Geoff Shaw, Silurian Volunteer May 2016
Geoff Shaw, Silurian Volunteer May 2016
Volunteer aboard monitoring for whales, dolphins and porpoise
Volunteer aboard monitoring for whales, dolphins and porpoise
The leatherback turtle sighted from onboard Silurian
The leatherback turtle sighted from onboard Silurian

Geoff Shaw, Silurian volunteer 2015, describes his experience aboard in May

In May 2015, I had the pleasure of sailing aboard 'Silurian', on the first of this year's survey HWDT1. I felt a bit like the little lad waiting to see what presents he would get at Christmas! The selection of suitable 'citizen scientists' had been done, and we all met for the first time, on board 'Silurian'. It felt a bit like the way Tear Fund selects members for their 'Task Force Teams', to work in Third World countries, for a couple of months. If they get it right it's FANTASTIC but if not it could be traumatic - particularly in a 65 foot vessel and with eight other people!

Since the sum total of our ages must have been about 360, you may realise that at least one of us was probably a long way past his 'sell by date'. What's more I would love to return again for my eightieth birthday next June!! Don't ever think that because you're over the big 50 that you will not be accepted...that you can no longer run a 4-minute mile...that you might be sea sick...that they might throw you overboard, like Jonah. Give it a go and I'm sure you will enjoy it. The crew feed you at frequent intervals, provide you with the best waterproofs and buoyancy aids, and train you how to be useful during the surveys. Also, you get to places that few other people will ever see...where mobile phones don't work, there's no TV and the only sounds are the sea and the wild life that surrounds you.

You'll leave, eventually, with a great feeling that, you've not only achieved far more than expected, but made a number of new friends - many who may be young enough to be your grandchildren. NOW what's STOPPING YOU? Get the dates for the surveys and work out which will suit. The water is usually warmer, for later surveys, and your families may enjoy the extra space at home!


Sarah Scott, Silurian volunteer 2011, recounts the usual leatherback turtle encounter in June.

Having spent 8 days at sea last September (2010) with HWDT it felt good to have the chance to get back onboard Silurian again, and to be heading out to an area that seems to gain more of a hold on me each time I visit. It is a great opportunity to be so close to nature and an exciting privilege to be able to contribute to the trusts research.

I have many fond memories from the trip, but one day stands out above all others. Sunday 5th June was quite incredible. It started fine and sunny, potentially good conditions for sightings; indeed several harbour porpoises were spotted as we left Loch Torridon.

Once we were in open water we noticed a flock of gannets beneath which were revealed a pod of about 30 common dolphins; these soon joined our boat and stayed with us bow-riding for about a quarter of an hour. We soon came across more dolphins as well as a minke whale and then another minke before we chanced upon what was to be one of the highlights of the day.

I was on joint watch with Cal at the mast when she spotted something large in the water which neither of us were initially able to identify. Racking our brains we first thought it might be a sick animal despite the fact that there was no fin evident, or maybe it was just some piece of inanimate marine debris. Suddenly we saw legs moving and although the sighting proved to be very brief we ascertained that it had been a large leatherback turtle, about one and a half metres long, an amazing privilege to see this giant in these waters. It surfaced briefly again, this time on the other side of the boat seeming to observe us as much as we were observing it.

Later that evening, Skipper Dave gave us the option of mooring for the night or pushing on to the island of Taransay, which he reckoned would be about another 2-3 hours sailing. We were unanimous in pushing on for the island, an exciting prospect as it was known to most of us from the TV programme 'Castaway' which had been made some years before.

Arriving about 9.30 we quickley prepared the dinghy for our trip ashore, and having landed, we soon came across a herd of red deer defore setting off across the island to a picturesque sandy cove where we enjoyed an intense sunset comprising of an ever-changing blend of reds, oranges and pinks. We spent some time here, just revelling in the beautiful atmosphere of this unspoilt setting. A last treat on our all too short visit was the accompaniment of an otter hurrying down to he sea as we too made our way to the shore and our dinghy.

This had been a day to remember and I know the memories will stay with me for a long time to come.

Andrew Simpson
Education volunteer, April 2008 - Present

I arrived in Tobermory to clear blue skies and pitched my tent on the local campsite. All the accommodation in town had been fully booked due to the much renowned Tobermory music festival attracting visitors from far and wide….

I had been invited to join in with one of the Marine Mammal courses which started on Friday evening. After a very informative series of presentations about research techniques, we adjourned to the pub for an evening of culture (beer and music). The temperature dropped rapidly during the night and I was glad of the extra sleeping bag I’d packed. The next day was spent on the Silurian where I was able to help out a little with the volunteers. We had a good day but unfortunately weather conditions were not ideal for sightings, so after debriefing we went to the pub for more culture…

By Monday I was able to move into a flat I had rented at a very reasonable rate just around the corner from the HWDT shop. I met up with the Education team and spent the morning discussing our brief, interspersed with great coffees from the local bakery. The atmosphere in the office was wonderful and it felt good to be working as part of a team again (having taken early retirement from teaching a couple of years before). We decided to produce a series of activities on the ecology of the bottlenose dolphin, and the days passed quickly as the materials began to take shape. I was happy to have the superior IT skills provided by Gemma to give a very professional finish to the final product. My evenings were spent sampling the local fare with various members of the HWDT team who were so sociable and made me feel very much at home. By the end of the week I was sorry to leave; Tobermory quickly grows on you if you have an interest in wildlife and a beautiful environment. I arrived at the ferry to be greeted by an otter swimming around the pier and immediately started planning my next visit. I would thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone!