The Minch has always been a haven for sea life…but there is a growing demand from people to actually go out to see close-up the whales, dolphins, seals, otters and other marine life – and possibly encounter golden eagles, sea eagles or puffins.
Now Stornoway Harbour is the base for regular trips out into the Minch with Hebridean Adventures which offers trips and cruises for all, from keen wildlife enthusiasts to family groups.
Their vessel, the Monadhliath, is a veteran of Scottish waters and can take up to 12 people on half or full-day trips – and is even equipped to take up to eight passengers on overnight trips.
As a traditional vessel rather than a RIB, the Monadhliath has a raised viewing deck which gives spectacular views. She has an external exhaust which makes the vessel quieter underwater and less likely to disturb the cetaceans meaning that often dolphins can be seen bow-riding. Her maximum speed is eight knots.
Hebridean Adventures emphasise that they are committed to sustainable and responsible wildlife encounters and are an accredited Wildlife Safe (WiSE) operator. All their whale and dolphin sightings are collected and submitted to cetacean conservation organisations. During sailings of Monadhliath in 2017, they had a 100% success rate on all completed trips, up to Tolsta and down to The Shiants. They worked closely on these trips with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and continue to do so.
The skipper of the Monadhliath is Lewis-based Angus Smith, who has wide experience of sailing out of Stornoway and he said that he foresees the voyages filling a major gap in provision. “There’s so much out there just to see, over and above whales and dolphins. There’s many kinds of birds, there’s a chance to see things in different lights.”
Director David Lambie, who also runs a company called Stagfire Ecological Surveys, said that during one recent trip “we actually had a Humpback come right up to the boat…almost touching the bow.” One of the passengers had been studying whales all over the world and had very rarely seen anything that close. “We know this is the right boat for these trips.”
Monadhliath is very popular with passengers. She was built in 1971 and originally owned by a fishing family in the Black Isle. She was a very successful fishing boat and is well-known in ports all round northern Scotland. She was then sold to a former German submarine commander who planned to take her to the Arctic. But illness prevented this and she was sold on to a Lewisman, and was then bought in Stornoway by Mr Lambie in 2012.
Mr Lambie said that the one-night trips are a unique feature of their offering – and might become popular all year round, both with visitors and Islanders. No one else was offering short cruises like this – the others were either day trips or far more expensive weeklong cruises.
“For me, this is a chance for folk to have a taste of what it’s like at sea, without having to commit a lot of time and money.”
Monadhliath will be based at Esplanade Quay in Stornoway harbour during the summer and Hebridean Adventures has an on-line booking system which it is advising everyone to use, rather than risk just turning up and missing out. They are expecting high-demand for these cruises, but also need to manage availability due to weather conditions.
On the Half Day trip, they will head out to sea for approximately four hours. The crew will use their local knowledge to search the most likely spots for whale and dolphin activity. Our resident guide will constantly be on the lookout for marine wildlife. This is a family friendly trip and children of all ages are welcome aboard.
On the Full-Day trip, they will sail for approximately seven hours. The longer trip increases the chances of encountering some of the bigger whales such as Humpback and Orca as well as other wildlife such as eagles and puffins. But no under-16s are permitted on this trip.
On overnight trips, they may anchor off The Shiants and go ashore. However if the weather does not permit this, then they will anchor in a secluded sea loch on the east side of Lewis, home of white-tailed and golden eagles. The boat is fitted with shower and toilets, full central heating and SMART TV for sharing photographs in the evening.
More details fare available on https://www.hebrideanadventures.co.uk