On board Silurian
Silurian is HWDTs research and
Most weeks April through October she is either monitoring
the waters of the west coast of Scotland for whales, dolphins, and
porpoises, or serving as a floating classroom for one of the many Argyll
island primary and secondary schools.
log below to find out what Silurian and her crew have been up to each
week and all about the whales, dolphins and porpoises they spot!
To find out about the latest marine life sightings spotted elsewhere,
If you would like to send the crew an e-mail with your questions click here.
Click here to view the Silurian Log archive.
31st July 2009
Date: Friday 31st July
Position: 57°35’.728N, 07°09’.309W
Distance Travelled: Nil
The crew of Silurian were grateful for an extra hour in bed as the plan was to remain anchored in Lochmaddy due to the weather. Volunteers went ashore for some long showers and a sauna at a local Tigh Dearg hotel. The hotel owner, Alistair was very welcoming and cooked up a fantastic lunch of chips and scallops before everyone headed off in their own direction. This direction turned out to be the local art centre and cafe where fresh and rather filling cake was devoured. Barbara had taken a walk round the island which prompted Ian and Ross to tackle the same walk albeit in far worse weather than when Barbara had walked. The walk consists of a loop around Lochmaddy taking in a camera obscura, Sponish Houses and various other little inlets of the loch. Kia, Alys and Laura took the local bus and across the island to Berneray. The result from this trip was purchasing most of North Uist’s supply of Penguin biscuits, no doubt to the dismay of the local children. The crew then reconvened at the hotel for a welcome cup of tea and a chance for Ian and Ross to attempt to dry out from their walk. Kia and Laura took the initiative and walked fully clothed into the sauna in an attempt to dry off. All the drying off was to be in vain as the cruise on the tender back to Silurian was to be a very wet one! While the volunteers took the chance to explore the island, the crew stayed onboard in case actions had to be taken in reaction to the force 8 gales. Fortunately, all was well prepared and time was spent reading, cooking, baking and performing other small tasks. Once everyone was back on board all were treated to haggis, neaps and tatties prepared by the skipper, just what the doctor ordered after a day in the rain!
30th July 2009
Date: Thursday 30th July
Position: 57°35’.728N, 07°09’.309W
Distance Travelled: 49.4NM
Today, we travelled along the south east coast, from Loch Leurbost to Lochmaddy. While travelling south, the dramatic coast line was spectacular. Looking at this from a different perspective – being at sea level - with the sun reflecting off the cliffs, is a welcome difference from viewing from land. Even better was the stark scenery against the unexpected elegance of the Scalpay Bridge as it suddenly appeared before us against the sun. By now, everyone had got used to life on board a boat as no one was feeling sea sick and the day was rather enjoyable. Three harbour porpoise were sighted and the crew were also lucky enough to spot many seabirds in various different sizes. Ian was the first member of the crew to climb the crow’s nest as the weather conditions were finally good enough and the sea was relatively calm. Ross was in the crow’s nest as we approached the Scalpay Bridge. Although the skipper was rather sure the bridge was definitely high enough for us to pass under it, it was nevertheless an interesting experience viewing from the deck as it looked as though we weren’t going to fit under. Luckily, the skipper proved to be right again, and all went well. Before we arrived at our destination, we were informed we could be storm bound for at least a day at Lochmaddy which means Loch of the Dogs, because of the dog shaped rocks on either side of the entrance of the Loch, Madah Beag and Madah Mor. When we arrived at Lochmaddy, Barbara, Kia, Ross, Alys and Laura went ashore to explore the island and look for much needed hot showers. Eventually, we found Tigh Dearg Hotel meaning the red house, in Gaelic where we met a very accommodating hotelier named Alistair. The hotel is somewhat of an oasis! We arranged to return the following morning for saunas, steams, showers, lunch, laundry and zen. We were very happy for the rest of the day, regardless of the weather. The village is very cute and quaint with stone houses and sheep peppering the landscape. The locals are so genuine and friendly Kia, Laura and Alys have already arranged to stay to study basking sharks the next season!!! Dinnertime back onboard Laura, Alys and Kia were propelled into fits of giggles by Ross’s “OOHooh, guacamole” and his evident delight when he found out we were having Mexican inspired cuisine. As usual, après dinner many laughs and stories went around. The captain had some fabulous island maps with suggestions of local sights to see while the crew will enjoy a day of shore leave.
29th July 2009
Date: Wednesday 29th July
Anchorage: Loch Leurbost
Position: 58°07’.599N, 06°26’.155W
Distance Travelled: 45.7NM
Today can only be described as a little bit of an adventure and was perhaps the most eventful day so far. The beginning of the day saw the Silurian heading west across the Minch to the Isle of Lewis. A relatively calm start quickly saw an influx of heavier winds and lumpy water which caused a few issues for everyone. Cut to the front observation point... Strong winds and crashing waves meant Laura and Ross had no choice but to slowly come to a more aft observation point before gratefully disappearing below deck to warm up. Below decks... Kia, meanwhile, was leading her own valiant effort in the galley in an attempt to prevent things falling on the floor while the boat was healing over and sailing on one ear. At one point a bottle of olive oil was seen to go down, meaning the crew were left effectively ice-skating around below decks until the tea towels served well as anti-slip mats. Kia was also the first to notice Ross and Ian’s cabin looking a little bit damp... Despite both their claims that they had checked it, their hatch was found to be open. The waves coming over the deck has seeped through a small gap letting in the water and leaving Ian’s bed looking a bit like an indoor swimming pool. Lickily, the engine room provides a warm environment and bedding was dry before bedtime. Thought at least everyone learned the difference between closed and almost closed. Despite these mini adventures the main show was yet to come: a few hours later there was a cry from the helm. Gen had spotted a flock of Gannets feeding, a sign that alerted the crew to what we had all been waiting for... Dolphins!!! Although the sea was still lumpy, everyone rushed to the fore of the yacht, clambering from their various posts and emerging from below decks to watch in wonder as a pod of common dolphins put on a real treat of a show, leaping out from the water and using those same lumpy waves to propel themselves onwards, the brief sunlight glistening off the water on their flanks. Even through the waves and sea spray it was possible to see their light colouration and the made a magnificent sight riding the bow waves of the Silurian. Even after the dolphins had parted company with the Silurian the crew remained seated there chatting about what they had seen until they were eventually all chivvied reluctantly back to work. The day still had one last little bit of excitement, Ian and Ross’s cooking. Although the outlook was initially dire and a little bit bleak, some sound advice from Barbara, meant even the two worst cooks of the crew managed to prepare a warm and very welcome meal of pasta and chicken.
28th July 2009
Date: Tuesday 28th July
Position: 57°53’.622N, 05°09’.131W
Distance Travelled: 38.6NM
Tuesday saw the yacht and crew continuing their voyage north up the western coast of the Scottish mainland. Starting at the anchorage at Loch Gairloch and heading for the town of Ullapool in Loch Broom. The journey saw the Silurian passing through some of the most stunning of sea and landscapes, including the An Teallach. As always the skipper kept the crew entertained with a variety of stories and folklore pertaining to the passing vista leading to an interesting contrast between his description of the landscape as a woman lying upon the ground, and Kia’s view that it looked more like a jelly baby. The bout of sea sickness that had struck down Laura and Ian passed them by and laid its hand upon Alys who duly took her turn to sit hunched at the back of the boat looking a bit miserable. Sightings were thin on the ground again, but there was continued porpoise sounds recorded with the hydrophone. In contrast bird sightings were thick, including a small horde of clown-like puffins, including a large amount of youngsters. The puffin is a bird that the whole crew have fallen in love with. It’s hard not to be charmed when watching the dumpy little birds attempting to take off from a heavier sea, their little red feet flashing. The crew remained optimistic throughout the day and was eventually rewarded by the sight of a grey seals as the Silurian sailed into Ullapool. The crew continued to watch the seals, who refused to move despite the rising tide. Meanwhile the skipper, first mate, with a variety of crew assistance attempted to anchor the boat. One attempt, two attempts, three attempts...no good holding for the anchor and the ground was foul. Eventually, after talking to the harbour master we ended up on a mooring. The skipper and some of the crew went ashore. Dinner was a delightful fish pie. This meal was prepared by the ships younger crew, Alys and Laura – one a vegetarian the other one who finds fish disgusting. How they managed, no one is sure... but it tasted delicious! After dinner the crew went to the Ceilidh Place – a lovely local bar, which oddly has its own book shop. A live Ceilidh band and a few drinks rounded the day off nicely...
27th July 2009
Date: Monday 27th July
Anchorage: Loch Gairloch
Position: 57°42’.030N, 05°42’.693W
Distance Travelled: 55.9NM
Day two started around 7am when most of us woke up and began breakfast, which was mainly toast and cereals, with plenty of tea ;). We set off from Plockton at 8.15 and headed NW. The Silurian headed up the Sound of Raasay on route to Loch Gairloch. Some early sightings of two harbour porpoises kept the crew’s spirits high as did the pancakes provided by skipper Tim and volunteer Ian! The sea began to get choppy when we entered the Sound of Raasay, causing some people to become a bit sea sick as we were completing the transects! Nevertheless, the surrounding islands and landscapes were absolutely spectacular, breathtaking and majestic. The data for audible animals is noteworthy on this day. Nienke happily analysed the acoustic data and nineteen detections of harbour porpoise encounters were recorded; the record for the season so far! Markedly a noteworthy day. From the observation deck each watch rotation sighted birds that will be logged on the following day .The weather fluctuated from bright sunshine to small squalls and also the sea state varied from calm flat leaving the shelter of Plockton to very rough seas with lots of white horses. The Silurian and crew nestled into the Bird’s Nest into Loch Gairloch around 18:00. The sun beaming and still high in the sky when we set anchor. Tucked in behind Longa Island where seals were basking in the sun, we enjoyed a most delicious dinner - fabulously prepared by Barbara and Kia - of beef stew, roasted vegetables, potatoes and ...... mmmmm ......... apple- and pear crumble with custard. Kia and Nienke took to the outer deck with handcrafted fishing lines in hopes of catching the big fish (or even a small fish would do). Feathers from Harrods tied to the lines would most certainly better our chances but no luck this time, maybe better next time. With midnight around the corner and all crew made way to bunks for the most restful of slumber in our Scottish Hebrides dreamlands.
26th July 2009
Date: Sunday 26th July
Position: 57°20’.598N, 05°38’.441W
Distance Travelled: 17.7NM
Day one began at 10am on the pier at Kyle of Lochalsh. The crew became acquainted with the yacht Silurian over a cup of tea whilst waiting for Gen, the last member of crew to arrive. After a brief walk around Kyle of Lochalsh and a final orientation and safety briefing we were ready to set sail in the rain.
The first research tasks were allocated as Silurian set sail and with the hydrophone deployed the survey began. The first passage saw Silurian circle the Crowlin Islands in search of the first sightings of the trip. With the crew getting to grips with life on board no sightings were recorded until the first rotation of surveyors took place. Finally after several hours of surveying we recorded the second sighting whilst sailing through Loch Carron, a solitary Common Seal.
Silurain dropped anchor in Plockton and some of the crew heading ashore to explore the village whilst the others stayed onboard to prepare the evening meal. The rest of the crew returned to Silurian and found the saloon full of carrots! In order to preserve the carrots for the rest of the 12 days the decision was made to chop, boil and freeze what looked like several tons of carrots. The next meals are expected to be carrot soup followed by carrot stew with a dessert of carrot cake.