We were delighted to welcome back Chris Jackson as the Skipper aboard our annual photography cruise with Chris Gomersall – here is his report. Karen Aspen was Chef and Chris Gomersall took some photos of her delicious food.
For this trip it was myself, Chris Jackson as Skipper and Chris Gomersall as Guide and Photographic Leader. This was also about the 20th photography trip that the two Chris’s have done together, so we knew the guests would be in for a good time. It’s always good to welcome returning guests on board too, so there was soon a relaxed atmosphere as talk turned to “where…when….how…..”.
And so the holiday began.
The weather wasn’t brilliant so the Skipper chose an anchorage in Loch Droma na Bhuide for the first night, where Elizabeth G tucked into a favourite corner in perfect shelter. Chef Karen produced a fantastic first night dinner of moules mariniere, followed by seared salmon and roasted vegetables*. Before anyone had a chance to devour the blackberry mess sweet, someone said, “Oh, what’s that big brown bird…?” and the first white-tailed eagle of the week appeared – as if on cue – to disrupt proceedings. Very obligingly, it spent the rest of the evening perched in a tree overlooking the boat.
Day two began as the first evening had ended, only this time with two birds perched high above us watching proceedings. We left our anchorage for a choppy Loch Sunart and headed across towards the Mull shore and some shelter from the sou’westerly swell. Cruising along with most of the guests out on deck, Skipper Chris soon spotted a third, then fourth white-tailed eagle. Although at a distance and perched in conifers, they were easy to see without binoculars.
The weather forecast was inconclusive, so the Skipper decided to head for another sheltered anchorage off Loch na Keal, where guests went ashore after lunch for an easy walk- watched by inquisitive red deer. On the passage into Loch na Keal we spotted an ocean sun fish – an unusual but not uncommon visitor to these waters in summer months.
One of the things about sailing is that you enjoy it the most when you forget about time and itineraries, deal with whatever weather arrives and always have a good ‘Plan B’. Day three arrived much calmer but not with sea conditions which would allow a safe landing at the island of Lunga – which we hoped would provide our morning visit. So after a visit to the basalt cliffs of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, we headed over to Coll, where we anchored for lunch in Loch Eatharna.
The wind and sea state had decreased, so we had a pleasant sail up to Loch Scresort on Rum, passing rafts of Manx shearwater and several porpoise on the way. Anchored with a splendid view of the Rum Cuillin and Kinloch Castle, our guests went ashore with the Skipper where they spotted red-throated diver, spotted fly-catcher and curlew before returning to Elizabeth G and another splendid dinner of roast loin of pork with roasted vegetables.
The following day presented itself dull and overcast, but the wind was still light, so we headed around to one of our favorite islands – Canna – where we anchored in the harbour. Wanting to make the most of the island and the improving weather, our guests were all provided with packed lunches and departed laden with an array of photographic paraphernalia that only photographers appreciate.
This gave the crew time to get all of the jobs done on board and Chef Karen set to, to create a delicious lamb tagine for dinner. The cloud cover had cleared to leave a beautiful sunny afternoon and when the Skipper and Bosun Sarah went ashore to collect the guests, they were all sunning themselves outside Café Canna and enjoying ice cream, and various ‘beverages’….
Loving Canna, all of the guests opted to stay ashore as long as possible and walked out to ‘prison rock’ and the beach at An Corraghon. Finally all back safely aboard, another excellent dinner was complimented by a splendid “Canna sunset” with the cloud still clinging to the Cuillin on Rum and Skye bathed in coral sunlight.
One of the great, yet frustrating, things about expedition cruises is that the itinerary can and does change at a moments notice. Skipper Chris knew there was a possibility of strong winds on the way and planned the day accordingly. After a gentle cruise amongst the seabirds around the north cliffs of Canna, Elizabeth G headed toward the island of Soay and Loch Scavaig.
The coastguard soon changed that, updating the earlier weather forecast with a gale warning…”southwesterly gale force 8 expected soon..”. This wasn’t the best of news and as we still needed options for good wildlife sightings, the Skipper decided that the safest bet would be to return to Tobermory where Elizabeth G has her own mooring.
This turned out to be a wise move and although the gale blew through quickly several other boats were reporting rough conditions further west. On the mooring, all was calm……
People with an understanding of wildlife know that the true joy of watching wild creatures is to be able to watch them in their natural habitat. With whales and dolphins, that can be tricky, as the sea is an awfully big thing! So feeling a little cheated by the weather, we headed out of Tobermory wondering what we’d come across next. The weather still wasn’t brilliant, but up in the wheelhouse the Skipper spotted some tell-tale splashes about half a mile off the bow – dolphins!
Soon Elizabeth G was surrounded with an active pod of bottlenose dolphins who came across to check us out and try their bow-riding skills. There were even some calves with the group who were carefully shepherded by the adults. The dolphins stayed with us for around ten minutes and we were then able to watch them at a distance as they seemed to be feeding. What a treat on a grey day!
Inspired by the dolphins, the Skipper and Chris Gomersall decided that a second attempt at Lunga would produce another great spectacle for the guests. Although the sea state wasn’t great, the Skipper reckoned that in the anchorage at Lunga, everything would be fine.
The guests were rewarded with a splendid visit to Lunga, where they were able to spend the best part of the day with no other visitors to the island! The puffins – as always – were the favorite and one lucky guest was able to photograph two adult birds shepherding an inquisitive chick back into its burrow.
Following a night in Lochaline, guests went ashore for a walk before we moved off for our final day at sea. It wasn’t long before we spotted a white-tailed eagle – closely followed by a second! It was so calm, that we just continued to cruise while lunch was served.
We sailed around the island of Lismore (“Big Garden”) passed the iconic Castle Stalker and the Tirrefour Broch, before crossing the Firth of Lorn and into Loch Spelve for our final night. Although the most definitive bird sightings for the day had to be the white-tailed eagles, we also saw dipper and hen harriers – which just shows how diverse the wildlife of the Hebrides is! All told, we saw 77 different species.
And it’s back to Oban, sailing around the island of Kerrera and past Gylen Castle before picking up our mooring in Oban Bay and bidding the guests farewell – until the next time!
Notes on the food:
Guests with vegetarian, vegan or special dietary requirements are always catered for according to their requirements. At every meal Chef Karen Aspen took this into consideration, preparing several dishes.
The dishes featured in the photographs are (from top to bottom)
Local prawns with garlic and herb butter
Prosciutto, mozzarella and fig salad
Raspberry marscapone cheesecake
Homemade beetroot and vodka gravadlax