staffa, through the Sound of Iona and along the Ross of Mull. ending the day in Loch Buie.
Wed 24 Jun | Otter and hotter Mark was taking guests ashore in the dinghy in Loch Buie this morning when an otter went swimming by the boat so that was a good sighting. Guests were ashore until about 1330. Sea eagles were spotted in the loch, as was a sea eagle chick on the nest, though the parents were nowhere to be seen. The boat cruised on round the coast into Loch Spelve for the evening. A sea eagle was seen on the horizon as they were entering Loch Spelve and it then spent about 10 minutes soaring over the boat. Photo: sea eagle over Hjalmar Bjorge by Mark Henrys
It was hot again today, around 25 degrees in many local sites, but a neighbour in Benderloch saw 28 degrees at his place!
Creatures were seen in Oban Bay today, following the Oban Marina water taxi from Kerrera to the mainland. Someone reckoned they were dolphins, someone else reckoned they were porpoise. If, however, they did follow a boat it’s more likely they were dolphins.
Thu 25 Jun | Ghost guests Tim and Heather all ready aboard Zuza? Check! Provisions bought and stowed? Check! Boat spotlessly clean? Check! Guests? Um, where are the guests??? Late last night, taking pride in having everything beautifully prepared and ready for their passengers arriving today, Tim and Heather decided to take a quick look at the website and were a little surprised to see their guests were not due today, but tomorrow! Oh. Nothing like being ready a whole 24 hours in advance. Funnily (well, you have to laugh) they had both departed the previous trip, after working for a month, thinking the cruise started a day earlier than it did. Blame it on tiredness or put it down to an eagerness to get back on board. They say stranger things happen at sea…
This morning a sighting of a golden eagle for Hjalmar Bjorge guests as they were leaving Loch Spelve. The boat headed into Oban, where guests disembarked, before returning to Corpach Sea Lock for a week or so.
Fri 26 Jun | All aboard Zuza set off with a full complement of eight guests this afternoon, including half the contingent from the continent – Germany to be precise. The yacht motored up to Tobermory for the night.
Sat 27 Jun | Outer Hebrides option Today Zuza guests were given the option of travelling out to St Kilda (which would have involved motoring for two or three days as there was very little wind forecast) or taking in a more leisurely itinerary around the Outer Hebrides where hopefully some sailing could be done. They opted for the latter, five being keen sailors. Right: ladies who launch, or should that be lurch, judging by the angle! Photo by Heather McNeill
From Tobermory this morning they sailed to Feall Bay, SW Coll, via Gunna Sound where an enormous basking shark visited the boat. A lovely sunny day saw guests ashore for a couple of hours on the sand dunes and beach. Five individual corncrakes were heard! Below (left) big basking shark beside Zuza in Gunna Sound by Heather McNeill
Sun 28 Jun | Whales and sails Zuza sailed and motored to Eriskay in sunshine today. Two minke whales were seen off the entrance and guests went ashore for a couple of hours. Yet another corncrake was heard, the sixth so far. Above (right) seal feeding time at Eriskay by Heather McNeill. Who could resist those big dog-like eyes?
Mon 29 Jun | Seventh corncrake heard An early start for Zuza today, out through the Sound of Barra, too early for the resident dolphins who were nowhere to be seen. They sailed down to Mingulay and meandered in underneath the sea cliffs where loads of guillemots, razorbills and fulmars could be seen.
The yacht then motored around Barra Head and anchored off Berneray slip. All aboard went ashore for walk up to the lighthouse. Tim’s eyes lit up when he spotted a single cylinder pump engine, Ford 3000 tractor and a Landrover! The lighthouse here is a spectacular place and the cliffs were alive with birds, similar to Mingulay but with the addition of puffins. The infrastructure and stonework of the castle is beautiful and, to top it all, another corncrake was heard, that’s seven. Below: Puffins at Barra Head by Elizabeth Crocombe
Guests loved this place, their favourite bit so far, but soon it was time to head off to Castlebay on Barra where balloons and bubbly were prescribed for Carole’s 50th birthday celebrations aboard. Below (left) Liz and Pat at Barra Head (right) Carole cracking open the bubbly aboard Zuza. Both photos by Heather McNeill
Tue 30 Jun | The Sod’s Law of Sailing Before departing Barra, Zuza guests went ashore for a couple of hours. They then departed, heading north, in a good breeze. Everyone said they were enjoying the sailing so of course Sod’s Law then saw the wind die down completely! The yacht ended up motoring the rest of the way to Loch Eport, North Uist, and a minke whale was seen off Benbecula. Guests went ashore for a couple of hours.
:: news from the previous month [ May ’09 ]
DID YOU KNOW?
Approximately 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, St Kilda was once home to Britain's most isolated community.