Hebridean Explorer Cruise with Marc Calhoun


Pabbay anchorage

Saturday 21st May. Passengers were welcomed aboard Hjalmar Bjorge by Chef Lynda, guide, Marc Calhoun, skipper, Mark and Anna. After the initial introductions, we departed Oban for a first night stop over at Tobermory. Another early start on Sunday saw us once again crossing the Sea of the Hebrides, this time bound for Pabbay. It was lovely sail in bright sunshine with a brisk northerly wind. On arrival at Pabbay we could see a number of tents on the island but little sign of activity. We presumed that it was a climbing party tackling the great arch on the west side of the island. We spent the early afternoon ashore with our guests escorted by Marc to the old village and graveyard. An idyllic first island landing, it set the tone for the rest of the trip.

After departing Pabbay we had a brief look at Sandray before continuing to Vatersay for an early evening walk and exploration before dinner.

Bottlenose Dolphin SOB

Bottlenose dolphin in the Sound of Barra

Monday, after a drab start the weather improved as we travelled further north. We were delighted to encounter the Bottlenose Dolphin pod in the Sound of Barra and they escorted out of the Drovers Channel into the Atlantic proper. At the Monachs, we anchored in the South Harbour before disembarking guests to walk on Shillay and Caenn Iar. Another stunning day followed by a cracking sunset and singing grey seals.


Caenn Iar Beach, Monachs

Caenn Iar Beach, Monachs

Tuesday saw our party visiting one of my favourite destinations, the island of Scarp. On the way I spied yacht ‘Alondre’ which had been at Scarp since leaving St Kilda (our earlier encounter) the previous week. We had a brief chat on the VHF, the yachts crew had had a lovely week anchored off Scarp and Loch Cravadale. Our guests spent a wonderful afternoon ashore on the island, most of whom had enjoyed the hospitality of island residents Brian and Sheila. Anna and I had a game of bowls utilising a variety of old fishing floats, we had great fun before joining Brian and Sheila for a cup of tea! We remained in the anchorage overnight enjoying wonderful views as we swung gently on anchor.

Scarp View

Scarp village

Scarp beach and Ben HushnishWednesday, we left Scarp with a brisk north easterly wind blowing and turned south back to the Sound of Harris and the isle of Pabbay. After anchoring there, we took an early lunch to see if conditions would settle down as the landing looked a wee bit choppy! The wind and swell gradually dropped and we were all delighted to land on this wonderful island, what a gem!

Church on Pabbay

Church on Pabbay

Boreray Wall

Boreray Wall

From Pabbay we turned south once more and made the short hop to Boreray, this time we got the guests ashore immediately after anchoring. I loved Pabbay, but Boreray was very special. The Monk’s graveyard and the ruined village are very evocative in a dramatic setting, St Kilda and Boreray could be seen to the west!

Maclean Village Boreray

Maclean Village Boreray

Pabbay SOund of Harris

Pabbay, Sound of Harris

Returning to the beach after exploring the island I could see that our returning passengers were in high spirits, a reluctant departure! We did however remain on anchor on the south side of the island and enjoyed another extraordinary sunset!

Shiant arrival

Garbh Eilean, Shiants

Thursday, Boreray to Shiants. Breakfast was leisurely taken, allowing us to continue our enjoyment of a wonderful (occasional) anchorage. Eventually lifting the hook we voyaged through the Sound of Harris in comparative shelter before turning north into the Little Minch. This was our first encounter with any serious weather, the wind was blowing force 6-7 and our course meant we were heading straight into the swell. Hjalmar Bjorge seems to relish these conditions and we ploughed our way quickly north to the Shiants. On arrival we anchored in the lee of islands to the south but a combination of swell and very low tides prevented a safe landing. Marc had brief walk trying to find a safer landing option but in the end we decided to stay put and attempt a landing the next morning.

Friday, the wind had dropped so we gently circumnavigated Garbh EIlean and re-anchored to the north of the isthmus between Eilean Garbh and Eilean an Taighe. Our guests were quickly put ashore and enjoyed the morning exploring Eilean an Taighe with Marc. Mid morning, the Hebridean Princess cruise ship turned up in the anchorage and I though our idyll was going to be disturbed, however after a short stay in the bay they headed away to the east.

Before collecting the guests, I decided to jump over the side and do some foraging. This turned into one of the most amazing dives I’ve ever had. Hovering above the kelp,10m beneath the surface I was soon joined by numerous Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins swimming beside me. They were all mistaking my bubbles for potential fish, they escorted me throughout the dive. I soon gave up any hope of collecting scallops and just watched the birds swimming, silver grey bodies with gracefully flapping wings powering them through the water. Anna aboard Hjalmar Bjorge could see that I was having fun, likewise some of the guests viewed the encounter from the top of the adjacent cliffs.

After collecting the guests from the landing we pottered in the inflatable along the cliffs of Garbh Eilean and through the arch (a great place to view Lewisian Gneiss) to the north of the island. The guests loved this, returning back to the Hbj we just turned off the motor to listen and watch the hundreds of birds around us, magic!

We reluctantly departed the Shiants, sailing south in calm seas to Canna. We had numerous sightings of common dolphins in a flat calm sea. At Canna we enjoyed another calm evening and spectacular sunset, overnight we listened to the nearby grey seal colony seemingly singing in chorus.

Rum view from Canna

Rum and the Sound of Canna

Saturday,we landed the guests with a packed lunch. Marc was leading a walk round the island, the main historic target being the nunnery below the west cliffs. Meanwhile, I dropped over the side and gathered the evening’s starter.

Late afternoon we once again brought the guests aboard and we made a short cruise to Rum and enjoyed dinner in Loch Scresort. The next morning we landed the guests for a walk on the island and a tour of the castle, unfortunately the castle was closed. However everyone had a delightful walk in the continuing sunshine, the island seemed to be midge free! After lunch we departed Rum and cruised to Eigg where our guests spent the afternoon. A cab was hired and transported our guests to the Singing Sands for the afternoon, they were collected on time and returned to the pier for me to once again whizz them back to Hbj. In perfect conditions we then cruised to Muck and anchored there overnight.

Our last full day was spent ashore on Muck before departing mid afternoon back into the Sound of Mull for a final evening on anchor off Ardtournish. Our thanks to Marc Calhoun for providing the inspiration and itinerary for this cruise, it was superb!

To read more about Marc and his travels, follow this link

Islands visited; Pabbay, Sandray, Vatersay, Monachs, Scarp, Pabbay (Sound of Harris), Boreray, Shiants, Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck





Atlantic puffins have penguin-like colouring but they sport a colourful beak that has led some to dub them the "sea parrot". The beak fades to a drab grey during the winter and blooms with colour again in the spring.