Silurian Blog

Wednesday 29th July 2015

Published: 31/07/2015

Teen Team Blog Day 3
Anchorage: Vatersay
Distance Travelled: 61.6nm

We set off from last night’s anchorage at the Isle of Barra at about 9am. A grey seal waved us off from the bay in which we had spent the night. A few minutes later, Eilidh spotted a harbour porpoise. After leaving the bay we headed North then West through the Sound of Barra towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Along our route there were gannets feeding and many other bird species including fulmars and guillemots. As we entered the Sound of Barra a white tailed sea eagle made an appearance circling over the Silurian. After passing through the Sound we moved out onto the Atlantic Ocean to the West of the Outer Hebrides. The water was rougher out here and we all got knocked about a lot but it was quite an adventure. Towards the end of the day we headed East passing to the South of Berneray, where we saw a large number of puffins which were presumable nesting on the nearby cliffs along with gannets, kittiwakes and fulmars.

We then moved North towards our anchorage point. Our planned anchorage at Berneray proved to be unsuitable, so we carried on further North until we reached the the Island of Vatersay, where we made our anchorage at 18.45 after a very long day. At our anchorage some brave souls decided to go for an evening swim; Matt lasted all of 10 seconds while Eilidh and Izzy lasted much longer with their tough Scottish genes. The boys (and Kerry) made a surprisingly good job of fishcakes and fajitas for dinner

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Tuesday 28th July

Published: 31/07/2015

 Teen Team Blog Day 2
Anchorage: Barra, North Bay Distance Travelled 44.2 miles

After spending the night in a sheltered area around the island of Coll to begin our day of surveying, we had hoped to see the basking shark that had been spotted in the area the night before however it was nowhere to be seen. The day began overcast and relatively calm as the previous day had left off and we followed the shoreline of the island and head out towards the isle of Barra. The day’s sightings began fairly quiet with the odd sighting of a porpoise or seal. However after a couple of hours a group of around 5 common dolphins appeared and just like the day before began swimming along side of the boat, they stayed for a couple of minutes before losing interest and disappearing back into the sea once again.

The rest of the days sightings were fairly limited, however we were kept busy with the extra task of the day of identifying and recording bird species and types of boats.

During the afternoon the winds picked up allowing the use of the sails to drive the boat towards our destination. It also began to rain at points which didn’t particularly provide ideal conditions for sightings and the boat became quite rocky. Towards the end of the day and coming into the bay surrounded by the Isle of Barra that we would spend the night in we were able to see gannets diving at great speeds into the water to catch fish and had the final task of recording the seemingly endless number of creels that had been placed in the water around the island.
After 7 hours of surveying and 44 miles of sailing we finally reached the night time stop after a pretty successful day.  

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Tuesday 21st July 2015

Published: 26/07/2015

 A Filmmaker’s perspective
Latitude: 056 degrees 32 minutes North
Longitude: 006 degrees 44 minutes West
Anchorage: Port Ruadh
Distance Travelled: 45.9 miles    

I am privileged to be travelling on Silurian as an on-board camera operator – striving to shoot footage that illuminates the amazing work that HWDT and the resident volunteers are accomplishing and showcases the wildlife and beautiful landscapes of the Hebrides.

This morning we set off from a small sheltered bay on the West of Mull, and immediately sailed towards Staffa guided by an array of sea birds; puffins, gannets, kittiwakes and terns. We started identifying the bulbous and oddly shaped Treshnish Isles, but the sea was still a little rough, and the wind high. I have to admit the sea lulled me into a false sense of security and I took a small nap after second breakfast, (yup we get two breakfasts – it’s hard work). I went back on deck with the express intention of filming gannets diving in SloMo. If you imagine a baby giraffe trying to ice skate whilst holding numerous heavy objects, you will have a good idea of what I look like with my camera gear, on deck,  in a gale force wind. I am very happy with some of the gannet shots though on later inspection!

Suddenly there was a shout from Hilary to my left; a sighting…… and then straight afterwards one from the starboard side too. We were surrounded, and what was to ensue was the amazing spectacle of three Minke Whales, surfacing and re-surfacing around all sides – it took us a wee while to work out that this was the case rather than a super speedy, shape-shifting Minke which seemed entirely possible under the circumstances.

I scuttled below deck to have a look through my footage, and just as I had started, another call came from above… I leapt up, swung my camera round and managed to get half an arm through a life jacket before I saw a thrashing shape through the window. We had almost collided with a basking shark which had turned its entire body onto itself and was now swiftly diving below us into the depths. Kerry’s face said it all, and I’m afraid I could only describe the expression with expletives!

 Some would say it has been an exciting day. Stewart’s sugar-tastic  rice crispy cakes have perked us all up now and as I look out of the window I can see Tiree’s beautiful white sands to my left and the open sea to my right. On our last evening on the sea I can’t help but believe that the Hebrides of Scotland have lured us in with their danger, wilderness and raw beauty.
I know I don’t want to go home.  

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Saturday 18th July 2015

Published: 20/07/2015

Summer in the Hebrides
Anchorage: Craighouse, Isle of Jura

Overnight out fabulous skipper again anchored us in such a sheltered place that the scary noise of the wind was the main thing we noticed. So we all slept really well, no problem turning up for 7.30 breakfast.

Looking at the weather, we did wonder how we would manage to see anything. However, once travelling, even with maximum reefs in both sails, exciting sea state at least 4, and wind up to force 7, at least!, Carol STILL managed to see 2 porpoises, so she really needs some kind of medal.

In view of the difficulty of sighting in such exciting weather, we were then stood down in favour of acoustic recording only.  Pamguard will tell us how many we may have missed!

We then sailed closer in to Jura and down its east coast. Half the sky was now blue, though the wind was still pretty much gale force. As the sea settled a bit we were back on watch again until we reached our planned anchorage off Craighouse, main settlement on Jura and home of the Jura distillery.

After lunch, which was finished sublimely by another example of Kerry’s baking skills, with clearing weather as forecast, we all went ashore in the dinghy, courtesy of our skipper. We can confirm there is a really good shop in the village, or is it a town?  There are pleasant walks with fabulous views, or you could run up and down one of the “Paps of Jura” if you were a masochist. Best of all, the hotel bar, which undoubtedly has a direct line to the distillery next door, had a fantastic ambience, matched only by its craft lager and delicious single malts. Added to which the skipper could keep a close eye on Silurian at anchor with his binoculars from the bar window. Some of our number even elected to have hot showers at the hotel, the rest of us trusted to our essential antibacterial merino wool base layers. Now we are back to the Silurian, and in eager expectation of the meal to come, and of weather much more conducive to “sightings” tomorrow. Watch this space!

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Friday 17th June 2015

Published: 17/07/2015

The saga continues …
Latitude: 056° 09.846 N  
Longitude: 005° 33.143 W Anchorage: Loch Craignish, moorings near Ardfern
Distance Travelled: 38.4 nm  

Our training continued with birds and boat recognition which from now on will also form part of the data we collect. We will never malign weather forecasters again – it did indeed blow a bit today as predicted. Then it blew a bit more; then later on still more. In spite of selecting a relatively sheltered area for today’s survey it actually got quite lively towards the latter part of the afternoon with confused seas, strong winds and plenty of spray for the mast volunteers.
Sighting conditions were not brilliant and although the skipper seemed to be enjoying himself hugely, the volunteers were secretly quite pleased when they could stop ‘enjoying’ it and we picked up a mooring in a sheltered part of Loch Craignish.

We doubt Kerry will allow this part of the blog to survive; we suspect she is altering the data to show every day is tropical and with wall to wall cetaceans …….
Actually we did really well in spotting one porpoise in poor sighting conditions whilst Pamguard also only picked up one – our 100% detection rate greatly impressed us!

The day was rounded off by haggis, neeps and tatties which were excellent, accompanied by a ceilidh CD which by common consent was slightly less so.

Rule 2. If no new rule is invented, rule 1 must be invoked

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Thursday 16th July 2015

Published: 17/07/2015

Once upon a time in a bay not so far away…
Latitude: 056° 19.274 N  
Longitude: 005° 35.983 W Anchorage: Ardencaple Bay Distance Travelled: 28 nm

At the end of a glorious sunny day in Tobermory, our multi-talented first mate (not currently paying attention) made a wonderful dinner and we made a quick dash to the Co-op for “supplies” (other supermarkets are not available). Wig quickly learned that insulting the Skipper is a bad idea, and we all learned that flattery works well with all of the crew.

Everyone found their first night on the boat and berths surprisingly comfortable and cosy (even the taller of us had plenty space). And lots of cups of teas have been consumed throughout (what is it with people and tea? It’s horrible……).

Today started with a crash course in cetaceans while Silurian was refuelled. This included marvelling at self-focusing binoculars and a laser range finder (used to test our distance estimation). Once we were on the go however sightings were rare; 2 seals and eventually some creel buoys being the extent of our recordings.

The biggest excitement may have been Amy cutting out the power with all her fancy devices. At the end of the day we were reassured that we weren’t all blind when Kerry had checked Pamguard for the number of acoustic porpoise events it had recorded. It only picked up 2 – so we weren’t missing much.

Once again a delicious meal has been had (this time prepared by Carol) and currently as we sit in the bay the wind is beginning to pick up – with worse winds forecasted for tomorrow. Sooooo that’ll be interesting.

Rule 1.  All following blogs must contain a new rule for the future days.

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Tuesday 8th July 2015

Published: 09/07/2015

Time to Kill Tuesday Anchorage: Loch Scrisort, Rum

Ahoy! Well it’s day 7 here on Silurian and we finally had a break in our good luck with cetaceans.  Our morning started off so promising with several porpoise sightings and a single common dolphin sighting almost immediately.  It was a rainy, windy morning with limited visibility which made spotting fairly difficult.

 The afternoon continued to drag on and on with no whales or dolphins, only several more harbour porpoises and seals :( but we found a way to keep ourselves occupied.  

Tomorrow is pirate day, so during our slow surveying, we spent the time contemplating our pirate outfits and pirate names.  We are all thinking of names to be drawn out of a hat and then we are going to get our creative juices flowing tonight to try and come up costumes to match….OR ELSE…you walk the plank if yours is voted the least creative!  Also, everyone will have to be called by their pirate names and pirate names only, tomorrow.  If you call someone by their normal name, you get a tally marked against you. Whoever has the most tally marks at the end of the day gets the Black Spot!!!...and you still walk the plank.

 Let the games begin, may the odds be forever in your favour!

Aside from developing our pirate plans, we also passed by some amazing scenery today.  We passed by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa and got a great look and some great pictures.  Tonight we are anchored up in Bunessan and are enjoying another fine evening.  It’s not raining so we are taking advantage of our nice weather on deck.  Tim and Emily are preparing a fine dish of haggis and neeps for dinner tonight. Emily is sitting next to me as I type this trying not to cut her fingers off peeling potatoes (with a potato peeler I hasten to add)…you can’t rave hard without your fingers Emily.

 We anchored up at an early hour this evening so hopefully we will be able to go ashore tonight and do some exploring.  Wish us better luck tomorrow with our sightings and pirate updates to be continued!

Goodnight everyone!

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Saturday 5th July 2015

Published: 09/07/2015

Surprise Splashes & Sharks Sunday Anchorage: Vatersay

The beautiful weather has returned! Today’s predictions varied, from shark Sunday to sunfish Sunday then settling at cetacean Sunday, which didn’t prove to be as effective as dolphin day.

Again seals and two porpoise sightings saw us off from our anchorage with high hopes for the day, a warm sun and good conditions stayed with us throughout. We were all confident that we would have a good day of sightings as we headed south to Barra. Then, as the day wore on, this did not seem to be the case. Hours passed with no sightings as we were teased by whistles on the hydrophone but no sightings and even worse- the large splashes.

Wendy and Barry first caught sight of a large splash far away, another one spotted soon afterwards. The idea was pitched that it looked like a breach, so everyone kept their eyes peeled for whales or sharks in the following hours. Fortunately, this was not the last we saw of these splashes. Rhianna spotted another large, distant and breach-like splash later on and without further sightings of the culprit we came up with the ‘Raving Basking Sharks’ theory, they obviously wouldn’t come close and let themselves be seen because it’s a Sunday- they’re supposed to be resting! Enter ‘The Mystery of Shrew Island’ which I’m sure will plague our minds tonight.

Getting close to anchorage, we were accepting that the day would not yield anymore cetaceans. Thankfully, we were wrong. Barry’s deafening cry (well at least to me, sat next to him- he can shout very loud!) of ‘Minke!’ had us all scrambling to stations as the calm waters gave us great viewing opportunities. We remained with this sneaky Minke for a while, as it kept surfacing behind the boat following a dive (spotted by Bill each time!).

Just when we thought we were done for the day, a Basking shark was spotted from the back of the boat; very close and also very small (cue the juvenile debates), around 2.5 metres. This small shark came right towards our boat slowly, giving us brilliant views of the whole shark and the inside of its huge mouth (though photo ID shots were photobombed by an intruding seal).

   A delicious dinner was cooked and served by Kerry as we enjoyed the beautiful anchorage. Myself, Rhianna and Jon went ashore to explore both beaches late on, nicknaming one of them ‘The Beach of Death’ as it had no people but plenty of dead animals, including skeletons of a large mammal (Jon thought it was a deer) and a baby seal. Hence Team Alpha had a ‘rave in the cave of death’ at the end of the beach before coming back and board Silurian, ready for tomorrow to be another great day!

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Monday 6th July 2015

Published: 07/07/2015

Bottlenosed breakfast
Anchorage: Loch Scrisort, Rum
Distance Travelled: 58

“Mola Mola Monday” from everyone on Silurian.  After a beautiful sunny evening anchored up in Vatersay, this morning proved to be a little different.  We woke up to heavy fog and since we were not going to be able to sail off as usual, we sat at breakfast evaluating what we were going to do until it cleared.
 When our skipper Tim walked onto the deck he said “hey, there’s two bottlenose dolphins right here by the boat” and we all thought he was joking. However, much to our surprise and amusement, seven of the "Barra Boys" were swimming all around allowing us to have breakfast with the bottlenose.
 They stuck around for over an hour giving us some great photo ID shots, swam all around the boat, played with one of our buoys, and displayed their acrobatics while bow riding the other boats; giving us an all-around exciting morning!!

Once we were finally able to sail off, the day turned out to be a good day for sightng cetaceans (5 different species).  Aside from the bottlenose at breakfast, we had several common dolphin sightings including a massive pod of approximately 100 swimming hastily in a long line and several other pods of about 25 individuals each.

 We also had a good run in with Risso’s dolphins again where we saw a calf, one with a missing dorsal fin (nicknamed Stumpy), continual breaching, and observed them within close proximity to the boat…it was awesome.  

We rounded off the day with a Minke sighting, seals, and some harbour porpoises.  

We are back in the Isle of Rum tonight where we are going to fill our bellies with homemade puttanesca and fishcakes (with Pollock and rock cod caught from the boat this morning).  It’s been another great day! Till  next time everyone, cheers!

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Saturday 4th July 2015

Published: 07/07/2015

Day 4
Swell Saturday
Anchorage: Lochmaddy
Distance Travelled: 56.6 miles

After three beautiful days of great sightings and conditions, it was only fair for the weather to catch up with us today. Today’s predictions therefore were bleak, all happy with the brilliant dolphin encounters of the previous evening. Following a lovely sunset on Skye and a trip ashore for some of us (in which Jon convinced Rhianna otters are black and white in the UK and the cat on the road in front of us was an otter- until the binoculars came out) we all went to bed in great spirits.

The morning brought overcast skies and the promise of rain yet we had a good start with a Harbour porpoise, two Common seals and more unidentified, yet it slowed as we hit the rain.

A pod of twenty Common dolphins was spotted swimming ahead, then shortly after returning in the direction they had come from, brightening our morning along with two briefly visiting us.

The weather improved around lunchtime as we headed away from Skye, as soon as we got our soup and bread multiple Common dolphins (or ‘standard dolphins’) descended upon us. Although they may have had inconvenient timing again, the brief bow riding had us commenting on how good the day was despite our poorer conditions and our luck seemed to be continuing.

A Grey seal and an unidentified dolphin later, the wind and swell picked up so we were being hit by the sprays and holding on tight. Our luck diminished giving low visibility, strong winds and pelting rain which resulted in no sightings for the rest of the day.

Now we’re drying off and looking forward to a delicious meal of burgers, chips and salad from Rhianna to celebrate Independence Day! Rave hard, from Silurian!

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Friday 3rd July 2015

Published: 03/07/2015

Day of The Dolphin
Anchorage: Loch Dunvegan,
Distance Travelled: 57.8 Miles

Hello world from all of us here on Silurian.  Its our 4th evening and what a great day we had today!

 Last night as we were all conversing around the dinner table after our dessert, we were all joking about how since we did not see a lot of dolphin activity that day during our surveys the following day (today) would be a day full of dolphin sightings…hence the name ‘day of the dophin’ was created.  

It was an outstandingly gorgeous day, sunny and warm with good seas.  It was a SLOW start to sightings in the morning and early afternoon with about 3 common dolphins, 1 basking shark, and 1 elusive Minke.  

However, the day of the dolphin prevailed late in the afternoon when we spotted a group of both Risso’s and Common dolphins and spent almost an hour with them.  The Risso’s actually stuck around for a while where Kerry hopefully got some good photo ID shots and there was even potentially a baby amongst the pod!

The Common dolphins were a fun show all in their own.  They stayed close to the Risso’s but also took time to continuously bow ride, displaying their agility and acrobatics while giving us a good show! It was an amazing sight to see and experience.  We got some great acoustic recordings and I can’t wait to hear the rest!  

We are anchored up tonight in another beautiful location right in front of the old castle of the Clan Macleod, where we enjoyed tea and homemade brownies. Leanne is making Glengorm beef fajitas tonight and we preparing to eat and enjoy a beautiful sunset soon to come!    

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Thursday 2nd July 2015

Published: 02/07/2015

So here we are :)
Anchorage: Loch Harport, Skye
Lat: 57°00’18.137N
Long: 006°20.879W
Distance Travelled: 29.2 Miles

Well after 2 planes, 2 trains, 2 buses, and one ferry ride it was a long 4 days of travel to get to Tobermory all the way from Juneau, Alaska, BUT here we are on our 3rd night of being on Silurian.  Luckily for me, when I arrived in Tobermory in the early afternoon of the 30th the sun was shining and the weather was beautiful.

 These islands here in the Hebrides are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Last night we anchored up in the Isle of Rum and what a fantastic place that was also.

 After having ‘toad in the hole’ for dinner Kerry, Jon, Emily and myself went to shore for a little after dinner exercise. We hiked around and looked at an old castle, old houses, and visited the ‘town’.  

Today was our first full day of surveying, starting at about 10am and finishing just before 8pm. We are all starting to get to know each other and have started to get our system down when it comes to changing shifts…What a wonderful group of people.  Being the only individual not from the UK I am thoroughly enjoying being introduced to the culinary and language differences.

  Today was a good day of sighting.  We started off a little slow with some not so fun weather, but as the afternoon progressed the weather got better, the sun peeked through, and we started having more sightings other than creel buoys and rubbage.

 We sighted 3 minke whales, 2 basking sharks, several common and grey seals, and lots of harbour porpoises.  

Tonight we are anchored up in the Isle of Skye and there are no words to describe the beauty of the scenery during our cruise in.  After our ‘off-effort’ tea and chores, we are getting ready to settle down and relax for the evening and enjoy some chicken-chick pea curry prepared by Wendy and Barry!

Cheers from Silurian!        

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Wednesday 1st June 2015

Published: 02/07/2015

Anchorage: Loch Scresort, Rum
Lat: 57°00’.784N
Long: 006°15’974W
Distance Travelled: 29.2 Miles

Having sea kayaked in Hebridean waters for many years and wanting to improve our knowledge of Cetaceans my husband Barry and I decided to volunteer on the Silurian. After spending a week kayaking on the Kintyre Peninsula we took the ferry from Oban to Mull and cycled to Tobermory where we joined the rest of the crew and volunteers.

Our first evening on board was spent having dinner and learning about the various species we may encounter on our 10 day trip. Today started with training on survey techniques and after lunch we set sail and our journey took us north west through the Small Isles to Rum. The weather was beautiful and warm and we had good sightings of Harbour Porpoise aka Puffin Pigs and Common Dolphin.

A fantastic day in good company finished off by good old Yorkshire ‘Toad in the hole’.       

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Thursday 25th June 2015

Published: 26/06/2015

Due to Calmac strikes, two of our fantastic volunteers, Kate and Alastair had to cut their trip slightly short missing out on the farewell meal. They were incredibly missed, however during the evening we read out a sea shiant-ie that Alistair composed during the survey.

Usually on the final night of a silurian survey, we will let our hair down (or brush our hair) and eat out at a local establishment. However this time, volunteer Jan, who lives close by in Plockton,  invited us to dine at her house. I have never had such a wonderful last meal. Her husband Hamish cooked us the most fantabulous indian meal I think I have ever tasted,  complete with stuffed lotus leaves! Their hospitality was overwhelming and rounded of what has ben a truly amazing survey with a wonderful bunch of people. Thank you Hamish and Jan!

I'll leave you now with a sea shanty from Alistair, to be sung to the tune of "wild rover"

Song of the Silurians – a sea shianty  

We’ve cruised the Hebs over by power and by sail,
a-looking for porpoise, for dolphins and whale
But now we’re returning to the bridge o’er to Skye
a-bidding farewell with tears in the eye.  

Chorus: And it’s Oh yes whenever, whenever we spot
We’ll report up cetaceans – confirmed or not.  

Now Kerry’s the girl with tall stories to tell
of cetaceans by name, by size and by smell
She knows them by colour or marks on their fins
And others by way that the buggers do swim.


Now we’ve spent all our gold with HDWT
And donning our red tops are braving the sea
Our shipmates are jolly and our boat is a lab
And counting cetaceans we all think is fab


Our voyage began with Skye and its mist
But we quickly returned for some whales that we’d missed
Those pilot they are doomed on a Skye beach to die
Unless Jan and her mates come scurrying by


At nighttime we set anchor for wine and great grub,
The dinghy afloat lest the skipper calls “pub”
We pass by the Shiants with puffins galore
With dolphins and skuas, gannets and more


Now Jon the boat’s mate, his birds doth ken
From the Azores he does come and will return to again
The ship’s heads are tiny but really quite clean
And the galley cooks food that is fit for the Queen.  


The North up by Gairloch where white-beaked we saw,
some porpoise, a minke, and creel buoys a score
And then ‘twas at Ness some shelter we took
Our skipper called Edd, consulting his book


The following morn we rounded the Butt
With seas that we feared would empty our gut
But some whities and whales the Silurian saw
Lashed to the mast and peering before  


“On effort, my laddies”,  Kerry did call
Unleashing her black pipe, her Pamguard and all
We count up the whirring, the snaps and the clicks
To see if the porpoise are up to their tricks  


In Tarbert, on Harris we fouled on a chain
‘Twas revenge of the whalers, who’ll do it again
They boiled up the blubber, their chimney you’ll see
Before slinging your hook and heading to sea  


Up the crows nest did some of us fly As the long Sound of Harris did slowly slip by
Jan called out a shark, a-basking right near
It’s great jaws agate but gave up nea fear.  


That’s the end of our shanty, our voyage and all
And yet for sure the cetaceans still call.
We leave for our shore lives with skills anew
And hope those whales will soon summon you.  


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Wednesday 24th June 2015

Published: 26/06/2015

Anchorage Island of Rona

Yesterday as we sailed through the Sound of Harris there was a lot of sea bird activity, one flock of birds looking at a distance more like a dark cloud due to the numbers swarming between some of the islands. After a very quiet morning this was when it all started going slightly crazy. Jan spotted a basking shark which swam very close past the boat and we were privileged to have great views of it feeding just underneath the surface.  No sooner had we started moving away then another basking shark was sighted, followed by shouts that multiple minke whales had been seen, going in different directions, then a sighting of possible dolphins much further out.

We had good views of two adult minke whales and a tiny minke which is believed to be a calf. After joking the night before about the convoy of animals we predicted we were going to see that day we could not quite believe our luck. To add to the procession, whilst obtaining photo IDs of the minkes, harbour porpoises were also seen together with lots of interested seals who stopped to see what all the fuss was about.

After the weeks training the whole boat swung into action busy ensuring we could spot, identify and record the marine life which surrounded us. Such was the commitment that lunch, a delicious pasta with vegetables and parmesan cheese in a mug, was served at 3.30pm even though our dedicated skipper had started preparing it hours earlier.

We crossed The Little Minch to Skye, seeing the Shiant Islands in the distance to the north and down to North and South Uist and the Island of Bara in the south.

We anchored for the night in Ardmore Bay on Skye and although I kept a look out in the early hours for the Northern Lights I did not see any, possibly due to a mix of cloud cover and the fact that this close to midsummer in the Hebrides it does not ever get completely dark.  

Today we headed north, round the northern tip of Skye hearing common dolphin whistles on the hydrophone and then seeing a group of 10 common dolphins at a distance. The most striking feature of the day was that The Minch, which we have crossed in so many weathers this trip, was eerily calm like glass, we could see for miles but with the exception of sea birds nothing seemed to be moving.

As we turned south down the east coast of Skye towards the Island of Rona seal sightings and sightings of harbour porpoises set a challenging pace for those relaying the information and recording it on the computer. We saw 39 harbour porpoises in total and 28 seals rounding beating Pamguard (the computer system which identifies harbour porpoises from the hydrophone which only recorded 13 harbour porpoises).

We have anchored in a sheltered bay on the Island of Rona with the sound of a cuckoo echoing from the nearby woodland and undeterred Stewart remains determined to try and catch a fish, we wait with baited breath…

Tune in tomorrow for the final instalment of this adventure – will a narwhal appear, will the Orcas be waiting for us in Kyle of Lochalsh and will we ever be able to say no to seconds of dessert.

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Tuesday 23rd June 2015

Published: 24/06/2015

Anchorage: Ardmore Bay, Loch Dunvegan
57 degrees 32.9 N
006 degrees 38.4 W

To the tune of "my favourite things" the sound of music.

Silurian days

Bottle nose dolphins and white beak ones too,
What is the bearing and what was the cue?
Vis’bility skipper?  Sea state is four, Remember the boats please, F1 then store.  

When the swell’s high,
when the wind’s cold,
When we’re feeling bad
We simply remember we’re paying for this
And then we feel much more sad.  

Minke’s with mittens and bad breath on blowing,
Volunteer’s face’s wind burnt and glowing.
Jon’s up the mast-head beating Pamguard,
Edd’s eating leftovers ‘cos skippering is hard.  

When the sail’s up,
when we’re “On whales”,
When the sun is out,
We simply forget that we’re paying for this
A life changing experience, no doubt.

Ear plugs, life jackets and hatches and heads
Fridges that flood and knife thin bunk beds.
We’re all “On effort” whilst Kerry doth bake
Cinnamon buns and wonderful cake.

When gann-ets dive,
when puff-ins fly,
when a sighting’s made
We simply forget all our cares in this world,
May never the memories fade.    

Tea coffee other? and lunch in a mug,
Words of encouragement, smile and a hug
The crew keep us going, seeking our goal
Especially when entombed in Kerry’s hell hole.  

When the buoys bob,
when the seals stare,
When Jan sees a fin,
We try to remember the degrees from the bow
And call the cetacean in.  

Pamguard beats Janguard on most of the days
We blame the swell, the waves or the haze.
Kisses to Fulmers and whistles to whales,
Close to the wind Silurian sails.  

When the sea’s quiet,
when the eyes ache,
when the sky is grey,
We simply remember to comfort ourselves
That tomorrow’s another day.  

Creel buoys and seal buoys, and one handed shackles
Hydrophone mysteries and radio crackles.
Gem’s at the mast head, get ready “ Relay”
For multiple sightings to brighten the day.  

When the light fades,
when we’re well fed,
when talk turns to whales,
We simply remember how lucky we are
To spend 12 days aboard under sails.      

10 pulls on the handle, full movements please,
Gentlemen requested to pee on their knees
Watch for the sea state and clicking shrimps too
Call it the heads please, never the loo.  

When the handle squeaks,
when the tap spurts,
when the suction grips
We simply remember it takes ten minutes at least
To deal with the layers and zips.

  Basking sharks, minkes, din-ky minkes too
Jan is on fire, spots fresh minke poo. Kerry with camera, photos left and right
Stuart’s still waiting for that first fish to bite.  

When the head’s clean,
when the floors swept,
when we’ve all had tea,
We simply remember how good life can feel
On Silurian days at sea  

Stuart’s rice pudding and Jan’s chicken curry,
Leisurely evenings, there’s no need to hurry
John looks for divers and Kate seeks an otter
Rachel’s shortlisted, for the award of top spotter.  

When the boats moored,
when the wine flows,
When we’re warm and dry,
We’ll never forget the friends that we’ve made
When the time comes to say goodbye.

Written by Kate

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Monday 22nd June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

Anchorage: West Loch Tarbert

The weather had definitely changed this morning and it was a windy start. The beaches still looked gorgeous though and it would have been great to take a dip but it was a pretty enthusiastic breeze.

 As we set sail up the loch to the open sea the clouds were grey, the hills were grey, the seals were grey but Jan was pink.  Too much sun the day before gave her a strange complexion which was thought to be the cause of a lower than average number of sightings during the morning. After being consigned to the computer for seemingly an eternity in a rapidly rising sea state Jan emerged green.  Definitely a better colour. Luckily the rolling seas were punctuated with beautiful birdlife.  Gannets, Shearwaters, Fulmars, Kittiwake and Auks as well as the occasional Storm Petrel kept our watchers busy. There was plenty of activity on the sea but what lay beneath?

As we headed towards the Flannan islands some of our stomachs headed elsewhere but we survived and just as well because we were to be rewarded with another wonderful White Beaked Dolphin sighting and then just when we thought it couldn’t get much better we heard yodelling around the mast (yes really!), a phenomenon that wise sailors warn against as, in the wrong hands ,  it often heralds the arrival of a malodorous air.   How true…. A shout from the mast.  Dorsal fin seen and then the Minke.  It accompanied us along the coast disappearing briefly and then reappearing, surfing alongside with Minke mittens to the fore. It was idyllic and a fantastic sighting but there was a down side.   Minke breath, or breaths which smelled terrible.  Rotten cabbage doesn’t do it justice.  It really was stinky….  In fact I shall have to lie down……

Coming in to West Loch Tarbet there were yet more birds to keep the relay busy along with ‘secret sightings’ from deck of harbour porpoises. The anchorage is surrounded by hills which will shelter us tonight from the forecast  North Easterlies. About 2oom from Silurian is the remains of the old whaling station which was built by the Norwegians before the first world war and abandoned in 1930s. The plan is to get over for a look after this evenings meal.

Whilst sitting around the table reading books, writing journals and inhaling the delicious smells wafting up from the galley, a text came through on Kerry’s phone from nine-time silurian volunteer Leanne, informing us that there was a RED alert for aurora borealis tonight! Kerry’s excitement was soon quashed when everyone reminded her that it was cloudy and mid-summer in the Hebrides. But you never know…

Who knows what Neptune & nature will surprise us with tomorrow, Black Red Throated Divers or White Beaked Risso combos perhaps!? Watch this space…another Silurian day awaits us….

A joint blog effort writen by no less that 5 people

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Sunday 21st June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

  Midsummers day in the Western Isles

heading North and West (weather permitting) As we left the bay at Port of Ness our thoughts were of how we could possible top the sightings of the last two days. The hydrophone had not yet been  deployed when the now all too common call of “sighting” was heard.  Still in sight of our last resting place (perhaps an unfortunate term) we were joined by no less than five White Beaked Dolphin. They were very interested in Silurian and stayed with us for about fifteen minutes before heading off for deeper water. For the next five hours we had one remarkable sighting after the other and mostly of the beautiful White Beak.

Jan had her eye in and was on fire with her spotting (probably something to do with the fantastic curry she cooked the night before). At one point she was so excited calling out another sighting, when asked what she had seen she shouted “I’m not sure but it was something with fins”.

On one amazing encounter a pod of 5 were spotted at about 600m. and heading slightly away from us. Within a couple of minutes they had changed course towards us and swam directly under the boat. They seemed to be very relaxed about us being in their playground and stayed with us until they realised the big boat wasn’t going to play. It was a moment we will all remember forever. Even Kerry, our science officer, remarked that she had never seen so many White Beaked Dolphin before. Everything about the day was going our way. Even the weather was with us which meant that we could carry on North to the top of Lewis and then set a course down the West coast, eventually finding an anchorage in Traigh Na Berie beach on the island of Shiaram Mor.

The sail down the West coast of Lewis is nothing short of spectacular. You really are left searching for the right words to describe it and I’m sure we all feel privileged to be here. A few of us went over to some of the small islands on the dinghy to collect firewood for a Midsummers day bonfire tonight while Kerry got on with the evening meal. Unfortunately our bonfire idea  has been somewhat dampened by the now persistent rain. We’ve just polished off Kerry’s enchiladas so it’s definitely a thumbs down to the bonfire.

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Saturday 20th June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

The east coast of Lewis…

Anchorage Port of Ness
Distance travelled     59.8nm

After a late night with a few people going ashore to explore Scalpay and a lovely stir fry for tea we set off in the cloud and drizzle however the sun soon appeared bringing the first need for sunglasses. First sightings were common seals however soon after 3 common dolphins came past the boat. As we thought we had seen the best for the day more dolphins were spotted leaping out of the water further away from the boat, some of which came quite close by which point we had discovered they were white beaked dolphins that was very exciting for everyone aboard.

There were several more sightings of white beaked dolphins as we left the area we had seen the group. The weather declined slightly however the volunteers were not put off with sightings of harbour porpoises and more dolphins.

Relay had a difficult job of keeping up with large quantities of birds sat together on the water however with a few people working together we managed to count all of them (we think!).  

Coming in to anchor at Port of Ness close to the Butt of Lewis there were yet more white beaked dolphins spotted. Now, after some people going ashore and  watching white beaked dolphins feeding and others having a dip in the sea, while tea is being cooked we are sat watching diving gannets around the boat hoping the white beaked dolphins will come even closer to us.  

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Friday 19th June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

Out to the islands…

Lat  57 degrees 51.9 N
Long  006 degrees 41.7 W Anchorage Scalpay South harbour Distance travelled  63.7 nm

The craic was mighty last night with tales of mammals and travels. Ashore we met the very hospitable Anthony who told us of his home within an SSI and who lamented the paucity of wildlife. A little beachcombing then back to the boat and all slept so soundly.

The morning dawned grey and damp but things improved as the day drew on.  Our boat identification skills tested repeatedly, we passed Gruinard bay with its sinister history and then a large pod of common dolphins and Minkes were spotted. Excitement mounted as we became for the first time “with whales”. The Minkes kept us on our toes  – playing hide and seek all around the boat.

Boats and birds in abundance we crossed a choppy Minch before the mist gradually closed in.  As we sailed and motored past the Shiants the sea was alive with scores of puffins. It took 3 volunteers to even attempt to count them.

Silurian performed superbly even when under the amateur helm of volunteers and skipper Edd guided us East and around Scalpay into the secure and beautiful setting of South harbour.

A small shore party visited the village and the remainder cooked – and chilled. A long and rewarding day.

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Thursday 18th June 2015

Published: 19/06/2015

The morning after…

Lat  58 degrees 06.4N
Long  005 degrees 16.4W Anchorage Enard Bay (South of Lochinver)
Distance travelled 53.7nm

The morning after the pasta bake and ice cream combo that is. Stuart was head chef unably assisted by sous chef  (or should that read ‘sue the chef’) Jan.  Gallantly the volunteers and  crew tackled the meal with exceptional heroism in the face of tons of food but with the lure of extra cheese, Maltesers and Flake.  Not only was the pasta bake satisfying but some diners even had seconds and even thirds.  However they did need the help of lifting gear to leave the table. A little was left in the pan which despite being secreted in the fridge disappeared within a few hours.  No one owned up. Black magic I would say.

Our Gairloch anchorage was a safe place to tell folk tales and strange tales and also to play the tactical game of Bananagrams (aka unzip the banana) and also ‘Black Magic’ and much hilarity and strange jellyfish followed as the nearing midsummer sun was setting somewhere else, unseen by us sadly.

After a delicious first breakfast it was all ‘on effort’ as we headed out into rougher waters and we soon managed to get back into the swing of first seal sightings then creel sightings.  Some creels endeavouring to look like something they are not: seals, birds and even human heads.  Very strange. That old Black magic….

Once out into open water the settled weather forecast that I had heard a few days ago seemed a distant memory as we sailed up and then down into the troughs of rather large grey waves.  We must be mad I thought, weakening, but then I looked around.  There were plenty of others in the same boat (not literally) aboard trawlers to creelers on these Scottish waters. At the mast those of us under 5’5” realised that those ‘up’ moments gave us an opportunity to see beyond out normal range without a stepladder.  I may have become quite smug. We also practised the Silurian  exercise programme or Mast-er class with knee bends my personal favourite. It’s an all-round workout so bring it on.  

Soon the day was punctuated by shouts of Skua, Gannet, Fulmars … but for some brave souls there was a shout of  ’bucket’ as the sea played havoc with their breakfasts.

 However as we headed out into the Minch we knew we were in good company as the hydrophone was picking up the classic tones of clicks and whistles.  Sadly, visual sightings were more limited because of the conditions but there was a possible Minke breach in the distance, some Harbour Porpoises and an unidentified Dolphin.

This evening we have settled into a tucked away loch and sit bobbing on a gentle sea with Stuart fishing and some folks venturing on shore to explore and bring back some unsuspecting shepherds for our evening meal which is being created in the galley by Rachael and Gemma. The rest of us are reminiscing about the day’s highlights, reading and enjoying the scenery as we dream about what tomorrow will bring in the way of answers. Will Jonathan find his blue faced Fulmar, Will Stuart catch anything now he’s broken the rod, will Kerry bake us another delicious cake….?  As they say in ‘Gone with the Wind’  tomorrow is another day… watch this space….

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Wednesday 17th June 2015

Published: 19/06/2015

The adventure continues
Lat   57 degrees 41.718
Long  005 degrees 41.167 Anchorage  Loch Shieldaig,Gairloch Distance travelled 41.3 nm

Even Stuart slept well last night!

Having been initiated into cetaceans and seals and creel buoys on our first day, this morning we learnt about identifying sea birds and boats. The ‘on effort’ post of Relay suddenly became a whole lot busier! It was a grey day to start but the water was calm until we entered the Sound of Raasay. Further monitoring showed all the local fish farms had obliged by turning off their ADD’s and Jan checked with a land based friend who said the pilot whales had not been seen since the previous evening, leading us to hope they might have made it out into deeper water.

Once ‘on effort ‘we followed multiple transects between Raasay and Skye, passing Portree on our port side and the Raasay ferry, then headed north to Staffin and past Rona. Level with Portree a whirly (mini-typhoon) was spotted and Alastair and Stuart took the helm on occasions during the day.

Second breakfast bacon butty was eaten ‘on effort’. Despite great vigilance at the mast the cetacean sightings were occasional and all harbour porpoise, but Rachel excited us all by seeing an unidentified ‘blow’. Kerry kept us straight with the birds and as the day went on the difference between fulmers and gulls, and guillemots and razorbills became a bit clearer but more practice is definitely needed.

  We sailed, rather than motored, when we could, which was exciting as we had a choppy sea together with wind waves so we were very glad of the safety lines and mast handles as the boat rolled.
Delicious home-made veg soup and croutons at lunch time warmed all. Further from the coast we saw many puffins, guillemots and fulmers.
The last sighting of the day, as we entered Gairloch turned out to be a black buoy not a seal and sadly the computer entry of 22 harbour porpoises was amended down to 2!

The anchorage is peaceful, diaries are being written, Kerry has gone ashore to practice for the Mull half marathon, Stuart & Jan are in the galley and Alastair is opening the bar! A great day.

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Tuesday 16th June 2015

Published: 19/06/2015

Only the beginning of the Adventure…

Lat: 57 degrees 16.5 North
Long: 005 degrees 59.26 West Anchorage: Between Skye and the island of Scalpay, just south of Loch Ainort

Distance Travelled: 35.4 nautical miles (3274.5 Gannet wing spans – don’t ask)

Our first day surveying, having met up at the boat at Kyle of Lochalsh last night, just before the bridge to Skye.
Setting off this morning we saw a grey seal before we had even reached the bridge to Skye, but it was only just after we had left the bridge behind us that a breaching Minke made the most spectacular sight against the backdrop of the mainland (and a very big splash)! This was one of two Minkes seen when we stopped to observe, we saw two harbour porpoises just after this, one very close to the boat and five further sightings of seals during the day  (2 common seals, 1 grey seal and 2 unidentified).

We also had some spectacular views of great skua during the day, evidently enjoying the wind. We ran ahead of the weather on transect towards Raasay, before changing tack and sailing with the wind behind us and the sails looking spectacular on Silurian up past Applecross. We had planned to anchor overnight at Torridon but when we were almost there we got a text which made us make a 180 degree turn and retrace our steps with our heads turned into the weather under full power. We had been asked to go and monitor whether pilot whales which had been seen at the bottom of Loch Ainort, Skye yesterday morning were still there or whether they had been able to find their way out of the loch to open water. Following a recent mass stranding of pilot whales on Skye it is thought that these may be some of the remaining members of the pod. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust are working closely with local businesses to see whether temporarily switching off acoustic deterrent devices nearby will encourage the whales to find their way out of the loch.

The weather closed in as we headed back with some regular waves in the face for the brave volunteers spotting at the mast but the wet weather jackets and over-trousers provided by HWDT did their jobs in keeping us warm and dry and we were ably supplied with hot drinks and a delicious risotto in a cup for lunch.

We are now anchored tucked in between Skye and the island of Scalpey, just south of Loch Ainort and listening to a very nice CD of mellow fiddle music gifted to the boat by a volunteer earlier this summer.  A day of amazing experiences but there is only more to come. The adventure continues…

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Friday 12 June 2015

Published: 13/06/2015

12 June 2015

Anchorage: Fladday Harbour, Raasay

N 57 28.6', W 006 01.3'

Survey effort : 54.9 nautical miles / 9hr21.

We awoke to view that was both eerie and wonderful: streams of puffins, guillemots and razorbills spilling out of the fog from the hills in front of us. The Shiants are a remote island group 12 miles east of Harris, where we anchored the previous evening. Skuas patrolled the bay as we hauled anchor and the mist began to clear as we rounded the Shiants. A calm and silvery sea beckoned with the impressive hills of Harris in the background. Not long after leaving the Shiants we encountered a pair of minke whales... then another and then four whales spread out over a large area of fast flowing tide. The activity came to a peak when we recorded four species of marine mammal in just 2 minutes: grey seal, common dolphin, harbour porpoise and minke whale, all associated with diving gannets and frantic kittiwakes. Some incredible behaviour was witnessed including a half-breaching minke whale, some sub-surface lunge-feeding and rapid surfacing.

As we made our way south and east around the north coast of Skye, all eyes were peeled for a humpback which had been seen in the area this morning (Thanks to skipper Nick Davies of whalewatching boat Orca 1 for letting us know!). Although we did not see the humpback on our trackline, our final full survey day for this trip was a memorable one with so many incredible encounters. We are heading for the Isle of Raasay now to anchor up for the night. Skipper Edd and First Mate Jon are treating us to Mexican food tonight which will go down well after a hard day's work.

Conor Ryan

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Thursday 11 June 2015

Published: 13/06/2015

Anchorage : Eilean Garbh (tr. "Rough island"), The Shiants

N 57 54.1', W 006 21.2'

Survey effort : 62.1 nautical miles / 10hrs30.

An epically long passage into the wind, from Loch Laxford in sutherland to the Shiants. Tough conditions for most of the day but a curious young minke at the end of the day was a well earned treat! It swam under the boat while we were in neutral, giving everyone great views beneath the sea. We ventured ashore to explore the seabird colony, carefully and quietly so as not to disturb the nesting birds. We foraged some seaweed and had a hearty meal of beans, bangers and mash. Conor Ryan.

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