Our August Western Isles Explorer cruise started with poor weather but guests were treated to some fantastic wildlife encounters during the cruise. Blog by Skipper Tim, photos by guest Maurice
Sat 6th Aug – Some familiar faces join HBJ for a Western Isles Cruise. Andrew and Ruth on their 10th trip, Martha and Maurice on their 6th or 7th and Graham and Dorothy on their third. Also a party of 3 sisters and a brother aboard to celebrate a 60th birthday and a couple from Newcastle with a case that contains a fiddle. Forecast is for a storm but it holds off long enough for everyone to get aboard and have a calm evening cruise up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory and a very secure mooring.
Sun 7th – Wind arrived in the night so its a late breakfast, Craig not aboard for this trip,( being replaced by Eszter), would have been delighted after previous weeks early starts. Guests ashore for walks with the waterfall on the Aros walk being particularly spectacular. All aboard for lunch, (chef Mark this week so there is more than enough) after which departure was made for a scenic cruise up Loch Sunart. Unfortunately the rain and mist decided to get worse at the same time so not much was seen up this pretty loch and on entering Loch Drumbuidhe for the night the wind started to blow even harder so it was back to the mooring in Tobermory for another night of wind.
Mon 8th – Morning and its still blowing but all is not lost as Andy brings out the fiddle and plays some fine tunes. Wind finally started to drop mid morning so it was round Ardnamurchan Point and up to Rum. First Basking Shark of the season was spotted off Muck along with a Minke Whale. Guests ashore for walks and possible tour of the Castle, hopes being high as we have on board Graham Bullough a friend of the castle, possibly even a distant relation of the Bulloughs who built it but we are told none of the wealth came his way. Unfortunately nobody was around to let them in, seems the guide has gone on holiday, so walks were had instead. Dinner was some very fine Lamb.
Tues 9th – It’s a calmer morning so it’s up and away towards NW Skye and Neist point where the sea calmed down. Large pod of Common Dolphins in Moonen Bay then it’s round the light and past the impressive cliffs. Anchor down off Isay in Loch Dunvegan for lunch followed by a visit ashore to the house where numerous people were murdered by a MacLoed so he could secure his lineage. Then it’s over to Stein and another shore visit. Oldest pub in Skye here plus the last natural tannery in Scotland called Skyeskins which sells some fine sheepskins. Dinner includes Mackerel fresh out of the Loch and delivered to the boat by Tim’s grandson.
Wed 10th – Calm morning and it’s over to the Shiants. Not calm for long enough unfortunately and with a swell running, a breeze building and on arrival waves breaking on the beach there is no prospect of landing. However still plenty of birds around, mostly Puffins with Guillemots and Razorbills in amongst the rocks and with a couple of Minkie Whales seen off Waternish Point the journey is not a waste. Slow motor around the islands and then over to Scalpay. Wet walks ashore then back on board for hot showers and a motor up to Tarbert for the night.
Thurs 11th – More tunes from Andy as the morning was wet but by eleven there was a break in the rain so Guests ashore for a couple of hours. The new distillery is up and running and open for visitors but is so popular that tours are fully booked until the weekend, a lesson for Rum surely.
Afternon passage down to Loch Maddy for the night.
Fri 12th – Out past the Maddies, the southern one known as the Surly Dog, no explanation forthcoming I’m afraid but reminds you that there is no Seven aboard chasing her tail, sleeping under a pile of blankets and vacuuming the carpet. Down past Benbecula and Ushinish light on S Uist with nothing to report, but then a huge Hurry of birds made up of Manx Shearwaters and Gannets having a feeding frenzy. Gannets diving right by the side of the boat making it white and Manx Shearwaters also plunging.
No sign of a whale but half an hour later there are 3 very fine fins in the water which we are not sure about, Risso’s or White Beaks. Then it’s into Acarsaig on Eriskay to tie up alongside. Walks ashore along the very fine beach and drinks had in the Politician. Its hard to imagine how 264,000 bottles of whisky disappeared on such a small island this being the Island on which the film Whisky Galore is based.
Sat 13th – Down to Sandray anchoring off the northern beach. Half the guests got a dinghy ride to the beach but with the swell and a rising breeze that is as far as they got. Instead it was back to the boat and for most an exhilarating ride through the Sound of Mingulay to look at the cliffs on the west side. Too rough for a circumnavigation so it was back to the calm waters of Vatersay for mid afternoon and walks ashore with birds, flowers and rocks.
Sun 14th – It’s calm and it’s perfect spotting conditions. First up its the three dolphins from the previous day which show themselves this time to be White Beaks. Then it’s some Common Dolphins followed by a Minke Whale. Common Dolphins keep appearing as the morning progresses along with large numbers of Manx Shearwaters and Petrels. A Basking Shark is also spotted but becomes elusive. Then just before the Cairns of Coll another Minke Whale is spotted and comes close enough for everyone to smell its breath.
Into the Sound of Mull and a couple of Sea Eagles on the shore with one of them good enough to fly. Then it’s down to Loch Aline to tie up on the pontoons to enable everyone to get ashore for a few hours.
After dinner Graham for the second night does a presentation for the guests about Rum. The first night about the deer and geology, and tonight about the Castle.
Sat 15th – Calm sunny morning as we motor into Oban for breakfast and departures.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Gannet is the largest seabird indigenous to the British Isles, at up to 95 cm (37 inches) in length, and 70% of the world's population of gannets breed.