Crew member Sarah gives her account of her last cruise of the season with us!  A stormy week which nevertheless gave us great wildlife sightings:

Sunday 16th September

It was a dreich morning that the Hjalmar Bjorge woke to on Sunday, the sunlight just breaking through the low cloud above Loch Spelve, east Isle of Mull.

We had motored here from Oban the afternoon before, our group of 9 being a mixture of returnees and newcomers to west coast cruising (and the Hjalmar Bjorge herself!).

Before the generators came alive at 7am, I took in the peaceful vista of the loch, not a car or person in sight, the sounds of animals on shore muted by the gentle drizzle.

After a breakfast of bacon butties or coconut milk porridge with strawberries, blueberries and mixed seeds, our guests went ashore to explore the walk to Loch Buie, which follows a path along the shores of Loch Uisg. Even before they were ashore, they had views of a white-tailed sea eagle, gliding silently in front of Glas Bheinn.

Although it was our initial plan to go and explore the Garvellachs (just north of Jura), upon leaving Loch Spelve, skipper Mark decided rather than head into the weather and potentially get stuck in a southerly anchorage, we would head north, to Lismore.

On our passage, Mark spotted a procellaforme that was too small for a shearwater, but too big for a European storm petrel. Along with its distinctive forked tail, it was identified as a Leach’s petrel – highly unusual for one to be seen so close to civilisation so a fantastic sighting!

As we anchored off Port Ramsey, Lismore, we watched a flock of 15 mergansers take into flight, startling the herons that were dotted around the shoreline.

Monday

I awoke to a surprisingly still Port Ramsey, expecting the weather to have started to build up already (there was a strong storm force-11 wind due in a few days’ time). But it was calm in the twilight, and before the anchorage lit up fully, I could just hear the calls of dozens of migrating pink-footed geese overhead.

After fuelling up with a breakfast of honey-roast pork sausage butties or porridge topped with dried mangoes and bananas, we went ashore for either 1.5 or 3 hours to explore. Right on the shoreline of Port Ramsey are old lime-kilns, which are worth an explore just on their own. The row of cottages with neatly maintained gardens are also a delight to meander past, but I decided to go on my first ever run ashore, all around the north end of Lismore. I’m used to jogs around crowded streets in my home city of Edinburgh, so I wasn’t prepared for all the stopping and starting I’d end up doing – first to watch a buzzard hovering overhead, looking for lunch, then to listen to the varied birdsong in the trees. After reaching The Point, there was a rough track leading round the north end of the island, that leads back to Port Ramsey, so a full loop is possible!

After lunch, we knew that our anchorage wouldn’t be protected over the next couple of days from the winds, so we upped anchor and headed over to Loch Druim ne Buidhe, just in between Morvern and Oronsay, which was wonderfully calm. Despite the drizzle, spirits were high as we were treated to Steve’s cranachan after a warming Menorcan Hake dinner.

Tuesday

It wasn’t long before breakfast when Mark spotted a dark shape on the shoreline of Loch Druim na Buidhe – an otter, but about 150m away! We crowded around the bow of the boat to watch it, binoculars and scopes pressed firmly to eyes.

After breakfast, our guests had an explore on the Morvern side of the loch, marvelling at the number of different trees, tracks (including fox prints) and wildlife (including a baby toad!).

We made a break for Tobermory in early afternoon, using the few hours of calm weather to our advantage. Tobermory is a brilliant shelter from any southerly weather, not only providing us with a pre-arranged mooring but also a delightful mixture of quaint shops or museums and woodland walks to take you out of the town.

Wednesday

With tropical storm-esque wind and rain howling over Tobermory, we were pleased to hear that Mark’s anchorage choice for the weather had paid off – it was gusting 58 knots over at Lochaline, just up the Sound of Mull, but nice and comfortable in Tobermory Harbour. We spent a quiet morning breakfasting and relaxing, while guests Penny and Andy decided that this would be the day for them to try mackerel fishing for the first time. With the line out, and passengers expectantly watching over the side of the side of the boat, we expected the line to be getting nibbles any minute. Minutes passed, which became twenty minutes, still without a bite, before Mark appeared to give a quick lesson in jiggling the line just so that it annoys the fish. After that, Penny and Andy were on a roll, at one stage pulling up the line with four fish on – one on each hook!!

After they were quickly killed, gutted and then filleted over the afternoon by Steve, he baked them piri-piri style with a fresh tomato salsa salad as a starter to a very fishy dinner, followed by creamy fish pie (or creamy root vegetable pie for veggies).

The weather all day had been fascinating to watch – one minute torrential, tropical rain, the next blazing sunshine. The evening sky had been almost orange, making my photos of the shags that splashed off the nearby cliffs look almost pink! After nightfall, the cloud had passed enough for us to see the stars above Mull, bright in the lack of light pollution and dark autumn sky.

Thursday

At last, the weather had blown over for the week – what an amazing sight to wake up and see a flat-calm Tobermory Bay!

We lifted anchor shortly after breakfast (of Greek-style tomatoes), and headed eastwards down the Sound of Mull to Lochaline. There was a whole host of avian life to watch on the way – guest Martin identified manx shearwaters, European storm petrels, bonxies, gannets and razorbills on our short punt over!

We tied on to the pontoons at Lochaline, which gave our guests ample opportunity to come and go as they pleased. They worked up an appetite for lunch with a walk to the village – and what a lunch!! Baked tatties with crispy skins, with choice pf piri-piri Tobermory mackerel, tuna, salads, a five-bean salad, rasel hanout (lamb chilli) and the best hummous I have ever tasted (homemade of course!).

After lunch, our guests split, some heading off in the dinghy to the east side of Loch Aline to go ‘fossicking’ (looking for the fossils along the shoreline) and walking back round to the pontoons over about three miles, and others heading off into the woods for a ramble. Guests Alan and Jackie were lucky enough to see an otter swimming in the loch while sitting in the wildlife hide! Walking along the west side of Loch Aline to Kinlochaline Castle, then up through quiet woodlands, I was enchanted by the amount of different mushroom species growing on the forest floor and up the trees.

Deer watched me silently from outside, prevented from grazing and gradually deforesting the woods by sturdy deer fences. When I made my way back along the shore, passing by the Lochaline Sand Mine (which harvests silica quartz sand), I noticed three medium-sized birds with yellow rumps that certainly weren’t chaffinches. They stopped to bob their tails for a moment and it was wonderful to see that they were grey wagtails!

Steve served up his beautiful lemon drizzle cake over an informal afternoon tea, and later on as we watched our last day of the trip turn into dusk, we were treated to a rosy-pink sunset above the glassy loch, as owls hooted from the shore. Although we hadn’t been able to make the journey down to the Garvellachs as intended, we’d been able to shelter expertly away from the weather and see some brilliant autumnal wildlife.

While the Hjalmar Bjorge will be sailing around Scotland’s beautiful west coast for another week, this was the final trip of my first season aboard as crew. I’m already looking forward to Spring rolling around again and hopping back on board!