Well, it’s certainly different to last year weather-wise and apart from a few low pressure systems tracking through we have been blessed with warm sunshine and light winds. I loved coming back to Oban, and after the rusty red cliffs of Gomera and the Canaries, our winter base and the grey ocean of our voyage home, the emerald green of Kerrera as we arrived into Oban lifted our spirits – home for the summer!
May was wonderful, the sun shone and the summer breeze was gentle, allowing us to discover new anchorages normally open to the weather systems and getting up close to the puffins on Treshnish. As always, these small, well-dressed birds are the the highlight, preparing the nests and arguing softly with the rabbits that try and inhabit the burrows.
We have barbecued langoustines on the beach in Coll as the sun set over the Atlantic, swum (yes, promise) in the icy waters of Vatersay, and our 10 day voyage out to St Kilda was wonderful, visiting all the more inaccessible islands.
After crossing the Minch to Vatersay, we met up with the Hajcutter, Eda Frandsen and sailed together to Mingulay, a rare treat. Walking ashore around the old village in the warmth of the spring sunshine, one could imagine a happy and contented community which once inhabited this island. I met a local man and his son who were visiting the family grave on an annual pilgrimage. He told us which pile of stones was the old blackhouse, explaining in his soft sing-song dialect it was his grandfather’s, one of the last islanders who requested to be relocated to Vatersay after the young men joined the herring fleets, returning home less and less as the boats followed the shoals around the coasts of Europe. The elders struggled to keep the island productive, with few young men to do the arduous work and finally in 1912 left all together to Barra and Vatersay. To me, with its white sand, turquoise sea and soft green slopes, Mingulay is something special.
Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys
Heave her head round to the weather
Heel ya ho, boys, let her go, boys
Sailing homeward to Mingulay
With weather so calm and little left of the Atlantic swell, a voyage round the west side of the islands to watch puffins and the great Fulmar in their element. The sun shone and the seas sparkled but you know that these dark cliffs are a place where no man can survive once the wind blows – this is the birds’ place, free to skim the waves, soaring into the skies to nest on precipitous ledges. Nothing short of wonder here.
Monaco Isles & St Kilda
The high pressure also brings fog, and the day I planned to sail through the sound of Barra, a rock strewn channel, the fog came down thick. Sailing slowly through, the western shores brought clearer weather to head onward for the Monachs, bird and seal paradise. Man does not belong here either, like the cliffs of Mingulay, nature takes over and one feels an intruder into the animal kingdom. A visit here, the force of nature shows how we should be able to live in harmony with all nature – but it will be a long road before that day!
Kilda rises out of the ocean, her cathedral cliffs offer up the secret Village Bay ringed with dwellings along with thousands of cleats (stone structures for drying birds). Again, it’s a bird world here where once again, humans are just a touching visitor. It’s only the wild sheep and ocean birds that can survive here once the winter storms set in. Today it is mild and warm, a perfect chance to cruise close to Stac Lee, the largest gannet colony in the world. Slightly Mordor-esque, we are centre stage in a theatre of rock where the Skua is the bad guy, robbing the pure white gannet of her meal. Battles on the wing, ending in squabbles on the water, these bird wars never fail to amaze.
I must tell you about our encounter with a Minke – late afternoon rounding Ardnamurchan, the cry of “whale” came from the fore-deck. Sure enough, a large Minke was surfacing through the mercury water. We stopped sailing and just cruised silently and the whale came to Bessie Ellen and swam below the keel, alongside and around for about 20 minutes! Just wonderful! And it was a big whale too, probably 15 metres. This has been the closest we have been to a whale since the Canna whale a few years ago. Maybe I am not looking in the right place but no basking sharks have been sighted this year. Otherwise, plenty of common dolphins and bottlenose are about.
Life is not all about the wild ways, this year is the first to have had so much music on board. Quite unexpected, two of our guests were pipers, so every day the sound of bagpipes (well played by the way) rang out over the water. The seals loved it – swimming in close to the boat, doe-eyed and enjoying the songs of Scotland. Robbie brings a different tone, his French songs stretch into the night as the malt whiskies are passed around as the sun goes down. The horizon is never dark now, midsummer and it is pretty cold. The crew have tried to swim every day but the chill north wind has made even the toughest of us shy away from the cold waters. I last swam the other day in Muck, our new favourite island where there is a charm and tranquility that possesses the shores. We buy lobsters and crab from Sandy and the craft shop/cafe is the go to place for knitted hats and socks – and of course cakes.
Today, after two weeks of unseasonal winds, we set off once again to St Kilda and I hope the Shiants too!