Day1: With our guests onboard and the safety briefing done we left Oban’s North Pier in sunshine and headed west, passing the Isle of Lismore into the Sound of Mull. Straight away it could be seen that we had some enthusiastic birdwatchers and photographers onboard as everyone was up forward looking for birds and taking photos. We were accompanied of course by our onboard guide and professional wildlife photographer Chris Gomersall.
Gannets, Terns, Northern Divers, Black Guillemots and Eider Duck were seen to name just a few. Due to the forecast giving strong winds and that not many of our guests had been to Tobermory we came into the bay and moored alongside the pontoons, an excellent facility which has been a huge success for this delightful village. After a mouth-watering first dinner prepared by our onboard chef Martin, which included a lovely salmon steak with fresh vegetables, our guests took an evening stroll around the harbour after eating so well.
Day 2: After a hearty breakfast. We headed round to Bloody Bay just 20 minutes from Tobermory. This is a good place for sighting sea eagles and we weren’t disappointed. As we came to the north end of the bay there was a majestic sea eagle looking down on us and wasn’t at all worried us being there. After 10 minutes spent posing for us it took off and gave a great flying display soaring along the cliff tops.
We headed west passing the Ardnamurchan light, heading for the Isle of Canna. Everyone was out on deck hoping for whales and dolphins but although it was a good crossing in sunshine there were no cetacean sightings. As we arrived into picturesque Canna harbour, we passed close to the grey seal colony where the seals were all sunning themselves on the rocks, enabling our photographers to get some good shots. After a light lunch, everyone went ashore to enjoy the sunny weather with a walk up Compass Hill and through the woods. There were good sightings of golden eagles, guillemots and razorbills from the cliff tops. We all enjoyed a ‘refreshment’ at the Canna Cafe, then it was back onboard for another excellent dinner from Martin with the spectacular views of Canna Harbour and hills as a backdrop. The homemade sticky toffee pudding went down a treat!
Day 3: Leaving after an early breakfast, we headed north west across to Rodel in Harris, a fairly long voyage, but worth it in that we are then only 5/6 hours from St.Kilda. We passed Neist Point and crossed the Minch with many birds seen and easily spotted in a flat calm sea, but unusually, no cetaceans. On arrival at Rodel, all guests went ashore for a walk to Rodel church with its famous Celtic stone carvings. On such a hot and sunny day, refreshment was irresistible sitting outside in the sunshine at Rodel Hotel. Then onboard for another lovely dinner consisting of feta cheese and beetroot couscous, sea bass with sauté potatoes, wild mushrooms and green beans followed by cranachan cheesecake. Everyone loved the special peace of being on the water in this idyllic loch.
Day 4: The forecast was giving warnings of strong winds for the following day so it was decided as it was still so calm we would head off to the Shiant Islands, an isolated group of Islands in the North Minch. Having heard that there had been a number of sightings of Minke whales in the Northern Minch, I told our guests to keep a good look out, from which I got a few raised eyebrows. Half an hour out from Rodel in flat calm seas and with visibility of 40 miles at least, our first Minke was spotted with lots of photos and a pleased Skipper! Another Minke whale appeared 10 minutes later and then we had 4 Minkes around the boat which continued all the way to the Shiants. In all we had 16 separate sightings of Minke Whales that day – a record for us on the Elizabeth G.
As we approached the Shiant Islands we went in close under the cliffs of Garbh Eilean to see all the many guillemots and razorbills.
We cruised through the gap between Garbh Eilean and Eilean Mhuire into the splendid Horse Shoe Bay with literally thousands and thousands of Puffins, guillemots and razorbills on the surface of the water. We anchored for lunch before motoring in the tender through the great cave of Toll a Roimh, a spectacular sea cave running right through this point. All guest went ashore at the landing point on Carnoch Mor to spend a stunning afternoon amongst the many thousands of puffins that nest in and under the rocks here. There were lots of photo opportunities and a great afternoon spent ashore and in the bay using the tender to get some close up shots of the birds. We then reluctantly up anchored and headed to East Loch Tarbert on Harris due to a bad forecast. At dinner that night everyone reflecting on the great day that we had just enjoyed, with one of our guests, Craig having taken over 1500 shots!!
Day 5: The forecast was correct with strong winds near gale force, accompanied by heavy rain which had come in overnight. Being safely at anchor in one of the many sheltered bays of the East Loch, we all decided, despite the weather, to go ashore for a walk, probably something to do with the hearty breakfast. It rained, but our guests enjoyed the walk. After a late lunch the rest of the day was spent looking at pictures taken the previous day. We moved across East Loch Tarbert to take a look at the Island of Scalpay before landing at the pier in East Loch Tarbert where some shopping was done, along with coffees at the local cafe. After another late lunch we were back at anchor where Chris Gomersall gave us an excellent presentation of some of his work.
Day 6: Despite strong winds it was decided, after a morning walk, to head round to Leverburgh where hopefully, if the weather improved, the following day we might make a dash out to St.Kilda. Everyone was very enthusiastic which is so great in creating that ‘let’s go for it’ attitude. There was a fairly rough sea running but nothing that the Elizabeth G couldn’t take in her stride. Once into Leverburgh and alongside the pier, we were encourages with signs of better weather! Chris took everyone on an otter outing but unfortunately no sightings although wild salmon seen leaping though. At dinner the main point of discussion was whether we would try to get to St.Kilda in the morning as the forecast was still not great ( south west 5/6 moderate to rough,) The decision was made to head down to the remote and low lying rarely visited Monach Islands, west of North Uist.
Day 7: Although the weather was still wet and windy is was decided to go for it and off we headed south west to the Monach Islands. It was a bit of a bumpy passage but 4 hours later, through the mist and rain, we could just make out the most westerly of the Monach Islands.- Ceann Ear. After anchoring in the sheltered white sandy bay and with the weather improving everyone got ashore to explore the islands which are a National Nature Reserve.
The Islands have one of the biggest grey seal colony’s in the UK and as we motored in to land in the tender we had at least 40 inquisitive heads popping up to see the new visitors to their islands. After 2 hours ashore everyone returned for another of Martin’s dinners which included his famous fish pie! Whether we would be able to go west to St.Kilda the following day was the main topic of conversation over dinner.
Day 8: Despite another grey day, we had an early start, as everyone is keen to get up for going to St.Kilda, even though the forecast is not good. We headed west with a rough crossing but the weather improved slightly four hours later as we got out first view of Hirta, part of this archipelago of Islands. Coming into Village Bay the sea was calm and as we passed along Dun we were aware of the vast number of birds, puffins, fulmars and guillemots swirling amongst the cliff tops. With a hot beverage inside us everyone was keen to get ashore to explore the village with the restored black houses and the church and schoolhouse. We only had this one night at St Kilda so everyone was determined to make the most of it! A late dinner gave us 3 hours ashore with lots of photos taken and our guests taking in the atmosphere of this wild and haunting place. Guest Craig had by the end of the day taken another vast amount of photos as had many of our other guests, all keen photographers.
Day 9: With a better forecast and another early breakfast we pulled the ‘hook’ early for a cruise around the cliffs and stacs that make up St.Kilda. We headed round to the east side of Hirta passing close to the majestic Mina Stac and going close under the towering sea cliffs of Conachair. To our delight the sun started to appear through the swirling mist and we could make out the very top of these, the highest sea cliffs in the UK. With the weather getting better and better we moved on round to Glen Bay with great shots through the ‘Tunnel’ of Gob an h-Airde with views to Stac Lee and Boreray 4 miles away to the North, accompanied by [ots of camera motor noise. With the sun out, the visibility improved tremendously giving fantastic views of the cliffs with the remaining mist swirling about the very tops. We made our way across to Stac Lee, covered with gannets. Drifting past the Casting Off Stone gave an idea of the ability the rugged St Kilda men must have had to even land on the sheer cliffs of this Stac let alone then climb it. Along past Stac an Armin (Stack of the Warrior) we came into the lee of Borerays’ wast side with its skewed summit of Mullach an Eilean. We spent the next hour along this part of Boreray close up to the nesting birds and just taking in the incredible views. It was time to leave and with the sea state improving we had a calm return crossing with some good sightings of storm petrels but sadly not any dolphins, which one of our guests Jill was very keen to see. Cruising through the Sound of Harris we arrived into Loch Portain just to the North of Lochmaddy for a quiet night at anchor.
Day 10: We awoke up to warm sunshine and flat calm seas. It’s a long steam ahead as its out last night as we have to get to the Sound of Mull. “I’m sure we are going to see Dolphins today, Jill, no worries”, I tell her with fingers crossed. We are heading first to Oigh Sgeir, 7 miles west of Canna to look for basking sharks, when, half way across the Minch, Chris spots dolphins heading towards us. We are surrounded by a pod of at least 20 common Dolphins, bow riding and leaping all round us; a fabulous display and Jill is very pleased. Arriving at Oigh Sgeir there are no signs of basking sharks which is a bit worrying as it is a hot spot for them, especially by this time of the year. There has only been two sightings this year so far, perhaps due to the low plankton count. While 10 miles north of the Isle of Coll, we start to see a good number of storm petrels in flat calm conditions. Then it seems we are surrounded by common Dolphins, at least 60 in this pod; we are kept entertained by them for at least 30 minutes. An hour later we enter the Sound of Mull and go up Loch Sunart to a quiet anchorage in Glen Bay. Guests go ashore for an early evening stroll before a later dinner while the Skipper divesfor scallops for a starter for our sumptuous dinner!
Day 11: With an early start we head down the Sound of Mull for a substantial Brunch at mid morning and then visit the sea eagles nest at Morvern and get some very good shots. Passing Lismore light we head into Oban bay in glorious weather to drop off our guests. Its a shame we didn’t have more of this type of weather, but St.Kilda can sometimes be one of those destinations that you have to be lucky to get to and this time we were – just!
83 bird species were spotted on this cruise:
Red-throated diver, Fulmar, Manx shearwater, Sooty shearwater, Leach’s storm-petrel, Storm petrel, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Grey heron
Greylag goose, Canada goose
Mallard, Tufted duck, Eider, Red-breasted merganser
White-tailed eagle, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Golden eagle, Peregrine
Corncrake, Oystercatche,r Ringed plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Dunlin, Snipe, Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Common sandpipe,r Turnstone
Arctic skua, Great skua, Black-headed gull, Common gull, Lesser black-backed gul,l Herring gull, Great black-backed gull, Kittiwake, Common tern, Arctic tern
Guillemot, Razorbill, Black guillemot, Puffin
Rock dove, Woodpigeon, Great spotted woodpecker, Skylark, Sand martin, Swallow, House martin, Meadow pipit, Rock pipit, Grey wagtail, Pied wagtail, Wren, Robin, Stonechat, Wheatear, Blackbird, Song thrush, Blackcap, Wood warbler, Willow warbler, Spotted flycatcher, Blue tit, Great tit, Treecreeper
Hooded crow, Raven
Starling, House sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Twite, Redpoll