NEWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: SEPTEMBER 2009 

Tue 1 Sep | 2010 dates published  Dates for next year are listed online here. Sadly Zuza leaves us at the end of September thus we currently just have dates aboard Hjalmar Bjorge on offer. There’s something to suite everyone including 4-night cruises, 9-night “Outer Hebridean Explorer” cruises and once again we’re offering the popular 6-night “Focus on St Kilda Expeditions”. Hope to see you onboard next year!

Thu 3 Sep | Wind whips up  Guests joined Zuza on an afternoon which was less windy than predicted. The yacht motored over to Loch Spelve where three golden eagles were seen in the entrance. The wind did, however, increase during the night prompting anchor watch for Tim and Heather.

Fri 4 Sep | Storm petrels: a prediction?  The strong breeze from the NW provided Zuza with a good sail all the way down to Craighouse on Jura today where guests then went ashore for a few hours. Leaches petrels and storm petrels (foretelling the weather to come?!) were seen en route and mergansers were seen on the shore at Jura.

Mark and the crew (Marky Mark and Kirsty this trip) were aboard Hjalmar Bjorge at Corpach tonight, in preparation for an early departure tomorrow morning. Mark got a couple of shots of a cloud-covered full moon this evening, just ahead of the race up Ben Nevis tomorrow. Unfortunately Mark can’t run this year, due to charters, but he’s got the race pencilled in for next year! Below (left) full moon over boats in Corpach Basin and (right) over Ben Nevis and Fort William by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sat 5 Sep | Wind, mist, rain  There were strong winds again from the SW which prevented Zuza heading out west as per Tim’s original plan, so they travelled back the way they came, enjoying a good sail to Crinan where lunch was taken. An Arctic skua and basking shark were seen on the way. Guests were offered a shore visit but nobody was keen in the wind and rain so they weighed anchor and sailed to Puilladobhrain near Clachan Seil. It was pretty lumpy off Easdale but this seemed to please Penny who appears to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie! 

Hjalmar Bjorge left Oban this afternoon, bound for Tobermory, in winds close to gale force accompanied by mist and constant rain. Eurgh. Approaching Tobermory all aboard were treated to a sea eagle flying low across the boat’s path, from the mainland over to Mull.

Sun 6 Sep | Lumpy bumpy Ardnamurchan  Hjalmar Bjorge spent last night on the mooring in Tobermory harbour and Mark reviewed the weather forecasts this morning. “Dire” was the most appropriate description! He berthed the boat on the pontoons and everyone had the morning ashore. 

Mark met up with Dave and Alec, two of the three skippers taking a wee flotilla of Lochaber Watersports yachts out to St Kilda – “Figment”, “Ruby” and “Freedom”. All four vessels departed after lunch, hoping the worst of the weather had abated. Seas off Ardnamurchan were very lumpy and given the still-dire outlook Mark decided to head for Loch Nevis and the shelter of Tarbert Bay. They had a good encounter with a minke whale off Oberon Bank. It swam round the boat and at one point came up right beneath the bow whilst the vessel was stationary.

At least it was dry for Zuza guests this morning. They sailed to Loch Drumbuie today with loads of birds seen off Duart Castle, all kinds of seabirds, followed by a fly-past from an obliging sea eagle. A minke whale fin was seen very briefly as they passed Kerrera. Right: guests spot a sea eagle from Zuza by Heather McNeill

Mon 7 Sep | Zuza’s a winner!  Hjalmar Bjorge guests took a walk over to Loch Morar prior to a short cruise to Inverie where a couple of hours were spent ashore. They left at 1530 mindful of increasingly bad forecasts and expecting the imminent arrival of a storm with Force 10 winds. Mark decided to anchor for the night at Loch Na Beiste, putting off a decision for the next day’s cruise until he heard the morning’s forecast.

Well, these winds certainly bring out the competitive streak in true sailors! Aware of the impending storm Zuza undertook a brisk sail out to the Cairns of Coll today. The yacht showed a clean pair of heels (or more likely, a dirty bottom) to fellow yacht “Corryvreckan”, much to the delight of Heather and Tim who had been told “Corry” is sailed much harder than Zuza! Feeling smug? Just a little. 

Out at the Cairns Tim was pleased to see another yacht he knew, “Hepzibah”, Alistair the owner being a personal friend with whom Tim learnt to sail. Feeling he was onto a winner Tim challenged Alistair to a (probably) friendly needle-match all the way to Tobermory. By now our guests had caught the competitive bug and were all delighted when Zuza arrived at Tobermory first. Tim was later duly rewarded with a dram or two by the gracious opposition. A minke whale was seen blowing, and two dolphins jumping, briefly off Rubha nan Gall, although these probably passed in a blur… Above: Hepzibah behind Zuza in the Coll to Tobermory race and below (left) (centre) Zuza under sail. Photos by Heather McNeill. Below, right: Zuza under full sail off Ardnamurchan. Photo from Tim’s defeated competitor, and friend, Alistair, with thanks

 

Tue 8 Sep | Force 11 forecast  As anticipated the wind started to increase from about 0300 this morning. By this time the forecast was predicting Force 11 (“violent storm”), even for inshore waters. Mark’s choice of anchorage proved to be a good one, Hjalmar Bjorge didn’t move even though she was subjected to some violent squalls. By breakfast it was obvious that the best course of action was to sit the storm out on anchor. The three yachts had gone to Plockton and had a lively day in 55 knot gusts! 

Despite being boat-bound our guests still managed to see some wildlife with several otters spotted and there was much good humour over dinner this evening. 

Zuza crew noted that Hjalmar Bjorge was the only main charter boat missing from Tobermory harbour today, everyone else seeking shelter in the bay. The yacht stayed put and unbelievably it didn’t rain that much. Guest Sandy took a bus ride from Tobermory to Calgary. The rest went walking and indulged in some retail therapy. There was some enjoyable socialising between Zuza and Hepzibah with guests and crews swapping photos of each others vessels, taken during yesterday’s race. Did we mention that Zuza won?! Twice!!!

Wed 9 Sep | Zuza cruise finishes  Zuza started early this morning, motoring from Tobermory to Kerrera in sunshine (most unusual) and a gentle breeze. The cruise finished today with guests taking the midday water-taxi across to the North Pier in Oban. Below: despite some fairly appalling weather this week, Zuza’s guests were all smiles. Photos by Heather McNeill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further north the winds abated to SW 5 to 6 so Hjalmar Bjorge made for Loch Rodel. The weather outlook is improving and Mark reckoned if he was going to reach St Kilda, tomorrow may be the day to do it. Crossing the Inner Sound they had another encounter with a minke whale followed by another in the Sound of Raasay. The vessel anchored in Loch Rodel at about 1500 and guests had a few hours ashore to explore the church and hotel. Starry skies and a waning moon made for a peaceful evening and night. 

Thu 10 Sep | St Kilda visit  Mark, Kirsty and Mark raised Hjalmar Bjorge’s anchor with the light of dawn and got underway at 0600. The wind had dropped a little (still SW 5 to 6) but the sea state was still very rough. The crossing to St Kilda was definitely one of the rougher trips undertaken this year. Luckily guests proved (1) determined to make it and (2) very hardy although some were sick (unsurprisingly!). Everyone was relieved when the anchor dropped in Village Bay at 1300. A quick lunch rallied the troops and everyone went ashore for the afternoon. They were all pleased to see the early evening arrival of the three yacht flotilla. They had spent the previous evening at Scalpay and then a long day’s sail out to the archipelago. 

It was noted that the wreck of the fishing boat “Spinningdale” had been removed with a number of pallets loaded with metal ready to be shipped out of St Kilda. Everyone felt that it was rather ridiculous to have gone to these lengths to remove the wreck when, less than 100 metres away, there is the eyesore that is the military base. The carbon footprint of the operation must have been huge – the transportation, and use of, gas required to cut the boat up and then transporting the pieces away. Given that the wreck had already been cleaned, would it not have been better to just tow it out to deeper water and let it sink, thus providing a new reef habitat for marine life out in the bay? It’s difficult to imagine the removal option was ultimately more beneficial for the environment.

Fri 11 Sep | 100s of grey seals  Hjalmar Bjorge weighed anchor in Village Bay after breakfast this morning and set off for a tour round the stacs via the west side of Hirta and Soay Sound (below). They departed Boreray at 1030 bound for the Monach Islands, arriving at around 1430. Below (left) Soay Sound and (right) Stac an Armin by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beach on Cairn Iar was covered in hundreds of grey seals so choosing a spot to land without causing any disturbance was a challenge but Mark rose to it. Guests spent the rest of the afternoon ashore. The anchorage was rather swelly during the evening but it was a lovely clear night with a half moon and starry skies.

Guest John is painting his way across the Hebrides during this cruise. Here is his watercolour of a ruin on Cairn Iar at the Monach Islands. (Right) painting by John Kirby. Photo by Mark Henrys

Sat 12 Sep | Cyd’s back!  It is the world’s first International Plastic Bag Free Day today so we hope you took your reusable bags with you when you went shopping! Read more about it on the Marine Conservation Society’s website here

This morning Hjalmar Bjorge set off again at dawn and those that were up enjoyed some great views of the lighthouse on Shillay with the rising sun behind. Below (left) Leaving the Monachs at sunrise by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading for Mingulay, via the Sound of Barra, Mark hoped to see bottle-nosed dolphin Cyd and his friends. And behold, didn’t they speed over to the boat as it entered the Sound?! They provided a great display before bow-riding for over 30 minutes. It can be difficult to count excitable dolphins but Mark thinks there were about 12 of them, the biggest group yet, with two or three new calves. Fantastic! After leaving Cyd there was a great view of a juvenile basking shark. Above (right) Cyd performing in the Sound of Barra by Mark Henrys

Hjalmar Bjorge dropped the anchor at Mingulay within 100m of the beach crowded with grey seals. Guests were careful not to disturb them as they went ashore after lunch for a most enjoyable afternoon. The evening was spent watching, and listening to, the seals. One new pup in particular caught everyone’s eye. The guests named him George and he was very reluctant to get wet, preferring to just roll into his mother’s side and feed. Photo: George and his pals on the beach at Mingulay. Never mind the seals, what about those beautiful autumnal colours on the hillside? Photo by Mark Henrys

Sun 13 Sep | Barra Head, Berneray and bow-riding  Various guests and crew aboard Hjalmar Bjorge had been up since early this morning, checking on George, amongst other things. He was still avoiding going in the water when the boat departed! 

Mark had been aiming to land the guests on Barra Head today but it seemed rather pointless in the very low cloud. Instead they opted for a short cruise round the west side and around Berneray before heading across the Sea of the Hebrides. Six miles east half a dozen common dolphins bow-rode the boat. On the Hawes Bank they also encountered two big basking sharks, one coming very close to the boat. Through the Cairns of Coll and into Ardtornish Bay for the night, with the cruise finishing in Oban tomorrow. 

Mon 14 Sep | Good-bye all (except Joyce)  Hjalmar Bjorge finished a 10 day cruise in Oban today which got out to St Kilda. Nothing short of miraculous given the weather conditions! Guests departed after brunch. All except Joyce that is, who has decided to stay for the last cruise of the season next weekend – that will be her third trip with us this summer! Here are two more of John’s paintings from the last 10 days. Below (left) “Joyce’s House” at Ardtornish where she will live if she decides to get off Hjalmar Bjorge! (right) Tobermory. Paintings by John Kirby. Photos by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new Autumn issue of “Scotland Outdoors” is available now. Click here for a preview including three downloadable pdf files of (1) half a dozen ridge walks, (2) a feature on Scotland’s western oak woods and (3) an article on North American mink which continue to represent a threat to the wildlife of the Western Isles.

Newspapers reported the death of a juvenile humpback whale in the Thames today. It was spotted in the river last Thursday and was subsequently found dead on Saturday near Dartford. It’s the first humpback whale ever seen in the Thames and is thought to have starved to death. Read more on the BBC website.

Thu 17 Sep | Fabulous phosphorescence  Hjalmar Bjorge left Oban this afternoon and headed up the Sound of Mull, anchoring overnight in Loch na Droma Buidhe (Drumbuie). It was a lovely evening with starry skies and phosphorescence in the water. The guests entertained themselves by pouring buckets of water over the side to watch the effects!

Fri 18 Sep | A Rum journey  Mark and the crew lifted Hjalmar Bjorge’s anchor at 0900 and headed for Ardnamurchan Point, on the way passing the sail training ship “STS Stavros S Niarchos”. No sails were up, shame, you have to wonder what they were doing! The forecast predicted some lively conditions and Hjalmar Bjorge had a rather bouncy journey to Rum, arriving for lunch. Afterwards everyone went ashore, either for walks, otter spotting or visiting Kinloch Castle. Back on the boat there was a brief sighting of a pair of golden eagles over the north shore of Loch Scresort.

Sat 19 Sep | Short-sighted shearwaters  Last night’s forecast was giving SW gales and Hjalmar Bjorge did indeed have a bumpy night at Rum, not all down to the weather though. At about 0300 this morning Mark got up to check the anchor and also investigate some bumps against the side of the boat that he’d heard during the early hours. He found a number of dazed juvenile Manx shearwaters huddled in various corners of the deck, the unfortunate creatures having been attracted by the anchor light and subsequently hitting the side of the boat. Mark left them to recover and switched off the anchor light which meant he had to spend the rest of the night keeping a watch out for any other vessels. The next morning all but one of the casualties were returned to the elements. One youngster was found dead on top of the wheelhouse and he was given a burial at sea.

Over a leisurely breakfast, 0700 to 0900, all aboard watched a pair of golden eagles and a pair of sea eagles engaged in an entertaining territorial dispute over the north shore of the loch. Some amazing flying skills were on show.

Hjalmar Bjorge left Rum, bound for Canna, in fairly dreadful weather – near gale force winds, torrential rain and a rough sea. Everyone was glad to arrive at their destination and after lunch the skies brightened and some good walks were taken ashore. In the evening another juvenile Manx shearwater crashed into the boat so he was safely placed in a box to recuperate overnight.

Zuza guests arrived at Kerrera today for her last cruise of the 2009 season, in fact, her last cruise in Scottish waters as her owner takes her overseas later this year. After leaving Kerrera (in nice weather!) the yacht sailed up to port Ramsay on Lismore for the night. 

If you read a short story today called “Master of the Seas,” short-listed in The (Saturday) Guardian’s travel competition, I’m proud to report it was written by one of our clever guests! After returning home from a cruise on Zuza last month Margaret Simpson felt moved to put pen to paper. Margaret’s entry, which she entitled “The Magic in the Names” can be read here. It’s an evocative summary of 10 days spent aboard a yacht in the Hebrides. Enjoy.

Sun 20 Sep | Worsening weather  Hjalmar Bjorge’s feathered patient was found to have escaped his hospital bed (box) this morning and to have made his own way off into the wide blue yonder. 

The vessel left Canna amidst another bad forecast and cruised down the east side of Rum, then the east side of Eigg. Mark’s plan had been to stop at Eigg for lunch but with the rapidly deteriorating conditions it was decided to keep going and make for the more sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull. There was a brief lunch stop in Tobermory, followed by a walk, then the boat carried on south and into Loch Aline for the last night.

Zuza guests had a good sail all the way from Lismore to Loch Drumbuie, seeing a couple of sea eagles at the loch entrance. After lunch they sailed out to Ardnamurchan but it got rather bumpy so they decided to come back into Loch Drumbuie. Hjalmar Bjorge was spotted in the distance. Heather prepared an appetizing seafood platter for the evening meal – yummy! Right: seafood platter. Created and photographed by Heather McNeill

Mon 21 Sep | Last day of last HBj cruise  Hjalmar Bjorge took a gentle cruise from Loch Aline into Oban Bay this morning where a leisurely brunch was enjoyed on our mooring, after which the boat went alongside to disembark our guests. Thus ended Hjalmar Bjorge’s last cruise of the 2009 season although the boat has not stopped working, there being a few dive charters to deliver between now and early November.

Tim’s plan aboard Zuza had been to sail up Loch Sunart today but, as forecast, conditions were horrid so it was agreed to spend the day in Tobermory instead. The yacht motored over to Tobermory where Dawn was pretty sure she spotted a minke not far away. Guests went ashore (walking and/or shopping are the usual pursuits!) and Zuza stayed put. Right: yes, that’s the sun, in a grim grey sky! By Heather McNeill

Here’s a link to a fun but serious site. How to construct 16 popular boating knots with step by step animations. Click here.

Tue 22 Sep | Dancing dolphins  With the wind behind them Zuza sailed all the way from Tobermory, down the Sound of Mull and into Loch à Choire, a third of the way up Loch Linnhe. Deer were seen on the shore and Tim came upon a guy aboard yacht “Whisper” that he used to work for! Small world, the west coast. Zuza travelled over to Port Ramsay where they sought shelter for the night. Four common dolphins were seen, jumping out of the water a few times. Below: Tim, Shirley, Amanda, David, Carolyn and Dawn sailing in the Sound of Mull by Heather McNeill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wed 23 Sep | Last 2009 cruise ends  It was still blowing this morning when Zuza motored down to Kerrera. Tim saw a peregrine falcon just before they departed from Port Ramsay. Guests went over to Oban on the midday water taxi. 

This was Zuza’s last day engaged in a Hebridean Island and Wildlife Cruise and Charlie, Zuza’s owner, arrived mid-afternoon to check all was well before the yacht sets off on Saturday for Falmouth. Tim and Heather are off on new adventures and bid a fond farewell to all the Northern Light Charters guests who have sailed with them over the last two years. Right: Team “Tim and Heather” aboard Zuza during the yacht’s last cruise in Hebridean waters

Sun 27 Sep | Help end animal testing  The European law that regulates animal experiments is being updated. Revision of the law is an opportunity for positive change for animals who currently receive inadequate protection. The “Make Animal Testing History” virtual march is campaigning to ultimately replace animal experiments with more advanced non-animal methods. Please join the virtual march and show your support. It’s really easy, click here (you can opt out of all further contact) then confirm by email and you even get to create a cute little avatar in your own image and watch it cross the finish line.

Mon 28 Sept | Zuza home  Zuza departed Kerrera on Saturday as planned and arrived back at her home port of Falmouth this evening. Charlie and his crew enjoyed a comfortable journey down the coast although there wasn’t much wind to speak of, which meant little sailing.

:: news from the previous month [ August ’09 ]