No stranger to Elizabeth G or the Hebrides, Chris Jackson (CJ) was back on board to skipper our "Idyllic Islands: Hebridean Photography Cruise" of 2015, which was led by professional wildlife photographer Chris Gomersall (CG). The two Chris’s have worked together since 2002, and with Bosun Sarah and Cook Pip on board, we knew the guests would be well entertained and looked after.
Saturday 6th June
We left Oban around 3.00pm. The weather wasn’t great and the forecast wasn’t optimistic, but spirits and expectations for the week were high. With strong winds forecast overnight, we picked up our mooring in Tobermory after a blustery trip along the Sound of Mull. .
Sunday 7th June
With white-caps showing out in the Sound, the Skipper decided that the best plan would be to grab some shore time and let the wind blow through. The guests all went ashore at Tobermory and led by Chris Gomersall, walked in the shelter of Aros Park, where straight away he was able to identify different woodland bird species for them that would be a contrast to the seabirds they would identify off-shore.
After lunch, with the wind easing, we cruised across to Glenmore Bay on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula where we dropped anchor and guests were taken ashore for another walk before dinner and a calm night at anchor.
Monday 8th June
This was more like it! Waiting for the weather to get its act together paid dividends and we awoke to a bright sunny morning and a light breeze. Pushing out past Ardmore point, we were immediately rewarded with our first encounter with a small group of common dolphins, which stayed with the boat for around ten minutes.
Taking advantage of much calmer conditions, the Skipper decided to sail around to the island of Lunga, one of a small group of rocky islands called the Treshnish Isles, lying to the southwest of Mull at the entrance to Loch Na Keal. Lunga hosts several colonies of seabirds, but everyone’s favourites are the puffins.
Guests were able to spend the whole afternoon ashore with these comical little birds, which are far from ‘camera shy’, and the fantastic afternoon light allowed them to capture some fantastic images. Puffins live in burrows, and on Lunga it’s not unusual for them to have to share the accommodation with the local rabbit population who can get a good pecking if they overstay their welcome!
At the end of the afternoon, we cruised gently into Loch Na Keal and the sheltered natural harbour on the Island of Gometra. Pip had prepared a fabulous meal of asparagus in hollandaise sauce, followed by "fruit de mer" pie then lemon posset with praline – just what we needed after a busy afternoon photographing puffins!
Tuesday 9th June
After a super-calm night at Gometra, we decided to have a ‘day at sea’ and after a quick visit to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, we headed north to the Cairns of Coll, where we saw our first Minke whale. We then sailed on behind Muck and Eigg and into Loch Scresort on Rum.
After lunch, the guests went ashore and walked out to a wildlife hide, where most of them were able to see an otter on the shoreline. During dinner that evening, we could hear a red throated diver calling out on the loch.
Wednesday 10th June
Almost as soon as we left Loch Scresort this morning, we saw another Minke whale and were quickly joined by another group of common dolphins as we turned north for Canna.
Making the most of the calm sea condition, we sailed right around Canna before dropping anchor in the wee harbour. Guests all went ashore with a picnic lunch so that they could spend the rest of the day ashore. Canna is a beautiful island with a fascinating variety of terrain, history, plant-life and wildlife – there really is something for everyone. The bluebells in the woods behind Canna House were in full bloom and looked beautiful bathed in the June sunshine.
Back on board, the photographers raved about the little island which is full of surprises – from the quaint ‘rocket’ church to the wild orchids on Compass Hill. They’d also managed to hear an elusive corncrake and its distinctive ‘crex-crex’ call, which is also its name in Latin!
We were joined in the harbour by the sailing vessel ‘Ada Fransen’ and enjoyed a wonderful Hebridean sunset which bathed the mountains of Rum with a gentle evening glow.
Thursday 11th June
Healthy breakfast day! Pip prepared an amazing breakfast of poached rhubarb with cinnamon and orange; poached figs, prunes and apricots, with cloves, cinnamon and white wine, and delicious home-made granola. There were a few sceptics at first, but nobody missed their bacon and eggs!
Bursting with energy, we left Canna and within minutes saw dolphins heading in to bow-ride. There were literally dolphins all around the boat and the followed us for over forty minutes. (In all the time I’ve sailed in these waters, this was one of the best dolphin encounters I’ve seen – CJ). The photographers were ecstatic and hundreds of images quickly filled up memory cards. They won’t forget this encounter in a hurry!
We sailed around the small island of Soay – this is not the island famous for it’s sheep, that’s one of the St Kilda group of islands – where Gavin Maxwell (better known for his book ‘Ring of Bright Water’) set up a basking shark fishing station in the 1940’s. Maxwell’s idea to use every conceivable part of the huge fish instead of only taking its liver may have been sound, but poor management and business practices led to its failure.
Loch Scavaig nestles under the mighty Skye Cuillins and we anchored here for lunch before taking guests ashore to enjoy the enchanting views of the freshwater Loch Coruisk.
Late in the afternoon, we sailed on around the Point of Sleat and up to our anchorage for the night in Loch Na Dal, Isle Ornesay, and another beautiful sunset.
Friday 12th June
…and we awoke to a perfect Hebridean morning – sunny, calm and even warm! We set off for Kyle Rhea where favourable tides allowed us to sail through this narrow passage and see if we could spot an apparently obliging white tailed eagle. Unfortunately, “Victor” was nowhere to be seen, but we later found out that RSPB wardens had used this as an opportunity to tag the eagle chicks in the eyrie.
With such stunning conditions, we ventured into Loch Hourn to enjoy the backdrop of some of Scotland’s finest mountains, some still with snow in the high corries. As we were approaching the end of our week around the islands, and with a forecast of strong north westerly winds, we sailed back down to Loch Droma na Bhuidhe, which nestles at the entrance of Lochs Sunart and Teacus, at the end of the Morvern Peninsula.
Saturday 13th June
We wanted our guests to be able to spend some time ashore today and decided to take them to Lochaline. Not wholly off the beaten track, Lochaline is quite an ‘out of the way’ place to get to unless you have a boat. It’s an interesting place that offers sheltered walking on level ground and a variety of wildlife.
Access into Loch Aline is via a very shallow channel, which is only navigable to larger vessels at certain states of the tide, but we had a wee mission to accomplish before we sailed in. The entrées for dinner!
Pip had arranged with the Ethical Seafood Company on Mull, who specialise in providing top restaurants with hand-dived scallops to collect some fresh scallops for our dinner that evening. Most scallops are gathered by dredging, which is an invasive and destructive process that damages the marine environment. Hand diving for scallops is obviously not as efficient commercially, but it is an ethical sustainable method of fishing and only shellfish of a certain size are gathered.
Scallops on board, we headed for Lochaline, where we were given a berth on their splendid new pontoon system. This allowed easy access ashore and everyone enjoyed a walk ashore before our last dinner together.
Sunday 14th June
Heading out of Loch Aline at 0745 in order to leave before the tide became too low, guests enjoyed a hearty breakfast that would set them up for the day. En route back to Oban, we had a good sighting of a pair of white tailed eagles and a juvenile Minke whale.
Berthing alongside the North Pier, we said our goodbyes to our new shipmates who headed off with full tummies, suntans, thousands of images recording their encounters with the wildlife and scenery of the Hebrides.