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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 May, 2003, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Breakfast cruise serves up eclipse
The view near Durness in Sutherland
Dozens of people got a good view near Durness in Sutherland
A boatload of skywatchers sailed into perfect position as hundreds of people travelled to the north of Scotland attempting to view a rare annular eclipse of the Sun.

Jonathan Wills was serving up a champagne breakfast on his vessel off Shetland when the clouds broke to reveal a sight not seen in the UK since 1920.

However, there was no such luck for most of those who had hoped to see a brilliant ring of sunlight around the Moon.

Experts had predicted the best views in the early hours of Saturday would be from Scotland's Northern Isles.

Rebecca Hamilton, head of marketing with Shetland Islands Tourism, said the eclipse had focused a lot of attention on the area.

Low, slow-moving clouds meant the sky was not clear enough to give most people a view of the eclipse, which will not be repeated until 2093.

Boat tours

However, she said: "It has brought a lot of people up here and they have said that they didn't mind because they had such a great time anyway."

There were a number of events organised for the hundreds of people who travelled to Shetland, including with special boat tours.

One of those was run by Mr Wills, who took six keen astronomers on the champagne breakfast trip.

They thought their chances of seeing the main event were gone when they stopped north of Shetland.

I have seen eclipses before but I have never seen anything like that
Jonathan Wills

"We were having breakfast when one of the guys said 'Oh my God, it's a full-on eclipse'.

"It was mostly through cloud, but we didn't need to use any filter because it was perfectly visible through the cloud," he said.

Mr Wills said he had thought the trip would be a waste of time because of the grey weather before they set out.

"I have seen eclipses before but I have never seen anything like that," he added.

"I was having to concentrate on bacon butties, pouring champagne and steering the boat with the crew, but it was a terrific experience.

Annular eclipse
A ring of sunlight could be seen around the Moon
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything."

The tourist board reported an increase in hotels and guest house bookings on Shetland.

NorthLink Orkney & Shetland Ferries said there had been a far higher number of passengers travelling to and from the area than usual for this time of year.

Richard Foster, reservations manager, said: "We were fully booked coming back for immediately after the eclipse, up to 600 people in total, which is quite rare.

"A lot of people have been travelling up to spend a day or two on the islands in the run-up to the event but as soon as it finishes are heading back.

"We are more used to taking bird-watchers and twitchers to the area than sun and moon watchers so it is all quite exciting."

Broke through cloud

About 500 people also travelled to Orkney to watch the event, but were denied a view by the low cloud.

However, a group of 30 people who chose to watch from the beach at Durness in Sutherland, on the Scottish mainland, found themselves in a better location.

At about 0445 BST the morning sun suddenly broke through the cloud, with the moon visible passing over it.

The full annulus, or ring of fire, was not clearly visible, but the event was greeted by whoops of delight from some of the spectators who had not expected to see anything.

BBC Scotland's John Johnston
"An arch of fire lit up the dawn sky"

Skywatchers see 'ring of fire'
31 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Sun to ring the Moon
30 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Moon dives behind Earth
16 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Mercury passes across Sun
07 May 03  |  Science/Nature

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