Celtic Mist sails to the Hebrideas Jun 2014

Celtic Mist sailed to the North East Coast mid May to attend the Ballycastle and Rathlin Sound Maritime Festivals.  The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group team onboard were given a warm welcome by the friendly islanders and an excellent weekend was had. Our Northern Ireland Officer Suzanne Beck and IWDG volunteers promoted our work throughout the weekend and brought all our new members sailing around Rathlin Island onboard Celtic Mist, where they were accompanied by Harbour Porpoise and  Bottlenose Dolphins.

Celtic Mist departed Northern Ireland on the 4th of June, destination Tobermory. Taking in the stunning scenery of the Hebridean Islands en route, the crew enjoyed the calm seas, clear blue skies and sunny days for the duration of their trip.  We were welcomed by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) in Tobermory and celebrated World Oceans day together, taking the opportunity to photography both Celtic Mist and their research vessel Silurian together.  This visit proved a great opportunity for similar organisations to work together and discuss how we can expand and improve on all the various areas of IWDG and Celtic Mist.

Celtic Mist manager, Deirdre Slevin gave a presentation at the HWDT Whale Week festival, on the work of the IWDG and Humpback Whale research in the North Atlantic and presented the HWDT team with an image of a recently sighted Humpback whale in Irish waters.   The HWDT are similar to IWDG in a number of ways, they have just celebrated their 20 year anniversary, they also have identified 24 species in Scottish waters and their research vessel Silurian has been recording cetaceans using acoustics for a number of years.   The IWDG team also took the opportunity to meet with Christina Dixon from World Animal Protection to discuss how we can work closer with them on their campaign ‘Sea Change’ to monitor ghost gear and marine litter in relation to the entanglement of marine mammals.

Celtic Mist has since returned the safely to Ballycastle, following two very successful and enjoyable weeks to the Hebridean islands.  They encountered harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphins and minke whales throughout the trip.

In July Celtic Mist will carry out a series of passive acoustic monitoring surveys along the north and north west coast, recording whales and dolphins.

Here’s hoping the sunny skies and calm seas continue throughout the summer, providing us with opportunities to continue cetacean research around the coastline of Ireland.

IWDG meets HWDT…Ireland meets Scotland in Tobermory.
by IWDG Member Brendan Quinn

Celtic Mist, skippered by Garry  left Rathlin for Tobermory on June 4th with an eager bunch of 6 members, and Celtic Mist manager Deirdre Slevin. Well loaded with provisions from the very friendly and helpful Ballycastle, we eventually left  at mid-afternoon, after a hold-up for fuel. The hope was to view some of the extensive marine life along the western Scottish coast, the added attraction being the scenery and the plentiful bird-life that comes with such a trip.

Brendan photographing the stunning scenery and calm seas © Deirdre Slevin

Departing in good weather, we soon had our faces washed as the rushing tides on western Rathlin met those coming in the opposite direction from Islay..the sea gets thrown into chaos, and the boat bounced well over the over falls, past the very impressive white cliffs and lighthouse (1 of 3) on the western coast of the Island.
Rathlin itself had had a 3 day visit from IWDG over the previous weekend, and  we picked up a few new members, as well as having built strong ties with our NI members, colleagues, and future members.

The seas soon calmed down as we made the 1st port in just over 4 hours..pulling into Port Ellen, the view of the harbour was dominated by the smoky stack of one of the many whisky distilleries, as well as the marvellous hilly scenery and beaches. Berthing proved difficult in a strong wind, so we moored up at the pier, which proved advantageous as our chief negotiator Deirdre convinced a nearby trawler to part with a large bag of scallops, which Tom Ormond shucked for out tea the following evening.

Each of the crew teamed up in pairs for cooking and cleaning duties and including the skippers excellent “onboard baked” brown bread meant no-one suffered hunger pangs throughout the week (quite the opposite in fact!). Day 2 saw the progress North up the inner Islay channel towards Craobh marina. Cool but almost windless, it was motor all the way, the access to ports and risk of choppy seas meaning this route was safest and quickest. On the way we passed Crinan marina, start of the great Caledonian canal, a route for all Irish and Western sailors to access the North sea, and eventually Scandanavia.

Craobh was a very well appointed marina, easy mooring, loads of services, and a fine pub/restaurant, set among hills and islands on all sides. Nearby the skipper informed us was the infamous channel of Corryvreckan, an area where deep and wide ocean meets shallow straits causing massive surges and whirlpools, one in particular up to 1/2 a mile across in spring tides. Gary, being a meticulous skipper, and extremely safety conscious showed us that by reading charts and the almanac, and getting tide times correct such passages hold no fear, and can in fact be fascinating to navigate. The churned up water would help feed marine life, we encountered harbour porpoises here along with hoards of gannets, razorbills, and guillemots. Alas though, no whales.

The boat then progressed to the pretty and popular ferry port (and music centre) of Oban..where ferries take passengers to the Western Isles and beyond. Our passage in caused a fair bit of brain-work from the skipper,as it was a narrow (but extraordinarily deep) channel to harbour. We took a ferry taxi into the town to view the locality..learning en route that the lifeboat had been called to assist a boat from the Scottish sailing school which had fouled on a lobster pot.  This reminded us of the importance of the watch duties we rotated, to keep an eye out for any hazards.   Patricia and Margaret, having recently completed sail-training course were able to spot hazards from miles off. Meanwhile Tom/Tom the navigators filled us in on the many avian species we were seeing both at sea, and even in the marina.


The crew on watch © Deirdre Slevin

Next stop was the Isle of Mull, and Tobermory, where we intended to meet with the Hebridean whale and dolphin trust, in a diplomatic and fact-sharing visit during their “whale week”.

A rather excellent presentation was given by Deirdre to the Hebridean members (and any other interested groups), plus we had the added bonus of attending a talk by their new Scientific officer, Conor Ryan of Cork, a familiar name to many in IWDG.  In his talk, Conor reminded us that as top of the food chain, cetaceans are “beautiful swimming indicators of the state of health of the oceans” and reminded us of the sometimes horrific levels of toxins found in some regions among cetacean species.  Conor also referred to the importance of the “Dunmore box” a protected marine area which appears to be massively important in boosting population of the shoaling sprat and herring, so important to the feeding of these animals. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a similar box in each of our other 3 provinces? Conor explained that there is a particular type of sandy gravelled sea-bottom that permits the hatching of herring eggs and therefore increases the chances of us re-gaining healthy food sources for the whole food-chain.

The trips from Tobermory out to Colonsay and past the beautiful Ardnamurchan lighthouse were stunningly scenic, and this area is responsible for a lot of the sightings for the HWDT.  We witnessed a lot of bait balling and bird activity, and although some minke were seen by other boats, we had no sightings.  The opportunity to meet up with the HWDT boat, Silurian was taken, and we managed to get some excellent shots of both boats sailing in together.

All in all the diplomatic ties and shared science should help our cause in promoting and preserving the healthy proliferation of our marine mammalian friends.

The return route took us round the outside, navigating the Western Isles past Mull, Colonsay, Fingal’s cave on Staffa, and on past the historic and beautiful Iona. On observing the rocks and churning tides, one wondered at the incredible feat St. Columba managed in sailing to and from Iona to Derry/Inishowen…recently celebrated and replicated in a BBC programme by a crew from Derry.  Ger took the wheel for an extended period on this leg when the rest of us were rather burned out..from early starts and having to put up with my snoring I think almost everyone was a little fatigued at this stage.

The narrow Jura channel threw up a huge tidal race, and in the only really wet weather we found our boat was going over 13 knots, when its normal speed was 6! As we passed by Colonsay port, the decision was made to head on for Port Ellen, and to pass by the beautiful hills known as the paps of Jura, while negotiating this narrow tidal channel.

The return to Rathlin, through more incredible eddies and races was smooth, and as we passed the puffins, shelducks and eiders on the North side of Rathlin, most of us promised that both Mull and Rathlin should certainly be visited again soon.

As for the trip being “light on science” it was heavy on diplomacy, and such travels do well to promote the work of our group and to extend the hands of friendship and diplomacy to our sister groups.  The stops at port allowing us to disembark, and visit the islands or ports were a great way of breaking the trip and provided a welcome opportunity to view the areas from land too.

Deep blue sea! © Deirdre Slevin

I think all in all the group would jump at the chance of a similar trip, as it really was an opportunity most of us would not get in a lifetime.

Unforgettable trip to the Hebrides 13th – 20th June 2014
by IWDG Member Margo KiernanFrom the moment we began to gather on board the Celtic Mist in Ballycastle it was clear that this trip had the making of great memories. We were greeted by our galant skipper Garry who’s calm became obvious as the week progressed. Patience of a saint had Garry (aka job)!

Next we met Marvellous Mick our on board Marine scientist who had the ability to pass on his amazing store of knowledge (in any chosen accent) to all, including the slow learners, which title I hold for myself for being knot dyslectic! Congratulations to Mick for having received confirmation of his final qualification while on board. If Mick wasn’t taking water samples/keeping records/answering questions or keeping the crew entertained he could be found,  ‘resting his eyes’ in the cosiest bunk on board, the location of which we are sworn to secrecy.

Not to down grade the porpoises, of which we saw numerous from day one, the display put on by Minke Mum and baby was the highlight of the trip. For nearly an hour they entertained us rolling gently and majestly around Celtic Mist. Great photos got by Alan Sean and Mick. The motly crew had set a target of 100 sightings for the week but were well satisfied with 89, including porpoises, harbour seals, grey seals, minkes and a sea otter.

The crew from above! © Sean English
Minke Whale © Alan Jones

We diverted slightly near Iona to investigate a gathering of small boats in the distance to discover the amazing uninhabited island of Staffa and Fingals cave with its basalt columns rising hundreds of feet at the entrance to a gigantic cave which contained a natural amphitheatre. Leaving the Giants Causeway in the halfpenny place. Past visitors to Staffa have been author Jules Verne, poet William Wordsworth and Queen Victoria. The composer Mendelssohn composed an overture in1830 he was so impressed by what he saw. Well worth a visit in its own right.

Garry had a very workable rota set up which meant we all had our chance at steering, organizing fenders, sighting and cooking etc. Our culinary delights were slightly over shadowed by Mick and Garry catching mackerel for our lunch, cooked up by Alan using a secret recipe of Garry’s.

A second trip on the Celtic Mist is definitely on the cards for most of us when the chance arises, with a recommendation to all IWDG members to take the opportunity if at all possible.

A huge thanks to Garry and Mick and also to Deirdre who dedicates so much of her time and hard work both on the boat and behind the scenes to making it all possible. Margo.

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