Day 1 |
May 27, 2010

Leith, Scotland

By Chris Cutler, Naturalist

Coordinates: 55° 58'N and 3° 10'W

Weather: Sunny, warm

On a calm and lovely day along the Eastern Scottish seaboard, newly arrived guests boarded the Prince Albert II expedition cruise ship as she rested quayside in the historic Western Harbor of Leith. Welcome cocktails awaited as everyone settled into their suites.

We gathered in The Theatre where Expedition Leader Robin West delivered a mandatory safety briefing and we donned life jackets for practice. Soon the lines were cast and we headed off.

The weather was still gorgeous as we slowly spun about and passed by the stately Royal Yacht Britannia, docked adjacent the Ocean Terminal - once a sort of floating global ambassador for the UK, with her own rich history; now a resident tourist attraction.

Common terns carried fish to nests on a small pier-island and eiders lazily swam close to shore as the warmth of the sunshine precluded the use of jackets. The "monkey fists" of the lines were thrown as we entered the small locks to pass into the Firth of Forth.

We reconvened in The Theatre a bit later and Robin introduced several of the Heads of Departments on board the ship, where 118 guests would be in the company of 118 crew, implying that a mutiny just might not succeed. ach of the Expedition Staff said a few words about themselves and Robin introduced guests to the ship, the trip, and emphasized that if they needed anything at all to not hesitate to ask for it.

The ship cruised smoothly across the flat calm waters of the Firth, a massive estuary and natural fjord. Small groups of razorbills and common guillemots flew by and now and then a flock of thousands of black-backed and herring gulls was seen feeding in the distance. Within the huge estuary are the Isle of May and Bass Rock, the former a breeding site for many species of seabirds and site of long-term research, the latter one of the most significant breeding colonies of Northern gannets in the world. We enjoyed a delicious first supper onboard and, for some of us, the splendid conditions outside and later a fine sunset. Our 15-day Remote Islands of Britain and Ireland tour, (and yes, we'll even throw in a bit of France as well), had begun, and the excitement was palpable.