North Hebridean Explorer cruise

Trip host Chris Gomersall reports back from a very successful 10 night adventure cruise around remote Scottish islands in superb weather.


31st May to 9th June 2023

 Well, there’s a first time for everything. And this was the first time I’ve completed a ten-day cruise in the Hebrides without a single drop of rain! Not only that, but the wind barely reached force 4 at any point. With the barometer firmly stuck at 1024 millibars, and the light winds in the northerly quarter, these were fabulous conditions for cruising and venturing out to some of the remote outposts of the Western Isles. I’m happy to report that skipper Tony and the trusty Hjalmar Bjørge duly obliged, and we were able to reach and circumnavigate North Rona, Sula Sgeir and the Flannan Isles; places even less frequently visited than Saint Kilda. That’s cutting a long story short - obviously there were a number of stops along the way, and we enjoyed peaceful walks ashore on Canna, Taransay, Rum and south Mull. Owner David Lambie was able to join the ship for a couple of days (guess which part!), and while in Stornoway we were able to hear the fascinating story of the guga hunters of Sula Sgeir from their former skipper, John Murdo “Dodds” MacFarlane. 

North Rona

North Rona

Sula Sgeir

Sula Sgeir

Flannan Isles

Flannan Isles

 As for the wildlife, we managed to see an impressive total of 93 species of birds between us, and no fewer than five species of dolphins. But it’s the wonderful experiences and privileged encounters that you remember, rather than the crude numbers. For some of our guests, this will have been the first time they experienced the thrill of bow-riding common dolphins, or a minke whale surfacing close to the ship. Rarer events that will stick in my mind were the aerial antics of talon-grappling white-tailed eagles at the Shiants, and the glorious surprise of an otter running across the beach on Taransay. And who could ever forget the haunting chorus of grey seals at dusk, more poetically interpreted as the songs of the selkies, from the skerries around North Rona?

Common Dolphins

Common Dolphins

White tailed eagles

White-Tailed Eagles



Grey seals at Sula Sgeir

Grey Seals

 In many ways, the gannets were the real stars of the show for this cruise, with close views of their breeding colonies at Sula Sgeir and the isle of Roareidh in the Flannans. It was heartening to see them getting on with the normal business of nesting with no obvious signs of mortality in the colony, after the ravages of avian ‘flu in 2022. It did appear as though breeding numbers in the Flannans are slightly down on last year, but I have subsequently submitted comparative photos to seabird researchers at the RSPB and the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, and they will be able to make a more informed assessment. It sounds like a small gesture, and easy enough for us, but it’s quite difficult to obtain good data from some of these remote sites and is very much appreciated by the scientists involved. In a similar fashion, we are accustomed to recording all of our cetacean sightings and submitting them to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust through their Whaletrack app. On a personal level, it’s always been important to me to know that I’m working with a wildlife-friendly and environmentally responsible operator, and I feel sure that our guests support us in this too.

Gannet colony at the Flannan Isles

Gannet colony at the Flannan's

Gannets on Sula Sgeir

Gannets at Sula Sgeir

 There’s a lot more to commend live-aboard cruising of course. The joy of slow travel. The people you meet, the knowledge and experience they share, and the friendships you make. Paddling ashore in bare feet. Luke’s prawn skewers. Not catching any mackerel. Just a few of the many reasons to come back again next year. And after twenty years of wildlife guiding, on approaching 50 Hebridean cruises, I’m still discovering a new anchorage on every trip. Pure magic.

Shore excursion from the Hjalmar BjørgeAnother adventure begins - off on a shore excursion in Loch Spelve, Isle of Mull

Wildlife Species List


Whooper swan - 1 at North Rona, 3 at Loch Carloway, 1 at Loch Eport

Greylag goose

Canada goose - Loch Spelvie



Common scoter - 4 by Taransay, and ca 60 in the Minch by North Uist

Goosander - 1, Stornoway

Red-breasted merganser - Loch na Drumbuidh, 

Red grouse - Taransay

Red-throated diver - Rum

Black-throated diver - 2 at Loch Carloway

Great northern diver - 1 at Loch Carloway


Manx shearwater

European storm-petrel - north of Butt of Lewis, south of the Flannans, Cairns of Coll

Leach’s storm-petrel - 3, north of Butt of Lewis

Northern gannet

Cormorant - Sound of Harris


Grey heron

White-tailed eagle - 11 plus

Golden eagle - 1 in flight from Loch Spelvie

Common buzzard

Corncrake - 4 calling males on Canna


Ringed plover - Taransay

Golden plover - Taransay

Lapwing - Loch Spelvie

Sanderling - Taransay

Dunlin - North Rona, Taransay

Common sandpiper

Redshank - Taransay

Greenshank - Loch na Drumbuidh


Whimbrel - 3 at North Rona


Great skua

Arctic skua - 1 north of Canna, 2 by Tiumpan Head, 1 north of Butt of Lewis

Black-headed gull - 1, Taransay


Common gull

Herring gull

Lesser black-backed gull

Great black-backed gull

Little tern - 1 at Taransay

Common tern - Sound of Mull

Arctic tern


Black guillemot

Common guillemot


Rock dove/feral pigeon

Wood pigeon

Collared dove - Taransay


Short-eared owl - Loch Eport, North Uist

Swift - Oban

Great spotted woodpecker - Loch Spelvie


Barn swallow

House martin

Rock pipit

Meadow pipit

Tree pipit - Loch na Drumbuidh

Pied wagtail





Song thrush


Northern wheatear


Common whitethroat

Willow warbler


Goldcrest - Rum

Great tit

Coal tit

Blue tit

Long-tailed tit - Loch Spelvie

Jackdaw - Oban

Hooded crow



House sparrow








Total: 93 species


Red deer

Feral goat


Grey seal

Common seal

Otter - Taransay, Loch Spelvie

Harbour porpoise

Short-beaked common dolphin

Risso’s dolphin - three pods, by Tiumpan Head, north of Butt of Lewis, and by Sula Sgeir

White-beaked dolphin - 2, west of Lewis

Bottlenose dolphin - north-west of Lewis

Minke whale - 10 sightings