Our new “Big 5” cruise was in response to suggestions from our guests for a focus on finding the major Scottish wildlife icons. Autumn is one of the best times of the year to get close sightings of wildlife so we established an end-of-season Inner Hebrides “Big 5” wildlife short cruise which would “bag” five rare species in our cruising area. Our specialist Wildlife Guide Lyndsey was aboard Proud Seahorse and was set the challenge to find otters, eagles, red deer stags, harbour porpoise and common seals during our first “Big 5” five-day cruise. The rest of the crew, Skipper Chris, Chef Ross and Bosun Sarah are all able to help find wildlife alongside their normal mission of exposing our guests to wonderful scenery, exceptional hospitality and gourmet meals.           

Day 1:  After welcoming guests on board with prosecco and canapés, we departed from Oban, heading for Connel Bridge and Loch Etive. The prosecco glasses weren’t even empty before two of the Big 5 on our list were spotted by Lynsey. A quick run around the vessel ensured that all on-board got a good view of a pair of white-tailed eagles soaring over Oban and a small group of harbour porpoise in the loch. After dropping anchor in Loch Etive, guests had time to choose between a spell in the hot tub or a shore walk before sampling the delights of their first dinner on board provided by Chef Ross. The menu of king prawn cocktail, braised oxtail and a dark chocolate mousse with homemade honeycomb set the culinary standard for the rest of the cruise.

Day 2:  The autumn months often provide fantastic sunsets and sunrises and this morning was no exception as the ship awoke to a fantastic sunrise over the flat, calm waters of Loch Etive. After a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled egg we lifted the anchor to cruise up Loch Etive with fabulous views that got even better as we made our way along the loch.  Very soon we had fantastic sighting of a pair of white-tailed eagles sitting close to the shore and them in flight which gave everyone a great appreciation of the sheer size of these beautiful birds. We continued on up the loch, passing close to a common seal haul-out, providing 3 out of the “Big 5” bagged! We continued onto the head of the loch and number 4 of the “Big 5” could be ticked off the list as a herd of majestic red deer were spotted on the hillside. Both hinds and stags could be seen, and it was clear the rut was in full swing, with the stags roaring and chasing hinds along the mountainside. That afternoon, Lynsey accompanied guests on a walk along the wooded shoreline of Loch Etive, where crossbills, buzzards and jays were identified. At the end of the walk, the boat tender was waiting to transport guests back on board for a cruise further up Loch Etive to the anchorage for the night.

Day 3:  Departing Loch Etive, the beautiful island of Lismore was the first destination of the day and soon guests were ashore enjoying a one-way 6-mile walk, spotting kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks along the way. Oystercatchers, grey herons and widgeon were added to the list of wildlife near the pick-up point by tender in the north of the island. There were hopes that this hot-spot for otters would provide a sighting but they were elusive on this occasion. Loch a’ Choire on Morvern was our anchorage for the night, providing a dramatic backdrop for dinner, surrounded by mountains in full autumn colours with the roar of rutting stags heard on every side.

Day 4:  The next day we made our way across Loch Linnhe to the island of Mull and Loch Spelve. More red deer and common seals were spotted as we entered Loch Spelve, a well-known habitat for otters and we had fingers crossed we were going to meet the challenge.  Dropping anchor close to Inverlussa mussel farm, guests were enjoying lunch when three otters were spotted playing together close by in the loch, a delightful sight andnd our final “Big 5” cruise target was in the bag!  At this point the weather took a turn for the worse so for the remainder of the day guests enjoying the comforts and luxury of Proud Seahorse over leisurely afternoon tea, a glass of prosecco and a dip in the hot tub. Meanwhile, when the sun did come out, good views were had of a male hen harrier nearby!

Day 5: The last morning of the cruise dawned dry and bright as we left Loch Spelve for Oban. Passing Kerrera, guests were treated to a wonderful sighting of two white-tailed eagles resting on the shore, then taking off over the sea. Lynsey and Crew were delighted to report a successful mission, with all target species spotted - some several times - and lots of other interesting wildlife spotted too.

A week later, Lynsey was on board Elizabeth G for their Inner Hebrides “Big Five” cruise challenge and again was very pleased to report total success.  Well done Lynsey!