NEWS FROM NORTHERN LIGHT CHARTERS :: SEPTEMBER 2011

Fri 30 Sep | Stags very vocal  Following a hearty breakfast this morning guests went ashore for a walk out to Auliston Point. After lunch Hjalmar Bjorge cruised west round the north of Mull and into Soriby bay, Loch Tuath, where the anchor was dropped. There was a fair amount of swell running during the passage. Once again stags were heard roaring.

Thu 29 Sep | Oban, otters and Oronsay  No rest for the wicked! Hjalmar Bjorge was off again today, for the last cruise of the season, a long weekend in local waters. A full complement of guests and crew were aboard when the vessel was untied from the North Pier at Oban this afternoon. The vessel cruised up the Sound of Mull to Loch Droma Buidhe for the first evening. Otters were seen and stags were heard roaring late into the night, and indeed overnight. It is thought they were probably on Oronsay.

Wed 28 Sep | Weather woes vs perfect passengers  This morning Mark, Marky Mark and Kirsty said good-bye in Oban to a wonderful group of guests. Ronnie and Ann, Norman and Valerie, Dawn and Iain, Elizabeth, Ellenor and last but not least Robert who, as a Swiss national, never failed to surprise everyone with his local knowledge, experience and humour. The content of the cruise bore absolutely no resemblance to the proposed itinerary, the weather putting paid to that. However, a group of experienced guests, with an understanding and appreciation of the vagaries of the Scottish climate, made for one of the most memorable and enjoyable trips of the season. As predicted throughout, the forecast remained a steady SW5 – 7, occasionally 8. Above: Hjalmar Bjorge on her mooring in Oban one evening, photo sent to us by John Waterson

Tue 27 Sep | Auliston, Aline and Ardtornish  After breakfast this morning guests were landed ashore for a walk out to Auliston Point. Hjalmar Bjorge departed the anchorage after lunch with Dawn and Iain diving at the entrance to the loch. After a cruise down the Sound of Mull the boat berthed on the new pontoons at Loch Aline from where guests had another walk through the woods to the Ardtornish Estate. The last three course dinner of the cruise was a delight, with a starter of scallops, compliments of the onboard divers.

Mon 26 Sep | Loch Hourn aka Loch “Hell”  The wind veered quite severely overnight and made the anchorage very choppy. Not for nothing is the Loch called Hourn (Gaelic for “hell”). This morning Mark and the crew made an early start at first light (0700) with the boat winding its way back through the narrows on a falling tide, challenging conditions in very strong winds. Upon reaching the Sound of Sleat the vessel made for Mallaig for a brief stopover and a little respite from the wind. After lunch Hjalmar Bjorge set off south. This run was quite exciting with improved conditions and even some sunshine. The anchor was dropped in Loch Droma Buidhe in time for a quiet supper.

Sun 25 Sep | Rain, rain, and more rain!  This morning dawned very wet. In between showers the crew lifted the hook and Hjalmar Bjorge motored up Loch Hourn to anchor at Eilean Rarsaidh. This tiny island once hosted a small fishing community and their ruined village is an amazing place to visit. The dense bracken combined with monsoon-like amounts of rain made the guests feel like explorers negotiating a tropical rain forest.

Once the guests were back aboard, lunch was taken in the same spot, before the boat ventured further up Loch Hourn. Winding a course through three sets of narrows the anchor was eventually dropped adjacent to Skiary just short of Kinlochhourn at the head of the loch. The passage had been very dramatic and the guests enjoyed it immensely. Between more heavy showers Mark landed a small party at Kinlochhourn as they wished to walk back to the anchorage. Shortly after leaving them there and after Mark had returned to the shelter of the boat, the heavens really opened. The downpour was of biblical proportions and every burn that could be seen was practically exploding with water. Members of the shore party, when they were eventually picked up, were soaked to the skin but ridiculously happy. After drying out on the boat they were rewarded with a beautiful sunset between yet more heavy showers, thunder and lightning. Above: sunset in Loch Hourn by Mark Henrys

Sat 24 Sep | No sign of sperm whale  The wind remained at gale force overnight making it a rather bumpy experience. This morning Mark took Hjalmar Bjorge to the Crowlin Islands for what he hoped would be a sheltered anchorage. Thankfully this proved to be the case. The guests were landed ashore and were taken on a guided walk by Elizabeth who had visited the islands before. Whilst ashore, Mark, Dawn and Iain dived for scallops. These were devoured by everyone later that day. After lunch the boat cruised south, back through the Kyles of Lochalsh, and anchored at Isle Ornsay.

This morning Mark had heard that a sperm whale was spotted in the Sound of Raasay the previous weekend. Everyone kept their eyes peeled whilst in the vicinity but it wasn’t seen. This evening’s forecast was for SW5 – 7, occasionally gusting 8.

Fri 23 Sep | South Rona, not North  The weather was not playing ball this morning, with the wind blowing SW6 – 8. The Shiant Islands were off. It was agreed instead to head east to the small island of (South) Rona, between Skye and the Applecross peninsula. Hjalmar Bjorge anchored at the north end of the island and the crew took everyone, bar Dawn and Iain, ashore. The divers elected to play with the adjacent seal colony and entered the water to be greeted by a number of inquisitive animals. After lunch the boat headed to Eilean Fladdy and an attempt to anchor was made. Unfortunately the wind proved far too strong for the boat to lie comfortably and this plan was abandoned. Instead Mark took the boat south to Broadford Bay, with guests admiring the cliffs on Raasay as they passed.

Thu 22 Sep | Underwater photo show  Today’s forecast was SW7 – 8. Hjalmar Bjorge cruised to Portree this morning, arriving just before lunch. In the afternoon the guests had a quick tour of the town before returning aboard. The boat then continued north up the Sound of Raasay. At Bonnie Price Charlie’s Cave (on Skye) Mark dropped Dawn and Iain in for another dive. Dawn had a new underwater camera housing and digital camera which she was keen to try out. Little did she know then that it would have been equally suitable, above water, many times during the remaining days aboard. Whilst they were beneath the waves the guests spotted a sea eagle flying by before it headed over Raasay.

Dawn and Iain had a splendid dive and after supper Dawn showed the guests the results of her photography. It’s often fascinating for non-divers to see these underwater images and the sharing of photos became a regular event after Dawn’s dives during the trip.

The chosen overnight anchorage was in Staffin Bay, north Skye, which Hjalmar Bjorge shared with one of the coastguard standby tugs. These vessels are under threat of being removed from local waters. This evening’s forecast was encouraging. It predicted the wind would diminish slightly the next morning. Mark tentatively suggested making a run for the Shiant Islands the following day.

Wed 21 Sep | Wet, wet, wet. And windy  Dramatic squalls hit the boat throughout the night and continued into breakfast. The guests, all being used to Scottish weather, and hardened to its effects, were keen to get ashore to walk to Loch Morar. Mark joined them with Ship’s Dog Fatty. The rain was torrential and it was just a tad windy! Man and dog retreated having reached the viewpoint. They returned to the boat very wet indeed. A couple of hours later the guests returned absolutely saturated! After hanging clothes up to dry and consuming a welcome lunch it was time to press on.

The Sound of Sleat proved, unsurprisingly, to be rough. Valerie, Ellenor and Elizabeth were quite happy on the aft deck, enjoying the conditions immensely. Apparently Norman was nearly washed overboard which the ladies found highly amusing. Ronnie, being very experienced in these matters, stayed in the saloon and just shook his head at the madness of the folk on deck. After an exciting run the boat anchored in Loch Na Beiste off Lochalsh. Dawn and Iain immediately donned their diving gear and went straight down the anchor chain, reappearing quickly to confirm that little could be seen down there.

Tue 20 Sep | Inverie and Iain’s birthday  This morning Hjalmar Bjorge left Tobermory during breakfast as Mark was hoping to get round Ardnamurchan Point before the worst of the weather came in. This tactic worked well and everyone enjoyed a pleasant run in a strengthening wind to Loch Nevis where Mark and the crew berthed the boat at Inverie. The guests went ashore after lunch to make the most of what the skipper anticipated would be a short visit. As predicted, by 1700, the wind had reached gale force and was blowing straight onto the pier. A hasty retreat was beat, down the loch to anchor at Tarbert. Here everyone celebrated Iain’s 50th birthday with a couple of bottles of nice fizz and a lovely birthday cake. The forecast was SW6 – 8, occasionally gusting 9.

Mon 19 Sep | Roam to Rona?  All aboard for a Northern Hebridean Explorer which will, weather permitting, sail to North Rona. All our guests on this trip were repeat customers and included Dawn and Iain who were hoping to get a few dives in whilst aboard. After embarking on the Railway Pier, Hjalmar Bjorge took a gentle cruise to Tobermory and berthed on the new pontoons. This evening’s forecast predicted WSW 6 – 8 which was to become a theme of the trip.

Sat 17 Sep | Hoopoe. Hoop who?  Mark had time today to say good-bye to the guests who had been staying at Achnacraig this week. They were very excited to have seen a hoopoe in the garden during their stay. These exotic looking birds do occasionally turn up on the south coast of the UK, in spring, during migration from Africa to Europe, when they’ve overshot their destination! The bird’s presence in Argyll this week was probably due to Hurricane Katia.

Fri 16 Sep | Pier disembarkation  Guests departed in Oban today by the usual method with Hjalmar Bjorge securing a berth alongside on the Railway Pier. Above: Oban and McCaig’s Tower from Hjalmar Bjorge by Graham Cudmore

Thu 15 Sep | Perfect peace  Leaving Cragard this morning, a detour was taken so everyone could have a peek at Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. Below: two views from last night’s anchorage by Graham Cudmore

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, south through the Sound of Iona and then east, along the Ross of Mull, before anchoring in Loch Buie for lunch. In the afternoon guests had a walk ashore visiting the Stone Circle, Moy Castle and Laggan Sands. With everyone back onboard Hjalmar Bjorge left Loch Buie and made for the final overnight anchorage: Ardencaple Bay on Seil Island. This beautiful and peaceful anchorage made a pleasant change to the wild weather experienced earlier in the week. Below (left) Hjalmar Bjorge in Loch Buie for lunch (right) heading across the Firth of Lorne for Seil Island, both photos by Graham Cudmore

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wed 14 Sep | Good views (for a change)  Overnight the skies cleared and the full moon illuminated the anchorage. This morning conditions were much brighter. Guests took a quick walk on Gometra before returning to the boat for lunch. Hjalmar Bjorge then upped anchor and sailed into Loch na Keal, heading for Eorsa. Below: islands off the west coast of Mull by Graham Cudmore

 

There the boat anchored, and guests disembarked for a walk to the summit of the small island. Happily the clearer conditions afforded some great views. After departing Eorsa the vessel moved to the overnight anchorage at Cragard.

Tue 13 Sep | What’s that yellow thing in the sky?  Following a very stormy night Mark and the crew managed to get the guests ashore for a walk out to Auliston Point. Once again they returned in time for lunch, sodden but happy. Right: rainbow over Hjalmar Bjorge in Loch Drumbuie by Graham Cudmore

Shortly thereafter the hatches were battened down and an exploratory foray out into the Sound was made. Heading west toward Caliach Point on Mull the wind and rain abated slightly and a loud cheer was heard when all aboard had a fleeting glimpse of the sun.

Caliach Point was reached without any drama so Mark continued south and west, past Calgary Bay and into Loch Tuath. This was a very exciting run, the decks of Hjalmar Bjorge continually awash with sea water, and great views of enormous waves crashing onto the skerries west of Gometra. Both passengers and crew enjoyed the short run but were all happy to reach the relative calm of an anchorage in Gometra harbour. Unsurprisingly nobody spotted any other vessels whilst en route! Above: waves crashing over rocks off Gometra by Anna White

Mon 12 Sep | Hurricane tales  Overnight the winds strengthened and so did the rain. This morning was stormy to say the least and a breakfast debate ended with a vote to stay put for the time being. Guests opted for further exploration of Tobermory with some intrepid individuals braving the “rather muddy” path to Rubha nan Gall lighthouse, some three miles from the town.

This afternoon the boat headed out into the weather and crossed the Sound of Mull to go into Loch Drumbuie in Loch Sunart. This anchorage provided good shelter in which to hunker down for the night.

After dinner talk unsurprisingly meandered on to the subject of storms and hurricanes. Mark, Marky Mark and Anna relayed their previous at-sea hurricane experience to a table of white-faced guests who were rather hoping Katia wouldn’t turn out to be quite as aggressive. Guest Liz mentioned that many years ago she used to read the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 and added she had never heard, or read, the term “monumental” to describe a sea state. Everybody had their fingers crossed she wouldn’t experience it this week either!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun 11 Sep | Wild ‘n’ wet  This morning saw the early arrival of Katia with monsoon rains followed by strong winds. After a hearty breakfast Hjalmar Bjorge departed Loch Spelve to cruise up the Sound of Mull, berthing on the pontoons at Tobermory in time for lunch. Above: Hjalmar Bjorge on the pontoons in Tobermory Bay by Graham Cudmore

This afternoon most of our passengers went for walks around Aros Park where the waterfalls and burns were flowing torrentially. They returned to the boat rather sodden but very happy! Right: waterfall in full flow in Aros Park by Graham Cudmore

Sat 10 Sep | Out of Oban for appropriate anchorage  Today’s Inner Hebridean Cruise got off to a slightly challenging start as there were no berths to be had anywhere alongside in Oban. Hjalmar Bjorge was able to sit on her own commercial mooring in the bay where guests were boarded from the Railway Pier via the tender.

This morning’s forecast had been dire, with warnings of Hurricane Katia fast approaching, and most vessels at sea were simply looking for a safe anchorage. Mark and the crew opted for a quick run across the Firth of Lorne into Loch Spelve anchoring at the Kinlochspelve end. As a bonus a pair of sea eagles were seen in the entrance to the loch and the anchorage itself proved to be a good choice: very atmospheric with glassily calm waters and otters seen all round the boat. A dramatic sunset accompanied this evening’s dinner. Below: two views of Kinlochspelve, Loch Spelve, from Hjalmar Bjorge as the evening progressed, both photos by Graham Cudmore

Thu 8 Sep | And now for something completely different…  as somebody famous once said. No news from the official keyboard of Northern Light Charters from this last cruise, Monday 29 August to Wednesday 7 September, an Outer Hebridean Explorer. Without further ado we hand over to the pen of guest Sian Thomas, with contributions from guest Carolyn Taylor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 8th September 2011, 8am; our trip on the Hjalmar Bjorge to St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides has ended. I wake up and momentarily wonder why my bed is stationary. A little disgruntled, I realise I’m not in a bunk but in my own bed, the usual (but not always) gentle rocking which has accompanied my sleep for the past ten days is no more. I sniff the air. Nothing. No bacon smells waft past my nostrils, no sausages are frying. Dragging myself out of bed I wander to the kitchen. Forced to make my own coffee I look ruefully at the empty table. I miss the crew.

In an uncharacteristic display of impulsive and slightly mad behaviour the man we have come to think of as “our” Captain, Mark (Aye, aye) has asked a group of guests to write a blog. Following a convivial evening and some discussion about “Favourite bits to mention” the task of producing said blog falls to one member of the group. Me.

So where to start? Well, I suppose to begin at the beginning always seems a good place, although “Just point at the person who is in the water and repeat “Man Overboard” until I turn the boat around and pick them up” is not exactly what you are hoping to hear when you first step on board and head out towards one of the more remote parts of the British Isles. Luckily we managed to avoid needing to use the point and shout technique, though Mark’s seasickness talk was certainly a necessary introduction to our fifteen hour chug to St Kilda on day one. The issue was the good old British weather (which never lets you down with its constant changeability). “The North Wind doth blow…” says the nursery rhyme. Well, so does the West, the South-West, the East and the North-East and sometimes they seem to be doing it all at the same time causing – for a few poor souls – nausea of terrible hideousness.

But just when it gets too much, a small pod of common dolphins will be attracted by the movement of the boat in the water. Twice we had groups bow-riding the Hjalmar Bjorge, playing in the waves, breaching the water, spinning below the surface and getting close enough for us to see their “smiling” mouths, their mammalian eyes, their scratched and scarred skin. Suddenly, you forget the sickness and are fascinated by their pirouetting agility. We learned that the scratches are caused by other dolphins, either during arguments or courtship. Incidentally, the crew not only have a profound respect for the environment, but are incredibly knowledgeable and happy to share information with guests. Thanks to their eagle eyes (and with the help of the lovely Eva) we spotted eagles (sea and golden), otters, fulmars, gannets, seals, dolphins (bottlenose and common), to name but a few.

The islands of St Kilda are beautiful, remote and appear barren and inhospitable even in benign weather. That Hirta, the largest island, managed to support a small community of people who survived by climbing cliffs to capture birds is awe inspiring. Evacuated in 1930, the community’s modest dwellings were left to decay; today some have been renovated and are open to the public. We had the chance to spend a day there, a stroke of luck because getting there is a challenge and isn’t always guaranteed. The next day we circled the islands and saw the nesting sites from close quarters before we headed back on a calmer – and shorter – route to the Outer Hebrides.

With the seasickness dealt with we had a chance to settle into boat life. Being gathered in a relatively small space with people you’ve never met before could prove problematic. However, the Hjalmar Bjorge employs a secret weapon to counteract this. Who was it who said “I defy you to agitate a man on a full stomach”? That person had presumably met someone like Marky Mark, aka Cookie.

It’s hard to believe that a big bloke in a small galley can create such delicious and innovative dishes. The food was amazing: lobster, mussels, soups, lasagne, duck in plum and orange sauce, banoffee pie, nut free dishes, fruit cake, scallops (dived for by Cap’n Mark, now there’s service), homemade bread, veggie options, chicken in honey and lemon, and bread and butter pudding were some of the outrageously scrumptious things which were offered. The mind boggling thing was that Cookie Mark managed to do all this whilst acting as first mate, throwing ropes, jumping onto jetties, spotting dolphins and tending the seasick. Any man who can do all this whilst producing pancakes with bacon and syrup should either be despatched forthwith to sort out hospital food for the NHS or, perhaps just allowed to lie down in a darkened room for a while. And, yes folks, those flapjacks are officially the best in the world!

Fishing was Cookie’s pastime. An early morning mackerel became a lunchtime dish, despite the fact it had startled Joan by flapping past her window at 7am. Deep Sea Fisherman Bill (all the way from South Africa with wife Ann) got into fishing mode. Unfortunately, over-eagerness and a left handed grip on a right handed rod caused Bill to break Cookie’s rod, but not before he had managed to catch a very small specimen. Approaching Cookie, Bill apologetically held the broken rod in one hand and the fish in the other:

Bill: Cookie, what do you call this fish?

Cookie: Pollocks.

Bill: I’m sorry about the rod. (Pause) What do you call this fish?

Leverburgh, a port on Harris, was the stop after St Kilda. Low slung houses were distributed about an inlet. Its unimaginative (though philanthropic) creation causing Carolyn to suggest they employ an architect and a bulldozer and start again. Leverburgh was characterised by a nearby medieval church, some greylag geese and plenty of sheep. The ferry came and went as did we.

The trip progressed south down the west side of the Uists towards Loch Boisdale. On the way Loch Euphort produced some fabulous otter sightings. That evening guests and crew were regaled by boating legends, Tony and Ben. They had spent about ten post-retirement years sailing around the world, “off and on, you know”. With some badgering we managed to coax sailing stories out of them, the one about eluding pirates particularly sticks in the mind, “We kept the boat under sail, started the motor and made small turns of 5 degrees to port until they got fed up” typically understated their adventure. Above: Hjalmar Bjorge on the pontoons at Eriskay by Mark Henrys

Then we were on to Eriskay, Canna and Mull in successive days. All gave opportunities for fantastic walks and scenery. Ship’s dog Seven had never walked so much in her life! We also experienced two magnificent sunsets – you could tell how impressive they were by the fact that we stopped eating to look and take photos. Below (left) Fatty gets a foot massage from Cap’n Mark, photo by Sian Thomas (right) sunset over Rum from Canna, photo by Mark Henrys

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trip was drawing to an end so we headed to Tobermory, on Mull. A shared bay on the pontoon was available into which Mark steered the Hjalmar Bjorge much to the blatantly impressed stares of a number of on-lookers. The arrival at mooring caused Phil (with just a hint of envy) to say, “Exemplary seamanship and boat handling, as always.” We considered that only a man who would take his grandmother on a speedy motorbike ride as a gift for her 70th birthday would have the skill and confidence to carry out such an assured manoeuvre.

By now Heather had gained her sea legs and was hanging off the bow to take photos, going up to the top deck and supplementing rations with chocolate biscuits (the ship’s unspoken motto was clearly “never knowingly underfed”). Alan became the BBC – Breakfast Bar Champion – when he managed to polish off seconds on the last morning, leaving wife Aline to wonder if she’d have to roll him home.

Hats were also a feature of the holiday. Sometimes for practical reasons; warm clothing was a must for standing on the top deck. Sian found a rather fetching green hard hat on board which she modelled one evening. This started a spate of “dressing for dinner” with hats being offered on a daily basis by guests and crew, she managed to trial quite a few.

We weren’t very lucky terms of seeing lots of different cetaceans but there were some amazing highlights:

  • Visiting the different islands
  • The sunset in Eriskay, closely followed by the one on Canna
  • The heather in the hills on Canna and Rum
  • Fabulous scenery and photo opportunities (far too many to list)
  • Dolphins on the bow wave
  • Seabirds galore – no puffins as they had left their breeding grounds but gannets, razorbills, guillemots and fulmars aplenty
  • The fact that the midges didn’t pose a problem except on the jetty at Canna one evening (we could see Phil flapping half a mile away)

But the trip was much more than a list of events, it was a fun, fascinating foray to places which aren’t easy to reach with an experienced team. Actually, here crew member Gordon deserves a special mention for his wry and quirky take on life, the universe and everything. Rarely can one man reduce fourteen people to such bellyaching giggles with such regularity.

And so the trip is over, I sit here – smiling inanely – as I finish my elongated blog (though I feel I’d never be forgiven if I cut it short and didn’t do justice to the fantastic time we had).

Also, I’m trying to analyse the strange feeling which is washing over me. Hmm. Then realisation dawns – I’m hungry! Haven’t felt like this in a while… now I begin to wonder… would Cookie give me his recipe for crème brûlée if I asked him nicely…???

Big thanks to Sian and Carolyn for such an entertaining journey across the Hebrides. Perhaps the “guest blog” idea will catch on… less work for Mark!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repeat guest, Eva from Sweden, was aboard Hjalmar Bjorge for the last two trips. She took lots of photos of Seven, whom she declared to be “the world’s most acclimatised ship’s dog.” Three of them are shown here. Above: Seven looking out for whales, or wondering where her dad is going in the dinghy, (right) trying to scrounge a piece of orange from her Auntie Kirsty

Fri 2 Sep | Sea eagles a threat to children?  The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has raised concerns after a juvenile sea eagle injured a senior clergyman who was trying to protect a flock of geese the raptor had its eye on. Although the SGA says it doesn’t have a problem with sea eagles on the west coast of Scotland it has claimed the large birds or prey might not be able to tell the difference between “a small child and more natural quarry”. The RSPB has dismissed this claim as “alarmist nonsense”. More on the BBC news website.

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