Our 10-night Far Flung Islands: Mingulay to the Shiants Cruise, departing September 5th 2015 was a great success, where our guests enjoyed seals, whales, basking sharks, dolphins and plenty of eagles and other wildlife en route and at our destinations.
Saturday September 5th
We had a great start to our trip – when heading up the sound of Mull we spotted two adult eagles and a fledged chick. There was also plenty of gannets diving which means there is plenty of fish underneath the surface. Halfway up the Sound, steaming alongside sister ship Hjalmar Bjorge, we were hailed on the radio by a small yacht that was taking in water and was sitting beam to in the middle of the sound.
How lucky for this yacht to have not one, but two former rescue ships come to its aid! Stornoway Coastguard and Tobermory Lifeboat were also alerted. Hjalmar Bjorge gave the yacht a tow into Tobermory bay whilst flanked by Elizabeth G and the Tobermory Lifeboat that within minutes was sighted flying down the sound. In Tobermory we enjoyed a lovely dinner cooked by our chef Martin. Duck and orange pâté for starter, salmon and crushed tatties for mains and a rhubarb and ginger crumble for dessert.
Sunday September 6th
The dream destination for most people on board was Mingulay. We had the weather on our side so we steamed across the Minch and arrived to see a large number of grey seals basking on the beach. We went ashore to explore the deserted village and some even walked all the way up enjoy the views of the spectacular cliffs on the west side of the island. We spotted several great skuas, three white-tailed eagles and a buzzard.
While waiting for our pick-up from the beach we watched the seals playing in the water and swimming curiously up to give us a close look. We also spotted a very early pup which was getting its first swimming lesson from its mother. Back on board we were treated to Martin’s juicy roast pork which had many of the guests ask for the recipe. In the night we were lulled to sleep by the singing seals which we could hear through the hull.
Monday September 7th
We started the day by steaming around the west side of Mingulay. Sadly there were some low hanging clouds that obstructed the views of the cliffs. With it being the end of the breeding season most seabirds had their left nests, but there were still plenty of seabirds on the water and in the air! We spotted fulmars, kittiwakes, greater and lesser black-backed gulls, gannets, guillemots, razorbills and both Manx shearwaters and a great sighting of a rare sooty shearwater.
We anchored off Berneray and went ashore to walk up to Barra Head Lighthouse which rests at the top of very dramatic cliffs. As we set out again we had amazingly flat calm seas and spotted a Minke whale feeding off Mingulay. We could see its open mouth as it came up to the surface and at least six harbour porpoises were also taking advantage of the sea’s bounty. As we steamed towards Vatersay we spotted a very small basking shark. After a relaxing walk on Vatersay the guests came back to fill our hungry bellies which included Chef Martin’s yummy chocolate cheesecake for pud!
Tuesday September 8th
In the morning we visited Castlebay on Barra (with a brief visit from the Barra Boys bottlenose dolphins en route) to replenish stocks and some of the guests taking the opportunity to visit the castle. We left Castlebay and steamed up to South Uist were we went alongside at Lochboisdale. That evening we enjoyed a stunning dinner consisting of peach and salami salad, seafood risotto with sea bass and bread and butter pudding.
Wednesday September 9th
We hopped up on Uist to spend the next day at Lochmaddy trying our best to spot humpback whale and leather-back turtles (which both had been seen in the Minches recently) on our way. No turtles or whales, but instead we enjoyed a small pod of very energetic common dolphins that played at our bow for a good half an hour. These four magnificent creatures did plenty of lob-tailing, full body out of the water breaching, head splashing and very acrobatic swimming belly-to-belly. On shore the guests took the bus to beautiful North Berneray and spotted a dog otter from the bus. Later, back on board, Martin had us all admiring and quickly engulfing his beautiful orzo with spinach and seabream salad and beef stew for mains.
Thursday September 10th
In the morning the guests visited Balranald RSPB nature reserve and spotted some of the over 600 bird species that visit this reserve annually, such as lapwings, greylag geese and whooper swans. In the afternoon we hopped up to the next Outer Hebridean Island which is Harris and anchored up at picturesque Scalpay. Martin performed his magic in the galley and served up pan-fried hand-dived scallops for starter, chicken and mushroom risotto for mains and his famous lemon posset to finish – perfect!
Friday September 11th
We spent the morning walking on Scalpay and some guests even decided to tick two islands of their list in one go by walking across the bridge to Harris. It was well worth the walk as we spotted harbour porpoises from the bridge and had a great sighting of a white-tailed eagle as it flew past us at close range. With some windy weather on the way Skipper Tim decided to hop over the Minch to take shelter in the Sound of Raasay. The windy conditions made it hard for spotting wildlife, but not from lack of trying on behalf of those who stayed out on deck for the whole crossing! We anchored up at beautiful North Rona and enjoyed a warming Spaghetti Bolognese for tea.
Saturday September 12th
In the morning some of the guests did some very adventurous walking across the island all the way to the Church Cave and the deserted village spotting another eagle on the way. On leaving Rona that afternoon we spotted harbour porpoises, common seals and Arctic skuas. We hopped further down the sound into Plockton, our first non-island destination in a week. Martin treated us to what have now become the crews and guests favourite of his meals – fish pie with smoked haddock!
Sunday September 13th
Elizabeth G must have looked bonnie when she steamed under the Skye Bridge. All guests were out on deck despite rain (which made for fantastic rainbows). We headed for one of the most elusive places on the mainland – the famous Knoydart peninsula with the small town of Inverie, which is famous for, amongst other things, having the most remote pub on mainland UK! Well worth a visit, but beware of the locals! Vivi took the guests out looking for wild mushrooms, but sadly none were found due to what must have been a very localised spell of dry weather as the ground was bone dry. Instead of mushrooms the guests enjoyed a gammon steak cooked to perfection and server with roast tatties and veg.
Monday September 14th
We left Inverie with one of the guests spotting porpoises as we left. This proved to be one of the most beautiful days we had all trip with fantastic sunshine. As we were in no hurry, Skipper Tim took us around the beautiful island of Eigg and, while basking in the sunshine on deck, we took in the fantastic views of the Sgurr and the Cuillins on Rum and Skye. Despite almost flat calm seas we did not spot any cetaceans, but the views made up for lack of sightings. Both guests and crew felt sad as we finally made our way down the Sound of Mull. We spent our last night in Lochaline and enjoyed a fantastic last supper of salmon mousse salad, roast chicken and chocolate caramel tart. Sue, one of the guests, sang us the beautiful Mingulay boat song and as we all joined in for the chorus there were definitely a few tears being wiped away.
Tuesday September 15th
We made our way back to Oban and as a splendid farewell we spotted the fledgling white-tailed eagle again and cameras went wild as it swooped very close to the boat. What a perfect send-off for a perfect trip!
Report by Vivi Bolin, September 18th 2015