Regular guest and friend of Northern Light Charters, John Humphries of Scottish Islands Explorer magazine, joined our Outer Hebrides and St Kilda cruise earlier this month, which yielded a fantastic array of sightings of rare birds – including a Black-throated diver and a Wilson’s Phalarope, along with great sightings of wheatear, dunlin and stonechat. Photos below by guests Louisa and Judi:
John kindly provided the following cruise report:
Outer Hebrides and St Kilda
Saturday 8 – Monday 17 August 2015
The composition of any cruise depends on both constant and variable factors. The destinations, and the vessel to reach them, are there, whenever planned; the passengers, crew and … weather … are another matter. The Summer of ’15 may have been benign in the South, but the North-West suffered from its very commencement until the end of the first week in August.
Those passengers who gathered in Oban in mid-afternoon on Saturday 8 August were unaware that a series of treats lay ahead. Their first on-board experience – after freshly-baked scones – was a dash across to Craignure, Mull, to sound the horn and cascade a water-jet to greet newly-weds at the Community Hall. One of its regular crew members and her husband, with guests, were greeted by Hjalmar Bjorge.
Not many couples have 15 passengers and crew waving them off into married life. If the lifelong experiences in front of them can be symbolised by the ship’s voyage to the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda, then in return for a little turbulence they will have a lot of pleasure, plain sailing, stimulation and the fulfilment of goals. The first night of the Hjalmar Bjorge cruise was spent sedately in Tobermory Harbour.
Introductions had been made and it was soon apparent that the 15 on board would get on with one another. Tim, the skipper, provided thoughtful plans and imminent forecasts; Craig, the first mate, cheerful services throughout the vessel; Mark, the chef, delicious food throughout the day. Whenever Northern Light Charters’ passengers gather they do have certain expeditionary interests in common.
However, personalities and professions differ widely and compatibility can never be taken for granted, for it’s one of those variables. Here the mix – of two retired headteachers, a VAT inspector, school’s IT consultant, freelance surveyor and trainer, Highways Agency official, driving instructor, intensive-care nurse, stockman turned warehouseman, librarian now artist, author, and editor – just worked.
Canna was the first call and a relief after heavy seas. The prospect of a walk around the bay and over the bridge to Sanday had a settling effect. The following day saw the seas relatively calm for the dash to the Sound of Harris and the heading off into the Atlantic for St Kilda. Whatever the conditions the arrival into Village Bay is always an occasion for celebration.
We had reached our destination and it was only Day Three. The following morning provided that ultimate ‘trip around the bay’ with Soay, Stac Lee, Stac Armin and Boreray viewed from the closest of quarters. Then we were ‘back in time for tea’ or rather packed lunch to be consumed on Hirta. Four other craft had arrived and so 90 people were on the island and in the shop.
This was not an anti-climax, however, for a variety of places were to be explored on the way back – the Monachs; Lochmaddy and Loch Euphort in North Uist; Ushinish Lighthouse in South Uist; Castlebay, Barra, and neighbouring Vatersay; with mooring in Lochaline for the final evening meal and night. A speech was made to thank the crew and the final tally of sightings compiled.
The on-board levels of wildlife knowledge and photographic expertise were high. Consequently the entries in the ship’s log of birds, beasts and botanic specimens mattered as though it were a fierce competition with previous groups. The 75 varieties of birds was impressive; that the orca which evaded us was compensated by a close-up of a minke whale and several pods, teams or schools of dolphins.
Discussion followed as to whether the emu seen in Castlebay or the stuffed pelican in a house in Lochaline should count, but importing and taxidermy were deemed to disqualify. It was the genuine that mattered and this applied particularly to the voyage – where the constancy of the Hjalmar Bjorge and the skills used to navigate her to the ‘edge of the world’ in variable conditions were considered to be a triumph.
Entries from skipper’s log, including overnight anchorages:
Day 1 – Overnight in Loch Drumbuie
Day 2 – Guests ashore at Canna, Overnight at Portnalong, Skye. Black throated diver spotted
Day 3 – Passage to Village Bay
Day 4 – at St Kilda
Day 5 – passage to the Monach Isles. Wilson’s Phalarope spotted by 2 guests. Overnight at Cheesebay, North Uist
Day 6 – to Lochmaddy for lunch, then on to Loch Eport for overnight. Guest Marc walked over the hills from Lochmaddy to Loch Eport
Day 7 – to Ushenish Lighthouse, South Uist, then on to Eriskay for overnight
Day 8 – On to Castlebay, Barra. Some guests walked to Vatersay, which was the overnight anchorage
Day 9 – Passage back to Lochaline for overnight anchorage
DID YOU KNOW?
The first signs of habitation on Hirta (the largest island in the St Kilda archipelago and the only one you can really land on) are thought to have occurred c. 600 AD.