Fri 29 Jun | 2013 dates online!!!  Hjalmar Bjorge returned to Oban this morning with brunch eaten alongside the North Pier before guests bade the crew farewell. Skipper Mark is having a week off next week with the very capable Tim taking the wheel instead. Chef Mark stays aboard with Tiree and Sara crewing for the week.

We have just published dates for 2013 which are available to view here. A few bookings have already been secured so do take a look and see if one of cruises appeals to you. We look forward to welcoming back those who have previously travelled with us as well as new faces.

Thu 28 Jun | Bow-riding dolphins and basking sharks  Time to think about getting back to Oban for the end of the cruise tomorrow. Hjalmar Bjorge departed Loch a’ Laip this morning, heading out into the Sea of the Hebrides, soon encountering a group of common dolphin who briefly played under the bows of the boat. Approaching Oigh Sgeir (Hyskeir) there were some great views of over a dozen basking sharks feeding in the strong tidal stream. Mark had hoped to land everyone on Hyskeir but adverse weather conditions prevented this.

Upon entering the Sound of Mull, communications with the outside world were again restored and news of the floods and bad weather in the south was heard. Whether it was coincidence or not the skies to the south suddenly turned black and a dramatic thunderstorm accompanied the boat into Loch Aline. Thankfully the torrential rain abated as Mark and Anna tied Hjalmar Bjorge to the visitor pontoons in the loch and amazingly the guests had a dry walk ashore before the final supper of the cruise was enjoyed aboard.

Wed 27 Jun | Island baggers in the mist  This morning there was time for a quick visit to St Clements Church in Loch Rodel before Hjalmar Bjorge departed, travelling south into Loch a’ Laip, on the north side of Wiay, an uninhabited island SE of Benbecula. The weather had gradually got greyer and wetter and it was a brave and adventurous party who disembarked to explore this remote location. Serial island bagger Tracey soon disappeared into the mist as she attempted to reach the summit of Beinn a’ Tuath. It wasn’t long, however, before the shore party returned, very sodden, to the warmth of Hjalmar Bjorge and the rest of the day was wisely spent, indoors, otter spotting.

Tue 26 Jun | Dolphins, seals and puffins galore  After breakfast Mark and the crew shifted Hjalmar Bjorge closer to Eilean Mhuire, the most easterly of the islands in the group and one which is rarely visited. In almost perfect conditions everyone was landed and spent the morning exploring. The views from the summit were superb: to the south dolphins could be seen playing, grey seals could be clearly seen swimming underwater and basking on the rocks and the southern slopes were covered with puffins whom happily ignored the rarely seen human beings (and one Ship’s Dog). Right: Ship’s Dog Seven on The Shiant Islands by Mark Henrys

Back aboard a cruise was taken around the island group before Hjalmar Bjorge headed for the Sound of Scalpay and the north harbour. The anchor was briefly dropped for a quick run ashore for emergency supplies (ground coffee and ice cream!) before the boat set off for an overnight layover in Loch Rodel. Below right: Hjalmar Bjorge at the Shiant Islands, viewed from Eilean Mhuire, by Mark Henrys







Mon 25 Jun | South to The Shiants  Today’s plan had been to head north to North Rona, with a shore visit if practical, but it quickly became clear that was an impossibility. The wind was from the NNE and somewhat fresh plus a big northerly swell was still running. The relatively short journey north to the Butt of Lewis proved uncomfortable enough and everyone was rather pleased when Hjalmar Bjorge changed direction to head south instead. By mid afternoon the boat had reached The Shiant Islands, where the crew anchored, and guests were taken ashore to the main island – Garbh Eilean – to enjoy a good walk. Top left: rounding The Butt of Lewis by Mark Henrys

Sun 24 Jun | West and East Loch Roag  The anchor was lifted early this morning with breakfast taken on the hoof, running through the Kyles of Pabbay. Anchoring close to Pabbay Mark and the crew landed the guests on this lovely little island for a morning’s exploration. In the afternoon Hjalmar Bjorge departed West Loch Roag and made for the East arm of the loch and the famous Callanish standing stones. After a few hours ashore at this location the boat cruised into Loch Carloway for the evening.

Sat 23 Jun | Flannans adventure  An early start was made this morning with Hjalmar Bjorge steadily progressing northwards. Today’s objective was a visit to the Flannan Islands but the weather didn’t look promising. The wind was NE 4 to 5 and there was a good two to three metre swell running. However the boat arrived at the Flannans just before 1100 and was anchored adjacent to the south landing on Eilean Mòr where crew got the guests ashore. Below (left) the south landing (middle) the lighthouse (right) a cleit, all on the Flannan Islands, by Mark Henrys




The walk up the cliff at the lighthouse landing was dramatic and challenging to say the least but everyone thought it was well worth the effort. The island was covered in thrift and sea campion and the puffin colony appeared to be flourishing, with far more birds seen than on previous visits. Below (top left) approaching the Flannan Islands (top right) Hjalmar Bjorge from the Flannans (bottome left) puffins and (bottom right) puffin burrows, all at the Flannan Islands, by Mark Henrys












After a few hours ashore, Mark returned the guests to Hjalmar Bjorge, making a short diversion in the Zodiac to explore the depths of a sea cave close to the landing. After a late lunch on anchor, Mark and the crew were lifting the hook, when a big basking shark was seen close by. The guests enjoyed great views of him in the crystal clear water. The boat cruised west to the gannetry on Eilean a’ Ghobha, with a minke whale spotted en route, where the gannets provided an amazing spectacle. Mark nosed Hjalmar Bjorge in toward the gannetry causing the birds to fly towards the boat and hover above the ship as it went astern. Below (left) old lighthouse railway winding gear on the Flannans and (right) gannets astern of Hjalmar Bjorge, both photos by Mark Henrys







All in all, a memorable day spent at a rarely visited group of islands. Bidding farewell to the Flannans the boat sailed into West Loch Roag for an overnight stop at Eilean Tenish.

Fri 22 Jun | Another dry island  This morning the crew upped anchor and Hjalmar Bjorge made the short crossing north to Scarp. Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated somewhat and a landing on this island was postponed until the afternoon. Some of our guests, however, were landed on the beach at Hushinish and enjoyed a walk before lunch.

The weather did indeed improve as promised and the afternoon was spent on Scarp, incidentally another island that has seen no rain for a prolonged period. Viewers of “Highland Emergency” might have seen dramatic footage of Scarp’s summer resident, Brian, being evacuated from the island with a serious shoulder injury. Brian was carried into the helicopter still sat in his favourite armchair. Tragically this was left in Stornoway after Brian had been treated in hospital and returned to Scarp. The sad closing sequence of this episode (first shown on 26 March this year) showed the armchair sat alone in storage at MRSC Stornoway. Mark is delighted to report it has since been reunited with its rightful occupier.

Guests and crew all returned to Hjalmar Bjorge, thereafter departing the anchorage, and making her way to Loch Tamanavay on North Harris for the evening.

Thu 21 Jun | Complete whale carcass found  Hjalmar Bjorge departed Loch Eyport this morning and headed NW through the Sound of Harris and on to Taransay. After lunch aboard the crew landed the guests for a leisurely afternoon ashore. A search of the beach once again revealed the remains of last year’s sperm whale. The skull is deeply buried in the sand and another massive bone was found high on the rocks; thought to be from a pectoral fin. Another very smelly carcass was also found on the beach, that of a six metre plus Northern bottlenose whale. The skeletal remains are virtually complete, inspiring Mark to gather them at some point in the future, but for now, guests were very relieved that he left the bones in place!

Wed 20 Jun | Wot? No rain?!  This morning guests went ashore on a very arid Canna, there having been no rain on the island for over eight weeks. After returning to the boat, lunch was taken whilst underway, with distant views of the dolphins as Hjalmar Bjorge headed north. Another minke whale was seen, west of Loch Bracadale on Skye, more common dolphins were seen feeding and yet another group of 10 to 12 common dolphins came over to play in the bow wave. The boat was anchored in Loch Eyport, North Uist, for the evening and overnight.

Tue 19 Jun | Dolphin entourage  Skipper Mark, chef Mark and crew Anna greeted guests earlier than usual today in Oban, with Hjalmar Bjorge departing at 1240, in wonderful weather and excellent visibility. Off Ardnamurchan Point a single common dolphin briefly bow-rode the boat and in the Sound of Canna everyone watched a minke whale feeding less than 200 metres from the boat. As Hjalmar Bjorge approached Canna harbour 20+ common dolphins appeared and chaperoned the vessel all the way into the anchorage where the hook was dropped at 1900. This evening’s meal was a tranquil affair, disturbed only occasionally by inquisitive grey seals looking for snacks.

Fri 15 Jun | Second St Kilda cruise ends  Mark, Mark, Gog and Tiree said good-bye to the guests in Oban after brunch today. The next cruise, a 10-nighter, starts next Tuesday.

Thu 14 Jun | Bottlenoses and whitebeaks  Hjalmar Bjorge left The Monach Islands and returned, as usual, through the Sound of Barra. Just as everyone thought the resident bottlenoses were not going to appear, and were thinking of having lunch, the dolphins suddenly turned up. Despite their late arrival they seemed to be in a very energetic mood and escorted the boat far further than they normally do. Crossing the Sea of the Hebrides there was a brief but exciting encounter with 20 or so whitebeak dolphins who briefly inspected the boat before resuming their hunting. The boat berthed on the pontoons in Loch Aline for the final evening aboard..Above: bottlenose dolphin in the Sound of Barra by Mark Henrys

Wed 13 Jun | A mooch on the Monachs  Farewell was bade to St Kilda this morning with a speedy passage being undertaken to The Monach Islands. Hjalmar Bjorge anchored in the south harbour in time for lunch aboard. Guests were taken ashore for a pleasant afternoon on the low lying islands before they returned to the boat for a more tranquil night on anchor. Right: Ship’s Dog Seven eyeing up Mark’s homemade flapjacks aboard Hjalmar Bjorge, by Morag Burton

Tue 12 Jun | Kilda caves  The anchor was lifted after breakfast this morning and a cruise taken around the stacs. The west side of Dun and Hirta were unusually calm and all aboard were able to explore more closely some of the many caves and little inlets. Hjalmar Bjorge returned to Village Bay for lunch following which the guests had another afternoon ashore on Hirta.

Mon 11 Jun | All day on Hirta  Guests were safely disembarked on Hirta after breakfast with a packed lunch for a full day ashore. They returned to the boat this evening having very much enjoyed the day. Right: Mark taking guests ashore at St Kilda by Morag Burton

Sun 10 Jun | Rough ride to Kilda  Hjalmar Bjorge departed from Tobermory in calm conditions at 0500 this morning. A minke whale was briefly seen off Ardmore Point. Crossing the Sea of the Hebrides the wind freshened from the NE and after transiting the Sound of Barra it was a fairly rough ride NW to St Kilda. Mark and the crew dropped the anchor in Village Bay at 1730. The anchorage, the safest in such a remote location, was really quite rough due to the swell running in a variety of different directions within the bay. For the second week, this was a theme that continued throughout the cruise.

Sat 9 June | No rest for the wicked as once again Mark, Mark, Gog and Tiree greeted 11 guests boarding Hjalmar Bjorge this afternoon for a second “Focus on St Kilda Expedition”. A small group of expected guests were sadly missed today as they had been forced to cancel due to illness. Most spaces were resold with this week’s guests hailing from as far apart as Orkney, Cornwall and Sweden.

Hjalmar Bjorge cruised up to Tobermory in the late afternoon with guests having dinner aboard once the boat was tied to the pontoons. Afterwards they went ashore for walks and no doubt a few local hostelries were visited!

Fri 8 Jun | Tiree’s the tops!  Hjalmar Bjorge returned to Oban this morning where guests had brunch before departing. There was praise for all the crew and much admiration for 15 year old Tiree with guest Anne saying, “Tiree’s constant attention and caring attitude belies her youth especially to one who was feeling the effect of the sea”.

Thu 7 Jun | From Village Bay to Loch Aline  An early departure from St Kilda this morning with lots of miles to cover. Those awake at 0500 enjoyed a lovely sunrise over Boreray. A couple of hours later three juvenile minke whales were spotted. And, as Hjalmar Bjorge travelled back through the Sound of Barra, Mark and the guests were all pleased to see the resident bottlenose dolphins (around six to eight of them) make their customary appearance and accompany the boat through the channel. The final evening of the cruise was spent on anchor in Loch Aline. Above: Boreray and the stacs at dawn by Mark Henrys

Wed 6 Jun | Swell stacs  Despite looking out for it, there was no sighting of Venus making her early morning transit across the sun as promised. Still, last night’s full moon over Dun was appreciated by everyone aboard.

After a light breakfast Mark and the crew lifted Hjalmar Bjorge’s anchor and the boat set off for a tour of the stacs. The passage through Soay Sound was rather exciting, to say the least, with a big swell running. Bets were taken as to whether Mark would manage to steer the vessel through and of course he did! After viewing the other islands and stacs that form the St Kilda archipelago the vessel returned to Village Bay for lunch. Thereafter the guests spent a final afternoon ashore which included a visit to the National Trust for Scotland shop on the island.

Tue 5 Jun | Wren and shine  Our guests enjoyed another full day ashore on Hirta in wonderful sunshine with a stiff northerly wind cooling the more energetic walkers. Guests Anne and Mark later wrote of the day, “We’ll remember being dive bombed by bonxies for a long while! The other wildlife was just as interesting and I even managed to get a couple of photos of the St. Kilda wren.” Right: St Kilda wren on Hirta by Mark Hodgson

Mon 4 Jun | Dolphin escorts  After spending a night under the full moon, Mark and the crew made another early start, arriving in Village Bay, Hirta, St Kilda around 1000, escorted by six to eight common dolphins which had joined Hjalmar Bjorge as the boat approached Levenish. The guests were quickly delivered ashore, with packed lunches, to enjoy a whole day on Hirta, returning to the boat for dinner. The meal was entertaining, what with the erratic swell in the anchorage, and one can only imagine if chef Mark had planned soup as a starter he changed his mind ahead of the meal itself! Dinner with accompanying swell was to be the theme of the week.

Sun 3 Jun | Two different kinds of bow-riding dolphins!  Hjalmar Bjorge departed Tobermory this morning at 0500 with a dramatic sunrise lighting the eastern skies. North of the Cairns of Coll half a dozen common dolphin briefly bowrode the boat as it headed out into the Sea of the Hebrides. Further into the journey, in the Sound of Barra, there was an encounter with two bottlenose dolphins who rode the boat’s bow wave for about 10 minutes. The passage north was quite lumpy with a fresh NNE wind. Given the conditions a decision was taken to head to The Monach Islands where the crew dropped the anchor in the south harbour. All aboard appreciated the relative calm of the anchorage and there was even time for a quick exploration ashore before dinner.

Sat 2 Jun | Focus on St Kilda  Skipper Mark, chef Mark and crew Gog and Tiree welcomed a full complement of 12 guests aboard Hjalmar Bjorge in Oban this afternoon for the first “Focus on St Kilda Expedition” of the year. The boat sailed up to Tobermory for a night on the pontoons.

:: news from the previous month [ May ’12 ]