Our second cruise of the season is now complete, new crew Sarah describes her second cruise aboard (Photo credits, Sarah Long, the Gannets, thumb nail of the red-throated diver and the stunning shot of the Common Dolphin on HBj’s bow are by guest Helen Wilson).
An hour before passengers were due to step on board the Hjalmar Bjorge on Wednesday, the heavens opened and the rain came down. This wasn’t the ideal start to a 9-night trip aiming to reach St Kilda, but everyone was cheery and optimistic. After getting to know each another over tea and scones, we set sail for Loch Druimbuidhe, a beautiful anchorage near Ardnamurchan Point and enjoyed a cracking sunset.
Thursday morning brought a great northern diver and an otter, both feeding in the loch as we fuelled up on toast, porridge, fruit salad and homemade granola.
The seas were choppy as we left Loch Druimbuidhe and headed north. Flocks of shearwaters and auks fluttered close in front of the bow of the boat, while gannets plunge-dived nearby. We stopped into Kinloch on Rum for a quick lunch of Sarah’s tomato and basil soup, with views up to Rum’s mountains and over to Kinloch Castle.
We pushed on towards Skye in the afternoon, as the wind picked up and the seas became lumpier. By early evening, the boat made it into Loch Harport (a small sea loch connected to Loch Bracadale) and anchored with a stunning view of Talisker Distillery. We found great hospitality in the local inn at Carbost, and spotted skylarks, goldfinches, common sandpipers, and heard a cuckoo.
On Friday, foaming white horses were rolling in through the loch, the wind was howling, and the boat rocked. We spent the day on board reading, editing photos and eating cake, as Don entertained us with some excellent folk guitar/harmonica tunes. Eventually the gales blew themselves out, the waters calmed, and the Cuillin Ridge appeared dark against the pink and orange hues of the evening light.Some of us shared yoga and tai chi poses on the bow, which coupled with a few laps around the boat, stretched out the muscles and felt almost like a day ashore!
We left Loch Bracadale early Saturday morning to make the most of the good weather, and sailed through a sunny and calm Sound of Harris. Skipper Mark decided against the crossing to St Kilda that day as the weather was still a bit too rough, so we pulled into Leverburgh Harbour.
Our guests discovered the historic church of St Clement’s in Rodel and a variety of wildlife, including a golden eagle being mobbed by ravens, greenshank, whooper swans, and a lapwing/peewit with chicks. Wildflowers were also abundant, including king cups, tormentil, violets and sundew. That evening I spotted a bird I had never seen before a few metres from the boat – a red-throated diver – which was playing with its dinner like a cat with a mouse, throwing it about, carrying it and suddenly gulping it down before going off to catch another! Dinner finished quite late that evening as crew and guests watched this stunning bird in the golden evening light for a while.
On Sunday morning, the Sound of Harris looked deceptively calm as we watched arctic terns perform their courtship displays with sand eels. However, the sea was lumpy as we made our way across to St Kilda from Leverburgh – most guests choosing to stick on the ‘sun deck’, watching huge flocks of manx shearwaters rafting on the water. As Boreray became larger and larger on the horizon, more gannets were flying close to the boat on their travels out in search of lunch.
We arrived at St Kilda mid-afternoon and passengers explored Hirta. For guest Andrew, this was familiar ground, having been a part of the first National Trust work party to go out to the archipelago, back in the 1960’s.
We left Village Bay early on Monday to marvel at the Boreray gannet colony close-up. Many gannets were carrying back pieces of nesting material such as kelp and (unfortunately) plastics such as nylon fishing rope.
Spirits were high in the saloon as we journeyed back and after sheltering in Lochmaddy for the night, and we headed south to Loch Eport for Tuesday night. Most guests hiked up Little Eaval, spotting deer and drinker moth caterpillars on the hillside. In the evening, guest Jane spotted two storm petrels flitting quickly past the boat.
Good weather finally arrived on Wednesday. Approaching Canna, we saw a pod of common dolphins – 50-100 in total. As they were feeding, we didn’t bring the boat close to the pod, but about 10, including a calf, chose to bow-ride alongside the Hjalmar Bjorge!The guests explored sunny Canna and visited the recently-opened Café Canna, which has stunning views across the bay and over to Sanday island.
Thursday – We left Canna for our final night at Loch Spelve, on east Mull. It was a long day at sea but rewarding, as we spotted another pod of common dolphins and several small pods of harbour porpoise. Just as we were approaching Ardnamurchan Point, a juvenile minke whale broke the surface of the water a couple of times before making a deep dive.
Passing Mull, we were treated to superb views of both golden and white-tailed sea eagles. I was particularly excited to visit a golden eagle nest which on the last trip we had spotted a young chick sitting in. We only made a fleeting visit so as not to disturb the eagles, but as the boat left the area, one of the parents flew on to the nest. With maximum zoom on my camera, I took a shaky shot of the nest, and captured what looks like the parent feeding the chick!
Anchoring in Loch Spelve for the night, we enjoyed our last meal – Moroccan-style lamb stew with couscous, celeriac salad and halloumi (or vegetable stew with couscous for us veggies) – before relaxing to some live folk music.
On Friday morning, just as the engines started, guest Helen spotted an otter swimming across the loch. A trip with 100+ dolphins, porpoise, a whale, otter, seals, and eagles (plus storm petrels and red-throated diver) is definitely a wildlife-spotting success if you ask me!
DID YOU KNOW?
Our primary vessel Hjalmar Bjørge is a 23m ex-Norwegian ice-class rescue vessel was purchased by us in 2002.