NEWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: JULY 2011

Fri 1 Jul | Oban arrival and departure  Hjalmar Bjorge returned to Oban for a hearty brunch on Day 11 followed by some sad farewells. Mark reports it was an enjoyable trip with a good crowd of guests.

Mon 4 Jul | International assortment  A varied bunch of both crew and guests onboard Hjalmar Bjorge for this trip. Crew consisted of skipper Mark, cook Kirsty and her partner Jamie who was assisting, plus Tiree aged 15, daughter of friends, who was aboard for work experience, helping out. The crew welcomed guests on board, on the North Pier in Oban. There were four Australians, two Americans and the rest from the UK. The boat cruised north with the first evening spent on anchor in Tobermory.

Tue 5 Jul | Afternoon on Canna  After breakfast in Tobermory Harbour this morning, Mark took Hjalmar Bjorge north to Canna, arriving just in time for lunch alongside. The guests then spent the afternoon exploring the island before a night here.

Wed 6 Jul | Leverburgh for lunch  This morning Hjalmar Bjorge set off for Leverburgh, so Mark could tie up and consider the options for reaching St Kilda. Certainly the forecast today implied it wouldn’t be sensible to try nipping over there! Just north of Canna the boat encountered 12 to 15 common dolphins who approached the boat briefly before heading off to feed. A short while later a minke whale was spotted in the distance. Right: common dolphin bow-riding Hjalmar Bjorge by Kirsty Dalby

After passing Neist Point on Skye the wind freshened and the sea became quite choppy, so much so that the guests were glad of our arrival and berthing at Leverburgh. They all disembarked after lunch for a good walk down to Loch Rodel. Tobermory based sister ship to Hjalmar Bjorge, Elizabeth G, also came in and berthed alongside. Rob, the skipper, had aboard former owner Robert’s wife Elizabeth (G of course) and some friends.

Over dinner this evening Mark learnt that guests Denny and Malcolm, over a 30 year period, had managed to climb every single one of Scotland’s Munros. This is no mean feat (284 mountains over 3,000 feet high) and their tales of travelling from Lancashire to Scotland during that period were truly inspiring.

Thu 7 Jul | Smelly sperm whale skull  Hjalmar Bjorge left sister ship Elizabeth G alongside at Leverburgh and headed off through the Leverburgh Channel, close in to the shore of Harris all the way to Toe Head. This is not Mark’s usual route through the Sound of Harris and in bright sunshine this journey provided some fantastic views of the shore and the stunning white beaches.

The vessel anchored at Taransay mid-morning where most of the guests disembarked to have a packed picnic lunch ashore. Mark was quite eager to get on the beach and try and solve the mystery of the whereabouts of 50 tons of missing sperm whale, whose carcass could not be seen during the last flypast (cruise past). Ship’s Dog Seven, who’d had a rather close look at the dead beast last time she was on Taransay, was employed to help. Man and dog quickly located the spot where it last resided and detected a lingering unpleasant aroma. An exploratory dig around a promising lump revealed the missing head. By this stage Tiree had joined in the dig and seemed to rather enjoy it, despite the smell. They agreed the excavation was going to be a big task so they decided to cover over their work until more labour and spades are available.

The guests had a wonderful day ashore on Taransay and, in the afternoon, a few of them saw a thunderstorm to the south and what appeared to be a waterspout heading west. (We subsequently learnt this hit St Kilda resulting in a torrential storm with dramatic thunder and lightning.) Later this afternoon Hjalmar Bjorge was again joined in the anchorage by Elizabeth G whose guests disembarked by swimming ashore! We reckon Rob might have pushed them overboard in an attempt to conserve fuel in his tender. Only joking Rob!

After our guests returned to the boat, everyone aboard enjoyed dinner, with a view of a lovely sunset over Taransay.

Fri 8 Jul | Afternoon ashore on Hirta, St Kilda  An early start this morning with crew lifting the anchor at 0545. Clear and bright conditions surrounded Hjalmar Bjorge as the vessel headed out to St Kilda although considerable swell was encountered about half way across. A minke whale had been spotted briefly after departure from Taransay and, nearing St Kilda, the guests were pleased to see 30 to 40 common dolphin bow riding for nearly 20 minutes. The boat anchored in Village Bay at 1200 and after a quick lunch the guests spent the rest of the day ashore on Hirta. Below: playful common dolphins by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sat 9 Jul | Bountiful birds abound  After breakfast on anchor in Village Bay Mark took the guests for our customary tour of the other islands and stacs. Rounding Dun he was pleased to observe large numbers of puffins and fulmars, far more birds than seen in previous years. Likewise he noted the gannets seemed to be more abundant with more nesting sites than before. After passing through Soay Sound the boat headed over to Stac Lee and Boreray. Here Mark almost got close enough for the guests to reach out from the bow and touch the stac but the swell was just a little too high and he was forced to hold off a touch. Leaving Stac Lee the boat rounded Stac an Armin to the north, before passing down the east side of Boreray, and then departed the archipelago for the Monach Islands. Below (left) Hjalmar Bjorge off Taransay by Jamie Campbell (right) Hjalmar Bjorge in Village Bay, Hirta, St Kilda by Kirsty Dalby

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hjalmar Bjorge arrived at the Monach Islands in time for everyone aboard to have a quick walk round Ceann Iar before dinner. Mark and the crew had anchored the boat on the south side of the islands and, in the light winds, all aboard were able to hear the nearby grey seals apparently serenading the boat. During dinner the trip’s first encounter with a basking shark occurred as one swam by the boat. Below (both images) Hjalmar Bjorge at Mingulay by Kirsty Dalby

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun 10 Jul | G’day puffins!  The anchor was lifted early this morning enabling Hjalmar Bjorge to continue the journey south. The day had dawned rather overcast and there was some rain. Conditions improved after the vessel passed Eriskay and had a brief encounter with more common dolphins. Continuing down the west side of the Outer Hebrides the boat passed through the Sound of Pabbay where dozens of basking sharks were feeding. The sharks were abundant all the way to Mingulay and were too numerous to count.

Hjalmar Bjorge anchored off Mingulay at midday and after lunch the guests all went ashore in perfect conditions, e.g. bright sunshine! Guests Jean and Noel, from Australia, were particularly pleased to have some close views of puffins as they returned to their burrows. Another lovely evening on anchor. Right: puffin on Mingulay by Kirsty Dalby

Mon 11 Jul | Breaching basking sharks  Mark got up this morning to find two basking sharks feeding alongside the boat. During breakfast the crew part lifted the anchor and moved a short distance to an anchorage at Berneray (Barra Head). Dropping the anchor here another pair of basking sharks came close alongside the boat. This was to set the tone for the day.

The guests went ashore on Berneray for a short walk up the hill to the lighthouse and Iron Age fort at its summit. Shortly after stepping on solid ground Mark and the guests watched the Northern Lighthouse Board helicopter (from Oban) land beside the lighthouse. Arriving at the summit Mark chatted to the workers who’d landed. They were assessing a pending job comprising the conversion of the existing light to one with an LED display. The job entails removal of the existing light, diesel generating sets, fuel tanks and batteries. These items will be replaced by a massive photovoltaic array and more modern gel batteries. A big task in potentially inhospitable surroundings. Below (left) looking out through the light on Berneray (Barra Head) (centre) the lighthouse (right) Ship’s Dog by the lighthouse, all photos by Mark Henrys

 

After appreciating the views from the top of the hill on Berneray everyone headed back to the boat via the light keepers’ memorial garden. After lifting the anchor the boat rounded the island before heading east toward Gunna Sound and Tiree. This passage saw sightings of white-beaked dolphins, common dolphins and minke whales. Yet the highlight of the day was still to come. As Hjalmar Bjorge entered Gunna Sound, Mark warned guests that this was a hotspot for basking sharks so nobody was too surprised to see some there. What they were doing, however, was another matter. All aboard witnessed a number of mature adult sharks repeatedly breaching out of the water, one being no more than 50 metres from the boat. Mark commented that he’d seen this behaviour a couple of times before but only from a distance so this performance was an extraordinary sight.

The boat anchored shortly afterwards in Gott Bay and Mark introduced 15 year old Tiree to the island of Tiree for the first time. Thereafter another beautiful evening was spent on anchor.

Tue 12 Jul | Bottlenoses with bathers  Hjalmar Bjorge departed for Lochbuie this morning. In a flat calm sea the boat passed along the west side of Iona, through the Torran Rocks and close to Malcolm’s Point and Carsaig Arches. Denny and Malcolm had walked these very cliffs after conquering Ben More as part of their Munro bagging expeditions. A few golden eagles were seen on the cliff tops shortly before the boat arrived at Loch Buie.

Nobody aboard thought the previous day’s antic with the basking sharks could be bettered but… the boat soon met some playful bottlenose dolphins. There were about 12 in the group and initially they were just close by, feeding. Mark switched the boat’s engines off in dead calm conditions so everyone could watch and listen. At this point the dolphins decided to come and investigate the boat and made several close passes. Tiree quickly donned her wetsuit and went in for a swim, as did Ian, one of the guests, although he found it, unsurprisingly, pretty chilly and soon returned to the boat. A couple of the dolphins came over to check out Tiree before she swam back to the boat. As Mark started the engines up again the dolphins, who’d swum off, hastily returned. It was obvious they wanted to play so a rope was quickly deployed astern enabling Mark to tow both Tiree and Ian (who’d jumped back in) along behind the boat. The dolphins seemed to find this most exciting and played around the two swimmers and the boat for around an hour. Wishing to avoid any risk of hypothermia the two bathers were brought back aboard with the boat heading further into the loch and the chosen anchorage. The dolphins, however, weren’t going to be so easily ignored and continued to play around the bow of the boat. One particularly frisky specimen frequently dived through the air right across the prow. Eventually the group headed off, the entire encounter having lasted over 90 minutes. Below (left) Tiree swimming with dolphins (right) frisky bottlenoses in Loch Buie, both photos by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the departure of the dolphins Mark and the crew anchored Hjalmar Bjorge in the loch and the guests were taken ashore for walks round Lochbuie. They returned to the boat for dinner and another stunning evening, sadly the last of the cruise.

Wed 13 Jul | Wonderful wildlife  The final morning of the cruise saw an early start for the final run across the Firth of Lorne in to Oban and disembarkation after brunch. Leaving Loch Buie a fledgling sea eagle was spotted beside its nest. This marked the end of a great trip with some truly wonderful wildlife encounters.

Sun 17 Jul | Small Isles  A private charter party of 10 (originally 12 but unfortunately two had to cancel) boarded Hjalmar Bjorge yesterday afternoon with the first night spent on the mooring in Tobermory Bay.

Today’s plan was to head for Canna although the forecast  was pretty dreadful. Rounding Ardnamurchan Point in a near NW gale put paid to that particular idea and instead the guests had a fairly lively run up to Rum via the Sound of Muck. The boat anchored early afternoon and guests took rather damp walk ashore.

Mon 18 Jul | Inner to Outer Hebrides  Strong winds were forecast this morning but conditions were, in fact, not at all bad, with the wind proving fairly light. Mark decided to push north for as long as the good weather held out. Approaching the Sound of Harris the boat did finally get a blast of the predicted NW gale. However, by then, the boat was almost in the lee of Harris and the last part of the passage into Leverburgh was fairly pleasant. It was obvious that conditions out at St Kilda were not good since both the St Kilda day trip boats were tied securely on their moorings.

Tue 19 Jul | Lodged in Leverburgh  The wind was still extremely strong this morning and everyone agreed that Hjalmar Bjorge should just stay put for the day. The day boat owners clearly thought this was a sensible idea since they didn’t move either.

Most of the guests took a bus from Leverburgh to Tarbert where they had lunch and an exploration. Two guests took the ferry over to Berneray (depicted by Prince Charles in watercolour) and had a nice afternoon ashore before returning to Harris in the evening.

Wed 20 Jul | Hirta and the stacs  Hjalmar Bjorge departed Leverburgh at 0500 this morning bound for St Kilda. The passage was rather rough but the boat made good time and several white beaked dolphins were seen en route. Arriving at Boreray, Mark cruised the boat around the stacs and one of the guests caught some pollock off Stac Lee. (The fish made a delicious starter that evening.) The boat anchored in Village Bay just before lunch and guests went ashore with a packed lunch and some champagne they had brought to toast their arrival on Hirta. They stayed ashore for the remainder of the day.

Mark went ashore later in the day for a run round Hirta. He met up with Jill Pilkington who had recently been awarded an MBE for “furthering understanding of the ecology and evolution of Soay Sheep on the remote island of Hirta in the St Kilda archipelago.” She mentioned that upon her arrival at Hirta earlier this year she’d been surprised to see a large sea eagle circling overhead and her first thought was, “Uh oh! There goes the Soay sheep project.” No doubt it was just a fleeting visit but Mark couldn’t resist saying it was probably a scout, sent on a reconnoitring mission of the island, and would be back at some point with all its mates!

Thu 21 Jul | Common dolphins, bottlenoses and white-beaks  Another early start this morning with the anchor lifted at 0500. The run south to the Sound of Barra was undertaken in glorious conditions with calm seas and blue skies. Just north of the Sound the boat encountered two common dolphin who bow rode for ages. Entering the Drover’s Channel in the Sound of Barra, Hjalmar Bjorge came across the familiar pod of bottlenose dolphins (Cyd and his mates) that they see regularly in that location. The pod looks to have increased in number and they were keen to play with the boat.

Next up a brief visit from six to eight white beaked dolphins on the east side of the Sound. And shortly thereafter a big group of common dolphin were spotted, feeding, about 400 metres away. This was quite exciting to watch as they moved at impressive speed in pursuit of their prey.

After a long day’s steam, a further encounter with another group of bottlenose dolphins occurred near the Rubha nan Gall lighthouse by Tobermory. The group bow-rode the boat for some time and Mark recognised the pod as the same one they’d encountered in Loch Buie on the previous trip. Mark and the crew finally dropped the anchor in Ardtornish Bay at 2000, making it a non-stop 15 hour trip back from Hirta. Guests depart in Oban tomorrow after brunch. Below (left) Ship’s Dog dolphin watching by Mark Henrys (right) Ship’s Dog ashore by Kirsty Dalby

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mon 25 Jul | Off again!  We boarded 12 guests this afternoon in Oban and thereafter Hjalmar Bjorge cruised to Tobermory for a first evening and night on the mooring in the bay. Lovely sunny weather!

Tue 26 Jul | They Canna live there  The boat cruised to Canna this morning. It was a fair passage and arrival was in good time for lunch, on anchor, before guests went ashore for the afternoon where they saw both golden and sea eagles. Sadly the pair of sea eagles on the south cliffs has not been successful in breeding this year.

By early evening there were 26 yachts in the anchorage, clearly a busy and favourite location of many. One of the islanders told Mark that Canna’s population was down from 22 to 18 with another family of three about to leave. National Trust for Scotland’s management policies seem to be unpopular and the island doesn’t appear to be the happy dwelling place it once was.

Wed 27 Jul | Otter spotter  The anchor was lifted at 0700 this morning and Hjalmar Bjorge cruised across to Leverburgh arriving there at 1330. After lunch most of the guests walked to Rodel returning to the boat for dinner. An otter was spotted close by the boat.

Thu 28 Jul | Horrible hike to Hirta  A very early departure from Leverburgh (0500) ensured arrival in Village Bay, St Kilda, at 1300. However the crossing was very rough and our guests were extremely glad to get ashore for the afternoon!

Fri 29 Jul | A day at Kilda  A leisurely breakfast was enjoyed on board this morning followed by a cruise round the stacs before the boat returned to Village Bay for lunch. Guests were happy to spend a second afternoon ashore on Hirta.

Sat 30 Jul | Dolphin accompaniment  After two days at St Kilda Hjalmar Bjorge departed at 0700 this morning and headed east to Scarp, undertaking a journey that was thankfully rather calmer than the trip out to the archipelago. A couple of common dolphins joined the boat briefly during the passage. The guests spent the afternoon ashore on Scarp before the anchor was lifted with the boat making for the Sound of Taransay. Mark and the crew anchored the vessel off Luskentyre beach for the night.

Sun 31 Jul | Blowy run south  This morning the weather had deteriorated considerably with a brisk south easterly wind blowing. Passage south had to made though hence a rather uncomfortable run to Carbost on Skye with Hjalmar Bjorge arriving early evening.

 

:: news from the previous month [ June ’11 ]