NEWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: JULY 2009
Wed 1 Jul | Bounteous birds On a calm cloudy morning Zuza motored to the Shiant Islands where it started to drizzle. Large numbers of birds could be seen from the boat but our guests declined a shore trip in the bad weather. Son instead they sailed and motored to Scalpay off Harris. A minke whale was seen en route and guests did go ashore for a couple of hours on Scalpay.
News from wildlifeextra that Norway has suspended whaling though the reasons for this are unclear. Either there is no further demand for the product, buyers are having trouble raising funds or there’s a problem with storage facilities. Whatever the reason, the good news is that less than 40% of their quota have been killed. Read more here.
Thu 2 Jul | No dolphins! No eagles! Zuza motored past Waternish Point on another calm day today. A minke whale was seen on the way there. They cruised past Dunvegan and Neist Point with all onboard willing the big school of dolphins, seen regularly in the recent past, to appear. Sadly they didn’t. The sea eagles of Loch Harport weren’t seen on the way in either. Apart from the spectacular sea cliffs seen today the most noteworthy sighting was a giant cruise ship. Tim and Heather think it may have been “The World”.
Fri 3 Jul | Lightening! The sea eagles did indeed oblige Zuza guests on the way out of Loch Harport this morning, with good views of both birds. The yacht motored and sailed to Canna where guests went ashore for about four hours. Unfortunately this coincided with the first proper rain for weeks and just for good measure some lightening appeared too!
The forecast was giving easterly winds for the night so Zuza motored over to Kilmory Bay on the north end of Rum where it turned into a nice evening. Black throated divers were spotted and some of Rum’s famous deer were seen on the shore.
Sat 4 Jul | Super sail to the Sound Zuza sailed all day today, some 60 odd miles, a dead beat in a nice breeze with sun. The yacht reached the Green Isle on the Sound of Mull before turning and motoring into Loch Aline. They passed some local charter boats including Elizabeth G whose guest of honour was former owner Robert Spanswick’s wife, Elizabeth, whom the vessel is named for.
Sun 5 Jul | Sea eagle sighted Zuza motored into Oban Bay at the end of the 10 day cruise where guests caught the water taxi over from Kerrera at midday. A sea eagle was seen as the yacht left Loch Aline this morning. Below: Guests and crew on the pontoon at Kerrera at the end of a happy cruise. Photo from Rob Lang
Guest Liz sent us an email following this, her second holiday on Zuza. “This year it (was) an even better experience the likes of which we would find difficult to beat. I’d never been on a sailing boat before but at (age) 63 and after two goes on Zuza I’m booked on an RYA course in Turkey later this year.” How brilliant is that?!
Tue 7 Jul | All new aboard Hjalmar Bjorge travelled from Corpach to Oban where 11 guests boarded today. Rhona – Lindsay’s mum – joins us for galley-slaving and deckhand tasks again. Great to see her back. This is a trip notable for all guests being new to us. Very unusual to have a cruise with no repeat customers onboard. Let’s hope that they will themselves be repeat guests next year! Below (left) this little swallow has made a home for itself on the boat next door at Corpach. Photo by Mark Henrys
Shortly after departing Mark discovered two of his guests were retired captains of huge vessels! As there are two tables in the saloon of Hjalmar Bjorge, now everyone can sit at the Captain’s Table for dinner!!! Above (right) the two Captains – David and Mitch – relaxing on the bow of Hjalmar Bjorge. I say “relaxing”, perhaps they are both biting their lips, trying not to comment on Mark’s abilities! Photo by Mark Henrys
Wed 8 Jul | Happy Birthday Heather A big birthday for Zuza’s mate/cook Heather today who marked her half century by going up and down Ben Nevis with her twin sister, son and his girlfriend in an impressive five hours. Here she is, with snow still on the top! They finished the day at The Lime Tree in Fort William with other family members. Right: Heather atop Ben Nevis on her big birthday. Photo from Heather McNeill
Hjalmar spent a lumpy night on anchor in Tobermory last night. Today they travelled to Canna where guests had the afternoon ashore. A pair of golden eagles and sea eagles were both seen and corncrakes were heard near the Celtic cross.
Thu 9 Jul | St Kilda in sight Hjalmar Bjorge left Canna at 0545 today. A basking shark was spotted about eight miles north of the island. They arrived at Taransay at 1230. Everyone had a good afternoon ashore and Mark decided to run round the whole island taking in all the summits. As you do. It was a lovely clear day and from the summit of Ben Raah, the highest point of the island (267m), he could see St Kilda and the Flannan Islands in the distance.
Another full complement of eight guests onboard Zuza today including some of Heather’s friends, David and Diane from France. The group took the decision right away not to try for St Kilda due to the easterly force 6 to 8 forecast and left for Loch Aline where two sea eagles were seen off Ardtornish castle.
Fancy yourself as a wildlife photographer? WildScotland has a regular photography competition with the next closing date of Spring 2010 so plenty of time to get snapping. See previous winning photos here.
Fri 10 Jul | Boreray bow-riding Risso’s Hjalmar Bjorge departed Taransay at 0455 this morning and headed out to St Kilda. She was, understandably, the only liveaboard out there as Mark reckoned there was only about a 24 hour window before the forecast strong easterlies moved in.
First off a tour round Boreray and the stacs. Six to eight Risso’s dolphins bow-rode the boat in quite a big swell four miles off Boreray for about 10 minutes. Mark then anchored in Village Bay and guests went ashore around 1130, with packed lunches, and spent six hours on Hirta. Right: Mark the cook on the beach on Hirta, St Kilda, by Rhona Wilson
Matthew, who is a climber, stealthily followed a snowy owl up Ruaival and collected some pellets with which to fascinate the other guests – and crew – once back onboard. Everyone was very pleased Mark had got them out to the archipelago whilst appreciating it was only going to be a quick visit. Below (left) gannet diving at Stac Lee (right) Matthew disappearing up Ruaival on Hirta. Both by Mark Henrys
The stranded Fleetwood long-liner “Spinningdale” which went aground on Hirta last February is now being cut up.
The pieces are being hand-balled over the rocks and will be stacked on pallets to be removed by service vessel the Electron. It should take about three weeks to complete the job. This grounding incident was notable for the 14-strong crew being rescued by the MCA’s first female helicopter pilot. Photo: The Spinningdale being cut into pieces, by Mark Henrys
Zuza motored to Lunga today in flat calm, sunny conditions. Everyone went ashore for a few hours of sun, puffins and sand eels (well, so far as we know it was just the puffins that ate sand eels since Heather provided sandwiches for the guests!). In the afternoon Zuza sailed to Loch Breachacha on Coll where guests went ashore and heard at least half a dozen corncrakes. Below (left) David and Diane on Lunga (right) puffin with sand eels onLunga. Both photos by Heather McNeill
Sat 11 Jul | Another early start The forecast winds blew up from the east right on time so Hjalmar Bjorge weighed anchor and pulled out of Village Bay at 0600 heading for the Sound of Harris after a tour round Hirta and Soay Sound. Always a little galling to be doing so under beautiful blue skies but St Kilda isn’t a place to be in strong winds from any direction.
The vessel anchored off Isay, in Loch Dunvegan on the north end of Skye, at 1500 and the guests went ashore for a couple of hours. Then into Loch Bay for the evening’s anchorage where they avoided the worst of the strong easterly wind. After watching the sunset Mark the cook, Rhona, both ex-skippers and one of the three Davids went ashore to The Stein Inn. They returned soaking wet thanks to a gale force wind but were merry enough not to care! Photo: Sunset in Loch Bay by Mark Henrys
All aboard Zuza saw a big basking shark close to the yacht in Gunna Sound today (perhaps the same one spotted in the same place on the last trip?) with a minke appearing soon afterwards. There was great excitement and anticipation on deck when some enormous splashes were seen about a mile away. Tim and Heather had heard three orca were seen last week off North Uist…could it be them? The yacht headed for Loch Skiport, South Uist, sailing most of the way in sunshine, to hole up for the night as the gale force winds approached.
Sun 12 Jul | Rona and Rhona Hjalmar Bjorge cruised round the north end of Skye where guests spent the afternoon on the island of Rona. Onboard Rhona has been entertaining everyone with her flute – musical talent obviously runs in the family as daughter Lindsay’s fiddle-playing was much appreciated by our guests during the two years she worked for us. After leaving Rona Hjalmar Bjorge cruised to their overnight anchorage at Loch na Beiste close to Loch Alsh. Right: Rhona playing her flute on the bow of Hjalmar Bjorge by Mark Henrys
Everyone aboard Zuza woke to rain and wind in Loch Skiport this morning. They decided to wait a while for it to clear and proposed a late breakfast, the guests insisting Heather had a lie-in, which she did! They then sailed and later motored north to Lochmaddy as the wind died down. It turned into a sunny evening and the guests went ashore.
Mon 13 Jul | Awesome orcas!!! A roasting hot and sunny day for Zuza. The day started well with porpoises off Waternish Point followed by a good sighting of a minke whale so everyone was pretty happy with that. Then soon after, a very big fin was spotted under the cliffs and, wow, the three rumoured orca appear!!! They comprise a large male, a cow and either another small cow or possibly a calf from last year. They were then joined by another two!!! This time a big one with a floppy dorsal fin and a smaller one. The five killer whales flanked the boat at 50 to 100m for an hour and a half, an amazing experience. They didn’t directly interact with the yacht but did dive underneath although they went too deep to be seen from the surface. Below: orcas from Zuza off Dunvegan, Skye by Heather McNeill
After all the excitement Tim spotted a fishing boat he knew – “Seilgair” owned and run by Willie Murdo of Dunvegan – and after a quick chat on the VHF the boat was alongside Zuza trading a big bucket of fresh prawns for a few beers. Heather quickly got water on the boil and an impromptu lunch of prawns, fresh baked bread, salads and chilled white wine was taken on the coach roof in lovely sunshine. I say, how civilised! (Jealous? Only a tiny bit!) Below: lovely lunch with perfect prawns in super sunshine. All photos by Heather McNeill
Hjalmar Bjorge guests awoke this morning to a mirror calm sea and the boat left their anchorage at 0830. They cruised through the Kyles of Lochalsh watching for otters (two were seen) and berthed at Inverie at 1230 where guests had the afternoon ashore. Mark met up with some UK divers that he and Hannah had last seen in January 2008 when we were all aboard the same charter boat in New Zealand. Small world! After a catching up session they made a provisional booking to charter Hjalmar Bjorge next summer.
In the evening everybody went to the “Old Forge” pub where Rhona led a musical evening that seemed to involve most of the guests and a number of other musicians staying in the area. The Old Forge has a lot of instruments hanging on the walls and jamming sessions are a regular occurrence. Apparently a late-night rendition of “House Of The Rising Sun” almost brought the roof down!
Tue 14 Jul | Not making a drama out of a crisis Zuza guests went ashore, in slightly dreary weather this morning, for either a tour of Dunvegan Castle or gardens. The yacht then motored out to Dunvegan Head where David and Rosemary had been promised some fishing. They didn’t disappoint, producing 10 mackerel, which Tim prepared and Heather cooked for lunch. After lunch a decent breeze and sunshine made for a good sail past Neist Point and MacLeod’s Maidens at Idrigill Point toward Loch Bracadale. Below (left) Rosemary’s mackerel caught from the yacht (right) MacLeod’s Maidens off Idrigill Point, Skye. Both photos by Heather McNeill
In the meantime Hannah had received a call with urgent family news for David and Rosemary requiring them to get to London as quickly as possible. With the yacht out of mobile range she asked Stornoway Coastguard to contact the boat on the VHF. Having made contact Tim motored quickly to Carbost, pausing in a bit of the loch where a mobile signal appeared, so Heather could access Google and call them a taxi. After their two and a half hour cab ride Hannah met them in Fort William and drove them to Oban to collect their vehicle whereupon they set off to drive overnight to the capital. It goes without saying that we hope none of our guests ever have to leave part-way through their cruise but, if the situation does arise, you can be assured that here at Northern Light Charters, we’ll always work as a team to try and ensure we get you on your way as quickly as possible… no matter where you are at the start of the journey!
The guests remaining on Zuza were sad to bid their new friends a hasty good-bye but quickly rallied and rearranged the sleeping accommodation so that everyone had their own cabins!
Hjalmar Bjorge left Inverie at 0730 today and cruised in to Loch Scavaig. Whilst watching the seals they suddenly realised that they were themselves being watched, by a curious juvenile minke whale that circled the boat for about 10 minutes. Below (left) seals in Loch Scavaig – love the baby one, looks like a little fat slug – and (right) the curious young minke whale that circled Hjalmar Bjorge, both photos by Mark Henrys
After leaving Loch Scavaig an adult minke whale was seen close to Rum. The boat anchored off Rum for the afternoon where the guests went ashore, the majority visiting the castle.
Wed 15 Jul | Carbost to Canna The remaining six guests aboard Zuza went ashore at Carbost for a Talisker distillery tour this morning with the boat then sailing for Canna in lovely sunshine. On the way out of Loch Harport a good view was had of the resident sea eagles. Tim thinks these are probably a pair of last year’s juveniles as they’re not nesting or rearing chicks. After the eagles no other wildlife was seen all day but we don’t think the guests noticed as they were too busy sunbathing!
Landfall on Canna was a first for all aboard and they loved it. The harbour is busy with Classic Malts yachts which have made their way to the island for the ceilidh tomorrow night. The marquees are already in place. Heather is a little wistful at not being involved this year and wants to leave before having to watch them all having fun!!! Is that the gnashing of teeth I hear…?
Hjalmar Bjorge left Rum and motored over to Muck to berth on their new pier. Mark ran round every summit on the island meeting a variety of our guests on the way. It was a lovely morning and a number of the guests said that this was their favourite island visit of the 10 day cruise. They left Muck at 1400 and anchored for the last night in Ardtornish Bay, Morvern.
Thu 16 Jul | Dolphins in Oban Bay This morning saw Hjalmar Bjorge cruise back into Oban where guests had a final surprise – six to eight bottle-nosed dolphins feeding and playing in the Bay. They’ve been in and around Oban Bay, on and off, for about five weeks now. The only disappointment was some of the day boats being a little overenthusiastic in their eagerness to show the dolphins to their guests at close quarters.
Zuza left Canna and sailed and motored to Rum, going in close to Kilmory to look at about a hundred hinds and baby deer fawns. They anchored in Loch Scresort where guests had three hours ashore which included a tour of magnificent Kinloch Castle which everyone went on. Again, a new landing for all aboard except Helen, who hadn’t been in the castle before.
Heather’s ascent of Ben Nevis just over a week ago seems to have given her the hill bug (sounds like a much healthier alternative to swine flu) so she went up the Rum Cuillin ridge which proved a tad scary in places, wearing trainers, so common sense prevailed and she came back down instead of attempting the summit. The yacht then sailed and motored to Tobermory. They arrived at our mooring quite late as everyone enjoyed the passage.
Fri 17 Jul | Fuel and farewell Everyone aboard Zuza went ashore in Tobermory for the morning. Unusually only one guest, Helen who travelled with us last year, had visited the picturesque harbour town before. Some retail therapy was undertaken. Honestly, it’s amazing how little space jewellery takes up…
Zuza guests proudly showed off “whale bait” Helen in Tobermory as records indicate none of the whale-watching day boat skippers have yet seen the orca that were experienced by Zuza earlier in the cruise. Helen managed to tempt a very close encounter from a minke whale when she was on board last year. Perhaps we should put her on the pay roll?!
In a cruise that now involved two family incidents Tim received a call to say his mum was not faring so well and the decision was taken to berth Zuza at Kerrera tonight, as opposed to tomorrow morning when the trip is due to finish. This meant he’d be able to head south this evening. The guests were brilliant and didn’t mind forgoing the previously planned visit to Lismore.
Tim and Heather tried to sail the yacht down the Sound of Mull but there were fickle winds so they motored instead to Oban. The yacht fuelled up on the Railway Pier before crossing Oban Bay to Kerrera. The dolphins are still in situ so this rounded the cruise off nicely. In fact, cetaceans of all kind had been seen except for dolphins so six bow-riding bottle-noses provided a rather grand finale.
Once tied up there were Kerrera oysters and champagne pre-starters courtesy of Kevin and David. Yummy! Tim had to leave but managed to grab a couple of oysters before departing. [Update – Tim’s mum has improved enormously and we’re all delighted he’ll be back for the cruise next weekend.]
Sun 19 Jul | On and off in Oban Hjalmar Bjorge boarded 11 guests this afternoon including four repeat “offenders” in Keith, Nigel, Johanna and Caroline. Always lovely to see familiar faces. Talking of which the dolphins are still out in Oban Bay. The boat left Oban and headed for Loch Drumbuie for the night. A golden eagle was spotted off Auliston Point making its way along the coast.
Zuza guests left yesterday at the end of a cruise whose itinerary was somewhat altered by real life imposing on holiday mode. After tying up on the pontoons at Kerrera the night before the cruise actually finished everyone had a very relaxed last evening alongside with a long lie and leisurely showers and breakfast in the morning. The guests all helped Heather put the boat to bed and there were even a few tearful farewells. David and Diane, Heather’s friends from France, now accompany her home for a few days and Helen was almost tempted too.
Big thanks to Helen, Kevin, Linda, Brenda, David and Diane for their friendly, flexible attitude and we all send best wishes to David and Rosemary who had to leave half way through their trip. Also positive thoughts to skipper Tim’s mum who is making good progress.
Mon 20 Jul | Wild weather Hjalmar Bjorge left Loch Drumbuie about 0900 this morning with a good sighting of a sea eagle on the way out, first perched on a rock and then flying. Mark was especially pleased to see the eagle as he had told all the guests it was often at that very spot. The boat then undertook a bumpy ride, in near gale force winds, through the Sound of Eigg to Rum where shelter was taken in a quiet anchorage. Alan particularly enjoyed the bumpy run as it reminded him of the ferries they used when living on the Scilly Isles. Guests spent the afternoon ashore and the boat stayed put that night.
Not far from Eigg an east coast scallop dredger “Aquila” capsized in the rough seas just after 1700. The most likely cause was their gear becoming snagged then the boat being forced over by a large wave. It’s a fact that many fishermen don’t wear life-jackets when working as these can get caught in the boat’s gear whilst onboard. Unfortunately of the four crew on this vessel, three perished and one survivor was rescued by a passing yacht. Tragic incidents such as these remind us all to be respectful of the sea and the weather that influences its behaviour.
Tue 21 Jul | Scavaig, seals and scallops In contrast to yesterday’s gales it was a nice morning today. Hjalmar Bjorge enjoyed a smooth run over to Loch Scavaig where guests went ashore and walked to Loch Coruisk. Keith and Nigel got some good photos of the fat, lazy seals. Mark dived for some scallops and mussels were collected from the rock walls. Lunch was taken on anchor in the loch before they set off for Inverie for the night. Arriving about 1700 there was time for a walk before dinner. Right: Cook Mark about to prepare the scallops collected by skipper Mark. Photo by Johanna Egar
Wed 22 Jul | Next stop puffin paradise Hjalmar Bjorge left Loch Nevis and cruised down to the Treshnish Isles today. It was a lovely afternoon and everyone went ashore on Lunga for great views of the resident puffins and other seabirds. Whilst on anchor a basking shark and minke whale were seen. The boat anchored in Gometra harbour for the night. Below: puffins and other seabirds by Nigel Lynch
To see more of Nigel’s brilliant photos (plus a gallery from his St Kilda trip with us in June 2007) click here.
Thu 23 Jul | Bereft of baskers After guests took a brief walk ashore on Gometra this morning, Hjalmar Bjorge left and cruised west of Iona in search of basking sharks but none were forthcoming. After the run south they anchored at Colonsay and some of the guests went ashore for a quick pre-dinner aperitif, the locally brewed beer proving very popular!
Fri 24 Jul | Biking mad Mark organised the hire of eight pushbikes for Hjalmar Bjorge guests this morning and a selection of them set off to ride round the island which was great fun. The vessel departed from Colonsay at 1420 and cruised north to Loch Spelve for the final night. On arrival there were good sightings of three golden eagles and a short eared owl. Below: the final evening in Loch Spelve by Nigel Lynch
Sat 25 Jul | Last morning on mooring Hjalmar Bjorge took a gentle cruise from Loch Spelve over to Oban Bay this morning. For the first time Mark used our new commercial mooring and the ship’s tender to disembark the guests as there was not a free berth in sight. Everybody thought this was a great idea though, especially the relaxing brunch in the harbour.
Sun 26 Jul | Not plane sailing Hjalmar Bjorge finished a week long cruise yesterday and Zuza started one today. Guests Anne and Paul had been looking forward to arriving in Oban Bay on the seaplane but unfortunately this was cancelled due to unfavourable weather. Nonetheless they arrived on time and the yacht cruised over to Loch Spelve for the evening.
Mon 27 Jul | Eagles and an osprey Two golden eagles were seen as Zuza left Loch Spelve on a horrible Monday morning. However the day improved and the yacht sailed south past the Garvellachs (with a possible sea eagle sighting) and through the Gulf of Corryvreckan. They anchored off Loch Crinan where guests went ashore for a sunny walk, all seeing an osprey. They then enjoyed a gentle sail north up Loch Craignish to Ardfern – where two eagles were seen – and back around Eilean Righ anchoring for the night at Crinan.
Tue 28 Jul | High winds Zuza guests had a brisk sail south and then, when the wind increased, they turned and sailed north up to the top end of Shuna, a petrel seen en route. They also passed the lifeboat heading south at speed and it gave them a friendly toot as it whizzed by. Guests ashore on Shuna for walk and were back onboard for the arrival of rain and a thunderstorm. Below (left) Zuza with Tim at the helm by Heather McNeill (right) the lifeboat in action by Ann Careless
Wed 29 Jul | Swell and sharks Deer were seen on the shore of Shuna before Zuza weighed anchor and motored out through Cuan Sound. They sailed due west to the Torran Rocks with a basking shark seen briefly close to the boat but it disappeared in the swell. Heading north to Iona there was a large swell running so Tim and Heather chose to go around Iona, instead of through the Sound, and up to Gometra harbour passing Fingal’s Cave and a couple more basking sharks. Below (left) a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit makes the swell much more bearable (right) approaching Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. Both photos by Heather McNeill
Guests went ashore on Gometra for a couple of hours and upon their return Paul decided to bravely go for a swim. Brrr! Below: Paul swimming off Zuza. He definitely earned his dinner tonight! Photos by Heather McNeill
On their return a very rare Lesser Spotted Purple Whale (Orcinus Plasticus) was seen and photographed. See evidence, right!!! In fact this creature was supplied by Ann’s daughter, given to her mum with the words, “the only whale you are likely to see!!!” Photo: purple whale off Lunga – very rare – by Ann Careless
Zuza then had a fast sail up to Tobermory passing eight to 10 basking sharks, one of which dozily popped up right under the bow and thus got nudged at speed. It may indeed have suffered a headache but fortunately the vessel was under sail so any potential prop damage was avoided. Two large splashes and a glimpse of a very large beast were also seen. This was almost certainly one of the orca recently seen from the yacht. Guests went ashore round Tobermory for a walk.
Fri 31 Jul | Raptor rancour Some retail therapy in Tobermory for Zuza guests this morning. They then watched a fine display, put on by a pair of peregrines, one of which had a smaller bird in its mouth over which they were fighting. The yacht departed Tobermory, with a possible sea eagle sighting, and motored down the Sound of Mull in deteriorating weather. They has a fast sail from Duart Castle south to Oban and tied up at Kerrera just before the front arrived. Right: brisk sailing in exciting seas aboard Zuza by Heather McNeill
Hjalmar Bjorge started a trip from Corpach today. Diving guests and friends joined the boat this afternoon before it locked out and headed south down Loch Linnhe.
This evening aboard the yacht two birthdays and a 28th wedding anniversary were celebrated in the customary fashion. It was wet and windy outside but there were high spirits in the saloon.
:: news from the previous month [ June ’09 ]
DID YOU KNOW?
The first signs of habitation on Hirta (the largest island in the St Kilda archipelago and the only one you can really land on) are thought to have occurred c. 600 AD.