Mon 28 May | End of an excellent adventure  A fabulous cruise, the first Outer Hebridean trip of the season, ended in Oban today. Great weather! Great guests! And not forgetting the great food! According to Michelle, chef Mark made an “amazing” syrup sponge pudding with butterscotch sauce which was just one highlight of a truly memorable cruise. Right: last night’s sunset in Ardencapel Bay by Mark Henrys

Sun 27 May | Scorching sun and sea eagles  This morning Hjalmar Bjorge passed through the Sound of Iona, guests and crew alike feeling relieved that a stopover had not been planned here. Three large cruise liners were at anchor, steadily disgorging hordes of passengers onto the tiny island. Cruising along the Ross of Mull Hjalmar Bjorge made a brief foray into Loch Buie to check out the sea eagles. Both adults were spotted beside each other but not on the nest so Mark did not stop to disturb them.

The boat continued to the Garvellachs where guests were landed for the afternoon ashore. It was blisteringly hot, which was lovely, but everyone was quite glad to get back aboard again after their time on the islands. The final evening of the cruise was spent in Ardencapel Bay, adjacent to Seil Island, where a fantastic sunset finished off a glorious day, the last full day of the cruise. Below: Ship’s dog Seven on the Garvellachs by Mark Henrys

Sat 26 May | Up close and personal with puffins  Mark felt the swell starting from the east during the night on the anchorage off Sandray. The plan for today was to make landings at Mingulay and Barra Head so Hjalmar Bjorge departed the anchorage at 0700 and anchored at Mingulay for breakfast. It soon became apparent, however, that the increasing swell was going to prevent a safe landing. Mark checked out Barra Head as well, same here, too much swell for a safe landing. It was decided to have a cruise round Berneray before heading east and making for Gunna Sound.

The run taken across the Sea of the Hebrides was fabulous, Mark reckoned one of the best ever, and certainly the hottest! After passing through Gunna Sound everyone onboard had a brief but exhilarating view of a minke whale breaching three times about 400 metres from the boat. Hjalmar Bjorge later anchored at Lunga and all the guests went ashore for a couple of hours of puffin therapy. Michelle was very taken with the friendly and curious puffins here and said two of the guests had birds hopping about on their legs! From Lunga the boat then cruised to Cragard on Ulva. Below: Puffins on Lunga and the Treshnish Isles; all photos by Michelle Baron












Guests Alan and Jackie had been wearing Huddersfield Town football tops all day in homage to their team playing at Wembley in a playoff for promotion. The game had proved rather tense and Mark was secretly listening to the commentary on Radio 5 Live in the wheelhouse. The game went to penalties and Mark could see Alan and Jackie on the foredeck anxiously awaiting text message updates on the shoot-out. Huddersfield finally won and Mark broke the news to two delighted guests who weren’t quite sure what was most worthy of celebration: either the result of the game or the fact that, at that very moment, 40 to 50 common dolphins pitched up to join in! It was certainly a memorable end to a cracking day.

Fri 25 May | Sandray and sharks  The anchor was raised at 0700 this morning and Hjalmar Bjorge headed south for the Sound of Barra. The weather was now glorious with little wind and bright sunshine making it feel very, very hot. Approaching the Sound there was a close encounter with a juvenile basking shark, all aboard enjoying a great view of his open mouth in the crystal clear water. Mark had previously advised guests to keep an eye open for the resident bottlenose group in the Sound and just when he’d given up hope of seeing them, there was a quick glimpse of two dolphins who then briefly bow-rode Hjalmar Bjorge before dashing off to feed. Departing the Sound another basking shark was spotted, quite clearly enormous from 200 metres away, but unfortunately he didn’t come any closer to the boat. Below: two views of the juvenile basking shark in the Sound of Barra by Michelle Baron







Mark and the crew dropped the anchor at Sandray in the early afternoon and landed all the guests ashore on a beautiful sandy beach in blazing sunshine. A number of guests went straight for the top of the nearest hill whilst the remainder loitered on the beach or walked on the machair. Michelle reckoned Sandray was just as good as any tropical “desert island” beach with its white sand and turquoise sea and it’s not surprising there was some reluctance to leave. Guests and crew eventually left Sandray, a beautiful island experienced on a wonderful day. Below (left) Sandray (right) Ship’s dog Seven on Sandray; both photos by Michelle Baron

Thu 24 May | Cameras clicking at swirling seabirds  The army landing craft arrived in Village Bay this morning at 0700 closely followed by the cruise ship “National Geographic Explorer” which carries up to 148 passengers. It’s going to be a busy day on Hirta today! Our guests were pleased to sail out of Village Bay and head for the stacs instead. Hjalmar Bjorge enjoyed a lively run west of Dun and then sailed through Soay Sound. Stac Lee was, as usual, teeming with gannets and all aboard enjoyed watching them returning to the stac with their beaks full of nesting materials. Michelle said as she was watching the gannets and skuas battling it out in the sky around Stac Lee she became aware of the constant clicking of camera shutters as guests took more and more photos of the amazing sight unfolding above their heads.







After some time at the stacs Hjalmar Bjorge sailed away from Boreray bound for the Monach Islands. Upon arrival the crew quickly got the guests ashore for a walk before they returned to the boat for supper accompanied by a rather dramatic sunset. Below (left) an oystercatcher at The Monach Islands by Michelle Baron (right) sunset at The Monach Islands by Mark Henrys







Wed 23 May | Early start to Kilda  Mark and the crew lifted the anchor at 0430 and commenced passage to St Kilda enjoying a lovely sunrise as they sailed. The swell was quite considerable and remained with Hjalmar Bjorge all the way to Village Bay at Hirta. The anchor was dropped at 1030 and, with great care, the crew got all the guests ashore for the day with a packed lunch. Thankfully the swell lessened throughout the day and once the guests were back aboard it was clear the evening and overnight stay would be fairly comfortable. Below (top left) Boreray and the stacs (top right) the high street, Village Bay, Hirta; both by Michelle Baron (bottom left) the stacs by Mark Henrys (bottom middle) the arch at Dun and (bottom right) Michelle on Hirta, St Kilda; both by Michelle Baron













Tue 22 May | Beautiful Borve beach  This morning a leisurely breakfast was taken before Hjalmar Bjorge headed north to the Sound of Harris for a quick stopover at Leverburgh where the owner of a local fishing boat sold Mark some lobsters. Below: Michelle and Mark with lobsters for tea; photo from Michelle

The boat then cruised up the Leverburgh Channel on the north shore of the Sound of Harris and around Toe Head. The original plan was to make for Taransay however a gusty south easterly wind meant the anchorage there would now be too exposed. Instead Mark steered Hjalmar Bjorge into Borve Bay and anchored the boat there. The crew landed the guests on the fabulous beach and Alan (who by now had been affectionately nicknamed “Inspector Gadget”) flew his stunt kite above the sands. After everyone returned back aboard there was a communal effort to prepare the lobsters for supper. A splendid evening was had by all.

Mon 21 May | Ascent on Eaval  Hjalmar Bjorge left Canna this morning heading for Loch Eyport on North Uist. The boat arrived there in time for lunch after which the guests went ashore for a series of walks, the more intrepid members of the party heading for the 1100ft summit of nearby Eaval (Eabhal). After everyone returned to the boat, champagne was taken on the foredeck to celebrate guest Alan’s 54th birthday. Right: birthday champers for Alan aboard Hjalmar Bjorge by Mark Henrys

Sun 20 May | Rabbits ravage Canna  Following a light breakfast the boat set off in bright sunshine and a fresh breeze bound for Canna. Shortly after arrival, lunch was taken on anchor following which the guests went ashore for the afternoon.

Mark was very pleased to meet up with Kathryn Mackinnon who was visiting her Aunt Winnie on Canna. Kathryn, who has helped crew for us before, is now 15 and in her final year at Mallaig High School. Mark may have managed to finagle her into some more crewing duties later this year! Kathryn told the guests about the rabbit problem on the island as, since the eradication of the rats, the rabbit population has exploded. The NZ team leader, who led the initial rat eradication program, had just revisited Canna and estimated rabbit numbers to be over 20,000. Such huge numbers are obviously having an adverse impact and are reducing grazing for cattle and sheep. Gerry Mackinnon, who farms the island, said it is becoming worrying but she wouldn’t like to see all the rabbits disappear since they feed the golden eagles and sea eagles who might otherwise cast their beady eyes on her lambs.

A lovely evening was spent on anchor at Canna.

Sat 19 May | Out of the office and on to the boat  Skipper Mark and cook Mark are joined by Michelle working as crew on the trip starting today. Michelle is usually to be found in the office of Northern Light Charters and has travelled aboard our boats as a diver plenty of times before. This time, however, she was keen to familiarise herself with one of our Hebridean Island & Wildlife Cruises with the added temptation of – fingers crossed – seeing St Kilda.

A full complement of 12 guests boarded Hjalmar Bjorge on the railway pier and shortly thereafter a quick run was taken to Tobermory. The boat spent the first evening of the cruise berthed on the pontoons here.

Fri 18 May | Sea eagles sighted (again)  The young sea eagles from yesterday evening were seen again this morning before the boat set off to Oban to disembark this week’s guests. Safe journey back to Worcestershire to Lyndon and co, it is always nice for the crew to see some familiar faces aboard.

Thu 17 May | Eagles and otters  Today’s plan had been to land on Iona and then visit the Garvellachs. Unfortunately bad weather and rough sea conditions prevented both of these options since there was large swell running through the Sound of Iona combined with a very fresh southerly wind. Instead Hjalmar Bjorge cruised round to Loch Buie where guests enjoyed fantastic views of the sea eagles on their nest. Following lunch on anchor at Croggan in Loch Spelve the guests went ashore where they spent the afternoon walking to Portfield and Croggan old village. Everyone saw otters, red throated divers, golden eagles and sea eagles. Mark then moved the boat to a different overnight anchorage within Loch Spelve where all aboard had some superb views of a pair of juvenile sea eagles.

Wed 16 May | Packed lunch on Puffin Island  Hjalmar Bjorge left Ulva early this morning heading for Lunga. The boat anchored there at 1030 and crew got the guests ashore with a packed lunch for an extended visit. They were the first people to land that day and enjoyed the solitude of “puffin island” before the first of the day trip boats arrived. Lyndon and co returned to Hjalmar Bjorge for afternoon tea which included an exceptional homemade Victoria sandwich cake. Yummy! The boat left Lunga and cruised to Staffa, poking the bow in towards Fingal’s Cave, before anchoring overnight at Camus on the north shore of the Ross of Mull.

Tue 15 May | Island baggers  A short passage was taken this morning to Eorsa where the guests spent the morning ashore. After lunch another short crossing was taken to Inch Kenneth where guests spent the afternoon ashore. Contrary to stories circulated in The Oban Times the White House, formerly owned by Lord Redesdale and where Unity Mitford lived out her days, is not to be opened to the public.

Mark was also disappointed to be told, on the owners instructions, that boats would no longer be allowed to use the old pier on Eorsa and that an alternative beach landing site was to be used adjacent to the church with Historic Scotland putting in a short path from the church to the beach. Obviously the beach will offer a more difficult wet landing for passengers and of course it’s always a shame when interested visitors are denied the use of a perfectly good pier on the whim of an absentee landlord.

Departing from Eorsa another short journey was taken to the overnight anchorage at Cragard on Ulva. The guests were delighted to make a landing on Ulva, for a quick walk before supper, thus “bagging” three different islands in one day.

Mon 14 May | Gometra explorers  After breakfast today the boat departed Tobermory and headed off north round the island enjoying a good run in a big swell to Gometra south harbour. The guests went ashore on Gometra and spent the afternoon exploring in bright sunshine and a brisk northerly wind.

Sun 13 May | Wet ‘n’ windy  A sheltered night was spent on the pontoons in Loch Aline last night with the morning dawning very windy and extremely wet. A few brave souls ventured out for a walk and returned just before lunch absolutely sodden. Some good news to report from Lochaline though – the sand mine is to reopen with the creation of 15 much needed jobs.

After lunch in the loch Hjalmar Bjorge ventured out into the Sound of Mull and headed for Tobermory in very squally conditions. The wind was now round to the NW and blowing just as strong. The decision was made to remain in Tobermory for the rest of the day and overnight.

Sat 12 May | Where are we?  Regular guests Lyndon and fellow travellers from a Worcestershire bird-watching group arrived this afternoon to join Hjalmar Bjorge. The forecast was dreadful, a blustery SW 6 – 8 occasionally 9 so Mark took an unusual route to reach the first evening’s anchorage in Loch Aline. Instead of crossing from Oban directly across to the Sound of Mull, he steered Hjalmar Bjorge north, up Loch Linnhe toward Appin and Castle Stalker, and around the north end of Lismore. This definitely confused the guests!

Fri 11 May | Last day of first cruise  Having enjoyed a lovely last evening Hjalmar Bjorge returned to Oban this morning to say goodbye to the first guests of the year. The boat will be turned around and replenished for a private charter group arriving tomorrow afternoon.

Thu 10 May | Wonderful wildlife  Before Hjalmar Bjorge even left Loch Buie this morning there was another dolphin encounter! Yesterday’s bottlenoses had followed the boat in to the loch and briefly popped by to say hello during breakfast. Upon leaving the loch there was another fantastic sighting of the pair of sea eagles. The boat cruised around into Loch Spelve, with sightings of golden eagles, sea eagles, otters and a hen harrier.

Wed 9 May | Bow-riding bottlenose  This morning Hjalmar Bjorge cruised along the south coast of Mull whilst all aboard enjoyed fine views of the cliffs with eagles soaring above them. There was also had a wonderful encounter with about a dozen bottlenose dolphins who seem to be now resident in the area. They played happily on the boat’s bow wave for over half an hour much to the delight of guests and crew alike. Below: bottlenose dolphins bow-riding Hjalmar Bjorge at Carsaig on the south coast of Mull







A quick lunch stop, on anchor, in Carsaig Bay preceded passage to Loch Buie. Here everyone had a superb view of the local pair of sea eagles exchanging roles, feeding young chicks on the nest. Following this sighting Mark and the crew anchored the boat in the loch and guests spent the afternoon ashore. Below: Loch Buie from the slopes of Ben Buie on the Isle of Mull by Mark Henrys







Tue 8 May | Encountering eagles eating  After leaving Gometra this morning Hjalmar Bjorge undertook a short cruise to Eorsa where the guests spent the morning exploring. Upon reaching the summit of the tiny island a number of guests had an encounter with a pair of golden eagles that were feeding on the carcass of a lamb. After lunch, taken on anchor, the boat departed and cruised by Staffa, through the Sound of Iona and on to an anchorage off Ardalanish Point on the Ross of Mull. A number of golden eagles were spotted whilst the vessel was on anchor.

Mon 7 May | First basking shark seen  This morning Hjalmar Bjorge left Tobermory, heading north, and almost immediately encountered an adult basking shark feeding off Ardmore Point. This is a surprisingly early time of year for a sighting, however, Mark observed there is considerable amount of plankton in the water which they must have followed. Right: the first basking shark of the season by Mark Henrys

The boat anchored at Lunga for lunch and guests enjoyed seeing numerous seabirds in the anchorage. Unfortunately conditions didn’t allow for a shore visit. Hjalmar Bjorge left Lunga mid afternoon and anchored in Gometra south harbour. Seals, a peregrine falcon, eagles and an otter were all spotted in the anchorage.

Sun 6 May | Plenty of walks  This morning dawned bright and very still with Hjalmar Bjorge the only vessel in her peaceful anchorage. After a good breakfast guests went ashore for a long walk and returned to the boat for lunch. The anchor was then lifted and the vessel took a short cruise over to Tobermory where she berthed on the pontoons. Everyone then completed a long walk of their own choice around Tobermory.

Sat 5 May | Day one, cruise one  Hjalmar Bjorge came off the slip last Tuesday with the team undertaking some last minute preparation at Corpach before the boat set off for Oban to embark the first passengers of the season.

An almost full complement, 11 guests, were met on the North Pier in Oban by Mark, Mark Brading (returning as cook this year) and Anna White (who is crewing many of the trips this year). The boat left Oban in fresh and cold northerly winds and cruised north to the first overnight anchorage in Loch Sunart. Clear skies allowed all aboard to view a very dramatic “super moon” rising over Loch Droma Buide this evening.

Wed 2 May | Zuza news  Today was the day that Zuza was due to set sail for her first cruise with Northern Light Charters this year. Unfortunately this did not happen. Charlie, Zuza’s owner, had taken the boat back to South Africa, where an impressive refurbishment took place over the winter. The vessel was meant to set sail some weeks ago in order to arrive in Oban in plenty of time before this first trip started. To cut a long story short the boat suffered a series of catastrophic electrical and mechanical failures and despite Charlie’s best efforts to ensure she reached Scotland on time it became clear, through no fault of his own, that this was not going to happen. Northern Light Charters regretfully, but with little other choice after failing to secure an alternative vessel, has now cancelled all the proposed yacht charters this summer.

We’ve now almost concluded the process of returning guests’ monies or transferring customers over to Hjalmar Bjorge where possible. Needless to say Mark, as well as Hannah and Charlie, are all extremely disappointed by the turn of events. Northern Light Charters would like to take this opportunity to thank all the guests who had booked onto Zuza this summer for being so understanding about the situation. We are, as yet, undecided whether Zuza will be sailing with us next year but we’ll keep everyone informed and very much hope to see the guests we have had to cancel this year at some point in the future.

:: news from the previous month [ Oct 2011 to April 2012 ]