Fri 1 Oct | Autumn’s upon us  It’s October already and all our Hebridean Wildlife and Island Cruises have been delivered. As usual we anticipate there will be much less news for us to report over the off-season months so this newspage will run from 1 October 2010 to 31 March 2011. We’ll use it to keep you updated of our progress over the winter and to feature any news items we hope you will enjoy.

Mon 4 Oct | St Kilda photo donation  A poster produced by BGS (British Geographical Survey) shows a picture of Hjalmar Bjorge, crew member Anna and several images of St Kilda. The text reveals all… “From time to time BGS receives donations of photographs which cover subjects of geological interest in areas of the UK. These enhance the photographic coverage we have enabling us to have a greater understanding of the geological processes in areas where our existing coverage is limited. In particular, they can help us with views, such as coastal cliffs, which we would not have easy access to.

“These photographs of St Kilda are from a donated set of over 1000 images taken in the Western Isles during 2010. They were taken by Anna White who volunteered to take photographs for BGS while working on a charter boat operating off the west coast of Scotland. This valuable donation adds considerably to the BGS Photographic Collection.

“If you would like to donate geographically-related photographs to our collection please contact us first by email at and we can advise you what would be useful to us.” Above right: one of Anna’s photographs of St Kilda (Stac an Armin)

Tue 16 Nov | Mallaig slip and boat yard closes  The Press & Journal today reported the imminent closure of Mallaig Boat Builders and Engineering Co Ltd, with the loss of seven skilled jobs. Hjalmar Bjorge was slipped several times at Mallaig, as were our previous vessels, and we are sad to see the loss of such a useful local resource. The dramatic downturn in the fishing industry is thought to be responsible for the decision to close, since fishing vessels formed the boatyard’s main customer base. Mallaig’s once 80-strong fishing fleet now numbers around 14.

The boatyard was bought in March 2008 by Finlay Finlayson, owner of The Underwater Centre diving school and the Crannog Concept seafood business, both based in Fort William. Finlay bought Mallaig Boat Builders from John Henderson, whose grandfather established the business in 1920, it playing a key role in the growth of Mallaig as a fishing port and a major player in providing jobs. Finlay was praised by Mr Henderson for pre-advising each of his employees at Mallaig of the closure and offering them alternative posts at the Underwater Centre.

Wed 8 Dec | Farewell our dear friend Jan  We are very sad to report, this morning, the death of our friend, Jan Hesketh. When Northern Light Charters first started and we turned up in Oban for the first time in 1996, it was with our first vessel Chalice. The boat was registered in Falmouth, as was another dive charter boat based in Oban, the Harry Slater. Even more of a coincidence was the fact that Keith Roberts, the former owner of the Harry Slater, had actually commissioned and built Chalice to his own specifications. Dave Ogden and Jan Hesketh, the current owners of the Harry Slater, had operated her for some time in the Hebrides during the summer months, each winter returning to Anglesey.

Dave and Jan soon became our good friends since they both shared a passion for the west coast and its wildlife. Dave would always be ready to tell you about any big beasties (whales) they’d recently seen. We were very green to chartering in those early days and their friendship, advice and support offered to Mark was very much appreciated. Tragically some years ago Dave died and Jan sold the Harry Slater. However she continued her career at sea, initially worked with Dave’s great friend Bob Theakston aboard the Polar Voyager which also offered cruises on the west coast and out to St Kilda.

After Bob retired from chartering we were at long last able to offer Jan employment through Northern Light Charters. At this time we were organising charters for vessel Hans Hansson and were very happy to recommend Jan to Gordon Fitton, the ship’s owner, who took on both Jan and Big John as ship’s cook and engineer respectively. After Gordon’s official charter work discontinued Jan carried on working aboard the Hans Hansson until last year, cooking for Gordon on family trips and travelling as far afield as Iceland, the Faroes and Norway, returning to her beloved family in Anglesey as often as she could.

Jan was an extraordinary ship’s cook who had that rare ability to produce fantastic food under the most arduous circumstances. In addition, she was also a wonderful person, patient, kind and always ready to listen and share some craic. She was well loved by all who met and worked with her and will be sorely missed. Big John reiterates Mark’s fond recollections. He worked alongside Jan during the 2006 season and remained close friends thereafter.

Big John says, “I worked with Jan for eight months on the Hans Hansson. We met up in Fowey and got on really well from the start. I soon realised Jan was a very kind and considerate woman but had no idea just how fond of her I would become at that stage. Jan could have suffered any crew. She was probably the most tolerant person I have ever met. We had some great times sailing from Fowey up to Oban, round Orkney and Sula Sgeir and then on to The Faroes, Iceland and Norway. I can honestly say we never spoke a cross word to each other although we vented many. And she always looked after the girls that helped her on the boat.

“Jan’s cooking was fantastic and after she realised that my favourite pudding ever was crème brûlée she’d always make extra and stash it away for me.

“I was never angry with her for waking me at six in the morning opening the generator room door outside my cabin to prove her bread (the bread was worth it)!!! In fact you couldn’t be angry with Jan. She was just too nice. I honestly don’t think I will ever meet anyone like Jan. She travelled all the way from her home on Anglesey to the Isle of Mull to be at my wedding, in November 2009, and was so happy to see that I was happy. I love you Jan and will miss you so much.”


Above: Northern Light Charters “boat girls” at Big John’s wedding to Cathy

MacNaughton in Craignure on the Isle of Mull in November 2010. Left to right: Jan

Hesketh, Sue Lane, Lindsay Wilson, Hannah Thompson, Rhona Wilson, Kirsty Dalby,

Ylva Powlett

Fri 17 Dec | Coastguard closures  Widespread reporting in the last couple of days of proposed Coastguard closures everywhere. A 14 week consultation has been launched with plans to reduce the number of Coastguard stations monitoring our costs from 18 to eight. Only three – Aberdeen, Southampton/Portsmouth and Dover – will be open 24 hours a day. The other five will be open during daylight hours only.

The proposals claim the cuts will result in a “modernised, fully-networked national Coastguard that can more flexibly manage the greatly varying demands of its workload.” The proposals seem a little at odds with yesterday’s statement by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Mike Penning who said, “Our seas are becoming busier, with larger ships and increasing numbers of offshore renewable energy platforms making key areas of our seas more congested. There are also increasing numbers of people using our beaches, coastlines and seas ……for leisure activities.” In our operating area it looks like Clyde will definitely be closing. It is also proposed that either Stornoway or Shetland will remain open with the other closing.

The general murmurings amongst seafarers in our area are that, in truth, with modern communications, the closures will make little difference. It is worth noting that the actual rescue services (the RNLI) will still remain locally based and those crews still retain local knowledge. It’s also worth remembering that when the Coastguard went out on strike, we all managed just fine. In short, although this is not great news, we don’t expect it to adversely affect our operations.

The consultation closes on 24 March 2011 and all responses must be received before then. If you would like further details click here to read more.

Sat 18 Dec | Freezing temperatures  It plummeted to -20 degrees Centigrade overnight in Corpach during the recent frozen spell. You could say Hjalmar Bjorge felt quite at home in these conditions! Mark attempted to take a pretty picture of the boat in the frozen canal with a snow covered Ben Nevis in the background but it was so cold his camera wouldn’t operate properly!!!

Sat 25 Dec | Merry Christmas one and all  Hannah Thompson and Mark Henrys would like to wish all our customers (previous and those who have yet to travel with us) a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Thank you to everyone who has sent personal and/or business Christmas cards – they are all appreciated. Right: a card sent to Northern Light Charters from a guest in the USA


Fri 31 Dec | Charity cheques  Later than planned (can I blame it on the snow?) but we are happy to now publish details of our charitable donations arising from the 2010 season aboard Hjalmar Bjorge.

Several years ago Hannah and Mark decided to make a £5 donation to one of two local charities for every cruise guest who booked on our boats. Guests choose whom they’d like to donate “their” £5 to and are also given the option of doubling this by paying an additional £5 themselves. Today I have posted cheques for £250 to Argyll Animal Aid and £575 to Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team. Of the total donation of £825 the sum of £175 came from our kind hearted guests who opted to pay an extra £5 per head to the charities. Big thanks go to…


Elizabeth Blackburn

Alex and Elspeth Matthewson

Michael and Jackie Chapling

Susan Page

Joyce Cronin

Lynn Peverall

Phil and Lyn Drake

Paul Remblance

Audrey Eccleston

Norman and Valerie Robb

Bryan and Barbara Ellis

Gerald and Fiona Robertson

Jan Glen

Brian and Janet Salvona

Rod and Barbara Goff

Christopher and Mary Shaw

Michael and Jaki Hose

Archie CK Smith

Steve and Lynn Laugher

Neil and Pauline Studman

Bob and Marc Haywood-Lister

Len Wainwright

Sat 1 Jan 2011 | Happy New Year  Wishing all our previous and prospective guests a Happy and Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous, New Year. If you haven’t yet experienced one of our cruises check them out here and see what we have on offer. We’ve our usual mix of 4-night to 9-night cruises, all delivered aboard Hjalmar Bjorge this year and we hope to welcome you onboard soon. Some cruises are already full but we hope you’ll find one to suit your tastes.

Tue 4 Jan | VAT increase  In case you haven’t been paying attention VAT rose today from 17.5% to 20% meaning all sorts of everyday items are going to become a bit more expensive. And a Happy New Year to the Chancellor too! The good news for our customers is that the VAT increase won’t automatically push up the price of our holidays because they are zero rated for VAT.

Thu 6 Jan | A canny shelter?  Today’s Oban Times reports that Canna House, the former home of renowned Gaelic song, poetry and story collectors Dr John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw, is to open to the public for the first time in March this year. The Isle of Canna’s owners, the National Trust for Scotland, have been carefully preserving the property since the death of Ms Shaw in 2004.

The two front rooms and front hall be available for viewing and items on display will include archived material gathered by the couple during their visits to the Hebrides and Nove Scotia from 1937 to 1964. We are sure our guests will enjoy seeing these artefacts during our visits to this beautiful little island.

Tue 18 Jan | Wildlife paparazzi in Scotland  The Scottish Wildlife Trust reports today that 20 of the UK’s leading wildlife photographers will soon be clicking away as part of an ambitious two year project aimed at inspiring the general public about the benefits of repairing, restoring and reconnecting with our natural environment. A team of professional photographers will kickstart the Scottish part of this venture by visiting the remote area of Coigach and Assynt, north of Ullapool. The 2020VISION initiative is a multimedia project that communicates the link between people’s well being and the restoration of natural systems.

Thu 3 Feb | Wicked wild weather  Whilst we occasionally complain about the inclement weather on the west coast of Scotland, we’re today sparing a thought for the people of Queensland, NE Australia, who’ve just been hit by Cyclone Yasi. Ouch. The storm tore houses apart and lifted boats clean out of the water. Below: photos of the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi on the coast of Queensland






One person has been reported dead and two others are missing. Authorities say they are amazed the death toll is so low and credited the people of Queensland with heeding warnings about seeking shelter before the cyclone hit.

Sun 27 Feb | Cruelty free guide  The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has just launched a free cruelty free guide to help concerned consumers make wise choices about the household and cosmetic products they buy. The BUAV’s “leaping bunny” is the only internationally recognised symbol which indicates a finished product, and its ingredients, are all cruelty free. Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Superdrug (all own brand) are some of the best known high street brands included in the guide. Download the pdf here (only 417Kb). This handy guide can be printed on one sheet of A4 paper and kept for future reference.

Mon 28 Feb | Mallaig boatyard and slip reopens  We’re delighted to hear that Mallaig Boatbuilding and Engineering Company reopened earlier this month after closing in November. Engineer Donald, a former member of staff, has taken over the facility and he is joined by a number of former employees, some who are returning from five or six years ago. We wish them the very best of success.

Wed 2 Mar | Coastguard meetings  A series of meetings between The Coastguard and the public were scheduled for today. At the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, about 65 concerned islanders turned up to tell the MCGA exactly what they thought of proposed cuts to save £7.5m a year by slashing the 18 UK-wide Coastguard stations to just three full time bases, with another five operating in daylight hours only. There was also a healthy turnout at Port Glasgow for the meeting starting at 1930 this evening.

Mon 7 Mar | Ready to slip  Hjalmar Bjorge untied from her winter berth on the Caledonian Canal with the intention of shifting a few hundred yards onto the slip at Corpach today. Today’s date, earlier than originally planned, had been requested by the boatyard so they’d have more time to work on a longer term project once Hjalmar Bjorge was off the slip. Once inside the sea lock the slip staff called Mark to say they didn’t have enough water left to get Hjalmar Bjorge on to the cradle so the boat remains in the lock tonight. Above: Hjalmar Bjorge waiting in Corpach sea lock for the high tide, with a snow-capped Ben Nevis behind. Photo by Mark Henrys

Tue 8 Mar | Hjalmar Bjorge high and dry  The process of getting Hjalmar Bjorge on to the slip resumed with the high tide, late this afternoon, and she was soon on the cradle and out of the water. Work commenced immediately with the hull being pressure-washed by the boatyard staff.

Sun 13 Mar | Ship-shape and ready to roll  How fortuitous that the week just gone remained dry. By Friday afternoon the complete hull of Hjalmar Bjorge had been cleaned, anti-fouled and painted. During the week the vessel was additionally inspected by Liam Carver of the RYA to check that all safety equipment was present and up to date and the boat was, no pun intended, ship-shape and fit for purpose. Yesterday the forward end of the superstructure and the boat’s wheelhouse were also painted.


Above and below: Hjalmar Bjorge on the slip at Corpach, photos by Mark Henrys


Mon 14 Mar | Back berthed in Basin  First thing this morning Hjalmar Bjorge was launched back down the slip into the water and returned to Corpach Basin, with all below-the-waterline work satisfactorily completed. Being back in the basin was rather a relief for both Mark, and Ship’s Dog Seven, who had spent the week aboard the vessel whilst it was on the slip. Carrying a bull terrier up and down a very long ladder three times a day is exhausting (especially when she has the nickname “Fatty” for a good reason)!!!

Shortly after the boat tied up in her regular winter berth the weather broke and the rain came down. This makes further outside work on the vessel a little difficult, not least because further snow is forecast. More painting is needed on the superstructure and also the decks. But whilst waiting for dry spells there is internal work to keep Mark busy. Cabins are being repainted and the refrigeration and freezer units are being replaced, more as a precaution than anything. The current ones were commissioned during the boat’s huge refit (2002/2003) and were felt to be getting a little tired. You don’t want your fridge and/or freezer, containing food for 15 people, for 10 days, breaking down as you depart port, so Mark played safe and ordered new units.

In other news, the canal has just reopened after a very long closure. This was due in part to the big freeze and also down to scheduled maintenance which closed the swing bridge at Banavie.

Sun 27 Mar | Dolphins delight Tobermory  Reported in the Sunday papers today, the antics of some bottlenose dolphins in Tobermory Bay on the Isle of Mull. Their acrobatic behaviour led experts to think they were probably taking part in mating rituals whereby the males dolphins were “showing off” to the females they were following.







It is thought that a group of about 35 bottlenose dolphins live off the west coast of Scotland, the third largest pod in the British Isles. Nobody knows why group numbers of this species of dolphin are so low but it is a worry to conservationists. Above: bottlenosed dolphins in Tobermory Bay recently

:: news from 2010