Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust
(23 – 29 May 2004)

See more about the Trust here

See my photos here

I had a fabulous, wonderful, fun, useful week with a great bunch of people. Myself and Dave, the other volunteer for the week with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, met the boat Silurian last Sunday evening after the boat had competed in a sailing/running race (3 islands/ 3 peaks) last weekend. We spent the first night on board in the harbour with 7 high school children and their teacher (they had all competed in the race), Duncan, the skipper and Jamie, the first mate. That was 12 folks on an 8-berth boat! The children were great and gave up their beds for Dave and me and slept on the floor.

In the morning the children tidied and cleaned and scrubbed and got the boat all ship-shape and ready for us before they left. We departed just after noon and as there was little wind, we had to use the motor to `sail' from Troon, around the Mull of Kintyre to the island of Islay. This trip took about 8 hours and we got in at nine at night. We could not get moored alongside the pontoon (our boat, at 53 feet, was far bigger than most travelling this area) and needed to get across the end of the pontoon. So that night we tied up beside the harbour wall and had to use the iron ladder to get onto the land. Not at all easy.

The next morning we managed to move to the recently vacated berth on the end of the pontoon just before the school children arrived. This made it safe for the children to come on board.

Dave and I had the task of collecting seashore critters to fill several touch tanks for the Trust Education officer and assistant to share with the visiting school children. We had great fun finding numerous different seaweeds, sea anemones, sea urchins, crabs, worms etc, etc… all the while `testing' each other on the scientific names for these! Meanwhile the staff asked the local fishermen if they had anything they could give us for the children's visit and by a hour later, we had 2 huge lobsters (on loan – they'd sell these for a lot), a `keep cage' full of edible crabs (again on loan), a spotted dog fish (a feisty thing that thrashed around a lot) and a bucketful of starfish.

The locals were wonderful, as the next day other fishermen brought us an octopus for our touch tank, and huge dog whelks. We all felt bad when `our' octopus died two days later, even though we fed him crabs.

We had groups of about 12 children visiting each morning and afternoon; some 5/6 yos some 7/8 yos and 2 groups of 14/15yos. The volunteer's role was to help out generally during the school visits, but on the 2nd day we were asked to run the touch tank ourselves; 3 groups of 4 children for 30 mins each. We both had great fun and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The children were so receptive to everything we told them and I felt pleased that I plucked up the nerve to hold our feisty velvet crab, the lobster, the enormous pincered edible crabs and the thrashing dogfish (using rubber gloves) after Dave had done so too! We were chuffed when the education officers told us they wouldn't normally ask the volunteers to do this, but they thought we were wonderful! :-)

Between the school visits we simply left our touch tanks (big plastic boxes) on the harbour - apart from the larger critters we put into the keep cages hanging from the harbour wall. Whenever we spotted any tourists or locals hanging around looking we ran along the pontoon and gave them a spiel about who were, what we were doing there and told them about the sea life too. I really enjoyed that – I was in my element explaining the wonders of our marine life to people and showing them things they'd never been aware of before; things like barnacles waving their legs to feed, and how to tell the gender of crabs ...

The other volunteer Dave was great fun to work with. He had been a mature student too and had recently completed an honours degree in Environmental Science. We spent a little time exploring our corner of the island (approx 600 square kilometres (about 1/3rd the size of Skye) pop 4000) in our free time – all the time sharing our knowledge of the wildlife (he could ID many of the grasses, me the flowers) and having long discussions about environmental issues (GM crops, population, pollution, biofuel...). We both said it was fun to go walking with someone who knew what we were talking about, even though I often felt he knew much more than me.

We had the final school visit yesterday morning – a delightful class of 7-8 yos from the Gaelic Medium school and they sang to us in Gaelic before departing.

Unfortunately the beautiful weather we'd had all week broke yesterday and as we left at noon we had gale force winds. We were the only boat in the harbour to leave! And even more unfortunate, I was seasick as were Caroline and Nicole, the education officers. But I was well enough for the first hour or so to enjoy the pitching, rocking and rolling of our beautiful boat in full sail. We all got soaking wet as the spray lashed us and we literally had to hang on for dear life to stop being washed overboard (we clipped ourselves to a safety strap for a large part of the sail. As I said it *was* fun, until I felt too ill to enjoy it. After about 5/6 hours sailing, the wind died down and we had to motor sail to Oban, arriving at 11pm last night.

After living on a boat – albeit with only a gentle rocking motion when moored to the pontoon – for about a week, I still feel I'm rocking gently today.

~ Sheila ~

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