The Orkney Nature Festival Cruise around Hoy
Tuesday 24th May 2016
The Hamnavoe Nature Cruise took place on Sunday 22nd May 2016 between 1300 and 1600, on a day of clear bright weather after a wet week.
Conditions couldn’t have been better for this cruise, a clockwise tour around the island of Hoy, on flat-calm seas. 421 passengers boarded the ship in Stromness and MV Hamnavoe left the harbour at 1300 – heading out into Scapa Flow.
Instead of taking its usual course and turning westwards into Hoy Sound, MV Hamnavoe turned eastwards, heading past the island of Graemsay and sweeping past the smaller islands that hug the shoreline of Hoy, Rysa Little, Cava and Fara.
Out on deck, passengers were taking photos and using their binoculars and enjoying a chat with folk they hadn’t seen for a while.
The RSPB had a nature spotting quiz for children to enjoy, and a raffle.
The upper deck of the Hamnavoe was opened – allowing passengers every opportunity to explore, and find an empty spot at the ship’s railings to see the sights. there was the sense that, we were getting to see much more of the ship, much more of the landscape than we’d ever seen before!
Inside, our chums at the Orkney Brewery supplied Corncrake Ale – one pint free for every passenger. A nip of complimentary Scapa Whisky was also available from the Scapa Distillery – the perfect accompaniment to a trip through Scapa Flow!
Meanwhile the West Mainland Strathspey and Reel Society Junior Section played in the bar, and the sound of traditional music was appreciated by Orcadians and visitors alike!
Passengers of all ages (including our youngest passenger, pictured above) enjoyed the comfortable seats and the big windows inside.
Hungry passengers joined the queue for the buffet, where a substantial amount of beautiful food had been prepared by Brian Taylor and the rest of the Hamnavoe galley crew.
Alison Nimmo from the RSPB and her team did a brilliant job, pointing out tysties, guillemots, fulmers and even porpoises over the tannoy, for all the ship to hear. This came at regular but unobtrusive intervals and was appreciated by all on board. Even some visitors keen for a glimpse of a puffin were not disappointed!
The real highlight of the tour came when the Hamnavoe started to pass unfamiliar scenery – the Martello Towers, Cantick Head Lighthouse, and then the southern cliffs of Hoy. The sun baked down and 421 passengers enjoyed fabulous views of Little Rackwick (the smaller rockier beach further east of its bigger namesake), of massive waterfalls tumbling to the sea. We enjoyed the sight of red sandstone cliff, eaten away by the sea to reveal dozens of sea caves, and then the landscape began to get really dramatic, as tall cliffs rose to become massive ones!
We were treated to the spectacular sight of the Candle of the Sneuk, a spectacular cliff with a pointed top, before the red sandstone cliffs dropped away to reveal beautiful, sandy Rackwick beach, and then rose again for Rora Head, the Old Man of Hoy and St John’s Head.
Having made great time, the Hamnavoe now slowed down considerably at St john’s Head, taking time to go close to the towering cliff, the tallest in Britain. Above us, seabirds swooped from their high clifftop homes and many more swam in the water around the ship. At the foot of the cliff, seals basked in the sun.
As the Hamnavoe sailed back into Stromness harbour there was the feeling that it had been the perfect afternoon – one of entertainment and meeting old friends, one where you had seen amazing things, got a good feed, a hearty drink and a great story to tell that night.
The 2016 Nature Cruise was a resounding success – and a high bar to set, for what we hope will be many Nature Cruises to come!
Thank you to the RSPB staff, Orkney Brewery, Scapa Distillery, and all the NorthLink staff on board the Hamnavoe who pulled out the stops to ensure everyone had a great time!
Orkney and Shetland enthusiast, family man, loves walks, likes animals, terrible at sports, dire taste in music, adores audiobooks and films, eats a little too much for his own good.